When the finish line is just the beginning

I worked hard for six years to qualify for the Boston marathon, and I dreamt about it for many years prior to that. I followed training plans, fought through injuries, and spent countless hours fantasizing about what it might feel like when I finally got that coveted Boston Qualifying time. The goal seemed so elusive to me, and the target time kept moving further out of reach, but I was relentless. Crossing the finish line would be a huge celebration. I would finally belong. Having proven to myself that my body could run the required pace for 26.2 miles, I would finally accept it. Sure, there was plenty of happiness and celebrating at the finish line when I achieved my goal, but those feelings of not belonging lingered. The body image issues did not magically disappear now that I could call myself a Boston qualifier.

February was still dark. One night the following winter I tossed and turned all night long, wrestling with the demons I thought I had outrun. They were still there, demanding my attention. Hadn’t I done enough? I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t yet understand that there would be no outrunning the so-called demons. I needed to run towards them and not away from them.

The harder I tried to outrun them and the more I pushed them away, the stronger and louder they became. They demanded my attention until I had no choice but to stop and look them directly in the eye. Upon further examination, I started to see that it was not demons I was pushing away. I had been rejecting parts of myself.

For the past six years I thought I had been running towards a huge goal. But was I ever really running towards anything? Or was I just running away? It is not the Boston Athletic Association where I am seeking belonging, I am seeking to belong to me. To feel safe, accepted and at home in my own body. And so began the real marathon. The one back to myself.

For this journey, however, there is no training plan. No track Tuesdays or structured Thursday tempo runs. No concrete way of measuring progress. My Garmin will not give me any feedback. Rather than my watch, I am having to learn to rely on an internal knowing that I locked away decades ago and was not sure I could still access.

But she is in there, calm, curious and waiting. If I am quiet and still, I can hear her.

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