I am feeling super inspired this weekend by Mirna Valerio who I discovered some time ago. She is many things - a soprano, an author, a former teacher but my favourite thing about her is that she is a full time adventurer and I have decided that will be my job description for the next few weeks. I love that - it indicates there will be challenge, there may be fear and excitement, and there will be fun and exhilaration. I listened to her being interviewed on a podcast recently (links at the end of this post) and it made me reflect on today’s title for the blog - a story that I have never told (or at least not very often and never on this blog). It's about the time I ran a half marathon.
Running a half marathon had been something that for some reason was on my to do list for several years. I don't know where I got such a ridiculous idea from - I do that sometimes - another story for another time. But sometime in 2009 I decided that I was going to work towards that goal. I decided it would take me about a year to train, and I decided I was going to run the Bristol half marathon. Bristol was the first place I lived and studied when I moved over to England and it always held a special place for me. Also, I'll be honest and say - I am not sure it actually occurred to me that there were any other half marathons to run. I decided to seek as a trainer someone who had done it before and who would be able to give me good guidance. And I laced up my shoes and started running.
Thus began one of the most enjoyable processes I have embarked on. I trained in the gym, I swam and I ran. I started with a few metres and worked my way up to one mile. Two miles. Three miles. I did a 5k and a 10k. I trained in different cities, different terrains. Evenings. 4 am. I made playlists. I ran to them. I loved the feeling of the wind whipping past me. Finding new trails and paths. Figuring out how far I was running before fitbits and smart phones were mainstream. I felt myself getting stronger and faster. Going further. Doing things I never thought was possible. I enjoyed the almost permanent stiffness and soreness that began to reside in my muscles. I was ready on the morning to run that race. Which is why what happened next was so surprising.
I woke up on the morning of the race really sick. I have long had serious menstrual cramps with throwing up and all sorts of assorted ailments. After training for a year for this I woke up near to the start and spent an hour hunched over the toilet. And I decided - I spent a whole year preparing for this and I was going to run it. Spoiler alert - I did finish it, but it was horrible. My time was awful and I felt awful. I was fortunate to have a friend run a mile with me near the end when I was flagging. Fortunate enough to have another one who came to cheer me on. But when I crossed the finish line, instead of feeling triumph, I just felt disappointed that after enjoying the training so much I had hated the race. I was sorry that I ran it. And I never ran anything that major again.
I still dreamed about running for a while. I dreamed about the wind in my face. About my feet moving to the music. About covering those distances with my steps. Of feeling strong and fit, and that good soreness in my muscles. But life took over. I moved to a hot country. I changed my working hours. I had the usual stresses of life. I tried the gym, personal trainers and kickboxing. I put on weight... A lot of weight... And one day I became aware that I no longer dreamed of running. Now I believed I was too heavy. Too hot. Too tired. Too stressed. Soon I was a couch potato. Somewhere in there I discovered Mirna's blog but I was too tired, and burnt out to care.
Last year - almost one year ago to the day, I fractured my ankle. It made me an actual couch potato and all of a sudden I was questioning everything. Basic things like – would I ever walk again? Run again? Bigger questions like how could I live a more meaningful life. Spend 7 weeks on the couch and you will be surprised at the things that run through your mind. An old wrist injury also showed itself around that time and these combinations of injuries made it impossible to use crutches, and difficult to write, or read or even do basic things like make a cup of tea and carry it to the table. And at the same time I again began to dream about running, about walking long distances, while I felt the frustration of not even being able to walk to the bathroom. Now, a year later, I can walk. I still get some discomfort, but I can walk! Something that I took for granted for most of my life is now so precious to me. And by some miracle I discovered Mirna again, and her zest for life, and I learned so much from her, two important lessons that I needed to learn right at this moment. The first was to redefine what I felt about fitness, and if I wanted to run – I should just build up to it and run. Even if I feel heavy. Even if I am concerned about the heat. I should just train for it, and do it because our bodies are phenomenal and amazing and designed to be moved. And the second thing (which I feel like was even more important) is that sometimes just by being who we are and following our curiousity, we can inspire others out there and our lives can have meaning. I won’t go into it too much here, but this is something I had been struggling with for so long – a struggle between whether the things I spent my time doing (for example – writing) were meaningful. As I said – I won’t go into this here – this is a whole other blog post. I was just glad to see her out there doing her thing, and making people like me who felt as if that part of their life where they were physically active was behind them (due to self-imposed restrictions) was possible. That I could run again. And even though I am not sure where I am going to start, I want to find a way to run again.
Thanks Mirna! I am off to be an adventurer. And if you want to hear more from her, check out her keynote here or listen to the podcast I heard her on here. And tell me what is inspiring you today, this week.
I send you big love from a small island!
PS above is a photo of the beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol that I took after I ran that half marathon. In hindsight, while I didn’t take the time to enjoy it on the day, I can think of nothing more beautiful than to run with that bridge at my back.