Two years ago, after racing a 10K and feeling good about it, I started lengthening my long runs with a plan to run a half-marathon. Instead, my achilles pain worsened. Eventually I stopped running, then took off my shoes and started over, barefoot or wearing very minimal sandals for short runs. On short, barefoot runs, I moved more slowly. My form improved. 

I liked the sensations of slowing down. I sensed this not just in my body but as a way of being. I could walk more slowly and with greater ease. I stomped a bit less. I hurried a bit less.

Still, I wanted to go longer and faster on my runs. I put on minimalist shoes and ran more. 

I struggled last summer, again attempting to start training for a half-marathon but really just pushing myself around. I ran up the bridge, even though the achilles hates that. I didn’t do any exercises to strengthen where I’m weaker in my legs or to help my achilles. I started speed work and my calves seized up with the effort. I would take off for a week or two and then try to start back up. 

Emotionally, I was a bit of a wreck that summer, waiting to send my daughter off to college for a year, turning 50, and entering menopause.  I worked out hard but did not focus on recovery.  I refused to believe that I couldn’t run hills. I refused to acknowledge that I was not emotionally or physically ready to train hard. 

In September I finally trashed my achilles with a hard day walking around San Francisco followed by a fun but ultimately damaging six mile run the next day. 

It hurt to walk. Dancing Nia hurt. I’d crossed the line. I stopped running. I got support from a chiropractor who utilizes Active Release Technique (ART). 

I really wanted to be strong. I started whole body exercises that were fun and challenging, like bear crawls and push ups with one leg up. I practiced intervals. I lifted weights. I pushed myself with the same kind of energy I had used in the summer: an almost angry, fierce, fearful, needy energy. 

After hurting myself over-training in December, I realized a couple of things. I had to find a way to build strength without ending up injured. I was letting some muscles do too much work while others got a free ride, which led to those injuries. I also had to be consistent with the eccentric heel drops that strengthen the achilles. I had to avoid running uphill, which meant no more running up the bridge. 

I had to be way more patient. I had to believe I could get stronger and acknowledge that stronger meant less strong than I used to be when I was younger. I could be more balanced in my strength. I could become more efficient. But I wasn’t going to be as strong as before and it wasn’t going to be as easy. 

This is a sad time in a person’s life, really. It’s the point that we realize, yep, we peaked back there. Or, maybe we didn’t take advantage of that younger, stronger body. Hey, I was making babies and working full-time. I wasn’t running. I wasn’t at the gym. I wasn’t exploring my limits and getting fast and getting strong. No, I was getting by. 

So here I am, my new normal. Grinding into menopause usually means less sleep and a whole host of funky symptoms. It means lower VO2 max and bigger waistline. It means less strength, less muscle, less cardio power, less elasticity. 

I could just chill. I could do easy cardio, like walking, and rely on Nia for my strengthening, and that would be fine. It would be enough to keep me healthy.  If I can’t be as strong or fast as before, why bother, right? Why work so hard?  

My only answer is that now I finally have the time and patience to work this hard. It’s good to have a hobby. Figuring out how I can keep running, and how to run better, is my hobby.

I’m back to training for a half-marathon. I think it’s one of those things where I can’t give up until I complete it because at some point I made it my goal. 

Here’s the sweet point of it. It’s okay if I never race a half-marathon. It’s okay if I race it and don’t meet my time goal of breaking two hours (a somewhat ambitious goal). What is valuable is training to race a half-marathon. The planning and training is when I learn and grow. I’d love to meet my goals. The path to meeting the goal is where the treasure lies. 

I’m now 25 days in to my half-marathon training plan. There are 12 weeks from here to the race date. I’m committed to write 13 blog posts about training to race those 13 miles. Writing is one of the ways I clarify what I’m learning and dig deeper into how I’m growing. I always hope that some of you enjoy coming along for the ride.