Tag Archives: yoda of running

Changes, My PSA, and an Epiphany

I had a bit of an “a-ha!” moment recently, and while it may seem trivial and a little like, “No shit, Sherlock” to most people…it’s kind of done a 180 on how I approach both my training and my running.

It all started when I first heard my new favorite quote/life mantra:

“Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

(First heard from this girl, originally coined by this guy.)

Simplistic and to-the-point. But when you think about this idea a little more closely, it starts to highlight some of the things in our lives we’d rather hide away from.

It got me to thinking about the things I always wish would change. Obviously, I eventually landed on one of my favorite parts of life: running.

“What do I wish would change about running?”

Well, a lot. I’m constantly thinking about the things I want out of running. I want to BQ, I want to be faster, I want to stop getting injured, etc. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: What have I changed to make these things happen?

The answer? Not much.

Let’s take the “stop getting injured” thing for instance. The last four injuries I’ve had were all due to overuse. They were injuries caused simply by wear and tear over time, and all of them were—in that regard—completely preventable. So why, then, did I keep getting hurt after my first 4-month of no running due to an overuse injury?

Well, because I was stuck in the habit of working my body too hard.

When I get hurt,  I convince myself that I’ve learned my lesson…I’ll never overtrain again, I’ll stop working out so much, and I’ll start taking more rest days.

4 injuries later, and that lesson hadn’t sunk in. And it’s because I, by habit, overtrain. I wasn’t changing any of my habits, so why should my body stop responding in a deconstructive way?

Let’s take a look at my most recent injuries (knee bursitis, IT band syndrome, and ankle tendonitis—yep, all this year). What was similar about all three instances?

1) I was marathon training

2) I was over 50 miles per week

3) I was running 5+ days a week

The body is an incredible thing, and it can teach us a lot. Clearly, my body had been trying to teach me something about how it handles the above factors…and it only took me 3 different overuse injuries to figure it out. It seems so simple, so logical, however for me—and I’m sure for many runners—hindsight is always much more crystal clear than foresight.

Because running is a habit. We develop habits, and we stick to them—because they’re familiar. They’re comforting. Because we know we can do them and they satisfy us.

Running and exercising excessively became habits of mine…and unlike picking split ends or biting nails, the addictive nature of endorphins make these habits a lot harder to let go of. And why let go? These things are good for us, they make us happy. What’s the harm in continuing the habit of excess exercise?

Well, a lot actually. And it’s not just the tangible problems (injuries), either.

Now that I’ve kind of figured myself out, and I’ve recognized that injuries aren’t going to change if I don’t change, I’m realizing all the other problems that resulted from always wanting high mileage and high intensity workouts. Burnout, anxiety, chronically tired, isolated, etc.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

As someone who is constantly striving for the betterment of my own life and the lives of those around me, I’m all about constructive changes.

Constructive changes in the form of listening to my body instead of pushing it, taking rest days at least once a week, and realizing that there’s a lot of goodness out there that doesn’t come in the form of sweating for hours on end.

(And seriously…rest days have become the best days. Ever. How did it take so long?)

It’s a work in progress, and obviously I still and will always love me a good hard workout, but I’m feeling much better than I have in a long time thanks to this recent influx of “moderation.”

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that I had two significant PRs recently in conjunction with the extra rest and breathing room I’ve allowed myself. My body seems to be responding appreciatively to the changes I’ve made…and as a result, I’m reaching new levels that I didn’t really think were possible before.

Because I truly believe when you become proactive  in making real change happen, the things you always hoped would happen seem to follow closely behind.

I love running so much that I want to do it as much ans as long as possible. I would so much rather choose to not run an extra mile or an extra day for the sake of safety rather than let my body choose for me in the form of a disabling injury.

My body’s been choosing my breaking point for me for too long, and I’m deciding to regain control over the situation.

Nothing changes if nothing changes. 

And on that note, here is my PSA for the day:

Runners, take rest days. As someone who went weeks, sometimes even a whole month, without resting once, I really do know what I’m talking about here. I get it—you crave a workout, you love your workouts, you don’t feel right without them.

But guess what? You’re a human and an athlete—and your muscles and bones eventually will not tolerate incessant beating. Exercise necessitates rest…and you are undoing all the work you’ve put in by not letting your body recover. No progress can be made with continual wear and tear, so ask yourself why you’re really avoiding rest if your intent is to be fitter and stronger.

I was that type of runner and exerciser for so long, and while I’m still working out all the kinks, I’m recognizing just how much more harm I was doing than good.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of your bodies. I know so many runners in real life and through blogging who are constantly complaining of fatigue and lack of improvement, and I cannot emphasize enough how much rest and letting yourself of the “I must always exercise” hook will better your running and your life.

And to sum up this somewhat nonsensical ramble of a post, here’s another quote to chew on, which does a much better job of getting to the point than I do.

“Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running.”
– Julie Isphording

Seattle Half-Marathon Race Recap

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about running, it’s that you can never be too certain how it’s going to go. You can feel unstoppable and strong one day, and the next day you can feel like you’re moving through mud on the exact same run.

In other words, running—for the most part— isn’t necessarily predictable…which is why I’ve learned to not put all my eggs in one basket. I actually like this about running, because it takes a bit of the pressure off…and while sometimes this uncertainty leads to disappointment, it also can also lead to some pleasant surprises.

And Sunday was definitely a surprise.

SPOILER! I finished.

I truly did not know what to expect going into this race, other than it would be cold and there would be lots of hills on the course. I didn’t taper, I wasn’t exceptionally hydrated, and my eye wasn’t necessarily “on the prize.” I definitely have a big fancy dream time for a half-marathon, but I knew that this wouldn’t be the race for it. So, I went into it a little blindly…happy to shake off some of the turkey hangover and simply enjoy a run through my city.

As expected, Sunday morning was freezing…but I was actually excited about this. I know I run better in the cold, and with no rain the only thing that I needed to worry about was keeping my blood moving at the start line.

Bundled up and ready to run!

BF dropped me off with no trouble, and after wandering a little bit to see if I could spot anyone I knew…I decided it was futile and plopped myself in what seemed an appropriate group—near the 1:45 pacer. I thought I might be too close to the start line, but when the gun went off I realized that I probably should have put myself a bit further up. The first quarter mile was one big stop-and-go as people shuffled along, and although it was a bit frustrating, I weaved my way out of the masses and kicked it up.

I loved the first few miles through downtown. These were streets I see everyday, and it was great to see them in a new context—as a race course. There was also a monster downhill right off the bat too, which I used to put some time in the bank.

Let’s play a game called…find the downhill mile.

I questioned my speed very early on. Since I didn’t have a defined goal or plan for this race, I kind of decided that negative splitting wasn’t a necessity, and I would just do what I could. The times on my watch were definitely surprising me, but what surprised me more was just how good I felt.

Once we entered the tunnel, I lost satellite reception as expected, which threw off the distance calculations on my Garmin. And now is when we play a new game called “Find the tunnel faulty paces!”

