Forgive me as I ramble through the myriad thoughts consuming me in these final days before JFK, but this week is kind of a big deal for me. In fact, the last time I felt this way was almost seven years ago. Instead of tapering for a race, I was on bed rest, awaiting the birth of my first child. I was a nervous wreck. I knew at a high-level what to expect: the pain of labor, sleepless nights, maternal anxiety. But not having been through it myself, I had no idea how I would handle the pain and exhaustion. Would I be able to perform? Would I be a good mother? What if it was all too much??
The labor was agonizing, but I got through it, and the pain was soon gone. The sleepless nights were rough (and continue to this day), but I discovered that I didn’t need much sleep after all. As I emerged from the first six months of motherhood, I had started to form a new identity. I was Emma’s mom.
With this new identity came many changes. Some for the good: new friends, new layers of patience and self-sacrifice, new depths of feeling. Some for the bad: more wrinkles, more chaos, more laundry. Running, my faithful go-to method of sorting out life’s stress and problems just wasn’t an option in those early years. Sure, I’d put in a half-hearted effort to train and run Monument Avenue each March, but afterwards I’d just throw my running shoes to the back of the closet for another year.
I found my way back to running in the dark winter months of 2011. It began as a way to stay fit. But as I gained strength and set a few 10K PRs I thought that, just maybe, I could recapture a bit of my pre-motherhood self. I started training for the marathon. I read ‘Born to Run’ and dusted off a thought that had been pushed aside a decade ago: JFK. It was the tiniest little spark – just a wild idea that seemed so fantastic, so out-of -reach – an embryo really. But it gestated and grew over the ensuing months. Each time I went for a long run – it became more real to me. Every race was a stepping stone. The long runs and speed work, the hills and the trails, they all brought it closer.
Not long ago, it hit me. I wasn’t recapturing my past. I was a BETTER runner than I had been before children. Motherhood has given me an edge. The grittiness required to endure a toddler’s tantrum, the exhaustion that comes from waking four times a night, the knowledge that hard work yields marvelous benefits all help the runner in me. I may not be vying for a podium spot, but in this small way, I feel like a winner.
So here I am on the eve of JFK – the race that started it all. This time next week, I won’t be holding a baby in my arms, but I will have given birth to a new me. And while I want so badly to cross the finish line – I don’t think the result matters so much. The changes of this year – the discipline, the knowledge, the experience, and the amazing network of new friends – will endure regardless of whether there are numbers or letters next to my name.
So I will deal with this anxiety head-on, just as I will handle the pain and fatigue on race day. I acknowledge it, accept it, and calmly put it to the side so I can carry on.