I bet you read that title and expect the secret to be some let down like, “just go out and run!”
Telling someone starting out on a running plan or into the world of health and fitness, overwhelmed with the prospect of completely revamping their entire life and diet to fit whatever fad they were told would “absolutely drop those problem pounds in weeks,” that they “just need to do it” – is about as useful as telling a person with chronic depression to “just give yourself permission to be happy.”
The typical result has that person thinking, “I give you permission to go fuck yourself” and moving on, feeling hopeless, or lost, or overwhelmed…. Basically, still feeling whatever emotion they were in when they came to you for the secret of running. “Just do it” makes for a great slogan for a clothing company that already has athletes lined up to buy from them. It’s solid advice, if you’re wavering on whether to run that morning or not. But what if you’re not wavering? What if you’re looking for someone to help make it less overwhelming? What if what you needed was someone to tell you you were right? That running is hard. That it is boring. That it’s uncomfortable and takes up time? It’s not such useful advice then. It’s dismissive. Just like telling someone who has hit rock bottom that they chose that. It makes everything that person’s fault and washes you, the one they came to, of any responsibility. Even the responsibility of helping them. The things is: They know its their fault they are in this position. They don’t need the reminder. The depressed and the new fitness seeker. They know their situation. They just also know they are unable to do it alone. They’ve come for help.
Just go run. Pah!
It’s bullshit. And anyone who remembers their first endeavors into the running realm should know it. It’s not about just doing it when you first start. Its about all the fears (What if my heart gives out? What if I get hit by a car, or hurt? How do I know how far I’ve gone? How do I carry water? What if I have to poop? How long can I trust my kids not to burn down the house?).
Tell them the truth fellow runners! Tell your friends and coworkers and neighbors who come to you to find out the secret to running: The. Actual. Real. Secret to how you keep going out to run! Tell them what it really is. Tell them what you really do to get through the struggle. “Just go run” is the outcome of your struggle. It’s habit for you now. Tell them how you got to that point.
The secret is the same for everyone. Sure, motivations are different (Weight loss, depression, addiction, boredom, a dare, jobs, competition, scholarships…) What pushed them through that starting phase, and even a tough phase later on, is going to be the same for 96% of the runners out there.
I only throw that 96% in there because I’m certain that it’s true for the large majority of runners, but I know outliers always exist and those jerks can just….go… stop …showing off ….. yeah.
A lot of runners got there because they competed in school. For them, they had the secret to running pushed on them all the time, every time. They probably won’t recognize it for what it was. If you ask runners who started running later in life – not for school, you’ll likely get to the real secret a lot faster.
The secret is community.
Well… Friends. A support system. And participation in running clubs or groups.
It’s having people to join you on those runs – even when they’re the hardest. It’s having people who don’t run, but who care about your goals enough to call and make sure you got out there, to be proud when your runs do go well, and to be impressed when your runs sucked but you got it done anyway. It’s the people around you, who make the run manageable. Its making some friends and connecting with someone as you suffer through the miles together. Its having someone that you can look at while you’re training and ask questions… Questions like: “Has your foot ever hurt like…?” Or, “I always feel so wiped out by mile five…what works for you?” It’s having someone willing to check in with you. To care how your running is going. And then, broadening that, to include more runners.
And, really, lets be honest. There’s a lot of truth to the concept of “misery loves company”.
Its about having the support you need to keep doing it. Even if you skipped three runs last week. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Even if you start a run, get about a mile in, and then quit because it was just not working for you. Even if you have to stop running for three months because of a serious injury. Having someone who gets it to talk to about it makes the difference.
And don’t tell me that it’s not like that for introverts. Don’t tell me, “Introverts need to run alone.” Lies. Even an introverted person enjoys having someone running beside them. They don’t need to chatter through the miles. Just being there with the group, words flowing around them, as everyone else chatters makes a difference. The run doesn’t require social participation, but the run is made easier by it. Having people recognize you and call to you as you run a local race makes you feel like a rock star. Feeling like a rock star is part of the drug of running that makes going back to it day after day so much easier.
If you’re looking for the secret of running because you’re trying to get started in it, but it’s just so damn boring? I’m here to tell you, yes. It’s boring as hell. But it can also be the best hour or two of your day. Music, audio books, pod-casts…. these things all help, but sometimes they’re not enough. Sometimes, it takes practice to be able to focus on your run and listen to the audio book. Its the aspect of engaging in conversation, or being around the conversation – and letting someone else handle the route – that can be the fix you need for making running more interesting.
And feeling motivated to go to races – because races are automatically interesting. You don’t have to compete… just go to experience it! Seriously. 5k’s are a blast, especially if you get the right ones. They don’t take all day, there’s a good community around them, and nearly every “big” race (ie; Marathons) has one! Find the costumed races near you. Find the races in parks or that have good parties afterward. Find them for causes you are supportive toward. Go for the 5k, stay to cheer on your friends running the longer distances. Go have a day!
You should train to run, especially if you’re thinking about doing races – that’s a given. And to make that more interesting, I say:
Go find your local running clubs, groups, training groups, neighbor, coworker, or friends – and join them. And remember my advice from a while ago: Stop saying no to running with your “fast” friends!
Its time that you jumped into the real secret of running. Stop wavering. All of your reasons to hate running are true. Come try the reasons runners love running.
“It’ll help…if the sun comes out – that will make me more motivated to head out…”
“You should just go.”
“No you’re not.”
“My leg hurts.”
“Run anyway. I’ll pick you up, wherever you have to stop at. But it’s time for you to leave this house.”
Once, shortly after my Husband and I moved in together, he literally shoved me out the front door and then locked it, ordering me to run or never come inside again. That was probably about 8 years ago. Today, he can still be pretty savage about ordering me to run, but his resolve wavers in the face of me in pain. If I’m hurting badly before I even start out the door, it’s harder for him to force me to do it. Mid-race? He’ll tell me to suck it up. Rolling out of bed and gasping in pain? That puts him in a tight spot.
I managed to delay going out for my attempt at 20 miles today for…hours…. but, eventually, the sun really did come out. And I had to go.
I admit I was a bit scared of it. Not in the way most people thing of ‘scared’ when they read it. I was more just…trying to avoid the discomfort of a very painful experience. This IT-band/piriformis/”probably sciatica” (Thanks a bunch, Dr M.) injury can actually hurt up to a 9 on the pain scale some days. Two weeks ago when I tried my luck at getting 18 miles, it dropped me at 15, making it nearly impossible for me to walk by the time I gave up trying to get to 16.
I don’t have a good memory for pain. If I go to the Dr about an injury, I literally have to keep repeating the motion or action that causes the pain just so I can describe it and where it is.
Maybe this is why I manage long-distance running?
The injury, which currently resides in my ass (not to be confused with a ‘pain in the ass’), has started this new and annoying thing wherein I have a constant feeling of pins and needles going on with my foot. That’s sciatic, right there. For some reason, when a nerve enters the game, my brain starts a mild panic. Nerves are serious players in the body….and it’s beyond me what the cure is if you jack one of those up.
The piriformis sits right over top, and sometimes encircles, the sciatic nerve. Which means that when the muscle is inflamed, it can put pressure on the nerve and cause such awesome symptoms as the pins and needles. At least I don’t have “weakening”….
So I dug around for some information on this (it’s legitimately called “piriformus syndrome – and, haha, they are still arguing if its “real” or not. Since they have no case studies of it in athletes. Where. Do. I. Sign. Up?)
I found a stretch that is noted as “The only way to cure” this. 4 weeks of doing this, and some exercises, and the pain will be taken care of. And then I did more research and found a better article and some of the same stretches and strengthening exercises.
So now I’m adding these steps to my daily routine, adding them to the 30 burpees for 15 days challenge I’m doing. Something I read about this one in Runner’s World. The author said she got faster, and that she struggled with the work out on and off as she went through the days. I’m not struggling. Not with this. But my thighs, they do shake… and during my long run today, they felt a bit heavy. I’m hoping I’ll see results.
