I’ve gone deeper into the internet than I ever wanted to or ever should be allowed to in the past week or so.
I’ve been working from home and therefore have to funnel all communication through a screen (even more so than usual) and I’ve also become obsessed with the news cycle. This combination alone could explain my newfound fascination with online detritus.
But if I know myself (and I’d wager I’m at least well-acquainted) part of what’s going on here is that I’m clinging to distraction. I’m trying to avoid thinking – about what motivates me and what I want to achieve.
Now is precisely the worst and best moment to attempt to find those answers.
Now is about two full weeks since the day of a specific race I’d been striving toward for close to three years. And now is also: the middle of a pandemic – with day-to-day life becoming as uncertain and unusual as it’s felt for as long as I can remember.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s felt almost like I set myself up for a letdown – not that I think there’s really much we could’ve done. More than 450 women lined up on the starting line in Atlanta for something that friends and family had been generously cheering us toward for weeks and months. Most (if not all) of us probably spent the past few months focused on training specifically for the race, after months of training specifically for a preliminary race to try and qualify for the later race. There was so much energy and excitement and focus in the buildup to February 29.
Then it came. And it was brutal. It was a hellacious course by almost anyone’s standards on an especially windy day. A cardboard box full of water bottles blew from the side of the course into a pack of runners who strained to react and hurdle the obstacle in time. Gusts nearly pushed us off our feet. We circled around the same loop three times.
Then it was done. And we’d either miraculously gutted out a negative split, finished higher than we thought we ever could have, gone out too fast but still clung on harder than we should’ve been able to, felt dead from the very beginning, gotten eaten alive by the hills, or maybe even dropped out without finishing.
No matter how it ended for us – the race was over. The sun set and the day was done, like any other. We were exhausted and probably (hopefully) pretty drunk and we barely acknowledged that it was midnight, and technically, March (if we were still awake).
March came in like a lamb – hardly noticeable. And was a lion, at least for me, within five days. That was the date where I’d been back home in San Francisco for a little while and the excitement of the weekend had fully worn off. I had to look at the plain old fact that this thing I’d been thinking about and working toward for years had come and gone and was a memory.
And, I’d done pretty terribly. It was the first marathon I’d ever stopped during. I almost didn’t finish.
But, I’m pretty sure I’d be feeling this lost, drifting sense of “now what?”-driven identity upheaval no matter how I’d done. Honestly, I think most runners are experiencing this exact feeling right now.
Because after the race, things didn’t just go back to usual life as I knew it. Not at all. Because The Usual had actually morphed. The early morning runs, the dark evening workouts or the pushing of myself out the door to go to a strength session even at 8 p.m. at night had all become the new normal – for months.
The real issue though – the insult to anticlimactic injury – is that we’ve all been thrown off the rhythm of our days. I’m a sucker for routine – like a baby or an octogenarian, I thrive on it. But right now, a routine is out the window. Getting back into running after a big event, or continuing to train even when races you’ve been working toward have been postponed indefinitely – either way – feels like starting over from scratch. It feels like being out in the middle of the ocean on a boogie board beginning to paddle, but not knowing what to paddle toward. It makes me feel helpless.
The way I’d usually handle uncertainty about what I should be doing or what goals to set is to act on them. Dive into the deep end, sign up for a race and start gunning for something. Throw myself into training so that even if I still don’t have the exact answers to questions like what am I working toward, it doesn’t bother me as much since I feel like I’m still making progress anyway. Not knowing what you’re working toward isn’t as devastating when you can tell yourself at least you’re doing the work. The work itself becomes a bit of a distraction from the end goal.
The world is in a scary flux right now. And when that happens, I think it’s harder to distract yourself from big questions that pop up. The things I usually fill my days with – yoga classes and being out of the house and with friends – are all welcome and helpful distractions. They keep me busy so I’m not just sitting around thinking. But right now, they’re off the table.
It’s not that I’m burnt out or not motivated to train again – it’s that when I’m not able to move through the city and go about my days, as usual, I have a hard time feeling like me. It’s that I have to rediscover who that “me” is and should be. The Olympic Trials are over. I’ve deleted OTQ from an internet bio of mine, but I’m craving the next thing to swing into. I want more and I want it now. Instead, we’ve all got weeks and months of slow, patient hunkering down and building back. We’ve got time spent inside, at home, to just think and feel and be. It seems like a curse that I’m trying very hard to turn into a blessing.
It’s scary to come face to face with what you’ve been distracting yourself from. It’s strange and uncomfortable to deeply consider that you’re changing (even though we always are or at least should be) and that you might want or need a new way to define yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with one specific race being there for you to run or not. But it’s also a beautiful thing to confront: possibility. What can you do differently now that you’re thrown off your usual, comfortable and familiar path? What do you care about prioritizing?
I took a bike ride through the Presidio in San Francisco by myself the other morning to try and scoot my quads back toward normal muscle function. I whizzed past a bench in the middle of some bushes and caught a glimpse of the view from that spot. It had been foggy everywhere else I had ridden that morning, but in front of the bench I could see a clear, bright blue expanse of ocean that stretched across the horizon. It was both eerie and appealing – not being able to see where the blue ended.