I still felt great, and I loved the course. We had travelled from downtown over to the west side of Lake Washington, and it was lovely. There was a lot of fog, but the conditions were ideal for running and I generally just felt happy.

I crossed the halfway marker at a little over 50 minutes, and it was at this point where I started to get sparkly thoughts about potential finish times. However, I kept myself reeled in, because I knew there was still a fair amount of climbing to do and—as we all know—a fast start can mean scary things for the finish.

The hills picked up a bit, but other than one soul-crushing climb around mile 8, there was nothing too unmanageable. I started to realize during this race that I’m becoming much more confident and comfortable on hills. I’ve developed a climbing strategy/pace that makes hills a lot less daunting, and I’ve actually found myself kind of…gulp…liking them.

My speeds from miles 8-10 were a bit slower. I think it was in part due to the climbing, and it was also at this point that the fatigue of not tapering started to creep in. I could definitely feel the nearly-30 miles I’d already run that week, and I cursed myself a bit for not executing a more conservative race. However, this part of the race was also a beautiful, winding path through the park…so I think I may have been a bit distracted by the scenery.

But we only had a 5k to go, and I knew there would be a bit of a downhill finish. Time to kick into gear. My legs were barking a bit…not because of the distance, but because of the hills/speed. My goal was to grind it out the best I could without leaving much out on the course…because at this point, there wasn’t much to lose. Also, I realized that half marathons are about 1000x better than full marathons in this regard.

Around mile 11.5, I thought it could be possible to finish with a 1:40:xx on the clock…and all of a sudden, the girl without a set time goal became fixated on that number. There was something so even, clean, and benchmark-worthy about that time…and I wanted it to be mine.

So I ran. My legs were heavy and my stomach was getting a little angry, but my pace somehow didn’t falter  I had already decided that I’d condemned myself to a positive-split no matter what, so all I was trying to do at this point was get to the stadium (where the finish line was).

I saw Erika (for the SECOND time during the race!) around mile 13, and she definitely gave me a boost. I straightened up my form, smiled, and booked it.

Photo courtesy of Erika, filter courtesy of Instagram. Thanks Erika 🙂

All at once, we were coming into the stadium, and I can’t tell you how good running on astro-turf felt after pounding pavement for 13 miles. I saw BF right before I crossed the finish line, and despite feeling a little nauseated…I was pumped. My watch showed a 1:40:50 finish, a time that going into the race—I didn’t think was possible.

Distance is off from the tunnel fiasco.

We visited the post-race recovery area for a bit, and despite my best efforts to spot some friends, there were just too many people. We were able to check results right away which was quite convenient, and I confirmed that my finish time was in fact just what I was hoping.

Here are the official stats:

7:42/mile average. And wouldn’t you know it…somehow I did pull off a negative split. 5 seconds still counts…

I’m still a little disillusioned from this race, though quite pleased with it too. I have a big, undisclosed-until-now dream of running a sub 1:40 half marathon, and frankly…I didn’t think this would be possible until maybe next year. I went into this race not even considering that goal because the course was so notoriously difficult.

But the results have changed my mindset a bit. In all honesty, I expected to finish this race around 1:44, maybe 1:43 if I was lucky. And I would have been totally happy with those. But this race (as well as last week’s 5k) have shown me that I need to stop selling myself short.

I have a lot of will and determination, but I don’t necessarily have a lot of confidence. I tend to not believe things are possible until they actually happen, and while I think it’s good to be realistic…I also think that it would serve me well to have a little more trust in myself.

Other than the existential lessons learned during this race, I have to say that this course was absolutely fantastic. Other than the crowding at the beginning of the race, this was perhaps the most enjoyable course I’ve ever run on, and I was really impressed with the Seattle Marathon organization overall.

My best guy.

This race  fired me up. It was encouraging and fun…and while I’m still a little hesitant to hope for anything more, I’m realizing that there’s no harm in trying.

Try I will, and I’m feeling pretty excited for pushing those limits back even further.

Did you run the Seattle Marathon/Half-Marathon? How did it go? How did you like the course?

Resolutions Revisited

As the end of the year draws nearer, I’ve started thinking back to the resolutions I made at the beginning of this year to see—you know—if I’ve succeeded or, well, sucked.

My resolution for this year was a bit simplistic and also not necessarily super tangible. All I really wanted was to do more things that ordinarily scare me.

At the end of last year, I was thinking a lot about how I shy away from things that are either hard, inconvenient, or simply unknown. We all do it—it’s in our natural protective natures—but I wanted to do something about these fears. I wanted to take away their power by facing them head on, no matter how big or small they may be.

It’s a little silly actually…it really all started with admitting how much I hated running hills. I would drive to various parts of West Seattle that I knew would be hill-free, all because hills made me nervous.

As a runner, I knew this was a weakness, and it was something I could very easily change. So it began with the hill fear, and then my resolution expanded out to encompass all the other things I’m afraid of in my life.

So how have I fared over the past 10.5 months?

Well, when I first started thinking on my progress with this resolution, my first thought was:

Wow, I did nothing.

But, upon a little more scrutinizing…I realized that somehow I’ve actually done a pretty good job at following this resolution. But admittedly, it wasn’t on purpose.

So let’s do a little trip back down 2012 memory lane. By the way, can you BELIEVE it’s almost the end of the year??

Here’s some of the ways I’ve been successful at facing my fears this year:

I am no longer afraid of hills, in fact…I seek them out. Sure, I prefer for a race course to be flat and happy, but I now recognize the benefits of incorporating hills, and I regularly try to keep them in most of my runs. And as someone who’s currently desperate to get faster, I don’t really have an option.

Hill fear? Win.

-I quit my job.

Oh yea, that little thing. This was frankly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do—and I don’t really wish that conversation with your employer on anyone. I left a cushy, some would say “ideal” job without much knowledge of what my next job would hold. So while this wasn’t necessarily something I was actively avoiding like the hills, it was definitely something that I was petrified for a long time to do.

-I started a new job.

No matter how you slice it, starting a new job is tough. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know where to go, you don’t know where to sit… it’s kind of terrible. And with my new job particularly…not only did I not what to do, I also barely knew the subject matter. I took a grand total of ZERO finance or business classes in school, and all of a sudden I needed to know what terms like “hedge fund,” “crossing,” and “enhanced asset allocation” meant.

Needless to say, it was a process. A scary process. However, it definitely fit the bill for taking on scary things.

I met new people.

This really might not seem like a big deal, but to me…it actually was. As someone who prefers to be alone most of the time and has a hard time even getting together with good friends, I’ve never been in the business of “putting myself out there” or however you say it. But this year, I put my introvert tendencies aside every so often and met some pretty sweet people along the way.

-I got beat up by the marathon, and then did another one.

