I have to break up with you. Our relationship has not been good for a while. When we met I was all in, maybe a little bit too soon. Spending time with you gave me a kind of heady feeling, some would say addictive. But there have been signs since the beginning, red flags if you will, that we are a bad match. I have other lovers now, and while things aren’t necessarily easier with them either, I just get don’t worn down by the them the way I did with you. Plus, they’re sexier. Sorry. Well, sorry not sorry.
I have a backstory, as lots of people do, which put me in the not-so-unique position of having two young kids and being in crap shape. I had a few false starts at trying to improve my fitness (including a very fun, but ultimately too time-consuming stint on a competitive rowing team) but found that I couldn’t stay consistent with anything fitness-related because of the constant pull of insomnia, kid-wrangling, work-wrangling, and inertia.
But then I found running. And because it was something that could be done in my own neighborhood, with no prep time and minimal gear, it seemed doable. I did couch to 5k four times before making it through the program (should have been my first hint), but kept going and then joined a running group where my embarrassment about being last every time motivated me to gain speed and distance at a reasonable pace. I ran my first 5k, a women’s only race, and placed a full 15 minutes after my friends. But then I PR’ed every single race after that, running about one every one-two months. I started to feel like a fit person. I was proud of myself.
With the help of an amazing group of people at the Ypsi Studio, I managed to train for what seemed to be an impossible distance, the half-marathon, and ran a very satisfying 2:32 in the Detroit Free Press International Marathon (half-marathon event). It was a real peak experience and I savored every minute of it. I felt healthy and strong and capable. I knew I wasn’t the fastest runner there, but I finished the distance just fine and I did so at 218 lbs. I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished and felt like my fitness was better than it had been in years. And it was. Training for the half-marathon took me from someone who struggled to finish a 5k without walking to someone who cranked out 9 and 10 mile training runs and had a bit to give.
Looking back, though, I wonder if it was the running that led to my fitness gains or if the running just benefitted from my fitness gains. I was running in the mornings twice a week with the Studio running group, then filling out my program with three more runs a week. But I also was doing bootcamp classes, spinning, and a HIIT workout with the Studio’s owner, Julia Collins. Sometimes I was doing three workouts in a row — running with the group then staying for bootcamp and spin. I think that my body responds awesomely to resistance training and high-intensity cardio. And maybe not so much to the long slog of distance running training. I often felt like my long runs were my least effective days.
This became really obvious when I tried to springboard from my half-marathon success and train for a marathon the next year. One mistake — I started training too early on an ankle I had broken in a rock-climbing accident. But really, marathon training was just one fail after another. As running replaced my other workouts, I actually felt my body get weaker. My adrenals took a hit. I began to get repetitive stress injuries. I had to roll my IT bands every day or they felt like concrete when I ran. I had absolutely debilitating heel spurs. My knees sounded like they had a bag of marbles in them every time I went up or down the stairs. I gained 25 lbs. My long runs were three and four and five-hour-long exercises in sheer will against a constant desire to quit, followed by a day on the couch.
My friends from the Studio and from our running community were super-encouraging on the day of the race and it did feel like a triumph, though strangely not as satisfying as my half and with a time much less satisfying — over six and a half hours. I could say that I ran a marathon, but, in reality, I wasn’t sure I would ever want to run again. And, two and half years later, I’ve gathered together all of my false starts in running, attempts to use running for fitness gains again, and I’m officially saying goodbye.
My closure was inspired by one of my neighbors, who has found a new love of running by running races of only a single mile, finding meaning in being fast. Here is her story: http://milermethod.com/blog/breaking-up-with-the-marathon
Sierra’s writing about how holding the marathon as the pinnacle of the recreational running experience led her to doubt her body resonated pretty strongly with me and awoke me one step at a time to something I hadn’t realized: running puts me in a constant battle with my body. Sierra came to a slightly different conclusion — she decided that her body type was more suited to a faster, shorter race. I decided that I’m not going to run at all.
I’m now about 270 lbs. And even if I get down to 218 again, or lower, to my fighting weight of, say, 165-185 lbs, I still don’t think running will be my best sport. I’m in a head space where I don’t want to make weight loss my primary focus, rather I want performance and strength. And I’m finding that there are a lot of sports where my weight is not the kind of hindrance that it is in running. Because even 165lb me is not going to be a Boston qualifier. I’ve accepted that. My muscle-y self is not made for it. And I don’t want to do a sport where I’m thinking that if I could just lose a little muscle weight, I’d be faster. It’s a battle I don’t want to fight. Running makes my body my own enemy, and I hate that.
I’m an awesome athlete, when I train consistently, and I sometimes make sick improvements in short amounts of time that surprise me when I pick the right activities. When I was cross-training for the half, I surprised my trainer by pulling 400 watts consistently on the erg and I’m erg training now, trying to get a 5k time less than 20 minutes. I think I’ll get there by the end of the month. I can cycle efficiently and tear up the mountain bike trails. I can swim long distances easily. But what I really can do is lift weights.
What all of these activities have in common is that having a more muscled body is a strength, not a weakness for them. I knew that I would excel in weightlifting because I have a long-ago history with it and a little flirting relationship with it from HIIT. But now that I am working an actual powerlifting program, I am absolutely, totally, head over heels in love. And I’m crushing it for now. I feel at harmony with my body in a way that I haven’t for years while exercising. I’m dreaming big dreams about how far I can go with this sport and, best of all, I can do it in the body that I’m in. LOVE.