Friday, August 9, 2013

Iron girl: the magic is in the metal

I wrote a couple days ago about suddenly getting (relatively) fast. I have been really pondering what could have brought this about. While it's true that the way you get better at running is to run, this change has been extreme. I have shaved a full two minutes off my mile at times during casual runs. I run a bit harder, yes, but the fact I can run a bit harder and sustain it--for far for up to 3.3 miles--is telling in itself.

It was my 5K Saturday when it happened--when I heard the magic "ten minutes..." in my headphones. That I had completed a mile anywhere with a 10 in it told me something. One of my running friends commented to me once that "ten minute miles are the stuff of dreams." I agree. Ten is fast. I reiterate that the reason we may think it's normal is that those are the numbers we always hear. We only hear about the under 10-minute mile runners because they win. In smaller races the 10 minute mile runners might win. We don't hear about the normal people who run in the middle of the pack and finish well. But that's what normal is.

So Saturday I was stunned. It was hot. It was somewhat hilly. Those two factors alone slow people down. What was I doing shooting off like a cannon?

Sunday I got up to run again--late. So hot. I was certainly slower than Saturday, but not as slow as most post-race tired runs. Then Monday. Even faster. And then Tuesday. Bam. I nailed it. Fastest 5K of my life outside of a race--in 80 degrees in my hilly neighborhood. That's when I knew something had given. Wednesday was my rest day because I have ballet Tuesday nights and I will normally teach at 8 a.m. Wednesday, so it was logical. But I couldn't stand it. After work, I went back to the university and to the indoor track, where I PRed my mile--in just over 9 minutes.

So what changed it? Training in the heat and hills? Absolutely. That has helped and will help. This fall I will be better. Just as I was ready for spring because I didn't wimp out in the cold winter, even when I was so cold I couldn't warm up. I'm thinking of two 8-milers I did where I never got warm after eight miles. I couldn't afford the nice clothes I needed for cold, but I couldn't afford not to run, so I ran anyway. I ran with a Facebook banner that said "A strong spring is earned in the winter." And so it was.

But cutting two minutes off a casual mile isn't likely just training. And in my case I think it was iron.

The night I got to town I went to a running meeting. I don't generally care for running groups. I am a solo runner and the only time I like to run with people is in races, but I went to hear it, perhaps hoping I would like it and want to connect more. The speaker was a running coach who the weekend before had run 3 5Ks and won all three--he's one of those. He was talking about iron levels at some point--about days he had been feeling sluggish and how he got his checked. I thought about my own sluggishness--which isn't just being tired or lazy. You know when your body itself is physiologically not performing and it's not because you stayed up too late or ate junk. Still, I had been tested in the past--years ago, but I am one that every test always comes out okay. I am so very healthy (and thankful for my health) usually that when something is wrong it just sticks out big time.

Later I bought a cheapo iron supplement. I wasn't spending a ton of money if I didn't need it. Allegedly if I had a deficiency it would be obvious. For a couple weeks I took one every night. Then I upped it to two. A lot of people say cheap vitamins are worthless, but that's actually not what lab tests show (and no, I am not interested in your multi-level marketing special patented running formula vitamins for 9 times the price I am paying now, but thanks) when they are run. Usually they end up being about the same, but iron does have to be absorbed right, so I had somewhere upped it to three, I think the week before. I won't go into details here in a public blog, but I had begun to have some physiological side effects of taking iron (normal ones, not bad ones) which I actually thought were the result of my taking extended antibiotics for my one non-healthy area, my sick tooth. It was about then that I suspect it was beginning to work.

The night before my record breaking 5K, I took four iron tablets. I will do stuff like that before a race, more out of superstition. I.e. you do not need to carbo load before a 5K--three miles does not need extra carbohydrates--but I do it anyway. It's all psychological. I often take one extra inhaler puff, though two is all that is ever needed. So I took one more iron tablet.

It took me a few days to put it together. But I think it's the iron. Plus, if I am taking a cheaper one, it's harder to absorb possibly--still good but it might take an extra one. And last night I did some research. I found a really interesting article with supporting academic research studies. If you go to this page from the National Institutes of Health, you can read this overview of iron supplementation.

Here's the magic section that floored me:

Women. Distance runners. That would be me, twice over. And though I am not a vegetarian, I do have a diet that leans more toward that. I do not eat a lot of red meat, and my other meat portions are small. It made perfect sense. Even if I would have tested okay in the past, I am depleting more. Duh. Duh. Duh.

One of the studies cited by the NIH is this one. I have not read the entire study yet because I will have to obtain it via my university since it will be in a database, but it supports the athletic premise of the need for more iron by conducting a study on the iron depletion of competitive swimmers.

