(Laurie, thank you for allowing me to be a part in this journey of yours. I couldn’t be more proud. xoxox)
Guest post: by Laurie B.
So after 28 weeks of training, I finished the St. Jude Marathon today. I am glowing. I am excited, I am proud, I am happy. I haven’t even looked up my finish time and I really don’t care. This is marathon #3 for me; it wasn’t my fastest and it wasn’t my slowest, but it was my best.
That’s a hard concept for a lot of runners to wrap their minds around, I realize. Even those of us who are middle-to-back of the pack runners tend to be number oriented. What’s my pace, what’s my split time, what’s my goal time, what’s my PR. I have been that runner before, always racing myself and my own inner critic, if not the other runners. To a large extent I still was that runner when I started training in June. But after I received my goal pace, after I ran my first tempo run, I realized that this race wasn’t going to be about time.
To back up a few steps, I’m really not much of an athlete. As a kid I was terrible at sports. Not terrible like one of those people who says “oh I’m terrible at this” to be modest, but like someone who is legitimately TERRIBLE at sports. I struck out at t-ball regularly, I was always the weakest link during Red Rover, and I got encouraged to quit our no cuts track & field team because I couldn’t time my jumps right without faulting or straight up missing the long jump pit. The only game I ever succeeded in was dodge ball, and that wasn’t because I was any good, it was just because my failures in other sports taught me to be pretty good at ducking when there was a large object flying at my face. I do remember feeling different when we’d do our twice annual mile run – I wasn’t the fastest, but I wasn’t the slowest, and I always had this idea in my mind that some day I wanted to be able to run the mile without a walk break. In the summertime in northern Michigan, I learned it was half a mile from our lakeside cottage to the candy store, and I daydreamed about actually RUNNING there and back. Not that I actually did it. I figured I just couldn’t, like I couldn’t play basketball or throw a frisbee or whatever.
When I finally did start running, I was in college. By that point I had been struggling with an eating disorder since I was 12 and running was just another way to compulsively burn calories. I had moments where I loved it, but a lot of the time it was just all about the numbers. I had the eating disorder voice yelling in my ear: run farther, run faster, remember how many calories were in your lunch and you should probably burn twice that just to be safe. I had a certain arbitrary pace (10 minutes per mile) that was my cutoff and any run slower, regardless of how I was feeling or how far I was going, was BAD. I ran my first marathon shortly after I finished college. In some ways it was a huge victory, especially for the former gym class failure, but I finished in 4:23 which is just over a 10 minute mile. BAD.
Fast forward a few years. I got married, went to grad school, moved to Memphis, got a job, figured I’ve more or less outgrown the eating disorder. And then I started sinking. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until I was in a hole I couldn’t get out of. I was a zombie at work, I had stopped talking to my friends, I had completely shut out my husband, and my body was falling apart. In February 2013, I reluctantly entered an intensive outpatient treatment center for eating disorders. I was in denial that I actually HAD a problem and I was terrified. I was given a contract to sign: three solid meals and three snacks, zero exercise, and worst of all I had to actually TALK in my group therapy. All of my coping mechanisms (eating, exercise, isolation) were suddenly gone. It was the most raw pain I have ever experienced. It completely broke me. Which is just what I needed to rebuild my life.
Recovery has been a long, winding road. I had hoped it would be a straight line: do what I need to do, learn to cope, get better and be happy. But in any recovery, and especially in eating disorder recovery where there is no black and white “sobriety” to rely on, it’s a tangle of surges forward and setbacks and tears over the dinner table and amazing friends and bitter loss. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I took ten months off from running. I was terrified to start again. I wanted so badly to reclaim the run for me and leave the eating disorder out of it. That meant turning my training plan over to a wise coach (aka Star) who would tell me when to run, how far to run, how fast to run. I was blessed to find a coach who would not only do this but would ensure that I didn’t run a single mile over, that I slowed down when I needed to, that I didn’t sneak in any extra days. For me to reclaim running, I’ve needed to stay away from the treadmill, avoid solo runs, and be cautious about getting too attached to the numbers on my Garmin. And for me, running for recovery also meant I had to go back to Star after my goal setting run to ask for a new pace. A SLOWER pace.
This marathon and the months of training leading up to it have been about so much more than numbers and times and miles. It’s been about finishing what I start, and sticking with something that can just plain suck at times, even when the final goal is far far off in the future. It’s been about the discipline to do what I need to do, even when I don’t feel like it. It’s been about showing up and being accountable and knowing that whether or not anyone is watching, the little things will be what get me to the finish line. And – just for those who may be reading and think that marathons and recovery must be 100% horrible – it’s been about joy and courage and victory and some of the best relationships I’ve ever formed. And that’s why I fought, and I mean FOUGHT, to cross this finish line.
Race day was just what it needed to be. The weather was perfect, the training was behind me, the crowds were enthusiastic. I was full of nervous energy at the start and I had to remind myself early on that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I had moments of excitement, of gratitude, of pride. I had moments where I really wasn’t sure if I could cross the finish line. And I had moments of pain when I just had to push forward, one step at a time, knowing that there aren’t any shortcuts. But somehow every time I reached a low point of uncertainty, I would see a friend or a stranger who would give me just what I need to keep moving forward.
I crossed the finish line beaming. I don’t know what my time was, but whatever it was is my best time yet. Because that’s how long it took, and this race wasn’t about the numbers for me. I may run more marathons and I may not. Maybe I’ll try to set a new PR and maybe I won’t. I just know that for today, I’m pretty sure that I’m exactly where I need to be.
Thanks Star and friends for your part in my journey… it’s been incredible. Much love and congrats to everyone who has crossed finish lines, fast or slow, tangible or metaphorical. You are all rock stars in my book.