Friday, March 29, 2013

Learning to Run

Today I ran when it was almost 70 degrees and very warm for a run. The only sign there had been a foot of snow 5 days ago was the mud I ran through on the trail. But it was a hard run. Some was probably because it's only been 48 hours since my 10-miler, some was my breathing which seems to be impacted both by sleep and by weather changes. But really it was the warmth; that's a new season. I have only run in warm weather a couple times since I started back (before I always ran in warmth it seemed). Today it dawned on me that I almost have to relearn it all now--I made it to 10 miles and now in some ways I start from scratch. I am praying I take to it okay. I am grateful I have a month or so of KC warm before I get central Texas warm. For all the wonderful things about Texas, summer weather is not among them. But maybe that's why I love running even on bad running days--because it is never the same thing twice and it's always a learning process.

I teach a graduate class on learning theory right now. We discuss often what learning actually is, outside of what we say we go to school to do. Most commonly the theorists define it as "a change in behavior." It's not head knowledge or regurtitaion, but actually a change in behavior. I think about that when I ran.

I read a lot about running. I could write articles, for real. First, I studied it a lot years ago when I ran and retained most of it, so I had a large base. But this time as I reread the info (because good running info doesn't change much), it sticks more because I apply it daily. Plus I am working more on distance. I am a real runner--and by that I mean, I do it because I love it. Yes, I am training for a race, and as soon as I get home from Texas after that race, I will be out running again. Some people train for a race for the goal of the race. I see the race as a step to the next distance, the next race. One day, Boston. That is so far off I can't even comprehend it yet. Qualifying times for Boston are crazy low. It's Boston, not Podunk. But when I make it to Boston, even if I am 55, then I will aim for the next goal. I never, ever should have stopped running. It's one of the worst decisions I ever made, though I understand why I did. Making a mistake once is okay, but repeating it isn't learning.

So today I had a bad run. It was hard. It was hot. It was muddy. Too many people were on the trail. My breathing was labored. My legs were weak. I was running on half the sleep I need. I wanted it done. I set out to do a 5K loop on a particular trail. That's all. I ran ten miles two days ago. 5K is not even a third of that. P-uh-lease. Yet it stank.

As I ran, I thought, am I breathing right? I didn't use the inhaler but I had my Singulair, which has reduced the need. Okay, the weather is changing so my breathing will. Breathe in two, out one. Breathe two three, out one. Two three, one. And I tried to remember all the research on breathing and how to time it to footfalls. Breathe 2,3. 1. 2,3. 1. And sometimes I got in a groove and did okay and then I didn't. But you know what I thought? I learned. I was taking book knowledge and putting it into my feet and lungs. Learning is a change in behavior.

After my run, which was actually 3.3 miles--and yes I did keep running because if you stop when it's hard, sometimes that's enough to derail you. So I ran on until I got back to the park where my car was. I looked at my GPS and saw it was 3.26, so figured I could hit 3.3. And finally the run was done.

I inhaled a full bottle of water in about 10 seconds, literally. That right there told me something. I was probably dehydrated. Note to self: Drink lots more water in warm weather. And then I sat there asking myself what was wrong. Why was this run so hard? Water. Heat. Muscle weakness from the 10-miler. No inhaler. What can I do differently so tomorrow's run is better? And I realized then I had crossed another threshold. Casual runners go "that sucked. Hope it will be better tomorrow." Athletes analyze their performance and try to figure out what happened. I looked at my splits. Mile 3 was crazy long for a three miler, but miles 1 and 2 were pretty normal--yet I was headed more downhill (I think) on mile 3. But I was hot and craving water. I don't care much for water, though I drink lots of it. When I crave water on a run it's because my body needs it.

Sometimes I forget that I run a lot--not like an ultra marathoner, of course, but I run quite a few miles in a body that is still overweight. I put wear and tear on a body that gets enough calories but not that many. I am healthy. Despite what all the fitness crazes are right now (don't get me started on the no carb one being a distance runner!), I am healthier than most people I know. My blood pressure is low, my weight is dropping, my skin is in great shape. I am a healthy person. My doctor says so and my trainer says so. But I work hard. I don't walk at all when I go for a run. I do really long runs. I do speed work. I am more focused about my running than anything else in my life. Sometimes I feel like I can do anything as long as I could run while in that season.

So now it's spring for real, and the weather is getting warm, and I'm moving to a really hot climate. And so I will learn. I will evaluate and analyze. As much as all the research is out there, the best research is my own body. If my body craves water at mile 2, then I need water, no matter what research says I can wait 3 or 4 miles. My body is not anyone else's. And maybe that's another reason I like running. I can be an expert at me.

Right now I have a wellness coach, which is an official title. The lady who did my personal training classes at the gym is working on a certification and needed test subjects, so I get free wellness coaching (seriously, my $10 a month gym has really given me more than I have given it in these months). It's really cool because she is a lifelong athlete, certified trainer and teacher, and a runner and biker--and probably other stuff I don't know. She's not some new person who has a fad diet and cool exercise idea. So she's really helpful. It feels like someone gets me in a way lots don't. When I say I am a runner, she gets that I am a runner. It's not a hobby; it's actually part of who I am. I'm not a jogger, or only trying to lose weight. It's like I found my breath again through running

I have said before that running is a perfect combination of the physical, emotional and spiritual. It's not the exclusion of the other two but the rounding out. I am better emotionally, more alive spiritually when I run. Whether I hear music of footfalls and Breathe 2,3. 1. Breathe 2,3. 1 as I run, I hear my heart come alive and my spirit thrive.

Today was the first day people who saw me in person (vs. on Facebook) complimented me on my appearance. It felt really great to hear people say it (for some reason we don't often compliment each other face-to-face, me included). But it's not only about what I look like. What's happening on the outside is happening on the inside--slower actually, but it is. Because I am learning. By learning to run again, I am learning to walk again.

See you on the trail.

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