This morning I made a comment on one of my favorite running blogs, iRuniBreathe. She wrote a great post on satisfaction that addresses what motivates us to run and write. Check it out for a great read.
Why do I run?
I run because it feels like freedom. It’s the one thing I can do where I can let my mind run free and my body just has to follow. Or I can focus on my pace, or my breathing, or the trail, and let my mind rest in that simplicity. Running feels like I’m letting my body do what it’s supposed to do.
Writing is much harder work. How much do I want to open myself up to scrutiny? How far down do I let the walls go? How much of my true heart do I show to the world? Running is much easier. It’s all me out there, open and without walls, doing what comes naturally.
It took me many years before I became a runner, but that’s not absolutely true. I spent every moment I could outside when I was a kid, and was always riding my bike, playing chase, or pretending to be in the Olympics. I ran all the time, and it came naturally.
But it took me more than twenty years to know I was a runner.
Writing started out as a way to tell stories, then became my salvation through a troubled childhood. Writing was always easier than talking out loud. My journal was the friend I couldn’t talk to, the one who would understand whatever I needed to say. Through the years, writing has led me to myself.
Running is the same. On a good run, there’s no agenda, no judgment. I don’t have to worry about how much or how little I show to the world. I’m just a runner. I run.
I try to give my best effort when I step onto the pavement or the trail, and every day’s best effort is different. Some days I’m kind to myself, some days I’m deeply frustrated. None of it matters.
There’s always another day, another mile, another run.
One day last week I decided to run without a plan. I wanted to break free from the marathon training plan and just run, as in head out the door with no preplanned route, no watch, no idea of where I wanted to go, how far, how long, and how fast. It had been so long since I had done this, and less than six weeks out from the marathon the idea of running without a plan actually made me somewhat nervous.
Just to change up the game plan, I even wore a running skirt.
Of course I couldn’t leave the Garmin home (I wanted to know my distance), but I did take a completely new route. Since our house is just a mile or so from downtown, we’re completely surrounded by very busy roads. Depending on the time of day, crossing these very busy roads means either playing Frogger with traffic or playing it safe and waiting forever at the traffic lights. In my neighborhood, it’s not always so easy to simply head out the front door and start running, but it’s not impossible either.
The cooler temperatures call my name these days, and now that fall is in the air all I want to do is hit the pavement. After complaining all summer long about how hot it was (hottest summer on record!) I feel I owe it to the Weather Gods to get outside and enjoy these beautiful blue sky days. We might still have green leaves on the trees for another month or so, but it is nevertheless officially fall, and I plan to celebrate that.
The run also coincided with a new version of the running shoes I wear, and I was hoping they hadn’t changed them too much. I used to wear another brand, but my feet were not happy with the new version that came out, and was part of the reason I switched over to something more minimal in the first place. That, and a bad case of plantar fasciitis.
I didn’t notice any difference between the old shoes and the new ones, other than the color. They felt slightly roomier, but not enough to make a difference.
So I set out. I ran down past the fire station and kept going up towards the lake. At the last minute I decided to head north instead of going to the lake, where I run all the time, and take a completely different route. I hardly looked at the Garmin. I passed walkers with dogs and mothers with strollers, and a few runners who nodded hello as we passed each other. Everyone was happy to be outdoors. I wondered if anyone else was running without a plan.
When I got to 2.5 miles I decided to turn around and head home. I didn’t want to go too far since I was running 16 early the next morning.
There were no mountains or rivers or forests on my run, just a lot of paved roads through a pretty, urban neighborhood. But running without a plan was nice for a change. It gave me a chance to be alone with my thoughts, and most of them were thoughts of how fortunate I am to be healthy and active. Pace was irrelevant. The run was a good reminder of what running is really all about: body and mind working together, in tandem, doing what it was meant to do.
No plan needed.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about staying in the present moment, and I was cognizant of that as I ran back towards the house. Rather than worry about how much farther I had to go, and look at the watch constantly to check my pace, I tried to stay right where I was–just running. The miles behind me were already done, and the ones ahead of me were out of reach. All I had to do was focus on running the next step, then the next, over and over, and not worry about what was to come or what had already happened.
So I guess running is nothing more than a metaphor for life. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, over and over, and stay present in the moment. If the miles were tough leading up to the present, you try not to let them hold you back. You wouldn’t go back to run them over again anyway. There are still miles to be run, but you don’t worry about them. You know you’ll get there eventually. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and get the job done.
And plan or no plan, you do get the job done, every run, every day.
The Weather Gods sometimes like to torture us runners, and nowhere is this more evident than in Oklahoma City. I’ve been reading about the experiences of several friends at this past weekend’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the cold, windy, stormy weather conditions, and it brings back memories of my own challenge there in 2009. In fact, OKC 2009 holds top ranking as the Worst Marathon Ever for me–in particular because of the wind.
