Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ten Kilometers

When I completed my first 5K, I didn't really feel as accomplished as I was hoping. I'd been working for it for ages. I went from running two minutes at a time to a fairly regular running regimen where if I ran anything less than a mile, I felt like I had failed that day. I reached the elusive 3.1 miles one day while out for a run in my park, and when I was done, I felt a twinge of triumph and then... not much. The equivalent of an emotional shrug. My first "official" 5K in a race setting happened a month or two later; I was anxious about it because I'd never run a 5K On Command before. Whenever I had done it, it just came about as a result of variables that all aligned that day. But I did it, and I crossed the finish line with what is still to this day my fastest 5K time. I was relieved, but not terribly celebratory. I chalked it up to my perfectionist nature; I had done it, good for me, whatever.

The most excited I got - the closest to any sort of "runner's high" - was on the Very Rare occasion that I went past 3.1 miles. When I ran for almost an hour. When I ran for four miles. It was then that I started to entertain the outlandish notion that maybe I could run five miles... and that maybe someday I'd try a 10K. But it sounded just as crazy as suggesting I would run a marathon. Who was I kidding? I was slow, chubby, and in terrible shape. It was amazing enough that I could run a 5K.

I had signed up for Nicole's From 0 to 13.1 course very early on in the year. I had no desire or intention to train for or run a half marathon; but I wanted to be better. I wanted to improve what I was doing, and maybe aim for that 10K. But spring was a bit crazy this year, and I fell off the running bandwagon before the snow had even melted. I ended up coaching two softball teams this year, which basically ensured that I was an exhausted mess for most of the early summer months. If I was super dedicated, I could have probably found time, but there were days when it was all I could do to keep my head above water. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed it, and I knew going into it that it would be a very time-consuming endeavor. But man. Quite so. And running just wasn't that high on the priority list.

But when The Oatmeal announced his Beat the Blerch 10K/Half Marathon/Marathon, I let the same spontaneity that pushed me into BiSC push me into signing up for this one. I mean, how could I not? I'd been reading the Oatmeal for years. The Internet + running! Nevermind that I hadn't been training. There was plenty of time, it wasn't until September! Nevermind that it was in Seattle. I knew people in Seattle. I could hang out with some of my Internet friends! And then go run an Internet-based race! It was insanity! And I was totally in. For the 10K, obviously.

For those of you who are still like "Blerch? What?" - the concept of this race was based on this comic about "The Blerch" - a mythical blob of fat with wings that encouraged you to do anything but what's good for you. I am the queen of blerchly excuses, frankly. I'm tired, it's too late, I have other stuff to do, I'm tired...


He also just put out a book about running that includes this particular comic, entitled The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, should you be interested.

I clearly wasn't the only one who was eager to participate in this event. I set an appointment on my calendar and hovered around my computer waiting for the exact moment registration opened. The site kept crashing; within a half hour, it was sold out. I was bummed, but I tried to console myself with the money I would be saving and the fact that I really hadn't been training anyway. But when they opened a waitlist, I pounced on it like a rabid hyena. I didn't think twice when they opened a second day of races, I signed up and decided to sort out the logistics later.

In the intervening months, the impending 10K weighed on the back of my subconscious. Because I am a complicated being who frequently likes to self-sabotage, I did not go out of my way to increase my training. In hindsight, I have no idea why. I went out and ran, and did intervals up to six miles, but I didn't push myself.

And then it was upon me.

The weekend itself was pretty amazing - and will get its own post, if I can get my act together - and I continue to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest. But this post isn't about that, or the awesome people I hung out with.

spoiler alert: these guys

Other than this slight digression to which I will shamelessly post this photo where I got to meet The Oatmeal himself.

 cue awkward fangirl moment

It's about beating my own Blerches, and conquering this race that I wasn't ready for.

shown: an actual Blerch

The race conditions couldn't have been better suited to my liking than if I was Mother Nature herself. The morning was cloudy and cool which is my perfect, ideal running weather. The route quickly went from paved roads to gravel trails, which was something I wasn't used to, but I adjusted. The park was gorgeous. The trail was gorgeous. I was in a very zen state of mind throughout almost the entire thing.

hey, look! official race photos!
I'm such a slow runner that I look like I'm walking in most of them, but whatever.

I started off like I always do, but something magical happened around Mile 3. (Perhaps it was the cake at the aid station.) During miles 3 and 4, I felt so good that I decided I was going to run the whole thing, even if I had to drag myself across the finish line.

I didn't come all that way to not give it absolutely everything I had. 

And aside from the pit stop/photo ops at the aid station, I did. I ran the whole thing. All 6.2 miles.

