You Never Forget Your First – Guest Blogger: Jenn Nourse

Hi everyone,

I’m still working on getting back in the groove here on the blog. In the meantime, I want to share a post from a friend and wonderful writer Jenn Nourse. I love a 10-mile run with Jenn because it includes a wide-ranging conversation and stops for puppies. If you can’t run with her, you can still read her entertaining and insightful blog, The Old Man and the See You Later and in this case, it happens to be about running in the most spiritual sense. So here, reprinted in its entirety, and with photos (that’s Jenn running against the sunset), is You Never Forget Your First. (Thank you Jenn!)

You Never Forget Your First.

I ran my first full marathon last November.  26.2 miles in frigid monsoon weather.  The maxim “you never forget your first” will likely prove true, at least for my hip flexors.  I had the fitness and the ego to run a sub four hour marathon.  I trained under two coaches and hit bootcamp and yoga twice a week in addition to logging and slogging dozens of miles every week for months.  I tend to seek a workout that takes me through the five stages of grief.  But fitness and ego will only get you to the starting line.  Humility and presence will get you to the finish.

Mr. Heart ran the marathon by my side.  He certainly had the ability to pull far ahead, having run 30-something marathons in less than two years,  most of them in the 3:30 range.  But for some reason, still left unsaid by us both, he ran with me.  He joked with me through the torrents (“looks like it might rain today”) and gave my shoulders a solid squeeze when I slowed to a shuffle.  I remember feeling bewildered at my inability to run.  Thanks to track workouts that left me clawing the air for oxygen and long stints of sitting in silence that left me panting for movement,  I was comfortable with being uncomfortable.  But nothing prepared me for my body breaking down.  I watched my ego sprint into the soggy distance, and stepped into the moment.  The truth was, I was hurting.  Badly.  And I wasn’t able to keep my pace, I wasn’t able to simply tolerate and experience the pain.  I had to adjust, to react, and to slow the hell down.  I kept ahead of the four hour pace group for a goodly distance, but at mile thirteen Lucas quietly announced “Jenn, the 4:15 pace group is right behind us.”  I didn’t care.  And it hurt to not care, to realize I was not going to be allowed to care.

photo credit: Louise Lakier

I finished.  And it was awful.  And wonderful.  I came in around 4:21 with nothing left, giddy with pain and emptiness.  I wanted nothing more in the last moments of the race than to stop moving.  I would have traded my Donnie Wahlberg Twitter follow for stillness.  But running asks you to keep going, to lead with the body in lieu of the mind.  To finish.

I became a runner a good league into my adult life.  The solitary accomplishment feels so personal, so private, the urban running community a snug denizen of automatons.  I wasn’t an athletic child.  I was, and still am, pensive.  Thoughtful.  Sensitive.   But in the aftermath of the engagement debacle I found myself in possession of a bulk of unspent feelings and unexpressed hurt.  Meditation helped me make friends with this most unwelcome of masses.  I came to know it well, to accept its existence, and to welcome it into my body.  But it was running that helped me keep stride with discomfort and to finally usher it out.  It was running that forced me to breathe with purpose and effort, to be active in my movement and deliberate in my path.

Much of the time I attempt to make my way towards quietude, in search of my heartbeat.  I meditate in an endeavor to become still enough to feel my own life pulse, to tune into the parts of myself that are living and carrying on without effort.  The parts I must trust in order to live.  The parts I cannot boss around or control or force.  The easy parts.  We forget sometimes there are easy parts.  But sometimes I need my heart to awaken, to be insistent, to stand up and take notice.  Sometimes I need to run.  There will be other marathons just as there have been other loves. But there’s only one first, when you rush into the fray without thought, only to be trampled.  We learn to temper our minds, to pace our hearts.  And the first one breaks us down to the core, so that we might rebuild a little stronger and wiser, a little faster.

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