On Running a Marathon.

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I like to do a year in review to try and reflect on the triumphs and missteps of the previous year. This also gives me a time to look forward, and what I’d like to do in the next year. It has almost no value to you, the reader, if there is anyone beside myself reading. I actually missed the previous year (2014-2015). I kept putting it off, and after several fits, starts, and rewrites, I decided to call it when it hit June. Not this year. God no. Never again. I’m going to probably split this up into several posts. A look back and then maybe a look forward.

A Look Back or A Tale of Three Shoes

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The thing that was pretty all consuming was training for my first marathon. Yes, I won’t shut up about it. It’s something that has been on my to do list for the better part of a decade, and it’s so nice to be able to cross something like that off.

Let’s do a quick recap by the numbers (Runs before Runkeeper logs are estimated as 4 times per week at 3 miles/30 minutes in the gym)

Started Training: December 18th, 2014
Ended Marathon Training (Day of Marathon): October 17th, 2015
Miles Ran Training: 889 Miles
Time Spent Running: 426.45 Hours (17.77 Days)
Average Miles Per Week: 20.67 Miles
Average Time Spent Per Week Running: 9.91 Hours
Time Spent Preparing: 9 Months 29 Days
Pairs of Shoes Used: 3
Injuries: 1

There it is, in black and white. I like to throw the numbers up first because it puts a nice bow on everything. It is the microcosm of the goal. However, it is the abridged version of events. It is void of emotion and accounts of struggle. That’s what comes next.

As stated above this has been on my bucket list for along time, one of my white whales (Sorry, Ahab, I have more than one). During school, I never felt I had the time (read: diligence) to spend training. Well, school was over so what was my excuse now? I’m sure I could have come up with one, but I wasn’t getting any younger. So, running it was. If you notice, I started this on a Thursday in mid-December. I have noticed that If I wait to start things until X time I will definitely fail at it. No time like the present!

Winter sucked. I was not weather worn enough to be able to start running outside. If you haven’t experienced an Indiana winter, you are lucky because they are frozen hellscapes not fit for man nor beast. This is what resigned me to starting my trek in the gym. Purdue’s Co-rec is super nice so there are worse places I could have started. I decided to try the track, because I hate the treadmill. If the thought of running around a track over an over sounds rough, staying in one place amplifies this.

It felt different from before though. This was something I was going to do. I think it was coming off the high of finally graduating from college. I had some new found self-confidence and this gave more reality to the goal. When I went to the gym, I had an end goal and every step was one more towards it.

I started to develop a rhythm. Even going in the morning before work on some days (to this day I haven’t been able to do this with any degree of consistency). I started at 3 mile workouts and gradually went to 5 milers. I was making progress and I could feel it.

The next phase would come when the weather started to break and a little warmth would peek through. Realistically, nothing was stopping me from upping my distance at the gym, but 5 miles on the track is 50 laps, and anything more would probably cause me to go insane.

I thing that is not really talked about with distance running is just coming up with good routes for that distance. Ideally, I like going in one loop. End up where I started without repeating my route. Here are a few of the routes I used when I was training.

When I broke out of my 5 miles it was to be a 7 mile. At that point I would just strap on my watch and see when it ticked to 7 miles. Can I just say that smartphones and GPS have made finding routes so much better! Like decidedly better. It’s just great. I’ve tried many apps and have found Runkeeper to be the best. I also use tapiriik to sync my progress to Dropbox and Strava. It’s always nice to have a backup and more analytical tools. Everyone loves statistical analysis!

I would then step up to 10! This was a big accomplishment. I was only a 5k away from half of the goal. If it wasn’t clear before, it was starting to crystalize now. This was achievable. One week I decided, this Saturday (5/9/2015) (Saturdays were my long run days) I was going to do a half-marathon. A half! 13.1 miles! A distance previously thought for others, the elite. So, I did it. I ran it on one hot, humid, rainy day. It was entirely exhausting and painful. Around mile 11 my legs started to give out. I had to really keep myself focused. It was a matter of not letting my lizard brain win. This was repeating mantra time. I don’t remember what I was muttering to myself, but it worked. I finished, showed, and promptly flopped down on the couch.

Alright, half way. Only half to go. Cake, right? Totally not. Classic case of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the goal is easy, the last 20% is what is really a bear.

