When I first started distance running, it was with the end goal of losing weight. Let’s be honest, 99% of anything I did that was exercise related had always been with weight loss in mind. From the day I got my first gym membership at the way-too-young age of 15 through to when I started training for my first marathon, exercise was about weight loss/control. And, while I’ve gotten much, much better about reframing, it’s still really hard for me to not hate the idea of exercise because I hate when I start to obsess about my weight and then I start to loathe exercising because it will never be disconnected from the years I’ve spent feeling ugly/fat/insecure/etc.
Even today, even though I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin, every time I get ready to exercise, there’s still that moment when I think, “I shouldn’t have to do this.” It doesn’t matter that at my age, everyone should be doing “this”. And I like to exercise. I like how I feel when I’m doing it. I like how I feel when I’m done. I’m a happier person overall when I do it. But that little voice is still there telling me that the main reason I’m doing it is to try and be pretty/thin/secure enough.
What distance running did for me was to show me just how much my body could do. I’ve written a number of posts about this, in fact. So, even though I hadn’t done any distance running (and almost no running at all, for that matter) since moving to Japan, when my friend, Brittany, asked me if I’d like to join her in running a half-marathon in Burma (aka Myanmar, and yes, I did have to look it up and the only reason I actually recognized the that this was the name of a country was because I’d had two friends go their this past summer), I agreed on the spot, knowing this would force me to do something in the running department.
There are so many things about my trip to Burma that I could talk about (and maybe I will someday if I ever get around to it), but the reason we went there was to run this half-marathon through the temples, so that’s what I want to capture here.
Leading up to the half, I tried to get on the training bandwagon, but the reality was I was super busy. Between the craziness of my job, the responsibility I’ve been given at church, and my inability to say “no” to any invitation and/or to not have a dinner party on any given Sunday, I just wasn’t getting around to running. Before heading to Burma, I got in exactly two runs. One was four miles, the other six. And the latter involved quite a bit of walking. Side note: one of the things I hate about not running for so long is that while mentally, my brain knows that my body is physically capable of doing it, I also know that my body won’t be able to do it right away. And that hurts.
So, by the time we arrived at the starting line Saturday morning, I knew I had no hope of anything but my worst half-marathon time even. And while it shouldn’t be about the time, I’m still always trying to prove something, so it was still about the time. And I hated that I was going to be so slow. Never mind the fact that I never questioned whether I’d be able to finish even though I had basically not trained. Never mind that the terrain and scenery on this route would make it near impossible to not get my slowest time even if I had been trained. I wanted to be able to run faster than my slowest time. I wanted to pace with Brittany who had been training and actually done a 10 mile run prior to the actual race. (Perhaps my boss was right to tell me last week that I might need to start lowering my expectations of myself…)
But then something amazing happened. The gun went off and I started running and suddenly, I remembered. I remembered how amazing this body is that I’ve been given. That I can run 13.1 miles (or wog, whatever) and not ever question whether I’ll finish. Even in 90F+ weather and humidity. Even though I hadn’t trained. Even if I was going to be slower than I’d ever been. The emotions that evoked combined with the incredible opportunity I had been given to run in this amazing country, in the same race as some of Burma’s top runners, and the sheer beauty of the world in that moment was almost more than I could handle and, had it not been for the fact that I was running, and therefore using my full lung capacity to support that process, I probably would have started bawling right there on the spot.
While I wasn’t able to kick the feelings of disappointment in myself until almost the end of the race, knowing I wouldn’t PR, I was able to enjoy the scenery around me, stop and take a few photos here and there, and appreciate the experience perhaps more than I’ve appreciated any other race I’ve run.
Added to the normal feelings of gratitude I have for my body and my health anytime I run any race 10 miles or more, there was the gratitude I had for the sweet Burmese villagers who came out to cheer us on. These people who have almost nothing spent their morning sitting by the side of the road, cheering on foreigners (for the most part) who had paid more to get to their villages and run in this race than they likely make in a year. Talk about a generous culture. This almost brought be to tears for the second time during the race.
Much earlier in the morning during breakfast at the ridiculous hour of 4:30am, I’d been chatting with a woman who was going to run the full marathon. I’d mentioned that I hadn’t trained almost at all and was going to get my slowest time ever. And then, near the end of the race, after Brittany had already finished and I still had about two miles to go, I passed her. She’d ended up switching to the half at the split point because her body wasn’t cooperating in the heat and humidity.
While I had made those comments in defense of myself and what really was going to be my slowest time, in the moment I passed her, I’d wished more than anything that I could have eaten those words instead of the toast I’d had at breakfast. And I wanted more than anything for this woman to flat out beat me. And suddenly, I forgot about my disappointment in myself, and was left with only gratitude. That said, I didn’t hang back and let the woman beat me because she would have known it was intentional and no one enjoys being pitied. But I was able to completely let go and enjoy those last two miles in a different way than the previous 11.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I’d completely let go of time. I was focused on how amazing it was that I was able to be in Burma, running through thousands of temples that had been there for thousands of year and do so with only one blister to show for it. And I was focused on the beautiful medal hanging around my neck indicating that I was a finisher.