feminism · fit at mid-life · fitness · racing · running · training

On Running My First Marathon (Guest Post by Alison Conway)

by Alison Conway

Image description: Alison on left, smiling, with short hair, sunglasses, and a t-shirt hugging a friend, longer hair, also smiling, stadium stands in the background.
Image description: Alison on left, smiling, with short hair, sunglasses, and a t-shirt hugging a friend, longer hair, also smiling, stadium stands in the background.

[Note from Tracy: Alison sent me this in April and her race was a few weeks ago. Congrats, Alison!]

Eighteen months ago, Donald Trump became president of the United States and I wrote here about my determination to limit my running time so that I could devote more energy to politics. Most immediately, my goal was to become active in the civic affairs of my home town.

Life had other plans for me. A year of upheaval included new jobs across the country, the sale of the home where I raised my children, the turmoil of a big move. My father became ill and he died. That family home was cleaned out and put on the market. It was, let’s say, a wrenching twelve months.

Through it all, running kept me grounded. Or rather, my running families kept me grounded. My Ontario friends ran with me in the weeks and months of packing and grieving. They convinced me to sign up for a spring 2018 marathon as a goal to work toward, whether or not I ran the race. I found a running club in my new home town and the folks in that group went out of their way to help me find my feet. I ran miles and miles through the roads and trails of my community, learning its spaces and hearing about those who live there.

As the ground under my feet was shifting, so too was the ground underneath American politics. Out of the ashes of the election arose the phoenix #metoo and a widespread protest against workplace harassment and sexual violence. From the Women’s Marches of January 2017 onward, energy and momentum built as women filed complaints and shared their stories.

When people remark on the difficult year I’ve had, I have often noted that running saved me. I began to wonder if it wasn’t doing more than moving me forward. The feelings I have toward the women who have helped me move and those who are helping me settle in British Columbia feel like the basis of a larger, collective feeling that has emerged in a wider sphere, one that helps women act together in an effort to shift cultural norms. It is, for me, both about harnessing anger and generating laughter. It is about looking down the road toward the goals that might take a while to reach.

A friend once said, casually, “Anyone can run a marathon. You just have to train for it.” What that remark misses is how difficult it is to train for a marathon: the discipline it takes to get out there day after day, week after week, in terrible weather, on days when other demands weigh heavily, when your mind says, “Enough.” There was a moment, maybe a month before the marathon, when I felt bone-tired. But I had friends waiting to run with me, so out I went.

Last month, race weekend arrived and I flew back to Ontario to meet the women who first encouraged me to sign up. One was injured, so couldn’t race—but she drove me to Toledo, OH, anyway. Another had just raced the Tokyo marathon, but she came along, too. They went over every detail of the race. I was shown how to make arm warmers, out of socks, that could be thrown away on the course (who knew?). They listened to me fuss and fret. They told me I could do it.

When I pulled on my arm warmers, the morning of the marathon, I felt like I was pulling on my armour. It was an armour I would not have been wearing, had it not been for the friendship of women, those who inspired me with the examples they set. It was an armour built, too, by the new friend who sent me a card, a week before the marathon, filled with messages of advice and encouragement; by the marathon veteran in my new running group, who slowed her own pace to help me speed up mine; by the colleague at my new job who trained with me, week after week, through rain and snow. It was the armour made by women everywhere who fight for the right for women to move freely in public spaces.

My marathon was a run of joy and gratitude, supported by the women who cheered me on as I faced down the miles. I have come out of a challenging year stronger and wiser. I can take that strength and wisdom into my community and help to make the changes that need to be made. The ground beneath my feet is made up of so much more than pavement. Mostly, it is made up of the feeling that emerges when women believe in each other: love.

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