covid-19, Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon, Goals for 2020

What are you training for?

Depending on how you ask that question, what word you emphasize, it can elicit different meanings.

What are YOU training for? Emphasizing the “you”, maybe the question is being directed at a specific person versus a group, or distinguishing from one person to another. Or, if asked with a snarky, sarcastic tone, it could be interpreted as asking a person “Why are you bothering to train?” – citing something negative about the person being asked.

What are you training for!? Asked in a stressful way, maybe the question being asked is, “What is the point?!”

What are you training for? Asked plainly, maybe the question being asked is, “What is your reason for your training? Is there a specific race, event, distance, goal you are training for?”

I’ve seen a lot of posts today marking 2020 being half over. Instead of getting into how crazy this year has been, citing all of the events, changes, disasters, etc. that have made the first half of this year seem like it simultaneously dragged on forever and happened in the blink of an eye, I want to answer this question. I want to answer it in all of the ways I imagine it being asked.

WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR?

I am training because I am a runner and as a runner I know it is important for me to train. Always. Even if I am not signed up for a race. Even if a worldwide pandemic has canceled the races I was signed up for, or I wanted to sign up for. Even if I am uncertain of when and if I will ever be able to race again. I know that it is important for me to keep training, keep my endurance up, work on my speed, stay trained so that when the time does come to race again I will be ready.

I am training because following a plan, having a schedule, it helps me. It gives me something to focus on. It gives me something to aim for. It creates organization in my life amidst the chaos. It may seem pointless without a real hardwired goal in mind, but for me it is sustaining.

I am training because I set out to run a marathon on October 18, 2020. When the year started, I was already questioning which marathon it would be, and how I would run it. Would I run the Grand Rapids marathon with my best friend? Would we run the whole marathon together? Would we run just to run a marathon together or would we be running for our own goals? Was I going to try for a sub 5 hour marathon? If we didn’t run the whole marathon together, for example if she decided to run the half, would we still run the part we could together? Or maybe we should run the Detroit Marathon together… so many other people were planning to run that race, one of my good friends is a race ambassador, it is my favorite race… did I want to get my sub 5 hour time in my favorite race? If she decided to only run the half, we’d get to run the first half almost entirely together.

And then, those questions seemed just outright silly. As the days dragged on and I went from seeing my best friend in person at least once a month to… not at all. We talk every single day, and we “see” each other, too, but it isn’t the same as sitting on my couch or her couch, laughing at stupid TV shows or playing fun video games, my cat hating her existence or her dogs absolutely adoring mine. (That’s not saying anything about either of us – my cat hates everyone except me, my husband, my parents, and my cat whisperer friend Sarah, and her dogs generally love people who aren’t abusive jerkoffs.) With the pandemic growing more and more serious, with races canceling left and right, people losing jobs, working from home, all of those questions about which marathon and how to run it seemed ridiculous.

I flat out made the statement to my best friend: “You are my favorite person to run with. If there is a race I get to run this year, let alone a marathon, I want to run it with you. I don’t care about anything else. I don’t care which one, or what pace. I just want to run with you.”

It is crazy to think that 4 years ago today, at the halfway point through the year, I was just beginning to talk to my best friend about maybe secretly training for our first marathon. Doubting that we could actually do it, but thinking, well, let’s just try training for one. If it sucks, we can quit, and nobody will know, cuz we’ll keep it a secret. Of course, I suck at keeping secrets (not the really important ones, but things like running a marathon? Yeah, I suck at keeping secrets like that) and it wasn’t long before I was telling everyone. On October 16, 2016 I stood in the corrals waiting to start the Detroit Marathon with my friend Staci. Even that morning, I wasn’t entirely sure I could run a marathon. When Staci and I crossed the finish line hand in hand, doing something between sobbing and laughing, I still was in disbelief that we had done it. My throbbing feet the next few days definitely confirmed that I did indeed run a marathon, and although the experience was absolutely incredible it was also very difficult and when it was over I swore it would not happen again.

