Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fall is in the Air

Though the temperatures remain sky-high, other signs indicate that we are much closer to fall than to summer.  I now see many school buses during my morning runs, as well as students standing around waiting for them.  I was surprised to see a flock of students waiting for the bus at 5:55am!  I knew some schools started early, but I could not imagine having my kids ready and waiting for the bus before 6:00am.

A sure sign that fall is now upon us.

The biggest sign of fall for me, however, is the darkness of the sky when I head out for my run.  I like the peacefulness of the dark morning, but I'm really not a big fan of running in the dark.  Although I run familiar routes along which I've memorized every crack in the sidewalk, I still fear that I'll miss a crack one day and injure myself.  I contemplate running in the streets instead, but somehow I don't feel I'm ready for that step.  I feel like I need to be a more hardcore runner in order to pull off street running.  Silly yet true.

On the darkest of dark mornings, I'm sure I'll resort to my treadmill, but I'm not quite ready to give up on my road (er, sidewalk) runs yet.  I love the fresh smell of the morning air and the stillness of the world when most of its residents are sleeping.  Fall is one of my favorite seasons for running, and I'm ready to embrace it in all of its darkening glory.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two Runs to Remember

I've drafted many posts over the past week but have yet to publish anything.  I'm feeling out of my groove, in both running and regular life, and though drafting posts about it has been useful, I've been too chicken to actually publish the raw, inner workings of my brain.  So today I try, yet again, to write something I'm willing to publish.

A terrible morning run on Saturday spiraled into a terrible mood for the remainder of the day.  I couldn't find my rhythm throughout the run.  It was hot and humid.  The path I was running was crowded.  My shoes weren't laced properly.  My phone rang multiple times.  I stopped to walk more times than I care to remember.  I was only trying to pound out 3-ish miles, but every step was torture, and I felt absolutely defeated by the time I returned to my front door.

There are good days and bad days in all of life.  Why should running be any different?  But it seems particularly frustrating to have a bad run since my run is my "me" time, my chance to regroup so that I can conquer the rest of the day's tasks.  When the run is sour, I come home crabby, frustrated with my body and my brain, and unfortunately, my family gets caught in the crossfire.

Fast forward (past the crabbing and the apologies) to Monday: I returned to the road and was rewarded with a beautiful run.  It was insanely humid (my palms were slick the entire run just from the moisture in the air!), but oddly, that did not faze me at all.  I quickly found my rhythm and ended up running further than I had planned simply because I was having fun.  My brain was quiet, my body in sync, and all felt right with the world.

The difference between the two runs was incredible.  While nothing felt right on Saturday, the world was my oyster on Monday.  It serves as a good reminder that not every run will be great, but I can appreciate the good runs because I survived the bad ones.  Yet another way that running is a perfect metaphor for life...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why I Run: For Friendships

Yet another reason why I run: running gives me a connection to people with whom I'd otherwise have nothing in common.  Running is a unique activity, and those who run are bonded in an indirect but powerful way.

A perfect example in my life is my next door neighbor.  In the six years that we've lived within four feet of each other, we've had only the most trite of conversations, usually about the weather or the Cardinals.  Since I've begun running, however, we've had countless discussions about running and and related topics.  We are both morning runners, too, so I often see him out on the road mid-run.  He's training for a fall marathon whose course winds through our neighborhood and has tried to convince me to join the half-marathon, but I don't think this is the right time for me to take on such a significant distance.

Through Facebook, I've become good friends with many former classmates through running.  We may have talked a bit when we were in school together, but we've become much better friends as adults because we are all runners.  We are bonded through sweat, hard work, and determination in a way that non-runners don't quite understand.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Naked Run

A racy title, but it feels like an apt description of the runs I've taken lately.  Since I've chosen to run without my RunKeeper app, I feel quite naked during my runs.  Without that voice (I call her Rita, the name we give all computerized voices in our lives) telling me my total mileage, elapsed time, and average pace, I feel totally exposed.

Cutting the technology cord feels both liberating and terrifying.

I'm going naked these days because I'm refocusing my running.  Since I started running, I've been striving to improve my pace and increase my distance.  Right now, however, I'm more interested in achieving and maintaining a pregnancy.  Though I've never said it aloud, I wonder if my high-mileage month of June in part lead to July's miscarriage.  I've never had very high body fat, and I wonder if the intensity of that month's running tipped the scales just enough to make my body unable to carry the pregnancy.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I can't get the thought out of my head, so I've cut back my mileage and altered my running goals.  No races on the horizon.  No milestone mileage or pace.  I'm running to clear my head and build a strong body that can hopefully carry another baby someday soon.