From then on it was trying to progress pass 13 miles. I’ve found that once I complete a perceived hard goal, It’s much harder to keep going past it to the next goal post.

I didn’t break past my half-marathon goal until 7/25/2015 with a 17 mile run. There were a lot of runs in between there and the eventual next goal. Those are far more important than the actual breaking through the goal. Those are the slogs. Those are the ones that are hard, the ones where you have to get out of bed, slap on the shoes and go, when you would much more like to sit and play some Zelda. I mean this in the best way possible, the majority of the runs on this were of this ilk. Just absolute bears, but I was never upset when I did them, I was upset however when I lost the battle between lethargy and action.

Here is a small snapshot of what it took. I’m glad I actually took all those pictures now.

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My training mainly continued in this fashion for the rest of the long, hot summer. (How I miss you now, summer, in the dregs of winter). As the deadline approached I became a lot less nervous. I had been training, and since I had been tacking I had number to back me up whenever I felt like I was out of my league.

One of the benefits of running, that a lot of other athletic endeavors don’t allow is the exploration of new areas. If you are traveling and you don’t have access to a treadmill, you can just run around. I’ve discovered beautiful places that I would have never, ever seen if I hadn’t of just gone for a run. Those are the times when I knew that post marathon, I’d still be running.

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It seems like I had no real setbacks during training, but that isn’t how it went. I had two, memorable setbacks. One was extremely hard to deal with for me, and that was the inevitable injury. I was running on a sidewalk and a car didn’t stop when I should have. I dodged out of the way and landed wrong, twisting my ankle. It turned about 90 degrees from my leg. I felt that. I walked for a second and tried to run it off. No way. I had really messed it up. I walked back to my apartment and knew I would have to be off it. It was pretty disheartening. I felt like my training was going to be set back too far. I was feeling really terrible about the whole thing. My ankle looked like a softball the next morning. I went and bought a brace because it would send a shooting pain up my leg at the slightest provocation. I was off of it for about two weeks total, probably before I should have started running on it again, but I was antsy.

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The second was about not enough preparation, and perhaps too much hubris. I was running around Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. This is one of those instances I mentioned above that I would in no way would have done this if I wasn’t running. They have a nice little path around the lake where you go through people’s back yards. Most of has nice paths, they are maintained by the home owners. For most of the day it was gorgeous just running around the lake. It was sunny, I was passing people saying, “Hi”. Great. The problems arose from two places. One, I did not bring any water, gu, or money with me. Two was I was misinformed at the distance around the lake, I thought it was 20 miles, well within my distance. It was 26. I really didn’t want to do 26 miles because the marathon was the following week. Was it smart to be running so much distance a week before? Probably not (hell no). Around mile 20 my legs started to lock up. It was because my body was starved. I hadn’t provided it with anything since the night before. I hadn’t had water for hours. I was dehydrated and without nutrition. This was entirely stupid and dangerous. I located a park where I did find a nasty looking drinking fountain. I will say that it was the best tasting water I have ever had, quite honestly. I ended up having to make a call for a ride because my legs were shot, my body was shot. Stupid.

This experience was pretty life changing. It gave me tremendous confidence to know that I am able to do big things, but they require sacrifice, time, and work. I don’t think of myself as naturally talented in many ways. I am lucky to have the genes I have, but I believe myself to be fairly average in most categories. What I don’t think I am average in is grit. I am stubborn about my goals. I am able to stick with something until I finish it. I might take a break from it, but I rarely let it go. In essence, what I lack in natural born talent, I make up for in tenacity.

I think anyone can do this, it’s learned. You have to practice it, it’s will power. I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are good at one thing or we have a set amount of will power. Like anything you want to be good at, it requires effort and study. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Alright, enough aphorisms. I’m not writing a self-help book here. Running a marathon is hard, I’m really glad I did it.

On Running (Again).

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I’ve talked about exercise and running on here before, but I wanted to expound on it. This whole post is spurred on by The Oatmeal’s great comic he did on running and what it means to him. There was plenty that I related to in there, but there was some notable exceptions. I do recommend you go read it though, it is funny and a great portrayal of what many runners go through. Another inspiration was the semi-autobiographical story by Haruki Murakami and his love of running called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. I don’t want to compare and contrast their views to mine, but I do want to talk about running.

