Runners Need Each Other

So, I have a theory about distance runners and triathletes: we are introverts that have always relied on ourselves and have a hard time accepting help from others. Many of us are very extroverted introverts, but introverts nonetheless. We enjoy solitude and self-reflection. We are introspective and possibly described by others as “deep.” So, it’s no big surprise that we tend to complete the majority of our runs solo. We approach running as we do virtually every other thing in our lives … with discipline, dedication, and great thought. We will certainly go for a social run with another runner or a group of runners and we’ll have a great time, it’s just that we don’t necessarily need that group atmosphere to push us to work on our sport. We’re fine running alone. I must admit; however, getting involved in a connected network of runners has helped me with motivation and inspiration these past couple of years. If you haven’t forced yourself to branch out and run with a group on occasion, or at the very least to forge social media connections with other runners, you are really missing out. Do it. Put yourself out there. Get a group. At some point you are going to need to ask for help and you’re going to want supportive running friends to help you. Trust me. It will happen.

You know how giddy we get when we talk about running? Well, the only thing better than that personal giddiness is sharing it with another giddy runner. How fabulous is it when you find out the person you are talking to is also a runner? It’s simply the best. I become overjoyed! I just want to know everything about their running experience. Do they have a background in running? At what age did they start? Do they race often? How often do they run? Are they training for anything at the moment? Do they cross train? What shoes do they like best? What gadgets are their favorites? Where do they predominately run? Do they trail run? Have they ever completed an overnight relay run? Have they been injured? How do they balance their jobs, families and running? The list of questions goes on and on. I want to know it all. I want to talk about races we have in common. Difficult courses. I want to hear all of their gross running experiences and I’m ready to share mine. The runner bond is like no other. It brings people incredibly close incredibly quickly. It’s quite astonishing how profound the bond between runners is, and I believe this is in large part because we have similar makeups, personalities, and quirks that make us well suited for distance running.

So, are there common personality characteristics that all of us runners posses? Ask yourselves, do you find that you are any of the following?

  • Introverted
  • Adventuresome
  • Brave
  • A leader
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Decisive
  • Determined
  • Tenacious
  • A Planner
  • Confident
  • Obsessive
  • Masochistic
  • Creative
  • Self-aware
  • Competitive

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this right now, you exhibit many, if not all, of the previous characteristics. I know that I do.

Runners tend to enjoy quiet introspection while running where they can see things in a way they don’t ordinarily get to see them when they don’t have time for them. Additionally, the fact that we will set out early in the morning for hours of running demonstrates that we are comfortable with some solitude. Runners love to see new things, period. They are explorers, enjoying the outdoors and appreciating nature. They are risk-taking adventurers that love the feeling of movement. Runners are brave, and they are leaders. Runners are goal-oriented and decisive. When a runner makes up her mind to do something, she goes after it with all of her heart and soul, for she possesses great determination and perseverance. Runners are tenacious, approaching difficulties head on. Runners are planners and they follow through with their commitments. Runners are confident and they rely on themselves to get through tough times. Runners are constantly learning to block out the emotional aspect of pain, and this serves them well in their day-to-day lives. It’s not that we are necessarily masochistic, it’s just that we have learned to soldier through discomfort and not only continue to fight, but keep coming back for more. Runners are also creative and wistful and are probably the most self-aware people on the planet. We spend a lot of time thinking while running, and so we know ourselves pretty darn well. I have met enough runners by now to know that we all pretty much fit this above description, so it is only natural that runners would make great friends to other runners.

Because I am somewhat introverted, it took me awhile to convince myself that running in a group setting and forging friendships with other runners was a good idea. Additionally, because I tend to be very self-conscious and insecure, I was scared to death to run alongside others. What if I looked stupid? What if I ran way too slow? What if my heavy breathing was really annoying? What if I needed to blow a snot rocket out of my nose? What if, what if, what if? Honestly, still to this day, I cannot run a normal run alongside other runners unless it is a race and I have my earbuds in and I am completely detached from the other runners. This is the only way I can normally run. But over the last two years I have invited others to share runs with me and I have attended group social runs. I have forced myself to do this for many reasons. First and foremost, I enjoy a challenge and I know that forcing myself to run with others will ultimately make me a more confident, capable runner. Well, maybe some day. For right now, I’m still a nervous ball of awkwardness every time I run with others. Do my fellow runners think I’m a total spaz? Who knows. Probably not. I’m sure I’m magnifying things. But, I know for sure that there’s just something about sweating and pounding the pavement side by side that allows for intimate conversation and instant camaraderie. It is rather like  a sort of communion, like sharing a meal; breaking bread. The shared participation fosters fellowship.


But there’s a more important reason why I feel it necessary to share runs and have connections with runners; it is because running is hard and it’s nice to have camaraderie with those who know exactly what this means. Sometimes I lack inspiration and motivation and I can draw from my running buddies’ good mojo. Sometimes I’m the one offering the good vibes to my runner friends. Sometimes I’m in need of advice. The bottom line is that runners need other runners. It’s as simple as that. We need each other. We belong to a select club that not many people understand. Running, more than any other sport, allows the intensity of a relationship to come through.

So, if you haven’t already, join your local running club. Take part in group social runs. Make social media connections with other runners. Share your running passion with others.

