A from scratch runner is a runner without a pedigree. Our parents were not runners, we did not run in high school or college, our running is our own focus and our own commitment. Our parents did not nurture our environments to make running a focus. We didn’t have a community who encouraged or helped grow our love or commitment to the sport. We did not build a mitochondrial and aerobic base while our limbs were still growing. Our bodies did not get years to adapt to the toll running takes. We shocked our older, more sedentary bodies. We slapped our ornery, set-in-their-ways adult bodies by one day just running or run/walking, as it were. Our grown-up bones had to harden in response to this sudden jolt. We were probably injured a lot. We had to work twice, three times as hard as our more talented counterparts to achieve the same or ‘less than’ results. Thus, our focus didn’t get to be on few miles and key workouts. We had to be diligent about every aspect of training to avoid injury and to make marginal gains. So when I say we had to work harder, I mean exactly that. It often seems like our bodies are in a constant fight with our hearts. I do not mean that the talented or since-childhood runner doesn’t have to work hard. Everyone serious about their craft puts in hours after hours of relentless work. The benefit they have is that they are in many ways ‘built masters’ of their sport. It grew with them as they grew. As their bodies grew, they learned what to do with their elbows and their hips. To me it’s like learning a second language at a young age vs. learning it in your 20s or 30s. It’s never quite as effortless. This is not to say that we, the from scratch runners, are better than the talented or since-childhood runner, not at all. It’s just that the stories of people who have been running since they were 8, who got to work with some of the best collegiate coaches in the country (while inspiring) are not necessarily relevant to what I am trying to build myself into. I admire Shalane, absolutely, but her story doesn’t rally me to wake-up at 4:15am the way B-Mort’s does.
As a from scratch runner, I got my fat ass out on the roads one day. I needed to lose weight and I wanted to get fit as fuck. I wanted to look like a lean CrossFit goddess or a chunky Victoria Secret model. I had an idea of the body type I wanted to achieve and figured 3 miles of running and weights would get me there. Running, at that time, had nothing to do with heart. I had to walk/run that first mile. Did I even make it a mile? My sweat smelled of pinot noir and frito pie. I couldn’t breathe because cardio had only ever consisted of an elliptical at the gym. I wore big-ass Asics trainers with gel pockets and posts lining the bottom. I dragged my feet behind in a limp-legged shuffle, queso sweat pooling in the band of my double-layered sports bra. Walking was not walking as in: a glamorous power walk to place hold the intensity of running. It was a way to stop running, but not quite stop moving. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. For weeks, for months, I did that ugly walk/run/almost die shuffle. I worked my literal ass off. Soon, I could run a mile without stopping. Eventually, one begat two begat three begat four. I found something in those months, getting better at a thing, that I couldn’t find in a gym or on an elliptical. It morphed from working toward a body type to working toward my heart. I was creating. I was building. I was making something from nothing. Please believe me when I say that I was nothing. I won’t talk too much about my life during this time, but I will say this: I was at a point where I questioned everything about who I was and who I wanted to be. I looked around and realized that I had accomplished nothing but survival. I was in a cycle of stay up late, drink, sleep late, work, stay up late, drink…I didn’t see the value in who I was as a person, as a woman. I didn’t see my own worth because I didn’t think it existed. Out there on those lonely walk/run death marches, I had to come face-to-face with my willingness to endure. I had endured in a very real way as a little girl, but could I muster the grit to do so as a woman? Running asked of me: Are you strong, deep down in your bones or did you do what you had to do to survive? Was it all just a fluke?
That existential battle raged in my chest as my heart went anaerobic on the slowest of jogs. It raged in my legs as I worked 12 hour shifts after early morning, hung-over miles. It raged in my heart as I got knocked down over and over again by a body that was too tired to do what I was asking of it; a body that was not made for a thing. Or was it? Was I not made for this? Was I not made to run? Had I not been running my entire goddamn life from one thing or another? Was I not born to fight? Was I not born to push against the sharp edges? Hadn’t I been fighting against societal expectations and limitations since I was a girl? You’re just like your mother you’rejustlikeyourmotheryourejustlikeyourmotheryourejustlikeyourmotheryourejustlikeyourmotheryourejustlikeyourmotheryourjustlikeheryourjustlikeherlikeherlikeherlikeherlikeher…..
I digress. That is, perhaps, a bit too much. I am often just too much.
From scratch: I went from running no miles to running 3-6 miles a day. They were not fast miles, but they were free miles. I changed the way I ate. I gave up CrossFit because it made me too tired to run and I no longer cared about building muscle. I loved the way running shaped my body into a tool with a purpose.
