My life has undergone a huge change these past three weeks. Running has taken a backseat for the time being, though I hope to be running again within the next two or three weeks. As a friend said, “This is more than just a broken toe!” Indeed.
In the meantime, I walk. Yesterday I managed my longest distance: one mile. All things considered, it’s quite a milestone for me.
I’ll be writing more here on Run Nature once I’m up and running again. Until then, if you’re interested, you can follow my story on my other blog, Mind Margins.
Thanks for reading each week and for all your support these past two years here on the blog. It means the world to me.
My friend Liz can’t run because of a sore ankle. It’s been sore for weeks. She even ran a marathon on her bum leg, after getting it checked out by a doctor to make sure it wasn’t a stress fracture.
Now she’s walking. Like most of my running friends, Liz is stubborn. She texted the other day that she had been walking to stay in shape, and that she had just walked seven miles. Seven miles! Like most of my running friends, she’s also an overachiever.
I asked if I could keep her company on one of her long walks at the lake. Even with an injury, I was pretty sure Liz would walk me into the ground.
I wasn’t wrong. The past two days have been extremely windy, and this morning it was overcast and humid. Despite the wind and humidity, she never let up. I secretly struggled to keep the pace.
I was so glad I was walking and not running. Running into a strong head wind is not one of my favorite things.
I love to walk. If I lived in the mountains or someplace more scenic than Dallas (and it doesn’t take much to be more scenic than Dallas), I might not even run anymore. I would take off into the hills and hike to my heart’s content.
This is a lie, of course. I’m pretty sure I’d still run, even if it meant switching to hilly trails.
In the meantime, we have White Rock Lake. Even though I’ve been partying and playing hookey (high school), driving, walking, and running around this same lake since I was a kid, it’s still one of the best parts of Dallas. Though we curse the monotony of the nine mile, flat, paved path that encircles it, it’s been a huge part of our training.
As runners, we tend to look down on walking and forget that it’s great cross training. We hate having to walk during a run or race. For many of us it’s a sign of weakness. But it has its place, and being injured or walking after a challenging run the day before, it can be a nice change from running.
Especially if you walk with Liz.
MON: Ran 6 miles @ 9:12 pace. Purposely kept it somewhat out of my comfort zone, and added some long, gradual hills (up and down Glencoe, up and down the Katy Trail). Felt inspired by seeing the elite runners in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. Yoga: 20:00 of Standing Poses. Why are they so hard even though I run so much?
TUE: Running rest day. Did 20:00 of yoga–Twists. Very relaxing.
WED: Ran 6 miles with the group @ a 9:08 pace. Legs felt great. Very proud of the pace since we ran up Meadowlake and Sperry and kept up the great tempo. Scored a free pair of Nike Frees from Shannon!
THU: Did yoga in the morning (20:00 of Back Bends), then ran 6 miles in the late afternoon. Twenty degrees warmer than last night’s run. Kept an easy pace (9:39), which felt good. Could definitely feel last night’s fast run in the legs. Ran the first three with Nevada (the dog) then dropped her off at the house. It was tough getting back out to finish up the final three miles.
FRI: Yoga–20:00 of Forward Bends, then took Shasta (the other dog) to Flagpole Hill to walk some hills. It was a good workout, and the day was spring-like and windy. It was great to let Shasta off leash and let her be a dog, chasing squirrels and romping around on the hill.
SAT: Tough 12 miler with the group. Kept a 9:20 pace, which is the fastest I’ve run that distance in a long time. Forgot to use my inhaler and paid the price the second half of the run. Made my legs feel heavy. Great breakfast afterwards at Crossroads Diner with the group.
SUN: Walked 3.35 miles with Nevada and did 40:00 of yoga afterwards (Hip Openers and Forward Bends). Walked for about an hour, and reminded myself how much I love to slow down and “just” walk. Legs felt a little tight from yesterday’s long run. Felt much better after the yoga. Read in Runner’s World that 73% of readers run alone and only 5% with a group. I’m amazed at these figures. I can’t imagine doing my long runs without the support of my running friends.
For the past two years I’ve spectated at our city’s largest race, the Dallas White Rock Marathon. As a marathoner myself, I love cheering on the runners and supporting them at mile 21, which coincides with a significant uphill climb from a long flat stretch around White Rock Lake. I get to see a lot of friends I’ve trained with through the years and help them out with words of encouragement, but most of the faces who run by are strangers who happen to share my love of running. Out of everyone I see on marathon day, the runners who touch my heart the most, and remind me what running is truly all about, are the ones at the very back of the pack. To me, they are the real heroes of the marathon.
