I am signed up to run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler a week from today.
In November I ran my first 10K (6 miles), which was the farthest I'd ever run.
There are moments when we exceed what we think is our capacity, and for me that was one.
I have never been an athlete. I am not very competitive. I don't love hard work. I like nice weather and really only exercising in nice weather (I should have stayed in California). I never pursued -- or became good at -- any sports, and from an early age, the narrative I created for myself was that I just wasn't an athlete.
There are always complexities in play when we create identities for ourselves -- some protective, some defensive, some image-driven, some hopeful, some fearful -- and for me, this one was no different. Not being an athlete meant I could never be bad, never fail, and never lose. It meant I didn't want something I didn't have.
When I got to college, I decided to row my first semester to be like my friend Ben (whom, incidentally, I married several years later). I'd never run more than one mile in PE class, and suddenly found myself running 5 miles a day, waking up in the dark for starry morning practices, and living the life of a college athlete, complete with a spring break training camp and rock solid biceps.
Still, it felt more like a game I was playing, driven by my friend Ali, who made anything seem possible. And my rowing years, like all of my college years, were riddled with such a complicated body image and toxic relationship with food that the confidence I could have gained, washed right off. After a couple of semesters, I chose other things.
Through my 20's and 30's I thought of myself vaguely as a "runner," meaning I sometimes jogged for 30 minutes and usually ran about two and a half miles. But this fall when I trained for the 10K, something began to shift, and one night this winter when my friend Erin mentioned a 10 miler, I registered.
For the next months, I watched myself layer wicking fabrics, put on ear warmers and gloves, and run into 20 degree weather. I watched myself climb on a treadmill, turn on a podcast, and run while the kids clamored around me with snow-day-restlessness. I watched myself lean into hard work and train for something I'd never done.
I held my breath.
I hardly dared say out loud that I was going to do it, that I was going to run 10 miles, that I had already started to do it.
No one was watching, really. And no one really cared. To many, this was a small feat, not even half of a marathon. I had no audience but myself, and something was quietly breaking open.
Yesterday as I was listening to a talk about rejection, about how the root word suggests vacancy, I realized that during those messy years, that's what I'd created in myself: a vacancy. I'd pulled out a handful of my earthy self with its value and worth, and shoved a limited story about who I am, what I do and can do in its place.
As I ran this winter, that's what was breaking open, the vacant place I'd guarded so well.
The snow fell, and snow days persisted. The flu rolled through my house in every form. Sinus infections hit over and over. My calendar where run was scribbled in pen and circled, four times a week, kept getting rearranged. My miles were dropping.
Two weeks ago I realized that with all the sickness, I was a few weeks behind where I wished I were in my training. I knew if I pushed hard, I could still make it, but I'd have to work, so I mapped out the next week of runs. Then --BAM!-- another round: Silas sick, Maeve up for nights, and a sapping sinus infection again. I lost a solid week of running again.
As this reality settled, I met it differently each day: I am just going to DO It. The next day: I'm NOT doing it -- I'm too far behind, it doesn't make sense. The next day: I'll just run-walk the whole thing to be a part of it. I cycled through the voices incessantly and woke up thinking them. Finally, last week, I decided not to run.
It was a matter of fact, a logical choice -- and I held it in my head. So it was, the reality.
Yesterday, walking with Eden, I realized she was the only one in the family who didn't yet know, so I told her I wasn't going to run. Immediately, almost violently, she burst into tears.
I was flummoxed.
Are you crying for you or for me?
For you. You were going to run 10 miles. And I was excited to cheer for you.
I fumbled through my words about how there would be another time, how I'd still do it but later.
She was probably the only person I'd been honest with as I trained -- I'd come in from my runs and tell her glowingly that I'd just run four miles, or three, or five. And she'd smile and not say much, but apparently stash away my sense of success.
When we got home from our walk, I realized she was the only one wearing my heart: I am sad, as sad as she was.
Today I went for my first run in ten days and prayed through my sadness, through the old achy vacancy, and the want for healing. As I ran I realized that this race, the one I can't run the full distance of, the one I paid an arm and a leg to register for, the one that will take place without me next weekend, the one that would have marked my 38th birthday, may not just be proof of failure, though there are voices in my head that say so. Instead, it may be my invitation to reach into that pulpy place and pull out the old wadded up piece of paper, the story I've stuck to for years. It may be my invitation to empty out and heal.