Now that no one else is reading thanks to that last sentence I think we are good to start. I was introduced to running by an ex-girlfriend of mine in high school, and at first I hated it with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. I did stick with it, partly for her sake, but mostly I needed to get in some kind of shape instead of being in many different shapes. So, I started running regularly, getting into the rhythms and feelings and I got hooked. Here we are eight years later, and I’m finally writing down my thoughts on it. Timely.

Why do people even run? I mean I guess initially it was either to get from point A to point B quicker and/or/probably to outrun dangerous predator’s gaping maws. We are pretty much past that now, I think, at least in the first world we are not often found running for travel or from predators. Now running is a purely recreational activity (for the sake of this post I do include exercise even though it’s for your health).

As a form of recreation it seems to be an odd one. Most people do things to either induce pleasure or reduce pain. Running kind of accomplishes both. Let’s first do away with the notion that people who run regularly are exempt from pain. Every day I run I am in pain. It is not an unbearable pain, it is just a constant, dull pain. Sure, you can run faster, longer, and have a shorter recovery period, but the pain is still there. Not to be melodramatic, but that is why I love it, the pain makes you feel alive.

While we are on the subject of pain, let’s get in touch with our emotional side. I know we are all strong, independent women here, but yes, I’m sure all of us have felt like life sauntered on up and out of nowhere punched us right in the solar plexus. For times like this, running is just about the best cure I can think of. The act takes your mind off of whatever happened, makes you exert all that negative energy, and releases sweet amounts of endorphins so you don’t tailspin into a depression cesspool of woe and misery. So next time you find yourself at the intersection of sad and super sad, throw on your running shoes and just go.

Running, when not done in a competitive environment, puts the onus of competition squarely on yourself. Mind V. Body in the purest sense. When you really get into the run all your body is doing is telling you to stop. The all too familiar pain begins to creep up, you start sweating, and your breathing is now labored. You have to stop, but you can’t stop. The dichotomy that is ever-present in the mind of the runner intensifies the small conquests you have along the way. If you can make it just a little farther, a little more, a little faster, for a little longer – mantras repeated to help keep the body silenced. If you wind up on the winning side of history you feel just gosh dang amazing.

Bear Shark

There is a state called “The Runner’s High” where your body releases a bunch of endorphins and you feel an intense sense of empowerment. You feel like you can fight 10 snarling, vicious bear sharks and win. It is one of the best feelings I’ve experienced. I’ve heard people describe “The Runner’s High” as addictive. It definitely produces a feeling you want to chase down again. I’m not so much of a spiritual or religious person, but the post-run has to be as close to a spiritual moment as one can get without the aid of another human (SEX, GUYS, I AM TALKING ABOUT SEX HERE). It is like being awash in a sea of rainbows and puppy dogs. Dudes, it feels amazing.

When I run on the treadmill in the winter months I have something I like to call “The Two-Minute Hate.” Yes, inspired by one of my favorite books, 1984. I would do my normal workout, but for the last two minutes would increase the intensity to unsustainable levels. I did this to “leave nothing on the field” as sportsman say. For instance, if I was running on a 7, I would crank it to 8.5 for the first minute, and then 10 for the last minute. During that time your whole body is screaming. It takes everything to keep going, or worse, to keep from falling off the treadmill. During those two minutes everything is wrong. Everything is pain. All is chaos. However, after that two minutes, when you start to come down off the rage junket, order starts to return and the wave of ecstasy hits you. Now nothing could go wrong. This alone would be reason enough to run, but there is another, if not more important reason.

At any given time I have about five or six things running around in my head. My brain is terrible at managing and organizing them. Seriously, it is god awful. That’s why I have such a strong adherence to calendars and lists. Without it I would forget everything and not get anything done. I’ve said it before, but my brain is stupid. Unfortunately, the calendars and lists do nothing to deal with anything emotional or thought-provoking. If there is really a big problem I have to work through, I go for a run. Running is my meditation. Running is my time. While running all the crazy beasts bouncing off the inside my skull quiet down and I can focus, I can think. I can try to work though the issues plaguing me for the day and clear my head. Part of the reason for this focus I feel is the simplistic nature of running. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, but you know, more quickly than walking. All I have to do is remember to do that, which leaves my head free to tackle other things.

