This past summer I wrote about how very difficult summer running can be because of heat and humidity. Houston, Texas is a real sauna in the summer, believe you me. This past summer, I would have said that unequivocally, it is hardest to run in the summer months. However, after the cold snap we experienced where my feet were feeling the coolness emanating off the concrete and my hands were going numb from the cold, maybe winter running is equally difficult. It is certainly not an extreme cold that we experience here in Houston, Texas, but running in colder temperatures for several hours will certainly wear on a girl, regardless.
So … which is more difficult … summer running or winter running? Or is it that running is just difficult in general?
Honestly, I guess it might depend on which month it is when I try to decide. If I were asked in the summer which was more difficult, I’m quite sure I’d say the summer, and vice versa. In life we tend to struggle with the here and now difficulties. We focus on what is hard for us at the moment and we believe that once certain circumstances change, we will be afforded great relief. Then said circumstances change, and while we enjoy some relief, we find there is a new set of difficulties plaguing us and we reflect back on that earlier time. The earlier time suddenly seems less awful in comparison to our present hell. In other words, we romanticize the past and overdramatize our present struggle. The same is certainly true in running.
Running is hard. It is hard because the runner is forced to keep going, even when his mind tells him he should stop. Even when his muscles tighten and burn and his legs become extraordinarily heavy. Even when he gets emotional and sheds tears. Even when he becomes hungry and feels weak. Even when his jelly legs cause him to slip and fall. Even when his feet feel raw and blistered. The runner keeps running. One foot in front of the other. The runner keeps it moving. Keeps going forward. Just when it seems there’s no possible way the runner could run any more steps, behold, the finish line appears.
Setbacks and struggles are inevitable in life. They just are. We must persevere through difficult times and learn from them. In retrospect, these tough times were mere blips in time that passed. It always passes. Additionally, we are grateful for the good times when we experience the bad times. Would we even think to recognize the good times if it weren’t for the bad times?
Running is challenging. Period. It teaches us about ourselves. It challenges us. It frustrates us. It invigorates us. It makes us feel alive.
So this year I finally decided to try the Hansons Marathon Method. I had looked into the plan several times after seeing the success of so many of my running idols, but I was always intimidated by the amount of weekday miles it included and the absence of super long weekend miles. I was very skeptical, only because it was not what I was used to.
Now, it should be noted that I have never been formally trained by a coach, never been given a “training plan,” never run for a team, etc. For the first five years of my running I scoured the internet for training plans, read books and articles, and experimented with my running. My training consisted of a hodgepodge of various training plans leading up to my first three marathons. And, every time I went out of a run, I was trying to see how fast I could go. I did not have “easy run” days or true “speed workouts.” How silly I was! Varied workouts with different goal paces is the way to go.
It wasn’t until this past training cycle that I not only decided to fully commit to training the Hansons way, but I also joined an advanced marathon training club where I was instantly surrounded by coaches and other hard working like-minded runners. Again, this was different than what I was used to. I completed nearly all of my runs solo before joining the group, so this took some getting used to.
I very quickly began to love the camaraderie and support I received from my coaches and newfound training partners. Before too long, I considered these people close friends. I can honestly say now that I would do anything, within reason, for them.
The main thing I learned through my training this year is the thing I read over and over, but never really followed:
Don’t go out too fast.
It’s so simple, isn’t it? Ease into it, then go fast at the end. Use that energy you’ve been saving up to blow through that finish chute and throw those arms up as you cross that finish line!
Doesn’t that sound fun? It really is.
You see, I have learned, through my personal running mistakes, that you can sort of “fake it” with shorter distance races. 5Ks, 10Ks, even half marathons. You can go out a little too fast with those and still salvage your race. But the marathon, that is a beast of a race. Those that are walking or barely jogging at the finish line are most likely doing that because they started out too fast, left nothing in their tanks, and are now suffering. I know that’s what happened to me at the conclusion of my first three marathons.
So, all of that being said, I chose to reflect on my marathon race with the Hansons “Assessing Race Success and Determining Future Direction.”
Was I able to complete all of the training as scheduled? If not, did I run more than scheduled or less?
- Yes and no. Yes, except when I had the flu. Yes, except when I was out of town, got turned around, found my way, and chose not to risk losing my way again and skipped a couple of miles. So, I guess this is a no. Can it ever be a true yes? Maybe I can find out next year.
