What Running Has Taught Me So Far

Take two…it’s a wordy one. Apparently, I had a lot to say.

That’s the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.

– Kara Goucher

As I’ve mentioned before, I never intended for running to take over this blog. I think once this half-marathon is over, a balance will be restored here. I’ve been accused by some in my real life recently of bragging, being slightly obsessed, and thinking I was better than others for taking on the half-marathon challenge. My intent was never to brag. I’m cognizant enough (at least I hope I am) to realize that in the grand scheme of life, nobody really gives a shit that I ran a 13.1 mile race in my lifetime. I’m not the first to achieve that goal, and I certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe I did intend to pat myself on the back a little. I’m pretty darn proud of myself. A little over a year ago, I was depressed, unhealthy, and I could barely run 1 mile, let alone 13.1. I started running by accident and it literally changed my life for the better. And like a new convert to a religion, I may have been a little over-exuberant in sharing my experience with others; but my intent was to keep a personal record of my journey, as well as to inspire and meet others with similar interests. It was never to obsess, brag, or condescend. I don’t know any other people who run regularly, so this is my place to explore, record, and meet others who may have advice, support, and experience to offer.

My first half-marathon training has been an interesting experience for me. I expected to push myself physically and mentally, but I didn’t expect the extent to which I would be tested. I chose this challenge when I did because it seemed like the right time. I was in good health, there was no unusual life stress to contend with, and I had the time and resources to train. However, when I was barely half-way into this journey, life happened, as it often does, and everything sort of fell apart on a personal level.  My husband lost his job (he thankfully got a new job, but with a drastic pay-cut which was a huge readjustment for us), my kids were dealing with bullying at school, I got a job and then had to leave it, I had some foot and asthma-related issues, and I had to deal with an unexpected family issue. My husband, a combat veteran suffering from PTSD, ended up in the hospital. He’s doing much better, but it’s been a struggle to get things back on track.

I could have quit, but I didn’t. I don’t think I could have made it through all this if I didn’t have the half-marathon to look forward to on the horizon. It gave me something concrete to focus on, it helped me distract myself from the stress I’ve been experiencing, my husband claims it’s inspiring to watch me progress, and it taught me lessons that I was able to apply to the non-running parts of my life.

Running also helped me maintain positive relationships with my kids throughout all this stress. My oldest has always liked to run. He is on the cross-country team and we ran our first 5K together last summer. Recently, both kids started joining me on some of my runs. It has become an activity that allows us to spend time together while blowing off some steam. As a result, we’ve had some of the best (and goofiest) conversations, which is important to maintaining household sanity.

Because of everything that happened during this short, 6 month time-frame, I’ve learned a lot about myself and some of the people I’ve surrounded myself with over the years. I’ve spent many miles reflecting on things recently: what is important to me, what I can change, and how I can change them. I thought I’d share them, not only to have my own personal record, but maybe someone else can relate.

  1. I am much stronger than I thought I was.
  2. There are things I can control, and things beyond my control. It only makes sense to focus on the things I can control. Worrying about the things beyond my control is a huge waste of time and energy. About the only thing I can control is my attitude, actions, and reactions, everything else is pretty much beyond my control.
  3. There is a difference in being busy and having purpose. I often thought I was too busy in the past to do anything for myself. Technically I was, but the busyness lacked purpose and I lacked discipline. Running is not my purpose in life, but it gave me the discipline I had been lacking. Now I try to live with purpose instead of just being busy. And I make sure I find the time for the things and people in my life that are important to me.
  4. I learned that I have a lot of “fair-weather friends”. They only come around when life is good – my life that is, because theirs is usually in disarray. When things got hard on my end, they were nowhere to be found. I’ve done some reevaluating on this front. I am trying to build better relationships with some, while also learning when to let go of the dead weight.
  5. It is important to be mindful of the people you surround yourself with. Energy vampires need to go. There is no need to feel guilty walking away from them. Misery may love company, but I have no intention in providing it with any.
  6. Every experience is what you make it. Almost every negative experience can be turned around just by doing something different.
  7. You have to be flexible and deal with things as they arise. Bad stuff happens. You can either keep moving forward or get stuck in the muck. Most times, things are not as desperate as they initially appear.
  8. Nobody can do the important work for you, you have to do it yourself. If you want things to happen, you have to figure out a way to make them happen. Wishing for, praying for, or “positively visualizing” something to happen without the accompanying hard work accomplishes nothing other than maybe setting yourself up for failure.
  9. It is important, not selfish, to take care of yourself. As a mom, I’ve always had people remind me, “You can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself.” It’s true for everyone, not just moms. I feel much more equipped to handle things now that I’ve made the decision to always care for myself in addition to everyone else that needs care, rather than caring for everyone else instead of myself.
  10. Food = fuel. This one small adjustment in my thinking changed how I eat. I have a much healthier relationship with food now. I no longer approach food as a form of comfort or a reward. I don’t diet or “eat clean”, I’ve just been taking note of how foods impact my running performance. I don’t feel deprived either. I feel so much better both physically and mentally. If we don’t provide our minds and our bodies with the right fuel, how can we expect them to perform at an optimum level?
  11. Finally, and maybe the silliest lesson, but important just the same: keep moving forward until someone hands you a banana. I read this on a runner’s forum and I’ve been repeating this over and over in my head when both my long runs and long days get hard. I don’t know why, but the phrase makes me giggle. Humor is always a good motivator for me. This will probably be my mantra on June 1 when things start to get hard, which I’m sure they will at some point during the race.

