Sunday, July 26, 2015

If I'd Known Then What I Know Now

Thanks to a phone call from a dear friend asking for help with our local running group, I have stepped back into the role as a volunteer coach for the new running season.  Prior to the call, I had no races on my calendar and no real plans to do anything significant this season.  Because of another friend's wedding scheduled for race day, I won't be able to attend the Houston marathon at all.  Nevertheless, since I will now be following a half marathon training schedule for the next few months, I might as well sign up for a few races so the effort doesn't go to waste.  My thoughts keep drifting back to the season of my very first marathon many moons ago.  The drive to get over that first finish line was nearly overshadowed by the extreme anxiety I felt.  If I could go back in time and give advice to my rookie runner self, there is a lot of wisdom I would share with her to help her get over the hump.  Frankly, I'd tell her just to get over herself.

Dear "Rookie" Akilah,

Good for you for signing up for your first marathon.  Just don't beat everyone over the head with it, especially your now-boyfriend/future-husband.  Yeah it's a big deal in your world, but you are not the first human to ever run 26.2 miles.  Be careful not to get all pissy with him when your carefully planned schedule gets off track.  Don't turn into a complete douche by yelling at him when your race performance turns sour.  Keep in mind he will be your biggest fan and support system for just about everything you attempt in your future running years, no matter how bad it gets.  Even after you guys get married and have kids, keep running.  There will be two younger sets of eyes watching and looking up to you every time you bring home a finishers medal.  They will never know how slow you run or how ugly you look at the finish line.  They will only know that you set a big goal and followed through.

If you are going to commit to the physical training, partner it with a healthy diet.  You have a youthful trim figure now, but your sugar intake is going to blow up one day and you'll wonder where your waistline went.  That fit figure will fade into oblivion quicker than '80s shoulder pads if you don't watch it.  Give up the junk food in favor of some veggie goodness and you might actually achieve that finish time you are aiming for.  You won't bonk out at mile 20, trying to make a deal with God to carry your pitiful self over the final 6.2 miles of agony.  Oh yeah, and those Friday night margaritas with the girls do not count as carb loading no matter how scientifically you break down the ingredients.  The only reason you are getting away with it now is because youth is on your side.  It won't last.  Once you hit 30 and then 40, those margarita and wine treats will beat you over the head like a bulldozer and make your Saturday morning runs feel like a death march under a hot wet blanket.  Cut back on them now so you can stop the bad habit before it grows.

When you show up to group runs, don't be afraid to unplug by leaving the headphones and music at home.  Actually talk to the other homo sapiens around you.  You'll show up alone, but will make some pretty cool friends before you leave.   You'll have plenty of opportunities to run solo and be to yourself, but the group runs are meant to be social.  Don't worry how you measure up to the "real" runners with their Boston qualifying goals.  There will be just as many regular folks that just want a running buddy and will care less about how green you are and fast you are not.  The running community you are so intimidated by is large enough for all kinds and you'll fit right in.  Travel to races in new locations and soak up the change of scenery.  Invest in good running shoes, regular massages, and lots of sleep.  Stick with the strength training once or twice a week and get your lazy tail to the track for some speed work regularly.  Track workouts suck and you will never ever learn to like them, but they will give the biggest payoff of anything else you'll incorporate into your workout routine.

Lastly, remember you are not a quitter.  You will fall, you will get injured and you'll even finish dead last.  But not giving up and always following through on a goal will become your proudest accomplishment.  You will lose count of your races and maybe gain a bunion or two.  You'll have surgeries and set backs, but you will also have some great stories to share with newbies one day.  This marathon thing that your family is already labeling as a passing phase will become a part of you that will get you excited at the start of every season, eager to begin another journey of countless miles on foot.  Race morning will always feel magical and crossing the finish line will always feel equally miraculous.  Twenty years from now, you will still be an active runner looking for the next shiny new racing adventure.  You won't have the same anxiety you feel now, but you will never lose the pull of chasing a PR goal.  Just keep running, moving forward and you'll surely figure it all out along the way.

Your Older, Wiser (Chubbier) Self

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