Middle of the Pack

I should be paying bills. Or doing dishes. Or calling the church about my volunteer schedule. But I’m not, because opportunities to spill my brain’s overload into actual words on paper are happening…well let’s face it- it’s NOT happening right now. I was going to say like 5% of the time and that’s just a big lie. So today, the rest will wait.
shamrock run
I ran my first running race in over a year yesterday. I did the Portland Shamrock Run 8k with a friend and it was great! Life-giving, even. Not because I set a PR, or because I felt fantastic, or because I met some meaningful goal that I had set for myself, but because it was just great.
Have you ever noticed that the reasons we have for starting in on a new venture are rarely the reasons that keep us going? It seems that when something is to become a constant in our lives we are required to occasionally redefine our “why”. Let’s say you have set a goal to save money for a trip. Your goal and your “why” for skipping the extra splurges in order to put some extra cash away each month is obviously the trip you are going to take. But when you reach your goal and go on your trip, you might find that you are still skipping those treats and putting money away. Whether it became habit, or you have a new goal, your reason for continuing to save money has shifted and you will likely find yourself deciding what your new motivation or goal will be. The same story will be true for folks who give up sugar, adopt a yoga practice, take on a second job, begin counseling, etc. The reason for starting will be a different reason for taking it into the long haul.
This summer I am running in at least four races counting the one I did yesterday…and until mile 2.5 of yesterday’s race I did not know why. 4 years ago, I decided I was going to make myself a runner. I was going to sign up and train for races and I was going to complete them well. My reason back then for running? Weight loss. Pure and simple. I knew that if I signed up for a race that I would train for it because I had this “I really care what people think about me” problem and that there was no way I was going to show up for a run and not RUN the whole thing. I was going to keep up with at least the middle of the pack and that would mean training…which would likely mean weight loss. And it worked! Like a charm, in fact. I fell in love with running, learned tricky ways to combat runner’s knee and Achilles tendonitis, and in the summer of 2013, I ran a 5k, a 10k, and then a half marathon. I wasn’t winning any awards or discovering a new amazing talent…I was just running. And in the process, I distanced myself further from postpartum depression and got in great shape. Photos of me from that summer are numerous because I felt good, and it turns out that when you feel good, you want to get in front of the camera. After my early fall half marathon the weather turned wet and cold and though the intensity of my runs decreased, I kept it as an outlet.
By May of 2014 I was pregnant with my son and running was a weekly discipline until it became too uncomfortable. When he was a few months old I invested in a double jogging stroller so that I could run with my two kids, and that happened every so often but mostly I gifted that first year postpartum to myself as sacred space, and did not think about my weight or my fitness. I was active, but I was also nursing and eating whatever I wanted. It wasn’t until after his first birthday that I decided, like I had the summer of 2013, that it was time to refocus on my health, body image, and fitness. But this time, getting out for runs was hard. I had two children that were four years apart in age and had very different schedules and needs. My husband has traveled often for work since our daughter was born, and it’s something that I am very used to and well-adjusted to, but it doesn’t make exercising outside the house very easy. I needed to capitalize on naptime. Enter Beachbody. Between April 2016 and today I have lost 25 pounds and two clothing sizes by working out at home and eating sensibly. It has been exciting and honestly a relief to know that when I can’t get out for 4-8 mile runs I can still be in control of fitness at home.
So…why am I still running? Why after two years of mostly focusing on weights, HIIT workouts, burpees, planks, plyo lunges and isometric holds am I training for a 24 hour team relay and another half marathon? I’ll start by letting you in on my inner dialogue at mile marker 2 last Sunday.
“This course is completely flat. That’s nice. A little boring, but nice. I should start looking at my Hood to Coast legs to see how hilly they’re going to be. Darn it, my feet are starting to go numb. That seems a little early. I really need to get in and have those orthotics made that I won. Ok, what’s my pace? Why do I feel so slow even though I’m passing people? Oh, I guess my pace is ok. I just need to switch to a faster-paced song to amp myself up. I’m already feeling this in my hamstrings. I really should have trained for this. Why am I doing this? Gosh, but all of these people are already walking. And I’m still running. Guys! It’s not that hard. Don’t push yourself so hard across the line and you won’t have to do the run-walk, run-walk business. Nice and steady will get you home. Especially on a flat course. I guess that’s something I learned a few years ago though. Maybe this is a lot of folks’ first race and they just haven’t quite gotten the hang of proper pacing yet. I’m probably going to finish middle of the pack like always. It’s kind of weird that I’m so OK with that. Is that what this is? Is that why I need this? The slow and steady in my world of start and stop, new project after new project? Of constant distraction and searching for instant gratification? Because this is NOT instant gratification. This is kind of boring. A good boring, but boring. This is discipline, and an acceptance that I’m not the best. Not even close. This is allowing my movement to find rhythm and saying yes to a pace that doesn’t measure up to the crowd but feels good in my body. Yep. That’s exactly what this is. I should probably blog this.”
We seem to be coming to the peak of the pendulum swing of Western society’s value on greatness and our need to fulfill it. You can tell when a trend has reached its height when you start to hear another blog post on the topic and you realize it’s suddenly all regurgitation. You’ve heard it all before. And you can tell when you are at the beginning of the downturn when you start to see loud opinions against the previously touted norm. “We have all thought this way for a long time but I’m bored with this movement so let’s all go the other direction now!” When I had my daughter seven years ago, mothers in particular were in a new kind of motherhood race. Who could breastfeed the longest and be the most eco-friendly mom, and who could get their child to sleep through the night soonest, and who could pump the most milk while still going back to work at 8 weeks postpartum. And what coincided were the release of a wave of new kind of feminist fulfillment books. And I have devoured them. Books about fulfilling potential, achieving success, maximizing efficiency, saying yes to the right things and no to the wrong things, and not letting anything stand in the way of excellence. I sit very comfortably in this mentality. The motherhood race had to go, as it was toxic and only bred negativity. But books about being the best “you” because “you’re one in a million”? Yep! Sign me up. Because the truth of it is, I like being seen and noticed, and a lot of good writing has allowed me to embrace that as being alright. That even though I’m a woman (and a Christian…different, important topic that I’m still wrestling with) it’s ok to be terrified of the thought that my life will end without my making some significant contribution to the world. Something great. I really like learning how to be brave and bold and discovering my greatest strengths. I love storyboarding how to turn those talents into significant offerings for the greater good of humanity. But since I think this trend might be at its peak, I’ve started to see more writing and speaking on the general OKness of normalcy and just being average, and I’m sorry, I know this sounds so atrociously vain, but that kind of talk just makes me cringe. My personality grates against the concept of mediocrity, not in general, but in my life personally. I want greatness. I want something transcendent for this one and precious life that I’ve been given. And yet, here is running. Here is this thing that has lured me in and won’t let go. Here is this big world of talented athletes- excellence embodied in their bodies and their minds- and I cannot touch that greatness. I am obsessed with being a part of this club that I know I will never get noticed in or be very good at. But I’m still trudging along in my mediocrity. Here I am just being a normal runner, not even feeling qualified to be called a “runner”. And here I am allowing that discomfort to find a place of quiet content within my heart, knowing that it is altogether necessary- holy even- for me to continue to work hard at something I am not very good at. This is part of my life’s work if I am ever to find true humility within a soul that errs headily towards pride. If running is the spiritual discipline that God has charged me with, then clear the pavement and watch me tie my laces. And if you need to find me, I’ll be huffing and puffing along right in the middle of the pack.

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