Balance in a runner’s life can be hard to achieve
By Marlene Farrell
Editor’s note: Leavenworth’s Marlene Farrell is recovering from a broken ankle suffered while running. This is the fifth in a series of blogs she is writing, detailing her recovery.
A friend recently asked me, “What’s the hardest thing about long distance running?” I can only answer for myself, and I’ve pinned it down to two aspects.
The first challenge is getting out on the ugly days — those with weather extremes, or caused by my own poor sleep, diet, or other stress. But having been cooped up to heal a broken ankle, the ugly days now seem rare, as every opportunity to get out is a blessing. And most times, once I’m out, I acclimate to the conditions. I never regret logging miles, even if it’s slogging miles.
The other hard part of being a long distance runner comes after the long run is complete. In approximate order of importance are: shower, food, water, feet up, more food, and a lack of taxing brain activity. But I am a mom, wife, and writer. I have to keep our household running, and pay attention to my family’s needs and my work responsibilities. While out on a long run, I have this recurrent daydream that running is all that matters. My life feels like it boils down to motion, and breathing, and taking in vistas that show both how small the town is and how big the world is.
Then reality crashes down on me as I’m lounging on the couch, reading a magazine, and my daughter asks me to jump on the trampoline with her. Or my son wants to start a complex project right now. Sometimes I shake off the recovery fog to do a half-adequate job of playing with them, which satisfies no one. Or I wave them off, saying, “Next time.” After my eyelids droop, I’ll be goaded awake by the thought of a starving lizard that is silently waiting for his supper, or the laundry fermenting in the washer.
A broken ankle takes awhile to heal, so I am in rehab mode. I run only every other day. On alternate days I swim, bike, or take it easy. I’m happy with my activity because my post-surgery hibernation is still a clear memory.
While 95 percent of my body craves for longer workouts, especially runs longer than six slow miles, there’s an important 5 percent that holds veto power over the rest. Conversations with my left ankle go like this:
Me: How about an extra mile?
Ankle: Not a good idea.
Me: How about a few more minutes?
Me: Let’s try running two days in a row.
Ankle: I’m warning you. …
Me: I think you’re up for some one-footed hops at the end of this run.
Ankle: How embarrassing. OK, here are five. Now give me ice and elevation, you moron!
The unexpected perk of constraining my daily exercise is that I’m ready for whatever comes my way in my home life. I’ve stumbled upon a perfect balance. My writing seems to flow after the easy runs. Even more so, writing ideas percolate like bubbles all around me as I swim laps. I actually have to ignore the stream of them lest I veer into another lane or lose track of my laps. And there’s been many a day that I have hiked the hill in the back yard with the kids, or gone for a bike ride, or made a complicated dinner while overseeing homework completion.
Maybe I’ve learned something through what otherwise I consider an ordeal. Longer runs are in my future. There are trails that will demand exploring all the way to their summits. 2016, if not 2015, will find me competing in the marathon again. But sometimes it’s all right to turn around before reaching the summit. And I don’t need to hunger over a new race every weekend.
I’ve learned that there are other goals worth striving for. Writing goals that I won’t mention here. And more amorphous goals having to do with my family.
If I compare my family to a runner’s body, then, over time, certain parts will need more strengthening or nurturing or perhaps a change in routine. If I’m not spent from long workouts, I can deftly shift the family energy to keep everyone happy and feeling loved.
I don’t expect perfection. But balance seems easier. And occasionally I can let myself dream while following a winding trail somewhere high in the mountains.
Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at email@example.com.