After the horrors of Tacoma started to wear off, there was never really a doubt in my mind that I would—at some point—run another marathon. However, the closer and closer Chicago came this year—I began to realize just how much of an impact Tacoma had made on me. While I had all the ordinary taper worries, I was also paralyzed with fear that something like Tacoma would happen again. It was the reason that I was more worried for Chicago than any other race—although I didn’t necessarily confess it to anyone. I knew I had an easy way out of not doing Chicago. Since my ankle was questionable, it would have been understandable, some would say smart, to just not run Chicago. However, this was an opportunity to face the unknown instead of walk away from it—and while I didn’t realize it at the time, it was a great test of my resolution.

So now that I’ve talked about how great I was at following my resolution (insert snarky tone here), let’s take a look at the “room for growth” in regard to facing my fears.

{In my company, “room for growth” is code for “weaknesses” on performance reviews.}

I suppose the good and bad thing about this resolution is that it’s never quite done. Even if I have taken on a few things that previously scared me, there are always going to be more things out there—even if I don’t know about them yet. And in all honesty, I could probably write a whole post about the things I’m afraid of ever trying, fixing, getting better at, etc. But, that would be a little overly self-deprecating and depressing, so instead I’ll focus on one…because it’s been on my mind recently:

I realized, or more like admitted to myself, that I’m afraid of the 7s.

Whenever I see a time on my Garmin that is under 8:00, I immediately panic: I convince myself that my lungs are on fire, my legs are going to fall off, and I’m going to start heaving on the side of the road whenever I see a pace starting with a 7.

And while paces below 8 are certainly a bit faster than I’m used to, I think I’ve let my fear overrule my determination to make these paces stick. It almost feels like if my watch just lied to me and said that a 7:50 was actually 8:10, I wouldn’t even know the difference. And while I definitely try and keep in check my “comfort” and “discomfort” with certain speeds,I think that my brain has a big effect on how my body “feels” at those speeds.

I’m fairly certain this is very normal for most runners, and it’s why training our mental game is just as important as training our legs.

So back to my resolution…although it’s getting toward the end of the year, I’m going to try to stop being so afraid of the 7s.

It seems a little strange to try and “get in” my resolution so late in the year, but isn’t that what they’re for? I think most people forget about their resolutions around mid February or so…myself included…but sometimes a little retrospect can do us some good, as well as show us that while we may have made some progress, there’s always “room for growth.”

What were your new years resolutions this year? How have you done at achieving them? What scares you?

When It’s Better Not to Run

No, this is not a post about not running while injured, when it’s dark out, when it’s hailing, when you’re burnt out, right after a big race, or when your running shoes resemble flip flops.

Those are all reasons not to run, but this post is about when it’s better not run when you just as easily could run.

I will be the first person to admit that I can over-exercise. I’ve gotten much better about it, and I’ve learned that a rest day can be a bff, but generally speaking I would say that I could loosen the reigns on how strict I am about fitness. I am not in any way saying this to show off or boast about how much I exercise—because frankly, I’m coming to a point where it’s a quality about myself that I’m growing to be less proud of. Which is so contradictory to what Pinterest/Twitter/Facebook/blah blah blah always preaches about “getting it done” and “sweat once a day.”

In a nutshell, after years of constantly feeling the “need” to exercise and beating myself up over any rest I took, I’m beginning to seriously re-evaluate my priorities—and in that process, my death grip on my exercise security-blanket has really started to loosen. And you know what? It feels great.

And yes, I’ve written about this before and I’m sure to write about it again—but hey, I’m a work in progress.

I’m really back and forth sometimes between maintaining my title as a “runner” and just being “normal.” Because let’s be honest…runners are not normal. Admittedly, it baffles me that people who I love and respect are equally as happy and upbeat about their day-to-day lives without running at all. Furthermore, I’ve realized that over time I had become so dependent on running that I’d lost touch with all the other aspects of life that can be just as rewarding.

And I really don’t think I’m alone.

There is a sizable demographic, particularly within the running blog world, that is quite the opposite of lazy. We plan out workouts a week ahead of time, we track our progress, speed, and miles, and we live for the content feeling every day that we’ve logged a good workout. And rightfully so, because there are few better feelings than knowing you’ve poured sweat hours before most people are even at work.

And all of these things are okay…because of course, exercise is so powerfully good for you.

But the fact of the matter is that there can always be too much of a good thing, and exercise is no exception. It’s really hard to see this—because  a) we’re in a country with an obesity epidemic and b) endorphins feel so damn good. But when exercise-induced highs start to take away from other parts of our lives, a red flag goes up.

My red flag went up a long time ago. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally begun to admit to it, internalize it, and slowly but surely—hold up my white surrender flag.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post—when it’s better not to exercise.

I had the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of decision this weekend. And I use the word practice because it is something that is still very difficult to do.

I spent Friday through Sunday morning in Colorado for a Film Festival that my mom is the Executive Director of. Yes, she’s super badass.

Mommy on stage.

In normal RB protocol, I would have planned out ahead of time exactly which hours I would have available to run. And truthfully, I did pack all my running gear with the intention of keeping on track. But when the hour presented itself to knock out some miles, I simply chose not to. And you know what? It was such a good choice.

Part of being at a Film Festival requires you to watch several movies, literally, all day. You wouldn’t think it—but this requires A LOT of energy and caffeine. When I laid in bed Saturday morning (my intended run time) and thought about the day ahead of me and the option for 1.5 hours of more sleep—the decision seemed ridiculous. I came to Colorado to be at my mom’s film festival…why would I want to inevitably sleep through parts of it for the sake of a run?

Films!

I know this sounds silly…because there are so many people who would have understood this kind of prioritization much earlier on. But for me, it’s hard—and it’s taken a while.

There are so many times when I choose running over other activities (namely sleeping) in order to maintain my sanity throughout the day. In many ways, I love this about myself—but I’m finally realizing that over time, the exhaustion and pressure of uber-prioritizing exercise completely negates the  highs we get from it. In other words…it has the opposite effect of exercise.

Here is what I’m finally getting: missing one run does not make one. little. difference in how complete of a person I am. It’s how I choose to react that makes the difference—and in that sense, I’m choosing to stop reacting so much.

Because as much as I adore running, and as huge of a part of me as it may be, it’s not everything. When we spend so much time building our identities as “runners” we lose touch with all the other elements that make us who we are. And when we drift too far away from those things—it becomes harder to regain a sense of self when, all of a sudden, we can’t run.

It’s why when we’re injured, we panic—without running we’re lost. Of course, I am the guiltiest of the guilty in this regard, which is why I’m choosing to practice a different form of discipline. And in that respect…by relaxing our running and by taking on some more rest, our susceptibility to be injured goes down and we’re left with not only healthier bodies, but more well-rounded senses of self.

I’m not currently injured. I have zero desire to become injured. But if and when it does happen again (and I’m going to go with “when” on that one given the nature the beast), I want to be more armed with experience and amo for getting through it. The experience, in this case, being the familiarity with not running sometimes. And the amo being the ability to let other wonderful things build me up while running might be down.