It is possible to get too much iron. If you feel slow and sluggish, taking a lot of iron supplements will not make you magically fast. It could actually hurt you. This post is my experience and I haven't even confirmed it yet biologically, though I would probably wager a bet on it at this point. But you cannot generalize someone's experience; I am simply sharing it in case you want to be tested if you are a very regular distance runner and possibly do have long-term unexplained sluggishness. I have not had health insurance so my options to test my iron levels correctly did not exist. I can now, but I won't go off the supplement. However, if I test just fine on it, then that will say something in itself. My point here is that taking iron won't make you faster or stronger if you don't have a depletion (and unless you are running a lot, you probably didn't make extra depletion happen, but I do run enough that I would). So before you try this, get checked out and also read up on iron toxicity. But the bottom line for me is that it seems to have solved a problem. I had noticed I was getting more sluggish more often, which seemed unusual since that's usually an off and on thing. Everyone has sluggish days. Without questions, that is normal. Most likely as I was establishing a normal routine again and pushing my body harder, that's what was going on. Adding the iron deficiency with the consistent training in the heat and on hills was probably just a formula all together to help me. 

Tomorrow I have a longer run and I am going to purposely do it slower. But I am doing it with the iron! Last night I ordered more from the company I prefer to use when I find a good vitamin. If it works, it works. And for me, it sure seems to be a key. 

This week my runs have been incredible--and I don't just mean the speed. I mean, I have felt like a cannon blasted out of a cave that flies down the road. I beam with delight at the act of running. There are moments I forget I am running and my arms are swinging and I feel like I am flying down the road. Suddenly I feel like Iron Girl.

Iron Girl in Pink Magic, of course.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

And then in the hottest week of August I got fast

And then in the hottest week of August I got fast. Okay, fast is relative. But if you compare where I was a few months ago to this week, you could be an Olympic runner and would still call me fast—compared to myself, which is the point of running. I have dubbed this The Most Important Week of My Running Life. There are many reasons for that but most of them revolve around working full time again and having as very full life I have not had since I began running. And I started it with a bang.

After PRing in a 5K race Saturday, I haven’t let up. If you ask me how fast I run, I generally won’t tell you—because it’s not about numbers and I don’t like arbitrary assignments. I am not “fast” by competitive definitions. I won’t win anything more than an age group place in a very small local race—if that. I am not a speedster, and I don’t want to be dismissed by people who don’t actually know anything about running or who only know people who run at their speed. The 14 minute milers think you are bragging and the 8 minute milers think you are pokey.

You know what I am? I am me.

I am a committed and dedicated runner who has found life and breath in running when it left me other ways. And so when I say fast, I mean Susan got fast, not that Susan is a fast runner. And there is a decided difference. The great thing is the one that matters is the one where I got fast. Sunday I ran faster than average for the weather, but slower than the race, more normal. Monday I went way faster. And yesterday I ran my fastest ever three miles on the road outside of a race, stunning myself.

Seriously, I had no idea how I did it. I ran a perfect 5K “casual” run, with negative splits (getting faster every mile). They were perfect splits too, like some crafted and coached run. Last night I had two ballet classes, which I have decided make Wednesday a perfect rest day this semester. But I had a bit of a hard time after ballet last night. And then this afternoon as well. And so I coped the only surefire way. I don’t really have close friends I can call in most difficult times—people don’t talk on the phone much—most of them are so busy with their families, especially on evenings and weekends, which, like the rest of the world, are my only free times too. And I don’t even have casual friends I can go get yogurt with to kind of just muddle through stuff since I am brand new to town. So I did the only thing I know to do—I ran. Though my calves were crazy sore from pointe class and all those roll through-relevés, I decided I needed to go back to the gym.

I hadn’t done weights in over a week and I thought maybe a quick mile around the track would be a good idea, to see what I could do. I had used Nike Plus on “indoor mode” last time I was at the track, and I was sure it was wrong, but as I read about it people said it did a good job, so I went to a treadmill first and checked them against each other. If anything, the app trailed ever-so-slightly behind the treadmill. It actually worked! So I took off—on the outside lane—there were people walking anyway, but the outside lane is for “Running” and the middle for ”Jogging.” Last time I did the jogging lane, out of respect for any real runners, but I decided a sub-10 minute mile counted as real running and tore off around the outside. The truth is, I think I went an extra lap, or at least part of one, but I stuck to the Nike readout. Nine minutes and six seconds.


Me. If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it. Never in a million thoughts did I think I could do that. It’s easier indoors—flat, rubberized surface, controlled temperature. I could not do that outdoors. Yet. But I had 10-something minute miles in my race Saturday—and it was USATF certified, so I know I am not fooling myself. That was a slightly hilly and very warm race. And I can always run indoors at least a minute faster, but still. Without question, I could pull off a sub 9-minute indoors at this point. But I want to break 10 outdoors.

People, I am 5 feet tall—and I am still “chubby.” Extra weight slows you down. That is a fact physiologically, the same way increased temperatures slow you down. People can get all know-it-all about running and how “they” don’t need to slow down or “they” used to run fast when they were fat or whatever they want but the facts don’t change (and those attitudes are dumb anyway because you can never compare two individual runners)—but you can argue physiology and that tells me when it is 50 degrees out and I weigh less, I will be faster, all other things equal.

