Friends and Strangers

If you’ve ever run (or mostly run, in my case) a marathon, I don’t have to tell you what it’s like. And if you haven’t, let me summarize: it’s really, really hard.

 

When I began running in 2009, I didn’t know one runner. There was no one around me that I could talk with, which led to me forcing my friends into listening to my weekly mileage, frequent insecurity, and minuscule triumphs (“No, guys, listen: I was really tired! And I didn’t stop!”). Worse than that, sadly, I was living with someone who constantly peppered his conversation with “negs” – and so the positivity I desperately needed was bogged down with reminders that I “wasn’t a real runner” and I “could never run a half/full marathon.” I think I ran both just to disprove him.

 

With this experience thankfully over, I find myself basking in unending positivity and support from friends and family. I’m a firm believer in sharing the love, so I emailed friend of my brother’s back in Kentucky; I knew she was running her first marathon and wanted to reach out and tell her how much butt she kicks.

 

I hope this doesn’t cross the personal-information-sharing line, but I found out that she’d suffered a meltdown on one of her long runs by thinking of how many miles she still had in front of her. I feel like all runners have experienced this in some way, whether you’re training for a 5k or a full marathon. Your run takes every ounce of mental energy you posses, then you realize that this run is half the length of the race you foolishly signed up for in the comfort of your living room.

 

I certainly know the meltdowns she’s talking about, but for me, when I found myself in the midst of one, or shaking with fear at the arrival of the orientation email in my inbox from the race director, or looking for motivation before a 5 a.m. run, I’d run to my trusty running blogs. And most of what I read I didn’t even understand. It was just so nice to see that there were people out there who would surely understand what I was going through. I frequently looked past the content of the blogs and went straight to the theme: there were people who ran. We could be friends, but we weren’t – nobody’s fault – but the main point is that they were real. That’s all I cared about.

 

Today, the girl I was talking to (let’s call her Jane) said something I thought was interesting: that the blogs she’d come across were too boastful. It’s a truth that I’d never really seen before, although now it seems obvious. Behind a screen, you’re invincible (one of the reasons I try to force myself to not read the comments sections, ever, ever), but in real life, on a real run, you’re vulnerable. It’s probably the reason why healthy living bloggers tend to exaggerate their healthy lifestyle and downplay their meltdowns.

 

This hilarious video (which I was introduced to via wildthingsRUNfree) is what I believe Jane means. And I can understand. It’s maddening to look for comfort, inspiration, or camaraderie, and read only broadcasted versions of a stranger’s best self.

 

Lesson learned: Be positive, but don’t shortchange the shortcomings, either.

 

So I’ll just go ahead and tell you: today, I told my boyfriend that I ran the big hill that’s the last part of my favorite four-mile loop, but technically I sort of slow-motion-bunny-hopped it. And I was proud of myself for doing it. And I wondered if that counted as over-preparing for the Nashville marathon’s hills, as I’ve been instructed to do. Disregard the fact that my first and only very slow marathon was done on a completely flat course, and that it was over a year and a half ago. And afterwards I decided that it merited a second lunch.

 

And on the positive side, I have a healthy body that allows me to do things I didn’t think I could do, a mind to push it, incredible, loving people to encourage me, and the remote but present possibility of strangers on the internet who may read my words and feel like they’re not alone.

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