Nearly three years ago a bubbly blonde woman waltzed her way into the running store to get herself properly fit for a new pair of shoes. “I’ve always been a 4-5x a week solid runner and I stopped running last year! It’s high time I start up again.” She seamlessly added in jest, “Man did I get FAT! Running actually keeps you in shape! Who knew!! ”
I couldn’t help but take interest in her journey. “Oh no,” I replied, “Did you get injured? Why d’you stop?”
Sans hesitation she affably erupted, “I REALLY WANTED TO GARDEN!! But seriously- for so long my life revolved around my running. Running took up so much time and I loved it- but I wanted to do other things too!” She briefly paused. Once her lungs were chock full of playful sarcasm and moderately self-deprecating remarks her tirade effortlessly rolled off her tongue, “I was sick of planning my weekend around my runs and being tired and sore ALL THE TIME!! Last summer I REALLY wanted to have a beautiful garden so gosh-darnit I did it! I gave up running and I planted myself the prettiest flipping flowers on the block. SO THERE!! Take THAT running!! Buuuut I’m kinda fat now, so I’m back.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle aloud at her monologue- a little because I love the uninhibited nature of so many retail customers and a lot because she clearly wasn’t overweight. I suppose it’s possible that she had gained a few pounds, but in my eyes this woman looked fantastic and had an even better personality. Energetic personality, hilarious, open and on the hunt for achieving balance in her life. I didn’t even know her, but I liked her- a lot!
Balance. How do people do it? DO people actually do it? What does it even look like? Is is possible to work a full time job, run 40-50 miles a week, be home for homework time, cook dinner for the family, watch an hour of tv before bed, be well-read and have well groomed flower-beds in the summer? Furthermore this includes that you make it through the day free from toddler tears, spilling coffee on yourself and wearing running tights around town as if they are an acceptable form of dress.
Is it possible to balance it all? Is the balancing act simply an integral part of the journey of life? Yes, I think so.
Over the past three years I have spent a lot of time digesting Ms. Gardener’s words of wisdom. Running does take up a substantial part of my day and my life. Is it worth it? In a lifetime that is made of only so many minutes what is the right way to spend them? The most personally fulfilling? One day I do want my very own flower and vegetable gardens (I know, I know I’m aiming high! Big goals ahead!) and to be home in time for homework and make it to Lillian’s ballet recital or track meet (or whatever she chooses to do). I do have interests outside of running.
Then again running is a huge part of who I am. It gives me the confidence to know that I am strong and capable of anything if I’m willing to put in the work. Running is where I can be quiet and at peace or rowdy and simply enraged. It simultaneously settles me down and revs me up. It’s my go-to stress release. It’s my work. It’s my play. It’s who I am. I can’t escape it and I don’t really want to. I am The Lone Runner.
At times I too experience the same emotional tug of war that Mrs. Gardener experienced so many years ago. Why? Because even though I say Never Stop Running with fervor, this is in fact a life and a world outside of running and it’s worth being explored. Is this the part where I tell you that I’m going to stop running to garden? BAHAHAHAHA, NOPE! That’s NOT where this story is heading in the least. I’m still running- quite a bit actually- but I’m not training. There is a HUGE difference!
I’m in the middle of taking a six week break from official training to relax, repair and recharge. What is the difference? When you run you have the independence to make it up as you go along; you just hit the pavement and go whatever distance and whatever pace you feel like going. And the next day you can do the same thing. When you train each run has a specific purpose and with heart rate training each run is designed to tax a specific energy system. Beyond the individual training run, each successive week builds on the accomplishments of the previous week. Mileage and intensity grows throughout the training plan so that the athlete training potential will peak for a specific race.
During the past four weeks I have enjoyed the simple act of running if/when I please. No only has it been a physical refresh, but a mental reboot too. Somehow even though I work at the store, provide online coaching and run 30+ miles a week my life really hasn’t felt overloaded with running. How is that possible? Well for one, I started reading a book. I have baked A LOT cookies, muffins and banana bread! I love baking!! And lastly- I have had some REALLY good quality time with Lillian. I needed this. We needed this. The future marathon-training version of me really needed this. I desperately needed time away from mental focus and physical rigors involved with training.
In my own way I understand what Ms. Gardener meant so many years ago. A life is made up of only so many minutes. So how do you really want to spend them.
I love every minute I spend running, but I don’t need to spend every free minute I have running.
Taking a temporary back from training has made me realize how full my life outside of running: my amazing family, awesome athletes and LILLY!! She is turning into such an amazing little person who makes me smile and laugh every chance she gets. We spend our afternoons snuggling on the couch, baking cookies, doing puzzles and just goofing around the apartment. Last night I challenged her to a burpee contest- mostly because she said she wanted to ‘learn how to be strong like you mama,” and a little because I wanted her to be passed out and drooling on her pillow come bedtime. I have never laughed so hard at her bunny hop of a jump follow by her laying down and wiggling her legs on the ground. Close enough, right? The contest ended with her jumping on my back and flattening me mid-push up. She’s completely insane and I love it .
I have to admit that life has been feeling just a little bit more balanced lately. Of course there’s always the ebb and flow of things to come… because I mayyyyy have started sketching out my own training plan this morning. The hunger is there and it’s growing. Either way I have given myself two more weeks to decide if I shall train and race a fall half or just run footloose and fancy free through the summer as the rest of my life begins to take shape.
Last Christmas 2015 I was in the corner of the store restocking the shelves when a woman came in and asked the other sales associate to try on a few pairs of new pair of shoes. It may had been two years but I knew I had heard that voice before. I stood up and found my way to the sales floor to personally greet the customer. After fitting her for shoes I timidly inquired, “Do I know you? Do you perchance have a really nice garden?” We both erupted in laughter as the memories of our talk came rushing back. After our encounter she had taken up running again, but still refused to let go of her gardening. Even though nearly two years had passed since I had seen this stranger her words continued to ring true. We can’t do everything, but if we try we can do some pretty amazing things.
Becoming balanced is a tricky feat. Once you achieve it the world around you shifts ever so slightly and you must start your quest all over again. But I stand firmly in my believe that this is what makes life fun: the ebb and flow and the never knowing exactly what is coming next. I can assure you that I have no idea what is coming next, but I’m learning how to face the unknown and embrace it.
To Ms. Gardener: Thank you for facing your unknown so boldly. Sure, it may have been swapping running with gardening, but I think it was more than that. You took control of your life and you made a clear decision to put running on the back burner to satiate a personal hunger to try something new and different. I applaud you. I love your energy and transparency. I wish you the best and can only hope that our paths will cross again soon.
Never Stop Running (or gardening),