“Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes when you fall, you fly.” Neil Gaiman in The Sandman.
These are my legs. The picture was taken during my family trip to Spain recently, while I was running on Gran Vie in Barcelona. We got back home to Los Angeles late on Saturday night, and early the next morning, my jet-lagged, tired, stiff body found itself not on my regular run path which I missed like crazy, but on the local high school track for my first attempt at a somewhat formal speed workout. Why was I voluntarily on a high school track, and why was the girl who hates sprints and runs just for the love of running going to attempt some Yasso 800’s, which she had to google the night before hitting the track?
While I was in Spain and walking hours a day, I had a lot of time to think….and time to listen to myself. Over the past few years, I’ve been running for the joy that it brings me. For the most part, I haven’t worried about speed or getting “better” at this sport, whatever “better” at this sport means. I haven’t really talked much about numbers on this blog other than chronicling my increasing mileage during marathon training, because that isn’t really what this blog has been about. Over the last two years, my pace has remained the same, which is usually about a 10 minute mile. Periodically I would have the desire to try to work on my pace, but then I knew that in order to do that, I’d have to do formal speed work, and I just didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to think about time and pace and look at my Garmin during runs….. I wanted to be free…. to let my mind wander, to work through my day and my life or to just zone out and meditate on the run. At some point I seemed to convince myself that I was probably not going to get faster anyway; that I was happy to just go from non-runner to runner. Occasionally when that little voice would speak up and say maybe you can get faster, I’d shut it down.
We went to Spain, and given that I was running in such a beautiful place, I had to take some running pictures. The first thing I noticed when I looked at each picture were my legs. Since the age of 12 or possibly sooner, I’ve hated my legs….my big legs….my “non-ballerina” legs as that stupid ballet teacher called them… my thighs… I spent years trying to hide them. When I looked at these Spain running pictures, I saw big legs… big powerful legs… big strong legs… big legs that are the vehicles that have enabled me to transform my life over the last four years. And I thought to myself that I will never be ashamed of my big legs again. I will never speak of them negatively again. I will not speak negatively about any part of my body that is allowing me to live a full happy life every single day. And then I decided that I will listen to that part of my heart that periodically speaks up and says “what if you could be faster” and not shut it down…. I mean look at my big legs…I think they’ve got the power to make me faster….let me give them a chance.
I’ve had this motto of “run with your heart, not with your legs”….but I realized a few things. 1. Trying to get faster doesn’t mean that I’m not listening to or running with my heart. 2. If I say that I’m going to try to get faster and I don’t, then that is ok…. I need to get over this perfectionist side of me that is still scared to say something and not see it through; not to mention that no one else actually gives a shit about my pace. 3. Most of all, I think I finally have the time to do speed work. I have finally worked through most of my shit on my runs…. and so I can afford to take one run a week out of four or five to not work through shit but just focus on running….I don’t have any shit to work through at this time.
We get home late Saturday night. I google some speed workouts, figure out what exactly a Yasso 800 is…. I’m supposed to eventually work up to doing 10 cycles of them at 10K pace!!! I hit the track Sunday morning. Of course I don’t know what my 10K pace is, because I’ve never actually done a formal 10K despite running a marathon. I’ve done 5K’s and half-marathons, and my 5K and half-marathon pace are the same, because I like to run at a comfortable pace. So I’ll just sprint the 800 meters. Within the first round it absolutely sucks!!! I knew I hated speed work. This is bullshit. Why am I here. Why am I turning what I love into something I hate. I’d rather run 10 miles at a comfortable pace than half a mile fast. I don’t like speed. I’ll just do a max of two rounds today and call it a day and– never — do– this– again.
Round 2. It’s not horrible. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It is not enjoyable, but I’ll survive. Ok, maybe just for today, I’ll do a third round.
Round 3. This is the last one, so I may as well go as fast as I can. My heart is pounding. My chest hurts. I can feel my entire chest wall, as if it’s caged in some corseted body garment that doesn’t let you breathe….as if I’m wearing three layers of upper-body Spanx on top of each other. My heart is in my throat ready to be thrown up and I can visualize it projecting out of my mouth and landing splattered all over the track (not that dissimilar to what happened to my heart on the track when I was actually in high school, when we’d walk around during football games eyeing cute boys…my heart exposed and waiting to be stepped on.) I can’t remember the last time I felt this type of discomfort…yet here I am voluntarily. The doctor in me tells me that I know that I am not actually having cardiac chest pain, that I am not going to die, and I try to go even faster. I simultaneously feel like death and yet somehow more exhilarated, scared, and excited than I can remember feeling in a long time. I recall some recent Kristin Armstrong posts I’ve been reading about discomfort…. about how learning to deal with and push through discomfort prepares you for life. Then round 3 is done and I feel like I am flying on the 1.5 mile run back home from the track. I might as well be Superwoman with a cape on. It’s the most high I’ve ever felt during 1.5 miles. I’m invincible.
Maybe next time I’ll go for 4 rounds. Maybe one day I’ll get to the 10 rounds, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll get faster, and maybe I won’t. But in the meantime, I’m going to buckle up and take these big legs for a ride.
***** I know that some of you will object to me calling my legs “big”…. because some of you have “bigger” legs and some of you have “smaller” legs…. It is not about whether or not my legs are actually “big”…. it is about how I have seen them for the last 30+years and how I see them now…..
*******As you may know from my last post, I had my first piece in print in Women’s Running Magazine in the June Edition. For those who were not able to obtain the copy, this is my original piece and how I was initially told it would appear in the magazine. The art director later changed it to a different version, which may have looked nicer on the page, but I don’t think that it flowed as well or read as well as my original piece, so I am giving you the original.