On Sunday I crossed the finish line at my 8th half, the first one I’ve run since I was pregnant a little over two years ago. Even without the setback of my foot injury in January, it was a tough road to running this race. The furthest I had run until March was 6.2 miles in a very difficult 10k last September. And running long distances just hurt for the first year after having a baby, and I really started to feel like getting back to half marathons and long races would be impossible. But I signed up for my first half anyway, since races motivate me to train and because I wanted to at least try and see how it went and see whether it was achievable. My husband and my sister also ran it, which was nice because my sister and I were able to stay together for most of the race, and I’m honestly not sure that I would have been able to get through the whole thing on my own.
I get asked a lot why I race. Not why I run, people seem to understand that weight loss and not wanting to die of a heart attack and wanting to be in shape are all valid reasons to exercise and that running is the cheapest method of achieving that. But why do I pay money, wake up really early, and join a thousand strangers to compete in a sport that I will never ever win?
Races are a chance to learn more about myself, to challenge myself and push myself and try to achieve things that I haven’t done before. All of the things I doubt about myself, all of the mean things I say to myself, all the mean things I ever said to myself, those all disappear on race day. I focus on myself and what I can achieve and putting one foot ahead of the other.
So what did I learn on Sunday? That muscle memory is powerful. That my friend E is right, that what matters the most in race training is just time on your feet – I did a lot of walking to train because my running ability was limited. I learned that physical therapy is amazing. I learned that running a half marathon is still possible.
Sunday was also mother’s day. And what I found myself thinking about, after my sister and I had separated and I was alone with my thoughts, is what my body has been through since my last half. My last half was Rock and Roll DC in 2014 and I was fortunate that excessive cardio was the only thing to quell my morning sickness. Pregnancy finally feels like a distant and uncomfortable memory. And while I was in it, I had a hard time getting past the discomfort to a place where I could appreciate my body and what it was doing. But for nearly two years, I grew and nourished and sustained another person who is amazing and that is amazing. And I thought that I would be able to focus on that while I was in it. And I wasn’t, and that was disappointing to me. And somehow now, or more specifically, during Miles 11-13, I was able to focus more on how huge motherhood is, and how much I appreciate my body, not just for its ability to grow and sustain an entire whole other human being, but for its ability to allow me to lift her and carry her and jump up and down when she commands me to. I took a moment to thank my thighs and hips, which frankly, I have recently been berating for still not fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes. My legs and feet, in particular, had done some very serious work to recover from my injury, and I appreciate them for it.
I didn’t set any PRs. I did come in well under my 2:30 goal, and mostly I met my goal of finishing, but also, the most important part about crossing the finish line is that the me who crosses the finish line gets to rub my accomplishment in the face of past-me who was full of doubt. Because as every amateur athlete knows, the greatest competition is with yourself.