Was I able to hit all of the prescribed workout paces? If not, were there specific workout types that gave me trouble?
- Yes and no. Yes, except for when I almost passed out after taking too many salt pills. Why was I even taking salt pills? I don’t even sweat that much. There’s an example of me trying something unnecessarily and then suffering. Stick to what works. Stick to the plan! No one told you to take salt tablets! So, let’s try for a resounding yes on this one next year.
Did I run any of the workouts, easy days, or long runs faster than prescribed?
- Yes. I’ve already been yelled at about this. I get it now. I won’t do this again.
Was this training cycle at a higher level of weekly mileage than usual? Higher than I’ve ever done?
- Yes, and hell yes!
Was the goal pace faster than I’ve ever run? Was goal pace too aggressive?
- Hell yes! Not too aggressive. I finished right under my goal time. Yay!
Were my goals appropriate relative to recent performances and fitness?
- Yes. Even though it seemed lofty, my goal was right in my wheelhouse.
How well did I execute my race plan? Did I start too fast? Too slow?
- Excellent. I started out easy & opened it up after mile 20 for the last 10K. I can finally say that I did NOT go out too fast! I’m so happy to report that I trusted my training & ran according to my plan. Everything fell in line perfectly.
Did I have people to race? Was the crowd support good?
- Interesting question. For the first 20 miles I ignored everyone around me and concentrated on my goal marathon pace and not going any faster. I sort of put blinders on, as I am ever so tempted to pass people in the beginning. As far as racing people during the last 10K, it honestly wasn’t even like that. I’m so happy to report that I was simply finally able to open it up and drop below my goal marathon pace, and that just meant I passed everyone around me. I can’t even count how many people I passed during that last 10K. The crowd support was amazing. Houston never disappoints.
What was going on in my life during this training cycle?
- Just life. The same old, same old. Full time job, married, two children who participate in extracurricular sports and need help with homework, transportation, etc., household chores, shopping, strength training. weight lifting, cross training.
Was my life more stressful or less stressful than past training cycles?
- I would say it was the same amount of stress as past training cycles.
What was my pre-race routine like compared to past cycles?
- It was the same. I like to get to the convention center early, check my bag, use the restroom, and attend Mass.
Did I get sick during this training cycle?
- Yes, with the damn flu. It was horrible.
Was I dealing with any injuries this training cycle?
- Nope, but strangely enough every year in the past I did. I ran more miles under a more aggressive plan, and stayed injury free. I’m going to give all the credit to the Hansons plan. That was the only thing I did differently from past years.
What was my sleep like this training cycle?
- I’d say it was about the same. I went to bed a little later on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but still got my requisite 6 hours of sleep a night.
What was the weather like this training cycle? Did I adjust for weather?
- It was standard Houston weather. Muggy and hot for most of the training cycle. I de-rated for humidity as suggested by my coach.
Last year’s post marathon reflection was sad for me. I missed my goal … by a lot. I regressed from the previous year. It was disheartening, but I learned a lot from it. Had last year’s marathon not happened, would I have trained as hard as I did this year? I’m not sure.
This year was different. This year I ran my fastest time yet and managed, by 21 seconds, to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This gave me a tremendous boost in confidence and made me realize that my dream of one day running the Boston Marathon might be closer than I thought. Could I run 2-3 minutes faster and creep into Boston Marathon acceptance? I’m going to try my hardest to find out.
As I embark on the 2018 Chevron Houston Marathon, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about my running.
This whole running journey I’ve been on for the last five years has been a wonderfully difficult ride. The first year was spent building a base for running. In that first year I really wasn’t expecting much out of myself, for my goal was to run a 5K. For a non-runner, running a 5K is a monumental feat. The first six months were very tough — I truly thought that I might have to give up on running. I made slow progress, though, and I stuck with it.
At some point I gained fitness, conditioned my body, and I started to believe I could do this whole running thing. As time went on, I’ve made bigger running goals and achieved them. There was a period of time there where I was improving at a very rapid pace and it was wonderful. Now that I’ve done quite a bit running wise, I am experiencing diminishing returns — I am not enjoying big improvements, only slight improvements. I know, realistically, that I cannot continue to expect huge gains, and I simply need to be patient and concentrate on how far I have already come.