Peace In My Plateau

imageA Plateau is defined as “a period or state of little or no growth or decline.” I believe that in life, when people hit a plateau, it brings about a sort of life crises.  Some would define “crisis” as a dramatic upheaval in one’s life. By crisis; however, I mean “a turning point.” This is a turning point of sorts for me. I am nearing my 40th birthday, and this milestone birthday, coupled with the comfortable plateau I am currently snuggled into, has given me cause for some self-reflection.
Distance running is a godsend for a person who needs a bit more self-reflection. When I am out on a good, long run my attention drifts and my imagination thrives. It is as if I am in the wilderness, my mind wandering, and this frees up my creativity. I am somewhat aimless, enjoying solitude, discovery, detachment, and introspection. How many first drafts have I written on long runs? Countless drafts. The solitude, coupled with the rhythmic movement, create a completely cathartic experience. I think of many things on my long run and I also think about nothing. Often I think about some pretty dumb things. Silly things. Things that people have said that have made me laugh. Funny things that I have said. The witty comeback that I wish I had uttered in that perfect moment to get a laugh. Often I think about my family. I think about how I don’t deserve my husband and daughters, my loving parents, my coworkers and friends. Do I show them enough how much they all mean to me? Definitely not. I think a lot about how I need to fix this. At some point during the long run I think about how much running consumes me. Every single part of my body is active and engaged while running. There is virtually no body part that is not activated. This makes me feel strong and beautiful. If that feeling could be bottled up I would make millions of dollars. I truly believe that something happens to me on a long run. I believe I am changed a little. The running affords me a feeling of danger and the physical exertion brings out my alter ego. Suddenly I am transformed into a risk taker, seeking adventure and enjoying the feel of adrenaline. I am throwing out comfort in favor of testing my physical limits. I feel wild, free, and fierce. As trite as this will sound, running truly is my therapy. Running relieves my tension. Running improves my overall mood. Running helps me put things into perspective. Running forces me to put everything away and to focus on nothing but examining myself. It is my time to give careful consideration to my conduct, my motives, my priorities, and my blessings.
imageThere’s definitely more to running than just the opportunity to self-reflect, though. Running is also a form of escape for me. I would venture to say that this is true for many of us. It is a way to escape without packing our bags, leaving our families, and heading for the hills. We are bored. The daily life routine has gotten very, well routine. Realizing this, it’s really no surprise that many of us threw ourselves into running later in life. We get to a point where we look around and say, “wait … this is what life is? This is being a grownup?” As I sit here reading this back I realize how depressing that sounds, but it is just a natural, honest reaction that we all have. Running is a way to hold the reigns and take charge of our lives. We won’t just let our lives pass us by, conversely, we will hit the ground running. We will go after what we want and we will feel satiated. We know that by constantly upping the bar for ourselves we might very well be getting in over our heads, but we don’t care. The thrill of giving into our urges is electric and unwavering. In life, when I’m grappling with a difficult situation, I find that I choose to think about my running instead. I know that with trial and error I can improve my running. I know this because I keep improving. Likewise, when I’m on a run, I’ll think about my difficult situations, but I’ll know that at that particular moment in time, I can’t do anything about them. At that point in time, all I have to do is keep running. One foot in front of the other. I may slow my pace, but I must keep going forward. Additionally, running, unlike life, is a puzzle that begs to be solved. The goal of a marathon, for instance, is concrete. The goal is a measured, methodical, matter-of-fact entity: it is a finish time. Achieving that concrete goal is entirely up to us. We have a race date that serves as our deadline and it is up to us to do the things that we need to do to put us in the very best position we can be come race day. All of the training leading up to race day is what we thrive on. We may fail. Success is not guaranteed. We have wonderful plans, but there are many variables at work that could derail our best laid plans. We are always close to burnout, injury, and weakness, but just like in life, we struggle in running and we must work hard to keep going. Perhaps it isn’t a running escape we go on, that seems to have a negative connotation; like we are escaping our wonderful families and visiting an asylum. Perhaps it is a running retreat we continue to go on. It is our refuge. We are reenergized and restored, ready to be better versions of ourselves for others.
imageHuman beings, by nature, seek routine. Routines make us feel safe and secure. All of the things genuinely worth having in life are not just temporary gratifications, and they come with resistance and sacrifice. However, I find it somewhat ironic that the daily routine of life becomes cumbersome for us, but we rather enjoy the ritual of the long run. This seems to be a huge contradiction: we are bored by our life routine, but the routine of the long run intrigues us? Why is it that daily life rituals are stressful and annoying, but weekly long run rituals are exciting? I haven’t quite figured this little conundrum out yet. I think it must go back to the fact that the long run affords us time with ourselves for self-reflection. We need to somewhat abuse ourselves with our long runs in order to heal whatever it is that needs healing. Distance running is a healthy coping mechanism for us. The exercise releases endorphins, reduces stress and anxiety, increases bone mass, muscles, and endurance. Not only that, distance running helps us create self-awareness and confidence through the clarity with which we are able to think. While the physical benefits of running are many, for me, it is the outlet running creates that keeps me coming back for more. I am not afraid to admit it … I am quite a mess, and running helps center me and keep me on the right track. I treasure running. It is an absolute gift. Running makes me feel incredibly strong, and I remind myself of this feeling of strength when I feel weak. There is certainly a connection between mind and body with running. Running has taught me that once I push through the pain, it all becomes so much easier. It has taught me to cope with discomfort and pain. Let’s face it, pain and discomfort in life isn’t going anywhere, right? We all experience pain, it is not a unique experience. We all have our tough stuff with which we must deal. Running better equips me with the tools I need to deal with life’s discomfort. Instead of running from difficulties and discomfort, I will run towards them, head on, and deal with them. Often this will hurt, but I am strong enough to deal with the hurt. So maybe the long run is that part of our life routine where we allow ourselves to hurt and to struggle and to consequently feel the extreme gratification of overcoming such obstacles.
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So, this plateau I mentioned is not a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing. I am doing a lot of things in my life well. I am comfortable. I have an amazing family and job. I have wonderful friends and a very fulfilling hobby. While my husband and I are certainly not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, we live a comfortable life and are afforded many luxuries not everyone gets to experience. I am happy. Running makes me realize that I am driven and dedicated and if I want to push myself to achieve more I should. I want more running success. I am committed to pushing myself more. I appreciate all of the gains I’ve already made, running and otherwise, but I have reached a plateau of sorts. It’s time for me to start climbing until I reach the next proverbial precipice.

Stoked to Start School … Seriously!

It’s that time again. Time to start my 18th year in education. My summer break with my daughters has been wonderful. I truly appreciate the fact that I have this time with them. I am completely in awe of the smart, funny, sweet, beautiful, and strong young ladies they are becoming. I also appreciate all of the time I had for myself this summer. It was a summer of relaxation and rejuvenation, but now it’s over, and I’m excited to start a new school year for many reasons.
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  • Wearing real clothes.

