Running will always be an integral part of who I am. Why I run, what I get out of it, and what it means to me has changed significantly and will continue to do so over the course of my athletic life. Having been injured/not at 100% for well over a year now, all I have really paid attention is what running HASN'T been for me (fun. pain-free. self-esteem building). I think you get the picture. I didn't reflect on those negative feelings until I had some quiet time in late December.
If you know me outside this blog, you know that I am less organized than most and prone to procrastination (stop laughing, sister). For example, I moved to a new apartment in July of last year. I did not have my medal rack and race bib holder unpacked and on the wall until the end of December. For something with so much personal meaning, you'd think I'd have gotten around to it sooner. Nevertheless, both are finally situated in the perfect spot but carry a different load from their previous home.
This "cleansing of the wall" could be chalked up to having too much. Too many medals. Too many bibs. Yes, both were approaching max capacity but that would not have prevented me from slapping them back up as they were in my old place. What changed were the feelings that came up when I sifted through the bibs and medals. When I first started running/racing in 2006 and for a long time afterwards, medals were a big motivator for me. I'm not going to lie. Once the challenge of completing a distance for the first time was met, it became about what I could get for crossing the line. With a few exceptions, the decision to register for a race depending largely on a medal (that there was one and that it was COOL), and a shirt that wasn't cotton. Added to that was a desire to keep up (no pun intended) with my running friends who were smashing PRs and collecting medals on what seemed like a weekly basis. I put pressure on myself to keep up, believing that the frequency and quality of racing was the only measure of satisfaction or accomplishment in the sport.
Now, before I go further, let me say this. There is nothing wrong with racing every weekend and chasing "bling." I am not passing judgement or saying it is a bad thing. For the majority of recreational runners out there, a podium finish is a pipe dream. So why not race for something else that makes you happy and rewards you for your time and effort? I certainly have. What happened recently was a shift in that thinking brought on by a confluence of factors, two of which are time and money. I did not have much of either. More importantly however, was the change in my physical ability to run. I couldn't. And for while, looking at bibs and medals made me sad. Then bitter. Maybe throw in resentful and jealous too.
Hindsight being what it is, I realized how lucky I had been that I could race what I wanted to when I wanted to. Some of that ability could be related to my age at the time and some of it to dumb luck. I was in my mid-late twenties. I didn't cross-train. Or stretch. Or lift. Or eat all my vegetables. I was just out making friends and enjoying running. Because that was enough, I didn't realize that there could be more, until I needed it. With this perspective shift came a shift in what my prior running accomplishments meant to me and how they would (or would not) motivate me moving forward.
Rather than have a bib rack overflowing with crinkled paper, I hung only the few bibs I had from 2014. The hope is that I will have bibs equal to or above that number for 2015, now that I am on the road to health. Not in a "I must beat that number" way, but in a "I CAN race and I am dying to feel my feet on a trail again" way. I am already registered for two races (with my PT's blessing) between now and the end of April. That is half of my bib count from 2014. Should I continue to progress, I will look into more.
My medal rack had a few pegs still open but it seemed cluttered to me. Run a race, hang it up, run a race, hang it up, repeat. It wasn't that they didn't all mean something to me, it was that the ones that meant the most were being crowded out by those that meant a little less. As I unwrapped the tissue paper (yes, I packed them in tissue paper) I started putting aside certain medals. My first half-marathon, Marine Corps 2011, Cherry Blossom (all of them, sigh), and a few others. Having those few hanging in plain sight means more to me now than every piece of metal en mass. Now I see what is possible, what comes from hard work, and what it means to suffer and come out the other side.
THAT is what running means to me now.