My best friend Kim was training for the Boston marathon and in order to qualify, she had to run 26.2 miles under 8 minutes per mile. That seemed absurd to me. It seemed as possible as going back in time and changing moments. To empathize with Kim’s training, I tried running her pace for a mile or two. I failed, but probably managed one mile at about 8:30. Then it was 1.5, 2. I don’t remember the progression or how long it took, but I know it was weeks. Maybe a couple months. The first time I ran 3 miles under 8 minutes, I thought, ‘This is it, this is the fastest I will ever run’, and I was so fucking happy. I resumed normal running, sometimes going fast and sometimes slow. I had fallen madly and deeply in love with running. I fell in love with how miles could tick away and I thought no thoughts. For an hour a day, the darkness of my past couldn’t scratch its way to my surface, it had no hold on me. When I ran, I was not victim or survivor, I was not a discarded thing, an awkward thing. When I ran I just was. I was muscle not memory.
A few months later, Kim mentioned that I should try training for a marathon. I was in and out of a rather toxic relationship and needed a goal. Something to take my mind off the chaos that had once again become my life. Fuck it. I googled: How to train for a marathon and found Hal Higdon’s marathon training book. I printed a few general training plans from his website and ordered the book. I Googled: marathons near me and found the Austin Marathon was to take place in February, a little over 4 months away. I signed-up because duh.
In the ensuing weeks and months, I read every running book I could get my hands on. I taught myself what pace work was, hill strides, foot drills, the importance of nutrition and recovery. Google searches included:
How far is a marathon?
What’s an IT band?
How many miles should I run to train for a marathon?
What is a long run?
Food to eat during marathons.
How to stop my thighs from rubbing together when I run.
How many calories do I burn in a mile?
How to stop a period from happening on race day.
I got hurt about 2 months from race day. I’m not sure what happened, but my left knee would give out at every step. I didn’t have health insurance so I just took a month off. Which means that I now had a month to train. I was averaging about 6 miles per day before and my longest run was 14 miles. My hail mary was: run 4-6 miles easy every day until the race. I knew if I could just stay healthy enough to race day, I’d cross the finish line. Already my mentality was, I cross the finish line or I die. In so many ways, it was life or death for me. Life had become running and proving to myself that surviving wasn’t a fluke. That I didn’t get lucky, but that I was made from dirt and iron.
Race day came. I had two goals, do not walk and do not stop. I didn’t care about time, I only cared about crossing the finish line as a runner. A death of who I was. A Life of who I was becoming.
Miles 1-10: My skin tingled & I felt love and happiness I had never felt. All these people out here cheering, yelling the name on my bib. My name! No one had ever cheered for me before.
Miles 10-13: Singing out loud to Selena Y Los Dinos. Specifically, Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.
Miles 13-16: Can I do this?
Miles 16-18: Do not quit. You are better than this. You are stronger than this. You chose this.
Miles 19-20: One foot in front of the other. This pain isn’t real. Get to 20 and then count down.
Miles 20-22: My knee started giving out. So much pain.
Miles 22-25: Running and dragging my left leg behind me. Go. Go. Go. This is it? This is all you have? You’d think of quitting because your leg hurts? What about your heart? How will it hurt when you lie to yourself? How will your heart hurt when you realize that you weren’t strong enough to simply finish what you started? Who are you? Are you real? You mother was a quitter. Are you a quitter? Or have you fought this far because you are not her at all? You are brave and strong and powerful. Finish what you started.
Mile 26: Shaking, sobbing. Blood, tears, sweat. Blood between my legs, blood on my hips, blood under my sports bra. Uncontrollable tears & dragging my leg. Dragging my entire fucking life, all my baggage, my fears, dragging my old self, dragging my new self, pulling the sled of selves and failures of my past the last .2 miles. Sprinting, dragging, dying, living.
The Finish: Collapse. No more dragging. No more anything. Rebirth. 4:00:23.
Creating from nothing
that which it should be.
building from the bottom
that which was destroyed.
what a thing is made for?
whatever the fuck it desires.
what a thing is made for?
After that first marathon battle & a single all out mile was 6:47. Fast forward three years, thousands of miles and a lot of hard work and I find myself months away from an Olympic Trials Qualifier attempt. 26.2 miles at a 6:18 average- almost thirty seconds per mile faster than my old all out mile time. I have worked so hard for this shot. I postponed this attempt twice already because life is messy and complicated and because my body sometimes hates me the way I hated it for so many years.
The sacrifices for this one race, for the hope of 2 hours and 44 minutes, I have run over 15,000 miles, set aside all my favorite food, rallied a two week postpartum body, turned down countless evening invites, lost friends who didn’t understand, irreparably damaged an already damaged marriage, got up to run at 4:30am after six newborn wake up calls, spent thousands of dollars on body work and running gear, and cast aside damn near anything that didn’t serve my inherent purpose. What has existed in these last three years is my daughter and my body. Regardless of what happens on race day, I have learned that I was dead-ass wrong all those years ago. What I believed to be true was not: That I was only ever capable of enduring.
So what’s the point of all this? Certainly not to tell you what I have yet to accomplish. The point, then, is this: Just because you were not born for something does not mean you were not made for it. Make yourself into whatever it is you will. You are grit and dirt and iron. You are what you say you are. You can come from nothing and become everything. Work hard for a thing. Fail. Fall. Scrape your knees and your hands and your face. Bust your teeth on a thing. Reach and claw and fight for a thing. And build yourself from scratch for a thing.