Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lessons learned in 365 days straight of running

On Tuesday of this week (Oct. 28, 2014), I ran for the 365th day in a row. In that year, I've learned many things; here are a few:

We make time for what we care about

In the past year there have been days I was sick, tired, busy from dawn ’til dusk, traveling, grieving, aching. I had many excuses not to run, and I didn’t use any of them. I have always said that people do exactly what they want to do. If it matters to us, we make it happen nine times out of ten. Almost always (of course there are exceptions), we can accomplish whatever we want to happen in a given time period. The “I’m too busy” excuse usually just means “I choose to be busier with this than that.” In a year of running daily, this is something I learned well. There was the morning I was flying to Boston. I knew I would be in the air and traveling all day. I ran a mile. Just one. It took me 11 minutes. If we’re too busy to squeeze 11 minutes out of a day, we’re probably just too busy, period. There will always be an excuse not to run, but I figured out I had to switch that to find excuses to run. People will help you justify the excuses not to run, also. No one would have faulted me for a few rest days, but I wasn't doing it for anyone else. In the end, the choice is yours. I made my choice because it mattered to me more than the excuses.

I’m stronger than I think

I’ve run every single day. Some days it was over 100 degrees when I ran. Once it was minus 4. One time I ran at midnight for exactly one mile to get that day's in because I needed to sleep in and rest some the next morning and I had a race the morning after that, so I didn't want to run the evening before. I have run in snow that was several inches deep (we don’t plow much ‘round here). I’ve run in the heat of day (it should be noted here that I don’t think it’s possible to hate heat more than I do; I could move to Canada tomorrow and never look back!).  I’ve been chased by dogs (the only favorite in my phone is “Animal Control.”) I’ve been injured a couple times. I’ve been sick. Probably the bout of bronchitis was the most annoying. I’ve gone through marathon training. I’ve run on ice with ice grippers. I’ve run when I was depressed, dumped, rejected, hurt, overjoyed, too busy, angry (I run best when I'm angry!). I have found that I can run through anything, even the things that make me miserable. I am strong. When I think about how I ran every single day up to running the marathon, and then the morning after running 26.2 miles I went out and ran, I think either I’m amazing or I’m crazy! (I also have very little soreness after races now; this is a wonderful byproduct. Even after my marathon I felt really decent and hurt only for a day or so).

I can run through anything


Both literally and metaphorically, this is one of the most important lessons I learned. In that year I was “double dumped," less than a year apart. I was attacked by someone, which later proved to be nothing, but which put immense stress on me (people  mired in their own pain project sometimes). I have had fights with people I loved. I have fought to want to get up in the morning. I have had insomnia, colds, even a pulled back muscle and dislodged rib). I have been pushed to stress levels that made me want to scream—and later want to go crawl under the covers to make the world stop until things settled. You know, like life. This is life. The worst days were the days I was most determined to run. In fact, I found out I do my best running angry. Somehow it feels just to channel such pain and anger into the road that way. Ultimately, I ran harder and better on the bad days because I couldn’t let someone else or something else be my catalyst to not running after a streak. That's how I stopped the first time, years ago. And I always, always regretted it. Every person I saw running triggered a pang of regret in me. When I stop the running streak, it will not be the result of letting someone get to me or feeling bad. Barring any injury that makes it impossible physically to run, when I stop the streak, it will be on a good day, when I make the choice because it’s time to stop. But that leads me to another thing I learned:

It’s not inherently unhealthy to run 7 days a week (or, "know your body")

I actually asked a former health and fitness coach of mine, who is a genuine fitness professional with education, training and experience, before I committed to a long term streak. I wanted to run a long time, long term, not just prove I could do it every day. She pointed out to me that it was more about mileage than it was about running every day. I went from 20 miles a week to, eventually, about 25 with the streaking. I still hover around there. In marathon training there were some 30 and up to 40 mile weeks, and sometimes I still get close to or at about 30. But the fact is, I don’t run heavy mileage. There are people who run twice as many miles as I do but only 4-5 times a week, who are probably at greater risk of injury than I (and a lot of them do not get injured). Injury can happen anyway. But to say it’s automatically unhealthy to run 7 days a week is false. Most people probably feel better mentally if they rest. Some have lifestyles than really only allow serious training a few days a week. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with running 7 days a week if you are feeling okay and your body does well. I have always been a believer in the “you know your own body best” philosophy of running, and the streak has convinced me of that more than ever. All the runner rules are rules of thumb, generalities, and good ones, but general ones. We have to learn what our body can and can't do. I find that if my muscles feel strained, I can take a break in the sense of running in the morning one day and not until the evening the next, and that does wonders for me and lets me run daily. To be honest, I rarely need to do that. In fact, even a problem I have had with my knee wasn’t caused by the days I run but by a natural hyper-extension I have exacerbated by long runs, not frequency of them—which I have managed to correct pretty well—all while running. I worried that maybe daily training would hurt my times, but I decided to write down my races in that year, and also any notable successes with them. Here is my list (I may be leaving one off, but I think this is a complete list):

2013

10K- November 28-Fort Worth (PR at the time, with bronchitis)
5K- December 15- Lawton (PR at the time)
5K- December 25- Fort Worth (PR, 3rd in age group)


