Dedication is going outside to brush 12 inches of snow off your Honda at 1pm on your day off, and heading to the gym with the very edge of nausea climbing down into your stomach from god-knows-what you ate the other day. It is dusting icy remnants from your old winter boots before getting into your pre-heated car, and still wondering slyly to yourself: should I just exchange them for my running shoes right now and go out on the road anyway…throwing caution to the 18 degree wind? Dedication is running three miles on a treadmill and then hurling your face into a public toilet to dispose of this morning’s toast, coffee and perfectly ripe banana. And feeling really bad because you wanted to run five today.
Dedication is also sometimes a crazed and unadulterated surrender of all reason and good sense.
Since starting this blog I’ve been hesitant to write a post about running. I am well aware that talking about my new hobby bores the hell out of half my friends and makes the rest want to claw my pretentious, holier-than-thou-sounding eyes out. It’s not an interest I share with my husband, any of my family members, or most of my friends. But I think it’s okay for it to be a lonely endeavor. Because running has become a part of who I am in a way that was always there but never fully realized until the day I ran my first road race. Running is how I feel closer to the natural world, to the roads around my neighborhood and to the day’s running partner (sometimes a friend and sometimes my dog Oscar), and it’s how I feel closer to myself. And the closer I am to myself, the smaller are my clouds of insecurity and self-loathing.
Right now I’m training for my first half marathon, which is happening in the beginning of April. I find it’s an oddly intimate thing, training for a big race. You find all your self-inflicted limits and then bash them senseless with your newer and better expectations. You get used to aches and familiar with ice packs. It’s a time to feel like a bad-ass rock star, and it’s a time to fail like a big ole’ loser. Clichés aside, running at times can be murder, but there’s kinda nothing like the day you learn that you can run 9 miles all at once. When you’ve finally made friends with discomfort, that dark pursuer, and trade in your excuses for the satisfaction of getting that round number to show up on your GPS watch.
It’s a hallowed place, that number. Whatever it is, three, seven, thirteen-point-one. It’s where the ghosts disappear. But of course, every time you reach one number your eyes turn immediately to the next, and tomorrow you’re chasing a new ghost. A runner is an addict. Like one who must consume a substance just to make the world balance out again, the runner needs this self-sustaining heroin. I feel the most normal when I’m in motion. To settle into that familiar rhythm is to know lucidness again. My feet glide softly over the surface of the ground, the arch of one foot propelling my frame just enough to land squarely over the next. A perfect balance of strength and velocity. I feel I belong in this place. Here I can’t be judged for admiring a quiet pond, can’t be rushed out of feeling the warm sunshine. I can make a right onto a street I’ve never been or stop to watch my dog chase a squirrel off the path and up an oak tree. Here I can have the air, I can feel the earth underfoot. It is freedom.
In the summer.
And then there are the days I’m donning wool socks and a “burglar-chic” face gaiter, to run for two hours in the dead center of a New England January. And when the roads won’t abide, there’s the suicidally boring gym treadmills and endless episodes of Oprah and Family Court playing on the corral of ceiling-mounted TV sets facing me. Training myself to run 13.1 miles outside in the sunshine, wearing tank tops and those cool new running skirts that everybody loves, that sounds like a piece of cake. No excuses, no fear of nature biting back with ice-slick roads and purple toes. But, training for a half marathon in the screaming-cold, angry winter? That takes some major dedication.