Back to today’s run then.
I knocked out some of these stretches and some of the workouts before changing into my running gear. I hoped hard that my 4th attempt at a pair of powerbeats3 would work – because if they failed today then I would know two things: 1. I would not run 20 miles today. And 2. Powerbeats3 were not meant to be used on Sundays. Because the other pairs died during use on Sundays. All. Of. Them.
With a resolve that this run would be over in about 6 miles, I headed out.
I made easy loops of some of the roads in my neighborhood, sticking close to town. When, by mile 7, my leg wasn’t hurting and my headphones continued to work, I figured it was time to stop screwing around and head out for the bigger loop. I put about 3 more miles in along my subdivision – stopping to toss a baseball a few times with a kid and then to start up some woman’s lawnmower for her. Then I cut along a rough patch of country road to get into the next subdivision, where I only did 3 more miles – because it was steeply hilly (worse than my neighborhood) and that was bothering my leg. Mile 9 marked when I started noticing some pain in the leg from the injury. And mile 13 marks when I realized that I hadn’t noticed the pain for a while yet and I’d likely be able to actually do the distance my training plan actually called for.
The sun continued to bear, and there was a cool undercurrent to the air as I ran up along the main roadway of my area. I stopped into a biker bar for a water refill, and chatted about motorcycles and other biker bars – both things I know about but also have zero experience with.
Mile 15 was marked by having to ask some random stranger if I could use his toilet. I was extremely embarrassed. He laughed and commented, “I’ve been there before. It’s easier for a man!” Uh…sure… I guess…..I mean…Aside from the embarrassment, I was able to poop just fine in this man’s restroom.
By mile 18, I knew I had it. I knew that I was able to run 20 miles. Despite the injury. It wasn’t fully without pain – but it was just a tight pain, not a shooting or harsh pain, like I had suffered on so many runs since November.
This is a big deal for me.
In my mind, I had determined that if I couldn’t run a long training run of 20 miles at all, then I was absolutely not going to be able to run the marathon. There was no way. I might be hurting, and the actual race may take longer than I’m used to the Flying Pig taking me, but I feel pretty confident now that if I can keep the injury managed like I did today, I will actually be able to run the marathon! I won’t have to miss out on this goal!
It doesn’t fix anything else, but it sure does help my mental game.
Now. Now I must go put some after-sun lotion on my face. Because I, friends, have managed to get my first sunburn of the year today as well.
We are about 5 weeks away from my hometown race – the Flying Pig – and my 5th straight year running the full marathon. At year 5 – they induct you into the “squadron”…. which is cool because you get some kind of extra recognition medal that clips to that year’s race medal.
2017 is marked by me having completed exactly zero races so far, and getting out for only one group run. I signed up for a half marathon, and then bailed the morning of because my injury had flipped the switch up to 11 the day before, feeling like it was tearing muscle from the bone.
Basically, I’m still not really running well – thanks to this injury that has dogged me since November.
I’m seeing the Chiropractor – largely as a result of a traffic accident where a dude struck my car back in December while I was out of town for work – on Saturday mornings. My Chiro is located right behind the running store – so I also get to see all my friends out enjoying their runs each morning as I go in to get my shoulder and neck worked on, and then my IT/hip massaged to try and beat that injury into submission as well.
Last weekend I was supposed to hit 18 miles… I hoped to get 16… I ended up stopping at 15. I’m happy that I got to the 15 – I didn’t exactly choose an easy route to do this on, opting to stay in the hills rather than take to flat ground for my long runs. I hurt pretty badly during and after.
I’m not in a good head-space either.
Running isn’t really helping any more – becoming another stress to my life: It hurts to run. It hurts not to run. It hurts after I run. It hurts when I run. It hurts if I take days off to make the hurting stop.
I have to run, because I’m so close to getting another one of my goals (The squadron), and if I skip this year’s marathon, I have to start all over again… But I know that trying to do this marathon is going to hurt. And I’m so done with it. I can’t fit running into my life. I have to run alone all the time because none of the group runs fit my free time anymore, and I hate being out there alone because all I think about is what a useless person I’ve become thanks to my epic failures in life.
I’m just tired of fighting for every. Little. Bit. And still ending up with nothing. Taking a moment to breathe from the fight to have anything I want/need/should have just to have it ripped from me the moment I stop.
I’m tired of being accused of feeling entitled and not working to earn anything.
I worked extremely hard, and sacrificed a shit-ton of myself toward trying to earn something in life… and I think that I at least deserve to be pissed that the reason I don’t have anything to show for it now isn’t because of my shortcoming – but because someone didn’t like the fact that I’m a woman; that someone decided that because of my gender I needed to be ‘put in my place’. That someone told me I needed to go home and pop out babies for my man, not show up to work anymore. That’s why I lost out on my path in life. Not because I didn’t earn my place. Not because I was bad at what I was doing. Not because I wasn’t working for it. Not because I broke rules. But because someone with enough power and influence to destroy everything I did, determined that I didn’t look cute enough in the work outfit to stay, and wasn’t doing my ‘due diligence’ as a female (the popping out babies thing. On an additional fun note- they tried to fire the woman there before me because she got pregnant and “spent more time home pregnant than working” and that was a problem).
I did some hill repeats in this little park a couple weeks ago – because there was no where to run close to my hotel, and this park was barely a quarter mile of trail. I think it was my fourth or fifth trip up the hill when I finally paid attention to the graffiti on the rock at the top.
I feel ya, park vandal. I feel ya. Both for the hill repeats, and for…all of it…in general.
I keep thinking that if this injury would just stop – go away – let me run pain-free again, then I’ll be more motivated, and feel a lot more content with things going on. But its not just the injury anymore. I’m not pulling out of my head game.
Two days ago, I was so bummed out about everything. So upset with my situation in life and this overarching feeling that no matter how hard I’m working to fix it, I’m stuck here. So full of repressed energy from taking a day off for my leg to stop hurting (it didn’t) and sitting in an office with no outlet for….anything… for 9 hours … I went for what was supposed to be an easy run and ended up being a 4 mile sprint with a final mile time of 5:44.
Yeah, my leg hurt. But I was done giving a fuck. My headphones, a new pair of powerbeats3 that I just got a week before to replace the last dead pair, malfunctioned and died. I was pissed. I raged. … And I realized that I was pissed about everything. I realized that my life has shut down so much that the most important thing I had going on was whether or not my fucking headphones would work. And I hated myself even more in that moment.
My life was certainly harder before. I had a lot more going against me before. But for some reason, no matter what was going on, I still got up and was energized for it. I met it head-on. I ran like a goddamn star and was able to come home and brag about what I was doing with my life. I could see my friends, and I had hobbies. Some how, despite the shittier nature of it all, I had found something bigger to cling to. And now? Now I feel like I have nothing, and all my priorities have fallen to such petty shit as why my headphones are shitty.
And this is where I am 5 weeks out from a marathon. I’ve run 9 full marathons and 3 ultras in one year, and now I can’t get my heart into it enough to want to run just one half marathon – let alone a full. I felt like I had something to prove last year – as my world fell apart around me. Now I’m in the crumbled ruins of my world, and have proved nothing. I don’t know how to reset my life for this. I don’t know how to clean slate and start over. Thinking of my goal for how I want to run the Pig – normally it’s “just have a good time and finish happy“. This year its, “I guess under 7 hours and still able to walk would be okay enough… eh.”
How do you recover yourself after a major upset in goals/life/everything? …. Asking for a friend…
A couple of days after I completed running two marathons back to back as part of my 12 marathons in 2016 personal challenge, my sister asked me, “What kind of person runs like that?”
At first I laughed at her, asking if she was trying to prove that I was a crazy person. After all, at that time I was under a lot of stress from a situation where I was falsely accused of being “mentally ill and a danger to self and others” by my boss, and was put on a suspension of sorts to “get medically right”. It was a ploy to get rid of me (that much became increasingly obvious through the time). And I had to attend a lot of mental health evaluations.
