You know when you’re just starting to get into good shape, and you can kind of run a few miles without it sucking really bad, and you’re excited because in like two more weeks you’ll be back at it after whatever running-break you went on for whatever reason, and then something happens like you get sick or crazy busy with work/life, or re-injured, or newly injured, or suffer from general exhaustion the way celebrities always do and have to be hospitalized for a few days for it because just taking a big nap won’t cut it and your baby and two dogs are always making noise anyway so napping is super hard to do most of the time? This has happened to me exactly thirty times since I had a baby.
The most recent pause from getting back into shape was due to a series of non-life-threatening-but-very-miserable sicknesses, which took me out of running for about a month and a half. I actually did one run before I got better, because I signed up for this running group for moms that kicked off during my week of being the most sick ever, but was so tired of being sick and not doing anything, that I went anyway. It was a terrible idea and probably made me much worse.
I was especially sad about being sick this time around, because a while ago my coworker asked me to do the spring Portland Trail Race Series with him, and I had assumed I’d have plenty of time to get in shape for it and not be a huge disappointing embarrassment to myself when I did it. But instead of the many months of training I had planned on, these are the only runs I was able to do in the weeks leading up to the race:
- Two weeks before, the first mom run group where I had a fever and spent the whole time coughing up phlegm and peed myself a surprising amount (I thought this part of just having had a baby was over, but I think my pelvic floor muscles were busy trying to help my immune system fight off my bacterial infection and so couldn’t do their normal job).
- One week before, the second mom run group. We did hills plus a timed mile, where I ran the slowest timed mile since middle school, but the fastest mile since having a baby.
- Two days before, I ran a mile on the treadmill, slowly.
- One day before, I ran 0.3 miles on the treadmill, slowly. Energy levels at an all time low. Super pumped for the trail series.
So tonight, when I found myself feeling exhausted and pretty terrible as I jogged the half mile from where my husband and I parked up to the race start, I assumed this race was going to be the worst thing ever and that I might die (figuratively) before I ran three miles.
The race was in Forest Park, and was a 4.8 mile route, with the first part going up the Dogwood Trail, which is straight up. As the race started, I ran up next to my coworker Philippe, who told me he had “100 percent forgotten that I was going to be there.” I acted like I wasn’t extremely hurt by being forgotten, knowing that later I would blog about it and instill a deep sense of shame in him for forgetting about me. I hope it works. He also told me that I was welcome to “zoom ahead” of him if I wanted, which I LOLed at, because I was seriously considering lying down on Leif Erickson and spending the rest of the race in fetal position.
I managed to stay upright and moving forward, but it was really sucky. When you’re used to being in shape and relatively fast, being out of shape and slow means that you’re both physically in pain during a race like this, and in mental anguish for the utter humiliation you’re feeling for being in the back of the pack. And when you explain this to people, they say stuff like, “but you just had a baby!” or “hey, you’re still faster than me!” Which prompts an aggressive attempt to hold back an instinctive eye roll, because I don’t give a shit about either of these things. True, I had a baby, but a) that was almost a year ago, and b) I kept getting injured or lazy before the baby, and haven’t actually been training well for a long time, so the baby thing isn’t really the main reason I’m slow right now. And being faster than slow runners doesn’t really make me feel better. Because I’m comparing myself to my previous self, not to random people that aren’t me. If I had always run 12 minute miles, and got down to 10 minute miles, I would be stoked – but running 10 minute miles when I used to race at a much faster pace, just makes me sad.
I did take comfort in the fact that as I was running, I reverted back to my old habits of imagining ways to get out of the race. I used to do this back when I was running cross-country in high school. During most 5ks, I would start thinking about how if I just rolled an ankle, I’d have a good excuse to stop running and I wouldn’t have to be in the race anymore. In this case, I felt like I might not even have to pretend, and imagined how I was inevitably going to collapse from exhaustion and there wouldn’t be anything really wrong with me, but I definitely wouldn’t be able to run anymore, and it wouldn’t be my fault. Then I started wondering what the runners around me would do about this. Would they pass the message up the trail until it got to my husband, and he would run back to me and hold me in his arms and say that he was really proud of me for trying so hard and clearly pushing myself to the edge and no wonder I’m exhausted during this very long and very hard race after a busy day of being the most amazing wife, mother, and career woman of all time, and then help me back up as we are both amazed by the renewed energy I have from his loving words and we sprint ahead to make up for lost time and manage to pass every single person and cross the finish line in tied-for-first place together? I realized that in this scenario (which is probably definitely what would have happened), I still end up having to run after all, so I decided it would be best to hold it together and keep going if I could.
Once I got to the top of Dogwood, we switched over to some other trail – I forget which, but it was downhill. As I recovered from the uphill, I was able to relax my legs and pick up the pace a lot. For a fleeting moment I thought I should save my energy, but realized that there was more uphill to come, and I would probably fall apart at that point whether or not I’d run hard on the downhill, so it was my only chance to pass people. I probably passed half a dozen people in the two-ish downhill miles. In former races, a mid-race comeback like this would get me really amped up, and I would start thinking about how good the odds were that I would keep going strong until the end, and probably win, no matter how far behind the leader I was. But not tonight. Things have changed, and instead of imagining my inevitable glory, my mind split time between wondering how I feel so competitive but still don’t find the time or energy to train appropriately, and being excited that I hadn’t peed myself yet.
I caught up to Philippe once we were back on Leif Erickson, but soon fell behind again once we headed straight uphill a trail again. A woman passed me on the trail, and breathed, “this is rough!” as she ran around me, to which I replied, “yeah, but if you don’t keep running, I’m going to catch you!” And then I spent the next half mile of uphill thinking about what if I gave up trying to run fast, and instead put my energy into running right behind slow runners and saying creepy things like, “I’m going to catch you,” to motivate them to work harder. I wouldn’t get the glory for myself, but maybe it would be so rewarding knowing that I was inspiring others to run faster that I would be just as happy as if I had run fast myself.
I finished the race doing something that I also haven’t done since back in my high school days, which is check my watch about every 30 seconds and wonder when this was ever going to end. It turned out, it ended exactly 49 minutes and 27.9 seconds after it started (for me, anyway). A mere 12:49.8 seconds after the first place woman finished. All I have to do is go from 10:06 minute miles to 7:25 minute miles, and maybe next time I’ll win! There are four races left in the series, so in the spirit of being ambitious/delusional, I’ll assume I can make this happen in the next two months. If you’re lucky, I’ll have time to blog about it (I think about blogging a lot more than I actually have time to do it… I’m sacrificing my TV time tonight for this). If I don’t, you can draw the logical conclusion and assume I won the remaining races. Because if life doesn’t reward me for casually training for a few weeks by granting me Champion status at every race I do, maybe I can at least trick you into thinking I’ve won.
PS. ZERO running skirts seen tonight! Such a sensible crowd.