Saturday, March 10, 2012

Staging a running comeback

I'm a runner. Except when I'm not.

I have started over with running so many times, I've lost count. I've come back from numerous injuries, IT band issues, a long hiatus after the birth of my first child.

Just before we found out we were expecting twins last year, I was in the best shape of my whole life. I had been running consistently all year, injury-free. I had just finished my second marathon (a little bit faster than my first). I had set a PR at an 8K race and was feeling optimistic about upcoming races for the year.

When I found out we were expecting again, I planned to work out and run through the pregnancy. I was training for a half-marathon and feeling pretty good (well, except for the constant, unrelenting nausea, that is).

When we found out we were expecting twins, I still planned to work out and run through the pregnancy, just at a lower intensity.
When they told me I couldn't run the half marathon, I cried...but I kept running.

When they told me to stop running, I cried...but I kept walking.

Then, I got put on complete bed rest at 24 weeks, and I had to put it all on hold.

I spent the summer not training for a fall marathon, but doing everything I could (which felt like doing nothing at all!) to help the babies grow as big and strong as possible. 12 weeks later, they arrived, healthy and weighing in at 5 lbs 5 oz and 6 lbs 6 oz.

12 weeks in the bed had helped the babies enormously, but it definitely took its toll on me. Starting to run again would be like starting from scratch.

Since the girls' birth in September, I've had a few running false starts (three, to be exact). The first time was in November. I proudly declared on Facebook that I was going for a run. When I got partway into the run, I knew it was too body just wasn't ready. The second time, in January, it was the day after the run that told me my body still wasn't quite ready. I started walking more to build up strength and waited for my moment.

Then, it happened.
I went for a run, alone, in my neighborhood, alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking. I did almost three miles. It was bliss. I was ready to come back.

Enter all the obstacles and excuses.

Even though I had seriously enjoyed that run (and the happy expression on The Boy's face when he realized he had TWO runner parents), I couldn't seem to get out again. It's hard to get someone to watch both babies, and George's training for his upcoming half marathon takes priority right now. Even though I only needed 20 minutes or half an hour, I couldn't seem to find it in my day. I was tired. The babies needed to nurse. The Boy needed extra attention. The dishwasher needed to be loaded, or clothes needed folding, or someone had to go to the grocery store. I kept up with the walking by pushing the babies in the stroller, but my running shoes were relegated to "active" shoes. They seemed sad about this. I guess they remembered the purist days when I wouldn't wear them for anything but running.

The subject of races came up on a walk with my runner friend earlier this week. (This walk, incidentally, was supposed to be a run. She was going to walk with the stroller and field all the crazy twin comments so I could run..."pretend you have no children," she had said.)

It took a long time to leave the house that morning, and nothing was working. My running clothes didn't fit. I couldn't find two socks that were the same type. I looked at the piles of running-related items, dumped out of the Rubbermaid bin they had been occupying in my closet since we moved in last May. There was my awesome plum-colored jacket with the zip-off bright pink half-zip that always makes me feel fast, my lucky rainbow race socks, countless race t-shirts and technical shirts, the shorts I wore in my last marathon (which would definitely not fit right now). So much accumulated history was in those many runs, so many hours of training, so many trips through the washing machine to wash out the sweat, just as all those runs had washed the self-doubt out of me and made me feel strong, lithe, capable of anything.

Who was the woman who had worn these things? Does she even exist any more? How had I possibly finished two marathons and all those shorter races, and how could I even think of starting all over again now?

Suddenly, the obstacles and excuses seemed to loom larger than life. Despite all the previous comebacks, I wasn't sure I could make this happen again.

I confessed all of this to my runner friend, who has overcome her own doubts and negative self-talk to accomplish a great deal.

"What you need," she said sagely, "is a goal. A comeback race."

We have chosen a race...the the Apple Blossom 10K in Winchester, VA, which is just 8 weeks from today.

The trouble with a race that is 8 weeks away is that there's no time to waste. Running has now become training.

Time to start knocking those obstacles out of the way.

We went to Target today, and I got some transitional running pants. The pants are a little baggy and don't look amazing or anything, but I'm not embarrassed to have someone see me wear them, which is all I need right now. I even ordered a new running bra that is up to the challenge of a mother runner who is nursing twins (it was about time, since I've been wearing the same ones since 2006!).

Our girls will be 6 months old next week, which means they can now sit up well enough to ride in the double jogging stroller we received from George's sister last year (thanks, guys!). We finally figured out how to fold the crazy thing so it would fit in the trunk. (It still didn't fit in the trunk, so we had to take the wheel off.) We knocked off all the stinkbugs that had collected on it during its time in the car port and vacuumed off some spider egg sacs. The tires were flat, so we pumped them up. We pumped up the tires on our long-dormant BOB stroller, so The Boy would have a place to ride, too.

I laced up my shoes. It was time to start the comeback.

I tried to find my iPod shuffle, realized it hadn't been charged in a year...and started to cry.

And then, I realized I was still looking for reasons not to go. I didn't want to run, not now. I even made a note to myself before we left:

"I am about to go on a run with my entire family, and I think I'd rather be in labor."

How does something I have loved as much as running become something I dread? What was I afraid of? That my legs wouldn't work? That I'd feel awkward and slow? That someone would think I looked silly?

Maybe a little bit of all of these things. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and I was afraid I was going to fail.

What actually happened when I got out on the running path with The Boy was not nearly as bad as I'd feared. I ran for a minute, then two, then kept going. George and the girls caught up with me partway through the trail loop and we continued together, running one minute and then walking 90 seconds. It was okay. I was running, and it felt good. The Boy was chatting happily and the girls were making cheerful noises whenever we passed ducks. We were doing it.

We got fewer chatty twin questions and more odd looks than when we are casually walking together. Out for a walk, we invite conversation with our double stroller and precocious, chatty preschooler. Out for a run, though, we are a force to be reckoned with. I like that.

We took a picture to commemorate the babies' first run and my first (real) run back. This one's not a false start. I'm ready for a comeback.

The Belle, The Bug, and The Boy with their runner mother

As we pulled in the driveway, the sun was setting brilliantly and beautifully behind the mountain. The Boy pointed it out: "Look, Mommy - we are having a sunset!!".

Looking at the sky, I realized it was 6:15 pm and still light outside, and that tomorrow, there will be a whole extra hour of daylight in which to run. And the next day. And the day after that. It feels like a gift of time. It feels like hope.

I'm officially in training for my comeback race, and my prospects are bright.

Stopping on the way in for dinner to capture the moment