I am a runner, through and through. I would venture to say that there may never be a point where I am not a runner—because that’s quite unimaginable. I love it, and it seems like the more I do it—the more I love it. But one of the biggest parts of being a runner is respecting the fact that it’s a sport that requires a great deal of discipline—and with that discipline comes the need to rest.

Rest has been my most underrated part of my participation in this sport, and I’m finally realizing that I’m honoring my title as a “runner” more so when I accept rest instead of resisting it.

So sometimes, it’s better to not run. Not because of anything particular, but because when we pair running with the other great things in our lives, it makes the sport much more fulfilling and exciting.

champagne and cupcakes post Friday night gala FTW.

When I got home on Sunday, sleepy and happy from my quick CO trip…I couldn’t wait to slip into  my running shoes. And when I took off on a long, leisurely jaunt around West Seattle, my thought wasn’t “Dang I need to make up for the past two days,” it was, “I loved spending every minute I could this weekend with my family.”

So sweaty. Seattle decided to be humid and hot to kick off November. I forgot BodyGlide also. Mistake.

I’m a work in progress—as we all are. Some days are better than others, but overall I would say that I am finally getting the balance thing.

I encourage everyone who takes their exercise really seriously to continue to do so—but not at the cost of losing your health or all the other great things about you.

Sometimes the better decision as a runner is to not run, and you know what? It’s okay. Running will always be there, so don’t stress out if you take a time out every now and then. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The Running Blog Trap

If there were a job that required endlessly reading running blogs hour after hour, I can guarantee I would be one of the most qualified applicants. (And if such a job exists, tell me about it ASAP.)

I adore running blogs. In fact, I no longer go to Facebook or Twitter as my main procrastination resource, I go straight to different running blogs. If the IT department at my job could track my random non-work  internet perusing,  they would notice a very distinct trend. It’s all about running.

It was, in fact, my discovery of running blogs that inspired me to start my own. Of course I have my own personal reasons for having my blog, but a big factor was my desire to be a part of this community of women who were so much like me.

When I first started finding these blogs, it was like all of a sudden I found “my people.” People that didn’t make me feel like a huge running-obsessed weirdo. People who thought the same way I did, people who acted the same way I did, and (perhaps my favorite thing) people who had advice and ideas of all things related to running.

Runners! Runners who blog! In real life!

Having a blog myself has been a great way to be involved in this blogging community, and I truly love being able to follow others’ training along with my own. I am starting to realize, however, that despite how much I love this form of networking and interaction, there’s a definite trap that can happen. It’s a trap that I don’t think many people recognize because this is such a supportive, engaged, and happy community. I myself didn’t realize I had fallen victim to it until very recently, and ever since it’s become more and more obvious.

This trap I’m talking about is the one where you read blog after blog of super fast, never-injured, ultra-running, record-breaking, age group winning runners—and inevitably you wonder, why isn’t that me?

I’m recognizing that while running blogs are indeed inspiring and uplifting, they can sometimes have the opposite effect of provoking the comparison game. Runners of all different levels have blogs, and I read a little of everything, but I also know that I tend to check in quite frequently with runners that are much better than me. This is not to say that I don’t respect, love, or stalk the heck out of people who are more on my level, I don’t want it to sound like that at all. But there’s something fascinating and motivating for me to read about girls who are crazy fast.

I think there is a huge advantage to reading about people who are at a higher level than you. It’s why there are so many books written by professionals for amateurs on various topics; they inspire us to dream of a level above where we’re currently at.

The best part about running bloggers is that most aren’t sponsored or professional athletes—they’re regular people, just like us. Regular people who happen to be great at the sport, meaning they make that higher level seem more accessible than, say, Kara Goucher can. Sorry K, I’m never going to run a 2:24 marathon, I can admit that.

Still love you though ❤

So while this kind of inspiration may help our dreams seem more feasible, I think it can be a slippery slope between feeling motivated and feeling inferior. Maybe it’s just me and my uber competitive self, who knows, but I think that generally when we pay too much attention to the successes of others, it can take away from our own.

It’s as if the fast bloggers/runners we follow become a standard of sorts, and instead of using our own abilities as a benchmark, we start to compare ourselves to all of “them.” I started noticing this about myself when I speak to people outside of the running community about various races I’ve done and my speed in those races. Truly, I know running and running races is something to be proud of, and I am, but I’ve realized that the reaction I get from other people is not a reflection of how I feel about myself.

In other words, while most people are blown away by the mere attempt at a half- or full marathon, I’m normally completely absorbed in how fast or slow or strong the race was, not simply finishing it.

I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this, but I think one of the biggest reasons my mindset has fallen victim to analyzing the specifics instead of looking at the picture is because I’m in the running blog trap. I’m constantly seeing times, distances, splits, etc. that are, at least to me, much more impressive than mine—and while I try to remember that it’s all relative, sometimes I can’t help feeling sub-par.

Again, it may be just me, but I’m bringing this up because if there’s one thing I know about the running blogging community—it’s that we love numbers, race reports, PRs, and finish times. My most viewed posts are always my race reports, and I love whenever another blogger puts up a report of whatever it is they’ve been training for.Some might call it voyeuristic (isn’t that what blogging is about though?), but I think it’s exciting and inspiring to read about the grand finale of our training: race day.

It’s through this kind of attention to someone else’s running experiences, though, that demonstrates how easy it is to start comparing our own stats.

Upon realizing that I’d become a bit too entrenched in this running blog trap, I’ve made an effort to—as the oh-so-wise Nicole puts it—keep my eyes on my own paper. The fact that some random blogger who a) I’ve never met and b)probably never will meet can run a 3:00 marathon does not take anything away from my own current marathon PR. Using the times of runners who are more experienced than me as my own personal standard for what’s “good” is completely setting myself for disappointment. And not only that—it’s taking away from my own experiences that I should, in fact, be very proud of.

This is so true in much of life—but I think it’s easy to forget: the accomplishments of others do not take anything away from our own accomplishments. By learning this through running, and by being in the running community, I’ve been able to find (admittedly) many areas of my life where this comparison trap occurs. By keeping our eyes on our own paper, we are not only able to maintain a good sense of relativity, but we can begin to centralize our focus on our own goals, achievements, and areas for improvement as opposed to dwelling on those of others.

I encourage running bloggers, and everyone else, to continue to use the successes of others as inspiration. Educating ourselves with success stories of feats that otherwise seem impossible are a powerful way to jump start our own journeys. But remember that those accomplishments belong to someone else, and while they should be celebrated—they in no way take away from our own.

When you look at your own paper, whether it be a list of PRs, a resume, or an essay—take ownership for all the work and effort that was put into it. Because it is all worthy of admiration—no matter what “level” you think you’re at.

And let’s face it…in a country with an obesity epidemic on the rise and people who prefer segways to walking tours—the ability to run at all is something to be damn proud of.

What do you think about ‘the running blog trap?’ Have you fallen victim to it? Why do you think we’re so susceptible to playing the comparison game? Is it a simply an athlete thing, or is it in our nature? 

