Guest Blogger Courtney Alev

Being injured, and taking time off, really sucks. The last time you heard from me here, I was writing about my struggles with a still mysterious injury. Faced with the borderline insanity that can afflict the runner when forced to sit still instead of pounding the pavement as a cheaper form of therapy, I indulged in whatever distractions I could. Suffice it to say there were lots of cupcakes and lots of gin and tonics. And not nearly enough running.

Slowly, I began to feel a little better. With time, pain pills, and stretching, I began to be able to run three miles. Then four.  And let me tell you, there are few worse blows to a runner’s ego when they go from running a marathon to not being able to run 3 miles straight without several heart-pounding, stop-running-now-or-I’m-going-to-die moments. After 13 months of near-continuous marathon training, I felt like I was starting from zero. When I told a girlfriend to go on without me because I had to tie my shoe and really I was just dying at mile 2.8 and needed a break, I realized I was probably being a little too prideful about this.

I am still not back in shape – far, far from it. Mile 3 feels like how mile 23 used to feel. My knees ache after 4 like they haven’t for years. But there are signs of progress. I don’t want to push it, so I try to be cautious and pay attention to how I’m feeling. Pushing through “good” pain (this is uncomfortable, but good for me) while fearing the “bad” pain (stop running or risk injuring yourself seriously).

Today was a monumental day for me in this current season of recovery. I ran 16 miles. Not six, but sixteen. And it was hard. So hard, in fact, that I contemplated quitting at mile 3, 4, 5, and probably every other one past that. Nothing hurt! Mentally and physically, however, the challenge was like nothing I’ve faced in recent memory. Being confronted not only with your physical limitations but how much they’ve changed is a humbling—and frustrating—experience. I was irritated at myself for everything feeling so hard. I spent much of the first eight miles upset about how slow I was, how many walk breaks I needed to take.

And then I stopped and realized: despite the pace, the walking, the any-excuse-for-a-break, I WAS RUNNING. And not just to the bus. I was running as far as I wanted to. And it didn’t hurt. In that moment, with all of its frustrations, I was blessed. Lucky. I tried to combat the frustration I was feeling with reflection on the gift of being able to run. I stopped to watch the ocean. I wandered through Sunday Streets. I gave directions. I tried to turn off my brain and just be present.

I do believe that running is more physical then mental. I like how it feels physically to run—kind of. It’s not something I was born to do. But I run because it’s something that makes me feel good, gives me confidence, gives me time to think and connect with myself in a way I rarely experience—a handful of miles’ worth of peace and reflection. It’s usually two hours in that I gain clarity over stress about the unknown, job stress, failed loves, changing friendships. Everything fades away, and deep in miles, truth emerges. It’s one of many reasons why I run.

Training for your first marathon is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can ever experience. As each week’s run increases in distance, the challenges and frustrations mount. Nagging aches and pains and questions in our mind like “can I actually do this?” begin to pile up. But each week, you shake them off, lace your shoes up, and head out. And it’s not always easy—it’s physically and mentally frustrating—but at the same time, you feel happy in a way you’ve never felt. The runner’s high boosts you up. The confidence that comes from doing something you didn’t think you could do empowers you. A strength emerges that you didn’t know you had. And crossing the finish line is not the destination of your journey, but rather, the celebration of it.

Getting back to where I once was—and hopefully, improving on that—will take time. More months, more runs, more rest. But I’m ready to get back in the game, slowly but surely, as if I am starting over. In a way, I am. It’s a whole new set of challenges, but that’s what keeps us running.

Here goes.