Runners in red, blue, and green bibs bounced on their toes to warm up on a cool, Istanbul morning, and when the Turkish national anthem was played, everyone went silent. A zip of energy ran through the packed crowds, easy conversations happening at the endless porta-pot lines because you are united in a possibly grueling task: getting from the start line to the finish line.
The 35th annual Istanbul Marathon was happening. And I was one of the shivering hopefuls in the 10km line. Its been years since cross-country and track meets, but one thing never changes – stretching out hamstrings and cries of “good luck”. When I crossed the Bosphorus Bridge, I couldn’t feel my feet I was so excited and awestruck by the view.
I confused the race packs, so Devrim and I wore the wrong bib numbers. He’s ranked 361 on the women’s list (under my name) and I’m 1976 on the men’s – hee hee.* I hit the 5k mark at 33:08 – yes! At 6k I felt something funny in my left leg, and by 8k I had to walk. I wanted more than anything to run past the finish line. And I tried to stay cheerful as hoards of people passed me by, even one guy I remember from the waiting line yelling at to me to “koş koş! – run, run. I wanted to, but I had to accept my leg wasn’t having anything to do with it.
I could just end the post here – vow to run the 15k next year, but be better prepared, stretched out, and realistic. But full confession: did I mention that in addition to loving bacon, I am also competitive?
I have been running since I was twelve. Running is something I take seriously. Much like being taken seriously as a writer and artist. But that mindset can get in the way of enjoying something. Like – feeling like you don’t deserve the medal at the end of a race. Like feeling like you didn’t finish even though you crossed the finish line. I know I have to shut off the negative thoughts and take a look at the bigger picture – hey, I did it! But if you are anything like me, and felt like at many points in your life you had to prove yourself – academically, work-wise, and I-can-make-it-as-an-expat-abroad, or I am not just a stay-at-home-mom – you’ll understand why that is so hard. I have my own internal goals: to beat my last time, to lift heavier weights, to improve on a scale that I can see.
Turning off the part of my brain that strives to get ahead is maybe one of my biggest challenges. Ever.
I hobbled to the metro station. Took one step up the stairs at a time. Went to bed at 9:00 p.m. When I woke up, I still had a twinge in my leg. CrossFit was out for a couple days. My best friend killed the race – she went at her own pace and finished all ten kilometers with a huge smile on her face. My husband was just in it for fun and was hyped up on the thrill of his very first competitive race.
I have spent a lot of time on the other end of fun: why can’t I just enjoy things like other people? And when it comes to food and wellness, excruciating negative thoughts: why can everyone else eat normally but food makes me feel bad? Why am I a binge eater? I worked 12-hour days to start up a design consulting firm that never happened. I started writing books I never finished. I shuttered a handbag design gig. I started sewing projects that sit in plastic bins in the closet. I wrestled with why I couldn’t just do one thing. Three years ago, I called it quits on teaching English and working as a volunteer for a non-profit. I was tapped out. Sick. Stretched thin.
On Sunday, I wanted the wind in my hair, feet pounding the pavement – I wanted the runner’s high, the crazy amazing feeling of picking up speed and knowing your lungs can take it. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. But then I couldn’t. And I know I can’t do everything. I know I can’t be everything to everyone. Can’t hit the box five times a week every week. Or crank out 1,600 words every day all the time. But this is also very important: I don’t want to reject the fighter in me. She needs to live and thrive. Because she propels me forward. She makes me look at the world through the lens of possibility. And I never want to stop asking questions. Or learning.
So I’ll feed her good food. Get her to bed earlier. Get her stretched out and fit for the next race. In less than a year, I went from not being able to do a real squat to squatting with a 30kg barbell. I can touch my toes again. And I am going to be vigilant about this: I vow to care less what people think about my career path. The creative process is an explorative one, and if you try too hard to follow straight lines, you’ll never discover the good stuff: the ideas and questions that turn into a story, the I can do it attitude that gets you into the gym in the first place, the I believe in myself mantra that allows the seeds of change to grow.
At the end of the race, a guy with a goatee – his hair in a ponytail, the strands streaked gray, walked past us without a limp in sight as we tried to find the busses holding our bags. His knee was bleeding. Somewhere along the racecourse, he fell. But he kept going. So will you. And so will I. And grouchy internal voice be damned, I’ll do it with a smile.
Power to your feet, your pen, your plate.
*If I hadn’t mixed up the numbers, he’d be 1201/3242 (1:02:55) and I’d be 950/2691(1:13:36) according to finish line times.