This made me realize that I am at the point where many runners burn out and quit. I can’t let that happen. I must remember why I started running and why I continue to run.
So, in order to better do this, I made a list of the runner principles with which a runner should abide:
1. Run for yourself.
Remember that you are living your own story and it is a great story. The famous Teddy Roosevelt quote “Comparison is the thief of joy,” holds true here. When we compare ourselves to others we discredit our hard work. Competition is great, but instead of fixating on those that are better or stronger than we are, we should focus on beating our own best records. The magic is in each one of us runners, not in our paces or distances. It’s in us. Each one of us.
2. Don’t forget to love running.
Remember that you do not run for a living and it is okay to make mistakes and take your time with your running. This is a hobby. This is for physical fitness, recreation, and mental health. Sure, focus on your form and technique. Do your speed and hill work. Complete your long runs. Practice your mental toughness during runs. Do all of these things, but don’t forget to love the run. Enjoy the wonderful running community. Enjoy the beautiful scenery during runs. Love the childlike feeling you experience during runs. Love the freedom. Do what you love. Love the run.
3. Don’t put yourself down.
Don’t discredit your hard work by telling people you aren’t fast or strong as a runner. You are fast to many people. I think when we say to people “I’m really not that fast,” We’re telling them that because we don’t want them to be intimidated by us, and we also don’t want them to expect anything spectacular from us. Even if we are average, but we don’t quit, that is amazing. That’s truly what makes a great runner. This is spectacular and we should be proud. We should all be proud of our running.
4. Accept advice, praise and motivation from other runners.
Remember that runners are pretty fabulous people. They don’t judge other runners, for they know, all too well, what it feels like to fall down. Runners struggle on a regular basis. It’s either the humidity, or the snow. An injury, or a lack of motivation. A hectic schedule, or a life change. It really could be any number of things, but the point is that we struggle and we support other runners. Take advantage of the community.
5. Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t think about how far you still have to go to reach your ultimate goals, think about how far you’ve already come. Every day is a test. Will we be strong enough to continue fighting? Every day that we continue to fight we are stronger. Focus on that. Don’t be discouraged by a long term goal and how insurmountable it feels. Keep crushing those smaller goals.
6. Don’t quit.
Please don’t ever quit because you feel like you are not progressing fast enough. Be patient. So much of our running success is dependent on our confidence and positive attitude. Accept that you will have bad runs. Accept that you will not always be excited to go for a run. Accept that you will lack inspiration and motivation at times. Accept these things and just keep going. Just don’t quit. Keep running.
So, as I gear up for another Chevron Houston Marathon, I am taking the time to commit these runner principles to heart.
Keep running, everyone.
The general consensus among people today is that pain is bad and should be treated with medication. Sit through one television show without skipping through the commercials and you’ll likely encounter at least one advertisement urging you to “ask your doctor if [insert drug name here] is right for you.” This usually happens right before the rapid-fire listing of possible side effects, but before the close-up of the beautiful, pain-free person out in a sunny meadow laughing.
Now, it should be noted that I am of the opinion that every individual person should do what is right for him. I am not a person who harbors some grand opinion about pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical companies and their evil ways. Do I pop an Aleve every now and then? Yep. Did I opt for epidurals during my labors? Heck yes I did. Has my husband been successful treating his high blood pressure and cholesterol with medication? Yes, he has. I think most of us would agree that if a person can manage an affliction without the use of medication, that is the way to go. Sometimes, however, medication is necessary.
But I digress. This entry isn’t about medication. Back to running. As a distance runner, I am quite often in the dark grips of pain. I know, from experience, that I will be hurting while out on a run. I’ve been to that desert on a horse with no name. Yet, I continue to do it, knowing the pain will indeed come. I am, in essence, inviting the pain into my life, welcoming it, even. I’m greeting it with arms wide open. I say to pain, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” So, in this sense, I’m training my mind to cope with pain, to push through the struggle, to fight the urge to quit. I’m training my brain to think of pain in a positive light.
