When people ask me why I’m training for the Dopey Challenge, an appropriately-named athle-tainment event consisting of a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon on four consecutive days that takes place as part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in early January, I tell them that my brother made me do it.
Despite our deep roots in the southside Chicago system of getting things done by way of Democrats and teamsters, my family of origin has a streak of doing things they don’t seem to be capable of doing and grinding out a successful outcome no matter how illogical or personally taxing. A few years ago, my previously not-a-runner-except-for-that-one-season-of-grade-school-track brother decided that running would be one of His Things. And so, in 2015, he completed the Dopey Challenge on a very sketchy DIY Jeff Galloway-inspired run/walk “training plan.” He does these Disney races for the hardware. In fact, he tells me that he refuses to run in races that do not have AT LEAST a finisher medal and technical shirt. But I digress.
After the 2015 marathon, he told me that his slapdash training plan included approximately six miles of running prior to the marathon. I was aghast, and remembered cheering for him while watching the livestream of the marathon finish line, so happy and proud that he achieved his own improbable dream. But my big sister instinct kicked in. I had been running for a few years too, and all the marathon training I had seen included 13, 18, and 20 mile training runs. “You were massively undertrained! You could have died out there! I can’t let you do that again. If you ever run Dopey again, I’m doing it with you.”
So, here we are at the end of 2017, fifty days from the start of the 2018 Dopey Challenge. When I started training in July of this year, my longest run to date was a 5 mile race on the 4th of July. Exactly four months later, I completed my first half marathon. In these final days, I have my eyes on the marathon prize, and the work is starting to get much harder. I’m a back of the pack runner, a most-people-can-walk-faster runner, a DFL runner. Long runs take half a day. I started to feel discouraged, especially after last week’s 10 miler that ended in obscenities and tears.
I’ve been reading Athena ultrarunner Mirna Valerio’s excellent memoir A Beautiful Work in Progress for inspiration. Mirna writes a lot about her family–both her husband and son as well as her family of origin–and how they influence her motivation as a runner. She writes about family present and gone, those waiting at the finish line and those in memoriam. But from all the context clues she provides, it seems like Mirna is the only runner in her family. She has created her own tribe of running buddies and support crew near, and facilitates connection through her online presence. Mirna is, in short, a leader in the long distance running community.
When she was announced as a guest on the Plus Performance podcast, followers were given an opportunity to ask her questions. I asked a question that inarticulately framed according to my frustrations about my pace and how to deal with that back of the pack feeling. She responded on the show with the best life advice I have received from anyone who is not my mother: when you commit to the race, you commit to the training. And when you commit to the training, you commit to yourself, which includes wrestling with your demons. (I paraphrase.)
I realized then that I was being a little boneheaded about resisting my training because it takes me almost four hours to complete a half marathon. I was dragging my feet, literally, because I refused to acknowledge what’s real about me: I will never be good at running.
Mirna explains it best: “I love running like I love playing classical piano. It’s difficult, and I’m never going to be any good[.]…It makes me more patient with my own learning and myself. There is still a beauty about simply doing the difficult thing that I will never be good at, for the pure pleasure of having engaged in the process” (233).
I will never be good at running. What I am good at, and what running makes me even better at is being good at Doing the Thing I Set Out to Do. This is my ancestral vocation, a value I adopted as my life philosophy by watching nearly every member of my family successfully complete a goal that they may or may not have been good at, may or may not have had the support to accomplish, and may or may not have been properly prepared to do (side eye to my brother).
Fifty days from today, my brother and I will spend four days of our family vacation waking up in the middle of the night to ride a bus with strangers and stand in a corral for a few hours before we even start to do any real work. He doesn’t need me there. I always knew that. I never wanted to be a good runner. I think I always knew that too. What I do want is to stand on the finisher podium with my little brother, Doing the Thing We Set Out to Do. And if I have to run 48.1 miles to get there, that’s what I’ll do.
Kate Browne is the leader of the Self Love Squad (#selflovesquad), a community that helps smart women practice showing up for their lives in the body they have today. Now accepting new #squadsters for compassionate advice, cute outfit photos, reaction GIFs and cat memes! Find out more at katebrowne.net/squad