The first run I did, on my first morning back in town, I followed the running pattern I had been following in Maine--alternating between six minutes of running and two minutes of walking. I thought it would be a lot easier on my nice flat run through Capitol Hill than it was on the hilly roads of Maine, but it wasn't. It was hard and miserable and depressing. So I did what I have done every time I've been in a fitness valley--I returned to my old standby, the Couch to 5K running program. My 6:2 pattern was similar to the beginning of week five on the program, which alternates five minutes of running with three minutes of walking. So I decided that's where I'd start.
In my experience, weeks five and six of the program are the hardest. The first time I did the program, I got stuck on week five for nine months. But I also knew that if I could make it through those weeks, I could finish the program. I'm now in the middle of week seven (25 minutes of running), and while every run feels like a struggle, I know it is more of a mental struggle--pushing through the discomfort, remembering how to do that--than a physical one.
Part of the mental struggle is dealing with the shame I feel about having lost so much ground. I think about the things I could do at the height of my fitness, and how good I felt, and I feel ashamed that I let it slide. But today while I was running, another thought came to me. I was thinking about all the emotional struggles of the last year, and about other times in my life that were hard. I realized that this year is different than times past because this is the first time I've lost so much. The year my dad was sick, he got better. And when my marriage ended, I was the architect of that loss. It was something I wanted. As I ran, I ticked off the losses of the last year:
- The loss of the relationship I'd hoped for with the Summer Romance of 2015
- The loss of not one, but two, sports that had been integral to my health and my identity
- The loss of my mother, and with her the loss of the hope that I would ever be loved in the way a mother is supposed to love a daughter
Well, when you put it like that...it's a lot.
I say this also feeling a little shame. Because I know that there are people in my life struggling with much more--sick children, terminal illnesses, grinding poverty. Then there's the soul-crushing trauma of war and poverty and natural disaster visited on innocent people throughout the world. So, yeah, my emotional struggles are a first-world problem. But they are real to me.
As I thought about this list, my breath quickened. I could feel tears coming. I knew they would ruin my run. I looked at my watch: Five minutes to go. I focused on staying calm, on not crying, on keeping my running form and pace. I thought about how those five minutes were so representative of what I've had to do this past year. I finished the run. It felt like a victory.