I truly appreciate everyone that has supported me during this time. It’s been an enlightening, humbling, and mostly positive experience. Hopefully, I will be able to carry these lessons with me throughout the rest of my days. I’m sure I’ll add to the list as I learn new things. I’m ready to move forward until I get that banana, and maybe a tall glass of chocolate milk to go with it.

What has running taught you so far?

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Spinach Cherry Smoothie and Milestones

I passed a running milestone this week – my first double digit run. I have been nervously anticipating Friday’s run for the last two weeks. I know I’m supposed to only focus on the current day’s workout, but Friday’s 10 miler was looming. Even though I’ve been gradually working up to this distance for the last 4 months, 10 miles just seemed like such a long distance.  It was mostly a mental challenge, and I happy to say I passed. It didn’t even seem that hard, probably because I had turned it into such a mountainous feat in my mind. I need to learn to  just trust in my training and I’ll be fine.

I was a little nervous about running that distance on my ankle, since it’s been bothering me, but it seems fine. The tape and exercises seem to be helping.

There were 3 beers left in a 6-pack of Guinness my husband brought home last week. I really wanted one of those, but I decided I should have something healthier instead, so I made a smoothie. (I did have a Guinness later in the day. I ran 10 miles after all, so I figured I could have one.)

Ever since I stared this half-marathon adventure, I have been trying to eat better. I ate pretty good before, but I realized I could do better, especially in the vegetable department. I have no problem eating plenty of fruit, but I’m not too keen on veggies – especially the green, leafy kind. I’ve found that by sneaking them into my smoothies they are much more palatable. At first I thought that greens in a smoothie sounded weird, but actually it works out pretty well. I can’t even taste the greens. Here is the smoothie recipe I’ve been relying on lately.

smoothie

Spinach Cherry Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain kefir (If I don’t have any kefir on hand, I use 1/2 cup of plain, Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup of almond milk instead)
  • about 1/2 a cup of frozen cherries
  • big handful of spinach
  • about a 1/4 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 2 TBSP of flax seeds
  • a small handful of raw almonds
  • scoop of protein powder (optional)
  • honey or agave to sweeten (optional)

Directions

  1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend it together.

Tips and other suggestions

  1. Because of the almonds, this will have a crunchier texture than a normal smoothie and you’ll have to blend it a little longer than usual.
  2. Sometimes I put a small banana into the mix.
  3. You can also use baby kale in place of the spinach.
  4. If it’s too thick for your liking, you can add a splash of almond milk or orange juice to the mix.

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Half-marathon Training Week 10

  • Sunday: Yoga
  • Monday: 3 miles, last 2 race pace + strength
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 6 miles with hills + yoga
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 10 easy miles
  • Saturday: 2 easy miles

Stream of Conciousness Rambling

Zombies

I never intended for this to turn into a running blog, but as the growing pile of UFOs (unfinished objects) and mate-less socks and legwarmers on my craft desk illustrate, I haven’t had much time to knit lately.

OK confession. . .maybe it’s not so much that I haven’t had the time. . .see my daughter introduced me to her favorite DS game, Plants vs. Zombies, a little bit ago. At first I thought it was the dumbest game ever. Then one day I had a few minutes before the kids got off the bus from school. It was one of those times where there wasn’t enough time to really start anything, but I was too wound up to just sit quietly. My daughter’s DS was sitting on the table next to my favorite chair. I picked it up and decided to try Plants vs. Zombies again. I developed a sort of addiction. Here recently, time I normally would have spent knitting has been occupied with me choosing the proper plants to defend my home from a zombie attack. I’m not proud, but it happens. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

I’ve defeated the zombies and can now move onto knitting mates for the socks I started months ago. I’ve self- committed to complete at least one UFO by the end of this month.