When I started running I was carrying probably at least 40 extra pounds with me. You try to run down the road carrying four large sacks of potatoes on your back and tell me you are just as fast and I will laugh in your face. So what’s another 20 pounds or whatever going to do? I don’t know how fast I will be able to be one day. Fast is definitely relative and I don’t have all the genetics that do determine some of it, but you can also defy genetics to some degree. Sub-2 hour half? I am not counting on it. 7 minute mile? Maybe in several months. I don’t have any idea.

All I know is that today I wanted to throw everything else out of my life besides running and just run—all the time. I ran 16 minutes miles a few times in January, 14 was pretty normal much of the time) and today I ran just about 9. Really? What could I do if I worked harder if this is what I did in the absolute hottest week in August. Maybe I ran indoors today but I didn’t run indoors the last few days.

I love running because you get out of it what you put into it. In relationships, for example, you may love and love and be rejected. Or you may want to care more than another person cares. In running, the more committed you are, the more it is welcomed. Running accepts what man rejects.

So in this week, The Most Important Week of My Running Life, I am proving what’s important to me. Simultaneously, I am coping with difficult personal change. Running is a miracle. Plain and simple. Sometimes I think there is too much to handle at once, and then I run, and I think, I can take this world on, me and my feet. By ourselves. I don’t need a friend to call or a gelato date, I just need Pink Magic. Sometimes when I run, I believe it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

do it for love

You and I, we’re not the same kind of runner. You see, I love running. I love pretty much all of it. I loved it before I knew it was a magic weight loss pill. I loved it before I saw my renewed energy. I loved it when three miles was a long way.

You and I, causal runner, are not the same kind of runner because my week isn’t complete without 20 miles of running. It matters. It matters so much I will re-prioritize almost anything else for my run.

You and I, over-thinking runner, are not the same type of runner because when the feet hit the road, that’s not analysis time for me.

You and I, fair-weathered runner, are not the same type of runner because I’m going to run whether it’s 0 degrees or 100 degrees,. I am going to hate the extreme conditions of both and I may even get sick in the 100, but it won’t stop me from what I love. I will still love that I ran. I have never regretted a run.

See, I love my stats, and I love to stare at the numbers from my runs, but when I hit the road, all I care about is the road and as far as I can go. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to analyze my plans whole running. I don’t want to stare at my Garmin and slow or quicken my pace. I just want to run. Yes, I want to get better, but that’s the magic of running—if you do it you get better at it.

Remember a few months ago I wrote about how if you don’t like running you should find another sport? I said:

If you can’t have fun running, then don’t run.
I feel more strongly about that than ever. It’s August and I don’t live in Alaska. I am also, apparently, ultra-sensitive to heat and prone to literal heat exhaustion. And I haven’t missed a run. That’s love. It’s not a training plan—in fact, I am realizing that I can’t train for fall long runs because of the physical limitations of the level of heat--it's been hard but my mileage hasn't suffered. I find a way. It’s not weight loss. Come on, there are so many exercises to help you lose weight. Zumba, for Pete’s sake. Do that 5 days a week and you will probably be skinner faster than running.

See, running is so many wonderful things, but for me, it’s really my best friend—the one thing I can always count on in a world of inconsistency. You don’t need equipment or a coach or a plan or analysis. While I do things like analyze my stats, that’s not the purpose of what I do.

Running is getting more popular by the minute, and I think the attention is great, but a runner runs—when it’s a fad and when it’s not. When it’s hot or when it’s cold. When there’s a race or when it’s just a normal day.

Today I got up before dawn, on the first day of a long, and what will be very hard on me mentally, week—and I ran a 5K. Because I could. Because I can run. Because my feet work and it makes my heart come alive like nothing else. Because I needed to run for myself.  I was more tired today. I am more tired now.

But I will get up again tomorrow and do it again.

I rest on rest days, not because I don’t feel like running. Honestly, I will be surprised if I have rest days very much once it’s cool again. The heat has been very hard on me; it has tested everything I am made of. And I have won.

There are so many runners who have stories like mine, all different details but the same theme. I am like them. I am the runner who found hope in my feet, on the open road. I am the runner who was wanted on the streets, and who found life even in the dead of winter. I am not casual, I am not an analyst, I am not fair-weathered. I am a runner because I run. I am a runner because I love to run. That's the kind of runner I am. And that's the only kind I want to be.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The 500th mile: doing The Thing I Never Did

I don’t know when the first time I was I climbed the high dive in a pool. I was young. I grew up in water. Swimming was one of my favorite things to do and I loved the diving boards. I jumped, belly flopped—and even did some real diving with some okay skill as a kid. I was a fish child. Water was my friend. And then it was my enemy. But only when I walked up to the high dive.

