I tend to link my self-worth with productivity. I'm not saying that's a good plan or I recommend it to everyone, I'm just saying, that's how things tend to work out over here. On a good day, that means I accomplish many things on varying plains of importance in my life: I write, I make photos, I coach clients, I cook, I do some administrative things for my business, I exercise, I look into Ginger's eyes in an authentic and heartfelt manner, I meditate, blah blah... you see where this is going. And, on a good day, all of this happens in a seamless fashion without a degree of anxiety or self criticality that feels, well, bitchy. On a bad day, things look like a view from a handbasket on my way to certain doom and a fiery demise of despair with panic and a side order of self-loathing. Not to be dramatic.
The bad days are marked by over-scheduling and unrealistic expectations of what a lady can wring out of an hour and what's actually necessary to feel good about my day. It was like that on Thursday. My day was insane and I knew it, but I thought, after MANY years of knowing this to be untrue, that I could do everything I planned and still feel awesome. Thankfully this version of being wrong provided me with some wonderful information I can pass along to fellow runners.
I spent the morning happily "in the tank". That's what my friend Tara Jane calls it when you get into your creative or work mode so hardcore, that you just become it. You ignore the phone, Facebook, your bladder, and even your belly. Which I did. So I thought, I'll just go to the salad bar (because I have no food prepped), and I'll eat as I hop on the train to my running starting point plan. I like to take the train to where I begin and home from where I end so I can relax and prepare for the run then treat myself to a ride home.
ANYHOOTS, as it turns out, it is actually NOT an urban myth that one should not eat before running. One gets cramps and painful discomfort in the side. I only made it one mile, didn't enjoy my lunch from scarfing, and then didn't enjoy my run either, THEN felt bad that I didn't reach my goals and still had to finish the day on that trajectory. I'll keep the rest of the gory details to myself.
In the win column, I have debunked a mythic suspicion as a truth, forgiven myself for missing the run, and put in two great days of training since. Plus, I now had the opportunity to let you know how my road test went. Which wasn't well. So there's that.
I am as slow as ever, again. I am not the woman who ran the marathon. A lot has happened and my body has aged and my life has shifted and my desires are different. The main part about finishing a marathon more than training even is that you have to WANT to. Well, I don't anymore. I did my 26.2 miles and so that was a nice check mark in the old Life Column. Now I will find new things to do. This is it. The Hood to Coast and I am through my first block of fear, lumbering around this beautiful town. I can go further than when I first began the marathon training and my mind is more aware of its own tricks and treachery. I took a familiar route and it was agonizingly slow, my limbs heavy and thick. But there my body was, exactly how it is today, willing to trot me around this beautiful city, by my beloved ballpark and up along the water. I had feared this return would leave me so sad, so disappointed in what I had become. But instead I felt grateful to still be moving in this body, just as it is, my triumphant return to the life of a sausage.
The last time I undertook a bizarre running challenge, finishing a marathon before I turned 40, I endured a pretty intense case of plantar fasciitis. That blew. I got cortisone shots in my heels like I was some kind of Cy Young winner trying to make it through the playoffs with an ailing elbow, not a regular pudgy Jewish lesbian just wanting to mark middle age with an epic sort of victory. The shots wore off just before the race and, well, sometimes, that's how life goes. I had to walk about four miles of the race and wasn't sure I'd be able to finish. It felt like there were tacks in my heels, each step featuring the sensation of a sick bully in grade school placing a silver menace below each footfall. I frankly have no idea how I finished the race, both through the foot pain but also just because THAT IS TOO LONG TO RUN.
So now I have this shoulder thing. And it's been going on a long time. I've done massage and acupuncture and chiropractic. I've even done my homework for the excrutiating exercises. I'm over it. Soon I'll be going to see a surgeon to see if I am a good candidate for a procedure where the team puts you under and then manually break up the scar tissue. This is followed up by about a month of physical therapy and then hopefully I'll have my pageant wave back. It's true that a lady could go the physical therapy route and just tough it out, but when my kind doctor tried to manually move my shoulder in the office, I actually thought I might throw up. It hurts that much. I'll take the lights out option, please.
I'm telling you this because I'm interested in letting you know that frankly, I have a lot of problems. I can't do any strength training right now, plus the last year has also seen some stressful and crushing blows in my personal life around illness (I'll get to this soon). I often, when things are difficult, take comfort in food. The marathon happened with about 15 more pounds than I'm carrying now and by the time I hit the Hood to Coast, I imagine about 25 more coming off. I spent the marathon rewarding myself with every pastry I could find, often several times a day. Which was lovely, but ultimately, not in my life goal of treating my body with care and respect. This time I have a new education in nutrition behind me, a successful coaching practice in full swing, and an enormous amount of support to help me do this differently: in health and in happiness.
And so first, this shoulder crap update. I'll keep you posted.
