26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
Mile 7-Anguish & Joy…for the love of running and writing
“There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”-Maya Angelou
The similarities between running and writing are endless–and at times, almost unbearable. Literally right now, as I begin to write about this Mile 7 in my marathon series, I’m plagued with fatigue and doubt. Why did I even decide to start this project? I could have done one piece and called it “Why I’m Running the Marathon” and been done. This is so much more arduous than I had imagined when I laid it all out. Why do I continue to torture myself–why don’t I just give up?
It’s interesting and sort of crazy that two of the things I love most in this world–writing and running–I contemplate giving up on on almost a daily basis. I’m not sure what it is about Mile 7, whether I’m ending a run there or continuing on, it’s always one of the toughest markers for me. My most frequent thoughts go something like this:
What have you really accomplished by running today? These few miles are not going to change your life, or even your fitness.
You’re exhausted, how are you supposed to run 26.2 miles if you can barely run 7? I don’t see it happening.
I hate this. This is so hard. Why do I do this?
Similar thoughts come up when I’m writing:
What have you really accomplished by writing this piece? You’re not going to change the world, you probably won’t even change any minds.
How are you going to write a book or a script–something of real value, if you can’t even write a silly blog post?
I hate this. This is so hard. Why do I do this?
One of my favorite movie lines comes from Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmy Dugan, in A League of their Own. When his star catcher Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) decides to quit baseball citing that it “just got too hard,” he responds:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard, is what makes it great.”
The first time I saw A League of their Own I was ten years old; that line has stuck with me ever since. I knew it was true. I knew that there were things that were really special–but also really hard. I knew that less people did these things solely because they were difficult, and that added to the allure for me. As I grew up, I was determined to find the special things that I was going to do, the things that other people gave up on. I knew whatever I did would have to be something I loved. If I didn’t love it, I would give up too.
For as long as I can remember I’ve seen life as a story; I’ve lived with narration in my head since I was five or six. I always knew experiences were meant to be shared; I think for a while I suspected storytelling was my only true defense against loneliness. There’s no solitary narrative–there’s always something that at least one person can connect to.
I write because I love words, and I cherish the way they link my view of the world to other peoples’. Sometimes writing comes easily to me, but more often than not, I struggle. There was a sliver of time in my life that I thought that meant I wasn’t supposed to write. I thought if I was born to do something then it should come easily to me, or at least easier. Now though I see that it isn’t the struggle or lack there of that indicates what I’m meant to do. Rather, it’s the fierce compulsion to persist through that struggle that steers my work and reveals my life’s journey.
I’ve finished a “silly” blog post, and had old friends from high school write me to say how much it impacted them or how they related to my feelings. I’ve actually had someone write to me, “I thought I was the only one who felt this way.”
On mile 7 I have said to myself, “You have to stop, you can’t run any more than this.” Then my persistence has taken me to mile 10 or 11.
Just like writing, running consistently disproves all the doubts I have about myself. These two things that I love are always shattering my limited scope of what I believe I am capable of. At mile 7, I will remember that I have pushed past this marker before. I will keep going, because I’ll recognize the struggle, and I will know that if I don’t give up, there are unbelievable gifts on the other side.
Mile 8- Speaking of Things that I Love–What am I Eating after this?
Having a genuine and robust love affair with food is not something I take for granted. After years of struggling with body image and eating disorders, I am able to understand and appreciate how rare it is for someone like me to really adore eating as much as I do. My relationship with food did not improve overnight, it’s taken years of consistent work to wholeheartedly absorb three concepts that are really important to me:
- Food is life
- Food is fuel
- Food is joy
Whether our problem is overeating or under-eating, at some point, many of us have wished that food could just disappear-that we could eliminate eating as a task. We can’t. Food is literally what sustains our lives, we need it to remain on this earth. Living in a rich country like the United States, it’s easy to forget that there are places all over the world that lack the resources to feed their citizens. Food is a human right; I remember feeling ashamed on the day I woke up and finally realized that I was squandering that right by starving myself. There came a point where I ultimately had to decide whether I wanted to live or die. A “yes” to life, was a “yes” to food, I could no longer have it any other way. Once I accepted food as part of my humanity, I realized that I had a real choice over whether it would remain a dark looming shadow, or transform into a bright spot that I got to encounter on a daily basis.
The more I began to nourish myself, the hungrier I got–the more I wanted out of life. I wanted to write, to travel, to experience love, and to run. I ran on empty for years and years. Looking back, I’m not really sure how I did it; I like to think surviving the abuse I put my body through is a testament to how strong I really am–that resilience is something I’m enormously proud of. When I finally began to see that food was the key–that it opened up the door to so much possibility for living, a true desire to fuel myself was born. Races and travel and adventure all require energy. Understanding how to provide my body with the sustenance it needs to produce this energy has not been easy–it’s taken a lot of trial and error and I’m still learning every day. But the work is worth it. As the propulsion of my legs gets faster and stronger as I push towards the end of a run, or I feel my glutes engage and lift me gracefully up a long set of stairs, I give thanks for my strong limbs and full belly. I know that I don’t get the former without the latter.
Obviously I can’t know what I’ll be thinking during any of these miles during the race–this is all imaginative conjecture. Still, I’m willing to bet that some of my first thoughts about what I’m going to eat after the race will come around mile 8. I will probably let myself eat whatever I want for at least a few days. After several years of taking care of myself, I’ve built sort of a resistance to over-gorging–how my body feels always wins, so overdoing it for too long rarely happens nowadays. Sometimes I’m even annoyed that my body won’t let me splurge more–there seems to be some sort of beast living inside me that roars if it goes too many days without broccoli. But that is the other thing, I love broccoli.
Although I only have the one treatment center I went to as a reference and the current literature, it seems to me that what’s missing from the recovery of eating disorders is joy. I understand that when we start out, so many of us just need to learn how to survive. But, eating and food offer us so much beyond survival if we really want it. Food is nurturing and delicious and we get to experience it several times a day–what else is like that? Some of the best memories of my life have been created around food–the tastes, the smells, and the feelings will stay with me forever. My first meal out in Paris with my husband was at this unbelievable place where we ate the most incredible seafood– we just happened to stumble upon it after winding down our day with a romantic walk in an uncertain direction. The streets of Paris, and bread, and butter, and oysters, and prawns. It was love at first bite and we never looked back–we didn’t have even one so-so meal in Paris, everything was a home-run.
I get all the feels when it comes to cooking as well, especially for loved ones. I make Christmas dinner for my family every year and it’s one of my favorite gifts that I give and receive. I cook for hours. I prep a ton on Christmas Eve and then I’m up Christmas morning before anyone else in the house–peeling and chopping and rolling and baking. From the taste testing over my shoulder all day to the moment it all comes together on the extended dining room table, feeding the people I love warms and empowers my soul–it’s the ultimate nourishment.
And so, as I salivate at mile 8, imagining the glorious smorgasbord that will await me at the finish, I will also give thanks to food for:
Giving me a life that I’m eager to keep on living
Making me strong and able to go after my dreams
And creating some of the most satisfying and joyful memories of my life.
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