There’s a bag of ice on my ankle, I fell off my bed this morning and I can’t count how many happy hours I skipped over the past eight months. Yet I’m sad the half-marathon is over.
Running is lonely in a lot of ways, much like tennis. Maybe that’s why I like both. When I committed to the miles, I committed to hours locked inside my own brain, hours of dwelling punctuated by the quest for oxygen.
At times I ran to escape my feelings; at other times I ran to confront them.
In the past eight months, I went vegetarian. I lost five pounds. I worked through a failed relationship, sometimes with mid-run muttering. I learned to run in the morning, something that had left me dazed and dizzy before. Once, I cried mid-run as I ran through Waterworks Park, where a beloved coworker and friend tragically passed away in February. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and watched the sun rise from the Capitol steps, rare city quiet a sharp contrast to my rambling morning mind.
As I hobbled from the finish line wearing my medal, I realized the moment I crossed it isn’t what I had been working for all along. It was all the itty-bitty epiphanies throughout the eight months of training — every “Holy shit, you’re crazy,” every 7:30 a.m. Sunday run. Every lonely, exhilarating moment trapped inside my psyche, my body battling the desire to stop and walk, my brain battling the usual blend of raging inadequacy and 20-something angst.
There is bizarre comfort in knowing that running, for me, will never be about times or splits or speed, but about the potential in loneliness, in a goal that belongs to me and only me. When I started running, I perceived it as an act of survival. Eight months later, I perceive it as an art of survival, one that has produced myriad blog posts and essays-to-be, two new friendships and an environmental consciousness that led me to vegetarianism.
I didn’t feel particularly beautiful when the photographer snapped my official race photo at mile 11 (but really, who put the camera there? Why not mile one?), but there is something deeply, enigmatically beautiful about taking on that which helps me survive.
Maybe I’ll move from surviving to thriving someday – but I suspect that milestone is a more than a few bowls of post-race pasta and ice packs away.