Another season of life has arrived with the rise of warm spring weather, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. One of those activities is this weekend annual Illinois Marathon which for a few days overtakes the city streets, throngs of runners hoping to qualify for other marathons, while others cheer from the sidelines. This event always sneaks up on me, but once it is here, you can’t miss it (not just because of all the closed road signs everywhere). I am truly smitten with the marathon. Last year I spent probably close to two hours watching the big race recap, and I can’t help but feel so proud of the community, watching so many people come together and bond over racing.
For the past few years, as I sit and watch the race recap, I promise myself that next year I will be running alongside everyone, instead of watching the marathon after the fact. I thought last year was going to be the year where I made that breakthrough after I spent some time researching training programs and actually running around my neighborhood. The motivation and enthusiasm that marathon weekend brings somehow seems to dissipate in a few week’s time and I’m left once again as a spectator, promising myself to do things differently next year. I imagine the bittersweet feeling is shared by anyone who has ever made a new year’s resolution, only to watch it fade into oblivion a few weeks into the year.
Transforming from someone who occasionally exercises to one who makes fitness an integral part of their lives is quite challenging, even if some people make it look easy. Less than 50% of Americans over age 18 meet the CDC guidelines for aerobic exercise. Still, in my own life I exercise fairly often, although my ‘routine’ can be quite a hodgepodge of activities. I recently started softball, so I’m now out on the field every Sunday. I also have been making it a point to train 1–2 times a week with my husband so I won’t completely embarrass myself or the team when I play. If I look back to all the physical activities that I have done so far in April, I can count at least six different things. Softball, badminton, swimming, walking in my neighborhood and on the treadmill at the gym, tennis, and yoga. All in a little over three weeks. I’m not even counting all the yard work I’ve been doing to get ready for summer planting season. Clearly finding time is not quite the issue if I can manage to fit in so many different activities while working full-time and writing in my spare time. I also am an avid consumer of all things health and fitness. Yet I haven’t been able to make the mental switch necessary to be in running shape to participate in the marathon.
You may be asking yourself, so what? It’s really not a big deal to not participate in a race, especially if you’re actually getting way more exercise on a regular basis than the average person. If I’m completely honest with myself, the idea of training for a marathon and racing adds a level of legitimacy that I can’t quite seem to find just hopping from one activity to the other. On a subconscious level I want people, my family and friends to notice that I am actively training for something. To recognize that I am a fitness enthusiast means that the lifestyle switch I struggled so long to achieve is finally here, and I’m not going to go back to my couch potato ways. The reward to running a race is the visibility it would garner, although that seems like an odd thing to crave from exercise. I guess the true question is, if I was in the kind of physical shape to run a marathon but absolutely no one would know that I was going to run, would I still do so? The answer is no. When I’m watching race recaps on TV from the comfort of my couch, remote in hand, it feels like I am losing, precisely because I didn’t set a single foot outside. Winning becomes much more so about transforming into the kind of person that can casually throw into a conversation that they are training (even though I have been tempted to roll my eyes when someone mentions this socially), even if the majority of my hours are spent sitting at a desk, staring at data on a computer screen. Is my own brain playing a trick on me? Is it our societal obsession with competition and winning, always needing to strive for the bigger, shinier version of ourselves? I would love to hear from anyone who routinely participates in sports or other activities that require training. Is there glory in just enjoying the process, or do other people have to take notice, and validate the experience for it to be something worth pursuing? I guess I’ll have my own version of answer after this softball season is over, and I have a chance to take in the entire experience as a whole. So far few people besides close family and a few friends know that I’m even signed up to play, and training has definitely been about improving some very basic skills since I have zero experience. Maybe the type of activity one does matter, I’m thinking the difference between doing downward dog in your living room, and running alongside 10,000 other human beings. In the meantime, I’m signing up for a 4th of July 5K, which will hopefully be a stepping stone to go from passive spectator to active racer once and for all. In the real meantime, I’m going to keep cheering on this year’s marathon runners, while enjoying a very tasty slice of pepperoni pizza.