August 6, 2012

The ninety-nine percent

I read on an infographic somewhere once that fewer than one percent of Americans have completed a marathon. It was never a surprising statistic, yet I believe it even moreso now that I am in the midst of preparing for my own.

I first thought about running a marathon on Week 1, Day 1 of Couch to 5K. At 295 pounds, running a 15-minute mile pace for a minute at a time was the fastest I'd ever gone. It felt like flying, and I cried at how good it felt to be able to move like that. At 345 pounds, I had trouble walking from my bedroom to the bathroom down the hall. Now, I was training my body to not walk, but run, and for miles and miles. That day, I knew I had great things in store for myself as a runner.

Besides the ability to move my body in a new way, I think what initially drew me to running was the challenge of it. Running tested me and my limits. I had to push my body while training for a 5K when I'd never ran before. Preparing for an 8K after the 5K, then moving up to a 10K, and finally to a half marathon - each a mountain to climb in its own way.

The thing is, though, that they were as much mental challenges as physical ones. As I prepared for the 5K, I doubted myself. I couldn't possibly run for three miles without stopping, could I? But I could. As I prepared for the 8K, I doubted myself. Running for almost five miles was impossible. Until it wasn't. Preparing for the 10K, for my first half ... still a flood of doubts. But I persevered. I pushed forward. And I made it happen. I was (and am still) not just recovering from a formerly obese body, but from my formerly obese mindset, one that feels limited and incapable and intensely insecure, even after losing 50, 100, 150 pounds.

Despite the struggles and despite the nerves, I loved training for my races. I love the feeling after a long run, especially one where you wanted to quit but didn't - it's an amazing feeling of success, the runner's high you hear about. It's real. And it's incredible.

But here's the thing.

I haven't been feeling that on my recent training runs for the marathon. In fact, I hadn't been feeling it on my not-so-recent training runs, either. It really hurts to admit that I haven't enjoyed running for a little while - it's felt more like a chore, an obligation, a negative stressor. And it's become such a negative part of my life that I've mostly stopped doing it - a few runs here and there, but not nearly the mileage I should be putting in at this part of the training.

When I was in California, I bribed my students with bonus points to get them to run a 5K on campus with me. When announcing it, I told them the only thing I love more than everything French, is running. And I honestly believed it.

Now, not so much.

A few weekends ago, I volunteered at a 5K/10K race here in Chicago. And as I quickly and efficiently ran the gear check, I silently cried a little. Because I miss smaller races. I miss the excitement of training for an event, completing it, and looking forward to the next new thing. I registered for the marathon six months ago, started running for it three months ago, and it's still two months away.

I'm worn down. Burned out. Exhausted. I just don't have it in me right now. It isn't that I can't physically run the marathon - a few weeks of intense training and I'd be mostly back on schedule. My problem right now is entirely mental. I've had a very difficult year, and the burden of an intense training schedule is not helping me at all with my attempt to restore my sanity after living in isolation out West. My problem with binge eating is even worse right now than it was in California, perhaps just because of accessibility, but regardless, the lousy feeling isn't worth it. I'm not going to wear myself down even further just for a medal.

So, there you have it. I'm withdrawing my bib from the Chicago Marathon 2012.

Right now, I'm coming to terms with the fact that I am the 99%. I am not a marathoner, nor will I be in the near future, or possibly ever. To be honest, it feels like more of a relief than anything else - which is good, because a lot of my actions and decisions lately have left me feeling like a failure. I am not a failure. This is a difficult time, and I am struggling. But I absolutely refuse to give up on myself. The choice to withdraw is an incredibly healthy one. I'm prioritizing: my mental health is more important right now than being able to say I ran 26.2 miles.

