I haven't had this much down time since I started running almost four years ago. I had an easy summer, and that was planned. But since September, the down time has been due to a nagging ankle injury. The ankle feels like it's working its' way to being fully healed now, but it's been a slow process. And in the meantime, I've let myself fall out of shape. I could have done more to stay in shape, while my ankle was healing, but I didn't. That's done now though, and it's time to look forward.
I've got fifteen weeks to get myself ready for my next marathon. It's unlikely that I'll PR. Aside from the gap between where I am right now physically and where I'd need to be to PR, I'm also aware that coming back too fast and hard can aggravate the old injury or cause a new one, and land me right back on my butt. So I'm going to ease myself back. Which means a new approach for me.
I've never trained for a marathon, without the idea that I'd try to PR. And to my surprise, I'm actually liking the feel of this new vantage point. I got my first glimpse of what that might be like a couple of months ago, albeit under significantly different circumstances.
I went to Memphis for what I initially thought would be a full marathon. But as the injury lingered, I realized that running 26.2 miles probably wasn't going to be a good idea. My ankle was still hurting, and I had been severely limited in my training runs. So I decided to run the half marathon instead, and then get back out to the course to find my girlfriend, Abby, who was running her first full marathon, and cheer her on and take some pictures.
I was frustrated in the weeks leading up to that race. I'd signed up for the full marathon, and it was hard to swallow the idea that I was going to settle for the half. I knew that it was the best thing for me, but it felt like quitting, and I couldn't get rid of the sour taste in my mouth.
The morning of the race, my ankle was particularly sore, and in my mind I was questioning whether I should even run the half. I started with Abby. We ran together for about a mile. It was a great morning to run. The air was cool and crisp. Abby was excited, and I was excited for her. But after the first mile, as my ankle pain persisted, I told her that I was going to drop out. I wished her well, and cut my way to the side of the road.
I sat there for a brief moment. Feeling sorry for myself. Feeling frustrated. And then I took off my left shoe and looked at my ankle. It was stiff and sore, but there was no visible swelling. I could run. I couldn't run fast. And I shouldn't run 26.2 miles. But I could do 13.1 miles at an easy pace. I was in a city that was new to me, and I was dying to run through it. So with the thought of looking at the morning as an opportunity to see Memphis and enjoy an easy run, rather than as a race that wouldn't be what I'd originally hoped, I laced my shoes back up and got back on the course.
I was immediately happy with the decision. I found a pace that I was comfortable with, and I settled in and soaked up my surroundings. We ran along the Mississippi River, and I watched the runners around me. I was on the back end of the pack, and there was a different feel back there. There were more people running with partners, whether friends or lovers. People talked with each other. Some were running the half, others the full, but all had settled in for a long morning run. The urgency and intensity that dominates the front end was harder to find in the back, at least during the early miles.
I spotted Abby somewhere between the 3 and 4 mile marks. I watched her from behind as she smiled and laughed and interacted with runners and spectators alike. She looked like she was having the time of her life, and I was tempted to hang back and watch her all morning. But I made my way through the crowd and ran up to her side instead. She squealed and I smiled, but I didn't stick around. I had found a rhythm, and I wanted to hold it. I just told her that I needed to go ahead, and she nodded and smiled and told me to get going.
As I ran, I took in the people and the places that I passed. I talked with a woman that had a shirt from a 5k that takes place in my Chicago neighborhood every October. I read the stories of inspiration that people had written on their shirts. I looked at the pictures of children from St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which the race was benefiting. I ran through the Memphis Zoo. I stopped for a quick half-beer with some merry spectators. And I remembered the joy that comes from simply running for pleasure. Something that I'd allowed myself to forget while fighting through my injury.
Eventually the fork in the road did come. The half marathon course and the full marathon course parted ways, and my pride did feel a sharp stab as I made the turn for the former. But I quickly sat that aside, as I grabbed my bag and went to find Abby.
I found her quickly and easily, and she was much the same as I'd left her. Smiling and laughing. In the moment. Taking in everything that was there for her. And I smiled as I aimed the camera, and waved to her. When she got to me jumped at me and hugged me hard, and as good as that felt I urged her to go. I wanted her to save that energy, because I knew that there were tougher miles ahead.
But in hindsight, she was aware of something that I was missing. She knew that she needed to pace herself. She was running responsibly. But she was mostly present in that moment. She wasn't trying to run a race that wasn't there. She wasn't thinking about what could be and what might be and what wasn't. She was there. She was loving her run. And she wanted a hug, so she hugged me.
And as I gear up for the Prague Marathon, I'm going to try to keep that lesson close. I'm going to map out a training program, and when the time comes, I'll set some general guidelines for my approach to the race itself. But I'm also going to run for fun. I'm going to run because I love to run. I'm going to run at whatever pace feels right at the time. And I'm going remember to forget the big picture every now and then. So that I don't miss all of the little pictures that the big one is made of.