I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think telling people that I willingly put myself through two full marathons in two days is a solid way to prove I’m perfectly sane*.
But she explained, “No. What I mean is, what kind of characteristics does someone who sets out to run two full marathons back to back have to have? Its not something that everyone is doing. There has to be more to it.”
Understanding, I started to list the things I’ve come to realize almost any runner (especially the long distance ones) tend to have:
Delayed gratification – You’re not going to run for a week and suddenly be an Olympian. You’re not going to train for a week and be able to expect to run a full marathon and do really well (That is, if you’re like me. If you’re some freak of nature who drinks beers all night, wakes up hung over and decides to just “hop in that marathon this morning” and you end up winning …. well… then I hate your face.)
Goal setting-mindset – You need goals to run. You need a reason. No matter what it is. You need something to achieve in the end.
Drive – when you have no motivation, but things need to get done. It’s this ability to zone in on your goals and go despite not wanting to or not feeling it this week.
Motivation – You have to want it and believe in yourself somewhere along the line.
Focus – It has to be on your mind. Maybe not all the time throughout the day, but a lot of the time, you have to be thinking, “I want this fitness. I want to be better. I want to be faster. I want that medal. I want to say I’ve done it. I want the end result.”
Flexibility – You can’t always follow the schedule or plan exactly as you wrote it out two months ago. You can’t always get the long run on Saturday. Things happen. Life gets messy. Funerals, kids sports, family outings, vacations, and even work get in the way. You need to be comfortable with moving the runs around, dropping the ones that can be dropped. Squeezing in the ones that can’t. Combining some speed work with the end of a moderate run. Adding in “2-a-day” runs…which always feels like committing more time to it.
Learning – Learning from mistakes and from advice from others – Some times your friends will know a better way, and being able to take that in will help. Knowing that not all runs are ideal and things go badly some times will help you too. It was the only way I figured out that I can’t have Gatorade while running. How I learned that I needed to stay hydrated more.
Dedication to the Task – Willingness to do what needs to be done, even when you don’t want to and when the weather isn’t at its ideal for that day – Sometimes it rains on race day (If you’re me, it usually rains on race day). If its your goal race, you’re not going to suddenly drop out just because of rain… but you need to learn how to run in the rain before race day, or you’re going to suffer. You need to run in the rain when you train. You need to learn where to put the anti-chafe cream. Yes. And. You should probably buy anti-chafe cream. For real. See the point above..about learning from mistakes and taking advice.
Commitment – You could half-ass your training for a big race. Sure. My husband pulled it off for a few races himself, one of them a full marathon. And, yeah, he finished. And he was proud of himself, just like I was of him, but he has also learned that it’s not about just getting to the finish line for him. He wants more fitness. He wants to fit in suits he bought 8 years ago. Half-assing the training and still getting a medal is one thing, but it’s not the ultimate goal. The fitness of running requires sticking with it. The races, when your goal is fitness, are just little treats and games along the path to break up the monotony of working out each day. If the race is your goal, then you’ll want to do very well. You’ll want to put everything out there. But you want to have more to give than the next person too. You can fake speed or strength for only so long. These things, especially for longer races, require constant building and training.
Support – Supporting players in life: the running group, family, even the dog – any one that helps you get out the door, and who applauds your work and skills. When I started running back in college, my only goal was to pass a fitness test to get employed. I only needed to run a mile and a half in 16 minutes. I didn’t have running friends, I didn’t know there was a running community. I just went out and ran (Along some scary as hell “holler” in the mountains near my university…at night…by myself. I was equally at risk of being attacked by a mountain lion as I was of being attacked by a crazed hill-jack protecting his drug fields in the woods).
Each day I called home and I excitedly told my mom how far I ran that day…and she’d be amazed ( if confused) and would celebrate over the phone with me about a new distance or a new speed. My husband, then boyfriend, would push me out of bed early mornings to run. He’d lock me out of the house until I went for a run.
I soon had friends cheering me along, even though none of them were runners… and then I was surrounded by people who wanted to stay fit, and who saw my accomplishments as a start-up runner as a big deal too. And then I had the running group.
You’ll always find support for your running. Just like you’ll always find people who would rather put it down. Running can be hard. It can be boring. It can get really frustrating. It can hurt. It will hurt. Having people behind you who encourage you through this will help you push through and keep on training – and you’ll be hooked and reaching goals before you know it!
Planning and prioritizing skills – knowing when something can be done, planning a full scheduled week ahead of time so that there is time for running, and knowing when to postpone a run for something in life that requires time and attention sooner rather than later. And, being able to know which runs should not be skipped (like the long runs or certain speed workouts)
Fearlessness – because sometimes you have to push past nerves and butterflies, or a little fear, in face of a big challenge (I had this before my first marathon, and again before my first 50k). You have to suck it up, tell yourself that things will be ‘safe’ or ‘fine’ or that you’re smart enough to keep things in check and not get hurt or die…(I have a strange head-game when my mind goes against me before a race. Its… sucky…and stupid… but it’s what I have to push through before races sometimes. Its the overwhelming fear that “I could die out there”. Or that my leg will break in half. Literally. In. Half. Surely, I’m not the only one?) You just have to show up, trust in your training, and go.
If you want to run competitively, or pull a fast time in a difficult distance, then you have to drop all your reservations and just go at it. You have to “get a little crazy” one of my friends once told me. You have to stop worrying about the bonk or the wall or that twinge of pain in your calf and just put it all out there. Its terrifying. Its rewarding.
“So? Basically, all those characteristics and skills your current boss says you can’t do and don’t have?” My sister commented smartly, her point happily made.
*An interesting point on my earlier comment: In the process of clearing my name (and my “mental status”) I was required to meet with many and various mental health professionals. During a meeting with one such professional, the question was asked, “How’s your motivation? Do you have trouble setting goals and doing them?”
I mentioned running a marathon a month this year, and then added, “two weeks ago I ran two marathons in two days.”
He stared at me a long moment and said, “I don’t see any issues here.”
I was given my fourth “clean bill” of mental health in as many weeks. So… I can honestly say that running two marathons in two days does not qualify someone as “mentally ill”. And that running has not made me crazy.
As race season officially starts here in Cincinnati, I am struggling with my running.
I mean, I want to run – but forcing myself out for the time is harder than it was before. I think I blew out my motivation last year with the marathon a month running. I’m also in this awkward phase of getting used to a travel-based job where I cannot get myself out of bed on the two days I do get to sleep past 0430AM to meet anyone to run.
Oh, right, yeah…. my husband reminds me that I also woke up this morning muttering disjointedly about how, “This *expletive* I.T. band feels like it’s pulling my *expletive* bone to shards”.
So I have that going for me too…. as I face the first race of 2017 – a half marathon that my company is footing the bill for. It’s one of the races that fell out of my favor a couple years ago because the group in charge is a bit…awful… Course changes, date changes, cost flux, arguing with the racers… I wouldn’t run it otherwise, but it’s free, and I want to race.
Buuuuut. I don’t want to race.
Doesn’t make sense? Heh, welcome to my life.
Back when the weather was in the 60s and pretty good for getting out and running, you know, like two days ago, signing up for this race seemed like a good idea. I signed up more than two days ago… while my IT band was still pretty bad, but I figured that since I was actually getting up to 10 miles and not hitting that painful moment where I just cannot push through… I thought, “maybe it’ll be better by race day…three weeks from now…”
It’s race weekend. The weather is destined for the low 20s at start line….typical spring in Cincinnati…
And although the pain is different from how it was back then, it’s a whole different level of discomfort – ie: it feels like the tendon and muscles are tearing from the bone. It’s… it’s a new level of ouch. And I can run on it… and have been doing some exercises that a friend at the running store told me to add in. Some weight lifting, when I am home or the hotel has a gym that’s worth something have also made a big impact.
