Running Realizations

2g

Since my 50k in early November, I have been in a running slump. It was easily justifiable:

  • I hit one of my ultimate running goals, so I deserve a break.
  • The holidays (my birthday, Christmas, and New Years within a week of each other) mean little opportunity to run, and why not enjoy the delicious food and excuses to indulge?
  • The weather is getting colder and harder to run in.

I never stopped running, but I ran less often and for less distance during the week. The holidays left me feeling bloated and tired. I suffered through only 10 of the 15 miles at the TrailsRoc WTF trail race. And then I had the Winter Warrior half marathon to look forward to in early January.

And it sucked. As I wrote about previously, I was suffering. It was cold and windy, and I felt out of shape. It was embarrassing, and that – in and of itself – is telling. But it served to make me think hard about running. And I have come to some realizations.

I am not in very good running shape right now.

2a

That’s to be expected, right? Unless you are a serious runner, you tend to trail off at times to the year and certainly after big goal races. December was a nothing month for running and racing, so what harm in dropping off?

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t work this way. One of the reasons I’m writing this blog that no one is reading is because of my obsessive nature. I don’t have many serious hobbies or passions, but when I get one, I tend to obsess over it. It becomes extremely important to me, and the more I devote my life to it, the more prominent a role it plays in my life.

That is not particularly healthy, I understand, but I am willing to accept an unhealthy relationship with a healthy activity. But dammit, because it is so important to me, I want to be better at it! I’m not saying I have unrealistic expectations, but I feel my deficiencies more significantly than they should.

Running is a mental game, and I’m off my game.

2bEveryone admits running is nearly equal parts mental and physical. You can train your body to run faster and further, but you will always come up against that mental wall. It becomes boring or painful or hard or just tedious. And you have to push through those mental barriers to find success.

Blah blah blah. You can read a million running books and blogs about the mental struggles. I’ve always thought myself a mentally strong person. But as to the first issue above, when I don’t attain the level of success that I expect of myself, I tend to be my own harshest critic.

So while I’m not in as good of physical shape as I was, I’m also not in as good of mental shape. I’m finding it easier to see excuses for stopping or cutting short. I’m hurting, and so I slow down or walk more during races. I beat myself up, and that makes it harder to succeed the next time.

Running is not so new and exciting anymore.

2cThis is part of the mental problem mentioned above. The last two years, I was a wide-eyed babe when it comes to running.

“A trail run? Sure, why not?”

“Run in the pouring rain? What a crazy adventure!”

“Run through snow and ice and wind? Wow, this is nuts!”

“Run up a mountain? I can try!”

“Run a half-marathon/full marathon/50k? I can do it!”

Every race brought its own unique challenges and, thus, its own mental successes. The Ossian Trail Race, which takes you up and down a ski mountain, taught me I can run crazy hills and succeed in wild conditions. The Muddy Sneaker race taught me that pain and long hills will not beat me. The heat of Sehgahunda, the exhaustion of a 5-mile St. Patrick’s Day race after running 10 miles earlier, the post-holing through Webster Park on a sunny winter’s day – all of these things taught me something about running and about myself.

And I’ve done them. I have one or two new races on my goal list for this year, and I know that each run and race will be different from the last. But I no longer find these things new and exciting and instructional in the way I did. Long runs through the same old parks become tiring.

This is a mental game as well. How do you keep yourself in the game when the activity is not new and unique? There must be new ways to do this. Learning that will be my lesson for this year, I guess.

Running on a treadmill sucks.

Every runner knows that. I’ll write more about this later, but the less I do it, the harder it gets.

I hurt.

2d

I suppose if you learn to run in school and carry a love for the activity through your life, your body will be adjusted to the pounding and unique requirements. You also would learn – either from a professional or through experience – how to properly stretch before or after races and what and when to eat and how to recover.

You also would have dealt with injuries. Every runner gets hurt (as does anyone else who partakes regularly in a physical activity). Each one seems significant, even if it’s mild and manageable, and you get through it.

I’m still learning this the hard way, though. My calf strain last year caused a number of other injuries because I didn’t rest it enough and over compensated for the discomfort. This year, I have tendonitis in one knee and the other leg’s Achilles. These haven’t kept me from running yet, but they make some runs extraordinarily uncomfortable.

I know I’m lucky. None of these injuries has been serious. In the lead-up to the Rochester Marathon last year, my friend was going to run it with me, and he dealt with a number of knee issues. It became so severe, he hobbled through the half instead and has barely run since. Many injuries require surgery and months of therapy, and then you have to build your running base all over again.

But tell yourself you’re lucky all you want, and you’ll never buy it. You can only experience what is set before you. Mild injuries are difficult and sometimes debilitating. I wince every time I walk up or down stairs right now, but I am pushing through it. Because I want to keep this injury in perspective and prepare for the next one.

Another realization is how much I have to believe the articles about strength training and stretching being required for serious running. And then I have to start following that advice. It’s just so hard to find the time!

I do not have the right equipment for this exercise.

2eThe Winter Warrior taught me this particularly. But last winter was fairly mild and light on snow, and it was the first winter I ran through. This winter has already been colder and icier, and it’s barely a quarter over.

So far in my running endeavors, I have kept the activity as affordable as possible. I shop for off-brand clothing and make do with gifts. Shoes are my biggest expense, and even those are probably used longer than they should be.

The reality is that running, like any other activity, is expensive when you get serious about it. You can run in cotton shorts and shirt and socks and off-brand shoes. But to run regularly and long and stay comfortable and be successful, you really should have the right equipment. That means paying $70 for spikes and $100 for a jacket and $60 for a single shirt and $40 for three pairs of socks.

None of those things will make me a better runner, necessarily. But they’ll make me feel better and stay warmer and be able to run further with less discomfort. I’m investing in running this year. Perhaps the reality of the money I put into this will be what keeps me going in the harshest winter evenings.

A half marathon is a misnomer.

2fReally, 13.1 miles shouldn’t be a half of anything. In a society where most people are thrilled to be able to run (or run/walk) a 5k (3.1 miles), 13.1 miles is huge. Most people will never run a half marathon. Many people use this as their big goal race.

Companies make their money on half marathons. They cost more but are far easier to put on than full marathons. They take hours of commitment and usually bring the best swag. They are serious endeavors not to be taken lightly.

So then why, when a race includes full or half options, is there always the need to say “I’m just doing the half”?

If the marathon distance was established – anecdotally – based on the distance run by Philippides between Marathon and Athens, how about establishing half of that distance and making 13.1 miles an event all of its own? Better people than I should attempt rebranding this, but a simple Google Maps search of Greece shows a number of towns or named areas half way between these cities. I see Kifisio or Zirinio or Panorama.

I like the last one. Rebrand the half marathon. It’s outdated and limiting. Instead, challenge yourself to a full Panorama!

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