2014

10K- January 18- Wichita Falls, TX (1st overall female masters)
12K- March 1- Wichita Falls, TX
4M- March 15- Kansas City, MO (PR)
10K March 29- Fort Worth (PR)
Half Marathon- April 5- Fairview, TX (PR)
10K- April 19- Bethany, OK
Half Marathon- April 27, Oklahoma City
5K- May 17- Gadsden, AL (PR, 3rd in age group)
Full Marathon- June 21- Duluth, MN
5K- June 28- Duncan, OK (3rd in age group)
15K- July 13- Dallas, TX
5K- August 2, Bozeman, MT
Quarter Marathon- October 5- Lawton, OK (PR)
Half Marathon- October 18- Kansas City, MO


As you can see, I continued to PR—and though it’s less now, I believe that has more to do with the fact I had not been running a full year when I started and was still learning and getting faster in general, which always tapers a bit. But the fact that I had a serious PR on a 6.55 mile race almost a year into streaking tells me it’s not hurting me. See, I am not a competitive runner. My miles under 10 minutes are rare, usually reserved for short runs in cold weather and maybe 5Ks (PR is 28:05 and that shocked me it was such a record; it was on day 201 of my streak, too--I remember because I thought of stopping at 200 and then I had a race on 201!). Perhaps if I were a serious competitor, I would more dramatically change how I train. But the advantage to being me, I think, is that I get to experiment, have fun, run for the joy of running.

Joy can come even in redundancy and routine

This may be one of the biggest lessons for me. I love adventure, travel, change. I love new things, even though I readily admit I like my comfort zone (if that makes sense). But I do the same thing every single day. And while some days are not good, just when I wonder if maybe I don’t love running as much, I have one of those runs that reminds me of why I fell in love with this sport; my mouth breaks into a giant dorky grin, and I become a lovesick runner girl all over again. Even on bad days, I can’t say I have once regretted a run. I am so grateful I can. There is a pin I see on Pinterest sometimes that says something like “there will come a day when I cannot run; today is not that day.” I think of this often. When tomorrow becomes that day, I don’t want to look back and wish I had run more. I want to say I ran every chance I got. And maybe that’s the best gift a running streak can give: gratitude that my body can do this.

Even bad runs help me run better and stronger

This is a life metaphor, too. There were days I would run slowly and sluggishly. I could go from a 10 minute mile one day to a 12 or 13 minute mile—which is close to where I was a few months into running. I would feel like I did something wrong, was losing my ability to run. And then, bam!, once again I would fly down the road quickly (for me; it’s all relative). By continuing to run, even on bad run days, I was still building my endurance, strengthening my body, training my mind and body. Those days count, even when they feel like they don’t. Just like in life.

As I finish this post, I think of what got me running in the first place. It’s been almost two years since I walked into that storefront gym and got on the treadmill, determined to both lose weight and learn to run again as I had years ago. Today on my Timehop app, this picture appeared from two years ago today when I had my final fitting for a bridesmaid dress for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. It was after that wedding I came home, fed up with being overweight and unhealthy.


Two years ago Oct. 30, 2012

Oct. 28, 2014 (day 365 of my running streak)

That leads me to another thing I learned:

Change is a choice

Weight doesn’t fall off overnight; health doesn’t come overnight. But it can happen if you stick to it. When I went into that gym, I knew I was at the end of my rope with it and was ready to change.

I'll end this post here. Surely there are more lessons I've learned, but these are the major ones; most other lessons are subplots of these chapters. This Saturday I'll be in Plano, TX for a 10K. And I'll be wearing a tutu again, to remember the fight, the struggle to overcome myself. Maybe when that battle is done and won, I won’t want running tutus. Or maybe I will because they will continue to symbolize the victory.

Every day when I get up and run, I win a bit more. So do you. Whether you run 7 days a week or just a few, just keep running.

4 comments:

  1. thanks for sharing your journey. I thought i was amazing for running 210 days no rest. some of my friends think I'm crazy. probably I'm. on 2011 I ran 120 days streak and like forest gump one day for no particular reason I just stop running. and gained weight like crazy. but this 2014 I decided to run 200 and i got to run 210 this time which im really happy about it. I completed 2100 miles in 200 days. i remember the day I've rest I literally had to forced myself, it was weird. any ways i have so much respect and admiration for you. you make me feel that im not the only crazy here lol. i have my first 100 mile race this Nov.21st hugs!! and thank you so much again.

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    1. 100 mile race! And you think I'm amazing! YOU are amazing to do that! It IS impressive to run 200, 120. It's just been too hard to just STOP yet. My favorite distance is the half, and so streaking is conducive to that. I think I would probably force myself to rest for a 100-miler. I am just awed by that. I hope you have an AMAZING race! Thank you for your comment and kind words too!

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    2. you are amazing in my book and on a couple of my running buddies books too. you were the point of conversation this morning on our run. one thing I've learned on my journey is that there's no such thing as "bad runs" only though ones :) people like you keep me and others going! thank you for doing that. even close friends got away from me because of my life style, they keep telling me this is the worst thing i can do to my body. and then.. you appeared and make me believe I wasn't totally wrong. thank you for that. and yes you are AMAZING!!

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    3. WOW! The conversation of a run. I am genuinely honored. That makes me feel like a rockstar. I have a race tomorrow so I just did my one-mile-continue-the-streak run today. And I agree about your body. If it works, then your body is telling you it can handle it. There are people who do 24 hour runs and get up and live life the next day. There can't possibly be set rules for running when every person is so different! So I support you. As long as your body lets you, run--and know I am in Oklahoma cheering you on too!

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