Right now, looking toward tomorrow morning though? I figure my big race strategy will be to run out like I normally do, hold on until I can no longer move my leg, and then freeze until my brother from another mother roles up to carry me while I hold his flag.
If things go well, which… honestly, who knows? I’ll finish fine and either hang out while my husband does the 5k, or try to hobble the 5k along with him. Afterward. Clean up somewhere and then come back a couple hours later to celebrate with the coworkers – the majority of which are doing the 5k walk at noon. Man, I want this injury to end so I can just run. Run fun and run fast and, when I hit new places, just go exploring for as long as I can when I have the time.
Go away injury….. go away.
Everyone. Pray for the death of my injury and the return of fun running. Oh, and for a bout 10 more degrees of warmth for the start line tomorrow!
Sunrises too, but I like stars, and its a bonus to be able to watch them come to view as everything darkens around me.
Sometimes i chase with my running. Sometimes i follow them by car – until i find a good spot to stop and watch.
But i do stop.
And i watch.
I let darkness wrap me up from behind and i breathe deep. I let the world fall away, and me with it. Until there is nothing but the sun, the moon, and the stars.
I guess i lean more toward sunsets over sunrises because i used to work evenings and nights, and it was always easier for me to see one over the other.
Lately I see both all the time. More than just being winter and the two are reasonably close to each other in timing. I wake up early to run, and work tends to keep me out past night fall.
My last run, yesterday in Flowood Mississippi, took a longer time than normal, because i stopped and zoned out for so long, staring at the stars in the sky and then watching the clouds slowly glow whiter and whiter as the sun started to break the horizon.
It was wonderful.
Just like tonight’s sunset.
A random, old guy once told me, (unsolicited) when I first started really getting into photography, that the only worthwhile sunsets were in the spring and the fall – bc there would always be clouds, and clouds made the scene beautiful.
I’ll admit, its cool to see the light refracted into all the shades and splashed across the sky like a paint spill – the glowing gold edges that illuminate the linings of each darkening purple or gray or red cloud. Its fun to catch sight of a sundog reflecting the sun back to itself, or a small rainbow spilling off a cloud, without the rain.
But i think every sunset (and sunrise) is best. Because it means you can see the sun. Unlike a rainy day, when its hidden and you only notice that its suddenly dark.
Its cool to see the beams of light rising off the sun, even if the sky is nothing but various shades of blue – ranging from near – white to deepest dark. Not necessarily dynamic enough to always warrant a photo, sure. But worth taking the moment to watch all the same.
But then, I am memorized by the clearest blue sky, and sometimes try to see if i can capture all those blue hues – to stare at on the grayest of winter days.
That I sometimes miss a turn during a run or stop entirely just to… watch the clear sky. Because its perfect. The only perfect thing we’ve got. Even when its raging in a storm, it remains beautiful…
Its beautiful when you’re in the sky too.
Enjoy a sunset. Or a sunrise. Clouds or not.
My work puts me in sometimes the most out there, random areas…places that don’t have sidewalks, and barely have places to stop in to eat. Some places are better-known cities – with sidewalks and poor reputations in some neighborhoods.
Everywhere has a lake.
It seems, any time I want to go for a run, that’s the thing I tend to have to ask about.
“Where’s a good place to run around here?” never seems to get me anywhere with rental car dealers, airport officials, or hotel hosts. They tend to stare a little blankly. Which, I’m not sure, could be better than the reaction I usually get when I ask, “What’s a good local place to eat?” Typically, that second question earns me a snide, “I’m not from here.”
I guess it’s the concept of going outside somewhere and running.
Especially since this is technically winter, even if most of the places I’m at are experiencing weather in the 60s, on average. For reference, here at home today, it’s 20F. I am not acclimated to the cold. I’m also not healed. My IT band…which is now just the whole leg… gets pretty sharply painful around mile 4-5.
So I stand in front of these various dumbstruck people, hiding behind their desks to keep this crazy person at bay, waiting to be told a good spot to go for a short run. Finally, as their heads start to shake, whatever in my question that caused their circuts to hiccup fading, and I leap again…an easy question: “Is there a lake with a path or a park somewhere nearby at least?”
That does it. They come back to life. Oh! There’s a lake!
It worked in Pennsylvania.
And that brought me to a beautiful spot, a 4 mile path, and great sights as I ran in the drizzle after a winter storm – the fog rolling.
It worked in Rosewell, where I was told there were lakes – but for running, I should just go over to the park up the road. Both were worthwhile spots. Especially since the lady told me to see the lakes toward sunset.
Or how about in Baton-Rouge, where I was lucky enough that one of my friends used to live there – before my plane finished taxiing to the gate, she had told me exactly where to run.
When I spent this past week in Oklahoma, the hotel staff proudly pointed out the back door of the lobby. “Running ? Gurl, your trail is right there. It’s 16 miles long. It goes everywhere. It’s illuminated. Go have fun!”
That river trail aside, Oklahoma City also has a lake. And the entire local running club will tell you to go there. It’s worth it, for sure. Especially at sunset. I’m sure sunrise would be equally rewarding. It’s not quiet or devoid of other runners.
Most of my other runs all over the areas I’ve been this winter have been spookily alone. Barely even seeing vehicles out on the roads sometimes. In the early dawn hours, in these new places, that gets a bit… eh… creepy. But running at Lake Hefner was like being at a race, or a big running festival, where there were tons of people out. It was warm, if a bit too windy. And some 75 year old passed me on her bike.. I think I heard her call me a sissy as she passed.
Next week I head to Mississippi. It’ll be another new spot for me. There is a lake… but there’s also a lot of “Don’t run this area. It’s dangerous.” There are a few locations recommended, but they’re far enough away from where I’m staying, that I won’t have the time to travel, run, travel, clean up, and make it to work on time. So, I’m kinda worried that despite the ideal running temps there, I’ll be trapped on a treadmill.
Anyone from Jackson MS on here wanna give up some running locales? Maybe the lakes?
Hey? Did you know I have a Facebook Page? Go like the hell outta that page! I often update with a photo of where I’m running that week.
I also have the Instagram. (Because everything is funnier with “the” in front of it). Follow my adventures there as well!
Disclaimer: I’m pretty sick while I’m writing this, and on a ton of meds…soooooooo, if it gets a bit out there…. yeah… I’m sick. Not drunk. I almost typed “not high”, but considering the meds…yeah, probably high. Lawfully high. I bought this stuff from a pharmacist in a Walgreen’s…. which I’ll point out is always on a corner… where other drug dealers tend to work. I’m just saying. Wait. Maybe drug dealers are more prone to alleys…. There were no alleys involved with my purchase of legal meds for this massive head cold.
So the gym thing.
I haven’t held a gym membership and “belonged” at a real gym for the last three years. I mostly used the small walk-in closet of a room that my previous employer supplied – and I usually had the space to myself. Even then, I was one of maybe four or five people who used the treadmill there, and the only one who was consistent about working out in there. My current employer supplies me workout space in the form of running between terminals to catch flights and hotel closet-sized workout spaces. And it’s pretty hit-or-miss with the hotels.
On black Friday I got an amazing deal for a membership at the gym I used to love. (I’m having a hard time falling back in love with it again though, to be honest). I am happy to report that my husband and I have been putting it to good use. Stopping in to run a couple times a week and I’ve been doing weights there on the weekends (To supplement weight lifting at hotels during the week).
This week I’ve discovered the most difficult thing for me as a gym member:
I know what I’m doing, and the people around me do not.
I’m watching those people who are obviously there to drop weight or regain health go to town on the cardio equipment – in such a way that makes me cringe and worry for my knees and back.
They have inclines jacked to 11 (Honestly…11 is pretty tough to begin with, but this also makes a good joke re: “Turn it up to 11!”), the speed is up to 15min/mile speed walks (Yes, I did look – how could I not?), they are gripping onto the front of the treadmill for dear life because they’ve overshot the ability of their core to hold them at this incline and speed… and then they’ll flail their arms to grasp the side bars of the treadmills. And on like this – getting upper body cardio in as they windmill their arms violently from one clearly uncomfortable position to the next.