I don’t like heights when I am exposed to the outside in them. 30 story building, no problem—unless I go out on the balcony. It’s not a serious fear. I will do it but it makes me a bit cautious—especially like on building ledges (and let’s not discuss how I have even ended up on building ledges but I have). But the high dive was the worst. Climbing a ladder and walking out on a narrow springy board and then standing over water and jumping in—well, it was too much. The height is what got to me.

Every. Single. Time.

I never did it. I think I remember the last time I turned around and walked down the ladder. I did it so many times, though, that it’s hard to be sure. Even with people behind me in line, it never mattered. I just wouldn’t do it. I was too afraid. So fish child was truly a fish and didn’t like leaping too high out of the water.

I can’t recall what made me get the idea—maybe swim lessons this summer? All I know is as I talked about reaching my 500 mile running goal, going off a high dive sounded like a really good way to mark it. So somewhere this summer I asked my coach, who I was meeting with via Skype, if there was a high dive in town. I wanted to jump off of it when I visited.

What made this really ideal was the 500 mile mark. On January 1, I decided, almost impulsively, that the way to guide my running, which I had just returned to doing not long before, was to set a mileage goal for 2013. I didn’t want it to be unrealistic because I wanted to be successful. So I looked at 500 miles—averaging to 1.36 miles a day. There was little doubt in my mind I could pull that off even without heavy running. I had no idea what was to come.

So on January 1, I headed out to iLan park in the Kansas City area, part of the amazing trail system the city says, unmatched by most places with its miles and miles of asphalt trails. It was cold and very icy. I did 1.5 miles that day at a 14:44 pace. I could only go so far because the ice patches were so slippery and I was so new. 1.5 miles down.

And every day after that I went—with a rest day each week. Faithfully. Through work. Sickness. A knee problem. Through grief, pain, rejection, joy, laughter. I went over and over through a crazy, frigid, snowy winter. I didn’t have the right clothes, couldn’t afford the nice stuff to keep me warm. I pilfered hats and gloves from the mud room in the house where I lived. I wore and old sweatshirt very a long sleeved shirt. When the wind blew I was sure my face was forming icicles.

But I ran.

When I knew I was going to Texas, I was glad that I would have the spring to acclimate to warmer weather before being thrown into Hotville. But it never happened. There were snow flurries up until the day before I left Kansas City in late April.

I ran to Texas. I drove to Oklahoma City, adding a day to my trip to run around Lake Hefner. I drove on and ran in cites where I had job interviews, on to Dallas where I ran around Sherman, then Dallas, and on to College Station where the heat and misery assailed me.

Now the goal was to take OFF as many clothes and possible to run comfortably. I had lost some decent weight by then but not enough to run in a sports bra (and make no mistake, in that heat, I absolutely would if I had even close to the shape for it).

By now my mileage was climbing and I was about to run a half marathon. Then I flew off to North Dakota for that. Knocking off 13 miles in one run was sure helpful toward achieving my goal. And back to College Station I went to run another month or so in lows that ran in the mid-to-high 70s with 90-something percent humidity. It was miserable like I could not explain. I was not becoming acclimatized to it. I would cry.

But I would run.  

I kept up with my mileage, sometimes doing creative things like putting a really long run in on a cooler day and doing a second long run late that week, using the next week to even out the mileage. Quitting was not an option.

You see, I didn’t just start running because I wanted to lose weight. I started running because it was my love that got away years before. I started running because I had lost love and hope and wasn’t recovering. I started running to keep myself sane and find some balance in a chaotic world. I started running to conquer the things that ached too much to stand still any longer.

It was by sheer chance that travel would bring me back to Kansas City the very week I was scheduled to hit 500 miles. I did not plan that or do anything to make it happen. I was pretty surprised to see how it fell, but it was meant to be.

I have a home on the trails of this city. I know the nuances, the turns, the duck crossings. I know where to park when I need a 5K run, or how far out to go for a 4 miler or a 10-miler. I have run from Overland Park on one side to Leawood on the other, from Leawood, KS into Kansas City, MO. I learned to run hills in this city. A 300 ft climb in one run wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t always a lot of fun, but it was typical height.

I have left at least 35 pounds on the trails, pounded into asphalt and run over by Pink Magic, then blown away by cold winter winds.

I have processed my life, by myself, with the trees as my only audience. Before I could begin to process anything out loud, as I have recently begun to do, I took it to the trails.

I remember days I ran fending off tears of grief and pain. I remember days I bounced down the trails beaming with joy. I remember days I was distracted, I didn’t want to run, but I did it anyway.

So many cups of frozen yogurt and Ice Cube chocolates. So many Hy-Vee salads and chicken sandwiches. Slowly I made progress, quickly my heart clung to the run.

Through it all, I have run. And this goal is one of many, not the end. I quickly set up my RunKeeper for another 500 mile goal this year. I plan to hit 1000 miles and add a marathon to the mix. I’m in week 2 of training now.

