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.
New Year’s is countdowns, fireworks, champagne, tradition, plans for bettering ourselves, hopefulness, and fresh starts. New year’s is a time to assess the past year and make resolutions for the upcoming year.
I’ve never been one to make a resolution on New Year’s Eve, per se. Honestly, it seems most people make grand resolutions they never really intend to keep. They proclaim they will begin doing something or they will quit doing something, but they don’t make the necessary changes in their lives that would ensure their success. They believe that by proclaiming they’d like their lives to change, that magically their lives will simply change.
Since I became a runner; however, I make running related goals each year. This got me thinking about what new year’s resolutions are and how this practice came to be.
Of course I know that a new year’s resolution is a promise to commit to a goal to improve life after careful consideration of the past year. But how did this tradition begin? After some research, I have gleaned that the tradition dates all the way back to 153 B.C. January is named after Janus, a mythical god of early Rome. Janus had two faces — one looking forward and one looking backward. This allowed him to look back on the past and forward toward the future. On December 31st the Romans imagined Janus looking backward into the old year and forward into the new year. This became a symbolic time for Romans to make resolutions for the new year and forgive enemies for troubles in the past.
I rather like this image of Janus with two faces … one looking backward into the old year and one looking forward into the new year. I liked the idea so much I played with graphics, as I enjoy doing, and created a “Dendy of Two Faces” for my (and maybe your) enjoyment.
But I digress. Many inactive people will make a resolution to exercise and/or eat healthier in an effort to lose weight. The advertisements on television and the internet will focus on losing weight, getting healthy, saving money, drinking less alcohol, etc. Many will begin some sort of new regimen for the purpose of a better year. New Year’s is a natural time to set goals, and frankly setting goals and working hard to systematically achieve them is a commendable exercise.
New year’s resolutions are seeds full of possibility and potential that set intention. We look back at our previous year and set goals for the new year. The new year is an exciting time. It is a time for us to start fresh. For us athletes, it means that we continue doing the hard work we’re already doing with a new fervor and resolve.
So, while I find it easy to set running related goals, I find it much harder to set life goals. Perhaps this is because life is tough and at this point, running makes sense to me. Perhaps as I gain more experience with setting and meeting my running goals, I’ll become more successful in setting and meeting my life goals. It’s worth a shot anyway. Running has taught me to believe in myself and to try hard to systematically achieve my goals.
So, my plan for 2017 is to approach my non running related goals with the same fervor I have for my running related goals. My resolution for 2017 is to be better. To be better, not just as a runner, but as a person.
Here’s to all of us making and keeping our New Year’s resolutions. Happy New Year’s.
There’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.
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.
If 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.
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.
The 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.
There 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.
So, 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?
I read an article recently that suggested that 50% of people starting an exercise program will dropout within the first 6 months. I know, from experience, that this is accurate. I have had my fair share of fitness program … Continue reading