Going back to work means wearing real clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I truly feel most comfortable and confident in my running clothes. The sports bra is infinitely more comfortable than an actual bra. The shorts have this magic waistband that won’t slip or irritate my skin, not on a four hour run, and certainly not on a half hour trip to the H.E.B. The material is dry-wicking, useful for keeping me comfortable during workouts or sitting in a lawn chair at my daughters’ soccer practices. Actually, the more I write about my running clothes, the more I realize I will miss rocking them on the daily. But my work clothes … my work clothes are beautiful. Pencil skirts and fun blouses. Body hugging, polished dresses. Open toed heels for the hotter months and closed toe heels and boots for the colder months. A fresh, straight blow-out for my hair, or a soft, fun, flowing of curls. Being a girl is quite fun, and I do really enjoy dressing up for work.
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  • Feeling like a grown up.

To go along with wearing real clothes, I also look forward to feeling like a grown-up with my own purpose again. For, this summer, I have felt rather like a glorified camp counselor/chaueffer/chef/referee/housekeeper/personal assistant/coordinator. I look forward to donning my “real clothes” and doing the job I’ve been educated and trained for. I look forward to spending my day independent of my children, serving in my leadership position as a campus librarian. My duties and responsibilities at work make me feel needed and important. Of course, tending to my family is a gift I don’t take for granted, but I rather enjoy having a job outside the home where I am Dendy Farrar, in my own right, not Callie and Brynn’s mother.
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  • Being challenged intellectually.

I look forward to going back to work because I am ready to once again be challenged intellectually. I need to scratch that itch to create that makes me incredibly happy. I love to work outside of the home. I love to work, specifically, in a high school library. I love the fact that the students are teenagers embarking on that coming-of-age journey that is universal and quite special. The logistical work puzzles that come up throughout the school year that need my attention can become quite bothersome around April or May as I look forward to my summer vacation, certainly. But come August, I’m ready for a bit of an intellectual challenge. I have had enough time off resting my brain. My brain wants to workout again.
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  • Having adult conversations.

Don’t get me wrong, conversations with a fifth and seventh grader can be quite amusing; it’s just that I miss having adult conversations on a regular basis. I can only go so long hearing about the funny lip syncing video they made, the intricacies of the soccer scrimmage that was completely unfair by their estimation, and the “hilarious” homemade joke that seems to take an enternity to spit out. I love my daughters and enjoy their company, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that we have had an enormous amount of together time this summer and I’m ready to experience some adult time at work coupled with my evening family time.
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  • Looking forward to holiday vacations.

It’s no secret, the faculty and staff at a school is just as excited as the students are to go on vacation. There’s nothing like those exciting days leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring, Easter, and Summer breaks. Holidays are fun and long breaks from school add to the excitement for my daughters and me. I know for me personally, anticipating breaks from school makes me feel like a kid again. I openly admit that I am always searching for things that give me that childlike sensation, and working in a school library delivers that sensation. On a trail run I once saw a sign that read, “you are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely;” that sums up this concept perfectly.
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  • Getting back into the routine.

I have been lazily doing as I have pleased for the better part of two months. I have gotten a bit out of touch with the real world living in my “vacation mentality.” The days started later, lasted longer, and never really felt very rushed. Granted, we still had activities going on this summer; it’s just that they didn’t seem quite as stressful as they do during the school year. We had a break from the hustle and bustle and the stacks of homework, permission slips, projects and the like. We were able to move at a slower pace and relax. It has been very nice, but we are all starting to go a bit stir-crazy around here. The girls and I are bickering and we have come to the realization that we need to get back to our routine.
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  • A fresh, new start.

There is just nothing like the brand new, never before seen is there? The unfamiliar and different seem richer, louder, and clearer. The first-day jitters are electrifying. It’s the change of environment, the new supplies, new clothes, and the new people that are so exciting as we embark on another school year. The newness motivates us. We experience a rush of motivation to explore. We compare the new to our existing memories and this captivates and stimulates us. Trading in the overly familiar for the completely new offers us so much possibility, and it is all wildly exciting. But, alas, the novelty will wear off, unfortunately. We won’t be able to hold onto the newness forever. But for now, we’re excited to start another school year.
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  • A time for reevaluation.

A new school year presents me with the opportunity to reevaluate how I am doing things. I strive to do my job with passion and purpose. The start of a new school year affords me the opportunity to question the expectations I have set for myself. Am I making a difference at my school? Am I fostering a love of reading? Am I helping teachers do their jobs effectively? Is my library a warm, inviting space in which to explore and learn? The start of a new school year is the perfect opportunity to evaluate current practices and try new things.
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I know that come April or May I will be ready for my summer vacation. It happens every year, and while my summer vacation is always wonderful, I always become restless. The restlessness is most likely brought upon by the sheer amount of free time I am afforded. It’s time for me to get back to my juggling act. Work, home, kids, extracurricular activities, my fitness … all of it. I’m ready for all of it. Here’s to a great 2016-2017 school year!

Spinning My Wheels

Cycling is hard. It hurts. I can’t make myself go fast and my legs throb on my rides. I’m nervous leaning into turns, stopping at red lights, and riding in a pack. I look at the speed with which most cyclists ride and I fear I will never come anywhere close to achieving that kind of speed. In short, right now I’m bad at cycling.
I’m new to the cycling world and I’m at the point where I’m noticing how it is a pretty funny sport.

1. It requires a helmet.

2. I have to wear funny shoes that make me feel like I’m ice skating if I need to walk in them, and when I ride in them I’m attached to the bike … attached to the damn bike!

3. The spandex shorts have a padded ass.

It’s all just very funny to me.

But the riding, the riding is wonderful. It’s very much like distance running and swimming. It’s the meditative cadence to the breaths and strides/strokes/turns that I yearn for. It’s wonderful and freeing and gives me that childlike sensation for which I’m always searching. Cycling is a wonderful adventure; that is until it hurts and it’s horrible and I feel like quitting.