But the high dive was a celebration because if you’re going to live you should live loud. I met my coach at the pool with the high dive—I ran that half mile I had left at my fastest pace. I stripped to swim clothes and walked up the ladder to the high dive and before I could think, I jumped. In a spilt second the haunting fear of The Thing I Never Did was gone. I was in the air. In the water. Deeper than I had ever been. Because I jumped from higher than I had ever jumped.

I’m a runner. A real one. I run every day. I run races, I analyze stats. I work on my time. I recover from bad runs by running more to erase the memory. But I am just a beginner. I don’t know if I will ever feel like a real expert. Running is ever-changing. Every run is different, even if you run exactly the same route. There is always a new race, new weather, new obstacles, new victories. Last night I took  break to conquer a fear and eat pizza with my coach/friend who came to chronicle my victory and cheer me on.

But the week isn’t over and I have a 7-mile long run. Because when you’re running a marathon, you just keep going. 

A pictorial account:

 Before my last half mile... nerves! Once I started I was minutes from the high dive.

 Random scene from the run. I got to do the last half mile at a favorite spot.

 This is an actual shot of me holding up my RunKeeper as it turned to 500 miles and I finished that last step.

Pictures of stats after my RunKeeper turned to 500.

Random pictures of the jump. In the interest of non-traumatic pictures I left bike shorts on :-)

 Had to do some real diving off the low dive too, of course!

 Yes, I did!

Yep. All the way up the ladder and this time I got off on the other side! VICTORY!

This is Jan. She's my coach, a lifelong fitness expert and professional--and a great cheerleader and listener. What a blessing she has been to me on this leg of the journey! I joined a $10 a month gym last November and remain pretty sure I got more out of it than I ever paid into it. The pool attendants took these pictures for us! YAY!

Then we ate pizza and gelato to celebrate. It was good since I never eat such rich stuff!    
500 miles
Over 100 hours of running
53,689 calories burned
Pace per mile difference from first to last run of 500 miles: 4:23 minutes (tonight was my fastest and not multi-mile sustainable yet, but it's still significant).
My stats don't lie. I did it.
And while in the bathroom changing out of my swimsuit after the high dive adventure, I set a new goal: 500 MORE miles before Dec. 31. Complacency is not an option.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Running to win (and I did!)

Saturday I did something that won’t likely be much of my running career—I won. Not first place or anything, but I placed third in my age group. It was a small race, and I knew there was a chance I could place because I had seen last year’s results. The times of the top people were not that far from my 5K records. I knew there was going to be a heat factor, and I knew that entrants would vary, but I also knew since I tend to do very large races, the odds normally of placing are downright impossible, so why not give it my best.

It was too warm but the one good thing about that is that everyone runs in the same weather—so if I would be slowed, so would they. It’s physiology not skill. And so off we went on the streets of Duncan, OK. I carried a bit of water only because of the heat. I tried to start sort of slow but my race energy makes it impossible, so I was off—while people tore off ahead of me. But as usual, many of these were behind me in no time because they went so fast they had to stop and walk. So soon I was passing many people and settled into a pace. It was a fast-ish (for me) pace but the heat threw my sense of time—often I feel I am going faster than I am but the heat slows me so much. I didn’t stare at my Garmin or RunKeeper, though I peeked at the Garmin some. At the end of mile 1 I saw I was at a PR-able pace, and started looking around.

Hmmm… that lady over there looks to be close to my age. And then I ran harder. That’s right, folks. Miss I-run-against-myself started looking around for people who looked near my age and tried to get ahead of them. I was racing. Hello, competitive nature! Of course you have no idea how old someone actually is, but you guess and fly. It’s really funny how a solo sport becomes so competitive so fast.

Mile two had the “pretty good sized hill” they talked about. But God bless, Kansas City, that “hill” was more like a 70 ft slope. I ran it hard, accepted the water from one of the FOUR water stops (that was funny—5Ks usually have ONE and you don’t need it—but also useful for throwing water on my head and torso to cool myself off), and went on.

In a 5K at mile 2, you begin to think it’s in the bag. At 2.5 you know you are home free. At 3, you decide it would be a good time for speed work. And that’s what happened. There were no more real slopes and the weather was consistent. A few random people cheered us on; I just blasted music in my ears and tried to run as hard as I could sustain. I honestly didn’t think it was that fast.

As I saw the finish line ahead, I looked around for competition… people who looked anywhere NEAR my age group. It was pretty funny. I realized I was about to coast into the finish line and the only person ahead of me in sight was a man and there was no one behind me close enough to sprint ahead. For a second I felt like I could relax. What was done was done. Either I made it or not. Then my real competitor’s spirit picked up. WHAT THE HECK! I was my own competition. I might win or lose an age group place but I was going home with myself. And then I picked it up, for me. For my results. For my stats. And I soared through the finish line like my life depended on it to my fastest official PR.

I have no recollection of turning off my RunKeeper or stopping my Garmin but I must have done both as the race official was pulling bib bottoms to double check results. She was telling me I did an excellent job. Everything’s relative I guess, but I appreciated it a lot.

