running: let me tell you how i really feel

CASA DE DiGANGI // ELMHURST, Ill. — I have a history of doing highly illogical things. A few examples: Sleeping until 3 p.m. (regular occurrence since birth), moving apartments during a race weekend (today & this time last year), writing papers only after the sun goes down the night before they’re due (all four years of college), staying up past midnight before a race (right now), eating half a bag of Hershey’s Kisses in one sitting (yesterday), and running (all the time).

Let me elaborate on that last one: Running and I have a complicated relationship. If running were a person, I imagine Running would be something like this:

Running is that guy you aren’t really that interested in dating, but you give him a shot anyway, only to realize you are hopelessly incompatible. I mean, Running is so needy. And boring. What did you even see in Running, anyway?

Yet, five months later, you can’t stop thinking about Running. You go out again, and man, how could you have ever thought you didn’t dig Running? Running is amazing! Yep, you and Running are going to be an unstoppable couple — until you once again get sick of Running’s quirks. Running is so annoying. He’s not even that cool. Ugh, you’d be so much better off without Running — except you aren’t, because you’re just as boring and annoying as he is, and, as much as you often can’t stand Running, you have to admit you just might love him. Your relationship is so weird, it’s actually kind of fun. Whatever works, you know?

Running and I have been on-again, off-again for years, and my first instinct was one of dislike.

“I want to quit soccer,” I (age 7) told my mom after my second season of soccer. Quitting was not something I did often. “OK. Why?” She asked. “There’s too much running.” According to the family historian (Mama DiGang), this was quite the whiny, dramatic complaint. “There’s too. Much. Runninggggg.

Somehow, I got from there to where I am now, a person who just completed a half ironman for the first time last weekend. It makes very little sense. I mean, look at this kid:

soccer

Does that look like a someone who would enjoy running long distances? In this picture, it’s clear that the mere proximity between me and a soccer field has filled me with dread. The fact that the soccer field is a backdrop and in no way requires me to run is irrelevant — 7-year-old Christine is clearly drained at the idea of it.

As much as I love running these days, I still sometimes feel like that little soccer player. I mean, can I just have some orange slices and call it a day? (Fun fact: One of the aid stations last weekend had orange slices, and for a moment, I felt like a happy kid at halftime, as opposed to how terrible I actually felt for the rest of that run leg.)

Here’s what happened: I went into Toughman Wisconsin with the attitude that time didn’t matter and it was all about the experience. I still wanted to go fast, though, and the conflict between patience and competitiveness was a bit destructive. I swam very well (0:35:15 // 1.2 miles), flew through my first transition and had a lot of fun on the bike (2:50:39 // 56 miles), but as my muscles burned and I neared the end of my strongest discipline, I got a little nervous. How was I supposed to run a half marathon after that? A road race would have been hard enough, but the Toughman Wisconsin 13.1-mile run was all trail, making it that much trickier. As soon as I let myself think, “How?” I was in trouble.

There’s too much running.

Finishing that race was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, both physically and mentally. I couldn’t breathe, not because of my fitness level, but because I was trying to keep myself from 100% losing it. (I did later — twice.)

I tried to focus on the fun things: the orange slices, my personal cheering crew (hugs to Mama DiGang, my sister and MW), and the fact that my water bottle kept squirting me in the face. Actually, that was insanely annoying, but it briefly worked as a distraction from my struggle: HA HA HA your water bottle is squirting you in the face! HA HA that’s so funny! This is hilarious!

For every 20 positive thoughts I had, a bad one popped up: Why am I so slow? I don’t want to run anymore. Why am I hurting more than everyone else? I don’t like running.

After a lot of shuffling, slowing to catch my breath and stopping to have not one but two tearful breakdowns with my mom, I finished, and holy crap I felt amazing. How is it that I felt so happy after more than two hours of misery (aka running)?

In retrospect, I had the learning experience I wanted and I went home with a time I was proud of (5:49:32 // 2:19:56 run split // 7th of 20 in my age group). As difficult as it was, I’m grateful for that run. The fact that it was so awful yet so great in the end helped me understand better than ever that I do like running. I do find it fun and interesting and rewarding. I can keep going, and if that means slowing down, so be it.

Now I’m on to the next big thing. As far as my race schedule goes, that’s IMRacine 70.3 in July, but Running and I have a little couples therapy to tend to before then.

Other highlights from the weekend:

» The Toughman Wisconsin course is gorgeous, and I would do it again.IMG_9898

» Post-race food planners should take note from this event: It’s all about the cheese.

IMG_9907

» My half-iron nutrition plan was on point. I can’t imagine how I would have pushed through my mental roadblocks if I wasn’t feeling physically balanced. I decided to go with pre-race HEED; Endurolytes capsules & Fizz throughout; Perpetuem and a Hammer Bar during the bike, plus a Gel with 4 miles left; and a Gel during the run. I had a Hammer Bar after the race, in addition to the cheese and some chocolate milk, because duh, I was in Wisconsin. (Thanks much to my fellow Hammer Nutrition athlete Katie O’Connor — also a college cycling teammate and experienced 70.3 racer — for going over my plan with me.)

» Some INTENT teammates podiumed the next day at Pleasant Prairie (yay team yay), and my sister had a big race, too — she finished her first Olympic-distance race. Booyah.

{main image: running is gross, because that’s what my face is saying. credit: Erin DiGangi}

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