And passing on this race doesn't mean I'm done entirely. Quite the contrary - it frees me up to get back to running the way I enjoy it. I have a few races lined up fairly soon - a half marathon in about a month that I'm confident I can complete, and a 10 miler in November - not to mention that I'm in Chicago, not small town California, and I could do a 5 or 10K every weekend if I wanted to. I want to get back to that good feeling. I want to enjoy that runner's high.

I want to fall back in love with running. And with myself. And this is what I need to do to make that happen.


Sarah said...

Maybe it's just too soon. Like you said, it HAS been a stressful year, and you've already had to deal with so much since you've been back. I think it's good you took this off your plate.

marisol said...

You are not a failure. I think that you have a lot going on right now that adding the mental and physical stress of a marathon may be too much. It doesn't mean you won't ever run a marathon. There's always next year. And the year after that. You need to do it when you are ready. Perhaps you are burned out on running. Doesn't mean you can do something else? Maybe get back into biking or maybe take up swimming. Something that presents a challenge which will keep you focused but not with the intensity of a marathon.

Kendra said...

I admire you for this decision. So much. You are an inspiration! Every day.

Joan said...

Yes, what Kendra said.

Jitterfish (WJW) said...

Seems you've made the right decision, if you pushed through you might just push yourself to the point of hating running, hating what you once loved.

Book Dragon said...

I totally understand where you're at and applaud your decision. When something you love becomes a chore, it is time to step back and rethink your goal. Maybe someday you'll be part of the 1% but with the attitude you have now, you'll always be a happy runner.

Charlotte said...

Good for you! Fitness has to be fun. A few years ago, I used to run a lot, trained for half marathon, finished it, enjoyed it, but it stopped there, I was just not ready anymore for the long runs..Being slow meant that long distances took a reaaaally long time. Now, I go to the gym, I take classes, and I don`t (or rarely) complain when it`s time to go train.
Take it easy on yourself Mary, you have been through quite a lot this year...

downsizers said...

We shouldn't do things like this because we feel obligated somehow. This doesn't mean you won't be exercising or that you have fallen short in any way. We can design our lives to suit us and our goals can be reached in many ways. Many people (99%) never run a marathon proving it's not for everybody. Running a marathon is just one of many choices out there.

A said...

Knowing who you are and doing what feeds your soul should never be counted as "failure". Just sayin' ;-)

timothy said...

i must admit i'm torn on what to say. i'm happy you know yourself and i'm glad you're ok with your decision. my issue is MINE. when i don't do something i feel like a failure and i STRIVE not to put that off on someone elses life/goals. i always hear jillian screaming at me unless you faint, puke, or die keep goin. mayhaps i'm not as evolved as i'd like to think. enjoy your runs and be happy with what you've accomplished, when you're ready you'll get there......then of course there's the iron man! lol i do envy your ability to run i blew out my knee and a botched workmans comp surgery pretty much makes 3.5 mph my top speed. i just have to go for endurance!

Matt said...

at least now i can run smaller with you until i'm back to normal?

Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! said...

This must have been a very tough decision, but it sounds like a good one.
I've been really struggling with my running lately and it's mostly because of the heat that hasn't let up all summer. My runs last week were so hard; I've never felt so overheated in my life. I felt like I was regressing instead of progressing. Yesterday I somehow managed to get myself outside and go for a run and I'm so glad I did. The temperature was nice and there was a cool breeze and for the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed my run.

CarolineCalcote said...

Running is such a fickle friend. Having taken a break to let my hip (hopefully totally) heal, I have lost my love for running also. I did my first 2 mile training run for my November half-marathon this morning. It felt good. I'm hoping my hip will stay pain-free (so far so good) and that I will get back that desire and love for running. But I have realized in my hiaitus that I don't HAVE to run. There are so many fitness endeavors out there. I decided to start running a few years ago to prove to myself that I could do it. I never thought I could (especially at 270 pounds). But now that I have three half-marathons under my belt, I think I have proved the running thing to myself. I have already registered for several races this fall and winter, and I hope to do them. I did early bird registration for all of them (cheap) when I was still on last season's post-race high. I'm not signing up for any more races early, though! This may be my last season of half-marathons. The shorter distances are just as fun. Wow, this turned into a very long comment.

