Begin Again: Why it’s Possible to Restart Running

I was coming off my fastest year yet. I PR’d or placed in every run I raced in the 2014/15 season. I beat my previous year’s marathon by 24 minutes, finishing at 3:48, and charged to a 1:40 half-marathon PR time. For me, these were not only victories, they were incentives to push harder. I set my sights on qualifying for Boston in 2015—the Mecca of marathons. I even told people about my goal, knowing that saying it out loud meant I would do it.

Publix Savannah Women's Half Marathon PR with Claudia

Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon PR with Claudia

But by spring we had moved into a new home and I let the first qualifying opportunity pass by, knowing November’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon here in Savannah—a course I’ve run many times—would give me another opportunity. Then my friend Robert, who played an enormous role in Savannah’s running community and was a personal inspiration to me, died tragically, and running stopped feeling like that thing I escaped to, could excel at and could count on to kill me but never quite. It felt…complicated.

Nonetheless, I half-heartedly approached the first week of my marathon training and immediately irritated my IT Band—my first injury in 20 years—sidelining me for four weeks. So I took it as an opportunity to re-evaluate my goals. I would put Boston on hold and instead train hard for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half with my running partner, Lindsay.

Then I got sidelined again, this time with a stomach virus that took 7 days and 7 pounds from me. And then…and then…and then…

I don’t lose friends. I don’t get injured. I don’t get sick.

We don’t. Until we do.

And yet I get up four to five days a week, lace up my shoes and run, imagining that it will get easier again, another PR will be reached and Boston will come. Eventually.

What is this craziness? Why am I running hill repeats and tempo runs that make me dry heave? Why am I running toward the next goal as life seems to push it just out of reach?

It’s simple really. It’s hope.

Every day I wake up and try to do and be better. I say I’ll eat better, drink less, write more, laugh harder, love deeper, run faster. Most times I don’t and then I’ll try again tomorrow. But, every now and then, I do.

Today I had my first good run in weeks. Rain forced Lindsay and me inside on a bone-jamming gym treadmill for speed work. My earbuds kept falling out of my ear. Without them I had the limited choice of Fox News and ESPN. I tossed the earbuds, ignored the TVs and just ran. I ran each 800 faster than the last, trying to see how much I could take. Turns out, I could take more than I expected.

We’re all distracted and affected by the endless challenges life throws at us. I’m behind on my grading. Our previous house has not sold and I know we can’t float two mortgages much longer. Tomorrow my dad undergoes a back surgery. My sister has discovered a lump in her leg.

But I also believe with all my heart that things will improve—that I will improve along with them. Because, really, what are the options? It’s the possibility of tomorrow that makes today’s challenges survivable.

A morning run.

A morning run.

How (not) to pace your friends

Claudia, me and Lindsay: Friends at the start

Claudia, me and Lindsay: Friends at the start.

Things were going mostly as planned. My running partner Lindsay and I were 3 miles into the Azalea CrimeStoppers 10K run and holding steady at an 8:20 pace. She was on-track to run a sub-52 minute PR and first-ever age group win. It was a first for me, too—as a pacer. Lindsay and I had been running together for two years, and I’d seen her get consistently faster but she had yet to earn a medal—that non-precious junk dangling from a chintzy wrapping ribbon that most grown-ass women stopped lusting for around the age of 10, and yet, here we are. Because regardless of how poorly designed the medal, or how silly we think it is to hang one around our necks for anything less than an Olympic achievement, we all want one. And I was certain that if Lindsay were able to relax, turn on autopilot and let me set the pace–like I’d done when my friend Claudia paced me–she would crush her goal and get a medal. And I wanted to be right next to her when she did.

Well, just behind her.

See, in my yet-unwritten book of running partner etiquette, when you sign up to pace, you forfeit the win. There’s no glory in encouraging your partner steadily along a course only to out-stride them in an in-your-face sprint to earn a finish she already knew you were capable of getting. Unless, of course, you don’t like having friends.

Pacing isn’t about putting anything in anyone’s face. It’s not even about you.

I could tell that while we were holding pace, mile 3 wasn’t being kind to Lindsay. I know this because of the choice words she used to tell me. So I spent the second half of the race running through a bevy of ridiculous and annoying “you-can-it” affirmations to the point where I couldn’t even handle my own cotton-candy coated grossness.

“Looking good!” (She did.)

“Only 3 miles left—my mom can do three miles!” (She can’t.)

“You’ll feel great as soon as it’s over!” (Astute revelation.)

Then, with only a mile to go, Lindsay declared: “I’m going to walk.”

“Hell you are. I don’t walk.” (Cotton candy dissolved.)

She didn’t. In fact that little firecracker perked up and started picking off women I determined to be in our age group.

I knew the PR would be close, but the medal was all but guaranteed. The last 25 yards, Lindsay sprinted to the finish while I sat on her heels and cheered her across the line, just a few seconds behind. She got the PR, but we’d have to wait on the hardware.

They announced third place in our age group, giving it to a woman we passed near the finish. Then…

“Second place: Lindsay Thompson.”

I assumed my chip didn’t register. I assumed I somehow got disqualified. I assumed too much.

“First place: Andrea Goto.”

I look incredulously at Lindsay, who deadpanned, “You can’t even let me win.”

But she did win. I saw her tiny little booty cross the line in front of me. Unless my bib magically flew off my shirt and across the finish, I was clearly behind her.

And there I learned my first lesson in pacing: don’t cross the start line two seconds in front of your partner and finish one second behind. It’s basic math, which I’ve never been very good at. Now I’m not much of a pacer, either. As far as friends go, that’s kind of up in the air, too.

“Proudly” showing our hardware (Claudia’s came shortly thereafter).

Lindsay laughed it off, but it still haunts me. I’m so proud of her for getting a PR and her first medal, but she deserved first. She went home and showed her son, and he teared-up.

“Imagine what he would’ve done if she got first place,” my husband said, always a source of support.

I refused to hang that albatross around my neck for too long for fear it would weigh down my conscience or choke me. I can’t even place it in the shelf next to my honest, hard-earned medals.

Maybe I’ll put it on the shelf of hard-earned lessons.