I love watching the elites fly by. Their focused intensity and the beauty of their running form always leave me speechless. I know I will never run that fast, and will never know what it feels like to be the first person to break the tape at a race that large. I cheer for them, but they are so completely centered on their running they rarely look over. Seeing them glide by reminds me how beautiful the human body is performing at the apex of conditioning and training.
The faster runners who follow them are no less awe-inspiring. No matter how talented or lucky they are to be born with the right combination of muscles, strength, and mental focus to be as fast as they are, I also know they train a lot harder than I do. Most work full-time jobs, have families and responsibilities, and still manage to train seriously enough to win or place in their age groups.
The four hour pace group is always a great sight, mainly because so many of us want to be in that group, especially the last six miles of the marathon. It’s usually a large group, and a lot of the runners are starting to show the strain of keeping the pace for over twenty miles. For those who had aspirations of a 3:50 or faster finish, the dream is starting to fade, and they know they won’t be able to hold on much longer, especially on the long climb up from the lake. For others, who’ve trained on hills and know the course well, they’ve managed to dig deep enough to know how close they are to realizing their dream of a sub four hour marathon, and that nothing will stop them. I know that look in their eyes, and I cheer them on by yelling that they’re strong, and well-trained, and that they know what to do.
Gradually, there are a few runners who decide to walk up the hill, then more and more appear. These are the runners who’ve given everything they had, and they hit the wall hard. Some smile and shake their heads as they walk past, and I know they’ll probably find that last ounce of strength to get them across the finish line. Others avoid my eyes as they walk past and act as if my words of encouragement are not meant for them, and I know exactly how they feel. If you’ve ever run more than one marathon, chances are you’ve been there, too, beating yourself up and feeling like you’ve let yourself and everyone else down. A few people look me straight in the eye with so much disappointment on their faces, so defeated, all I can say to them is, “I know, I know . . .” and “you can do this.”
This year’s marathon had the worst conditions I can remember in a long time, with temperatures in the low 40’s, wind, and intermittent rain. After training through the hottest summer on record, the weather was the complete opposite of what most Texas runners had to contend with. The faster runners were better able to handle the conditions, mainly because their steady pace kept their body temperatures relatively stable. The less fast runners suffered a lot, but it was the walkers who took the full brunt of the freezing rain.
After the 4:30 pace group passes a lot of runners start to look just plain miserable. The cold rain is unrelenting, and four and a half hours is a long time to be wet and cold. One girl walks past crying and shivering, her pink gloved hands covering her mouth. Her eyes speak volumes. I tell her to just keep moving. Another woman stops and asks me something I can’t understand because her lips are frozen, and she hands me a GU packet with teeth marks, and I open it for her. A man runs past and hands me a soaking wet knit cap, telling me to wash it and take it home.
The runners start to become more appreciative of my cheering. I stand alone on the hill, sometimes sounding like a drill sergeant, telling the runners that they’re FIGHTERS or they wouldn’t be here today, that they trained through the hottest summer on record, when it was 105 degrees, day after day, mile after mile, and they’re STRONG enough to get up that hill. I yell and tell them how they’ve battled all day long through the cold rain, they battled through the summer of hell, and that after this day they’re going to know EXACTLY what they’re made of. I tell them it’s time to dig deep, time to turn off the brain and just keep going. (Yes, I really do say all that stuff. Other spectators walking by look at me like I’m nuts, smiling and wondering who the heck I am.)
The pace gets a little slower and I start to see more runners in Team in Training shirts. My chant of “You’re FIGHTERS or you wouldn’t be here today!” seems to really hit a nerve with certain groups of the less fast women. They raise their arms and cheer and take off up the hill, telling themselves, “Yeah, we’re FIGHTERS!” Some people come over to give me high fives, one man calls me Sunshine, another tells me he’ll never forget me. Some walkers actually start running when they hear me cheering, and I feel like a proud coach, goading everyone on to victory. I feel such a bond with these back of the pack runners, and I realize I may be getting more out of being here today than they are.
So many people thank me for being there, for coming out to support them, and I tell them I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them. I think about yesterday, how Michael and I got up at 4am to drive to Houston for a touch rugby tournament and decided to drive back the same day just so we could help out at the marathon. I also think about how I almost stayed home, not wanting to brave the elements, but feeling guilty and knowing at the last minute that I needed to give back, to repay all those who’ve ever taken the time to cheer me on in a marathon. I can’t imagine missing any of this.