Image by The Oatmeal
Image by The Oatmeal

There is one more reason, the reason probably everyone cites, and that is health. Running works your heart out. If you are not aware your heart is that thing that is shaped like an upside down butt and totally hates cheeseburgers. You will see weight loss, but it is not as staggering as some other exercise plans. The Oatmeal points out in his comic, you will not start looking like Charles Atlas on running alone. You will start developing some mad stamina though. Plus, as an American, heart disease runs rampant in this corn-fed country so making that thing sweat a little is always a good idea.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it is AMAZING. Hot running. This week in particular has granted it its own subsection. It’s been roughly 100+ degrees Fahrenheit all week long and I’ve run every day in it. It is equal parts the best and worst. You know that feeling when you put the blanket over your head to block out the light or to get warm, but then all the hot air from your breath fills it up and it’s like stiflingly hot? Imagine that feeling, but gradually getting worse for your whole run while sweat pours out from you. That, my friend, is hot running, and it feels awful and great. It’s horrid for the obvious, stated reasons, but just about every part of that run feels like a victory. You fight to keep going and every foot more is a victory (Sorry people not in the US, for using all the wrong units. I love the metric system, let’s be best friends solely based on that.). It makes you feel human. It makes you feel alive.

Running is one of my favorite activities to do and it keeps me sane, healthy, and focused. My day feels unfulfilled when I have to miss. Maybe runners are a different breed and people think we are a tad askew, but I feel glad to be counted among the ranks. I stray from time to time, but I always come back and running is always right there waiting with a sign that says “Pick up the pace fatty.” I love you, too, running.

On Running.

This topic has probably already turned of the vast majority of readers. I promise this is not about technique or best routes. No, this is more based in philosophy and why I personally run.

A little background. I am training for the Chicago marathon in October. Why? To prove to myself I can do it. I am also reading Haruki Murakami’s auto-biographical book about running. I figured that with a potent cocktail such as that it is about time I wrote about running.

Now, I have never had what you could call an athletic physique. In fact, I am probably the opposite. That is not to say I’m some lazy ass, it’s genes mostly these days (but not always). I am one of those people who will gain weight if I sit still. It sucks, but on the bright side it keeps me aware and active. In high school I was a little chubster. I had a terrible diet and was a total couch potato. Around senior year I got kind of embarrassed and (begrudgingly) decided to do something about it. My girlfriend at the time was all into running; track, cross-country, the whole shebang. (Me being what I was, I must have had just an amazing personality to bag a runner. I kid, I kid…) Anyway she was trying to get to go running so I caved. I actually enjoyed it, I mean beyond the pain, panting, and shin splints. I started to pick it up after that and have been running on and off ever since.

Running is a unique sport. I really think it’s the most human of all sports. You are basically equipped for it naked. You need almost no gear for it, a pair of shoes and a long stretch of road. We are born runners. It’s part of our survival.

Running is also one of the most personal sports. This is why it suits me so well. Aside from races, running is a solitary experience. The only person you are competing against is yourself. This makes only you accountable for any shortfalls that occur. The time when I am running it is very peaceful, almost meditative. I rarely run with music and when I do it’s mostly without lyrics. It’s a chance to escape into my head because the only thing my body needs to worry about is moving forward. If there is ever a problem I need to confront or anger that needs venting I always save it for the run. It’s incredibly cathartic.

There is nothing better than reaching the goal you set for yourself, or finishing a long run. The runner’s high is real and it feels amazing. The endorphins swimming all around invigorating every part of your being. The immediate gratification after running is awesome and keeps you coming back. There is days when you don’t want to run. That never goes away, and from what I read, even at the Olympic level. You just need to push through it.

That’s why I run. It aligns itself so well with my personal philosophies. It’s a matter of you vs. you. That’s what life really is. It is always, how bad do you want it? If you work had enough and have the determination you will get to where ever you want.

Running is a sacred time of day for me. It is my meditation and my soul food. It keeps me healthy, helps me sort through all of life’s crap, and refocuses me. In a nutshell, I need running.

I hope this might inspire some people to take up running even if only to see if they like it. It’s not for everyone nor do I claim that various other activities wont keep you healthy. It’s just my personal favorite. If you do try it and haven’t before or even love running too, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!

UPDATE: I didn’t stress it in the above paragraphs, but my girlfriend at the time when I started running deserves a lot of credit. She is the one that pushed me into it and allowed me to discover the joys of running. I am very grateful for that so, thank you.