They are slumped forward, gasping, and clearly hating it.
And they’re doing that every day… in a row… that I see them there.
Hold on, readers. You all should know by now, but if you’re not, I am not the person who puts down anyone else on their journey. Especially not when its a fitness journey. I want nothing more for my neighbor than success in their health goals. This is where my issue lies. I see them doing these things so hard and so wrong that I can’t help but recognize this as the beginning of the fall.
This is where the injuries and the burn out start from. The knees and back ache when they get home, or the next day… eventually the discomfort becomes real injury. Either tears from slamming the ankles hard on the ground while the knees are straight, or from the overuse of poor training regime. The injury becomes, “I just don’t have the knees for cardio. I can’t workout.” And so on. And then you have people who have tired, feel defeated, and give up on fitness. When all they really need to do is… well… settle down.
It’s almost trite to bring up the adages that we runners and marathoners and ultra marathons and so on all hear and spout constantly. Things like: Rest days are just as important as training days. And having fluctuation in your training – sprint days, hard days, easy days, and fun days – is what makes the training bearable and lasting. I certainly wouldn’t be as deeply into my running now if I didn’t have those fun runs on Fridays or the running group to meet with and have adventures and road trips for running with.
When these newly formed gym goers, in their oddly mis-matched and weirdly fitting new workout clothes, climb onto those cardio machines beside me and start flailing their arms like they’re under attack from bees or Satan himself, I can’t help but have my attention captured. Repeatedly. And that’s when I noticed the inclines, the crumbling over the treadmill controls…. the hard-slammed heel strikes and straight legs upon impact.
It takes all I have in me as self-control to keep from leaning over and tapping them on the shoulder…. to stop myself from saying, “Do your knees hurt at night? After workouts? Do you feel good about this? PLEASE let me help you right now.”
I want to tell them that working out doesn’t have to be like this. I want to tell them to build up to that incline! To get their core in shape so that they actually get more than sore joints and bad feelings from this workout. I want to tell them that they have a good idea, but this isn’t where they are right now….they need to step back and accept that they have to get there slower than all this. I want them to know that they can do it, but they don’t have to beat themselves up ala Biggest Looser speed, because that’s not remotely healthy either.
I don’t, though.
I don’t say anything to them. I clamp my mouth shut, or kick up the pace on mine so I have to focus on breathing rather than staring at their legs and feet and cringing. The violent shifting of arms from front and top of treadmill to side bars keeps catching my attention, but I resolutely turn back away.
I want to help, that’s true. But I don’t want to be that person either. I don’t want to be the know-it-all. I don’t want to insult them…. me, this obviously fit person who clearly has been going to gyms a while. Me, small, not overweight, not new to gyms and definitely not them dealing with whatever they have going on. Talkative and unashamed me, who is not embarrassed about being seen there. How am I to know how my well-intentioned intervention will go over for them? I don’t. But I do feel a certain responsibility…. to let them know that they’re doing good, but they could get so much more from it without all the pain and heartache. They could be so successful, if they wanted to.
When you started working out – walking, running, using the gym… .did someone give you advice? Did you want someone to? I know when I started running I was constantly plagued with overuse injuries….and if someone had snagged me early on and told me how to do it correctly, I would’ve loved that. Instead, I didn’t get good advice and coaching until well into my running attempts and when I had practically broken myself doing three half marathons in one year…. because I was training stupidly. All of that changed with a friend saying he’d coach me through my first marathon. And then finding a group to run with.
I would’ve liked a tap on the arm, and a, “Hey. That probably hurts. Try it this way.”
Should…. Should I say something to these people? Because…well… there are many of them.
We’re about two weeks into the new year. 2017 moves fast for me, it seems, as training for the hometown race, The Flying Pig, started already and I’m still benched with a significant tendonitis in the IT band. I’m managing the short runs and the speed work, but as soon as I hit about 5 miles, the pain starts to kick in… I push through to about 6 miles, and the pain becomes too much for me.
I figure now’s a good time to review my runs from last year. All through the first week of 2017, my friends posted their cumulative mileage for the year – all posting impressive distance, to be honest. I have no idea how much distance I ran. I had one watch at the start of the year – it drown during the rain out of the Asheville Marathon in March – and so I had to order a new one. It didn’t come in until June. So there are two months where my runs were logged by mapmyrun on my phone. Then the new watch – which is so amazing. I stopped logging runs on my Daily Mile account because I was running so much and lost the motivation to keep logging on multiple places.
At best guess, combining all of these, I put in about 1500 miles in 2016.
I completed my goal of 12 marathons in 2016. It was a rough ride, that became less about training and more about injury management. Each month was a new, all encompassing, injury to treat. Everything from plantar tendonitis, to a swollen achillies; Weak glutes that caused debilitating lower back pain, to morten’s neuroma. I fell on a run and scarred up my leg, and I’ve rolled an ankle.
And of course, I battled through the typical tight muscles and mental fatigues. I pushed through so many things throughout this year that I came into December, finally benched with an injury I couldn’t run through (the IT band), wondering if I was even ever going to be able to “just run” carefree again.
The beginning of the year was so promising – as I was hitting my multiple 20 mile training runs between the 26.2s that I was completing. I was able to do my training and knock out a marathon distance one weekend, followed by an ultra the next. I was feeling strong. By October, I didn’t want to run any more. I stopped training between races and just focused on massaging out the injuries. I placed in my age group in a couple of these races, and I ran my slowest marathon times since I first started this whole running thing. I didn’t run any of the short distance races I love because I was so tired of running and knew I still needed to do yet another major distance soon.
It also weighed on me – the amount of running and races I was doing alone. The key to my successes over the years really came from having my running group friends with me – but as I had to find races for each month, and realized that I had both the opportunity and could afford to (assuming I balanced paid racing with unofficial runs around town) travel to knock some states off my big goal of running a marathon in each state… I started going where my friends were not always able to follow. I don’t enjoy running alone. Not all the time. Its hard for me, to be alone that much. Especially when the race becomes a struggle of wills in the last 10k. Running alone weighed on my mental game as much as the constant injuries and decreased training weighed on my physical game.
It didn’t help that for the first part of the year I was essentially isolated from people in my daily life, on top of all the running alone.
Lessons learned, for sure.
Well. There’s the overview of my year. Lets get to the real reason this post is about: The Highlights.
The big thing of the month was the Pistol Ultra 50k – which I ran to start the year out. But with hamstring and lower back issues slowing me down, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first time I ran it. Instead, I’d say that it was those Friday morning runs with my running group that I was loving. Hanging out with them and laughing and joking. Work changed up again, and I was put on a shift that removed my free Friday mornings (again) but The two runs I did have with them were wonderful. Unknown at the time, my schedule would allow me to run anywhere at anytime soon enough – it just also wouldn’t give me the motivation to bother.
I couldn’t find a race that I wanted much of anything to do with at the time. Nothing was going on close to home, I didn’t have a lot of free travel time, and I didn’t want to spend the money on a race that would likely be too cold for me to enjoy anyway. Then on the 1st, there was a nice warm day – perfect for running. I put a notice out that I would be doing 26.2 around my neighborhood and asked if anyone was interested in joining me. And so began my second marathon, with various wonderful running friends joining me for 5-8 miles at a time. I ran at the other person’s pace, stopped into my house between loops and ate pretzels and kept everything very low-key. I probably only did 8 miles total on my own, and ran the last four with my husband. It was a wonderful and fun, carefree run for me.
This month was probably the lowest point in my life, as things started falling apart for me career-wise and I had to bring in legal action against an employer. Motivation and self worth took a dive so low that now, almost a year later, I still have neither.