I'M NOT GOOD AT RUNNING. People think I'm being a little hard on myself or not giving myself credit, but I can assure you that giving myself credit is something I've made some progress at. So is accepting myself how I am and guess what? At this point I have watch so many exquisite runners, so many human who are really born to move in this particular way, and I, as it turns out, am quite a ways away from that particular set of gifts. And that's fine.
What I have going for me is that I don't stop. I go slow and it's awkward and unsightly and not really admirable in its form. (What form?) But I keep going. I'll go on and on. My legs get on the bus of Confucius who says, "It does not matter how slowly you go, only that you do not stop." And I like that about myself. It was a fabulous thing to learn because frankly, I thought I was lazy. For decades I thought that. But I was wrong. I can stick with a thing if my approach is kind, reasonable, honest. And sticking with a thing I'm terrible at has been one of the single most transformative things I've ever done.
But this is bullshit, man.
Since the marathon, I've moved my running mostly indoors to the gym. In fact, since my body was so screwed by that distance, I moved it onto the elliptical machine mostly to get my exercise. On vacations I'll hit the road and go outside to run still, but the process is so arduous and difficult. It's a very different feeling to be alone with the body then on an oiled machine with a constant stream of ESPN sports news in my ears. I run outside alone and quietly, no headphones or friends or running companions. Just me and my body, my chatty little brain on a hamster wheel and my daily anxieties pulling my shoulders up to my ears. But this week I decided to ease myself toward the treadmill more, build back some strength, and then move back out onto the road some. I set a goal and got started.
Sometimes my plans are kind of fakakta. I just pick something and begin there because it turns out that trying to find the perfect place to start often leaves me on a couch for years at a time. So I just pick a place. I picked 6 miles an hour. I thought I'd go for 10 minutes. Now, this is a pace I would describe as on the average team. The slower side of average actually. Not so notable. A ten minute mile. Now, like I told you, I'm not really average and I'd would work my long runs at about 12 minute miles. I just settled in and kept going. People can walk faster than I ran. But I didn't care. I just wanted to finish. But this time I thought since I only have to run 6 mile stretches and not some ungodly length of time, maybe I can try to be average. So I set the thingy to 6.0 and began. Also adding to my bad planning is that I did this after I had already been on the elliptical and two kinds of bikes for a combined total of 80 minutes, so I was already drenched when I arrived.
I lasted 6 minutes at 6.0. Not ten. Not 6 miles. Not an hour. 6 little minutes.
So. Here we go, people. I'm at the foot of Bullshit Mt. and I'm ready to rock this thing, one gawky minute at a time.
It referred to Mt. Hood, the big snowcapped beauty I would stare at when I lived in Portland 19 years ago. NINETEEN FRIGGIN YEARS!! I was just out of college, lost and found on the Rose City streets. Elliott Smith played secret solo shows in sad bars while his rock band Heatmiser rocked in clubs. Team Dresch began in a basement of a house called The Curse where only girls were allowed. Even the wonderful drummer, Scotty Plouf of Built to Spill, sitting in until they got Marci Marinez to play had to leave after the set. We did self defense exercises between bands and tugged our arm warmers up that we made from tube socks. The Space Room made the best Bloody Marys in town and I stayed up all night with my new dyke badge of honor and hefty lines of my new friend crystal meth. I had no idea then all the people we would lose, all the women I would love, and that I would ever really break up with my true love of defensiveness: cigarettes. Mt Hood watched over all of us, dragging our hearts around Smith's alphabet town, some lugging black tar heroin, some with the dirty speed on their back, an itchy monkey with a burn, and some just dying from the lack of light. But we'd all look up and trace the snow paths down the big rock, tears spilling down the sky in the distance, and we'd wonder, What Happens Next, World, and who can we tell about the pounding in our chests?
Next August I'll return to Oregon for this race. It's the world's biggest relay. 12 of us will arrive, some of us strangers, some old friends, some even siblings, with 2 vans, chests full of snacks, and 199 miles in front of us. Over the course of 36 hours, we will take turns running legs of approximately 6 miles each, 3 times over. That's 18 miles in 36 hours. That last leg will be a real bitch. At the end, through night and gravel and farmland and heat and more mountains and Portland, we'll all arrive together and look at the wide ocean, me looking at all that salt, back over and over 20 years. I will be 43 by then, my wild grey Leo mane tied up and bopping through the Oregon terrain: no cigarrettes, no crystal meth, no lunatic girlfriends, and with any luck at all, no excruciating pain this time round.
Come with me. I started training this week. It's hilarious already.
Things started to go wrong early.
I couldn't sleep. y newly functional right ass cheek was sore from being used for the first time, apparently, in years. The good news is that the physical therapy is sending me into the land of good health. The bad news is that it's happening on Marathon Day.