For most people pain triggers negative thinking. I mean, how can it not? But for us distance runners, we have conditioned ourselves to think about pain in a more positive manner. We will overcome this present pain, we’ve got this, it will get better, we’ll keep going. This has to help us out in the real world. I mean, pain is inevitable, right? It is how we cope with our pain that really matters. Negative thinking will result in a higher perception of pain.
Ever been asked by a healthcare professional, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?” I have and I always have the hardest time answering this question. How does one answer this? You don’t want to be all dramatic and say 10, because shouldn’t that mean that you can’t even walk or talk due to the amount of pain you’re in? Pain is so subjective, isn’t it? Pain is truly in the neurons of the beholder, and we distance runners continually practice managing pain, and the endorphins released while running are natural pain relievers.
So … running causes pain, but it also cures it?
Well, that kind of puts things into perspective. It also begs the question: why engage in an activity that causes discomfort only to require more of that very action to bring relief? I mean, isn’t that the very definition of addiction? But perhaps the pain is the solace. When confronted with a difficulty — a throbbing foot, high humidity, overused muscles, overwhelming stress — we runners “run through it.” We keep going. It’s more than just running “through it” it’s running “past it.” Certainly, running is for people who aren’t happy just staying in their comfort zone, they not only run towards pain, through pain, but past pain. Naturally this is best done with a well-conditioned body, but we all know that the real engine of the runner is the mind.
“So what exactly are you running from?”“Do you get the runner’s high?”“Don’t you get bored?”“Don’t you get lonely?”
Am I running from something? Well, yes, most definitely, I am running as a means to escape life’s difficulties, this I must admit, is completely true. We all find avenues of escapism purely as coping mechanisms. No matter how perfect our lives might be, we all experience conflict in one form or fashion. Life is messy. Relationships take work. It’s hard to be a parent. The workplace can be a stressful place. Balancing a family budget is rough. Managing a family is no small task. Resisting temptation is a constant battle. Being a successful adult means fighting through all the hard stuff and loving those around us. It’s all about honoring the spirit of whatever task is at hand and being passionate about the end result. So, yes, I’m running from my problems.
I mean, I get it, running does not have logic on its side. There’s no ball we’re running after, no reason to run around in circles, and it just seems pretty pointless. I guess I should be flattered by the questions I’m asked by non-runners. They are in awe of me. They cannot fathom why a person would want to wake up before the sun and fuel for a run. They can’t possibly grasp the concept of running for 2-4 hours straight. They worry they would get bored or lonely if they attempted to do what we do each week in the name of improvement. Not everyone is willing to put in this hard work.
So, we runners should embrace our unconventionality. We are unique. We are runners, and … running certainly does NOT have logic on its side.
I love music. I love to sing to music. I love to listen to music while I run. Often, it serves as a sort of background soundtrack to the internal monologue I have going on while I run. Running is certainly my time to think and hash things out, but it is also my time to feel free and happy. I have a wonderful life, don’t get me wrong, but I also have daily stresses and issues that cause me to worry. I mean, who doesn’t? Am I fulfilling all of my obligations as a wife, mother, daughter, librarian, and friend? Am I doing enough? Will I look back on my life years from now wishing I had done things differently? Am I selfish? Do I show my family enough love? Do I work hard enough? Running is my escape from all of this and a chance to hash all of this out in my mind. It’s where I reconcile things and make plans. It’s where I pinpoint the areas I want to change and celebrate the things I’m doing well.
It’s also where I sing with reckless abandon and embarrass myself as others encounter me on my run.
The run always starts out innocent enough. I don my headphones, start up my music, and ease into it. I look around and enjoy my surroundings. I remind myself to relax. Breathe. Relax those shoulders. Relax those arms. Let those feet softly land on the ground with an easy stride. Use those arms appropriately. Relax. Then I start to feel good. Happy. I’m running. I’m traveling by foot. Getting exercise. I’m doing this thing that I love. I’m doing this thing that has brought me an immeasurable amount of joy and satisfaction. I’m going to have a great day. Look how sleepy this town is right now, but I’m out here gettin’ it! This is fun. It’s like I’m accessing a secret portion of the day that others don’t know about. I know something they don’t know. I’m feeling free!
