Trow is out of town. It’s taken some time to get out of the house for my run; I had nightmares about Kevin and my abuser and being lost on the subway in New York, trying to get home with no home to go to. I woke up panicking and soaked in sweat and then remembered my training partner wouldn’t be at the trailhead. I panicked some more and cried for a while—but now I’m running.
Garmin didn’t sync my workout properly so I have to keep an eye on my pace, which is fluctuating wildly. My old Garmin doesn’t have the most reliable GPS and it’s clearly malfunctioning. I’m running what I think is 8:10, my marathon pace. When I start the faster work I’m wild with anxiety; can I really hold this for 26.2 miles? Am I ready for this? I’m ten pounds heavier than I was running New York and haven’t raced in 18 months.
My coach thinks I can, I remind myself. I have trained for this. I’ve been consistent. I’ll have tapered and there will be crowd support. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. I remember my therapist asking in session when was the last time I felt really confident. I take a long time to think about it. I look at the floor. I bite my lip.
“Consistently?” Years ago. When I first moved here. I was nervous but I also expected that things would work ok for me.”
“Did you feel confident,” she asks, “When you were dating Kevin?”
I close my eyes and press my lips together hard. I can’t breathe all of a sudden.
“Yeah,” I finally manage. “I did. I’d even started thinking maybe things would be ok again.” My eyes fill with tears. “Goddamn it, I am so frustrated I still miss him. What a waste of my extremely finite emotional energy.”
Tears roll down my cheeks, but I keep running. I remember my first long run of the new year in Raleigh, how I cried so hard I had to stop at least five times, how I couldn’t manage the faster work at all because I was so upset. I run now with my grief and my heartbreak, strong enough to carry them.
Another runner approaches from the opposite direction. I call out “good morning.” He ignores me completely. I am briefly offended then roll my eyes back into my head and imagine Trow laughing back at me as we mock the avoidant motherfucker together.
I see a few tight clusters of runners up ahead. They’re clearly a good deal slower than me; I smirk to myself, relishing the easy chase. I consult my wrist, where Garmin indicates I’m at half marathon pace. I don’t bother slowing down. In fact, I so enjoy reeling them in that I speed up a little. Soon I blaze by as though they were standing still. “Good morning!” I call out cheerfully. They return my greeting and I grin. Buoyed by the succor of human kindness, I quicken my cadence just a little more. Three runners ahead of me are spread in an even line. I fly past them one by one with a smiling greeting for each, then I’m once again headed through the woods alone. I’m still cruising easily a little under marathon pace. My watch beeps at me; low battery.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I mutter. I think about how much it would cost to replace and scowl before I turn around at mile 10. I think about how Garmin will run out of batteries before I’m through my marathon pace work. I’ll run this pace until mile 2, then slow down for the last two. That’s easy enough.
I curse a little heading up the big hill at Southpoint, missing Trow. I do, however, scramble up easily thinking this run is going surprisingly well all things considered. Though it’s a blessing to have a training partner who’s faster than me, it’s also easier to focus when I’m not having a conversation. I focus, and the wind is cold against my skin.
I’m alone, just like I was in New York, like I will be in Boston—like I am navigating my recovery. I feel my memory of running New York, by myself in a glorious sea of people. I remember registering for Boston at Kevin’s place, how he told me he was proud of me, that he’d be there at the finish line. I cry, casting off bits of my grief as tears roll down my cheeks and fly off into the morning.
I still miss him, and I also see how my formative attachment experiences have wired me to keep wanting love that doesn’t come. Gently, I remind myself; that man is not where love comes from. I am so lonely, and it hurts so much. Still, I insist; I am capable of love and I am deserving of love. Love comes from me. I am the source.
I love you, I silently comfort myself. I love you completely. I love you whether you PR or DNF. I love you when you’re strong and when you’re frightened. I will protect you. I will see you through this. I will never abandon you and I will never hurt you. I am proud of you. I will be there for you at the finish line.
My Garmin turns off. It’s just me now. I see myself as clearly as I can. I see the way I’ve taken on the burden of shame that my family and my so-called partners haven’t been able or willing to confront in themselves. I see the still-present hurting child within me crying out for love that has always felt elusive and how that unmet need has driven me into the arms of people who couldn’t possibly meet it. I am grown, and I am capable of carrying the little girl who is also me to safety. I run hard, weeping. I run to prove that I am strong enough.
I watch the miles tick by and visualize the crowded Brooklyn streets. One mile left. I pick it up, remembering a child stepping to the edge of the curb for a high-five. I reached out beaming for her tiny hand. She looked at me as though I were magic.
I see the reflection of myself as a child in tears. I remember a session with my therapist where I saw myself that way, felt the frightened trapped feeling that’s haunted me so many times. She asked if I could see myself getting out. I sobbed bitterly; unable.
I run, conscious that I carry that frightened little girl wherever I go. I run through fear and grief, shame and rage, exhaustion, heartbreak, hopelessness.
Half a mile. I close my eyes and see screaming throngs of people in New York as I round the park. I dig for whatever is left within me. Faster; I run faster. Quarter mile left, just an easy lap around the track.
I see my mother standing alone on the course at Lake Tahoe, come to see me run Spartan Race World Championships–the hardest race of my life. I am covered in dirt and sweat, my hands are torn, quadriceps trembling uncontrollably as I jump for a bar above my head, hang on, pull myself up. My mother stands silent, too self-conscious to scream my name.
I scream my own name in my head. I hear my voice, strong with encouragement. I run faster, faster, and I see the finish line before me as it was in New York–then as it will be in Boston. I picture the yellow and blue paint on the roadway and tear toward it, teeth bared, panting furiously. My feet are light on the trail and I feel the exhilarated inevitability of flight; for a moment I’m certain I’ll actually lift from the ground. Then I run over the two mile marker. I slow down, reach for my fuel belt, drain the rest of my electrolyte drink from my soft flask and keep running.
I will be there at the finish line. I will.