Connie "Explains it All" said...

It sounds like you are making the healthy decision! Good for you!!!! You are such an inspiration and I hope you get back to enjoying running again, soon!

Katie Foster said...

Mary, I can completely understand where you are coming from! I have been feeling it too--I can't wait until my marathon is over so that I can retire the 26.2 distance and focus on my favorite distances--10K and half-marathon! I feel left out because most of my friends are training for speed to PR shorter distances, and I'm just struggling through long, slow runs. But I know that in October, it will be over and I will be SO glad that I persevered.

I'm not saying that what you're doing is the wrong decision, because I think only YOU know what's best for you. I'm just so sorry that it worked out that way. I've been reading your blog from the beginning over the past few days, and I got so excited when you came up with the idea of the stairathon because you weren't ready "yet" for the 26.2... but you sounded like you so badly wanted to do a marathon.

Regardless, I'm sure you are doing what you feel is best. I just hope that you're not having second thoughts about Ragnar?!?!

Taryn said...

I think you should be incredibly proud of yourself. It's a very difficult thing to stop, digest the emotions and figure out a solution that is right for you, without giving thought to what others think of you. I'm one of those people...the people pleasers...that puts everybody else's needs/wants before my own. This often leaves me little or no time for myself. Currently I'm working 2 jobs and 6 days a week to pay off my student debt so that my partner doesn't have to be burdened with it if we ever choose to get married. Over the last 3 months (until these past few days) I'd stopped exercising, eating right, and blogging...all things I love. I was completely unbalanced. The only time I had off, I was busy making up time I'd lost with my family, and I was miserable. Now, I'm putting myself first, knowing that if I'm happier, it's better for everybody.

I think you and I are learning the same lesson. And I'm very very proud of you for making the decision you have.

Scrumpy said...

I hear ya. Running a marthon was the goal that set me in motion for losing 50 pounds way back when. I lost the 50 pounds, but couldn't bring myself to do the marathon.

I had told so many people about it and felt so much pressure (mainly from myself) about it. The idea of the race actually made me sick.

But I still wanted to do one. And a year later, I told no one but my sister that I was doing my first marathon. Having that pressure gone was amazing. I enjoyed every minute of it because I was only doing it for me.

If you want to do one someday, it will always be there. If not, no biggie.

Weight & Wellness Way said...

Sounds like a good, brave decision... you know yourself and sometimes its hard to give up goals for the greater good... good on ya!

Shannon said...

You have to do what's right for you, and I'm glad you figured it out, and now can move on to doing the running that will make you happy again!

Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

It's exactly like you said Mary, too much, too soon. I think the bingeing is stress, but I know I sometimes have that "make up for lost time" feeling, like you've beeen away from your love (Chicago) so long you can't seem to get enough, of all the food, culture, friends...sensory overload. I think you'll shake it out of your system and be good to go soon.

Amy said...

Honestly, sometimes we sign up for things without realizing what we're getting ourselves into.

We like to challenge ourselves and push ourselves to the limit, but is that always the best thing to do for ourselves?

This is something I've kind of come to terms with in my life lately too with work. As soon as my personal life got stressful too, I find myself coming apart at the seams and realizing I really need to figure out how to balance it all.

I remember a time when we discussed how a marathon actually seemed insane. Why would you want to run for 4 hours? A half marathon is a great way to push your body to it's limits, but a marathon to me, and still, is a crazy concept.

I actually literally said the other day that I want to run a half one day and said, but not a marathon. "I'm not being chased by a bear".

We always try and push ourselves, but when we take a step back and look at the big picture we have to see what benefit it is actually having on our life.

I apologize I haven't been around much lately so you may have discussed this before, but have you ever thought about training for a triathlon?