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.
“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.
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.
So I just completed another overnight relay race and it was wonderful. Was I sleep, hygiene, and sanity deprived? Yes. Did the lack of sleep and frequent running make me weary and light-headed? Yes. Did I bond with like-minded runners exploring new terrain and learning a lot about myself along the way? Yes. Yes, all of that happened.
My husband and daughters greeted me at the finish line and my husband said what he says each time I do this: “I just could never do that. I would go crazy without sleep and a shower.” I can certainly appreciate that sentiment. I mean, sleep and common creature comforts are what help to make the world go round. It is truly the little things in life that make us comfortable and secure. One thing that strikes me as incredibly interesting; however, is that when we take ourselves out of our day-to-day existence and deny ourselves of our beloved creature comforts, we learn more about who we truly are as people and what is important in life.
So, since I’ve been back from my relay race, I’ve been thinking about what it is exactly that appeals to me about a race of this magnitude, and the following is what I came up with.
It’s like an adult sleepaway camp or some sort of spiritual retreat.
I don’t want to say that an overnight relay race is a spiritual retreat exactly, but it really kind of is. Think about it. You’re out communing with nature, devoid of excessive technology and creature comforts, focusing on your passion and your community with like-minded people. You are learning about other modes of thought and perspectives and there’s really no way you can walk away from an experience like that without feeling inspired and transformed in some way. I believe this, right here, is the single most important reason I love participating in the overnight relay race.
You are offered a unique experience.
Participating in an overnight relay race affords a runner unique opportunities. You get to do things you wouldn’t typically get to do at home. Run down the shoulder of a highway at 2:00 a.m. with volunteers present and a van full of supporters? How unique is that of an experience? Run a prepared course that takes you through some really interesting areas full of history and beauty? Yes, please. All of the legwork has been done for runners all so that they can have a special experience. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
It forces you out of your comfort zone.
Were you all snuggled into your comfort zone? Well, this will get you quickly out of it. First and foremost, you’re out of that normal day-to-day grind that you are so accustomed to. That load of laundry, sink full of dishes, carpool drop off, etc.? That’s all being handled for you. You’re nowhere around. Being away from home and with new people allows a runner to focus solely on running. Additionally, there is no home court advantage. Runners are all thrown in this together and must work together exploring new territory. This intimidating setup gives you confidence to try new things, and I believe confidence is a key component to living a fulfilled life.
You get to act like you’re 12 years old again.
It’s so much fun to get to act like a kid again. No responsibilities, nowhere to jet off to, you really are only responsible for yourself … not your children, not your spouse, not your animals, not your home. You are FREE! There isn’t the hectic schedule to adhere to. Runners get to be totally selfish and it’s wonderful.
You are having old fashioned fun.
A race set up like this takes away a lot of the distractions. It disconnects you a bit from technology and puts you in touch with good old-fashioned fun. Looking at things from an unconnected perspective can have a profound impact on how we approach things in life and it allows us to be more open to learning new things. But, above all that, hilarious conversations and one-liners among teammates abound an overnight relay race, and it is fabulous. It is so much fun to be silly with other runners, and being around other runners as they share their experiences is a great way to learn new tricks of the trade, and I am always most appreciative of this aspect of the relay race.
You make fast friends.
I would venture to say that relay runner friends are friends for life, experiencing a connection like no other. It’s a deep engagement forged through shared experiences. The experience is unique not only because of the quantity of time with which a team is together, but because of the quality of the time teammates enjoy. Again, this is time away from creature comforts and the day-to-day grind, so it’s uninterrupted bonding time and it’s wonderful. I so enjoy the friendships created on an overnight relay race, and even though I may not be able to visit with these relay friends in person that often, I enjoy a connection through social media with them that I cherish.
Self-exploration is inevitable.
An overnight relay race is a chance for you to really explore yourself. To stop being so hard on yourself and to truly think about how you can grow as an individual. It opens you up to different possibilities. My goal is always to take home things I learn along the way, and every time I do this. I learn a lot from my fellow travelers and I learn to relax and trust my intuition and to just be happy. Above all, be happy.
So, what’s not to love about an overnight relay race? If you’ve never done one, it’s time to change that.
I turn 40 today and it’s a very happy day for me. I am much more evolved than I was in my twenties, for sure, but the true reason I am so excited about turning 40 is that I get to move up to the 40-44 age group in races. I know, to the casual pedestrian that would sound odd, but chances are, if you’re reading this right now, you totally get what I am saying.
It’s a very beautiful thing that the female 35-39 year old age group is so competititive. What it means to me, is that for the majority of women, their kids have grown up enough to be left alone at times and just generally don’t require as much attention and care. It’s very freeing when a mother can have some independence from her children. Her children are developing their own interests and talents and this frees up quite a bit of ole mama’s time. What to do? How about develop a nasty running habit? That’s what happened to me, at least. It’s funny, when I run with the high school cross country girls, I find that they don’t have the kind of perspective I do. I’ve lived a bit more life than they have. I’ve been knocked down quite a few times and have lived to tell about it. I have gone through pregnancy and childbirth. I have had tremendous highs and lows throughout my adult life, not that my life has been that rough or anything, but life is tough and even small hardships teach us to be resilient. I believe I try more now because I believe in myself more than I did when I was younger.
So, how exactly have I changed as I’ve aged?
1. Well, for starters, I’m an open book. I tell everyone everything that is on my mind. I show all of my cards. People tell me that my face tells them everything they need to know. I also don’t try to hide my flaws from people like I did when I was younger. I used to be very concerned with people discovering I was flawed. Nowadays, I almost speak too much about my flaws to people. It’s as if I’m telling them, “look, I know I’m a mess. I really do. I am working on myself, but sometimes it’s just so much fun to be the way I am right now.” So, the positive is that I am self-aware and can admit my faults.
2. I do pretty much everything with passion and heart. I invest everything into whatever it is I am working on. I sometimes get “tunnel vision” where I become completely consumed by things; however, I find that when I am truly invested in my task it shows in the end result. I like to be creative and successful and my key to this is the passion with which I operate. Overall, this is a good thing. I’m striving to do the things I love and to love the things I do.
3. I am much more decisive now than I was when I was younger. I believe a lot of this stems from the fact that I now know what I want. I find that I don’t grapple with decisions as I might have in my youth. I am starting to realize that I spent a great deal of time fretting over things that were pointless and not worth the stress, and I worried too much about making the wrong decisions. I find that I now trust my gut and I try not to feel guilty if things aren’t perfect.
4. While I still struggle with my confidence, I believe I am much more confident now than I was when I was younger. I tend to put myself out there much more. From rocking fashion risks to admitting my weaknesses, I am learning to do things for myself, not in order to look a certain way, and I enjoy laughing at myself. I believe this has all made me much more secure. But, in the spirit of honesty, I still tend to be quite insecure. Perhaps I can overcome this by my 50th birthday. Maybe 60th or 70th?
5. I believe I am more fierce at 40 than I have ever been. Fierce and forty … now that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I feel healthy, strong, beautiful, driven and dedicated. My perseverance and tenacity have given me more guts, for lack of a better word. I feel better, I respect myself, I’m starting to become less emotional and more practical. In short, I’m learning to like myself.
So, for these reasons, I’m happy to start this next decade of my life. I wish for PRs and happy moments with family and friends. I wish to forge a deeper connection with those that I love and admire. I vow to live my life with passion and purpose and to continue to strive to become better.