How I Got to Chicago and Finished the Race

…I took a bunch of steroids.

No, that’s not true.

First things first: some stolen race photos, because heaven knows I will never buy these.

Put me in coach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gloves are off…I think I can, I think I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

getting closer…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh wait, this is hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love everyone and everything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were a number of others, all pretty ugly typical race photos—but the theme is really that I’m smiling in almost all of them. Call me a photo whore, but truthfully I didn’t see most of the cameras along the way. I just had that fan-effing-tastic of a race.

Moving on.

I want to talk a bit about the steps I took in order to both a) get myself to the race and b) finish it. I consider myself lucky that I was able to race after a month of injury, and I do think that some good fortune fell into play in regard to my run-ability. (That, and some very powerful wishful thinking/begging the run gods for a break).

However, there were some very deliberate things I did both pre- and during taper to ensure that I would be able to make it to the finish line last Sunday.

Going into taper was really tricky. I’d only been running a week since taking two full weeks off from running—and now I was supposed to cut down as much as possible. As much as I wanted to run to build my confidence to get through the race—I knew that there were no physical benefits that could come from too much running during taper, so I played it safe. In essence, I did exactly what I would have in a regular taper schedule. Here’s how it looked:

Taper Schedule (Sunday-Saturday):

S: 75 minute yoga

M: 5 m slow run

T: 60 min swim

W: 4 m slow run

T: 60 m swim

F: REST

S: 2.5 m shake out with 3, 30-min strides.

This schedule worked perfectly for me. It was enough activity to keep me from feeling too restless, but it lacked a lot of impact—which is exactly what my legs and ankle needed before taking on a marathon.

In addition to the workouts, I rolled my legs essentially every night—like painful rolling. After Thursday night, I stuck to gentler stretching, but I wanted to make sure that all week I worked out any lingering knots.

I also iced my ankle 2-ish times a day, no matter what. When an injury doesn’t hurt (as my ankle didn’t during taper week), it’s really easy to neglect recovery efforts—but I made sure to keep icing even though there wasn’t any noticeable pain.

I also wore my compression socks around the house whenever possible, and wore them on the plane en route to Chicago.

These things, I believe, all really helped in having a successful race—but perhaps the bigger factors were the way I ran the race and the time I took off when I got hurt.

Having a marathon in sight helped me to buckle down in terms of not pushing it with my injury. Like other runners, I’m prone to working out through an injury (which more often than not makes it worse). Of course, I should never do this—but I think that having a race on the horizon forced me to recognize that R&R were the only means of getting to Chicago. So rest I did, and look at that—I finished, PR’ed, and had the best time—without any ankle pain.

This injury was obviously less serious than others, certainly, which helped with recovering in time for the race—but I’m really trying to take a hint from this experience: if there is one thing that heals an injury, it’s rest.

I hope other runners can see this as a case study of sorts on how rest is a big part of getting you toward your running goals.

It’s not just about the perfect tempos, the multiple 20 milers, or the weekly yoga.

Let’s take a look back: My last 20 miler before Chicago was on August 25, 6 weeks before Chicago. I completely took off 2 weeks of running during what should have been “peak” weeks, and I didn’t run over 12 miles in the month before the race. In other words, the odds were not stacked in my favor.

I’ll stop soon I promise, but I’m reiterating these points to remind everyone that a missed workout, missed mile, or a missed pace goal during marathon training is not the big deal we make it out to be. Sure, it’s not advisable to miss too many workouts or long runs, but I’m realizing there’s way too much stress put on the day-to-day specifics.

It’s just running. When we remove all the accessories that distract us from the simplicity of this sport (gels, garmins, BQs, Yasso 800s, fartleks, rollers, barefoot, not-barefoot, Dean Karnasez, etc.) all of a sudden it becomes a lot more manageableAll those extra things are important, but they are really just details. Kara Goucher has a great quote that puts it in perspective:

“Do the work. Do the analysis. But feel your run. Feel your race. Feel the joy that is running.”

This is how I approached Chicago. All I cared about was feeling the run—enjoying it for the simple act it is, an act I love so very much.

By ridding myself of the stress of perfect training and specific goals, my ankle decided to cooperate with the “go with the flow” mentality and lasted all 26.2 miles in fine condition.

It took me a while to get to this place, have no doubt. I had a lot of anxiety the week before the race about finishing, getting re-injured, etc. It was also very, very hard for me to let go of goals for this race. Admittedly, I know I could have gone sub 3:35 without the training malfunctions—which stings a little. But honestly, I don’t know if a BQ would have felt as good as this “no-goal” race did. By running for the fun of it and instead of obsessing over splits, I remembered just how magical the simple act of running can be.

So am I suddenly a goal-less, no Garmin, hippie runner? Absolutely not. In fact, I have goals that I’m itching to get started on. More on Monday 🙂

However, I’ve realized that running for the love of it can sometimes get you to the finish line just as easily as a flawless 22 miler. Okay, maybe I am turning into more of a hippie, but I truly hope that in a sport that’s full of specifics and details—the basics of putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the ride isn’t lost on you.

Perhaps my favorite race tee yet.

If you couldn’t already tell, a lot of what I write on this blog is as much for myself as for my readers. So I appreciate you reading my somewhat stream-of-consciousness style of blogging.

Maybe someday I’ll have an agenda or a means of drafting my posts. But for now, these self-therapy sessions will have to do. Thanks for sticking around 🙂

Happy Friday!

My Brain on Marathon

These past few days there have been two things going through my head:

Holy shit, I’m running a marathon this weekend.

And

Holy shit, I need to blog about all my feelings.

Okay…there have been 5,000 other thoughts going on as well, but stick with me.

Somehow, I couldn’t seem to get these two very complimentary thoughts to mesh together in beautiful, therapeutic symmetry.

I mean come on—don’t all running bloggers blog 2x per day, every day, during the last two weeks of taper before a marathon?

We have so many nerves, ideas, and circumstances floating through our heads…and all we want to do is talk to other runners about them all.

So why haven’t I been spilling my guts out incessantly and instead just been flitting over the surface in regard to my upcoming 26.2 attempt?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I am thinking about the race nonstop. I already have pre-race butterflies in my stomach. I am in a constant back-and-forth battle between being excited and optimistic and being so nervous I want to hide under my desk.

Essentially, there are so many thoughts going through my little taper-brain that I’ve had a hard time coming up with anything coherent or sensible to write about. I know, I know…a lot of my blog posts are of the word-vomit variety already. However, when it’s been coming time to put my fingers to the keyboard to describe how I’m feeling about this race, my brain spirals into chaos—and I can barely sit still—let alone write a post.

With that said, I’m not here to offer up any constructive or solid “feelings” or “plans” or whatever it is you’re supposed to have the week before a marathon. I am here, however, to attempt to let loose some steam—and to hopefully give a little insight into how you truly never know what to expect in so very much of life.