I have read, and heard from countless triathletes, that cycling can improve my running. By cycling, I’m using my body differently and building up complementary muscles. Instead of simply running and building up the same muscles all the time, cycling will build up neighboring muscles that will aid in my running. Cadence is to cycling what turnover is to running. Improving my cadence in cycling enforces a quick turnover in my running. So, if I can get faster on the bike, I believe I can become a faster runner.

Cycling uphill is no joke. Not only do I have to propel my body up a hill, I must propel a bike, with a tendency to roll backwards, up a hill in a seated position. I’ll tell you, riding a bike up a hill has really made me appreciate running up a hill forever on out. I can see how hill training in cycling would make me a much stronger runner.

Embarking on this cycling journey has made me a beginner again. It’s hard to be a newbie. Newbies are vulnerable and inexperienced, but they are also blank slates open to any and all advice and guidance. I am being molded right now by countless people and resources. I am a sponge and I am soaking it all up and always keeping my running in the background of all of the cycling gains I make.

So all of this has me thinking about how cycling and running are similar. Both cycling and running use my large lower body muscles in a sustained, rhythmic manner. Both are cardio, aerobic activities that require high lung capacity and a smooth cadence. Both running and cycling require mental strength and stamina. Both are difficult. I struggle at both. Both present me with challenges. I realized all of this on my last ride as my heart pounded and my breath quickened. I saw the straight line to the horizon and I felt that familiar blurred line that exists between discomfort and pain. I entered into that dark place where I think I can’t go on, and I realized that this is what I need. For, there is no quick answer, that’s the very nature of endurance. Endurance = the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse  conditions; stamina.

I say I’m bad at biking right now, because I know I can change this. I will improve. All I have to do is keep mounting that bike and riding.

I may be wobbly right now, but I am still upright and moving forward, and that’s really all that matters, right?

Trying a Tri

image.jpegSo, anyone who knows me knows that I am now a full-fledged runner. The running is in my blood and I have no plans of stopping. In order to support my running, I started lifting weights, practicing yoga, and lap swimming. All of these things are done in an effort to improve my strength and recovery and ultimately make me a better runner. I find that the swimming helps flesh out the junk in my muscles from all of the running and it has the added bonus of making me feel like a mermaid, and what girl doesn’t love that feeling? So, over several months, my Instagram account has begun sharing a little of its focus on swimming in addition to my running. I have been fortunate enough to forge connections with triathletes in my area and all around the world. I am always open about the admiration I have for them. The notion of doing three sports in a row in a race setting is mind blowing to me. Because of my swimming and running many have asked me the question, “are you considering a triathlon?” I always reply, “well, I am always kind of flirting with the idea of trying one, but no, I don’t think I’ll be doing one any time soon.” Well, I just completed my first sprint triathlon and I am kind of freaking out over here!

So, I’ll back up. I was able to meet three local triathletes through social media. One of them I met in person for the fist time recently as we volunteered at the Texas Ironman race. He and I have had several poignant online conversations regarding juggling our spouses, family, work, and pursuing our passions. it truly is a juggling act, and it’s nice to have a friend that can relate. The other two social media friends I had met in person prior to our volunteering at the Texas Ironman race. Bryan serves as a Chevron Houston Marathon Ambassador with me, and Rachel serves as a Nuun Hydration team member with me. I met Bryan in person for the first time at last year’s Chevron Houston Marathon, and then again at our 2017 ambassador meeting. Rachel and I were both selected to run for Team Nuun at the Ragnar Trail Atlanta Relay Race, so we actually got to spend a weekend together. All four of us volunteered at Ironman Texas and it was decided that I needed to participate in a local sprint triathlon. It was settled. I would borrow Rachel’s extra road bike. I would tackle the race. Yikes! I don’t have any real biking experience! I had never been swimming in open water with a bunch of other people in a race situation. How was I going to pull this off? Could I really do it? I told them I’d think it over. I told them to let me go do some lap swimming right before a spin class at my gym and see how well it would go for me. I told them I wasn’t sure I could do it.

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Over the course of a few days I tried to visualize myself completing the triathlon, but I still had so much worry about it. The truth is, I was scared about falling flat on my face. I was scared that I would be really bad at this triathlon. Doing something different is uncomfortable, but along with that fear of the unknown, comes the undeniable thrill of taking a risk. So, I vowed to give this the old college try. I went to my gym and swam a 500, then attended an hour long spin class. The swim was nice, short, and felt great. The spin class was challenging, but I felt in control the whole time. I realized that I am fit. I am capable of doing so many athletic things since I am fit. This feeling is so empowering for me.

The next step was to borrow the bike and trainer from Rachel, lower the seat (Rachel is a little leg-gier than me, much to my chagrin 😉), purchase clip-in shoes, and a helmet. My next course of action was to put the bike on the trainer, don my shoes, and practice clipping in and out of the pedals a million times. Next, my aforementioned friend Bryan hooked me up with a group in my area I could ride with. I rode with them one Saturday morning and I was keenly aware that two of the six guys were sacrificing their rides by hanging back with me. I felt pretty bad about that and told them so a half dozen times. They assured me that they had a race the following day and weren’t interested in a super hard ride, so that made me feel much better. I was so very nervous as we pulled out of the driveway, that I fell and skinned my knee right there on the driveway. It was quite embarrassing, but also quite expected, so I shook it off and we set out on our ride.

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I learned a lot on that ride. I learned how to ride in a pack and how to clip and unclip from my pedals with much more ease than I had while practicing on the trainer. I was intensely aware of how vulnerable I was there riding along that feeder of a major freeway. I was honked at while riding under an overpass with my group, and the horns echoed so loud there under that overpass. I realized that if every driver were to brave that very road by bike they would behave differently when driving. Riding a bike amongst drivers makes a person incredibly vulnerable. Once you’ve experienced that kind of vulnerability, you are much more sensitive to others in that same situation. I thought a lot about this on my twenty something mile ride averaging 15-17 miles per hour.