This one is a tough one to choose for. On the one hand, I ran a great race at the Asheville Marathon and got to have a wonderful weekend away with my husband. We stayed at the Biltmore Hotel on the estate grounds, wandered the town for a day, and the race was a blast – running with the group of ladies that I fell in with. It was rolling terrain, and the rains made the red mud on the farm portion that made up the second half of the race very difficult. Our feet slipped, the puddles were above ankle in some places, and we were covered in mud. We were still busting out laughing – even as the rain came down so hard at one point that we could barely see ahead of us! Amazing how in misery, having the right people around you can make the suffering fun. And. I think. Going in knowing and expecting to work for the outcome also makes it enjoyable.
A full 6 days later I was boarding a plane, last minute, to fly down to Longboat Key Florida to run the final day of my friend, Superman Steve’s, big accomplishment – the Jackie’s Run. It was his third year running across a state to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s Research, and I was excited and honored to get to join him on this one.
It was a long day in the Florida sun, but it was wonderful. We were joined by various runners from the area, some friends of Superman’s, some complete strangers that heard about the effort. We had a few stops for TV interviews, which was great, because that’s the point! To get the knowledge out there. I took in the views, even as my foot started hurting. Too much too soon, I guess – running the marathon one week and then knocking out over 25 miles the weekend after. But worth it.
The bonus was, that as my life became shit, I got to enjoy this view, even for a short while, before I returned to it:
This was the month my stupidity came to it’s apex. I didn’t pay attention to dates as I signed up for race after race – I mostly just tried to make sure that it was one per month – because that was the original goal. It didn’t work out well for me. Without meaning to, or realizing it, I chose the Kentucky Derby Marathon – based in Louisville for my April race. Of course, the hometown race, Flying Pig, for May. Flying Pig is always the first Sunday in May. Last year there was about a week between the two races. This year? 24 hours. They were the same weekend – Saturday and Sunday. I owned up to this on the Running Group’s page, and this instantly became a challenge for everyone. Others signed up to join me!
That’s the highlight. That my friends saw me doing something stupid, and didn’t say it was a bad idea or that I would regret it. They saw it for a fun challenge and jumped right in too! And, of course, it was a special treat to have my friend Jim with me the whole time. My stomach was off for some reason that race, and I had a lot to deal with because of that – beyond just the typical runner poops – but Jim stuck with me. We ran a conservative pace because we had the marathon the next day too, but it was still a good time over all. It poured rain on this race too, but that wasn’t a problem.
It was a great little road-trip and a great time with some hilarious friends. We laughed so hard a dinner the night before that I couldn’t imagine my life could hold so much joy and happiness.
Of course the highlight of May is the Flying Pig. Not only because of what an amazing event this race is (Seriously, if you’ve never run this one you Have Got To sign up!).
Things did not go as planned for this race.
I was exhausted and sore and more than a little bit grumpy going into the morning of the Pig, after the rough run at Louisville. I still didn’t feel well, and although my head kept saying “There’s a whole month, you don’t have to do this”, my husband practically kicked me out of bed, dressed me himself, and loaded me into the car – the whole time suffering my onslaught of angry muttering and cuss words.
We arrived at the race area too late to be able to reach any of the reasonable parking areas, so he dropped me off behind the bus area for the relay runners. I hiked toward the start line, trying to find my friends, and then giving up and entering the start corral I was assigned. I realized as I was dropped off that I had forgotten my hat (it was supposed to rain this day too), my water bottle, and my electrolyte tabs. This didn’t help my mood at all either. I decided as I started a slow jog after the gun sounded that I would run the loop through Kentucky and bail as soon as I was back in Cincinnati and near the start.
By the time I hit the bridge back to Cincinnati, however, at mile 3, the sun was rising and I was feeling good. Still a grump, but physically, I felt really, really strong! So I went with it. I took photos with anyone and everyone in costume along the route. I stopped at mile 13 to sit on a VIP couch and do two shots of beer. I got bacon at mile 15 and had a dance off with batman and robin at mile 17. By mile 20 I started to feel wiped out again, but I was still moving well. This time I knew that I was feeling off because I hadn’t had any electrolytes. I can’t stomach Gatorade – it makes me sick – but I was contemplating it pretty hard by now. I needed something. And then a salt station came up and I was snacking on pretzels and chips and back to feeling good.
Despite the strong start, I had a slower race time than the day before, but I wasn’t feeling sore and I wasn’t as tired as the day before. I was feeling really good!
It was on the walk to the car – parked about two miles away – that my Achilles started clicking, and then swelled.
This month I was having trouble finding a local full marathon to go to. I didn’t want to travel, but it was looking like that was the only way to do it. Travel and trails. I wanted neither. So my friend Minh pinned a race bib to his shirt and came out to run a 26.2 point-to-point with me on a nice and hot summer day. A week later, while trying to spite a friend into doing her first 50 mile race, I ended up getting myself and another friend talked into doing the 50k
Neither Minh nor Char were harmed during the making of these runs.
But this shows where I was half-way through my marathons challenge. Friends all over. By July, it would be harder for friends to join me. Injuries started striking a bit harder and harder.
The worst words for a runner to hear.
I had started a new job, closed out legal proceedings with the other one by an agreement rather than courts- and I should have been on top of the world. Instead I was crushed by it. The new job was all travel, and flight was still so new to me and so rare that I was actually pretty terrified during turbulence. The hunching and tension, combined with a lot of running and pulled muscles, and the weak glutes issue I never fixed from last year – my back was shot. Again.
“We don’t know why it flared up. Sometimes that happens after a major injury. You’re doing everything right to keep it from happening. We’ll work on it over the next few weeks, but, no running….. You’re still going to run aren’t you?”
“I have a marathon this weekend.”
My chiropractor gets a gold star for trying, though. It should have been a no-brainer. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t straighten up. And unlike when this problem first flared, running was not easing the pain anymore.
A week of hard stretching and focused work on certain muscles… and I was determined to go to the marathon. It was supposed to be a weekend trip for my husband and me, but things happened and he could no longer go. I couldn’t turn it into a girl’s weekend either, despite trying to convince a friend to go with me. So I went alone. That night in the hotel as I rolled certain spots in my leg and butt out with a tennis ball and stuck Icy-Hot patches on my lower back, I decided that if it was bad tomorrow, I would just volunteer to help at the race, not actually run.
It was a pleasant surprise then, that I felt good enough to run. A couple harsh shots of pain at the start, and then it didn’t bother me until I had to duck under a tree on the trail. yes. Trail. But even the trail wasn’t bad! It got super hot – I was downing most of my tall water bottle between each water station – about 3 miles at a time. And then, the biggest shock of all after my second-slowest marathon ever: I placed 1st in my age group!
The highlight running adventure of this month was clearly my morning run….in Iowa. I was staying in a “middle of nowhere” hotel, with no sidewalks or sights nearby. A run out the door was a run along corn fields. As the sun rose, and the temps rose, cars passing by would stop and honk. I thought they wanted to bitch at me for being on the road – you get that a lot as a runner – but no. They called encouragement from their cars.
“You’re looking really strong! Keep it up!”
“Good morning, runner!”
“Hope you’re having a good run! You look great!”
Typically that kind of random encouragement comes from being in a race. But to have it from multiple cars out in the middle of these corn fields? It was pretty amazing. I don’t remember if the run was hard or easy or how I felt on it. All I remember is how good my heart felt with this random encouragement out of no where.
Hands-down the highlight of the year was my trip to Seattle. It was the BIG race. The big trip. My husband went with me, and so did Minh (Who referred to himself as my race husband…. It’s accurate).
The trip itself was just so damn perfect. But the race – Beat the Blerch – that was amazing.
I admit that if Minh hadn’t been there, I would have been miserable. There weren’t a lot of people doing the actual full marathon, so without him, I would’ve spent a lot of time alone…. in the rain. Yes. Another rain-out marathon. No one should be shocked by this. I am the storm.
Minh was shooting for a PR, and I was honored to help pace him to it! Also. It was a blast to laugh at his runner-brain trying to do math. I did get a piece of cake at the end. I got to meet Matt Inman – the Oatmeal, and creator of The Blerch – and I got to run a good race time again without any injuries or problems.
