On Sunday I will be running my third half marathon. This will be my second outing at the Gold Coast Half Marathon, and as I sit through the final days of training and tapering and preparing for a 3am start on Sunday morning I have cause to sit and think about my running journey thus far.
As a child I am sure I ran free. I remember summer afternoons when I would come inside breathless, sweaty and grass-stained after a day spent out in the sun running around our backyard. When I grew older I was a more sedentary child. Less interested in play, more interested in reading and thinking, unsure of my peers and a little more comfortable with those older than me. As a teenager I was plump and uncomfortable with my body; this followed me through university and I fought demons in my head with a head first plummet into food. It was while I was at university though that I first became interested in running, I ran my first 5k while I was at uni and I fell in love with the sport. By running and righting my relationship with food I shaped my body and learned how it liked to be treated; I learned how to nourish myself physically and emotionally with a healthy diet and plenty of movement. My body metamorphosed from something I regarded with contempt, something I felt the need to control and punish, into my way of moving through the world, a vessel for acts of love and kindness, a wonderful playground that needed to be shown care and attention so it could run and jump and twirl.
At the invitation of a dear friend I joined a running group, and although I was the slowest of the gaggle (my running partner was a 70 year old man) I felt like I had found a tribe that I could belong to. Even though I prefer a solo run I enjoyed those early Saturday mornings and I thank those runners for pushing me to go further, and believe that I could achieve my running goals. I wasn’t the fat kid in Phys Ed class any more.
I have taken running with me everywhere I have gone. My sneakers are the first item I pack whenever I pull out my suitcase. I have run through the quiet streets of Rome as the sun rose over the spires of the churches, scrambled over rocks and dirt scurrying up the sides of canyons in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, paced myself along the waterline on a hot summer morning on Christmas holidays at the beach, and watched all ‘the beautiful people’ while jogging in gyms in Las Vegas. Running is the sport that doesn’t require anything of you but a pair of shoes and a surface hospitable to humans.
I ran my first half marathon in 2011: my first outing at the Gold Coast. At the finish line my Mama burst into tears and I clutched her with my salty arms and cried a little too. I could feel that I had left something of my old self behind and gained something precious. Those first 21.1 kilometres were my coming of age tribute. I ran every step for me. For the old me who had changed so much, and for the Amy who had been born on the road.
Last year I took a year off from training as my study load was high. My sister and I ran a few shorter races, including one of my favourites: the Mother’s Day Classic. Every step I shared with Jess was wonderful. We distracted each other by talking about inane things, and I would coax her up the dreaded hills by chanting dirty rhymes at the top of my longs only stopping when she reached me. Together we conquered mountains. Thank you little one.
Earlier this year Mama and I shared a grand adventure and flew down to Hobart so I could run the Cadbury Half Marathon. I learned my lessons from that road too – more hill work is definitely needed in my training programs. Still, that was a race I felt very prepared for, I had the longest training run I had ever done and I felt strong and sure. The day was beautiful, the event was wonderful, and refuelling with handmade fudge from the local sweetshop was divine reward.
When I returned from Tasmania my body broke down on me a little. The iron in my body was barely detectable (no wonder those magnets kept falling off…), my thyroid was chucking a tantrum, and my lungs had welcomed back their old friend asthma. So off to the doctor it was, every week for the next three months. Now, please, this is not a pity party. I realise that all of these things are fairly fixable, certainly survivable, and definitely curable – they were just a pain in the behind (quite literally in the case of my iron injections) and they all affected my running. Then, two weeks ago I did something silly and injured myself. I am so thankful that my knees were not completely mashed just pummelled rather unpleasantly.
On Sunday when I line up at the start I will be at the back of the pack. This race is not about beating my finishing time, or seeing how fast I can fly over the course reeling other runners in and being queen of the overtake. This race is about proving to myself that I can sit in that uncomfortable place and reach deep within myself for the strength to make it through. This race is about fighting to achieve my goals, about proving to myself that no matter what curve balls life throws at me I can make it.
This race is about remembering that I am built for life. There is no day but today. Today to hunt it down. Today to make the road my own. To run my life. There will come a day when I won’t be able to run. Today is not that day.
When I cross that line on Sunday I will have left every part of myself behind. I will see my soul broken down into a million little jagged pieces and rebuilt again. I will run, walk, or crawl across that final hurdle and be in love and wonder with what my body is capable of. Then, I will set about replenishing, re-nourishing, re-training. But first, I will eat ice cream.
Tell me dear reader, are you a runner? What does it mean to you?
What does your finishing line look like, racing, or in life? What pushes you to achieve, drives you through the pain?