Next, I needed to practice the open water swim. I’ve swam laps in a swimming pool countless times, but I had never swam in open water with a pack of people. My newfound biker friends hooked me up with a ladies group that rides and swims in open water together. So, I met up with the ladies group for a bike, swim, bike. This was a great experiment leading up to my first sprint triathlon. The bike to the lake was 20 miles, and while I certainly was riding in the back, I wasn’t hurting too terribly bad. Next it was time to swim. I had never tried to swim in open water, so this was a first, for sure. The first thing I noticed was that the stairs leading into the water were slimy and this creeped me out just a little. Once I started swimming, I felt pretty good. I wouldn’t say I’m a fast swimmer, but I am definitely a strong swimmer. Needless to say, I swam back to the steps faster than I’d gone out and got the heck out of that lake! At this point I had to ride the bike for 20 miles to get back to my car. The bike back was very difficult for me. I learned that I hadn’t taken in enough calories and I spent that afternoon a little sick once I was back home.

image.jpegSo, I’d practiced everything, and now it was time to prepare for the race. I had never felt as unprepared for a race as I did for that triathlon. The bike portion is what mostly worried me. Before I knew it, it was the night before the race. I packed all of my gear and I went to bed, waking every couple of hours nervous with anticipation. On race morning I arrived early, got my bike in its slip, and met up with my biker friends. Everyone was so lovely. They offered me well wishes and tons of advice and I could tell that they genuinely meant it. I always say that runners are the most positive, encouraging people, but I learned on race day that triathletes are just as positive and encouraging. I guess all athletes are positive and encouraging.

imageAs for the actual race. I did well in the swim, getting eighth place out of 23. The run was amazing and I got fourth out of 23. The bike, well, let’s just say I wasn’t last place. I was 22nd out of 23. Clearly, I need to work on the bike. But I also learned that the world is a truly beautiful place filled with beautiful people. Every time an athlete signs up for a race, trains, and shows up to toe the line, they are better. They are inspiring. Athletes build each other up with good vibes because they are paying forward what some athlete did for them once upon a time. We genuinely want others to succeed because it’s an amazing thing to see others going after their goals and it inspires us to continue to do the same.

Let’s all go out there and crush our goals! Who’s with me?

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Monthly Mileage

imageI have gotten into the habit of posting my total running miles to social media each month. I don’t pay any attention to my monthly mileage as the month goes on, but I do like to sit down with my running app and view my total monthly miles on the last day of each month. It’s nice to reflect on each month of running. The months leading up to my yearly marathon contain more miles than non marathon training months, and rightly so. I know many people can run tons of miles all year long, but I’m certain I’m not one of those people. I tend to start suffering from overuse injuries once I get really high in mileage, despite my best efforts to keep them at bay. Additionally, I don’t feel that I am a born athlete. I have to work hard at maintaining what I’ve already got going, and I always feel like I’m on the verge of potentially burning out, and the idea of not having running in my life scares me. I bet that must sound kind of weird to the casual acquaintance, but I know my running buddies out there understand this completely. For, preparing for each run is a struggle. More often than not, as I lace up my running shoes and prepare for my run, I contemplate skipping it. My brain starts to tell me that it won’t matter much if I skip my run. My brain tells me things like, “Hey lady, you’re no olympian, here. You’re not qualifying for the Boston Marathon any time soon. You’re a wife, mother, and librarian. Nobody really cares whether you go on this run. Just skip it.” But, I tell that brain to shut up and I push myself out of the door, and I run. Sometimes I instantly feel better and I think, “I love this. I love running” but sometimes I think to myself, “This sucks. My legs hurt. The air is thick. Why am I doing this?” The point is, no matter the outcome of my run, I stick to my plan and I run. I allow myself pre determined rest days, but other than that, I’m running. Every mile I run is a success and I want to celebrate it.

imageSo, I keep on running each month, despite the fact that many days I really want to skip my workouts. I know that this is a struggle for many others besides myself. This is why many out of shape individuals fall prey to the “get fit quick” programs that inundate the marketplace. The promise of an easy, quick fitness solution? Yes, sign me up. But I digress, the point is that I know I must persevere, even when I lack motivation, and so I soldier on. I am disciplined with my running. Many months I hover between 80 and 100 miles. In peak marathon training season, I will average a bit more, between 100 and 140 miles. For the month of May, I ran 97 miles. That’s a good solid non marathon training month for me. After noticing my May monthly mileage total, I created my little graphic that I always make that lists my total miles for the month. As I went to post it on Instagram, I thought to myself “I bet you that total of 97 miles would really drive a lot of people crazy. I bet you they’d go out and run three more miles so that they’d have a nice round 100 miles for the month.” So, in my Instagram post I posed the question to my IG friends, “Do you make sure you end your month on a nice rounded number?” Most of my responses were resounding yeses, and it was a fun question to discuss with my running friends. I mean, ultimately, if we’re running every month, than that’s a good month, right? If I’d skipped my three mile run that morning my May miles would have been 94. If I’d skipped that three mile run and the four mile run the day before, my total would have been 90 miles for the month. 90 miles would have been a nice rounded number, but is it better than 97? No, because I would have skipped three good runs and it might very well have led to skipping a fourth good run, which could have led to me quitting running, and that would be a travesty.

imageUltimately my goal in recording my monthly mileage is to celebrate whatever running I’ve done that month. Whether it’s a big miles month or a smaller miles month, it’s really all good. I know that my friends weren’t suggesting that my monthly mileage wasn’t good or anything, they were just saying that ending the month so close to a nicely rounded number would trouble them enough to go run a second time that day to make it to 100. I can understand that, certainly. I have had many a run where I have pushed myself to stay under a certain pace simply to see those splits recorded on my running app. I have pushed myself at races to make qualifying times for the front corral at my beloved Chevron Houston Marathon. I can see the thought process there, I just for some reason don’t fret about my monthly mileage. I love to see how many monthly miles my fellow runners get in and I like to reflect on my own monthly miles. Just thinking about all of the problems that were solved, fights that were avoided, and logistical work puzzles that were worked through on those runs is magnificent. Posting my monthly mileage forces me to pay close attention to how very far I have come in these last four years of running. There was a time, not long ago, that I could not run one mile without stopping to rest. It is truly amazing what the human body and the human spirit can accomplish when we believe in ourselves and we don’t give up.