Oklahoma is where I was born. My parents are from a little town in the southeastern corner called Broken Bow, but I was born in the next town over because it wasn’t big enough to have its own hospital. I was brought home on a cold, icy night in early March, so maybe bad weather just naturally goes along with Big Moments in my life. It certainly seemed to follow me on my first two marathons.
The fact that I live in north Texas means accepting that the weather can be dramatic at times, if not downright dangerous. There’s nothing to break the wind out here on the prairie, and summers mean blazing hot temps and high humidity. Sometimes the wind can seem unrelenting, and can blow for days and days on end. I tend to do most of my running along the perimeter of White Rock Lake in the center of Dallas, which means there is usually a headwind side and a tailwind side. People who run with me know that running into a strong headwind is my least favorite thing to do–especially in the winter–and may cause me to grow quite grumpy (which, as those who run with me know, is a huge understatement).
Rewind to December 2008, my first marathon. Training for the White Rock Marathon went well, and even though it was my first, I went into the marathon thinking I might be able to pull off a finish time just under four hours. On race morning, however, the Weather Gods decided to give us a very warm, humid day, with winds gusting to 30 mph. This, coupled with the usual rookie mistake of going out too fast, spelled disaster for me. A large part of the course is along White Rock Lake (hence the name of the race), and at mile 13 we headed straight into the wind. It was like pushing against a brick wall. At mile 16 I was so beaten down I could not have told you my name, and by mile 19, at the start of the hills, I was toast. I finished in 4:16:22, humbled by the wind and happy to be finished. My more experienced marathoner friends felt bad that the weather had been so tough for my first marathon, but I shrugged my shoulders and started thinking about the next one. I wanted more, and I knew I could do better.
I decided to try a spring marathon. The 2009 spring training season was extremely cold and windy. It seemed as if every week the weather would be nice and mild until Saturday morning, when we would wake up at an insanely early hour only to be met with cold, extremely windy weather. At least it was good training, we told ourselves, and we knew we would be ready for anything in Oklahoma City.
The weather that April in OKC was almost identical to White Rock’s, with even stronger winds gusting to 45 mph and the temps in the low 70’s at the start. The entire spring training had been cold and we weren’t acclimated to the heat and humidity yet. Those of us who had run White Rock in December felt jinxed. Looking out the hotel window that morning at the flag waving wildly in the wind, I felt disheartened and strongly annoyed. I couldn’t believe it was going to be a repeat performance of marathon #1.
I decided to make the best of it and soldier through. The first half of the race wasn’t too bad with the wind at our backs, but the high humidity seemed to sap the energy out of my legs. When I reached the lake just after the halfway point and made a sharp left, it was like coming to a standstill. My legs were moving but I wasn’t going anywhere! I must have had quite a scowl on my face because a volunteer ran over to me at one point and asked if I was okay, and if I was “going to make it.” I looked at him as if he were crazy and yelled out, “Of course I’m going to make it!” and took off. It was just what I needed to get me around the lake.
There is a long stretch of gradual incline before the finish line at OKC that was like a death march that day. The wind was full-on in our faces, pushing us back, and it never stopped. I remember gusts so strong that I would lose my footing, and the wind blowing dirt from a construction site against my legs felt like needles against my skin. The worst part was that almost everyone was walking at this point, which is my own personal achilles heel. It’s always tough for me to put the blinders on and ignore those walking around me, especially the last few miles of a marathon. My brain starts screaming why are you running, they’re not! and I start debating the merits of walking vs. running. On this day my mind won, and I finally broke down and cried. I didn’t want to walk, but I did.
One of the best things about OKC is the long finish chute, and I felt like I had earned the screams of onlookers as I crossed the finish line. I had not enjoyed my second marathon, and wondered if I would ever try another one. My friends assured me there would be good marathons in my future (they were right), but my first two seemed a steep price to pay for the privilege of a good race.
There’s no getting around it: marathons are tough. But that’s why we run them. Good weather or bad, calm skies or strong winds, we take a deep breath and get the job done. So congratulations to all those who battled the elements and won in Oklahoma City this past weekend, and here’s to the good stories that will come out of the struggle.
Tomorrow is my group’s 21 miler, and I’m down for the count. What started as a slight sore throat on Wednesday afternoon at work turned into a fever of 102.1 and a throat that felt like I had swallowed broken glass. For the past day and a half I have done nothing but sleep and watch really bad daytime TV. I missed our 10 yassos workout on Wednesday night, too (though I secretly didn’t mind missing that grueling workout).
Missing our last long run before the taper is disappointing. This is when I get to see all the newbies at the end of the run, incredulous that they actually ran 21 miles. I will miss seeing the joy and satisfaction in their faces, and also the relief that we finally, finally get to start tapering.
Battling tonsillitis has felt like its own marathon. I am not the kind of person to lay around on the couch for days on end. I like to stay busy, and multi-tasking is my middle name. I hate feeling weak and helpless. This afternoon I even burst into tears because I felt like I was letting my boyfriend down when we had to cancel our Thanksgiving camping trip. Mostly, though, I cried because I just plain feel miserable.