It’s hard for me to differentiate my nerves between regular, expected pre-marathon jitters, and legitimate concerns about my current condition. Sometimes, I’m imagining it as just any other marathon—other times, I’m thinking of it as a death march on out-of-shape legs and a floppy, swollen ankle. I’m trying to land somewhere in the middle of these two outlooks—balancing the ordinary nervousness with the warranted exceptional circumstance I’ll be running the race in.

Of course, marathon brain is far from balanced and sensible, so despite my best efforts so just chill and play with the cards I’ve been dealt…it’s been a process to actually internalize that mindset.

Recently, it’s been going more like this:

“I’m going to have the best time! I might have some pain later on, but as long as I go easy, soak in the sights, and let the race adrenaline work its magic..I’ll be fine! I love running! I love marathons! This will be great!”

…two minutes later:

“I’m going to die. I’m going to be exhausted after one mile, my legs are going to cramp, and even if I make it pretty far, I’m going to have to bail and get off the course. Then I’m going to cry. Even if I make it, I’m going to be walking, puking, and/or crying until the finish line.”

Once again, I’m trying to rationalize that I’ll probably land somewhere in the middle.

I’m also trying to remind myself about just how mental running is. Because in my opinion, and in the opinions of many, many great runners out there who are far more qualified to make claims than me, running is primarily mental. Certainly, it takes endurance and strength to run a marathon—no doubt about it. But ultimately, the thing that keeps our feet moving and our will to finish alive is our attitude.

Now, I learned back in T-town that I definitely have a good deal of mental strength. This time around, I’m going to try and channel that mental strength into being present in the moment and savouring the fact that I am able to run a marathon. Let me also just clarify that while what happened in Tacoma is high on my fear list, I no longer want to rehash that race—and I now know that there is a difference between pushing it and pushing it too far.

With that said, I will not be trying to BQ, PR, or anything of that sort during this race. While those types of goals are often high on my list and they encourage me to keep moving, they are also the kind of goals that could disable me from finishing. Due to my current circumstance with my ankle and my training glitches, the only goals I have for this race are to a) finish and b) negative split. I don’t want to negative split to ensure a particular time; I just know that I am going to need reserved energy for the second half. My pacing intentions will be solely for the purpose of staying consistent and staying safe.

I am planning to run by feel, which is a good theme for how I’ve handled these past few weeks of “training.” All of my decisions about when to run, when to rest, and if I was going to do the race haven’t been based on a pre-determined schedule, but solely on how I feel. That’s how I’m planning to run this race. I have paces in mind that I know I will be able to hold for a long time, and although they are many, many seconds slower than I originally planned on running this race—they are what will help get me to the finish line.

So for right now, I trying to channel my energy into focusing on a few things.

The first is positive self talk. I am always such a huge proponent of mantras and self confidence when it comes to encouraging other people along, but I’m not so good at practicing what I preach. I do believe that positive thinking and visualization can make a world of difference in performance—and so excuse me while I act super cocky and conceited for the next 72 hours.

The second thing I’m trying to focus on is what my intention was behind doing this race in the first place. When I first registered, I knew I wanted to take this race less seriously than I had for many before. Marathon training had become less fun and too stressful, and this time around I wanted to enjoy the running for what it was instead of focus solely on numbers. Admittedly, I slipped away from this a bit when I started seeing my times get faster, but now that I’m kind of forced to run the race easier than planned—my original intention has come back into focus.

In addition to my goal of having fun with training for this race, I also wanted to focus on doing something more than just my own, petty “look at me and how much I run” approach. I chose to fund-raise and run on behalf of Girls on the Run because they are an organization that I believe advocates all the best things about running. Girls on the Run gets down to the grass roots of the pure joy, confidence, and enthusiasm that running can instill, and this was a message I wanted to both advocate to others and internalize for myself.

No matter what happens—I’ve raised a lot of money and promoted a group whose cause resonates with so many of the reasons I love to run. And for that, I’m proud and humbled to run on behalf of them.

I suppose there are actually a lot of advantages to running a marathon that isn’t a goal race. And despite my uber-competitive mind trying with all its might to both “be a hero” and finish with an impressive time—for now, she’s going to need to shut up. This is a really good opportunity for me to tune into the part of running that isn’t competitive—the part that isn’t tangible, or “qualifying,” or up to some standard.

I’m going to run because I love it, and no matter what happens—Sunday is just one more day I get to run. In the second biggest marathon in the world— no less. If nothing else, I want to finish how ever many miles I run knowing that I ran smart and I ran happy. Anything else (finishing, a decent time, etc.) will just be gravy.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening to me spill my very-full brain. These are the times I’m so happy I have a blog, both as a way for me to get out my thoughts and a way to communicate with runners who’ve experienced all the same things. Writing everything down has always helped relax me—and I’m already feeling more excited for Sunday.

I’ll have a post tomorrow with a few more specifics as to strategy, logistics, etc. I’ll also post a link to how you can follow me during the race! We’re getting closer and closer…and my window of complex carb consumption/hydrating/foam rolling is here.

Bring it on, baby.

Diagnosis and “Getting It”

The best news of all: my ankle is not falling off.

And, according to my X-Rays and my highly optimistic Ortho-doc, I have no signs of stress fracture, and my bone structure is “ideal.” Essentially, this was equivalent to hearing, “Robyn, you have perfect hair, teeth, and generally perfect everything in life.”

Good bones=happy runner.

To bring you up to speed, after many days in a row of running, peak marathon training mileage, and a very unhappy 20-miler-turned-17-miler, my ankle was in a lot of pain for no obvious reason. I was limping, I went to Urgent Care (fail), and I panicked about how I could actually pull off a marathon in a month.

Obviously, I wanted to call in a pro ASAP.

The diagnosis I received at my 9 am appointment yesterday morning went something like this:

“Suck it up. Load up on Aleve. Keep running. You’re a huge wimp and don’t understand that running is painful sometimes. Why are you here?”

Okay, it was *actually* closer to this (although the above is in essence what I heard):

“I think you’ll be fine. Get back out there, keep up the pain killers, heavy on the icing, and tell me if it gets worse.”

If you’re thinking, “Wow Robyn, that’s pretty much what every runner would want to hear in your scenario…so did you jump up and down in excitement and make out with the dude while lacing up your Brooks?”

No kissing or lacing up, but yes—you’re right. This is an ideal diagnosis. Particularly for someone like me, who would be grumpy with even the mention of “toning it down” or “taking it easy.”

However, while I am relieved—I’m also going to be a little more careful than Dr. “All Runners Love Me” told me to be.

You see, the reason I went to the doctor was to determine what this pain is not as opposed to what it is. Hopefully, the diagnosis was right and this isn’t something serious (i.e. stress fracture, etc.) BUT, that doesn’t mean that it’s not something to take care of.

With every little ache and pain, we runners spend so much time agonizing over, “What is this?” “When will it go away?” “Can I run through it?” I’m a HUGE culprit of doing this (perhaps THE culprit), no thanks to the magical powers of the interwebs, but here’s the fact of the matter:

If something hurts, you shouldn’t run on it.

