Are we running or are we talking? Why not both?

I recently had a conversation with a beloved runner friend about talking while racing. You see, at my last marathon, January’s Chevron Houston Marathon, I talked, off and on, for 20 miles with my group. It was very nice. Not long, drawn out discussions or anything, just funny little observations on the race course, quick questions of my comrades, just kind of passing the time and the miles, waving at spectators, “run dancing” with the belly dancers that were out entertaining runners and spectators, you know, having an awesome time.
 
But, if we’re racing and we’re talking are we expending too much energy and wasting our breaths, as it were?
 
Hmmmm. Well, here’s the long and short of it, at least according to me.
 
The largest first portion of the race I need to remain calm and in control of my pace. I do NOT need to attempt to run on “feel.” Oh no, big mistake. It feels great in the beginning! No, the largest first portion of the race needs to be restrained. I have to be checking my watch and making sure I am not going out too fast. I need to ignore the excitiement of racing I’m feeling and ignore all of the runners around me that are zipping past me. I need to ease into it. Talking is actually a very good test of my intensity. I need to be relaxed and talking for the first 20 miles of my marathons. Now, the last 10K, no, I’m not talking then. I’m gradually increasing my speed as I get closer and closer to that finish line. The last two miles — I might be able to smile at you, but I will not be able to talk to you.
 
People say all the time that distance running is as much mental as it is physical, and I couldn’t agree with this more. I have gotten too much into my own head, for lack of a better phrase, that I have ruined my own race. It has happened. I have also ruined my own race by disregarding my training and starting my race out too fast. I’ve actually done that more than a few times through the years, and I have finally learned my lesson. Being able to utter words and phrases here and there to nearby runners during a race is a good thing, in my opinion. As a runner who lacks confidence at times and can tend to either be intimidated by other runners, or to get distracted by faster runners around me, it is good for me to relax, maintain the pace I have previously set for myself, and to remain calm and in control. Chatting up nearby runners helps me with this.
 
So, while I get that we are all different, and that is what I truly enjoy about humankind in general, chatting during long distance races is a good thing for me. It forces me to relax and remain in control and it keeps me happily distracted from this monumental task at hand. Now, I’m the first to admit that I am still learning about running, and I’m also the first to admit that my opinion on this topic could very well change, but for right now anyway, a little chatting during a marathon is THE BEST!
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Running is so very difficult in the summer, and the winter, and … well, it’s just difficult, period.

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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.

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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.

Post Marathon Reflection

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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.

Running does not have logic on its side

If you are reading this, I’m sure you’ve been asked the following questions a few hundred times:

“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.

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 Do I get the runner’s high? I’m out running, and thinking, and problem solving. I’m getting my blood flowing and releasing serotonin, thereby elevating my mood and reducing my stress and anxiety. So do I get the runner’s high? Well, yes, I guess I do. With all my blood circulating so well and all of that there serotonin I’ve got going on, yes, it does produce a sort of high in me. This is most clearly demonstrated when I come home from a run to greet my basically still-asleep husband in the kitchen and I’m talking 90 to nothing and he responds with mild irritation. That’s when I think to myself, “yeah, you’re a little fired up right now, Dendy, aren’t you? Chill out a bit.” That’s when I proceed to clean up, eat, and get on with my day. I’m able to get ready very quickly when I’ve got that runner’s high going.

 

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Do I get bored or lonely? No, never. I consider myself to be a sociable person, but I’m also quite introverted. I enjoy the quiet solitude of my runs. I like to be alone. I like my “me time.” Long solo runs are my absolute favorite. It’s just me and the road or trail. I set the pace for the run, I pick the soundtrack to accompany my epic run, I stop and take selfies if I’m so inclined, I pick the route. I’m in total control. I like to be in control. Naturally, not every run goes according to plan. I struggle on runs at times. Some runs, however, are nearly effortless. I, alone, however; am responsible for the run. I don’t have to apologize to anyone, I don’t have to wait on anyone, I don’t have to feel like I’m inconveniencing anyone. It’s just me. I have to answer to no one but me. This is about me and my running. This is about me strengthening not only my body, but my mind. No one else will carry me over the finish lines of my races, I will have to do that for myself.
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 So maybe the reason I don’t get bored or lonely on long solo runs has to do with the fact that I am an antisocial control freak. I mean, I do display those characteristics. But more than that, I am out there thinking and getting stronger. The runner’s high I experience is an added bonus, certainly, but most importantly the time alone and the increased blood flow do wonders for my overall mood and my ability to problem solve. The clarity with which I see difficult life situations while on a run is uncanny. I have solved more problems than I can count while out on a run. This is, quite possibly, the most constructive use of my time possible. I’m maintaining my physical fitness, carefully considering life situations, and improving my overall mood.
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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.

 

 

Am I a Dreamer, Or Just a Fool?

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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.

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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.

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Be a dreamer, but don’t be a fool.

 

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.