On Saturday I ran another marathon. It was my 11th road marathon, my 12th marathon including both trails and road, and my 16th race of marathon-or-greater distance. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. Two days after the marathon, the BF and I took a mini-vacation to Saint Louis. We were looking for a quick getaway, so without much planning or forethought we drove three hours south and spend three days seeing the sights. At the zoo we saw all manner of critter, including the frogmouth (a bird that looks like a tree stump) and the hellbender (a salamandery-looking thing with just about the most badass name ever); at the science center we played with blocks and sand and cast dirty looks at little kids hogging the cool stuff. We went to the top of the arch to see the view and the bottom of the ninth to see the Cards (they won, thus preventing a Brewers’ sweep and negating the need to take the Rolaids handed out beforehand). We stuffed ourselves on cuisine ranging from Indian to Italian, eating so much rice, naan, papardelle and pizza that I might very well be carboloading for another marathon.
But the one thing I didn’t do was run. I’ve had some issues with my illiotibial band for a couple of weeks now, issues that were not made better by running 31 miles two weeks ago and 26.2 miles a few days ago. I’ve got a 50-miler coming up in a week and a half, and the only way I have a chance of being in any condition to start the race much less finish it is if I lay off the running now. This is a logical as it is aggravating. If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, it’s a huge bummer because it means I’m not out there running trails.
I can’t remember the last time I took a trip out of town just for fun. Lately all of my travels have involved visiting family, promoting my book, or, most of all, running races. Running is obviously a huge part of my existence, yet the way things have gone so far this year, I’ve felt the need to rethink my running life. None of my races has gone particularly well for one reason or another, and after a series of not-particularly-well races a person starts to feel like “one reason or another” is really just one excuse or another. If it’s always something, isn’t that telling me something? Have I foolishly believed my own hype and thought I could conquer the world on Sports Beans and Brooks?
Wait a minute. I wasn’t going to talk about running again, was I. But then you already knew I’d do that, huh.
Yeah, I’m obsessed with running, but I’m also wary of becoming the running equivalent of a bad poet. As a prose writer, I admit that poetry engenders everything from awe to perplexity to (sometimes, I’ll be honest) disdain. Most of my poet-friends are impressively unconcerned about being published or having a book; they do it because it’s just what they do. I don’t know how much they worry about whether their poetry is actually any good, but having read a lot of poetry that I thought wasn’t very good and a little poetry that I felt was absolutely stunning, I know it’s something I’d worry about. It’s probably good, then, that I don’t write poetry—yet the same petty anxiety still worms its way into my running life. As a runner, am I a “bad poet”? Am I someone who will keep doing this thing I do because I love it and not because I’m particularly good at it—and will likely never be particularly good at it? Is it enough for me to enjoy a race because there will be friends to run with, friends to support me, friends who will congratulate me sincerely and enthusiastically no matter how lousy my finish time? That’s how this last marathon went, after all. Yes, I ran my third-slowest marathon, and yes, I’m recovering from an injury. But all the photos of me from the race show me smiling, thumbs-upping, jazz-handsing, and otherwise appearing for all the world like someone who couldn’t care less what her finish time is because she’s having too damn much fun.
No, it would not be the worst thing in the world to be someone who runs—who writes—who travels—who lives—just for the experience of it. Clearly life can be enjoyed without an obsessive need to run ever faster, ever farther, ever more races back to back to back. One can eat a carb without calling it a carb, without thinking about it as fuel for a long race. Likewise one can travel to another state and not have to set the alarm for 4:30am the next morning because you want to make use of the clean private toilet in your hotel room before you’re relegated to Porta-Potties for the next several hours. One can live like this, and one does, standing on the top of the arch looking at the world in a new and unexpected way.
And then one returns home and looks ahead to the next trip out of town and hopes one’s first fifty-miler is a stunning success.