I realize my circumstances are a bit different, considering I have 26.2 miles of running to do on October 7, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try and be bigger than the pain. I’m fortunate enough to have done enough training that waiting out this issue a little while longer (yes, longer than even the “professional” said to do) won’t do much damage. In fact, continuing to run on my questionable ankle would probably undo the strides I’ve made so far in my training.

So I’m sitting it out for a little while longer. I’m definitely not going to pretend that I’m completely calm and collected about this, or that not running is anything but easy.

I’m back-and-forth between being sensible and being irrational. But, I’ve been here before—and I know that the truest test of an athlete’s will and determination are the times that set them back. So yesterday, when I was at work going back and forth as to what I would do for my workout later on, I stopped myself right in my tracks.

And here’s what I asked myself: Is delaying the healing process, which will ultimately get me to the start line in Chicago, for a random Tuesday sweat session worth it?

Absolutely not.

So, I defied my habitual inclination of working out my stress away, and here I am today—no less in shape, in tact, nor capable of living. I am, however, with a more rested and better-feeling ankle.

{See Mommy, I’m growing up.}

I’m realizing that the way we handle injury corresponds directly to the reasons we run in the first place.

The fact of the matter is this: I don’t run to hide my feelings. I don’t run to justify the things I like to eat. I don’t run to prove anything to anyone.

I run because it’s what I love to do more than anything else, and sometimes that love needs to be shown in the bad times and not just the good.

Run love is not just about logging miles, clocking lower times, and registering for races. Run love is also about give and take. We take a lot from this sport—the endorphins, the pride, the toned legs, and the runner’s highs. But how much do we give to it? We give our early mornings and cash in shoe replacment…but I’m realizing that giving back to this sport should be about respecting it—and our bodies—more than anything else.

Running is tough, running is hard, and running wears us down. In order to give to running as much as we get from it—sometimes we need to back off. We don’t prove anything by running through pain or by exercising when we know we should be resting. All those things do is show that we’d rather let this sport abuse us rather than build us up.

If you hadn’t guessed, the “we” pronoun I’ve been using is a lot of me talking to myself. You, dear reader, just got to come along for the ride.

So what is this very long-winded explanation of my injury trying to say? Well, I think for the first time—I’m getting it. I’m getting the give-and-take of running, I’m getting the “rest” thing, and I’m getting that the truest test of myself as a runner comes from how I handle the lower points.

So I’m taking it easy, I’m hoping for the best, and I’m thankful that I’ve *mostly* been able to learn something from my former habits that resulted in mistakes.

Central Governor Theory

I’ve officially indoctrinated myself into the ranks of serious runnerd.

I bought a running textbook. Not a novel, not a book of motivational quotes, not “Runner’s World.”

A mother effing textbook. The Lore of Running, to be specific. And the worst part? I’m stupid excited about it. I’ve already planned early bedtimes of sitting with a highlighter and going through each chapter like I’m studying for a test.

Who am I?! Either this is a sign that I might need to go back to school sooner than I thought, or I’ve really got it bad for running. And because I’m really digging the whole not-ever-having-homework-or-taking-tests lifestyle right now, I’m gonna go with the latter.

It all started with another running book, Eat and Runthe one we’ve already talked about. Scott Jurek was merrily telling me all about his adventures in 100 mile races and whatnot, when he said something that hit me straight between the eyes. Or, more so, it hit me straight in the part of my brain that is haunted by the Tacoma Marathon.

{Yes, still talking about that one—sorry. I thought I was done, but this discovery was just too enlightening to ignore. I promise I’ll stop talking about that race someday}

Truth be told, in many ways I have left that race behind me as I’ve moved onto other endeavors. I certainly learned a lot from it, but it was a fairly traumatic event and I don’t want the bad parts of it to overwhelm my ambitions and love for this sport.

However, to this day I haven’t been able to answer exactly why what happened, well, happened. I was completely depleted and fatigued, and I’d reached my own physical threshold. However, I still hadn’t been able to come up with why, after 26 miles of running, my body decided to quit when the finish line was in view.

Enter, Scott Jurek. He was telling a story about the Western States 100—a notable race in California that courses up and down mountains for a hundred miles. Scott was pacing a friend, who was about to win the race, and right when they got to the local high school track (the location of the race’s finish line) and the finish came into view, his friend collapsed—unable to move.

The circumstances sounded very similar to mine—and as Scott continued to tell the story, my interest heightened and it all started to sound frighteningly parallel. Scott stated that in his opinion, when his friend’s brain processed the finish line in sight, it told his body, “Hey dude, you’re done. You can quit now.” Subsequently, his body gave out, just stopped, because his mind had resolved that it could stop working so hard.

It’s all very hippy dippy stuff, but hear me out. This guy was able to run, up and down mountains no less, for ONE HUNDRED MILES without faltering. Of course he was tired, battling, and exhausted, but there was something that was able to keep him going. But then, right as the finish line comes into view, that same body that’d been working toward this finale just decided to stop? The timing seems all too peculiar, just as my own seemed in the Tacoma Marathon.

Scott goes onto describe some actual scientific rationale behind this occurrence—termed the Central Governor Theory by  Dr. Timothy Noakes. In essence, the theory advocates for the power of the mind over the body in endurance sports.

“The central governor is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxia damage to the heart.”

In lamens terms, our endurance is not only an effect of our training or our VO2 max, but of a part of our brain that strategically plans out our exertion levels based on the required mileage, time frame, etc. It’s essentially a case for mind over matter, and it advocates that our Central Governor has means of protecting us from overexertion.

It’s a debatable idea, have no doubt. But, it is one that has been cited and used in many sports studies and theories for years.

The thing that struck me about it is that it spoke so closely to the feelings I experienced during the Tacoma Marathon. I had passed my own limits for a good deal of that race: I was hurting, I was done, but for some reason I was able to keep going. And it wasn’t pride at that point—because no matter how much I wanted that BQ and I wanted to keep going, my fatigue had overtaken my pride.

But I was able to keep going, and my legs seemingly had a life of their own. Until, that is, I saw the finish line. I was grateful to see it, have no doubt, but it felt like my desire to be done had overtaken the strength that had kept me going. When I fell, it was because my body had given up, and although I had been able to continue to push it along for all those miles of pain, for some reason—so close to the end, they’d won the battle.

If you attribute the Central Governor Theory to my experience in that race, it makes a whole lot of sense—particularly the part where I fell right before the finish line. In a direct comparison to Scott’s story about his Western States 100 friend, my brain resolved that it could be done upon seeing the end, and my body responded with absolute abdication.

Now, I fully realize that there are a number of factors that could have come into play in the end of that race. I was entirely depleted, have no doubt; a 105 degree fever, cramping legs, and complete fatigue undoubtedly contributed to the time I spent in the medical tent afterward.