Keep running and recording your miles, friends.

Running the world’s luckiest fishing village

imageThere’s nothing quite like vacation running, is there? I’ve written about vacation running before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. I enjoy exploring new areas and when I’m on vacation, running makes me feel less like a tourist and more like a local. Last week my family and I enjoyed a beach vacation together in Destin, Florida. Destin, dubbed the “world’s luckiest fishing village,” is on a peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Choctawhatchee Bay in the Florida panhandle. The beach  is white and the water is emerald green. It is truly a breathtaking place. We stayed in a very comfortable and spacious condo with a beautiful ocean view. It was the most relaxing vacation I have ever been on. We woke up each morning without alarms; I woke a few hours before the rest of my family each day. I’m not complaining about those hours alone, not at all; I rather enjoy rising early and preparing for my run. Often I’ve come back from my run and everyone is still asleep. This happened most mornings while we were in Destin. I enjoyed runs along the boardwalk and beach. I got to see and hear the crashing waves and seagulls. I could smell the salt and feel the sun kissing me. It was wonderful running at the beach. I highly recommend it to every runner. It is beautiful and peaceful and it made me extremely happy.

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Each day I ran the boardwalk enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean, and then as a post-run ritual, I removed my running shoes and jogged, frolicked, and took pictures along the edge of the water allowing myself the refreshing feeling of getting wet by the salt water.  Some days, when I got to the beach early enough, I made the first footprints of the day. That’s a pretty cool feeling, I must admit. I learned many things from my time running on the beach. The first thing I learned is that beach running is challenging, and that running on soft sand creates an unpredictable terrain, providing excellent resistance work, much like trail running. Wet sand, while still difficult to run, is easier to run than soft sand because of the harder surface. I learned that a sunrise is even more beautiful near the beach, and that running on the beach before the sun is all the way up is much cooler than after the sun is up … that water will really reflect that sun! I learned that there is nothing quite like the sound of the ocean. I also felt both of my feet and the surface below me with every barefoot step, and this allowed me to feel more in tune with my running and my universe than ever before. This type of running really forced me to be present with my running and my surroundings. The beach run is a very zen experience, that is until you feel the exhaustion of exerting twice as much effort as you would road running. It was at the point of exhaustion that I would call my run over each day. For, there was fun to be had with my family! We went on a day cruise, saw dolphins, found seashells, ate amazing food, built sand castles, surfed the waves, swam in the ocean, rode bikes, went searching for crabs at night, went on walks on the beach, bought souvenirs, and laughed. It was an excellent vacation.

imageIf I casually mention my running in Destin with friends many will say, “you didn’t take time off from running while on vacation?” At first, I found that question odd, but then after much thought, I realized that this whole running thing has become a large part of who I am, and for many others fitness is a chore. In many ways running now defines me to some extent. I am many things: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, librarian, and runner. Running is one of the very important things in my life. Running is not something that I have to do, it is something that I get to do. Yes, sometimes it is difficult and frustrating, but so are all of the other important things I listed. Running on vacation is a treat for me. I do not spend the miles fretting about my pace or distance. I spend my vacation miles looking around at my surroundings, smelling the smells, and learning about the place I am visiting. It’s an experience for me like no other.image

 

What do sports teach us about life?

As I was watching my daughters play soccer this weekend I started thinking about the spirit of competition and how organized sports help mold individuals into lifelong leaders. Of course it’s easy to get bogged down in the ins and outs of the sport and to forget about the way that sports give people many outstanding attributes that they might not otherwise possess. I am happy that my girls play a competitive sport, and I started listing in my head the positive lessons I’ve noticed my girls learning. This also made me think about my sport of running and the positive changes I’ve made in my own life through my involvement in my sport. So, what do sports teach us about life?

 1. How to win and how to lose.emily dickinson

Obviously, one of the first things learned is how to lose and how to win. A competitor should be graceful when he loses as well as when he wins. When we lose it’s easy to become upset, and honestly, a bit of upset after a loss is a good thing. For, the goal is to come out on top; to perform well; to enjoy a victory. Often times; however, despite our best efforts, we lose. In these moments it is important to remember the bigger picture. To remember that a loss should not deter us from continuing to work hard for what we want. It is important during losses to continue to honor the spirit of competition; to respect your opponent and to allow them to make you better. Conversely, sports teach us to win gracefully. Nobody likes a gloat. The truth is, as trite as it sounds, we win some, and we lose some. It’s certainly more fun to win, but we must always remember that we cannot win every time. Besides, if we did win every time, would the victories be as sweet? I think not. Emily Dickinson in the poem “Success is Counted Sweetest,” asserts that “to comprehend a nectar, requires sorest need.” In other words, to truly appreciate victory, we must experience defeat.

2. How to handle criticism.

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Perhaps one of the most beneficial things one learns from playing sports is how to handle criticism. This is something that I, to this day, struggle with. It is important to realize that it is not humanly possible to achieve perfection. We all have things we need to work on. If a person criticizes the way we do something, it does not mean that we are not good. It simply means that someone has made an observation about the way we do something and offered their opinion regarding it. That’s really all it is. An opinion. It may or may not be relevant to us, but people are entitled to their opinions. In a sports situation, if a coach offers an opinion regarding the quality with which we are performing, the opinion is relevant to us. It is not as if we are perfect; we have coaches nearby observing things about the way we perform that we might otherwise never have realized. If a coach takes the time to articulate an observation he has regarding our performance, we should take that as a compliment. If the coach didn’t think we had it in us to improve, he wouldn’t waste his time on us. In sports, it’s important to take criticism in stride and to avoid getting our feelings hurt and getting emotional when someone offers us criticism. Additionally, handling criticism from coaches ensures that we won’t let mistakes define us; instead we will learn from them.
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3. How to persevere.

