Chasing Rainbows - Queer Girl Running Chapter 5
Several weeks ago I wrote a Queer Girl Running post about identity and worth, and how running is tied up in those concepts for me. A couple of weekends ago I attended ClexaCon in Las Vegas (and really loved it). This trip was my first and only weekend away during my Eugene training cycle, and my response to the tiny disruption in my routine surprised me.
Usually I spend a lot of my waking hours not just actually training, but thinking about training and all of its logistics- making sure I have enough food around, doing PT exercises and rolling out, getting enough sleep, what the weather is going to be at 5:30am tomorrow, etc. But when I got to Vegas and picked up my attendee badge, I entered a queer love bubble that re-awakened sleeping chambers of my heart, and I barely thought about running at all.
At the end of the first day, I returned to my hotel room, sat down, and suddenly remembered that I had to get up early to meet a group of local runners for a run in the morning (thanks Meetup, always there to make sure I don't have to run alone). The operative word in this moment was "suddenly." I hadn't thought about training for a single second all day.
It sounds trivial, but this realization rippled through me in tremors. It reminded me of the first time I got glasses- I had no idea how blurred my vision was until the optometrist slid those lenses in front of my eyes. Abruptly, the world was more clear.
In her essay On Staying Hungry, about the cultural narrative of how important ambition is to "success," Rachel Maddux writes,
Hunger is encouraged by commencement speakers, noted as a requirement in job listings, looked back on fondly by one-time strivers now on the far side of their golden years. Hunger is everything because it's nothing- not yet- just raw promise... Like sharks, the hungry must always keep moving, hunting, killing, 'killing it.'
What [we are] chasing is a feeling- the one where... rainbow streams of dopamine [seem] to be geysering out of [our skulls]... That feeling, which I believe may technically be known as 'happiness,' [is] a bottomless, ever-widening pit. You do whatever you can to make these good feelings flow, and you keep doing and they keep flowing, but to maintain them requires doing more and more, all the time. You're chasing something that gets further away the longer and harder you run. You can never catch up; you're always left wanting. In this way, hunger of the mind- or maybe what we're talking about is 'the soul'- mirrors hunger of the stomach. We consume, we digest, we begin again, as if everything that came before had never happened.
The things that keep us hungry, that drive our ambitions, are rooted in some essential part of ourselves. Like physical hunger, the things we strive for- the things that send rainbows through our skulls- all grow from something innate, maybe even physical, chemical. A sense of achievement in whatever is important to you, the satisfaction of some particular hunger, is something I would argue is essential for humans. Just like eating actual food, it's a requirement of staying alive, or at least feeling alive. That's not to say you need to be the best at something; in fact I don't believe "the best" exists. It just means you push yourself somehow, learn something, grow, feel pride. That matters as much as physical sustenance. (But not more- do not underestimate nutrition, folks. Seriously).
But sometimes the hunger for or around one particular thing splays and begins to eclipse other facets of life. Simultaneously, it feeds itself, growing bigger and more powerful- you're chasing something that gets farther away the longer and harder you run. This is part of the reason why I'm going for a marathon in the first place- halfs just aren't enough anymore. I think this craving for more- and accompanying domination of the mind- is particularly potent when you're going after something that feels daunting and carries risk, something that has the power to pump those rainbow geysers and sap you of all confidence in turns. When something you're driven to do feels big, and requires a lot of effort, it becomes easier to lose track of yourself in the process of working toward your goal.
Who am I? What is important to me? Why am I hungry for this?
Running isn't my job. I don't get paid in dollars to do it. The fact that I can run- that I can run long distances, that I can run at a middle-of-the-pack speed, that I have discipline around training- doesn't make me a superior person. It does give me confidence in and gratitude for the power in my body; challenge me to cope with pain and disappointment and exhaustion; teach me how to pay attention to physical and mental shifts and my mind-body relationship; connect me with people I would probably never connect with outside of our shared love of this sport; show me multiple sunrises; get me ever-better acquainted with the city where I live; and deliver some powerful endorphins (there's that chemical part).
I love running. But that evening in Vegas I realized it had swallowed some other things I love- other things that are important to me, that I hunger for- other things that I am.
I suppose the underlying theme of the Queer Girl Running series is my reconciliation of the multiple identities I inhabit. Labels like "runner" and "queer" don't often end up in the same realm of discussion. But both are incredibly important to me- in fact, they're the two labels I choose most often to describe myself; they're both rainbow rivers flowing deep through my capillaries and bones. They both involve pain, and fountains of pride.
I had a wonderful run with the Las Vegas Runners that next morning. I felt in my element, like I usually do. Then I went back to ClexaCon and felt in my element there, too.
I believe it's worthwhile to hunger for things, to chase goals and accomplishments. But it's also important to reevaluate sometimes. Why do I want this? What is important to me?
What has my ambition overshadowed?
I'm incredibly thankful for the experience of ClexaCon, which briefly removed me from my over-focused training and made clear that I had become stifled in some ways because of it.
I'm a little over a month out from Eugene. I feel strong and self-assured in my running. I hope that doesn't change between now and race day; I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn't. The experience of marathon training has surprised me. I really look forward to reflecting on it more right before and right after the race.
Until then, I will be trying to stay grounded in my whole sense of self, and not obsessively fixated on my worth as a runner alone. I'll be chasing the rainbow, to the pot of gold in myself.
(Heh, happy belated St Patrick's Day!)