Within a few minutes the unofficial results were in. I spent time looking at a hundred names before I was able to see the system gave the age group rank. There it was SUSAN TYRRELL AG 3. I waited. I knew it could change if something didn’t go in the system right, but for the first time I NEEDED to wait for the awards. I sat around with the group of about 200 in the park, feeling like I had a secret. I might be a WINNER this time. Me. Pokey Suz who ran a 16 minute mile on Jan 1 and was seeing 11s—never enough to win in real races, but in local ones… maybe. Still chubby despite 35 pounds gone. Still pretty pokey. I might really be a winner?

And sure enough. Calling out awards, the race director gets to my group:

In 3rd place, Susan Tyrrell.”

And I walked up there like this was old hat! She placed a bronze medal around my neck and for the first time in a race, I was one of the few that had a medal, not a random person getting a finisher’s medal. It was a winner’s medal. Of course I grabbed a random stranger: “Can you take my picture?” So I got my cheesy picture. And my medal. And I went to call my friend who I knew would cheer with me. It was so much fun to yap about the race and talk about winning.

I don’t run to beat other people—despite the fact  became rather competitive when I knew I had a chance. I run to beat myself. That race was another slot I climbed, one that said I can win. I did it and I did it better than 9 people. That’s all. The age group only had 12. I am not fast but I was 9 of 12 and I am proud of that because I ran well and gained the prize.

Later, when I emailed my department chair—who knew I was running—with an update about something else, I mentioned it had gone well and I had won the bronze in my age group. She said she had seen me on the news. That I had a cameo appearance from the race and it was an auspicious—promising of success—beginning in the area. It was pretty funny. It was also a neat thought, a nice touch of symbolism for my first race nearby. I have had three big successes in OK. My longest training run, my first unofficial 5K PR and my first win (with an official PR). Later I ran my fastest 4-miler before I left for Kansas for a while. Oklahoma has been good to me.

Tomorrow I will it the 500 mile mark—which was my original goal for all of 2013. The midway mark doesn’t hit until Sunday. Today I ran with a friend-which is something I don’t really do, but I liked it. But other than at the beginning she ran her own pace and walked some, so I still had lots of time to think and process, to look at the year and ponder the last 499.5 miles. I will write about that after it’s done, but I will say this: I don’t regret a tenth of a mile I ran. Every step counts. In the rain, snow, sleet, ice, heat, wind—and on that dumb dreadmill. They al count. I have finisher’s medals—including one for a half marathon. And I have a winner’s medal. It's an appropriate way to end this part of the journey because what I have found out is that I can win. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

what commitment means

Commitment is one of those words we throw around as being important but maybe don’t ponder too terribly much on a daily basis. While this blog isn’t going to be about the most important types of commitment—relational—I think I have learned more than I knew about my own commitment as a runner in the past month-plus.

Commitment means doing what you said you would do even if you don’t feel like doing it. It is a setting of your heart and mind to follow through without question. The idea is that before you enter into something you use your heart and mind and evaluate what it is and if you want to do it.

With running, there was no ceremony like a wedding or a vow to be a nun, nothing quite so dramatic. But after I began, I decided I wanted to accomplish something. On January 1, I essentially made two commitments: to run a half marathon and to run 500 miles in the calendar year. Both became the focus of my free time. And honestly, neither was too hard for the first few months. 500 miles is an average of 1.36 miles per day. The truth is, I will hit 500 miles before the half year mark is over, and while I have not entered it in the calendar yet, I will likely go for 1000 this year. Although I had a cold winter, I had excellent runs. I learned to run again on asphalt trails surrounded by trees and lakes. I was utterly spoiled (and so is everyone within 30 minutes of Leawood or Overland Park, Kansas, by the way). There were days it was hard to go—like when we had two blizzards in a row and the roads were barely drivable. But overall, outside of being colder than I have ever been, it was easy. I had great training runs for my half and did not follow the plan exactly since I was ahead, but I made sure I did the long runs and had the mileage you basically need each week for a good half—20 miles. So my unwritten commitment became 20 miles a week.

And then I got to Texas. Oh, Texas. My beloved home? My promised land? Alas!

Oh, Texas, no longer my Texas, thou art HOT. Not just hot, but humid, the kind where you feel like you walked into a sauna. Even the locals say it’s bad, but for a person who struggles with heat anyway, and one with breathing issues while running—and one who hates running first thing in the morning I might add, Texas has challenged everything I think about running.

But I won.

In Texas I have run when the heat index was 100. I have run trail runs and gotten trapped in weeds so it looked like wire was around my ankles. I have been stuck in the mud, tripped over rocks, poured more water over me than down my throat. And gotten sick to the point I had to fight very hard NOT to throw up right there. I have experienced heat exhaustion (literally, I mean). I have cried after runs because the FUN isn’t there as much. But then I would have a good run and it would all come back, or I would look at my splits and see a fast time, or I would look at my mileage and realize what I came here to write about today:

I made it.