The spectators down on the corner have thinned out, the five hour group has passed, but people are still running. The mood has changed. There are still many runners who are struggling and look completely spent, but many are also upbeat and determined to finish. I have to convince a few of the walkers that it’s okay, all they have to do is just keep going, they’re doing great. It’s as if they need some confirmation that it’s okay not to reach your time goal, that it’s really all about crossing the finish line and not how fast you get there.
The five thirty group passes, and everyone is laughing and happy that someone is still on the course, cheering them on. I tell them how amazing they are, how they are such an inspiration to everyone out here today, and they thank me profusely. I love their spirit, how they seem to revel in the bad weather and the challenges they’ve overcome. I look around and see that I really am the only person still standing on the hill, and think what a shame it is that people don’t hang around for these last heroes of the marathon.
When I run a marathon I almost always want to run it faster than the one before. These people in the back are here to finish. For them, it’s all about the journey that got them there, and the experience of the race itself. They are proving something to themselves and their families. Even though most of them are walking, they are still marathoners, and I call them that as I cheer them on. With frozen fingers and toes, I finally walk down the hill to the mile 20.5 water stop where Michael is helping out to cheer on the very last marathoners. I run into my friend Serena, a triathlete running her first marathon, who is running with another friend, Stacy. They are cold and miserable, and need hugs, but they’re still smiling and determined to finish strong.
And still they come, stragglers in ones and twos, most walking, some shuffling along at a steady running pace. These are the people who bring tears to my eyes. Their resolve to finish is beyond inspiring–it’s life changing, even to those who are only watching. I remember reading a comment by Ryan Hall, that he couldn’t imagine being on his feet for four hours or longer in a marathoner. Being one of those persons myself, I think this is my equivalent, that I can’t imagine walking 26.2 miles, or running it in five and a half or six hours. I remember how sore I was the day I walked six miles down to the lake and back, and shake my head at the thought of walking in the freezing rain through an entire day’s marathon.
The water stop is slowly dismantled, but water and Gatorade are left out for those who need it. One of the walkers asks if he can have some of my orange juice (it’s actually a mimosa), and I wonder if I should tell him there’s something special in the drink. He says it will help him get up the hill, and I agree. A young guy runs up and yells, “I’m glad you guys didn’t forget about me!” smiling and laughing, and I could almost bet he’ll be back next year, with a huge PR.
Another man shuffles up just as Michael is lowering the Start sign. He looks up, confused, and asks me why it says Start. I tell him for most runners the last six miles are the hardest, and some say it’s where the marathon truly begins. I tell him he’s at mile 20.5 and he nods and slowly shuffles off. I’m not sure he really understood anything I was trying to tell him.
Finally, around 2:30pm, the last three marathoners come through, followed by two police cars. Two people walk ahead together, the other is an older woman. Her husband walks beside her in street clothes and a cowboy hat, larger than life and talking nonstop. He’s like General Patton gathering supplies, running over and asking if he can have some orange juice for his wife. I bring over the entire jug and he asks if I can walk with them. He has three cups of Gatorade in his hands, and drains them as we walk and talk. He tells me his wife is from Oklahoma, and this is her first marathon. He jumped out of his car when he saw her pass and decided to walk the last six miles or so with her. He takes a swig of the “orange juice” and asks why it tastes so much better than the Gatorade. I decide to come clean and tell him it’s actually spiked with something, and he turns to his wife to ask if that’s okay. He’s trying to give the other two marathoners some of the orange juice as I pull away with the empty jug. I kind of wish I could keep walking with them, all the way to the finish line. I try to imagine what it must feel like to know you are the very last person in a marathon. As I watch the woman from Oklahoma and her husband, I think it must be a pretty great feeling indeed.
I loved it when Lance Armstrong, after running his first marathon a few years ago, said that it was the hardest thing he’d ever done. I have to admit it’s somewhat satisfying when one of the world’s best athletes is humbled by your chosen sport. My friend Serena, who swore she would never do a marathon, said afterwards, “I would rather do a half Ironman, a 100K bike race, or a 100 mile bike ride any day. The marathon was twice as hard as any of these.” She’s a super athlete herself–and I doubt it will be her last marathon.
In the past, I’ve heard faster, more competitive runners say disparaging things about the walkers and slowest runners, saying they’re not “real” runners and only clog up the course, but to me they epitomize what the marathon truly stands for. If I keep running into very old age, I know that one day I will be one of those very back of the pack marathoners. I might even be the last one to cross the finish line. Until then, I’ll let the real heroes of the marathon forge the path, in their own way, at their own speed. I’d be honored to run, walk, or shuffle in their footsteps.