I take off down the road in the sausage outfit, tears rolling down my face. It's foggy. It's damp. Off to my left I see Ginger for the first time, joined by my friend Grant who rode his bike down to see me off on my journey. Seeing friends will eventually save me, as it always has. My mind won't settle, my right side feels strange, and while the left heel isn't screaming, it's weighing in its constant dull protest.
I make it over the huge hill up to the Golden Gate and immediately a woman coming towards me trips and goes down hard, face first, into the road bed. Her ponytail jerks left as her face hits the cement and her long elegant fingers reach helplessly for her careening iphone. It's kind of weird, really, the iphone. But that's what I see, in slow motion really, limbs and fingers and electronics. And it makes the worst sound, her body going down so hard. I feel like it should be louder, like a sound engineer should have jacked it up like for a film, but it's pretty quiet, the air leaving the body, a small smack of skin on road. A groan. The pack keeps me moving, along with shock and fear as she scrambles up again, I think.
I can't get out of my own way in my mind, six miles in and all my counting tactics are failing. I stay calm. I stay kind. I know things are coming apart. I get to the other side and finally have a chance to pee. I will not regale you with the horror that is the bathroom over there, or the band that would be thrown from a bar mitzvah by a mob of livid semites. They are both equally soul crushing. But not nearly as bad as the feeling that washes over me as I pass the 8 mile mark on the bridge. I see the eight, my lucky number and my right hip just seizes. The whole right side of my body follows and I dig my thumb into it. I dig until something opens enough to let it keep moving, my six hour finish time dissolving on the bridge. I cannot make it like this. Eight miles is usually when I begin to feel good on a long run. Strong and immortal. Slow but capable. But on race day, mile eight is where things are clearly not going to improve.
By the time I make it over the Presidio hill, past Baker Beach, across more hills in Sea Cliff to the avenues, the cops are beginning to pull up the cones and let traffic through. I am still surrounded by a good sized hunk of runners, but the marathon has a contract with the city and cars need to be moving. I understand, but it's kind of a harsh toke for the old spirit. Maybe it's good, I tell myself, to be on the sidewalk like in real life. Just another run. Just another day.
Golden Gate Park is upon us and my chunk of humanity heads in. Almost everyone, it turns out, is doing the half marathon and right about three hours into this, they retire and I am nearly alone in the park. Even the bison look depressed. My body is over it. I think about cheating. Not as an option so much, but that the possibility exists. That I could. Except I actually can't. Can't live with it. The sign up to the Presidio Hill had a quote from Confucius that said, It does not matter how slowly you go, Only that you do not stop. And so I got right with that way back there, I could go slow. I could take seven and a half hours, and I might. But I would finish.
The race has been flanked with volunteers decked out in biker leather and pins blanketing the vests, like bad ass Scouts. They dot the side of the route in safety orange hats, reclining easily on their gargantuan Harleys. Northern California bikers that came down to volunteer, help with traffic. Heading into mile 16, I see a trio of them off to my right talking to a person in Levi's and Vans. I see curls kicking out from under a paperboy hat, arms gesturing toward a piece of paper.
She turns and comes toward me, arms thrown into a huge welcome, no care in the world for my sweaty body.
Sam it's horrible. It hurts so much. Everything is wrong. My right side won't move. My heel is killing me. My lower back is so tired. It's awful. I feel like shit.
She laughs. She laughs more.
She is beaming. She is so happy. She wears happiness across her face like a finish line.
You just ran 16 miles. Of course you feel awful. It's terrible. Nothing is making me feel better than you right now. I love it. You're just doing it. I'm an athlete and I don't want to do this. But you are. You're just doing it. You're having a bad day and you're doing it anyhow.
We walk. We walk fast but we walk. I am sobbing, telling her my fears. I am afraid my friends and family will think less of me in my bad performance. I am afraid the pain will rob me of my work. I am afraid to feel humiliated, to see people who had come out to cheer for me, standing and waiting too long. I am taking too long.
The bikers said people are collapsing. You're not. You look great. You look strong. Look, there's Mr. Blue Heron. He came out to cheer you on. And the hawks are out.
We basically proceed to have a nature walk in which Sam tells me about the animals and the trees in the park. The park goes on for fucking ever. I tell her when we finish Stow Lake, I need to head out on my own. I'm afraid I won't be able to run anymore at all. But I wantch Sam go, and then my legs pick it up. I run. I walk. I run.
As I'm just about to the 18th mile a pair of bicyclists pass me, The man is saying
Oh these are just the stragglers.
Unimpressed, she says,
How long does it take the average person to run a marathon?
And all the love my heart has recaptured, all the courage and willingness turns catty. I feel scarlet rise. And I think,
Average people don't run marathons
And I may be a straggler,
but I am not
Just a Straggler.
