I think I've been spoiled by you guys.
I've gotten used to an athletic community where everyone is really supportive of everyone else, no matter what their journey. As an injured runner, I felt constant support and sympathy - from those who had been there, mostly, but also from those who just wanted to lend a quick 140 characters of positive energy my way. When I started cycling, tons of people jumped in to help me make all the decisions I didn't have the knowledge to make, without sneer or prejudice. When I celebrate milestones in my recovery, you guys cheer me on with a big "HELL YA!" even if what I've done is microscopic compared to where you are in your training.
I'd really like to lead off this week with a post filled with puppy pictures and tales of my travels this weekend, but that's not what my mind is stuck on, not the stone I'm worrying to death.
I've struggled with injury a lot over the past 10 years, and it's played hell on my mental state, but more so on my physical state. I had an IT band injury that I let set me back for 4 years and about 40lbs before I decided to do something about it. Post-surgery, I was living in a new city, in grad school, and flat broke. Other than 6 weeks of PT, I didn't take the steps to get back to my pre-injury self. It wasn't until 2 years later than I had the time, the inclination, and the internal motivation to do so. I can't explain why I had the surgery and then didn't immediately return to running, and I can't explain what made me pick it back up again. I got married in the summer of 2008. I weighed 183lbs on my wedding day - more than I've ever seen on a scale in my life. I was stressed, unhappy, and terrified of the life choices I'd been making. And let me be perfectly clear - this is not a laundry list of excuses. This is just detailing the years where I was too lazy, too comfortable, too unhappy, and too afraid to make my health and my body important again. I returned to running in the fall of 2008. I think I was trying to run away. I got injured again in the early spring of 2009, just days before a half-marathon I'd been training for all winter. Suddenly I had no way to work out my stress, to listen and breathe and let myself hurt. And the pounds piled back on over the next 9 months.
Then one day I woke up and could breathe again.
Everything bad in my life - every single thing that created stress and sadness and anger - had changed. The relationship that was suffocating me had ended. The job that stole away all of my time, energy, and happiness was gone. And suddenly my life began to fill up with things that brought me joy. A puppy. A house. A strong laughing man. And later, a community of people I had no idea existed, but who welcomed me with training tips, snarky comments, and lots of laughter. Despite yet another crippling injury, I found new ways to climb on top of it. To keep breathing, to keep getting stronger and finding ways other than running to be healthy and alive, to celebrate what I can do instead of wallowing in what I can't.
But what I've found is not everyone is as happy about this as I am. It's been interesting, to me, as I've spent the time over the past 9 months to make my body and my health important again, the comments that I've received from old friends and family as the pounds have dropped off - a side effect, truly, to the happiness I've been rediscovering. A lot of people ask what the "magic secret" is. More people ask what I'm going to do now that I've lost some weight, as if I can languish here, as if the only goal - which was really never the goal - was to look good in a pair of jeans. And the distinct vibe that I get - that I can't exactly put my finger on - is the sense of irritation I feel as people see me make good and healthy choices. The way I come home to see my family a good 30lbs lighter than the last time I was home, and while people look me up and down, they tend to purse their lips and turn away without comment, as if my good health is offensive to them. The way a friend will get impatient when I am dithering over two menu items in a restaurant, and snap, "oh, just order the (insert higher-calorie item here)," blind to the fact that I may simply be trying to decide between iced tea or lemonade, not counting calories. The way some friends will be annoyed because I'll want to schedule dinner or drinks around a standing workout, rather than just skip it. The way a family member will watch every morsel that goes into my mouth, judging me based on what I do and don't eat. The way my mom will congratulate my boyfriend on whatever he did to "make me lose some weight and eat better." And the way some old friends have celebrated my success and happiness with me - because don't old friends know you the best? - and some have flatly ignored the fact that my life has changed. Or maybe can't even see - past their own lives - that it has.
No one wants to hear that living this life is hard work. Because it is. Lifting is hard work. Finding the strength to ride 50 miles in 85-degree heat is hard work. Getting out of bed at 5:30am to swim is hard work. Cooking instead of driving through McDonald's is hard work. Some days, it takes all the strength I have to lace up my shoes and drive to the gym. But there's the other side. I know that it's hard to explain to someone the sense of accomplishment when you finish a long run or ride, or how good it feels to do a hill workout or track intervals until you are vomiting on your shoes. But I've never been as happy as the first time I ran 8 miles. The first time I rode 35 miles. The first time I ran a sub-30 5K. The first time I was able to leg press more than my weight. The first time I crossed the finish line of a 10-miler. I can't explain the explosive joy in my heart that I felt when I PR'd last week. And maybe no one will ever understand why I run. But I hope they can understand that it's worth it.