As a runner, I’ve always been motivated by the destination, the finish line… not necessarily the journey—the training or the actual run.
A race-training schedule reminds me of the formative assessments we use along the way in education. It helps me have confidence in my race day performance, answering the nagging questions: Am I on my way to success? Will I be able to cross the finish line?
The first time I trained for a half-marathon, I followed my training schedule religiously. I didn’t miss a single run. I even cross-trained. (Thinking, What’s that? is as close as I get to cross-training these days.) Even bad weather didn’t stop my training.
I will never forget a ten-mile training run in Creve Coeur Lake Park on Christmas Eve. It was freezing, so cold that the water was ice. Waves were literally frozen in mid-motion. I brought Skittles with me as a pick-me-up, but when I reached into my pocket to throw a few in my mouth, my fingers grasped solidly frozen candy. I reconciled to move on without them.
When race day came, I was trained and ready. I would finish! Even better, I would tackle the finish line! And, I would not stop running! This was my mindset for years. As I passed runners who suddenly stopped running to walk with less than a mile to go, I couldn’t understand what they were doing. Didn’t they train for this? I just couldn’t understand how they could get so far and then “give up.”
Then my reality changed. I became a mom of two boys with a full-time career. I still attempt to use the same training schedule, but now I’m lucky to get in two short runs midweek and a long run on the weekend. Cross-training? Yeah right (unless you count walking around an elementary school all day or lifting my kids in and out of the car or into bed).
The most challenging part, though, wasn’t training less; it was mentally coming to terms with my new running reality.
I am currently running slower than I have been in years, and (gasp) I have walked in the last quarter-mile of a race. In fact, it happened during my last race, the St. Louis Hot Chocolate 15K, while with two of my amazing running partners. I can’t remember if it was my breath or my legs, or maybe even my head, but I just had to stop and walk for a few moments.
I reflected on all of those runners through the years I had watched slow to a walk during a race. Maybe they were suffering from an IT band injury, maybe they were dealing with the news of cancer, maybe they were struggling with their four year old, maybe they found out their child had a incurable genetic disorder, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t about a lack of training. Maybe at that moment, life was just too much, and they needed a second or two or three to slow down, reboot themselves, and start again. Maybe they weren’t giving up. Maybe they just needed permission to walk.
After years of running to the finish line, focusing on the end goal, I’m starting to appreciate the journey. And sometimes, I just need to slow down, even to a walk, in order to get there. Today I give myself permission to walk, permission to be human, and know I will still get there.
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