Love Your Frenemies: Thoughts Before Boston - Queer Girl Running Chapter 6
In two and a half days, the the most elite amateur road race in the country takes place in Boston. Several of my runbuds/training partners are headed there this year. Training for my first marathon alongside these badass athletes has been a privilege. This week, as they've been tapering and prepping for this capstone race, I can't help but feel a swelling sense of pride and admiration for these humans who have shared so many miles, stories, fears, triumphs, pain, dark hours, soaked shoes, scraped knees, laughs, lattes and step after step with me.
Last Sunday morning I ran an easy six miles with my tempo partner around Lake Union in the sunshine (?!), and maybe it was the combination of vitamin D and endorphins, the vibe of a Sunday morning, and/or the fact that these milestone races- both hers in Boston and mine in Eugene- are so close at hand, but I can't help entering reflection mode and flooding with feelings of accomplishment and nostalgia. No matter what happens on race day, we've been on a journey that I'm incredibly proud of.
When we were nearing the end of the loop, headed for one of the best bakeries in town for celebratory coffee/carbs, we got on the topic of how kind of unbelievable it is that we can run like we do when we consider that at one time neither of us pictured ourselves running more than a 10k. I remember the first time I ran a 10k race. It was the now-defunct Kvindeløb (Women's Run) in Copenhagen in my first year of grad school at KU. I signed up with a few friends from school, with the intention of running the 5k. I ran 3-mile routes very regularly, but almost never longer. But something in me said, "I think I could run more."
It's hard to know where that voice came from, and if I'm honest I think it arose from a jumble of factors, some of which I was wary of. My relationship with running wasn't always positive; in fact toward the end of high school it was downright unhealthy. I used the sport as a method of self-punishment and the only satisfaction I drew from it was its tendency to burn a lot of calories. Of course, when you're punishing your body through exertion combined with poor nutrition, you're never going to be able to accomplish much in the way of actual athletic achievement. It's a sad and twisted road to travel and for many years afterward I couldn't and wouldn't run at all. But with the distance of miles and time between me and that dark chapter, and many beautiful moments of growth in between, I started adding bits of running into my walks, and eventually 3-milers were the thing.
Then that voice appeared that told me I could do more. I was growing to love this sport I had once hate-liked; running was my frenemy in high school but I had deeply misunderstood it. I wanted to comprehend it better, to learn from it, but I was still cautious, still a little untrusting. I got a deal on some personal training sessions with a coach a few months before the race, and she promised me I would run those 10k. I only half-believed her, because of my tendency to underestimate my abilities, but given that the 10k was just two loops of the 5k, I knew I could stop at 5k if I wanted to. (Side note, that coach had me do hill sprints and she would run behind me saying, "Œd bakken!!," which means "Eat the hill!" I still hear her voice whenever I'm tackling one of the many Seattle hills. She was rad).
And sure enough, race day came, the sun and the spring blossoms were streaming their rays and petals across the sky, the air was cool, and when I reached the end of the first 5k, I kept going. When I finished, I felt elated, like I'd done the hardest thing I could possibly do in that moment, and I had triumphed. I hadn't punished my body with running that day; I had worked with it toward a greater understanding of how running and I could be friends. Then, as I've written before, I went home and signed up for a half marathon.
I was thinking about all this when we ran on that sunny morning in Seattle last week. About how differently I see running now, how full of love it is. About how now, as my friend and I mused together, 10k is an easy Sunday.
I am aware of how cult-ish runners (and other athletes) can seem to people outside the bubble. We do, to a large extent, live in our own world of stats, lingo, training plans, energy gels, early-ass mornings and 9pm bedtimes (ok, sometimes 8. Ok, sometimes 7). We're pretty insular, especially when we're training for a marathon distance or longer. That kind of effort demands a lot of a person, and sharing that effort is a good way to cope. But it's also a good way to make a big, weird, diverse, marvelous family.
It's true that our achievements within the sport don't tend to mean much to other people. When we finish a race, we don't really make the world a better place. But they say that in order to be able to contribute in a positive way to the world, you need to take care of yourself first. If you don't, how will you take care of anyone else? A lot of runners, myself included, struggle with something internal that is eased with running. When I run, I get inside my body and reclaim it; I feel my blood and tendons and bones; I forge friendships with the people around me; in many ways I open myself up to the world, which is something I don't do in most areas of my life. Plus, those endorphins keep my brain more or less calm, which is important for a high-anxiety person like myself.
There's something to be said for pushing yourself to do something hard. Whether it's athletic, intellectual, emotional- it will help you discover unknown parts of your complicated mysterious self. And here I am, arriving at another parallel between queerness and marathon training- coming out was exactly this kind of hard experience. It was something I knew I had the power to do, but it involved a lot of doubt, fear, and trust. My queer identity was also my frenemy once. Now it's my bae.
On Monday, every text update I get from the Boston Athletic Association for my friends' bib numbers will have me cry-grinning. But no matter what happens that day, I am in awe of this faction of my run fam who have already poured so much of their own doubt, fear and trust into this at times overwhelming pursuit, and reaped a shining confidence, poise, pride, and, let's face it, incredibly respectable level of physical fitness. (Which makes their hearts bigger; it's a scientific fact.)
In just three weeks, I'll be toeing the line in Eugene. I can't predict how I'll feel in that moment, or know how the race itself will unfold, but for now, I'm basking in the light of the Boston badasses, and trying to approach my final weeks of training hand in hand with my former frenemies; with love.