Saturday’s 18 miler reminded me of something I had forgotten, something that, for me, is the hardest part of running a marathon. Worse than bad weather, worse than being sick, and worse than the blister from hell, is trying to keep running when everyone else is walking. Saturday’s long run reminded me of how much I continue to struggle with this huge mental obstacle.
Our route took us onto the race course of a new half marathon in town. We ran four separate segments, three of which put us right in the middle of the back of the pack walkers. Other than confusing some of the police officers when we veered on and off the course, no one took much notice of us.
There was one segment, however, where I was very much aware of the walkers.
There is a hill around mile 14 of our route that always gets my attention. On this particular day I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to the hill, and was dismayed to see that it was part of the race course–and everyone was walking up the hill. My goal on that hill is always to not stop, to keep going if it kills me, and I knew it would be tough to block out all the people walking if I was going to make it to the top.
And I did. I put my head down, didn’t look at anyone, and kept going all the way up and beyond to our next water stop. I have to say, though, it was incredibly hard to dig that deep and make it happen. And the strange thing was, I wasn’t worried about that hill at all until I saw all the people walking. There was something about seeing everyone walking that made my brain go into panic mode and doubt that I could make it to the top without walking myself. Running up that hill on Saturday was definitely the hardest part of those 18 miles.
My first two marathons were both extremely windy, warm, and humid. There were lots of walkers, especially the last six miles. I did better in the first marathon than the second one, mainly because I didn’t know any better. The second marathon was only four months after the first, and I hadn’t had enough time to forget how tough it was. When the second marathon rolled around with even worse weather conditions than the first, my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t ready for a repeat performance in battling the elements.
Because of the strong headwind and 45 mph wind gusts the entire second half of the race, by mile 21 almost everyone was walking. A strong headwind takes so much out of you, and it was all everyone could do just to push against the wind and make it to the finish line. Michael waited around mile 23 to run me to the finish line, and kept telling me that my pace was still good, trying to convince me I had enough energy and strength left to keep running, but I couldn’t swim against the tide of walkers.
I’ve always known that the mental side of running those last six miles is what I most need to work on, and ignoring the walkers is a part of that. The same thing happened to me in Death Valley. When I’m tired, and see others walking around me, my legs instantly feel 50 lbs heavier and my brain becomes a whining mess.
The only thing that seems to work is to keep my head down, ignore everyone around me, and just keep going.
Stats: 18 miles @ 9:35 pace
This weekend I missed my long run. I might not be the most consistent with my midweek runs, but I never miss my long run. They’re too important.
Sometimes things are beyond your control, like getting sick, or not getting any sleep the night before your planned 18 miler. As in zero hours of sleep. As in the clock says 3:30 and my alarm is going to go off in less than an hour and I haven’t closed my eyes once all night.
By 3:45 I knew I had to surrender and let my friends know I wasn’t going to make it. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I felt like such a loser. Runners are like that.
The next day I knew I still wasn’t up for running, so I decided to take a long walk with one of my dogs. My only plan was to make it to the lake, which is just under 3 miles from my house. Once I got there, I would assess what to do next.
Before I was a runner I was a walker. I used to walk just about every single day of the week, either 3 or 4 miles, and afterwards I would immediately do 20 minutes of yoga. I loved those walks, and I loved doing yoga even more.
Being outside, enjoying nature, has always been like church for me, even if outside is nothing more than concrete sidewalks in my neighborhood. I used to live in a huge apartment complex that had two ponds encircled by a walking path and I loved watching the seasons change as I walked daily around the ponds. There was a kingfisher I used to see almost daily, sitting on an overhanging branch, as if he was waiting just for me.
Being outside, and noticing the changes in nature, was like rejuvenating my batteries.
I loved yoga. I loved doing the various poses, and became the most flexible I’ve ever been. I felt completely relaxed after only 20 minutes of yoga, as if time slowed down. Yoga was like blowing the dust off the clock face, only to realize the hands were still moving.
When I started running (six years ago this month), I was hooked from the first step. Even though I thought I was pretty fit from walking and doing yoga, it still took awhile to build up my endurance. I loved the feeling of freedom I felt when I ran, and I loved pushing myself faster and farther. From my first 5K to six marathons, running has challenged me like no other physical endeavor has.
Most runners don’t run every day, of course. Some do, but most run 3-5 days per week and either rest the other few days, or do something else, usually cycling, swimming, or strength training. I’m sorry to say I’ve pretty much always fallen in the first category, as in REST. I’ve tried to incorporate yoga here and there in my training, and I sporadically take the dogs on long walks, but I’ve never been the best at cross-training.
