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.