However, those factors would have existed whether or not I collapsed so close to the end. I’ve thought all along that it was my mind more than anything else that was the ultimate reason for the disconnect that occurred at mile 26. It felt like a cord between my body and my mind was snapped, and I couldn’t get the two to work in sync any longer.

So yes, my physical exertion was beyond a manageable level. But there was something more that occurred on that day—and the Central Governor Theory, at least to me, explains better than anything else the final factor that came into play.

Again, I promise that I have and will stop analyzing that race. I have gotten over it, and I know one day it’s going to be an ancient memory. But once this idea of the power of the mind was presented to me, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to that day. Because that day was the first time, and perhaps the only time, where I can say that I relied solely on my mind to carry on when my body was done. My mind was the only thing I had left for a long time in that race—and this theory presented an explanation for just how that dependence actually worked.

I think what I love so much about the Central Governor Theory is the theme that running is so much more than just our physical abilities. We hear time and time again that “Running is a mental sport,” and yet it’s so much easier to measure the physical side of it. We concentrate on times, VO2 max, lactate threshold, maximum heart rate, and mileage so often as the means in which we measure our physical abilities.These things have a lot of merit, of course, but there is something more to running than just the physiology. It’s the reason we can get out of bed in the morning when our bodies are so much happier staying under the covers. It’s the reason why we can sprint to a finish line even though we’ve been dead for miles. Our brains have a lot more power over our abilities that we even realize—and while that’s not to say that we shouldn’t concentrate on the tangible numbers, I truly believe that to be a good runner, we must remember that one of the most valuable tools we have is the one inside our head.

So, in going back to the textbook—The Lore of Running was written by the Central Governor Theorist himself, Timothy Noakes. The book discusses his theory, but also any and all things related to running. It’s definitely somewhat biased and opinion based, as essentially all running books are, however I’m excited to read what more this South African bloke has to say in favor of the power of our minds in relation to the power of our running.

The only problem? Everything is in kilometers, meaning he’s forcing me to exercise my brain while siphoning through chapters. Tricky man that Noakes.

Happy Friday! Happy running 🙂

Get Comfortable

I can’t even begin to describe how nice it feels to write a bit about running right now. For the past few days I’ve been grinding on documents nonstop at work, and I’ve barely had time to use the bathroom let alone do any blogging updates.

Alas, a break in the day has presented itself.

Hello!

On Tuesday, I completely contradicted my current training M.O. and decided to spice up my normal “Ten-Mile Tuesday” run.

{I love Ten-Mile Tuesday, and it’s been one of my favorite workouts for almost a year—even when I’m not marathon training. It’s always in the morning, it’s always moderately paced, just lovely}

When I set off for this jaunt, I had it in my head that I would go slow-ish. I had 8:30s or so in mind, and I knew I wanted to be comfortable. It took about 3 miles or so to really get a steady pace (doesn’t it always?) but once I was cooking I realized that I was hovering below the 8 minute/mile mark, and it wasn’t too awful. However, I knew that I’d be feeling it toward the end of the run—and since this wasn’t about speed I knew it was smarter to stay at a comfortable pace.

But then I kinda starting talking back to myself. I was realizing that recently, this pacing is my comfortable pace. I’ve been feeling lighter and more efficient during my quicker runs, and the only thing that makes me shy away from committing to increasing my  average speed overall is my fear of getting uncomfortable. The only discomfort, however, comes when I see watch, and I freak out and slow down—only to feel a little less natural and wary.

So yesterday, instead of constantly telling myself to reel it in, I started a new mantra—which I repeated over and over again.

Get comfortable.”

You see, I definitely have a running comfort zone, as I’m sure many of us do. For a long time, it was 9 minute miles. It was a pace I knew that I could hold for a long time, and it was the pace that I used constantly throughout my first marathon training cycle. Once I got to race day, I was so confident in my 9 min/mile abilities, I knew that I’d be fine at 8:50s.

Since that time, I’ve gotten a bit faster and my comfort zone is now around an 8:30/mile pace. There was a point in time it was lower (before my horrid bursitis kicked in earlier this year), and I’m starting to feel like it might be time to hold myself to a higher standard. If my watch is the only thing that’s scaring me away from a faster average pace, what’s the harm in trying one on for size?

Which is why on Tuesday, I decided to forego my current relaxed training plan and focus on maintaining a certain, faster speed over those miles. I settled on 8:05, and instead of trying to go faster and slower, I was preaching to myself to simply “get comfortable” right there. I know my comfort zone well enough to know when I’m either behind or ahead of it, but in this case—I was simply trying to trick myself to get into that comfort zone.

And how did I bode? I felt great, and I felt that aside from the placebo exhaustion effect of seeing speedier times on my Garmin, I was—in fact—comfortable with that speed.

Which makes me wonder— where is the line between our physical capabilities and our perceived capabilities? When I talked about that 9:00/mile comfort zone that I’d settled in for so long, was that really my running happy place, or was I simply settling for what I knew I could do?

Although there’s a definite mental prowess to runners that many lack, I’m realizing that it’s just as easy to fall into a running rut as it is anything else. We get in a safe zone. Which is fine, truly, because goodness knows it’s better to be running safely than not running at all.

But, there’s also something to be said for removing our self-created limits. Of course, we don’t want to be reckless and haphazard about it (hello, injuries and burnout), but sometimes it’s good to question if there’s a little bit more we’re not allowing ourselves to take on.

For me, this was decreasing the average length of my weekly runs, and increasing speed over shorter distances. I knew that I could knock out a long run at a moderate pace, which is why I settled in a routine of a 10 mile, 12 mile, and one long(er) run on the weekends. This was my routine for as long as I can remember—all the runs were at the same speed, and I’m realizing now they were all a bit mediocre. But after my knee blew up, I flailed in Tacoma, and I was sidelined with IT band woes, I knew that something needed to change.

I still wanted to run, and I still wanted to race, but I needed to reclaim control over my running and get back to the magic of the sport.

By introducing myself to the things I had so often shied away from—speed work, shorter mileage but faster times, and additional hills—I have a newfound confidence in not only my running but in the sport itself. It’s wonderful to see that something so simple as running can be approached so many different ways. And the best part? There isn’t only one right way.

I think what I’m most pleased with is that I feel that I’m slowly but surely finding a way to run that works for me. Through this Chicago training “program” I’ve been following, I’ve been getting faster, I’m recovering quicker, and my IT band injury has evaporated. I credit this to a few things, but primarily to the big alterations I’ve made to my running. The shoes, the speed, the rest—they’ve all been things I’ve changed in order to better my running, and at least for now…they seem to be working.

So I’m going to continue my less-strict approach to training. But I’m also going to continue to allow myself to “get comfortable” with the times, distances, and workouts that I almost always deem uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, or even suck, sometimes—but it means that I’m not going to be afraid of pushing away from “security blanket” workouts and try getting a little creative.

What’s your running comfortable space? A certain distance? A certain speed? A certain workout? How do you think you can try and test yourself?