While I know this is the right choice for me for now, it is a difficult one for my severely Type A brain to accept.  I crave data and love seeing measurable progress and achievements.  I also feel more accountable when I have the app charting my workouts.  I love to see the mileage add up and the pace go down.  Running naked is a tremendous personal challenge, but one that I want to follow for the greater good of my family.

As I've said before, I want to run for life, but I have only a relatively small window of opportunity for expanding our family.  If family goals mean that I cannot run a fall half marathon, then so be it.  There will be other races.  I have plenty of time to set and achieve my running goals.  At this moment, the non-running goals take priority, and I'm okay with that.

So long for now, Rita.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Social Run

Though I've occasionally run with my husband, I am almost exclusively a solo runner.  I mostly run solo out of necessity: I have few real-life running friends and my usual early morning runs don't appeal to a broad audience.  This week, however, my runner cousin is visiting from DC, and a run seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to reconnect.

She's training for a late-fall marathon, and I'm just easing back into running after my hellish month of July, but we were surprisingly able to settle into a comfortable pace for a 3 mile run last night.  We chatted the entire way, covering topics from alternative transportation options in DC to preschool temper tantrums.  We also had those conversations that only appeal to runners, like emergency bathroom stops and our favorite places to run in our hometowns.  We are separated in age by 5 years, which as kids was a sizable gap, but it was wonderful to connect as adults and runners, bonding over shared sweat and a few killer hills.

I've been slowly climbing out of the funk brought on by my frustrating summer.  I've had some reasonably good runs this month but none that brought me anywhere near the euphoria of past runs.  Last night, however, I felt great physically and mentally.  It turns out that a companion was just what I needed to find my runner's high again.

I didn't know the truth of this until this week.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Digging Deep

Earlier this week, I had a non-running moment during which I called upon all the mental (and much of the physical) strength I've developed as a runner.  With an insufficient number of carseats, I found myself needing to make an urgent 4 mile round trip with four kids in tow.  I loaded up a stroller with the three older kids and strapped the baby into a carrier on my chest.

As we set off on the 90 degree day, I knew my task was going to be incredibly difficult.  I was pushing 100 pounds of kid plus 30 pounds of stroller while wearing a 15 pound baby on my chest.  I tried to find the least hilly route I could, but the walk to our destination was brutal and slow-moving.  My legs worked as hard as they have on hill workouts, and my arms were screaming from the effort of pushing the heavily-laden stroller.

Difficult as the first walk was, the walk home was even worse.  One mile from our house, a tire blew out on the stroller, rendering the stroller useless and forcing the three older kids to walk the rest of the way.  Tired little legs plus excessive heat equals a crabby one mile parade.

Admittedly, our walk was shorter and less hilly, but in my head, it looked and felt exactly like this.

Throughout the ordeal, I called on all my runner's mental strength.  I parceled out the trip into small, achievable intervals so that I could accomplish what I needed to.  I tried to stay optimistic, counting off the miles covered rather than the miles remaining.  Most of all, I put my head down and soldiered on.

The trip was stressful, grueling, and far from pleasant, but I was able to do it because I am a runner.  I know how to find that hidden inner strength to persevere and keep fighting when the road seems impossible.  Without those skills, I never could have overcome all the obstacles that faced us that day.  Thank you, running, for making me a stronger person - both on a run and in my daily life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Running Haiku

A little haiku I composed today while riding the train to work:

sweet muscle fatigue
reminder of a strong run
brings me inner peace

Today's tired legs mean I will be strong for tomorrow's run.

Strange as it sounds, the achiness in my legs after a run is a pleasant reminder of the time I took to make myself stronger.  I embrace the pain (within reason) as part of my road to inner and outer strength, and it serves as a tangible reminder of what I've done for ME lately.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Find your Greatness

A great Nike ad aired during this week's London Olympics.  It features a young boy running along a wide open highway.  His physique does not fit the traditional runners' mold, which makes his act of putting one foot in front of the other all the more inspiring.

A still from the Nike ad.  An inspiring boy finding his greatness one step at a time.

We all start somewhere, and a person's journey as a runner begins with just a single step.  I like this reminder that we don't have to be elite athletes to feel the euphoria and joy that comes from meeting a physical challenge.  Additionally, our inability to be elite athletes does not excuse us from making ourselves physically strong.  We can all achieve physical milestones and push our bodies to be great.  My barometer for greatness is surely much different than an Olympian's, but that does not make my challenge any less meaningful or significant.

We set our own goals, find our own greatness.  Thanks for the inspiration, Nike!