I emerge from the park fired up, running dow Haight Street. First just to get out of there as soon as possible, and second, because I hate those people. Those biking mean people. I see my friend Eric on the road. He'd been watching for me. He is also beaming, unconcerned with my slow going. The bottom of the hill welcomes mile 20, and my first crew of cheering dykes. A knot of women going nuts with a french bulldog puppy. I am so happy to see them. I realize I've kind of felt happy the whole time. Even in fear and in discomfort, I've felt happy.
By this time my heel has upped the ante of its protest from dull to insistent. The skin feels stretched over the bones and as if a small tack is living in there, a mean thing from an elementary school prank. Every step it pricks and yelps. And yet, I feel elated. My people are so amazing, out there in the cold waiting for me. Waiting as long as it takes.
Mile 21 brings another pack of folks, these ones wearing letters that spell out my name. Team Seinberg scrambles to get in the right order and stretch across the road stopping traffic. They go nuts. They go so nuts when they see me that even the people waiting outside a cafe for brunch across the street go nuts too. They even take off and run with me for a block. Because at this point, I am actually still running. I run almost the whole way to Mile 22 where my friends have again built an outpost, lining a corner to cheer for me.
By now we're all crying really. I am so happy. I am so drowned in endorphins and pain. And I think they are happy too. My time is pathetic and nobody cares. Even my pregnant friend has made it her business to haul it out to the course and cheer. I kiss her and her belly. Ginger pulls her truck into a spot after almost getting in an accident to catch up and I almost collapse into her.
You look great babe! You're doing so great. I love you. You can do it. You're almost there!
Everyone keeps yelling that I'm almost there. Which is true and also seems like a joke. A bad joke. But I love a bad joke. I have four miles to go and they seem impossible. But I go.
I stop to get water at Mile 23, where a questionable gentleman offers to take my hand in marriage for the third time of the day. Questionable gentleman apparently find me irresistable. So that's something.
At Mile 24 I am by myself entirely, in the industrial backlands of San Francisco by the water on long 3rd Street right before you get to the ballpark. I see the sign for the 24th mile and I just burst out laughing. It feels so good. My heart feels so full. So enormous, I could love the entire world. I could love BP and the West Bank and the Bush empire. I could love that douche Glenn Beck and his lover Sean Hannity. I could love everything I fear and laugh along as they wish me death. I feel amazing. And my body feels destroyed. But at Mile 24, I finally know, I am going to finish a goddamn marathon. My watch has passed six hours, but not by much.
I round the ballpark and spit my little carcass into the Embarcadero. I can find almost no signs that a Marathon has been run here. Cups have been swept up, cones are all but a memory on the road, crowds are dispersed and there's no water anywhere. In the distance I can see a bald man coming toward me in the sun that has finally peeked out. I check his gait over and over.
Is that my brother?
It is!!! Steve Seinberg walks toward me and I walk toward him. My running has been reduced to very limited hunks of 64 strides at a time. My brother!!!! He's seen it all. I just want to sob. I want to dance. I want to hit something. But I don't think I can lift my arms.
We walk together and he ushers me to my mom. She's crying. I'm crying. We cry, me and my mom. We're cryers. My mom. I have never had anything hurt so much that feels so good. At the 26 mile mark I tell Steve
OK. I'm gonna run this bitch.
And I do. I pick up my ruined thighs, I beg my aching ankle full of brand new pains and my poor heel to just soldier on for two small tenths of a mile and they do. They even let me sprint the last few steps over the finish where my dad is beaming. Dad!!!
And that's how it went. It was kind of horrible. I had the worst day of running I've yet had, probably. And the best day of spirit. And I think that's exactly how it was supposed to go for me. I was supposed to just learn that it doesn't have to be perfect. It can be messy and ugly and blundering. You can hurt and groan and make weird faces. There can be bad photos of you and still, your friends will cheer wildly in the cold, your parents will weep with love, your brother will adore you and Ginger will take you home and run you your first of several ice baths. And hours later you will limp to your front door and find Coach Cadwallader there, an enormous bouquet of sunflowers in her arms for you, telling you Congratulations. You did it.
I came in 5907th out of 5980.
And that's just fine. I couldn't be happier, truly.
After months of saying no to everything,
I am ready for the Era of Yes.
Thank you for running with me.
Thank you for
Helping me be a better writer
and a better person.
After months of saying no to everything,
I am ready for the Era of Yes.
Thank you for running with me.
Thank you for
Helping me be a better writer
and a better person.
Thank you for everything.
Love from a former marathon runner,
People don't love Rocky because he won. They love him because even though everyone knew Apollo Creed was better, he still tried. He gave it everything. And then after he gave it everything, he dug for more. And so here I go, slathered in silicone lube, bejeweled with rainbow sweatbands, and armed with so so so much love from people. I am off to try. And then dig for more.