We tell ourselves “pain is temporary” when we hit those last few miles of a marathon, so why is this any different? I think it has something to do with control. Running a marathon is voluntary; no one forces you to get out there and beat yourself up. All the aches and pains that come with fever are beyond your control, and this can be both frustrating and scary.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about things beyond our control, like my friend who has been in the hospital for the past three weeks, or another friend who was recently told that her twin brother doesn’t have much longer to live in his battle against cancer. This makes my own small fight against tonsillitis seem trivial, and I know both friends would trade places with me in an instant if they could. I suppose it’s mostly a matter of accepting things as they are, and letting go of the need to control.
I know I’ll be off the sofa and running again in a few more days. Until then, I’ll say a prayer for my friends and keep taking my penicillin.
It seems this is the year to have a great marathon. Last year was the opposite. At least that was the case for me and my friends. I ran my first marathon last December in Dallas. I trained for 23 weeks, even pacing a group with the local running club, and I was more than prepared to have a good race. Perhaps I was overconfident, but I was truly hoping to come in under four hours and qualify for Boston right off the bat. That, however, was not the case. All the hours of training meant nothing against the weather. On race morning, we got hit with a temperature of 64 degrees at the start, 80% humidity, and winds from the south at 30 mph. At the 13 mile mark, once you came around White Rock Lake, the wind hit you full force in the face and was unrelenting. At mile 19 I was toast—and that’s where the hills begin. It’s also where I began walking. Up to that point I had managed to keep an 8:45 pace, but I had nothing left at mile 19. I finished in 4:16, which is respectable for a first marathon, especially considering how much I walked the last 7 miles, but I knew I could’ve done better and was disappointed in myself.
My second marathon in April of this year was even worse. After my experience at White Rock, I had no real desire to run another marathon. I was committed, however, to pacing another group to get them ready for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. My heart was just not in it. Race day was even worse than White Rock, with a starting temperature of 72 degrees, humidity at 78%, and wind gusts up to 45 mph. We were all completely disheartened walking to the start line. I actually walked a little at mile 10, and considered calling Michael to come get me. When we got to the lake just after the halfway point, and turned south, the wind hit us full force, and it was like running in a wind tunnel. I decided at that point that this was a race to just finish, and nothing more. The last few miles were up a long, gradual incline, directly into those 45 mph winds, and up to 90% of the runners were walking. It was a horrible experience. I cried at mile 23, and I cried at the finish line.
I seriously considered never running another marathon. What was the point, I thought, if it’s not even fun? The mere mention of OKC still makes me shake my head. I knew there had to be a good marathon experience out there for me, so my friends and I entered the lottery for the St. George Marathon. At least if the weather was bad I would still get to run through my favorite part of the country. There is no place in America that I feel more at peace than in the desert. Also, I wasn’t so focused on my finishing time as I was on having an enjoyable marathon experience. I knew I needed to have fun in this marathon.
What a difference the weather can make. The temperature at the start was 39 degrees with no wind, and I finished in 3:56:39. I finally had my Boston qualifier. Other friends have done even better in their marathons. Number one reason why: the weather. You can train diligently and do everything right, but come race day you are at the mercy of the weather every time.
But was it really the weather that made all the difference, or was it my attitude? I’m not sure. I know that I run better in cold, wind-free temperatures, but I’m starting to think that maybe deciding to enjoy the marathon, regardless of my performance, was what really made the difference. Perhaps battling the elements only makes us stronger as runners, but at some point you have to be willing to let go of your dreams of the “perfect” marathon and accept things as they are.
As difficult as those last three miles in St. George were, I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything about that race. I cannot say the same about White Rock or OKC, and I think it’s mainly because of the mental states I brought to the races. I was equally well-trained for all three races, but making the mental decision to have fun and enjoy myself, while still staying focused on finishing strong, made all the difference.
I just found out my daughter is planning on flying to Boston in April for the marathon. She realized after St. George that she’s never seen me race before. I’m so excited that she’s coming, though this means I have to finish strong for her at the finish line. All the usual little doubts start creeping into my brain, like what if I blow it and have a slow finish, or just generally look like hell when I run down the chute? Silly me, she won’t care. I have to admit, it is kind of awesome to know I’ll be running Boston with my daughter looking on. Even though she’s a grown woman, what a message I’ll be sending her. And what a motivator it will be for me while I’m running to know that she’ll be waiting for me at the finish.
I never thought when I was raising her that I’d be running a marathon one day. In the past, I never, ever considered myself athletic. I tried running when I lived in Switzerland in my early 20’s and hated it. My Canadian sister-in-law was much sportier than me, and she made it look easy. She was always biking, or skiing, or doing aerobics–and she always looked great while she worked out. I thought aerobics was boring, though I did bike and ski when I had the chance. After the kids were born I was way too busy playing Swiss housewife and mother to worry about working out.
Now the kids are all grown up and I’ve got plenty of time to myself. What a joy it’s been to discover running. It’s been almost exactly four years since I took those first running steps, and look how far I’ve come. Boston!