So when I missed my long run I decided to take a long, brisk walk. It would be my cross-training. I have always read that walking burns the same amount of calories as running, even if it doesn’t have quite the same heart-healthy impact, so at least there was that. Once I got to the lake I would decide how much farther to keep walking.
My dog made the final decision. When we run together she is usually only good for about 3 miles, then she fades fast. You would think that walking 3 miles would be a lot less taxing that running 3 miles when you’re a dog, and she would be able to go farther, but this was not the case at all.
Here are some things I noticed about walking:
1. You miss a lot when you run. I almost couldn’t believe I was walking the same route I run nearly every Saturday. There were houses and gardens I swear I’ve never seen before. Some of this is because I’m running the opposite direction–uphill–and I’m working hard and focusing on making it to the top. Some of it is just not paying attention. I seem to pay more attention to things around me when I walk.
2. Your muscles still ache when you walk long. I could only cover 3 miles an hour walking with my dog, which meant I walked almost 2 hours. By the end of the walk my hamstrings were tired and achy, something I didn’t expect. I guess 2 hours is still 2 hours, even if you’re “just” walking.
3. I felt a lot more relaxed during the walk than I ever do when I run. I’m caught up in how many miles I’ve finished, how many more to run, how I feel, how many more hills, etc.
4. You don’t feel the hills like you do when you run. I can always tell when there’s the slightest incline on a run. Hills are much tougher when you’re running. I hardly noticed them on the walk.
5. Some runners don’t look like they’re having much fun when they run. Some look downright miserable. Just an observation. (I hope I don’t look like them.)
6. Walking makes you sore in places you don’t usually get sore when you run, such as buttocks and the lower front part of your legs, just above the feet. I heartily welcome anything that will help the buttocks muscles stay where they need to be.
7. I enjoy walking alone more than I enjoy running alone. For me, walking is more solitary, and running is best done with others. When I walk I can be alone with my thoughts; when I run, being alone with my thoughts is not a good thing.
8. I didn’t feel like I got the same level of cardio workout from the walk, but it was a good workout nevertheless.
As runners, we tend to discount walking as another type of cross-training. It’s time to reconsider. Perhaps walking has such a negative stigma attached to it as runners because some of us feel like failures if we have to walk during a marathon. My running friends and I struggled with having to walk so much this summer in the extreme heat, and we all kept apologizing to each other for it, as if walking was a sign of weakness.
I’ve always said that if I ever had to stop running, for whatever reason, I look forward to “just” walking. I really do, too. Sunday’s walk was a reminder of how nice it really is to slow down, look around, and still get in a pretty good workout.
8/20/11 – 14 MILES
Today’s 14 miler has the honor of being the known as The Most I’ve Ever Walked in a Long Run.
When I left the house at 5:45AM, the thermometer in the car said it was 91 degrees. I had already resolved the afternoon before that I wasn’t going to think about the run beforehand, I was going to set the alarm, get up and get ready, and just get out there and do it. That’s all fine and good until you actually get out there and . . . can’t do it.
My heart and mind just weren’t into the run. I posted, quite seriously, last week about the possibility of going insane from the heat. It isn’t even the heat, per se, it’s more the knowing that there’s no end in sight, that the mornings really don’t cool down at all, and that we could possibly still have weeks and weeks of these extreme temperatures. Obviously, this summer’s lesson for me is to accept what I can’t change.
It doesn’t mean I have to like it.
We ran the entire length of the Santa Fe Trail. It was shadier than I thought it would be, and it seemed to be all uphill (I think it wasn’t). We arrived at the water stop that Bill had set up with cold water and Gatorade only to discover that someone had stolen the large water jug. Major bummer, but I guess that’s part of living in the big city. It made the next water stop’s cold water that much better.
Even though I’ve been trying to follow the 10% rule and not ramp up too quickly, I’ve been plagued with shin splints and some minor tendonitis in one ankle these past few weeks. It made the first 4 miles of today’s run uncomfortable and my legs never seemed to warm up. As if the heat wasn’t enough . . .
I’ve been trying to see the glass half full, but I’m struggling.
We walked. A lot. We walked the most I’ve ever walked in a long run. All of the walking only prolonged our run, of course, and it wasn’t long before the blazing sun made its appearance over the horizon and made the run that much more difficult. One thing I have learned to accept this summer is walk breaks when it’s this hot, but today was extreme. Just like the temperature.
Thank goodness for good friends to help you make it to the end of a run like today. I know it will get better, but gosh, I hope it gets better soon.
Stats: 14 miles @ 9:42 pace – 90 degrees at 6AM