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Candy Fish

The other night the kids wanted some ice cream after dinner. I didn’t have any in the freezer, so they asked if I had any “running candy”.

“Running candy?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Your fish, Mom.”

“Oh, those.”

I keep a stash of Swedish Fish in my office. I like to take along a pocket full of fish when I go out for a longer run. The sugar seems to give me an extra boost at the end, and they’re just a nice pick-me-up when I’m starting to tire. Apparently the kids noticed. I haven’t had many long runs here recently, but I’ve kept a stash to reward myself after all the carpy weather runs (bad pun intended) I’ve endured over the winter months. I may have a small Swedish Fish addiction as well.

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Training Update

I think I ran through all 4 seasons these past 2 weeks. I ran in a tank top and shorts one day, a rain jacket the next, and then all bundled up again like it was the middle of winter. I hate April weather. It can never decide what it wants to be.

Last Thursday, I ran a 6.5 mile loop in pouring rain and really strong wind gusts. It was one of those days when I was wondering why I was out running instead of in my warm, dry home. The gusts were so strong they literally stopped me dead in my tracks twice. The second time I shouted expletives at the wind before continuing on. Some poor man was getting into his truck when that happened and looked up surprised. I hope he realized that I wasn’t talking to him.

My ankle has been complaining a bit. Last summer I twisted it when I stepped in a hole while playing frisbee with my dog in the park. I don’t think I let it rest enough after the initial injury, so now it’s complaining. So far I haven’t had to stop running on it. My Dr. gave me some stretchy bands and a list of exercises to do. And I’ve been taping it with some KT tape when I run. The tape and home therapy seem to be helping. The pain is lessening, so hopefully I won’t have to take any significant time off.

Half Marathon Training Week 8

  • Sunday: 7.75 mile bike ride (my ankle was complaining today, so I thought I’d give it a rest and try out my new-to-me bike that my mom gave me.)
  • Monday: 4 easy miles
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 2 easy miles
  • Thursday: 6.5 miles
  • Friday: Core Yoga
  • Saturday: Rest

Half Marathon Training Week 9

  • Sunday: 3 miles + 6 striders
  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 8 mile trail run
  • Wednesday: 3 easy miles
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Core Yoga
  • Saturday: 3.5 miles + core and strength

Race Report: YMCA 5K

Yesterday I ran my first race of the season. And it just happened to fall on the day after my “runiversary”. It was on March 22, 2012, when I logged my first “official” run on Runkeeper in training for my first 5K that I ran with my son. I remember that run. I remember it being incredibly hard. I remember collapsing on my dining room floor afterwards while my cats and dog stared at me slightly confused. I especially remember it being a warm, sunny day.

Yesterday was cold and bitter. At least it was sunny though. I have to say, the beginning of this training season has been a bit of a mental challenge for me. All the running I’ve been doing in this unseasonably, bitter cold weather has been discouraging. I’ve been slow, sore, and just plain tired the last couple of weeks. I felt like my running has been stagnant and I haven’t been making much progress. As a result, I entered into this race with a bit of a bad attitude. Thankfully, the night before the 5K I read this article about the impact cold weather has on running. It planted enough of a seed in my head that I managed to buckle down and PR yesterday. My final time was 33:25. I placed 91st out of 220 and 4th in my age group – only seconds off the 3rd place finisher, which was frustrating. I’m very competitive and hate losing by such a small margin. I feel like I should have pushed a little harder, but I gave as much as I could in the cold yesterday. My leg muscles and lungs were on fire at the end. And I know that is not a very fast time for a 5K, but it was my fastest time yet.

The course was pretty, but I wasn’t fully prepared for it. The first half was all uphill and shaded. I’ve been trying to work some hills into my training runs, but I haven’t run a course with such a long, steady incline. During the back half of the course, we ran along a scenic lake, but the wind coming off the lake was bitter cold. It was tough, but the adrenaline, and my competitive nature, helped push me through. The biggest mistake I made was leaving my gloves in my jacket pocket, which I left with my husband at the starting line. I don’t know what I was thinking. My hands were so sore and chaffed by the time I got to the finish line.

And my husband is great at some things, but he’s horrible at photography. I’ve tried teaching him, but he just doesn’t get it. So this is the best photo I have of the day.

