April 25, 2017 by From the Alli Files
Last Saturday I ran the slowest 5k I’ve ever attempted. And it also was my personal best.
You see, I’ve been running for years, and yet each time I run a 5k, or a specific training distance, I end up doing this whole sprint/walk/sprint thing because, due to impatience and a lack of proper training, I can’t ever find a reasonable pace. I’ve actually placed in a race doing this; it “works” for me. But it also excuses me from really pushing myself to dig deep, utilize some patience, and slow myself down enough to run the whole thing.
But this time, it happened. I finished a 5k without stopping, with a time that took a full 5 minutes longer than my last 5k, in which I did my wonky sprint/run/sprint ridiculousness. But today felt like the biggest victory of all.
You see, I had already conjured up every reason not to run this thing.
My boyfriend and I signed up to run it months ago, just because we were looking for a race to run in the spring. It just so happened I had just started working at the eating disorder unit at the children’s hospital the race was benefiting. Perfect, I thought. We will train together, then maybe run with some of my new coworkers. This will be a blast.
Fast forward to this past week. The boyfriend flew himself to Spain for work, and I couldn’t really find anyone to join me with his bib. My roommate that runs more than she breathes happens to have a torn ACL. And did I really want to run with a “serious runner” anyway? Absolutely not. I want someone who hasn’t been training, so I can feel less terrible about myself for having been “training” for months and still not be able to run the whole way. My other coworkers running the race were more of acquaintances, not someone I want to see me struggle. Did I want them to see me, the 5’9” girl who runs slower than a sloth, heave in pain behind them? Again, absolutely not. Maybe I could just show up and run it and avoid anyone I know, then go home as soon as I finish. Yeah, that’ll work.
So I decided halfheartedly to do the race. Then came Wednesday. Oh, Wednesday. Sweet day of excuses. Guess who woke up with the glaringly obvious symptoms of a sinus infection? This. Girl. I feel way too awful to run today, I thought. So I rested, nursed my sinus cold that probably wasn’t as bad as I was telling myself, and ran my last training run on Thursday. To be honest, I really did feel terrible during the run. I made it a mile before the mucas in my face and chest decided to pour forth. Dang it, I thought. I guess I’m going to have to walk this thing on Saturday. Let’s be real. I was kind of relieved.
Then, Friday. By Friday night, my voice was baritone caliber from the combination of sinus drainage and talking all day. My left eye was “crying”; it was a waterfall that could not be dammed, and I sneezed approximately 67 times throughout the course of my 12 hour shift at work. And yet, I was still semi-determined to show up the next day to run. That is, until all of Dallas got pelted with hail and storms. Ah ha! The race will be cancelled! Surely.
I woke up Saturday to find the race was, in fact, still on. The storm had passed, and in its place was much colder weather, and forceful winds that really made the green stuff coming out of my nose feel much more sticky. So I laced up my big girl shoes, stretched as much as I could despite the end-of-semester, paper-writing knots all in my neck and shoulders, and hit the road.
Before I was even at the race event 10 minutes, my coworkers had spotted me and, next thing I know, we were all placed fairly close to the front of the starting line. The lean, fit guys beside me chatted about like this:
“What’s your goal time, dude?”
“I think I’ll go easy and do 8 minute miles. I just wanna finish under 25 minutes.”
Yeah, I was in the wrong spot for my kinda running. I told myself I’d get started, run like a bat outta you know where for the first mile, then slow down my running pace until I think I’m going to die, and then join the walkers. Yeah. Good plan, Allicat. Let’s just get this finished.
Then the race started, and I had to pee. Yall. There is nothing more awful than running with a full bladder. At mile 1, I stopped at a porta potty for approximately 45 seconds, then got back out on the pavement. It helped my pride a little that there was already a line of other people waiting for my porta-potty as I jetted out its door. I wasn’t the only bladder there with race anxiety, apparently.
Let’s get this straight:
I’m not describing all these stupid details about running because they are unique. In fact, they’re pretty typical of running. The excuses, the shame of not being what we think we “should be,” the self- doubt… the list goes on. But I’m describing all of this to you because this race exemplified my eating recovery story in a nutshell. You see, there’s no way I could describe to you my Hero Journey using the past ten years of my eating disorder, because there’s just too much to tell in one blog.
But about midway through this race, after my bladder quit screaming at me, and the Dixie Chicks finally shuffled into my ears and I hit that yummy pace where I finally conclude that I may actually not die today, I had a realization. This race, in every sense, was my recovery. From the training to the execution, it modeled the past ten years perfectly.