Playing sports teaches us how to work hard, deal with discomfort, overcome obstacles, learn from struggle, push our body’s limits, get back up after falling, and to never give up. In short, sports teach us to persevere. These qualities are obviously necessary in athletics, and they certainly spill over and apply to the rest of our lives. In any given situation, resilience and determination are great contributors to success. When we fight through hard times and push past discomfort, we get to the good stuff. All great things worth having in life take effort and don’t come easy. The good things are worth fighting for and require perseverance, right? Sports teach us to develop that part of the brain that is in charge of perseverance, and the sooner we learn to fight for what we want, the more successful we become.

4. How to share, work together, and celebrate others.

Playing sports also teaches us how to share, work together, and celebrate others. One cannot hog all of the limelight and never share. There is enough room for all of us to shine, and instead of trying to prevent others from shining, we should cheer others on and motivate them. By cheering on teammates we are building them up and celebrating them. The simple fact is that one person cannot do everything. When we share and work together we achieve so much more than when we attempt to do everything on our own. In order to share the limelight and work well with others, we must be willing to ask for help and receive it, and we must trust others. The ability to share, work well with others, ask for help, trust others, and cheer others on are all integral attributes of leaders. They are also attributes of great community members. Truthfully, they are simply good attributes of human beings.

5. How to set goals and have a positive attitude.

Playing sports teaches us to set goals, and this builds confidence and a positive attitude. Achieving an athletic goal we’ve set for ourselves requires us to believe in ourselves, and each time we succeed, we become more confident. Naturally, we will fall short of our goals at times, but we learn to take those losses in stride, soldier on, keep a positive attitude, and keep fighting. Setbacks will happen, but good athletes do not let those setbacks destroy them. A good athlete takes every experience, good or bad, and learns from it. It is truly the way that we respond to setbacks that dictates our future success. A positive attitude, even when we are struggling, will keep us working toward our goals.

6. How to make sacrifices.

Sports teach us how to make sacrifices. In order to pursue our passions, we must prioritize our lives and carve out time to dedicate to them. This might mean that we sacrifice idle time in order to squeeze everything in, and making sacrifices requires self-discipline. As an adult, how many times have you had to sacrifice sleep to squeeze all of your responsibilities in? How many times have you had to turn in early in order to be prepared for the following day? Playing sports forces us to get accustomed to making tough decisions regarding our schedules and our priorities if we want to accomplish our goals. Isn’t that the nature of being a successful adult? If we lazily retreat from responsibilities will we achieve all of the things that we aspire to? Most definitely not.

7. How to show respect.

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Sports teaches athletes to respect authority, not because they fear authority, but because they realize that their coaches want what is best for them. Showing respect is not limited just to coaches, either. A well-rounded athlete respects their teammates, opponents, officials, and themselves. Let’s face it, there comes a time in every athlete’s life where he doesn’t agree with a decision a coach, official, or teammate makes. It’s bound to happen. A respectful athlete, even when he is displeased, will show courtesy amidst frustration. Clearly, this spills over into the athlete’s off-field life as well. There will be a time when the athlete will face a spouse, boss, coworker, etc. with whom he disagrees. In sports, athletes are placed in this position with regularity, and hopefully they learn to maintain their composure and remember their manners.

8. How to hold yourself accountable, keep on learning, and take care of yourself.

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Athletes are privy to team practices, strength training, and a wealth of professional coaching knowledge, but it is up to the athlete to apply all of the knowledge they gain through these experiences. A successful athlete puts in extra work on their own time. He practices on his own because he wants to improve and he does not want to lose any momentum he has gained through his practice sessions. When athletes put in extra work they are learning to hold themselves accountable. They are learning that if they want something bad enough, they must work for it, even when no one is watching them. Every single time an athlete takes a coach’s instruction to heart he is learning and becoming better. He is conditioning his mind and body and developing himself immeasurably.

9. How to see the bigger picture.

Athletes know that there’s more to life than just the game. They know that family, friends, faith, and education are what holds the true meaning to life. Athletes; however, have an intense passion for their sport. Engaging in their sport brings them great happiness, purpose, confidence, and health. The sport certainly enriches their lives, but it should not be the be all and end all of their worlds. It is important for athletes to be completely engaged in their activity and to take the necessary steps in their lives to accomplish their goals, but they must remember that there is more to life than the sport. Involvement in sports enhances our lives, but it shouldn’t run our lives.
I am intensely proud that my daughters are involved in a competitive team sport. I truly feel that they are learning lifelong lessons out there on the soccer field. They are confident and poised and they don’t allow themselves to give up. I know that their involvement with their soccer club has been a huge contributor of the fine women they are becoming.
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My Husband, the Running Widower

image I like to think that I have the best of both worlds with my job as a high school librarian. Yes, I start work very early in the morning, but I get to be home to greet my daughters’ school buses in the afternoon and to prepare dinner for my family. I get to help my girls with their homework and hear about their days at school before I rush them off to their extracurricular practices. I get to spend Spring Break, Summer Break, Thanksgiving Break, and Christmas Break with them. I get to spend my day doing a job that I love with fantastic people and I don’t have to jeopardize time with my family. It’s really been great for me as a mother. When I selected my career as a high school teacher I was in my early twenties, unmarried and childless, and had no notion of which direction my life would take. I feel fortunate to have picked a career that is both rewarding and affords me time with my family.

My flexible work schedule also allows me time to pursue my passion of running. Who knew four years ago I would call myself a runner? Not me, certainly. The running bug got me and I haven’t been the same since. I’ve written many times about why I run. I think the most succinct answer to the question, “why do I run?” is to feel free. I feel nothing but free when I’m running. My husband and daughters support my running, but I need to be careful not to ask too much from them. Yes, I should be able to pursue my running dreams, but not at the expense of them. I simply can’t ask them to allow me to throw myself completely into my running where there’s not much left of me for them.

