October 22, 2016
I used to yell at people who ran. To myself. And in my car. Princeton is a town full of very motivated, often wealthy, entitled, and beautifully fit people, and I used to hate them. Every morning on my drive to work, I would see these younger perfectly moulded bodies prancing on the tidy sidewalks past the well maintained Victorian homes and grand stone halls of the University. I would mutter incredulously "WHY ARE YOU RUNNING AT THIS UNGODLY UNHOLY HOUR OF MY SADNESS BECAUSE I HAVE TO GO TO THE JOB THING?" and "PUT SOME PANTS ON!", except it wasn't the 'put the pants on' that I use to motivate my depressed asshole brain. It was the 'put SOME pants on' that I yell at young women with pixie legs wearing the shortest of shorts, like some kind of prancing spandex ibex. Of course all this anger was really just redirected from how I felt about myself at that time in my life. I wasn't happy where I was, and my own anxiety, fear, and insecurity kept me from changing my situation.
I'm not sure exactly why I started running. My boss at my job thing had started running on his lunch breaks and training for some short races. He was older, overweight, and probably not happy with some of his life choices, but he was in his job for the long haul. He had a family to support and needed the retirement plan, fancy healthcare and benefits. His was a bit more of a health decision. Perhaps I thought I would be happier in my work if I had a better camaraderie with him. I was younger. I already went to the gym (and heck yes I did put on THE pants for my daily showdown with the elliptical machine). I could run probably just as well as he could, if not more. There is a small park at the bottom of my street with a running loop. It has a 1 MILE marker, but someone has defaced the letter "E" so that it reads 1 MILF. Somehow this still entertains me to this day. After I got home from work I would run around the loop once or twice, huffing and puffing and being passed by the sexy spandex ibexes. I hated it so much while I did it, but when it was done I could say "I ran two miles". It was a very concrete, measurable accomplishment that my brain could feel good about. I was never interested in going faster, but I was interested in going longer. Years later when I actually measured the 1 MILF marker with my running app, it was only two thirds of a mile! ALL LIES!! The course was apparently supposed to start outside of the loop, but my brain was better off believing I was some kind of magnificent, yet reasonably paced cheetah who could knock out a 10K every other day. My boss and I would frequently compare our runs. Somehow I always managed run further than he did. AH WELL. I felt good having something in common with him because it made the job a bit more tolerable. When I was at my most depressed at that time, I started running home at the end of the day. I actually would run AWAY from my workplace. It was four miles door to door, and forever. I would run, walk, run, walk, run, walk. The further I ran away from there the faster I could go. The downhill slope that my apartment is on totally had nothing to do with it.
Well, running away from my problems never solved any of them. I finally made the decision to quit my job and jump into the deep dark end of freelance-musician-theater-why-did-I-ever-start-working-in-the-arts-land, and I lost all my cushy real job benefits. Gym membership, therapy, and antidepressants were now luxuries that I could not afford. Luckily, God gave me two legs that work pretty well. They will never look nice in hot pants, but they hustle enough to get the heart rate and serotonin up. Most of you are very aware that I've collaborated with Matt Inman (aka The Oatmeal) on hits like The Motherfucking Pterodactyl Song. A few years ago he published the book "Why I Run Long Distances" which inspired me to run even further. When a 'Beat The Blerch' race was announced in New Jersey I jumped on board to be the starting line entertainment, and I figured while I'm at it I might as well run the 10K. What the hell right? That wound up being the toughest thing I had ever done to my body at that point, but I did it. I finished the race, and once those muscles and joints healed I knew I could probably go a little further.
I don't think I ever kept New Year's Resolutions. I mean who does? It's a nice thing to say at a party to fill space in a conversation. We all want to strive to be better, but who has the time? The closest I ever got was in college when I gave up underwear for Lent, and then I wound up just giving it up permanently because I realized it waste of money and time at the laundromat. Yes, that was my sacrifice for the good Lord and my contribution to society. At a New Year's Eve Party this past year, I casually mentioned my resolution that I thought it'd be cool if I ran a half marathon to my friend who has run actual marathons. He invited me to run along with him at the Amsterdam Marathon in October. He and his wife even offered to share their frequent flyer miles to get me and my husband there. Best friends ever! So of course, I said "Um, sure. Yes. I guess. I think so. I think I can do it. Can I do it? I don't even know? Can I handle that much chaffing? Yes. I can do it. Most likely. I think. Yes." The wheels were set into motion, and I worried and panicked about this race from January until this past Sunday.
Sunday morning came, and I was a cranky anxious mess. "Cranxious" if you will. I was still jet lagged, so sleep had not been very restful. I was so nervous that food and coffee just slid on through my shivering body. I had to watch two other races start before the half marathon which didn't contribute to my sense of calm and confidence. Runners begin lining up in corrals an hour before the race, so you are penned up inside a giant fence with thousands of others. I wore my Bob's Burgers Louise ears, but I don't think anybody in Amsterdam knows what that show is so I got some looks. That hat is super warm, and it also makes me easy to find in a crowd of seven thousand very serious runners. Usually I feel more confident with that hat, but I felt self conscious and exposed. Fuck you insecure brain. I WILL RUN THIS RACE LIKE A FOOL.
I popped my earbuds in and shuffled up to the start, just one blue haired, bunny eared nutter with #TeamMelon on her shirt and enough endorphins to kill an elderly gopher. Alanis Morissette's "21 Things I Want In A Lover" filled my ears, and I took off. Took off like the begrudged hustle of a short legged pony who really doesn't feel like working today. You have to pace yourself right? It was a very pleasant run for awhile. Amsterdam is beautiful, and cheering fans gave me back some of that confidence. Children smiled at the bunny ears, and I took all the high fives I could get. My husband surprised me a couple times through the race showing up to cheer me on. It lifted my spirits especially at the halfway point when I was starting to struggle and asking myself 'is this almost over??'. It was hard to tell exactly how many miles were left which was beneficial to me in retrospect. There were several times I thought we were nearly done so I kept the hopeful hustle going, but then I'd realize there was plenty more race to run. I'll spare you the play by play of pain and exhaustion and just tell you that it was the hardest thing I've ever pushed myself to do. I cried a few times. I sang "How To Say Goodbye" from Hamilton and Ben Folds' "Zak and Sara" out loud. (Yes, I run so slowly that I can sing)
Things got emotional as I rounded the bend to the finish line, and I saw my husband taking pictures and cheering. I was so broken. People called my name "Go Sarah, move those legs!", and I thought "HOLY SHIT I HAVE FANS IN AMSTERDAM?" and then I remembered my name was on my bib. WHATEVER. Those were my fans at that moment, and they pushed me further than I could push myself. I was crying and a stranger put out his hand. My tears turned into elation, and I knew I was going to do this thing that I had been worrying about for ten months. I'm going to try to remember to hold onto that moment when my content brain inevitably turns into depressed asshole brain.
There is always, always someone that is cheering you on. Someone out there is saying "Go Awesome Person, move those legs, one more step!" You just have to take the earbuds out of your ears to hear them. You have to look up from your hurting hips and blistered toes to see them. There were folks who were way more fit than I am that left that race in ambulances. I guess no matter how much we prepare for a thing, we can only control so much. It's important that we just take one more step for as long as we can. And if you hang in there, you get a medal, a plastic tarp blanket, AND THE MOST DELICIOUS BANANA YOU EVER ATE.