By Michelle San Antonio, a Rhode-Island-based #motherrunner
On August 2, I logged 1,000 miles of running since January. The funny thing is, I didn't realize that milestone was approaching until I was within 30 miles of it. I keep a paper training log, and my year-to-date miles were steadily adding up, but then when they crept up over 900 it finally occurred to me that hitting 1,000 miles just over halfway through the year was something I’ve never done before. I was both elated and surprised.
Thing is, even though I diligently log my runs, I haven’t given too much thought to my annual mileage this year—sort of how I haven't given too much thought to anything concerning my running since March.
I kicked off the year with a 5-mile race in January, which went better than I expected. I managed a faster pace than I’ve run in years, and finished feeling strong, fit, and healthy. That strong performance had me excited about racing more in 2020 than I have the previous two years, and I was perusing various 10ks and half marathons and planning out a race calendar that might have included my eighth full marathon.
As you well know, those plans were upended pretty quickly. Thoughts of racing fell by the wayside as we navigated our new reality of quarantine, distance learning, and ALL THE FAMILY TIME. I adore my family, but as an introvert, I also adore quiet, alone time. Setting out through my neighborhood and onto our tree-lined bike path (oftentimes taking it all the way to the ocean) became more vital than ever for my mental health, as it was literally my only alone time. I felt like I couldn’t be bothered to plan or train. I just Needed.To.Run.
I spent five full years—2012 to 2016—training and racing like crazy, chasing PRs, and constantly setting new goals, loving every minute of it. The thrill of working toward each new goal and notching each victory was exhilarating and fulfilling, and was the driving force behind my running. Then, a few injury setbacks and a few disappointing training cycles and races—and an aging body that requires more rest and recovery —forced a bit of a reset, and the past few years I’ve approached running much less competitively.
Initially it felt awkward, like I was leaving behind a piece of myself that I might never get back. And I struggled with the question of whether or not that mattered. Was I less of a runner if I wasn’t always racing? Was I letting myself down if I wasn’t always working hard and competing? Was it ok to just run with no goal in mind? The numbers had driven me for so long: What would drive me to keep getting out there if the numbers didn’t matter anymore?
I was also a running coach during those competitive years; I named my coaching business For the Love of Running. Running gave me an identity as an athlete, competitor, and coach and later, as a race director and president of my running club—and I loved how it defined me, as a person/athlete unto myself. It also introduced me to a community that has yielded more lasting and important friendships than I can count.
I still love all that running brings to my life, particularly the community and friendships. Women with whom I no longer run, but are still among my best friends; the multitude of mother runners I’ve connected with through AMR both in real life and virtually; and nearly every runner I’ve ever encountered, with whom I can seem to strike up an instant friendship, because as fellow runners, we all just seem to “get it.”
But with each passing year, my love of the run is evolving, and becoming less about the accoutrements and the end results and more about the journey itself. As with so many things, the pandemic has hastened that evolution and brought things into very sharp focus, and for me at least, has stripped running to its barest essentials.
Since March, I haven’t been following any plans and I don’t have any goals (besides trying to keep my kids from staring at electronics for virtually all of their waking hours). I run when and where I want to, barely looking at my watch. Yet nearly every mile I’ve run since March has been at the same exact pace, and I feel stronger and healthier than ever. My routes don’t vary much, and the simplicity and normalcy of it all is comforting.
I joke with friends that this new phase of my running is me being older and wiser—and I am. I don't look to running as a way to define myself anymore, but it anchors my identity in a way that few other things have.
As I sat at my desk logging that one thousandth mile in my calendar, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I can fit in 1,020 more and "run the year”: 2020 miles. It’s somewhat enticing, but I'm not going to let it rule my path forward. While I'll always be drawn to tangible, digit-based goals, there’s a bigger part of me that’s enjoying not being driven by them. It makes running lighter and more fun, and ultimately, more fulfilling than the PRs ever were.
I used to finish tough training runs feeling badass and accomplished, knowing that I worked hard and drained the tank. Now I finish a run feeling centered and at peace; that’s more than enough, no matter how the miles add up on December 31.