Saturday is the Rock ‘n Roll half marathon.
The culmination of three months of training. Eleven weeks of Saturday morning long runs, pre-dawn miles before nine-hour desk days, and two pairs of Mizuno running shoes.
But more importantly, it should be the raging crescendo of so many of my hopes, wishes, and expectations. If you read the story of my previous half-marathon experience, you’ll know why. You see – I used to be one of those devil-may-care runners who bounded through ten miles on a “light” day and casually dropped marathoner like it was my new last name. It got me my first job. It even got me a few dates. I was a runner. The daughter of a runner. And I had every expectation to be that lady pushing a BOB all-terrain baby stroller up hill repeats. Being a runner was the very pit of my core.
But that all changed when I hurt my knee in 2010. A torn meniscus separated me from my running shoes for two long years; twenty four months of physical therapy, bulky knee braces, gentle yoga, and orthopedic shoes. I struggled to hang on by my fingernails to the identity I had built my home in. That runner I thought I always would be was now aqua jogging on the road to nowhere somewhere in the middle of lane five.
Fast forward to last fall, when I was miraculously cleared for running again. And it really was a miracle. With no surgery and just a few injections, my meniscus had repaired itself. I remember seeing the grainy ultrasound images with a sense of wonder and disbelief. It was enough to bring me to tears in the parking garage below the doctor’s office, my hands shaking as I dialed my marathoning mother to share the good news. I was going to be a runner again, mom. Maybe never another marathon, but a runner all the same.
I trained tenderly for a few weeks before deciding to make my quiet debut at the Baltimore Half Marathon. Again, for the nitty gritty you can read here, but the long and the short of it is that I entered with the expectation only to cross the starting line and maybe even the finish line, too. And you know what? I did.
So I signed up for another race – this time with the audacious expectation to train well, thoroughly, and with some fire under my feet. The goal time? Somewhere around 1:45. I laid it all out in a day by day plan, even designating days for cross training and rest. It was – in my mind – the perfect plan. I had it all under control. My knee was feeling better and able to handle the miles, my confidence was boosted from the thrill of being back on the road, and I. Was. Unstoppable.
That is, until last Thursday, when my wisdom tooth ruptured and needed to come out immediately. In one swift yank, I was minus one tooth and one solid training plan. The mileage, the hill repeats, the track workouts – all pushed to the side as I recuperated on the couch. At the very peak of my training, in the critical final stages of preparation, everything came to a screeching halt.
Which brings me to today – the day before race day. The day when I have to readjust my expectations and approach the starting line with a sense of humility and grace. The fact that I’ll be lacing up my shoes Saturday morning feeling unprepared and disjointed is not an easy pill to swallow. Not after I had diligently planned for this, for this race to be my grand re-entry into the world of being that competitive, watch-out-here-she-comes, “how many races this season” kind of runner.
And you know what? It’s perfectly okay. Because expectations are funny like that. We weave them into bold designs and wave them at the world with reckless abandon. Look future, this is what I’ve made for you. It’s a thrill, and it’s part of the excitement of being alive – to feel like we can control the intangible. To feel like lists or color-coded training plans will serve as safety nets when things start to look rocky. But life has a funny way of reconfiguring your design and watching from the sidelines as you struggle to figure out the “now what” part of things.
There are two options: mourn and pout and wave fists at the things that didn’t pan out the way you had planned.
Or carefully study what is in front of you, take a deep breath, and bravely run with the present moment and see where it leads.
I know I have.