Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ready or Not...

The Richmond Marathon is Saturday. Am I ready? Yes… and no. I’ve done the long runs, the tempos, the track workouts. Some went well, some didn’t, that’s pretty par for the course; no buildup is perfect. I went in with lower mileage goals and lower expectations to match. But despite doing pretty much everything I set out to do, I still don’t feel as ready as I’d like.

I think it's because coming back from Baby was so unpredictable. Some things were easier than expected, so in some ways I feel like I haven't done enough to deserve to run well. Other things were a lot harder than expected, totally blindsiding me, and they’ve left lasting scars on my confidence.

It's been a long road back, but I've done the work.
My body is ready... now to get my mind there...

Easier than expected:
In early summer, I wrote out a plan that slowly increased my weekly mileage and my long runs. It looked a little daunting, considering I was coming back from six weeks of zero running and many months of short walk/shuffles. But the long runs came back surprisingly easily; twenty miles is once again no biggie, which seemed impossible just a few months ago.

As hard as expected: Speed.
I suspected speed would come back slower than endurance and that was/is definitely the case. All season, I’ve run basically one pace, whether it’s a half marathon, a ten miler, 12 miles at goal pace alone on the roads, a trail 5K. I can’t speed up in shorter races… but I also haven’t really slowed down in longer workouts. I may not be able to crush a 5K (when can I ever?) but if I can run that same pace for 26.2… then speed schmeed, I’ll be just fine with that.

Harder than expected:
1. Not having control/ownership of my body. One thing I didn't appreciate fully was the role nursing would play in my running. I figured I’d have to time workouts around Baby’s meals (definitely true in the early days, less of an issue now) and that I probably wouldn’t get to my racing weight this season. (I don’t feel comfortable worrying too much about weight loss while I’m nursing and see no need to rush things in that department.) I didn’t anticipate the ab issues I’d have, which my PT says won’t resolve until I stop nursing since the hormones can cause ligaments to stay loose. Because of that, I haven’t been able to attack core or strength workouts with my old gusto. My body is still not my own, and I can’t treat it as such. I didn’t anticipate that. The fact that I slacked off on these “little extras” makes me feel a bit like I didn’t put in enough effort, that I don’t deserve to run well.

2. But the much bigger issue that I did not see coming, AT ALL, is the hit that labor/delivery gave to my running self-esteem. I knew labor would be a doozy, to say the least, despite everyone assuring me, “You’re an athlete; you’ll be fine.” Well, I wasn’t. I always knew I’d get an epidural—I didn’t see the point in suffering when relief is possible and safe—but I didn’t anticipate how bad actually taking it would make me feel afterwards. All the women who do it naturally? How the fudge do they do that? And why couldn’t I? That mattered not a whit to me before labor, but somehow afterwards I felt really defeated that I couldn’t take it. (Though I do believe there’s something to be said for going in knowing I was going to get an epidural eventually. You can’t do anything your mind isn’t set on.) And ultimately I needed a c-section. While I am beyond grateful for modern medicine and a healthy happy Baby (albeit one with an off-the-charts-enormous head), I still feel like my body failed me. My body that I rely on so much to run well, it couldn’t do this thing it’s made to do.

One thing I hear repeatedly (I even wrote about it myself before Baby) is that labor toughens you. All these women say, “Running is easy after labor, nothing compares.” “If my body can do that, it can do anything.” Well, what if my body can’t/didn’t do that? Maybe everyone who says those things made it through naturally (and to them I say, “Heck yea, you are crazy tough and CAN do anything), but that would put them in the minority.

Maybe I’m alone in this (I hope so... I don't wish self doubt on anyone!), but I feel the opposite; my sense of toughness has been seriously questioned ever since labor. One person who labored naturally told me contractions just feel like bad menstrual cramps, but in my opinion they are at least an order of magnitude worse. Which makes me wonder: Maybe I’ve never had a bad cramp. Maybe I’ve never felt real pain. Maybe I’m a giant wuss.... And it spirals from there.

This attitude is absolutely terrible for the marathon. I do not think I’m a particularly talented runner; I certainly did not start off all that fast. I’ve always thought any success came from being tough and determined and now I’m left wondering… am I really?

This is the part where I’m not sure I’m ready. The marathon is a mental beast and your mind has to be ready to tackle it. I grappled with whether I should run at all. But giving up now—not even showing up at the start line—is giving into those demons that have haunted me for almost eight months. That’s not the answer. It’s time to shut them up.

It will not be easy; these last few days I’ve been preparing myself with mantras and battle strategies to have ready when the doubts start. In a recent episode of Lindsey Hein’s podcast, Deena Kastor explains that when the race gets tough you have to dig deep and "define yourself," and that’s what I feel I need to do. Remember what I am capable of and prove it to myself. Find the old Teal, deep within me somewhere. The one who IS tough, maybe not in the delivery room, but on the race course. Somewhere on the streets of Richmond, when the miles are taking their toll, and the pace starts to slip, she damn well better be ready to come out... or we're going to have to get her out, one way or another.

Dream big,