The highlight of October was the Queen Bee Half Marathon. It was the first time I got to do a race with a coach’s bib. I tried to pace a couple of friends, but they were running a different goal than me, and I wanted to do one thing more than run the whole race: Bring people in to the finish.
My sister was walking her first half marathon – I talked her into this one over any of the others, and I really wanted to be there for her finish.
I ran quite a few people in for the final mile to mile and a half – picking up complete strangers who’s races had fallen apart due to cramps or injury or just general loss of energy. It was inspiring and wonderful to be able to help them at that moment – because I know what I would want from someone when I’m in that same position.
And I did get to see my sister finish.
This month, I ran a good race at Tulsa and got to see the center of the universe – I was running strong, but faltered toward the last 9 miles and had to fight through a lot to keep going – among it the loneliness. Seeing my husband at mile 24, near the center of the universe detour made all the difference in the world for me! It was the loneliness that was destroying me.
Despite the marathon, the highlight of this month was running people in for the end of their marathon at Indianapolis!
I got to help a friend make his goal of sub-4, I got to see the guy I coached with the running store shoot above and beyond his goal time for this return to marathoning, I got to help some struggling runners in, and I got to help and encourage a new co-worker on her first full marathon. I’m telling you, this coaching at the end of the races is where its at! I love this more than actually running the whole damn thing!
This…. This was a hard month. The end of the year brought the end of my marathons challenge – or should…. I was a hobbling mess at this point – having difficulty running due to the IT band injury that started at Tulsa.
I did manage, on the last day of the year to knock out a full marathon distance – on my own – with my husband hanging around to crew me with advil, water refills, and food. I could barely walk afterward, but it was done.
That was not the highlight. Ending the challenge was the highlight. I learned a lot from this challenge. Nothing good about myself, but a lot about running and injury management.
Despite the overhanging Failure of my life this year, I did manage to complete a challenge that I started. Through injuries. Through set backs. Through hope-sapping events in my life. Through days where I didn’t get out of bed until noon because there was no reason for me to do so. Through days where I did get out of bed, and spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself that no, I did not need to break bones in my body to give the mental anguish of my bullshit life something to physically be as well.
Even in completing this thing, this challenge, I still felt like a worthless failure.
I know that’s not the high-note that everyone wants to hear about. But that’s how it is. Thank God 2016 is over. It seemed like it was a harsh year for pretty much everyone I know. It was a helluvaone for me. I could do with wiping it, and the last 8 years off my life.
Where’s the do-over button?
Looking toward 2017.
I have no goals still.
Yeah, I said I would want to BQ in the races next year, but that’s already fucked up. I cannot start training like I need to for the Pig, because I’m still recovering from the injuries of 2016. I signed up for a “big ticket” race in October – it’ll be the vacation and goal race for me – but no one else is going to it, despite the murmurs that some people would be willing to go too. I’m hoping that by stepping back and having only two marathons for the year, I’ll be able to enjoy my running more. I’m hoping that I’ll have some ‘last minute’ signups for races where a lot of my friends will be so that I’ll have fun trips and fun pre-race evenings to bolster myself upon.
I’m hoping I’ll figure out my life and find a direction I want to go in again.
I have hope for 2017. And that’s more than I’ve had for the last year and a half.
Things weren’t looking too good for me. I was five miles into a 10 mile loop on a 32 mile race, and my thigh and knee were electric with pain.
Did I just misstep on a rock? No. That limp was my leg giving out under the pain.
I hobbled down a final steep decline, tears in my eyes and Minh by my side, refusing to let me suffer alone. The ache in the hip and along the IT band, I could push through. When the pain wrapped around the bottom of my knee and caused me to see stars across my vision – it was no longer worth it to me to keep going. And the fact that at 5 miles into the 50k I knew I was committing another DNF was destroying my self esteem.
It was the first weekend of December, the race was the Jackson 50/50 – which was actually really well run and seriously challenging, and this was supposed to be my 12th marathon distance of the year. I was supposed to knock this out and be able to relax for a couple of months before training for the 2017 races would start.
It was an epic failure.
I wasn’t recovered from the strain on my legs from the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, only two weeks earlier. Nor the 10k I raced four days after Tulsa. Nor the various other runs I did to try and get my legs ready for another distance effort. The IT band was irritated, and it was not going to settle down enough to run.
“You’ve got three more weeks. You’ll get it done.” Minh encouraged me. He even said he’d show up in a race bib to do the effort with me.
I wasn’t feeling as certain. For the last three months now, just standing in line at the airports or going up and down stairs would leave my legs shaking with exhaustion. It was cool, because it was a new sensation. It was unnerving because it was actually happening a lot.
Each day after the DNF took me closer and closer to being nearly finished with this personal challenge of 12 marathons in 2016, and yet, farther and farther from actually getting it done. I took days off. I did PT. I went to massages. Nothing I did seemed to keep the IT from becoming unbearable during a run. Specifically, at 5 or so miles. The pain would start, and there would be no stopping it.
As much as I hated the idea- this final marathon – if it was going to happen – would likely be completed by walking.
My friends were undeterred. And willing. Willing to come out and walk with me wherever I was doing this. Whenever I was ready.
I was not ready. It was December 29th, and I was still not ready to make a marathon attempt to end this challenge. I opted, then, to wait for the last day of the month – of the year – of my opportunity to see a goal through to the end.
I didn’t tell any of my friends when it would be. Or where.
But I didn’t want to put up with the encouragement and positivism they would spout while I was in pain and hating myself. Because my friends get really awkward to be around when they realize that I can’t stand myself and I start sharing my unfiltered opinions of myself. I get mean when I’m suffering. Usually I shut up, but there’s a line where I start to vocalize exactly what I think… of the run, of the day, of myself – and it is never pretty. I wasn’t willing to deal with my friends through that.
December 31st came. I figured I’d end up sleeping in, and then it would be too late to get the distance in, and that would be that.
Instead, I woke at 0730 – and by 0800 I started.
I walked a mile on the treadmill while coffee brewed, to get a feel for the pace of it. And I realized that if I just went like that, it would take 8 hours to do this. And that sounded miserable. So I thought I’d just force myself to run 10 miles at least. That way I’d cut 3 hours out of that time.
I ate breakfast – fussed around the house, yelling at my husband about how much I hated this, and that this sucked so much and wasn’t even for or worth a goddamn thing. And then, having finally located my headphones, stormed out for whatever mileage I could survive running.
It was chilly – made colder by the high-power gusts of wind we had. Storms were rolling in, but I’d be on the treadmill before I had to worry about rain. I chose a direction, put my head down, and started the run. I hoped for ten.
The number of miles I could get before the pain started. I managed five miles before the pain kicked in, and I forced a 6th and final mile before hobbling into the house, stripping out of the running pants and sweatshirt, and then starting the treadmill.
I watched kung fu movies to distract myself, but lets be honest. It was still hours of walking on a treadmill. In moments where the pain in my hip and IT band would ebb, I would think about forcing another couple of running miles… but then I’d remember the pain and realize that it would take just as long to “run” with the pain as it would to just try to keep walking a steady pace.
My husband brought his project (He’s a blacksmith and was doing the final polish on a skinning knife) down to sit and watch movies with me while I suffered. He brought me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and kept refilling my water bottle. He gave me Advil and put up with my cries of pain as some part of the IT flared angrily at the forced activity.
Did I mention all my treadmill time was essentially up hill? Not yet? Hell. Allow me to elaborate:
Our treadmill is one we got from a friend for free – and it is stuck at a 15% incline….which makes using it a real challenge. I was walking 18 miles uphill. Literally. And though I’m sure I could have kept up a steady 16 min/mile pace on a level treadmill, I was putting in a lot of effort with the incline, and was content with my 17:30 – 19 minute paces.
Every 3 miles I paused the mill and rolled my hip and IT and calf out to try and break up the pain. It was rough. If I had to give this run a theme- it would be foam rollers, gummy bears, and pain killers.
