Et tu, Minnesota? Beware the Ides of March, especially if you are a Roman emperor and/or live in a Northern climate and think you are going to be able to start running outside anytime soon amidst the soul-renewing sounds of robins chirping and the spirit-lifting sights of baby bunnies and lambs frolicking around. I mean, it’s rare to see lambs in the city, anyway, but you can really forget about seeing any in March around these parts! My very wise and oft-depressive mother once warned me, “Do not make any major life decisions in March. No one is thinking clearly in March.” So I have taken her advice, like all dutiful daughters do, and, over the past decade, have built the following impressive “March major decisions” resume: gotten divorced, quit my dead-end but nevertheless stable university research job, retired from competitive running at least four times, bleached my hair at least five times (because it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you bleach your hair), bought a guitar, stolen a baby chicken from a drug research project (okay, that was undergrad, slightly more than a decade ago), spent five figures online shopping, sported a green wig and green mustache for an entire ten mile race, and tattooed my cats’ portraits onto my biceps. That’s eight truths and a lie, in case you think I am exaggerating. Cat tattoos are trashy… but bleached hair, green wigs and sleeping with a cocaine-addicted chicken are just plain fun.
Forgive me if this blog post is a little on the melancholy end of the spectrum. It is March, after all, and the basketball “madness” on my television set is matched only by the madness in my own bored, cabin-fevered head. I typically distract myself in all manner of ways in order to avoid going off the deep end in late winter (see list above), and I often even add in a half-hearted attempt to give up something for Lent. I’m not Catholic, so I am not mandated to give something up, but, as a runner with a typical “in what other ways can I make my life miserable” mindset, I like to rip as much joy from my existence as possible. What is amazing is how many opportunities we have to do this! At the beginning of each joyous New Year we are bombarded with the ubiquitous talk of resolutions. As I embarked upon the start of another anything-is-possible trip around the sun, I pondered the question (and asked my family and friends to weigh in): Should I take away something that I enjoy or add something that I despise? These two categories are, after all, the only two options that we seem to have in the matter of how to change our lives in the coming year. (I was offered one very intriguing third option from my fast buddy, Lori Kingsley, which boiled down to this: commit more petty crime. Lori was introduced to a whole new level of hotel soap theft when she spent a weekend with me at a marathon.) Fast-forward to the holy Lenten season in which, lest you have already spectacularly failed in your resolution attempts, you are once again offered the opportunity to omit something that you love from your life for six or so weeks (I don’t really know how long it is—as I said already, I’m not Catholic.) Are you ready for another list? The following are the things that I have attempted to give up for Lent: candy on at least five occasions, alcohol on two occasions, Red Bull on at least three occasions, shopping, sleeping past noon, watching television, and social media. Once I tried to give up candy, junk food, soda, and alcohol in the same season, prompting my sister-in-law to remark, “So you’re basically going on a diet for Lent. I’m sure God will be happy. He was hoping that you would lose some weight in His name.” My sister-in-law is a smart-ass, obviously, which is why I like her so much.
So after this characteristically long pre-amble, it is time that I brought this inspiring little diatribe around to running, which is, after all, what Oiselle is all about. As I’ve been reading the blogs of my fellow runners lately (and they have been more prolific as no one can leave the house in the winter around here), I have been increasingly aware of a serious problem that we have as a sport: runners can be so self-disciplined, self-denying, self-flagellating, self-absorbed, and so focused on denying fun and introducing pain in the name of success that they tend to be NO DAMN FUN! Even the high school runners that I used to coach realized this unfortunate fact as they proudly bragged on their shirts, “Our sport is your sport’s punishment.” Is that really something to be advertising? Why does running have to suck so much? Why does it make you a better person if you can stop yourself from grabbing another Tootsie Roll and shoving it into your mouth in an attempt to get through another March-tastic day? Tootsie Rolls are the stuff of LIFE, my fellow runners! Tootsie Rolls, cat tattoos, and homemade Shamrock Shakes (if it weren’t for Angie’s culinary genius with a blender, green food coloring, and mint extract, I might not have survived March and would be penning this essay from the psych ward, which is, incidentally, where I worked at my aforementioned university job that I quit three Marches ago). It seems to me that the athletes/humans whom we aspire to emulate should be those who are having a blast in their sport, career, or whatever other adventures upon which they choose to embark. It is little wonder that American kids don’t want to grow up to be distance runners—look how fun we make it look! Read our professional runner biographies that outline in excruciatingly boring detail all of our injuries, setbacks, trials, tribulations, and eating disorders. Sign me up!
Misery, denial, and self-hatred should not be prerequisites to endurance sporting success. Distance running requires hard training, but not hard WORK—because it isn’t work. You can use self-punishment as the impetus to get out the door, or you can use joy. It is tough in March, when the scenery awaiting you is eight inches of sloppy snow, gray skies, and unseasonably cold temperatures, but there will be robins. There will be lambs…somewhere. There will be green wigs, and online shopping (ahem…go to oiselle.com for some seriously cute shit). I recently went to a P!nk concert, and, in addition to wanting to grow up to be P!nk (she was flying through the frickin’ air, which looked pretty fun and badass when compared to my current ascetic distance runner’s life), I was inspired by her lyric, “Change the voices in your head. Make them like you instead.” I don’t know if distance running tends to spawn a negative, neurotic, self-doubting personality, or if those personality types are naturally drawn to the sport. What I do know is that the result is about as ugly as the first major snow melt at a dog park. I also know this: I am tired of the voices in my head that tell me that I’m not working hard enough, or that I’m not talented enough, or don’t belong on that start line next to the elites. I’m sick of giving up stuff that I like. I am about done with doing things that I despise. I think I am finally ready to choose a third option, thanks to P!nk and to some very wise friends. Hey, Lori—let’s commit some petty crime. Watch out, hotel cleaning staff. I am coming for your soaps. I’ll be the one in disguise, in the green wig—with the cat tattoos on my biceps.