This is when I start singing along to the music pumping through my headphones. Now, I promise, I don’t realize sound is coming out of my mouth. It starts out as lip syncing. I’m enjoying the music so much that I want to sing, but I know that to a passerby that would be weird, so I stifle the sound from coming out. Until I don’t anymore. I actually don’t know when it happens, but I know for certain that it does happen because about seven different people on seven different occasions have told me that I sing as I run. Many of these people were strangers at races. How embarrassing. It’s just like finding out that you talk in your sleep, which by the way, I also do according to my husband and my childhood friends.
So, this whole notion of trying to stifle the song is fascinating to me. Apparently, I have a real urge to sing once I’m lost in my run and completely enjoying myself. The sound just escapes. I don’t exactly realize that I’m making sounds, but it also doesn’t exactly surprise me when I’m told I do this. It just embarrasses me. The fact that I get so wild with reckless abandon that I sing like some maniac is kind of cool to think about … for someone else, but very humiliating when it’s me who happens to be the wild, reckless, maniac.
All of this has made me realize the real reason I run. I think I can finally, maybe, answer the “why do I run?” question in a succinct manner. I run to get out of my head and feel free. You see, I over analyze things in my day-to-day life. I love to analyze things. This serves me well in most situations; however, the constant thinking and dwelling on things does not always improve my mood or well-being. Enter running. When I get in that “zone” while running, my mind is wandering and free. I think about things, but then I jump to other things, and then I get lost in my music. I’m still analyzing things, but I’m doing it in a haphazard, disjointed, wonderful way. Then, at some point, I’m not thinking at all. I’m just moving, enjoying music, and, apparently, singing aloud.
I guess singing, like running, is natural. We can all do it. It’s in our genes. It’s human nature. Singing, like running, opens up a range of emotion and is a wonderful release of passion. Feeling makes us sing and singing makes us feel.
Also, as someone who lives in her head too much, singing while running is where I completely let go of my inhibition. I am fully present in my run. I am a lioness, or a lean, hungry she-wolf, unbridled and free. The running rouses an enthusiasm in me that makes it necessary for me to sing.
Yep, I hate you track workouts. But I also kind of love you. I love how you hurt so good sometimes, but then other times I hate how you use me up.
I am nervous each time I toe that line on the track. It’s a different nervous than when I’m running cross country style. The track is all smooth and level with no barriers or terrain changes to impede my running. I have no excuses for slower running. I have nothing to look at to distract me. It’s just me focusing on my speed and it’s horribly wonderful, or is it wonderfully horrible? Either way I’m challenged and I’m forced to work on getting better. There is nowhere for me to hide. I’m on total display.
When the cross country girls and I run the trail or retention pond or around other areas of the school we get to explore. We have objects to dodge and interesting things to look at. When the girls and I run the track, we are right there, running circles, in full view. It’s very convenient for the coaches to yell at me, “Arms, Dendy! Use your arms! ARMS!” and other helpful corrections. When I hear this, I focus on my arms. It is good for me to have someone watching me run and evaluating my form. This is a true gift. I am appreciative of the feedback and I’m always quick to thank the coaches for taking the time to notice me and scream at me. This is true. But, I also kind of hate it. Sometimes it feels like they’re mean … then I remember that I’m just being emotional and the best runners focus on the practical, not the emotional, and I tell myself to quit being a sensitive wuss. Incidentally, this whole notion of emotion vs. practicality in running is something that intrigues me and I’ve written about it before. But I digress. I am thankful for the corrections and I earnestly try to implement all of the corrections I receive when I’m out running without coaches present.
But I still can’t help the way I feel. On the track I always feel inferior. I feel like I have no place on the track. You see, I don’t exactly consider myself a real athlete. Real athletes are fast. Real marathoners have Boston qualified. I’m over here still trying to break four hours on my marathon. Now, of course, I realize that I am a real athlete and many people would kill for a 4:10 marathon, I know this. But I still can’t help but feel that I’m not fast and I’m a fraud and everyone else thinks so too.
Now, I work hard. I really do. And I try not to give up. I really do. So all of this makes me an athlete and it truly makes me proud, but for some reason when I get on that track, any running confidence I once had goes out the window. Incidentally this also happens when I run with fast people, run in a new situation, on random neighborhood runs, etc. So maybe the common denominator is me and not the track, huh?
So, slowly, running is teaching me confidence and speed work on the track is the ultimate test of my confidence.
In life you should really never follow your heart.
