Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nobody calls it a sweet 37... but they should

It's my 37th birthday today... at least, by the time I post this, it will be. I'm not planning on making too much of a kerfuffle about it. I made some cookies for the kids to eat and decorate (or perhaps even vice-versa, as it might be a little more successful in that order) and will go for a run later, but that will be it. 

Really, I wasn’t thinking too much about my birthday this week until I remembered it was eight years ago today that I went for my first official ultrarun... although at the time, it felt mighty unofficial.

It was on my 29th birthday that I decided to run 30 miles. I'd never actually ventured farther than 10 miles before, which had been bloody awful enough, but I had been going through a really bad time, for quite some time... it was just a really really bad time. Floundering, drinking a lot, searching for meaning and not finding anything, and as my 29th birthday approached I decided that I desperately needed to do something on that day that felt like it meant something. 

I decided that running 30 miles was it. 

I know. I didn’t know why either, but I knew I needed to find out. I was pretty sure if I ran those 30 miles I would feel something, or learn something. I just didn’t know what that was. 

So I went out and did it. Parked my car near the dog beach in Ocean Beach, CA, then ran loops of 6-8 miles around my car, back and forth along the waterfront. It took me 6 hours and 20 minutes to run 30 miles... one mile for each year I had lived, plus one in case I had somehow screwed up on the distance and it wasn’t quite 29 (I mean, we were going for legitimacy here, for pete's sake). 

I finished in the dark, with no light, and was so sore by the time I was done that I could no longer lift one leg straight up, and instead had to swing it around to the side to get it placed on the ground in front of me so I could move my weight on to it and keep running forward. Luckily by then I was within a few miles of the finish, but there was no way I was going to stop, so I just kept shuffling. 

After completing the run I remember slumping in my car, and feeling... tired. I also felt vaguely pleased, but mostly, tired. I remember being surprised that there was no epiphany. Perhaps the epiphany would come later, I decided... really, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get home. So, I tucked my legs in under me and drove home, then somehow got up the stairs, which was incredibly painful. 

The next day I was still in some pain, but because I didn’t know anything about anything and thought my newly accomplished distance meant I should be running more with no problem, I went out and ran 10 miles. It sucked, but I pushed myself through it. The next day I did a better job of listening to my body, and let myself get away with only 6 miles. I’m glad to say I’ve gotten even better at listening to my body since that time. 

However unglamorous, that was this first journey into the realm of ultra-running, and having proven to myself that I could complete the distance, it was not soon after that I started training for my first 50k. I would not actually run 50k for four more years as I took time off to have two beautiful children, but as soon as I was fit again I completed the 50k, and the challenges, learning, and distances have only gotten better since then. 

So today I'm celebrating not just my birthday, but my ultrarunning anniversary, as silly as that might sound - really, it’s a reflection on the day I decided to run 30 miles without knowing why or what it would accomplish, just knowing that there was something within me that needed to try. I’ve been trusting that inner instinct with more and more every since. 

While I still have my challenges, I have come to a place where I am happier and feeling more like myself than I have in a very long time, since I was a young girl, even... and that is truly something worth celebrating.

Here's to many more.

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