I grumbled loudly at one point – having broken through that “suffering quietly” stage: “I hate this. I hate marathons. I always hate running these. I only ever did this because I had running group friends there, and all I’ve learned this year is that this is a fucking waste of time! I’m not getting shit out of this, I can’t even run with my friends any more because of my job! I can’t coach running! I fucking quit. This is dumb as fuck. I quit running. This fucking shit. It’s not lowering my blood pressure any more, I’m gaining weight anyway, and I have it on pretty much everyone’s authority that I’m not even doing something everyone else can’t do – or do better than. All the reasons I even fucking started running don’t exist anymore!” Maybe grumble is the wrong word. Bitched and cried and pouted might be more correct.
Husband: “You need a pop tart and a salt tablet.” My husband muttered, unfazed from the couch in front of me. He didn’t even pause in his work to look at me. I’m sure that’s how he was able to exist with my pain-filled moping in the same room. Denial. As long as he didn’t see my face he wouldn’t have to live with encouraging this useless abuse.
Me: “Your face needs a pop tart and a salt tablet.”
Me: “Yeah. Give me a fucking pop tart.”
Of course he was right. A little food and I was feeling better mentally, but still in serious pain.
Hours continued to pass – during which, I learned that even walking a marathon requires taking salt tabs regularly (My fingers swelled up so much I had to remove my engagement ring because it was painful to keep on – and that was a trick to get off!). I also now have a serious and unwavering respect for those folks who set out to do marathon distances, but are only able to walk them. If running marathons took me this long from the start, I would have never continued. More power to you brave people who go out and compete like this all the time!
As the day ticked over to 4PM, I had a mile left to go. I was most of the way through my third movie. Outside, the rain had started with a drizzle, but I needed a change. I leashed the dog, and my husband agreed to go with us as we walked the final mile of my final marathon of this whole stupid endeavor.
It was chilly. It was wet. And it was windy.
And then it was over.
It seems fitting that this thing had no finish line.
It had no crowds.
There was no celebration, no free beer, and I didn’t even get to go for a victory post-marathon burger.
Just my dog howling at passing sirens.
Just my husband, who was there for the 18 vertical miles, and final neighborhood mile.
Nothing about this feels like a “win” or the successful completion of a marathon or marathon challenge. I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything. And today, the first day of 2017, all I have to show for my battle with injuries and keeping up marathon distances for a year are the real aches and pains that remain from pushing through an injury that just needed some more rest to heal.
I’d like to say that I learned so much and I’m so much stronger after all of this… but I’m not. I wasn’t even the one to compare myself to others in all of this in the first place – the others stepped up to show me how pointless and small-minded my challenge was. Like if I really wanted to show how good I was at something, then all of these marathons would’ve been under 4 hours or they would’ve all happened in the same month or some other bullshit. And it’s clear that this can’t mean anything to me because its not even remotely challenge enough for anyone who does run to be impressed by it. I chose this challenge because I wanted a sure-win. Because when I set this goal in August 2015, I needed to be able to complete something. So yeah, its probably not a challenge for someone else who’s doing 100 mile races, has been to Boston, or routinely does marathons back-to-back.
I set the goal of one marathon a month, (which became 12 in 2016 when I needed a full month off running to recover), because I was failing so brilliantly at everything else in my life…I did fail at everything. And I thought if only I could do something to prove that I can achieve a goal – any goal – that was set for me. So I set a goal that was challenging, but wouldn’t break me in half…. and it broke me… It was still too hard a goal for me!
It broke me to run this much. Because it wasn’t just one 26.2 run each month. There were no reliable 4 weeks of recovery and re-prep between each one. There was no simply using one marathon as the long-run to train for the next. The next was always too soon.
It was a marathon on Sunday, followed by 25 miles at the Jackie’s Run the following Friday…. It was two marathons in the same weekend. It was running 26.2 in the heat on a challenging route with a friend on a Thursday, and then doing a 50k the following Saturday. It was 26.2 miles followed a week later by 20 miles to train for the 26.2 miles the following week. It was a trail marathon in the middle of summer with a back injury that prevented much movement. It was constantly trying to shoot for something in the range of 4-4.5 hours, because longer than that was boring, annoying, and made me feel like a failure. It was 20 miles at race pace while coaching, followed that same day with 6 miles of run/walking at the pace of a friend doing a triple ironman – to get my 26.2 for the month. It was getting too injured between each race after July to be able to train for the next one, leading to being injured and needing the time off before the next one. It was trying to run the “challenging” parts of the relay at an even 8 min pace, while feeling too wiped out to keep 9:30s on a normal day, and rolling ankles and feeling generally over trained – just in time to run the next marathon. It was a study in injury recovery and stubbornly running through injuries that would seem impossible to run through right up until the morning of the race – and then a different injury would start. It was mastering the PT to get over one injury, just to have to learn how to heal the next one.
I may have been smart enough to DNF on the last 50k of the year – but it wasn’t because I needed to quit so much as I was ready to quit. There was very little enjoyment in most of this year’s running for me.
Sure, I liked running in new places and doing new races, but I was sick of running alone. And I was alone. The weight of not having at least one person with me on most of these runs sucked the energy from me to a level where I didn’t want to try and make friends for the rest of the races this year. My September race was probably one of the best of this year, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, gone as fast during it, or wanted to be there if it weren’t for Minh being there with me. The random 50k I picked up in June was probably most perfect, mostly because Char was with me for most of it, there were friends at the end, and there was no rushed or embarrassed feeling about how I did.
Would I do this many races again? No. Not at all.
Would I sign up for races in the same weekend or week apart again? Hell, that will happen whether I want to or not. I don’t pay attention to race dates! I only care about how many of my friends are going! If I got messaged with “hey, do this race, we have a cabin and all of us are going, it’ll be fun! Road trip!” I’d sign up without ever seeing what the race was about. That’s how I signed up for the 50k I DNF’ed this month… I knew it would be a painfully bad idea when I did it – but I hoped that being with the group would help. It did help, but my body was just too done. Is. Is just too done with it.
“Your body is trying to murder you for all the running you’ve done this year.”
That’s a message I just received from my best friend, encouraging me to just stop for a week.
I figure this is the part of the post where I talk about my 2017 goals.
Honestly. I don’t have any, anymore.
It was supposed to be have fun running and explore and try to get the speed up again so I can get to Boston…. but… I honestly don’t care about all that anymore. I’ll likely never see Boston as a qualified runner. I’m kinda done with the pain from putting a real effort out…. Putting real effort out and not getting anywhere. I’m done with that.
I’ve run 12 marathons this year. What have I gotten from it?
Definitely not my love of running back. That was missing when I came up with this goal. It’s missing today. It wasn’t there yesterday as I speed-walked 18 miles on a treadmill. It wasn’t there as I forced a hobble through mile 6 of running yesterday so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the treadmill. It wasn’t there in Tulsa. It wasn’t there during the first five miles of the DNF’ed 50k.
I had it, oddly, as I ran the July trail marathon. My back was shot – I couldn’t bend over to go under the fallen trees on the trail, and my plans for a lovely weekend away with my husband were ruined by other factors. I was alone, staying there alone, and knew no one in that race. My bluetooth headphones were shot before I even started, so I had no music or audio book to distract with. I ran by myself for much of it, in silence and under a complete disconnect from where I was in relation to others. Even though I told myself that I hallucinated most of what I saw on my first loop (I didn’t, but I was out of it enough that I didn’t know where things were), I never felt the need to break into bad and loud singing. I pulled off an age group win, a second-slowest marathon time, and my back felt better by the end.
Everything else was not at that level at all.
But that’s what I want out of my running. To feel good about what I’ve done with myself at the end. To enjoy it. And I just don’t know how to get that back again. I do know that running more mileage is not going to do it though. I guess that’s obvious, but, at least I’ve tested the theory for you all.
Happy New Year. And may you all have happiness in your goals next year.