I have run 5-6 days a week and met every mileage goal I had. I got a break after the half in that I rested and only had to do 15. We got a weather break last week and I did two longer runs in one week which gave me a break this week, but today I had to finish up an average of the last two weeks to 40. Thanks to my rotten math skills, I messed up and ended up at 40.1.
I’m typing this still feeling a bit sick from today sauna run. (I remain baffled by the Hot Yoga phenomena, by the way). But I did it.

There is no feeling in the world like knowing you worked your booty off and won. How easy it would have been to quit. Who would have blamed me if I said I was just working out at the gym and taking swim class for a couple weeks? I did that—and I ran too. And you know why, don’t you?

Runners run.

Running really is a commitment because it’s a mental sport. What I have learned in my time in one of the more uncomfortable parts of Texas is that I am committed to my sport. I care more about fulfilling my goals than I do my discomfort. Ultimately, that lesson—as with many running lessons—applies to life.

Next stop: Dallas. Not exactly the pinnacle of comfort either, but somehow going north helps the psychological part, if not the sweat.  And it looks like the 500th mile will be somewhere very special. Sometimes the rewards of commitment just happen naturally, and sometimes with sweat. But always, always there are rewards.

That equals more than the required 40 (because I added in my head wrong!) 93% there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

in which I tell you why you should not be a runner

I have a great coach, Jan, who has been a fitness professional for a long time. She’s run marathons, triathlons, coached, worked in gyms. You name it. She knows her stuff. And as we Skyped right before my half marathon and she gave me advice, she added one thing before we hung up:

“And hey, have fun with it.”

Those words proved the best piece of advice I received from anyone. Better than how to start, when to fuel, any of it. As I began, I told myself “I’m running a half marathon.” And I repeated that, with awe, as I ran. All those smiling pictures of me are because I had fun with it. And it’s with that in mind that I offer advice few would expect to hear from me. If you can’t have fun running, then don’t run.

Just don’t.

Running looks cool from afar. We see people run marathons and half marathons—even 5Ks—and we want to do that cool thing. But there’s more to it and you need to consider the more before you decide this is what you want.

Running is a serious commitment. It will eat up your time, and even more money than it seems it could as you get into more miles or run in varying climates. Running, real running, doesn’t have to be fast but it does have to be regular. After a couple weeks you begin to lose gains you have made. You can’t run here and there and maintain your running fitness levels.

This morning I was reading a running message board I read regularly. Some of the same people on there often lamenting this and that about running, always with dread. The dreaded 10 –miler, the fear of the next race, the constant questioning. And I want to say “Why are you running if you hate it that much?” Running isn’t a sport for you if you need to be told how good you are all the time. Running isn’t a sport for you if you need it to come easy all the time. Running isn’t a sport for you if you won’t commit to it and respect the run. Training a body to run multiple sustained miles is a big deal. The reward isn’t in other people affirming you did a good job (though we all like that and it's fun, but mostly that comes after a race, not on a daily run--no one gave me heaps of praise for getting up when it was dark and running 4.65 miles this morning when I was sleepy. I did that because I love the sport more than I do sleep). 

The reward is in running multiple sustained miles. You must have intrinsic motivation.

I am in the hardest running season since I returned to the sport—while the heat has become a bit better for me, it’s no secret I am leaving town sooner than expected partially because of the heat (though there are certain very practical reasons as well). But even now, even today, I like running. I don’t like heat, or crazy cold, or whatever uncontrollable circumstances may be there, but running makes me happy. Not once have I finished a run and regretted it. Not when I was tired or sick or hot or cold. I never came home and said “I wish I hadn’t run.”

If you hate it, don’t do it.

The first few weeks are hard, adjusting, hurting, learning what works and doesn’t. No one enjoys all of the process, but there should still be some excitement. Running is a great sport but it’s not for everyone. And sometimes it’s annoying to hear people who complain about every single run every day.

Running hurts. It will always hurt. If you run a lot of miles, you will have injuries. Some people only get minor ones that never actually stop their running, but you learn how to run hurt unless it’s a serious one. Running drives your schedule—especially when weather is involved. While some of us hate heat or cold or whatever, the fact is, you will have to run slower past 65 degrees; humidity will affect you and wind chill will affect you. If you commit to running, your schedule will change. You will choose running over eating certain foods, over social gatherings, over a movie. And if you’re a runner you won’t mind at all.

If you do mind, if you’re not having fun, find another sport. Seriously. Every run won’t be fun, of course. Some runs just plain stink. You can run 10 miles one day and feel like you could go on and do 2 three days later and feel like you’re dying. That’s the nature of the sport—but you still don’t regret it, you don’t hate it. It just makes you want to run again so you can do better.