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All in all, yesterday’s 5K was the kick in the pants I needed. I finally saw some progress and results for all my hard work. And I’m imagining how much faster I’ll be when it’s finally warm outside.

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Half Marathon Training Week 5

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: 4 easy miles + core workout
  • Tuesday: Yoga
  • Wednesday: 3 cold and very windy miles + core workout
  • Thursday: 2.5 easy miles
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: 3.1 miles at race pace

Wind, Mud, Hills, and Amazing Grace

There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.

– Carl Sandburg

The above quote came to mind this morning because it applies to the past week in both a figurative and somewhat literal sense. Literally speaking, I actually got to watch 2 bald eagles soaring on a trail run and found myself covered in mud on 2 separate runs. Figuratively speaking, I’ve felt ready to spread my wings and soar, but I also really enjoy wallowing sometimes – not in negativity or self-pity, but rather in laziness.

I started the running week off with a wet and muddy run on Monday.  The grayness made me want to wallow. And the run started to go south quickly when some mo-moes in an over-sized pick-up truck purposely drove through a puddle as they passed me. This brought them uncomfortably close to me and covered me in mud. I really don’t understand their behavior, since they could have seriously injured me, but I’m not on this planet to figure out stupid people. I’m just thankful I only got muddy. Ironically, I chose to run on the road vs. the trail on Monday because I didn’t want to get muddy….

I don’t know what it is about Wednesday’s here lately, but Wednesday is when the snow seems to arrive. This Wednesday the snow came with 25 mph wind gusts. Running in wind is challenging on both a physical and mental plane.  It took a lot my energy just to punch down the negative self-talk during the first half of the run that kept telling me to go home and knit. It was tough, but it was a good tough. I liked the challenge in the end and I felt very invigorated when I got home.

Swan at Potato Creek

If you look closely, you can see the swan on the lake. It’s the best I could do with my phone.

On Friday, still in wallowing mode, I decided to lace up my trail shoes this time and set out on my favorite trail. I was still wallowing early in the run when I was startled back to reality by a large splash as I ran past the lake. I stopped to see what made the splash and saw a bald eagle flying into a nearby tree. It must have been feasting on a fish when it heard me coming. It dropped it’s fish in the lake and flew out to a “safer” tree. They are magnificent birds – and big. I’ve never seen one so close in the wild. It’s times like these when the photographer in me wishes there was a way I could carry my DSLR camera and all my lenses with me on my runs.

At first I was upset by the distraction and halt in my running. But after I stopped for a few minutes to take in the scenery and admire the eagle until it flew away, I noticed all the birds on the lake – swans, geese, a few ducks – and the noise was a beautiful cacophony of bird calls. I finally got out of my head and gave myself permission to make this a fun run, which turned into a fun muddy hill run; and much more of a workout than I imagined when I first set out. I also got to see a second eagle soaring over a swamp. And this time I came home covered in mud because I wanted to be muddy.

This week I learned the importance of variation and quieting my chattering mind. I still need to work on the quieting part. I’m making progress though. My mind is still chattering, but with positive, good thoughts now. The wind and the hills worked muscles that have been forgotten about on my recent, fairly flat road runs, which in turn made yesterday’s 2-mile shake-out on a fairly flat road much more enjoyable. The recovery seems better this week too. I think the new challenges woke up my tired leg muscles. I guess they need variety too. It’s easy to stay with familiar routines. It’s comfortable and not threatening or challenging. But because they aren’t threatening or challenging, it’s easy to get stuck and not move forward. And that applies both to training and real life.

I did decide to give into the my wallowing instinct just a little this week by giving myself an extra rest day instead of cross-training. I think it was good call. Wallowing isn’t necessarily bad if the intention is valid and good. And while self-discipline and sticking to the training schedule is important, so is listening to our bodies. It’s easy to get caught up in schedules and what the calendar says we need to do, when what we really need to do is slow down, take in the scenery, and not miss out on the life that is happening all around us.

And since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll leave you with the Dropkick Murphy’s singing Amazing Grace. I love this song. It’s one of my favorite running songs right now.  Since today is not only a rest day, but also a cheat day, the Irish part of me will be celebrating with some Irish whiskey, because we all know “what butter and whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Half Marathon Training Week 4

  • Sunday: rest
  • Monday: 3 easy miles
  • Tuesday: strength and yoga
  • Wednesday: 4 windy miles and core workout
  • Thursday: rest
  • Friday: 4 miles with hills and core workout
  • Saturday: 2 easy miles