This is not, in the grand scheme of things, the most impressive accomplishment. I did not run it fast, I did not run it well, I did not — for miles 6-11.5 — even run it happily. It is not my first half marathon, as I did 2 during college and have run multiple 6 or 10 mile races. But I ran it, every last miserable step, and that feels like a victory.
This would have been slightly less of a victory if I ran this race several years ago. The year that I was engaged, I ran almost every day, including a 10 mile race, got super healthy, and dropped to the lowest weight I have been since high school. I radiated a smugly healthy glow and demurely shrugged when people commented on my trim physique. This is pretty standard for brides, as you grow obsessed with being an absolute perfect version of your normal self. And it is not an entirely bad thing, as anything that motivates you to invest in your health is good. But it is, or at least, often is, an unsustainable thing. Once those wedding bells stop ringing, you enter newlywed life in all its domesticated, delicious, showing-off-your-cooking-skills bliss. You eschew the practicality of balanced meals for cozy cookies on the couch, passing over vegetables for pot-pie (or, regular pie) and sensible soup for starry eyed walks to munch on burgers and shakes. You revel in the unconditional love that someone has for you and grow so confident in your body image… that you start totally neglecting its care and keeping.
And then one day, a couple years into marriage, you wake up and realize that your pants don’t fit, that those love handles are heavy on both the love and the handle, that you can barely run three miles without walking, and that you feel terrible. You step on the scale and think surely this must be broken, because those numbers, those big numbers that you have never seen before just can’t be real. And you cry, hurl yourself on the bed, and declare that you are fat and ugly and totally worthless.
Obviously, that’s a tad extreme. But it’s how I think many people feel after a couple years of neglecting their health. It’s how many women secretly feel a couple years into marriage. Or at least it’s how I felt as we rolled into the holidays last fall and I realized that I had gained close to 30 pounds since getting married. I don’t want to even type that because FOR SHAME, but it’s true, and I’m leaving it there in case you feel the same and want some solidarity. It’s not even really about the weight, but about how I felt like an uncomfortable foreigner in my own body.
And so, I set out to make 2015 different. We did the Whole30, first hard core, and then as a general rule to live by, and I did lose a lot of weight. I bowed to the wisdom of my Fitbit, sometimes doing laps around our block or apartment late at night until I earned my rest. I started running again, hardcore. I found a friend to run with me on the weekends and we worked up slowly through the miles, dragging ourselves out of bed at sunrise on Saturday or Sunday mornings, trudging our weary feet down the mall.
Through it all, I thought a lot about my body, our bodies, these earth shells that house our souls. I think it is tempting to think that they don’t matter, that it is all about finding “inner beauty” and thinking positively. That is true, but it isn’t all true. Because our souls, these beautiful immortal things, are housed in earthly tents. They are tied to them, impacted by them, and equipped by these terrestrial vessels to do good and noble things. If the body is out of control, the soul is often hindered. Yet I also spent this year trying to work on how I think about my body. This isn’t easy for me, because I can never remember a time when I wasn’t concerned with my weight, my skin, etc. I have never effortlessly inhabited my body. I wrote here about beauty, and I have tried to carry a balance throughout the year of treating my body better, but also thinking about it differently.
It is a vessel. For a soul, for a spirit, for a personality, for all sorts of intangible things that make me who I am. But it is still a vessel, an important and valuable vessel that lets me be those things to the world. Both matter.
And so, finishing this year with this race felt like a victory. A victory in the sense that it marked a year of healthy choices, but also a victory because it was hard. The course was awful (all hills, poorly marked, never enough bathrooms, and actually .5 miles LONGER than a half marathon should be- not cool), and I did not really like running it. But as I limp jogged through the last mile, I was reminded that this body, this often maligned and under-appreciated body, was strong, and capable of being a worthy vessel. I am proud of it, even if the stomach will never be flat and the thighs will always touch at the top. I feel comfortable in it, content in its strength and its ability to carry me through life and let me be me.
This week, as I eat way too much good food and sit lazily around with my family, I want to remember that. Vessels are for eating, for skipping workouts to laugh with family. For long naps and cozy cuddles. But they are also for running, for healthy living, for restraint and good choices. Here’s to a life of balancing both.