I don’t have much self-discipline, naturally. I’ve quit every hobby or pursuit I’ve picked up. Whether it’s because I couldn’t sit still long enough to practice piano when I wasn’t at the lesson, or because I didn’t see the point in running laps in soccer practice if I was the goalkeeper, or because something I loved more than acting caught my attention enough to switch career paths to animal welfare. I’ve never liked practicing.
It’s hard to put it into words: this is why I love training for a race. Because I don’t love it. So the fact that I do it makes me love it. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s the fact that even on days where I just don’t feel like it, I force myself into my running shoes or drive my ass to the gym, I keep putting one foot in front of the other and I keep doing those reps and I keep trying to hold that yoga pose, I keep waking up early to go hiking, I keep doing it, even when I really really don’t want to or hate every step — I love it. Because I’ve never stuck with it like this.
This whole week I just haven’t felt like it. I’ve been tired after work. I’ve been exhausted just thinking about grad school homework. When I get it done I just want to make some mac ‘n’ cheese and plop in front of the TV. But I haven’t skipped a day yet. In fact, when my workout was cut short by an electrical outage, I came back later to make up a mere third of a mile, just to stick with it that closely.
What keeps me going even when I really don’t feel like it? I love racing. I love crossing the finish line. I love getting to the start line. I love going to the Expo, planning my race outfit, high-fiving spectators, reading the backs of people’s shirts, cheering when we pass certain mile markers, getting the official race shirt, and of course, collecting the medals. But the most fun I’ve had running a race, save the Disney Princess Half because come on, pictures with Disney characters? running through Cinderella’s castle?, was the Richmond Half Marathon, my very first, because I was so trained. I loved running the Charleston Half, because I’d spent a grueling winter training with so much discipline. And I even loved the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, on a sprained ankle, because I had trained. I was ready. I was in shape. It was still tough, but I was thrilled.
I didn’t enjoy Nike Women’s. I enjoyed Frederick at first but then my injury, which had me untrained, reminded me I couldn’t really enjoy it. I hate that I didn’t enjoy them. I would have stayed in shape for them had I not injured myself, and maybe the smarter thing to do would have been to sit them out altogether, but I hadn’t wanted to waste the money I’d spent registering. I look at my times for those races and I cringe. Not because of the times themselves, but because they remind me how much pain I was in. How I didn’t go to the Expotique for Nike Women’s because I was just not excited. How I cried through two of the last miles for Frederick. Because my body was in pain, and it wasn’t fun.
Those are the memories that keep me training for Marine Corps Marathon. That keep me training for Dumbo Double Dare and Women’s Running Nashville, which happen even sooner than Marine Corps. I want to recapture that feeling I had at my first few half marathons – the thrill of doing something I’ve never done before, the thrill of running strong, the thrill of the whole experience. Not doing it just to do it and “not waste the money” or “just get the medal.” I want to RUN HAPPY. It doesn’t mean, even with all my training, that it won’t be hard.
It just means that when race day gets here, I’ll know I earned it. Because the medal, to me, at the finish line, isn’t just about the 13.1 or the 26.2 I just ran. It’s about all the weeks leading up to it that I didn’t quit. I didn’t get lazy. I didn’t make excuses. I worked hard.
On Monday at Body Pump class as I added 5 more pounds to each side of my barbell than I normally do for the squat track, I reflected on what got me there that day. I first went to Body Pump class three years ago this summer, during a breakup where I found myself with very, very low self-esteem. I was between jobs, didn’t like myself much, and was having constant panic attacks. My friend Rebecca accompanied me to the gym, which I did to keep busy. My first Body Pump class was hell. I had the lowest weights possible and could barely do half of each track. But I loved it. I had done something hard. And I hadn’t left in the middle of class. I went back. I kept going back.
But on Monday I didn’t have debilitating depression or “nothing else to do” as a reason to go to the gym. No friend had gone with me, no friend was expecting me there (Jill wasn’t going this week). But I had gone. I had put on my workout clothes and driven to the gym and waited in line for class to start and even upped my weights to make it a little harder. I still feel sore today, Thursday. Because that’s how bad I want it.
Nobody told me to sign up for a marathon. Nobody will care if I skip a day of training, if I skip a week of training. But when I cross the finish line at Marine Corps Marathon, I will have 18 weeks, 126 days of work put in to earn the title of marathoner.
I don’t want to cry or limp my way through it. If I do, fine. But it won’t be for lack of working hard. And I will still be able to be proud of 18 weeks of work.