I am attending a weekly running group. It’s been on my List of Things for years now, but Reasons have gotten in the way. A few weeks ago, I looked at my current running state, which was abysmal, and my current social state, also abysmal. I decided it was time to get out of the house one night a week for a standing date with other running humans. If anything, I hoped it would get me to commit to at least one more night a week of running, because I was averaging a single run per week.
Winter has been hard.
It’s not that I don’t like people, but it takes me time to warm up to new ones, and in a group setting, I have to fight the urge to move to the outside of the room. Even in settings like this, where I have a common thread, it turns me into a bundle of nerves.
I knew that the first month of my return to running wouldn’t be easy. My fitness has taken a hit, and I can’t keep up the same paces with the same ease I could over the summer. I’d put on some weight. So as I stood there with strangers, shivering and feeling slightly underdressed for the weather, yanking up the capris I bought at Walmart (due to last minute ill-fitting clothing anxiety).
I felt like turning toward the parking lot and leaving. I’ve run over a dozen marathons and countless other races, logged thousands of miles, and as I stood on the curb waiting for the run to begin, I felt like I didn’t belong.
I didn’t feel like a runner anymore.
About a dozen people showed up, and off we went, racing across the parking lot. There was no warm up. There was no easing into it. By the time we crossed the lot and turned onto the avenue, which was on a slight incline, I’d been dropped.
In some ways, this was good. It took off some of the pressure of keeping up with people who were younger and faster and fitter. But then I realized that I was the back of the pack. And even though I am by no means a fast runner, I have never worn that label or sought it out. I have existed quite happily somewhere in the middle, a place I could hang easily.
But here I was, huffing and puffing up the hill, heart rate pounding away 20 beats per minute faster than where I run comfortably, my pace two minutes slower per mile than where it used to be. And while I wish I could say I was just taking it easy, it’s only partly true. I was taking it easy. But lately? Easy is all I’ve got.
Something has happened. I feel like a Switch has been turned off—The Switch that turns on my love for running, my desire to be out there, the rhythm of my footfalls—and I’m having a hard time turning it on. It’s like it’s encrusted in a layer of crud, one I’m trying to scrape off, just so I can toggle The Switch back to ON.
I want to keep going to running group. What proves to be the biggest challenge, the one that makes it hardest to continue to show up, is to not think about what others are thinking. The ones who don’t know me (basically everyone) as the New Person, who can’t keep up with the rest of the group. The Slow One. The One who’s clearly packing on that extra weight that often comes with middle age and multiple childbirths.
I know, I know. It doesn’t matter. But it doesn’t make it any easier.
As for The Switch, I’m working on it. I’m chipping away, trying to move it. In the meantime, I’m still going to running group, even if I’m running by myself and my view is the ass end. I once claimed my superpower was showing up, and it still is. I’ll be there, even if that means I’m bringing up the rear, so to speak.
And I’ve learned this: it doesn’t matter your capris look like when everyone else is a mile ahead.