Starting the Year with Perspective

take-a-different-perspective-sara-bell2A friendly runner said hello to me yesterday and followed it up immediately with “how’s your training going?” My entire six-mile run through the city streets in front of him and a few others was spent listening to them talk about each race they plan to run, how fast they plan to finish, and how they are training for these races, most of which are at four to six months away. It’s mid-January.

In a lot of ways, I’ve been thinking about perspective and putting my thoughts and activities into a context that is right for me and a healthy mindset. This is one of my resolutions for 2020: to not get overwhelmed when I’m not comparing but rather focus on what is right for me either at the moment or in my training (both in running and in improving my mental health, but this space is mostly reserved for running, so that is where I will focus).

I had a conversation recently with another strong and positive runner. We talked about how most people in society would hear you could run a mile or race a 5k and be impressed or awed. A large percentage of our population can’t really run a mile. And when I started running, my goal was to finish 5k races strong.

But as I kept running, I met new runners. I revised my goal to running a 10k and then a half marathon. Then I trained with a few others to run a marathon. Now the goal for me and those I mostly surround myself with is to run ultra marathons. A 50k sounds simple and short to me today.

This is perspective. If you are around people who do this regularly, running an ultra seems common, expected. In the same way, I do not think I am a fast runner. I can regularly run 8-minute miles on short runs and 8:30 on longer road runs, with 5k times much closer to 7 minutes. Most people would find this extremely fast, but because I now spend time with runners much younger and stronger than me, I feel that I’m slow. It’s all perspective.

The key, of course, is not to let the people around you and the group-think attitude influence you. I enjoy spending time with these crazy ultra runners, but I do not have to compare myself to them, even if that is the obvious temptation. When I go on group runs, I don’t have to push myself beyond my comfort level to keep up, just as I don’t have to slow down significantly to run with those behind me.

Most people approach training with a well-defined plan of week-by-week workouts building them to their goal race and holding them accountable throughout the process. I did that in training for my first marathon, but I threw that idea out when training for my 100k. I had personal goals for weekly mileages and expectations to build my endurance, but I didn’t keep to the “I must do 12 miles today” mindset. This is freeing, of course, but it can also lead to being unprepared.

Still, I’ve watched others in their training stress over their schedules. They fear they’re not ready – not for the goal race itself, but just for where they are supposed to be as of that particular day, even four to six months out. I’ve done this too. The worry over training and building and getting to where we don’t want to be but need to be can be overwhelming. Others notice this and seek to reassure us that we don’t have to train so hard, we can relax. They think they’re helping, when what we really want is a kick in the butt and external motivation when internal motivation is waning.

I am already stressing over my goals for running this year despite the fact that it’s mid-January. I know I have time, and I know I have a base to rely on that is not accounted for in those anonymous training schedules. I also know that my goals are reasonable: to finish these very long races before the cut offs and not suffer significant damage while doing so (and to stay uninjured during the training process, at least as much as that is possible). I need to put my goals and training into perspective about what is right for me, mentally and physically, and stop comparing myself to where others are or where I was or need to be.

This isn’t a simple coping mechanism. This is about survival at this point. I don’t think I could handle the stress of training otherwise, knowing that I am not nearly as strong (mentally and physically, again) as I want to be or think I need to be. Ultimately, too, avoiding these common dangers and stresses could make this hobby into what it is supposed to be: enjoyable.

As I noted, perspective is important for me right now in more than just training for long races. I need perspective in how I spend the rest of my time, what is important and what is a waste of time, what benefits me mentally even if it feels like slacking on my physical training. And I need to focus on what I can control right now, not what will happen four or six or nine months in the future. I’m not there yet, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I hope it will help me.

In response to his question about my training, I responded that I’m not worried about it right now (I am, but I’m trying not to be), and I’m focused on increasing the distance of my long runs. They’ve been mostly eight or ten miles to this point. He nodded in agreement. “Me too,” he said sagely. “My runs have been only 16 or 18 miles, nowhere near the 20 miles I should be doing.” I had to stop myself from laughing at that two-mile gap.

But it’s all perspective. He was likely stressing over not being at 20 miles and looking for a response that would either reassure him he’s on track or give him a kick in the butt. Instead, I looked at the beer list in the bar we were running from and responded, “The New England IPA is really good. I’m going to get that after the run.”

He moved on to talk to someone else. And I was okay with that.

Stay Out

2I was leading a small group through one of the local parks that I know well. We were running the trails on a grim morning, the temperature under 20 F when we started.

I felt pressure – of being the one to lead, of being one who has run ultras and perhaps had a reputation of being strong. But I was tired, and my breathing was bothering me.