While it wasn’t difficult to decide to run with Staci, it was hard to decide not to run with Paula. Our friendship then was very different than it is now. I wouldn’t change Detroit being my first marathon, or that it was with Staci, or anything about the experience – especially that Paula met us 2 miles from the finish and ran with us when we wished we could just stop and die. I just wish that somehow Paula and I could have run our first marathons together, too. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who has sworn off marathons that on January 1st, 2017 at midnight Paula and I were signing up for the Detroit Marathon.

2017 was a rollercoaster of a year. It started off on the high of signing up to run a marathon with my best friend. Soon after, it hit a major low with a “friend”, and continued that up and down pattern. I dealt with depression and mood swings, to the point of feeling suicidal. I also celebrated turning 30 and accomplishing another goal I never imagined I would – competing in my first (and last – this time I mean it) triathlon. Detroit was still on the radar for me and Paula… until it wasn’t. Until our friendship fell apart. It was a really difficult time and I made some decisions that I still wish I didn’t have to make, but in hindsight I did what was best for me and although I did not realize it at the time it was the best thing I could have done for me and Paula to be able to be friends again some day. I ran Detroit that year. Paula wasn’t able to. I ran the first half with a friend who was running her first half marathon, and I ran the second half on my own. With, you know, tens of thousands of other runners.

Obviously – spoiler alert! – everything worked out between Paula and I and we became friends again. I am grateful for her forgiveness, openness and understanding nature. We started hanging out again, we started running together again. But still… we did not run a marathon together. Her next attempt at a marathon I decided I would rather do the half and be her cheerleader and let her redeem herself on her own. The race did not end up the way she wanted it to, but if I can speak for her so much about the race was way better than her first marathon.

By the end of the year we were talking about running a marathon together again the next year – this year, 2020. She was getting so excited about it, and of course I was, too. She supported the hell out of me as I trained for my 5th marathon in November 2019 – the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. She ran the half which meant she could run with me for the first 7 miles. She cheered me on at the finish and we talked excitedly about running a full together the next year. I finished that race knowing I absolutely wanted to run another marathon, and I honestly felt like I couldn’t wait to do it.

We threw around ideas for what marathon to run in 2020, even entertaining some spring ones, but Paula wanted to give herself more time to build back up her running and strength after experiencing injury after injury, year after year. We decided on Grand Rapids because it would be a chance for redemption for Paula. As she got more into CrossFit, her desire to train for a run a full started to dwindle. As much as I would love to run a marathon with her, I did not want her to do it just for me. I did not want her to do it if she didn’t find the same joy in it that I do. I told her this and reassured her that I would not be disappointed or angry or anything like that if she decided she’d rather do a half, or be my race mom, and I told her that honestly I might rather do Detroit for lots of reasons. That’s what makes our friendship so great – we are real, open and honest with each other. We give each other tough love and we give each other support and encouragement. Paula decided she would train for the Riverbank 25k (our next big race we had planned to run together) and that depending on how that went, she would judge whether she wanted to train for a full.

Aaaaand then COVID happened.

It changed everything for both of us. She wasn’t able to go to her CrossFit gym anymore, but she still continued to do her workouts at home. She started to fall in love with running again. I varied between wanting to run whatever I wanted and continuing to train. When the 25k was canceled, I took a break from training… and then got some crazy idea about running an ultra marathon for my birthday. I started training for that and was really excited for it. But as the days went on and the pandemic got worse, I decided to nix the ultra idea. Since I had bumped my training back up I ran the 25k the weekend it was supposed to happen and I ran it very well, on my own.

June 1st started my training plan for an October 18, 2020 marathon. I decided I was going to start training, even though whether or not either one of the marathons I wanted to run would actually happen seemed extremely uncertain. At first, I thought, “Well if all of my options for races get canceled, hopefully I will just know in time before I get to my really high mileage long runs, and I’ll just do something out.” The more I thought about it, I finally decided… I’m running a marathon this year. One way or another. Whether it is an official race, or a “virtual” one in my own neighborhood… I am running 26.2 miles in 2020. And I know that Paula will be a part of it whether she runs a race with me and as much of that race with me as she can, or she rides her bike while I run my own marathon from home and is the best race mom there could ever be.

So, in a really big nutshell… THAT is what I am training for. I am training because I am a runner, because I am going to run a marathon this year, and for friendship.

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