It wasn’t the first time I didn’t run a marathon. But it was the first time I planned to run a marathon, registered to run a marathon, started training to run a marathon, but then did not run a marathon.
To put it simply, for those who have not been following the harrowing yet mundane saga, I started running about 2 years ago, spent all of last year completing races to qualify for the NYC marathon, and then after a sickness this winter, was suddenly unable to run anymore. Doctors’ visits, medications, breaks from running did nothing to help, and this summer I eventually admitted I had to stop preparing for my goal.
I still remember the day I finally had to tell myself I couldn’t do it. I was in Ohio and planning to run 15 miles. It was the test to see whether, after 6 months of frustration with my health, I had a hope of making it to the finish line. If I could run 15 miles in the cool summer suburban morning, I could continue forcing my body to train despite its difficulty breathing through the activity, despite the occasional light-headedness, despite the blurry vision, despite the failure of the mental willpower that desperately tried to drive through the physical brakes.
I hardly made it 5 miles before having to stop for fear of fainting. Then I trudged back to my parents’ house, took a shower, got back into bed, and declared I was no longer training for the marathon. It wasn’t that difficult, the act of saying it, but that’s only because I had already pushed through the anguish over the prior months. It had actually reached its most painful state the night before, when, while getting my running gear together in anticipation of the early morning wake-up, I told my boyfriend how worried I was that I wouldn’t be able to get through the next day’s run.
He knew how much I had suffered over the past months trying to will myself to get better. He knew how much I wanted to reach this arbitrary goal I’d set for no reason other than that I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.
Yet he had no problem telling me as I sobbed in his arms, “Not everyone can run a marathon.”
At the time, the words felt like icy blades slipping in under my skin to rip apart my already fragile heart. Of course not everyone can do this, I thought. That’s why it meant so much that I was going to do it.
“You tried, and that’s more than a lot of people do,” he continued. “That’s what’s important.”
“No, it’s not!” I insisted. “Trying is nothing.”
I wasn’t being petulant on purpose. In the perfectionist’s warped mind, trying truly doesn’t mean all that much, unless your goal was just to try. My goal was to run the marathon, so anything short of that would simply not be good enough.
But what I know now, and what I probably knew at the time but refused to recognize because it seemed more satisfying to wallow in my despair, was that those words that sounded so defeatist to me were in fact the sweetest words I could have received.
They were the vocalization of the part deep down inside of me that doesn’t get to speak up much because the obsessive, stubborn parts are usually too loud to bother trying to be heard over. They were putting out in the open the sentiments that I typically bat down before they can breathe. They were words of kindness, urging me not to be so hard on myself.
By telling me it was okay to fail, he wasn’t admitting that I was a failure. He was only acknowledging that failing at a goal doesn’t make me a failure. He was taking the part inside of me that wants to be sweet and good to myself and forcing me to listen to it. He was reminding me to treat myself gently even when I don’t think I deserve it. He was saying, “You are enough as you are, even if you never amass a list of crazy accomplishments.”
He was allowing me to be myself without apology.
Finding someone who would do that, who would accept me as I am as long as I try, is a goal I’ve had for a long time, and without warning, without fanfare, I’ve achieved it.
Not reaching my running goal was what it took for me to see it, so I’m pretty proud of myself for not making it to that marathon.