There is a picture that hangs above the couch in my office at home.
It’s a canvas painting of a white horse, its head bowed, eyes partly closed as streaks of white and gray paint form a mane that blows over half its face. Michael bought the painting for me when we lived in Kentucky, the horse capital of the world. He said it reminded him of me.
I didn’t like that.
If a painting of a horse reminded Michael of me, I’d prefer some silky black stallion in mid-gallop, its nostrils flared dramatically as it charged across a wide-open meadow, the very picture of freedom and strength.
The horse in my office looks... tame. Demure. Broken. A wild thing that has been domesticated by man until the very last flame of the wild in it went out.
Last Thursday, around two in the morning, I sat beneath that painting on my red couch and cried. I felt a burning beneath my belly button as my abdominal wall began to separate in the middle. My heart was pounding loudly with the liters of extra blood my body was circulating. There was no way to sleep when the slightest movement woke me up and reminded me that I’m living in a body that feels completely awkward and foreign to me. A body I can't escape.
I sat there hating what was happening to me, dreading the months ahead where running was sure to become increasingly uncomfortable and where the weather beaten, training hardened, predictable body I’ve always known and loved was going to become more and more unrecognizable by the day.
This is going to break me, I thought.
And then it dawned on me as I sat beneath the painting of that horse. Perhaps this is an area of my life where I need to be broken.
See, I could stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people for an hour while they hurled insults about my intellect and I don’t think it would phase me. They could shout, You’re so stupid! I bet you have an IQ of 10! I bet you can’t even read! It would just roll off my shoulders. There are things I’m self-conscious about but my intelligence isn’t one of them. It would be the same as if they shouted, You’re so tall! You’re such a giraffe! I bet you hit your head on every door you walk through! I’m 5’3. I know I’m not tall, so why would that bother me?
If I were to stand on that stage and they started shouting things like, You’re way bigger than other professional runners! You look more like a body builder than a marathoner! Well… they’d have found the chink in my armor.
I think, ultimately, that’s been the hardest part of pregnancy for me. Knowing I have very little control over my body. Regardless of what I eat or how much I run, my body is widening, changing, growing and surprising me. Right now, I’m not the captain of this ship. And all of these body changes are ones that my sport has taught me to be resistant to at all costs over the past decade and a half.
But truly, I'm only offered two choices for how to approach the rest of my pregnancy:
Surrender, or be dragged.
And so, unable to change the wind of what’s happening to me right now, I’ve decided to adjust my sails.
This hundred-mile week is not about making a statement or showing what’s possible for a pregnant woman. Many of the female pioneers ahead of me have already done that; like Paula Radcliffe who ran doubles nearly every day of her pregnancy and put in ridiculous hill workouts and intervals. Or Alysia Montano who raced the 800 meters at the US track and field championships at 8.5 months pregnant.
For me, as far as keeping my fitness goes, I have no disillusions about finishing this pregnancy in the shape of my life. I harbor no expectation but that birth and postpartum will utterly restart my running journey. When it comes to building speed and endurance, I have no dog in that fight. Or, more accurately, the dog I have in that fight is destined to die at some point in the tussle.
So why run a 100-mile week as I start my 6th month of pregnancy? I don’t have anything to prove any more than the band that kept playing on deck as the Titanic went down had something to prove.
Frankly, I’m saying goodbye.
This 100-mile week is a farewell to the life I had as I move forward into my new life without trying to fit my old one inside it.
When I graduated high school at 17 and chose Western Washington University, the WWU cross-country coaching staff sent out a packet for the incoming team. I read through everything carefully and came to a sheet of paper for the women’s team, outlining three columns for summer training, one with 40 miles per week through the summer for those on the junior varsity team, one with 50 for the upper classmen and one with 60 for those who hoped to make the top-7 travel squad. I decided that if the best girls on the team were running 60 miles per week, I’d run 70.
The following summer, at 18, I got the same packet in the mail. This time, I tossed the women’s sheet to the side and read over the men’s summer training. Their columns were for 70/80/90 miles per week so I figured if the best men on the team were running 90, I should run 100.
Home for the summer and on the brink of adulthood, I ran my first triple digit weeks all alone, exploring the rocky logging roads in the hills above Hockinson, using rusty hedge clippers to tame back thorny blackberry bushes as I hand-cut a 3-mile loop trail into the forest behind our house, and running more neighborhood loops on 189th street than I care to remember.
Those first 100-mile weeks were special and I knew it, even at the time. I relished the novel stiffness and fatigue I felt when I climbed out of bed. I trusted the ability of my morning runs to clear out the cobwebs within a mile or two and delighted in the night runs where I could barely make out the white lines of the road in front of me in a town far too small for streetlamps.
As the years went by, 100 miles became more of a baseline and, at times, in the peak of marathon training, 100 miles would have actually been a down week. The highest weekly mileage I’ve ever run was 146. A hundred miles would have only gotten me to Thursday.
But I now recognize those first 100-mile weeks as the dawn of my career as a runner. They were the golden days when my future stretched out before me as limitless and exciting and terrifying as lane one in a track race where I had the lead. They were where I found out who I was and, this week, I revisit them one more time to pay homage to these past 12 years of heartbreak and triumph.
Of course, I've been medically cleared to do this. I had a check-up this week and my blood levels are perfect and the little one is growing beautifully, just as she should be. Everything with my pregnancy is going well, but let’s call a spade a spade. This has been the slowest 100-mile week of my life by a huge margin. A 20 mile out and back that took me just two and a half hours last year took me three hours and change this time around. But it's also been beautiful and gratifying and every mile this week has meant something to me.
This is a closing chapter in my life, one that I hope to reopen when all of this is over, but with the knowledge that whatever comes on the next page I will have to write myself with a pen that may or may not have ink left in it.
There’s not a whole lot more behind it. My reasoning is not deep. Sometimes in life we simply need closure on who we used to be.
I’m not sure who this is for. Perhaps just me. It’s certainly helped me just to write it out. But wherever you’re at on your running journey or in this season of life, I’d like to encourage you to sort through the parts of you that need to be left behind, even if just temporarily, and commit wholeheartedly to do what it takes to tie up those loose ends and find freedom in the future’s happy unknowns. I’m right there with you.