There are sports I hate. I would be miserable in some step aerobics class for example. I would burn calories and be fit, but I would hate it. The idea is a lot of fun in my head but any time I have gone I have wanted to rip my eyeballs out I hated it so much. Things like boot camp don’t excite me; I have friends who love them. We are all different. And you don’t have to be a runner. You should do what you like. If you don’t like it, stop complaining about it and don’t do it.

Even as so many of my own friends are taking up running—some probably thinking it’s the most fabulous thing around the way I talk about it, I want to issue a caution. Running is a sport that needs respecting. It’s one of the only sports where you don’t stop. In major sports—football, baseball, soccer, etc., the game goes on without you. There are quarters, or innings or whatever. In running, you keep running. It’s about endurance. You have to like something to do it every day for an hour or two without stopping. And if you don’t, it’s crazy to do it.

This year I have run 453.6 miles—every step, no walking is counted in my running totals. I don’t regret one of them. Some were miserable. Some were torture. Some were injured. (The day I ended up in the ER because of my knee, the whole time all I could think was how happy I was I knocked three miles out before going to the ER). But all my runs are part of who I am. It’s not something I do to lose weight. It’s something I do to be me.

If you want to run, then I want you to run. I think running is one of the most incredible things in the world. But if it’s not for you, don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Go find what you love and do it. No one is chiding you for not being a runner, but if you are a runner 1) you will run regularly 2) you will like it (generally speaking).

And really, what’s the point otherwise?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What runners do

Today is National Running Day. If I weren’t a runner I may not have even known that, but since I am, I thought about it a lot today. Coincidentally, I received a running gift today. I say it was a coincidence because it was a gift someone has had for me for a while, but only got to give to me today. My friend Jon, who I wrote about in a recent entry, talking of how he was writing his dissertation while training for a marathon and found many parallels, had his dissertation defense today—he couldn’t have planned the timing better. He had been telling me he had something for me, but we had not been able to connect, so today he brought it.

Remember after the Boston Marathon bombing how many of us did “Run for Boston” pictures all over Facebook? Not a lot of people know that started in College Station, but the brains behind it was the director of the local marathon. They took those pictures—well, lots but not all of them, and made it into a book which they sold to benefit the victims. Because the book was full color, it was pricier than I could justify spending in the short time it was available. At that point had no idea my moving expenses were covered, so I passed. But Jon didn’t. He ordered me a copy. And today after his defense, I got to see it.

I will look at this book over and over again, I know. It’s pictures from across the world of people who made time on Wednesday, April 17 to run in honor of Boston, to make a statement we would always run, to use our runs as time to pray for the victims—many of whom could not run anymore.

That day for me was a busy one. It was, of course, freezing cold because we had the long, cold winter. I had to work in a school north of downtown. Rain was forecast all day. I could not find a single running group doing the run; I knew there must be some, but none of the big groups I knew were doing it--with only a day or so to plan it all, there wasn't a lot of time to organize, I guess, so people just did it. The idea was to wear the colors of the marathon, blue and yellow, and run, then take a picture with a sign that said "Run for Boston" and post it on their Facebook page with where they were.

I really needed to do it. It was weird because I am not symbolic about “causes.” But I felt like I had to find a way to do this, so I prepared to run in the rain. At the school I pulled up my map program and looked for the closest patches of green. I found the name of the park on the map, Antioch Park, looked it up in the Johnson County park guide, and found out there were trails. I needed to get to the closest park before the real rain hit.

I had running tights on under my work pants, as usual. Inside my work dress boots were a blue sock and a yellow sock--because I couldn’t find a match for either. I owned exactly one blue tech shirt (running shirt). I got it for a steal on as an add on, just the week before. That meant I had the colors covered. I decided to do 2.62 miles—a tenth of a marathon. The park was somewhat hilly, and it was cold, but the rain held off and I ran—I stopped at exactly 2.62, took a picture with the only signs I could find—blue and yellow Post-It notes from the classroom I was in—-and then I felt okay. I had done it. I needed to do it.

Alone in the cold on that busy day, I felt like I was part of something bigger—the magnificent running community. If you didn’t read my blog about the running community and why it’s a big deal, please take a look here:

That day it was so much fun to see the thousands of pictures sent in from all over the world. As I got bunches of “likes” on my own picture, I felt that connection to all the runners—we were all part of Boston.

I was barely aware they were publishing a book about it, but I definitely wanted one when I knew. Today as I skimmed through it, I felt tears come to my eyes again. Seeing all those pictures really moved me. It was a powerful moment—-runners at their best (and we are a great group, by and large).

Today I found something else in that book: me. My picture made the cut, and there I was on the top of the page with my beaming face, homemade Post-It signs across my chest, and one blue and one yellow sock.

This isn’t the first book I have been in, but I think it’s the first time my picture has been in a book—and it’s my first in the running world. Little me—with a bunch of others from all over, normal everyday runners who wept over those hurt by this act, who wept because, as I said back then, stealing running is like staling wings from a bird.

And we weren’t having it.

 Because runners run (for Boston).