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Book Review: The Marriage of Opposites

Thoughts on Running Marathons

"books | writing | running | nature | scrapbooks | flowers | quilts"

These are the words I use to describe myself in my Instagram profile, hoping to let people know that my feed is an eclectic one that reflects the long list of things I love. (I probably should add "travel" to that list. And every once in awhile I put up a photo of my family, but not very often as it sometimes feels kind of intrusive, as my kids get older, to put their image on a social media that isn't theirs.)

But if you look at my feed for July, you'll notice it's all running, all the time:

Instagram snip amy sorensen

Well, running and hiking, but still: no books, no scrapbooks, no quilts.

And that is pretty reflective of how my life has been, honestly, since I decided for sure to start training for a marathon.

I have many running friends who run many marathons every year. Sometimes, when I think about my miles in comparsion, I'm not even sure if I qualify to call myself a runner, since my usual distance is the half marathon. Or if it's slightly un-cool to only run halfs, if it means I am not dedicated enough to my sport of choice, or that I am lazy.

The truth is, though, that training for half marathons fits easily into a full life. Training for a full marathon, however, easily becomes your life​. It's not just the weekly long run getting longer and longer; there are also runs during the week that also get longer. And cross training. And trying to fit in some strength training too. And thinking (obsessing?) about your race plans. And reading other people's experiences with the race. And books about running. Avoiding sick people, avoiding sugar; trying to always stay hydrated (and then going to the bathroom more than usual!) Trimming blisters and rolling sore muscles and realizing you already need a new pair of shoes.

The marathon is consuming.

And while I admire my running friends and their dedication, courage, stamina, and skill, another truth for me is this: I like running, but I also like doing other things. And if all I am doing is running (like when I'm training for a marathon) I have a sense of emptiness, no matter how much happiness, stress relief, and satisfaction I get from running.

I thought a lot about this while running my marathon last weekend. Why was it so important to me, to run 26.2 miles in a city I'd only seen once as a child, to fit so hard through through illness and other stresses to get there? Why had I used my time in this particular way?

Partly it is a thing that has to do with being a runner in this society right now, when running is perhaps sort of a status symbol, and how that combines with my competitive nature. I'm not ruthlessly competitive, not toeing the line to beat everyone to the finish, but I do want to feel like I can hold my own. Like I have done things that I (meaning: I, personally, within myself) can feel proud of. But, more honesty: Yes, it's so I can be proud of myself. But it's also so I'm part of the club. So when someone asks me about running, I can say that yes, I've run a couple of marathons. So that other runners, the real ones, will think I am also a real runner.

(Even though I know and believe that the only thing that makes you a runner is putting on your running shoes and going running; the act, not the distance, creates the runner. There is still that tug to prove yourself.)

Every race you train for and run changes your relationship with running. Or, perhaps it doesn't really change it so much as helps you understand it better. What I already know about running is that I need it in my life. It helps balance my mood, it fulfills my need to move my body outside, it is part of my identity. But what finishing my race and then reflecting has helped me understand is that I will never be one of those runners, whether they are the "real" ones or not. The ones who run five or seven or nine marathons a year, or who regularly run even longer distances—and that that truth does not influence whether or not I am a real runner.

I am a runner.

But I am not fulfilled if running is all that I do. I am also a writer (and yes: I also question if I am a "real" writer; in this context what I mean is that I need writing to process my experiences fully, and that part of my experiences is always the thought "how will I write about this experience?"). Whether it's silly or not, I love making things, namely scrapbook pages and quilts. I love getting down on my knees and digging in the dirt, pulling weeds and planting flowers and snipping stems. I like taking pictures. I am not myself without books. And hiking—pushing hard up a steep incline in my hiking boots, among trees and flowers and cliffs and sometimes wildlife—hiking is necessary for me, too.

I still want to write a race report with all of the details about my San Francisco marathon experience. But I wanted to write this first, so I didn't forget. Is this my last marathon? I don't know. Probably not, but it will be a few years before I do it again I think. Maybe I won't run another full until I forget, somehow, that I need more than running in my life. Or I have something different to prove to myself.

The fact that I need other things in my life in addition to running doesn't make me less​ of a runner. It doesn't make me more or less of anything, in fact. It is just me: there is so little time for so many things I want to do. I don't regret the time I spent training for this marathon. But I am also filling up with energy and enthusiasm for all the other activities I'll have time for now that the marathon is over. Time with my family. Time cooking in my kitchen. Time with my fingers flying over a keyboard. Maybe being a jack of many trades makes me a master of nothing, but that is OK. I don't need to be a master. I just want to experience everything.

Comments

CarrieH

Love this! Congratulations on the marathon--what a great accomplishment. Looking forward to the race recap.

Margot

You've expressed very well the reason I doubt I'll ever walk a Full, even though I've been challenged to do so by the same cousin whose challenge to walk a Half with her sparked my thoroughly enjoyable 'fit in more walking and some events for motivation' lifestyle. There's just too much else I want to do (and walking a Full would take forever)!

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