I finished the Vancouver Marathon almost four weeks ago. I weaved through four blocks of packed sidewalks on the way back to my apartment, cringing down stairs and sighing up any inclines. I didn't stretch. I didn't ice bath. I took a long, long shower, and then lay on the patio, watching the wind turbines up Grouse.
My life had been divided into two parts: Before Marathon and After Marathon. The past four months, I started to see my life in blocks: race to race, workout to workout. The marathon coincided with moving apartments and the end of busy season. I should know better, but still, I told myself - once the marathon was done, life would be easy. There is no easy. Life goes on and on. It's like climbing a hill - to see the top of the mountain, now visible, from the crest.
In about a three week span, I moved apartments, ran a marathon, got engaged, and ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim. I was elated and exhausted - going off fumes. I told myself that after the marathon was over, life would return to normal, to easy, to eight hours sleep.
Workouts still showed up for me (even if the "workout" was 6k easy). Pictures were lying on the floor and things were still unpacked and disorganized. There were new adventures, new races. And I did what I was good at - I pushed on. I worried through recovery. I scheduled and I planned and I looked at new projects.
I saw a good friend last week. We walked along the seawall in the warm evening light. The week after R2R2R had been a struggle for me - my body and head were both still wiped out. She asked me: "Are you having fun? Reading your blog it doesn't sound like you are. It sounds hard. Why do you run trails when you are constantly anxious about getting lost or injured?"
It's a valid question. I pushed my races this year - I wanted to go hard, go fast, and my body and head held up enough to get me what I wanted. But with each workout, logging elevation and distance and pace, I lost track of what allowed me to do all this: my heart. When I rush through trails, I forget what they give me: easy conversation, mist through the trees, all my muscles breathing together. I love running, and racing, and when it hurts. Coming out on the other side of a tough race makes me feel alive like nothing else. But I love running because I love running - the rhythm and the measured breath. I love warm evenings on the seawall and rainy mornings on the Baden Powell. And I really love the friends I made along the way.
This week, I read an article about rats and exercise. When the rats were allowed to run on an activity wheel they did so excessively, until they ran themselves to death. That going and going. The momentum, one step and one hundred steps and that long slow relentless build towards nothing.
It's a balance, for me: between too hard and too easy.
In all honesty, I don't even want my life to be easy. I worked, for years, to have it be that way. What I really want are problems: interesting, frustrating, amazing ones. Life doesn't stop. I choose when to stop. In the end, either my body or my brain will get tired. The downtime is just as important as the training time.
I know I get stronger on recovery - I just wish it wasn't always so damn hard to actually do it. With the assistance of an unexpected root on the trail to Norvan falls, I finally had some time. I slept. I braved the stationary bike (the recumbent one, even!) and got passed by two elderly gentlemen on a morning Grouse Grind. I feel rested. More importantly - I am starting to feel hungry, again. I don't look at upcoming runs or races as something to be scared of, something to endure. I'm excited to be outside, to see where my body can go, see where I can travel with just my feet and my lungs - and finish smiling.