Think about it, when you follow your heart, all you are really doing is following your emotions. Instead of thinking, you’re feeling. Why on earth would it be a good idea to make decisions based on our feelings instead of our rational thoughts? If we followed our emotions we’d be bums living in the street with no family, goals, or aspirations. It is important to think long-term and about the repercussions of our decisions. If we simply follow our hearts, we are thinking short-term, in the moment, riding a wave of emotion. Yes, it’s fun, but we can’t live our lives that way. We’d simply never get anything done.
The mind is rational. It gives good advice. It is practical. It thinks long-term. The emotions are whackadoodle. They are wild and free and exotic. The mind records all of our past transgressions and it tells us when we shouldn’t do something or when we should do something, but our emotions tell us to do the opposite. Emotions are hard to deal with when decision-making. Emotions distract us from our goals. In running, I sometimes follow my emotions instead of my mind. This is bad. When I’m physically tired and feeling worn down in a run, I have to ignore my emotions. I have to remember the goals I have set for myself. I have to think of the long term, not the present, short-term discomfort. This is hard to do.
Alas, we are not robots. The world would be so boring if we were all completely logical and pragmatic. Emotions are what give our world vivid color. We are human. We have feelings. If we were to completely ignore our own feelings and the feelings of others we would be complete assholes. Pardon that crassness, but I honestly could not come up with a more fitting word. We are not robots, we are colorful humans. In running, just like in life, practicality in decision-making serves us well. We must balance our emotions and our rational thought.
So if it’s really that simple, why doesn’t it feel that way? Oh wait, I’m not supposed to place so much emphasis on the way things feel, am I? As you can see, this might take me quite a bit of time.
In graduate school I took an American Literature course where I learned about the Romantic Period and the Realist Period in art, most specifically in literature. The Romanticists’ characters are larger than life, the plots are unusual and typically contain a happy ending, the setting is often made up, and the language is figurative and flowery. Conversely, the Realists’ characters are common, the plots are ordinary with a possible unhappy ending, the settings actually exist, and they employ everyday language.
This whole concept of Romanticism vs. Realism has always stuck with me. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve always been so fixated with this concept, but I think it must be because I struggle with finding a balance between these two modes of thought. Flowery language, made up places, larger than life characters, and happy endings are so much fun! I guess that’s the stuff of which Disney movies are made. It’s fun to think in this way; to have my head in the clouds and the sky be the limit. If you believe it, you can achieve it. Life is a wonderful adventure. Let’s think of happy things and pursue our hopes and dreams. It’s all very kumbaya; very, “let’s go sit Indian Style (or Criss Cross Applesauce) in a circle around a tree and be one with the universe.” But, alas, the dreamer must come back down to earth and operate in the real world if she wishes to live a normal life.
So, I’m a bit of a dreamer by nature. I’m a romantic. The fact that I am this way makes me kind of hard to love, honestly. I tend to have whimsical illusions that border on fantasies. I need practical, rational people around me to sort of talk me down from these ledges I find myself perching on at times. Often, I talk my own self down, but sometimes I need someone else to do it. If all we did was dream and focus on the pretty stuff, when would we ever get anything done? The real world is one of mortgages, child rearing, employment, and household management. It’s paying bills, grocery shopping, and attending meetings. It’s traffic jams and waiting in cash register lines. It’s holding our tempers and often losing our tempers. It’s saying things we don’t mean and neglecting to say the things we genuinely mean. In short, life is rough. The real world can be cruel. It’s easy to become disenfranchised. Amidst all of this real world turmoil, a little dreaming is a respite.
So, the answer to the Romanticist vs. Realist conundrum is to find a balance between the two schools of thought. Live in the real world. Keep your feet planted on the ground. Maintain a good head on your shoulders. Remember that we must be tough to survive. Conversely; however, keep dreaming. Keep setting big goals and achieving them. Keep believing in yourself. Don’t immediately shoot down an idea or goal telling yourself that you’re too busy or too tired. Fight for what you believe in and what you want. Be a dreamer insofar as you believe in the possibility of success, even if you fail at your initial attempts.
Be a dreamer that expects a lot out of yourself and inspires and motivates others, but also mind your real world duties and responsibilities.
Be a dreamer, but don’t be a fool.