I’ve considered myself a runner for a long time, probably before I had earned the right to call myself one, but my first actual race was the Annapolis Running Classic Half Marathon in 2013. Most people do a 5k before jumping into a distance like 13.1 miles, but I have never cared much for the moderate approach to anything. Not my vices, or my virtues.
Before the race I had reached the highest weight of my life and spent nearly every night out until dawn, drinking, eating, laughing and talking shit, (sometimes crying… or worse… smoking) and working in the bars and restaurants of Brooklyn and sleeping til late in the afternoon. But when my sister suggested we run a half marathon together it never crossed my mind that it would be a problem. I figured I would train for the race and it would be a great opportunity to drop some weight.
The weeks and months went by and my habits remained unchanged. Maybe one or two nights were spent on the wagon eating salad rather than fried cheese sticks but without fail when the morning came and it was time to actually run, I almost never really found it in me to get up and put the miles in. Sure I walked a lot, but walking three miles a day to the bar is not exactly a training regiment. The week before the race I ran two miles and cleaned up my act. I said to myself, “I’m a natural runner, It will be FINE!” And miraculously.. it was! That is not to say it was a good plan or that someone should just jump into distance running. It isn’t worth risking injury just to prove a point.
The race was painful. My armpits and thighs were so chafed by the end I was certain there would be blood (there wasn’t, though I was very raw) and the pain in my toes made me fearful of what I might find when I removed my shoes.
I ended up losing two toenails, but not until weeks later after they swelled up and turned purple. Losing toenails, I learned, is really no big deal. The same thing would happen at my next half marathon in 2014; it just happens when you run hard for a long distance. It happens to skinny runners too although it is a higher risk for heavier runners. At the finish, I felt incredible. I felt like I could have gone three more miles (if they were flat). I was happier than I think I had ever been. The runner’s high is real and I was hooked.
The lack of training comes in when I think of how I felt the next day… the next week really… I felt like I had been hit by a truck. My post run state felt an awful lot like the flu. I actually felt feverish along with my aches and pains. I kept having cold sweats the next day. Even three days later sitting down or standing up was an unreasonable chore. Forget about bending down! My mother (who also was sore from running her first half marathon at that event) asked me to tie her shoe for her and getting back up from a crouched position was almost impossible. This, I learned, is why you train.
I worked hard for my next race, running and training. I changed the way I ate and drank but I didn’t give everything up. I love dinners with friends and fancy wines and cheese. When race day came I improved my time by almost exactly 10 minutes, and more importantly, was still able to function after. I walked three miles home that same day and ran a 5k later that week. One thing that did not change throughout all of this was my weight.
I have fluctuated between 180 and 198 lbs since then. I’ve set weight loss goals, to look better, to improve my speed, to avoid the dreaded chub rub (thigh chafing). But each time my resolve fades quickly. My form and stamina are good and getting better. I’ve learned the value of compression shorts and technical fabrics.
Aside from the occasional, deluded, frantic bout of wondering why I don’t look like Charlize Theron or Kate Hudson, for the most part, I’m happy with how I look.
Chub rub sucks but even when I was 130 lbs my thighs touched so what the fuck ever. I went to the doctor for a physical and he said he wasn’t concerned about my weight because my heart and lungs were good, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.
So while I would still like to lose the weight, I’m not overly concerned with it. Weight loss is secondary to all of my other running, career, artistic, and emotional goals.
But when I mention to people I’ve met recently that I plan to run another half marathon in October, the reactions of disbelief are sometimes puzzling. I can’t help but get the impression that they look at me and assume that I must have let myself go since the last time or maybe that they didn’t catch the word ‘again’ when I mention it. The skeptical look accompanied by statements like “You know that’s a lot of work right?” and “Are you sure you want to do that?” surprise me every time I hear them.
They don’t see me as an athlete. But I do.
I am a work in progress, as we all are. However, I am not a ‘before’ picture.
I am an athlete. I am a runner.
Now if you will excuse me I am going to rub some ointment on my chub rub and make a grilled cheese sandwich. I had a long run this morning.