It is one week until the Broad Street Run. Instead of thinking about that, I have been thinking a lot about a deep conversation around women and aging. This all ties into the value of a woman in society based on her ability to bear children and her ability to arouse a man. And for some reason running ten miles has everything and nothing to do with that.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I constantly struggle to evaluate my progress based on how far and fast I can go, as opposed to what I look like, what the scale or the measuring tape says. Although I try to refrain from the mirror being my gauge, I fall into the trap again and again of worrying about becoming fat, and therefore unattractive. Of aging poorly.  I am much closer to fifty than to forty. Everything I read warns of the troubles ahead. And whether I am reading about becoming a better runner or simply what to expect in the upcoming years, there is a constant warning label against getting old.  Ease up, eat less, go slower, take more rest days, blah, blah, blah. Recovering from an injury has only made these warnings seem all the more terrible. It gives them a ring of truth, that I constantly push back from.

So I sit here thinking about disappearing. How women are allowed to be erased from the conscience of society once they reach a certain age. And if they have the audacity to be a presence that doesn’t rely on beauty or male arousal, their very femininity is called into question. As though being a female is based on beauty and on sex. And before you say this isn’t true, open your eyes and look around. Watch commercials, watch movies, open magazines, look at billboards, listen to the radio. As far as we would like to say we have come, women are often portrayed as objects, as commodities.

If I were honest with myself, I would have to admit that starting this whole fitness, workout thing was an effort to stop the disappearing process. An effort to return to a lower weight, to become more attractive. To age well. To be older but still pretty. Because then, I would still have value. Somehow during this process I have shifted into what I can do, as opposed to what I look like. However, I have not been able to fully eradicate the shadow of insecurity about my own worth as a middle aged woman in a world that devalues women as they age.

This is so hard to write, because it is not as though I walk around with this constant conscience prevalent thought. It is more like a tinge to the world, as opposed to the center.  And it is hard to write because I know it will make some people angry, or uncomfortable or just plain annoyed. It may be perceived as whining. But I am not whining because I don’t feel sorry for myself.  On the contrary, I feel a little tired, but somewhat empowered.

I am disappearing. The gray in my hair, the constant bulge in my middle (regardless of how much I run) the lines on my face, are all going to continue to erase me from a society that is trained to view women in terms of how they look and their size.  And feels entitled to pass a loud judgement. But as I disappear I am also appearing. Running has given me a confidence in my self that is completely and totally separate of what I look like. (Okay, sometimes I like to think I have good running form, but that is different). I feel as though I can do things, and have a worth that I don’t remember ever feeling before. I feel entitled to spaces in this world that I had previously felt were not mine.  The me, the all of me, that is relevant regardless of the package is coming into sharper view.

Running ten miles, for me, is a triumph. It doesn’t matter if I am thin, if I am pretty. And it really doesn’t matter to anyone else but me.  And because of this, I am disappearing. But I am also appearing. And the people that can see me, I realize, are the ones that matter.  Starting with me.


Doing It Wrong

Yesterday, as I was trying to complete a decent long run (I didn’t), I kept ruminating over everything I did wrong in the last five or six weeks. Maybe more. I have made some mistakes. Competing in my head were the voices of people who told me that they had done the Broad Street with no training. Some even posting great times. Lots of people apparently run the Broad Street with no training. I can’t help but respect, admire and hate those people. This includes my sister, so I love them too. It is one time I can truly say I have two completely conflicting ideas in my head, love and hate, living together.

But I’m not them, I’m me. And I take this pretty seriously. Ridiculous, I know. It is my one outlet that belongs solely and selfishly to me. Perhaps it is my midlife crisis. It is my passion, my enemy, my pain in the ass, my gut checker, my downfall and my pride. The last one being the most lethal, because it is probably why I am in the fix I am in in the first place.

Two months ago, I was doing great. I started with a long run of four miles and was committed to adding five minutes a week to my long runs. It was working out well. I was pacing a little below ten minute miles. And then, I counted up on the calendar and realized I may not get to ten miles before the Broad Street. For this and various other reasons, I invested in an online training. And everything went to hell. First, the milage was upped by a mile a week. This was twice what I was doing, when you think about it. I was upping my milage comfortably by about half a mile a week, or five more minutes. When I look back I realize that adding time instead of distance allowed my body to dictate the progress. If I just didn’t have it one day, I wasn’t going to run that fast so I obviously wouldn’t go as far. When I started to push in more miles instead of time, I started to have a lot of pain for days after.

The second biggest mistake was not really adjusting my runs based on what I was reading. I read over and over that when you run in extreme weather, cold or hot, your body can’t run as fast or as far. I ignored this and pushed through a windy snow anyway. I’ve ignored this and pushed my pace on cold days. I’ve just plain ignored this. And I have the painful legs to show for it.

My third mistake was based on ignorance. I just didn’t know. The online training program I was using had speed training built in on Mondays. When I first started this whole endeavor, I was probably realistically running about ten miles total a week. Maybe, some weeks I was moving into the twelve mile range, but mostly not. This was back in February. I hadn’t been running much outside and was really only running two or three days a week on the treadmill. As fall turned to winter, I was getting to the gym later and later and running less and less. Also, I am much slower on treadmill. So even though I know to increase my mileage by about ten percent, I wasn’t thinking in total miles, but in daily. I also didn’t realize that I didn’t have a good running base. My mind was stuck in last summer when I was running outside three times a week, and was up to between five and six miles per run. Recently I read in Runner’s World that a person should wait to do speed work until they are consistently running fifteen to twenty miles a week. I was close, sort of, but not there. I was thinking in terms of what I thought I had been doing, not what I was doing at thee time. I am actually reading more and more about how important a strong base is. I didn’t have that.

The most fatal mistake is that I didn’t listen to my body. Even though, each time, I promised myself I would. Instead, I started out each run giving lip service and ending each run pushing through. Had I really been listening, I would have pulled way back at a minimum, but realistically I would have stopped. As I write this, I know that isn’t going to change. Not exactly, not yet. I am going to work harder at this, but right now the idea of giving up running for any length of time is not an option. I am going to pull back some. I am going to try to find outside runs that are flatter for awhile. But I just can’t stop. I am going to invest in a foam roller. I am going to add in more biking – both at the gym and outside. I am going to stick to a strength training schedule and not change it every week. And I am going to be realistic about what I can do. And what I can’t do yet.  And I am going to run the Broad Street. I have given up any idea that I will be pain free but that is okay.

I have made a lot more mistakes, I am realizing as I read more and more. Especially as I read about running with pain. I am realizing that although it is important to change your strength routine so your muscles don’t adapt, doing two separate routines a week may be enough. And I should increase the rigor of the routine, more reps or greater weight, as opposed to changing the routine constantly.  I have been switching up my routines monthly, maybe more. I have been trying to add in everything under the sun. Instead of working on one thing at a time. I am not stretching or icing the way I should. And most importantly, I have not cut back. In my defense, my right leg is not as bad as it once was. Some of the pain is gone, and it mostly feels stiff.

Wednesday, I ran four miles. I came home in a bad mood and had to get out of the house. It was raining. I ran with music. After a quick first mile, a really quick first mile for me,  I settled in. It wasn’t a pain free run, but it was okay. After, I danced around the kitchen making dinner and realized that I was in a completely different frame of mind. I was happy. I felt pretty good. Thursday, my legs were sore, but that was probably from running too fast in the beginning. So after the Broad Street I plan to back way off. I am hoping as the days get longer to run outside more, to add in more biking. And to hopefully run pain free some day. And then I can start over, smarter and more slowly.

Because I am doing a half in the fall.