Every hero finds every excuse not to start. We feel unequipped, inadequate, and wimpy. Then we enter this unknown place (the front of the start line) with in-explainable fear. Who am I to do this? Who am I to think I am the one?
We face tests along the way (like having to pee) and we justify things (I’ll just run the first mile then walk). Then when the adventure is underway, these incredible people of great strength and wisdom fall into our paths to run alongside us. Some of them are magical, some are spiritual, and sometimes it’s just the lady in front of me with the hot pink headband that keeps the same pace (aka, snail speed). We are in it together. They’re here to help me.
And then finally, there’s this moment of truth: the supreme ordeal, the big-bang test of strength that will finally determine the course of this adventure. You’ve trained for it. You’re not alone, but you have to fight with your own strength. Saturday, this place was at the end of mile 2. I could barely breath, my nose was still pouring, and I was wondering how there was possibly that much stuff in my sinuses for it to still be doing so. I was spitting loogeys onto the grass beside the route in very ladylike fashion. The wind, I am ashamed to say, was then blowing the loogey backwards to the runners behind me. May God bless their sweet souls. I knew I had the excuse to stop and walk. It was cold and windy. I was sick. Brian wasn’t here, and my coworkers were far ahead. They’ll never know if I quit.
Yet, in that magical mile 2 space, I looked up, and I knew precisely, after all these months of wisdom-runs, exactly how to talk about my Hero Journey. You see, the road turned just enough at the end of mile 2 for me to see the windows to the unit I work on in the distance, straight ahead. Floor four. Pediatric Eating Disorders: Where each shift I work, I show up and ask kids and teens to face the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and not give up, and open their hearts to talk about it.
They wake up every day in fear, but I push them to try overcome, anyway. I know this fear. It’s when you open your eyes in the morning and immediately wonder how bad you’re going to screw up recovery today. It’s when your friends go out for pizza and you rationalize every way to get out of it. It’s a lonely fear, and a threatening one, but I ask them to face it anyway. They’re up there right now, getting ready for lunch, and those fears are exploding in their chests, as they do before every meal. If I was at work I’d ask them about coping skills and rational thinking and talk about their strengths.
How dare I stop this race. No more sprinting and walking, Allicat. You know how to beat this. You know how to keep going. You’ve spent ten years playing around with recovery, playing around with 5k training. And finally, in this place of recovery so solid that you are able to help others with theirs, you’re trying to give up on just one more mile? Ridiculous.
A Bible verse from Hebrews hit me in the face with the next gust of wind.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)
The apostle Paul didn’t say speed. He said endurance.
As cliche as it may be, I began to picture my cloud of witnesses at my recovery race: their faces were in front of me, as were the faces of the kiddos on floor 4 about a mile in the distance. This is the moment, I thought. It’s when I finally close the door on that chapter of sprinting and walking and finish something, slowly and with purpose. I can keep going. I can do it. I’m actually doing it at this very moment.
I came out of my cloud-of-witnesses-trance and literally high-fived the next poster beside the road, a huge picture of a child meant to motivate the runners. I don’t know that kid from Adam; he was just there, smiling down with some random quote about strength. But now he was in my cloud of witnesses, so I jumped up high to give that kid a high five like he was my best friend in the world. The lady behind me (probably with my loogey on her shoe) giggled with delight, and we kept on going with little fanfare.
I realized on Saturday that running is a lot like recovery. You’ve gotta slow it down, dig up some patience, and avoid comparing yourself to others in order to go the distance (cue the Disney Hercules soundtrack, too. That helps).
The Hero Journey idea ends with the hero returning home to “restore” his old life and world. But, he has changed. Now he is the “master of two worlds:” the one that he just conquered, and the one he is returning to. Now, his new adventure is to reconcile his new growth with his old world. That, my friends, is where I have been in the past year and a half or so, away from this blog space, working towards my new degree, and reconciling this recovered Allison with the person she has always been.
It is hard. It’s so hard that I’ve had to sprint/walk/sprint all this time in order to save my energy. On Saturday, though, I remembered how strong I am. I remembered that a hero just keeps going, no matter how slowly.
A hero, y’all: that’s me.
Epilogue: I finished the race without stopping, blew my nose, and took a selfie. It was blissfully anti-climatic and wonderful, as stable recovery tends to be.