When I crossed that finish line, I felt damn near euphoric. Better than I had after any 5K. The elusive runner's high, perhaps. But it was that moment - and for several random moments in the days afterward - that I felt almost invincible. I had done this thing, this crazy thing that I never thought I'd ever be able to do. What else could I do? What couldn't I do?

Even now, two weeks later, my heart kind of wants to explode with happy. I've been an overachiever my entire life, but I have never felt so inspired by anything I have done until now. Because nothing I have accomplished up to this point has ever felt as impossible as this thing did. It felt impossible all the way up until the point where I was doing it. And then suddenly it wasn't, and now I can't help but wonder what other impossible things I can do. (*cough* write that novel *cough*)

see that? that's the finish line back there.

From a non-sentimental standpoint, my finish time wasn't stellar by any means, but I continued to meet my perpetual race goal of Not Last. I finished 622/972 overall, 425/676 out of all the ladies, and 112/163 in the Female 20-29 age group. This was, notably, the last race of my 20s. From now on, I'll be in a new age bracket. Eek!

I was a little confused at first as to why my finish time didn't match the official chip time, but then it occurred to me that my watch auto-paused itself when I stopped to take photos with Sasquatch & the Blerches at the aid station (because this is obviously a thing that I would do). The difference was about a minute and I'm not terribly worried about it. Mostly because (a) I didn't have a set time that I was racing against and my goal was simply to finish, time be damned... and (b) this picture was awesome. The second Blerch snuck up behind me and I didn't even know he was there until I looked at this picture after the race.

Blerchy perfection. 

And now I kind of want to do it again.  I want to recapture that feeling that I had during Mile 3, when the rest of the world outside of the path had quieted down and it was just me and my feet and this building sense of hey, I can do this. Hey, I am doing this.

That's a pretty incredible feeling. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Slow Fade

I've never been one for quitting things abruptly.

Perhaps it's simply an aversion to change. Perhaps it's a fear of disappointing someone. Perhaps it's some weird form of denial. Whatever the reason, I always peel the band-aid off slowly, instead of ripping the sucker off in one swift movement. Activities, relationships, jobs... there is no quick end. When I left my retail job at Target to start my first official grown-up job, I didn't turn in my two weeks notice and skip away. I continued to work part-time for another month or two until the 7-day workweek got to be too unmanageable. I'm still technically a member of my tae kwon do club; I haven't been to a class in probably a year. And so on.

There was a dating article I read years and years ago, curating the most common breakup methods. The Slow Fade is where one party stops responding to calls or messages gradually until they've disappeared altogether. There is no formal pronouncement of disinterest; it is simply sneaking away until there is nothing left but the only conclusion to be drawn.

I feel it happening with this blog. The posts are less and less frequent. I've all but forgotten about it some days. Other days, I am completely overwhelmed with all the words I haven't been saying and I can't find the right starting point and then I don't even try. What was supposed to be an outlet for the thoughts in my head or a chronicle of my life has become a nagging letdown and a wasteland of empty pixels.

There are many who say that blogging is dead... and perhaps they're right. The golden era of personal blogging does seem to have come to a close; all of us who sought refuge in the arms of our digitally-connected tribe are coming of age - of a new age, of an age where real life has taken a bigger role than it used to. We are turning thirty, we are getting married, we are settling down and finding new adventures. Writing for strangers on the Internet seems like less of a priority.

It would be liberating to stop, just as it would be liberating to set fire to all of my social media accounts. This blog would be a likely candidate for the first thing to go; I hardly use it much, as evidenced by the ever-smaller numbers showing up in the archive to the right. But I don't want to. I don't want to pack it up and file it away. Perhaps it has served its purpose; perhaps its time is over. I no longer care about pageviews or popularity, of financial success or e-fame. A degree of anonymity is probably better anyway; I don't have the patience to handle the complete degradation that comes from the pond scum of the Internet.

So what do I do now? I'm not sure I want to be done here, but I'm not sure there's any point left if there is no one still reading. I don't think it's necessarily vanity, wanting people to read your words. The whole point of starting in the first place was to reach out and find someone with whom your words resonate. It's about connection. Is there anyone left to connect with? I don't know. Is there any point left? I also don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

This blog will remain on life support. I will stop by from time to time, perhaps I'll even make regular visits again. Eventually, though, the weeds will grow and it will fall into disrepair like a creepy old house that used to be beautiful. There used to be life there, you could sense it. But nothing anymore. But old houses are full of stories, just like this blog was meant to be. So I guess I'll try to breathe new life into it by telling stories here now and again. The old stories will still remain. Because that is how it is supposed to be.