Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I apologize for the total lack of posting on my part recently. Not only has my life had a rather unfortunate ratio of work to horses of late (in fact, my only horse sighting of past week and change has been cart horses in the city... not exactly the most thrilling), but, I must admit, I've also been gripped with an idea that is quickly verging on the insane.

I've decided to run a marathon.

(I've even entered - holy god!)

Now, before this comes off as TOTALLY out of the blue and not properly thought out (I will grant you that it is probably a bit of those things to a certain degree), let me explain further. As I've mentioned before, I used to run in high school. In fact, running actually became probably as important to me as academics for a brief period (if never quite so important as horses), though I failed to ever achieve competitive results that would explain such devotion. Instead, the reason that I loved it was because I had been such a little fat child growing up that the discovery that I could actually run long distances and enjoy it was a totally revolutionary idea to me. I just couldn't get enough of it. Some of my fondest memories from high school, outside of horse shows, are of going for long quiet runs through the woods around my school, or of the very few times that I distinguished myself as a racer on my high school team (like the time I actually helped my team win New Englands in a snow storm!! The stuff only an eventer could love).

(Middlesex girls bring it home - when I was injured my senior year I became the unofficial team photographer, which at the time was a completely new role for me as I didn't know much about photography and wasn't particularly interested in it... funny how things change!)

When, after my junior year, I first starting considering taking a year off between high school and college, I made a big list of things that I'd like to accomplish in that time. One of first items on the list was a marathon. I even looked up southern marathons that I could train for in Aiken and work around major competitions (because, yes, I am that big of a nerd). It seemed like the perfect way to both test and celebrate this new athletic passion that had so transformed my high school experience, from just being a bookish horse girl to a bookish horse girl who considered herself an athlete (which honestly, before starting to run, I never had).

(My first Varsity sports team - Middlesex Girls' Cross Country)

And then my senior year happened. High school drama all seems pretty low-intensity in retrospect, but injuring my Achilles tendon, inadvertently scarring my lungs by inhaling too much printmaking fixative (which involved a LOVELY jaunt to the ER), getting such bad anemia that I couldn't walk to the top of a single flight of stairs without getting winded, and then having to turn one of my closest friends into the police for revealing to me that he had plans to kill my other closest friend and watching approximately half my friend group get suspended or expelled over the course of the year all made for pretty unhappy times. The athletic injuries got to me especially hard, because I had built a large part of who I thought I had become in high school around my newfound athleticism. The fact that my cross country coach/art history teacher (of course, the class that I also cared the most about) handled my injuries by telling me that I just wasn't trying hard enough and then completely writing me off and ignoring me for the rest of the year was just extra salt in the wound. Suddenly, by end of November I'd let all the joy that running had brought me be turned into bitterness and failure. I not only didn't want to run a marathon, I never wanted to run a step again in my life if I could avoid it.

(Me and my friend Charlene cool down verrryyy slowly at the end of what would be my last ever race)

That bitterness stayed with me for a long time. I remember the one time I tried to go for a run on my year off, in the spring of the year after graduation, within a quarter mile of setting off I found myself totally overwhelmed with all the worst memories of high school: all the worst things my coach had ever said to me, all the feelings of disappointment, all the aching moments of regret. I sat down on the side of the road, began to cry, and didn't stop for over an hour. It was as if running contained all my synthesized and compartmentalized grief over the mistakes I'd made, and trying to engage in that activity again brought everything that I'd tried so hard to forget about come flooding back to the surface. I was too afraid and too unwilling to face those issues then; I just wanted to push them away again. So, running became an absolute taboo.

(The comradery that I loved about cross country - also the car in the background was my coach's, and I still can't look at it in this picture without a little squirm of unhappiness)

Over the years since, I've very slowly unpacked my feelings about that time in my life and come to terms with them. In retrospect, I can look back and realize how incredibly lucky I was and how many great opportunities I was provided without getting too bogged down with the what-ifs. I still have regrets and some very deep sadnesses about what happened, but they don't bother me as much any more. Most importantly, I realized that a great deal of my unhappiness was tied up in other people's expectations of me. With my coach especially, I allowed his behavior to have a serious effect on my own happiness. While I still struggle with this (and it was a definite factor in why things unraveled so badly last winter), I've become much more aware of the necessity of not basing my own mental state on what I think other people expect or want from me, and I keep trying to get better at finding that self-confident place.

(Middlesex girls warm up for a home race... yes, my school was absurd looking)

So, this winter I faced the prospect of finding new non-horsey ways to get fit, and, feeling rather bold, I decided to give running another try. And to my delight, I could actually enjoy myself again! I don't think there's more concrete evidence for the progress I've made since high school than that. Now I'm enjoying my running possibly more than I did before, because I remember how much I used to love it and am reveling in getting to love it again, which I honestly never thought I could do.

And so to sum up this incredibly long-winded story, that is why I've decided to do this. I want to celebrate my renewed passion and finally get to achieve the goal that I had to bitterly shelf four years ago. I don't have any illusions about running fast (and believe me if I had, my first few runs would have corrected me of those thoughts), but I want to finish. I've got a training book to help me that I'm finding super inspirational and am currently on track to start training in the first week of March, which means that I'm currently jogging 30mins, 4 times a week. If all goes well, I'll run in the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø, Norway, on 25 June 2011. Very excited!!

Meanwhile, it just occurred to me that in just over three weeks, I'll be in Aiken. How cool is that? I've been seriously enjoying the British lifestyle, but will also be pretty glad to be back in the good ol' USA again for a while.


Leah said...

Congrats on healing and taking the leap back into running. Midnight Sun marathon sounds pretty cool. Now I only wonder... can you run with your camera?

Heidi said...

Go, Kate! I am doing my second half marathon in May. It is amazing how being in shape for running helps my riding. How are you going to do a marathon in Norway when you will be back in the USA by summer? You are quite the world traveler. Happy training!

Katherine Erickson said...

Thanks guys! My program finishes just a few days before the marathon, so I'm planning on doing it as my last thing in Europe before I head home.

And as for running with my camera: THAT would take some serious skill - since I'm still in the "can I not trip over my own feet while running on a smooth paved road?" stage, I probably wouldn't trust myself with the camera at this point =D

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