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img_8033-1The month of April was a spectacular running month for me. I was able to participate in two out of town running relays. The first was the Texas Independence Relay which took me away from my family from April 1st through April 3rd. The second was the Ragnar Trail Atlanta Relay which took me away from my family from April 14th through April 17th. These were both wonderful running experiences and both were on my bucket list, but they occurred two weeks apart. This was really asking a lot from my family. My poor husband was left alone to cart my daughters to their soccer games and other activities. He was solely responsible for homework, dinner, laundry, dishes, etc. It would be unreasonable for me not to expect my family to feel a little taken advantage of by my blowing and going. These events weren’t work-related, they weren’t religious missions, they were both all about me pursuing my dreams as a runner. I better be careful here, I try very hard to not put my running above my family, but for the month of April my running came first.

imageThere have been countless times when my daughters had soccer games an hour’s drive from our home and they needed to be at their warm up by 8:15. On those days I’d force myself to wake at 2:30 in the morning to allow enough time to eat, dress, do my long run, shower, eat, and help my daughters and husband prepare to leave. I woke at this ungodly hour so that I would not have to forsake either my long run or watching my daughters’ sports that weekend. Additionally, I squeeze my track speed workouts in most times after work but before my daughters get home from school. This way I can still help with homework and prepare dinner before it’s time for me to take them to practice. Because I must leave for work by 6:00 each workday, this means I arise at 3:40 so that I can fit in my run and some short strength training before I shower and get ready to leave for work. I do these things because I enjoy working outside of the home, but I also enjoy being around to do things for my family. I want to pursue my passion, but not at the cost of my family.

imageSo, really, what this rant is all about is just the age-old conundrum: how do I focus on my passion without forsaking my family and friends? This post is all about the juggling act we must maintain on a regular basis to enrich ourselves and to be present for our loved ones. There are only so many hours in the day and when we spend time on one thing, we are neglecting something else. That’s just the nature of life. We cannot possibly focus all of our energy on one thing and expect all of the other things to be nurtured as well. During the month of April I mainly focused on my running. My running took me out of town not once, but twice. I was not around for days at a time and I left all of the work up to my husband. I know that he is resentful of my running at times, I mean how can he not be? I also know that my husband admires my drive and passion. He appreciates the way that I am serving as a good role model for our girls. He is supportive, but even I realize I was a bit absent last month.

So, I will resolve to work extra hard to be present and engaged when I am with my family. For, running is a wonderful addition to my life, but my family is the most important thing to me. What good is success if you don’t have loved ones with which to share it? My family drives me to be better. They are the reason I am fulfilled.

How do you balance your running and your family life? Do you feel torn at times trying to juggle everything? What have you found to help negotiate the balancing act?

Ragnar Trail Atlanta Team Nuun Relay Recap

 Nuun is a product that I’ve used and loved for years. As I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with my running, I have also decided to put myself out there by applying to serve as an ambassador for my favorite products. I mean, why not? I recommend these products on a regular basis, so why not get even more involved in the running community by serving as an ambassador for my favorite brands? I was over the moon excited when Nuun selected me to serve on Team Nuun. Me?!   As a Team Nuun member, I had the opportunity to apply to run a Ragnar Trail Relay in Atlanta, Georgia at the Georgia International Horse Park. I honestly never thought I’d be picked. Before I applied, I checked with my husband. I started the conversation like this, “Hey, I probably won’t be picked, but I’d like to apply to run for Team Nuun at a Ragnar Trail Relay in Atlanta, Georgia. What do you think?” His response was, “Sure. You know you’ll be picked, right?” I’m not sure how he knew, without a doubt, that I’d be picked when I, myself, thought that it was a long shot, but he was right. I was picked. This meant I’d be doing two 200 mile relay races within two weeks of each other out of town. Oops. Sort of bad timing. My poor husband would be stuck as Mr. Mom for two of the five weekends in April. Sorry, David. I owe him big time.  Now that I knew I was going to Georgia, I contacted my friend Dyana who now lives in Sevierville, Tennessee. Her new home is about four hours from Atlanta. We hatched a plan for her to drive to Atlanta the day I arrived for a lunch date and a few hours of hanging out before I needed to check in with my team. My friend is caring for her mother with Parkinson’s Disease and, while she is thoroughly enjoying her time with her mother in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, she was happy to get away and take a short trip to Atlanta. Dyana is a friend like no other. I miss her dearly and it was so great to see her.   Next it was time to meet my team at a restaurant for our team dinner. I met 14 other people all at once and it’s amazing how easily we were able to talk to each other within moments of meeting one another. This is yet again a testament to how powerful the bond is within the running community. Runners are connected through their love of the run and this never ceases to amaze me. After dinner we went to the campsite and I turned in early. It was a bit chilly for me in the tent, and that coupled with the boisterous group in the tent behind us, prevented me from getting a great night’s sleep, but I’d say I got a good night’s sleep.  Friday morning I woke early and went on a short run around Ragnar Village. The village was quiet, as runners were just beginning to emerge from their tents and get ready for their run time start. Our teams wouldn’t start running until 4:30 p.m., so my day was spent cheering on other runners and getting to know my team. Friday evening and all of Saturday are quite a blur. Basically it entailed waiting at the starting line for the previous runners to pass the baton, cheering teammates on, keeping each other company, resting in the tent, and stuffing our faces. We were afforded little to no amounts of sleep, leaving us weary and light headed, but we had new friends and community by our sides. We enjoyed each other and worked together to do something epic.  An overnight relay race is completely a team effort. The amount of support I received from my teammates is what kept me going. Really, an overnight relay race is a microcosm of the larger running community. Runners support other runners by cheering them on and letting them know that struggling is normal and expected. I am a big believer in making memories through physical activity. An overnight relay race is all about togetherness through activity. I find that overnight relay races offer a sense of community that no other race offers. Additionally, I guess I kind of like to temporarily deprive myself of sleep, hygiene, and some of my sanity.

So, will I do it again? Heck yes!