(I’m not sure why my breathing has been a struggle more this year. It’s worrisome. I have an inhaler to use before running to combat exercise-induced asthma, but I learned that this medicine increases your heartrate, and I struggle with a high heartrate anyway. To be honest, I’m not sure it did much of anything anyway. The doctor tells me there are no other options for inhalers.)

I took advantage of a small road stretch to walk. After a bit, the guy in the back said something about “why are we walking?” I was trying to slow my breath down, so I just indicated my asthma had problems. “You don’t have asthma,” he said.

I pushed the comment off at the time and pushed myself to pick up the pace again. But later I thought about what he said and the way he said it, and I started to fume. Why am I running with people who care only about their own pace, who belittle you rather than empathize with you? Do I want to run trails with people who are going to push you to run when you’re not comfortable doing so? Do I even want to be around people who make me fume like this?

I thought about running, a mostly solitary sport at its essence, and how it never became really fun to me until I learned how social the activity could be. In the winter, I need the companionship (the shared misery) to get myself outside running through snow and slush and harsh temperatures. But maybe I was better off running alone rather than go with people like this, I thought.

It always comes back to that for me. Never an outgoing person at any point in my life, I have withdrawn into a tight little ball of introverted discomfort and anxiety. It’s harder to interact with people the carefree way that others seem to do it. I churn over things I said that I shouldn’t or things they said that hurt me.

I think about how much better it would be to be a monk, a solitary person who stays quiet and still and lets others drift by. If I build a wall big enough and thick enough, they won’t be able to impact me in any way. I can stay in my warm ball of unhappiness in all its familiar comfort.

At some point last night, I thought about the other option. Letting the things that people say slide off my back. The reality is that this person did not mean to hurt me with the comment. No one does, really. To hurt another person requires some type of caring about that person, and people don’t care about other people these days. He wasn’t thinking about me at all, I suspect. A minute down the trail, he probably couldn’t even recall that he said it. The statement only had power because I let it in and let it churn and grow and nag at those triggered little synapses of my brain that tell me I’m not good enough.

This isn’t a real insight. There are a million other posts from people telling you this exact thing. You can’t let people hurt you, and you can’t keep them out. You only are truly impacted by those who care about you enough to think of you, say things meaningful to you. (We are most hurt by those we most love, after all.)

But it was a little insight for me. And I suppose that’s a tiny accomplishment.

Sure, I’ll run with these people again. And next time they want to run faster when I’m uncomfortable, I’ll laugh. I will tell them to go on without me and get lost or suck it up and deal. And then I will try to forget I said it, because I have no power over them either.

I want to do something I enjoy without suffering (any more than running leads to the normal amount of suffering, anyway). I don’t need your comments or your jibes or your ignorance or your pettiness, any more than you need me fuming over it and thinking of similarly hurtful comebacks. I just need to run and appreciate a shared experience.

But still, the tiny part of me that thinks too much just wishes people would think before speaking. I wish that people did care about other people. Our society and our world would be a much better place.

Blues, Blacks and Blues, and Blahs

I’ve been contemplating several ideas for posts this week, and none of them seemed worthy of being wordy. So I’ll address several of them in brief postlets!

The Blues

13aI’ve been dealing with post-race blues, I think. The third of my four big races is now over, and a good portion of my year has been spent training and planning for these events. Even though another is just under two months away, I feel adrift without a goal.

After the Catamount Ultra, I used my post-race excitement as motivation. I knew I was capable of so much more than I had thought, and so even my long runs felt simpler. I was encouraged to run again. But after Candlelight, with my injuries, I haven’t been running. And when I’m not running, I’m not socializing. And that results in way too much time to sit and drink beer, a pleasurable experience that does not, unfortunately, lead to motivation and encouragement.

I’m already thinking of next year’s goals, but I have never been a long-term person. I want what I want right away. Even the effort of training for an event kept it at the forefront of my mind and gave me motivation. With nothing significant to look forward to, I’ve been down in the dumps.

I know this isn’t unique. These post-event blues are common after any large, monumental activity. When I’ve experienced them in the past, a week or two of routine tends to render them harmless. Wallowing these past two weeks hasn’t helped, though.

I need something big this year. I need to find something to do this fall, whether it’s running-related or not, just so I have something to look forward to. I’m open to suggestions!

The Blacks and Blues

13bAs written about in my Candlelight 12-Hour Ultra race report, I did not emerge from moving for nearly 12 hours covering 51 miles unscathed. The brief break to sit in a surprisingly clean port-o-john at 4:30 am did wonders for my stomach issues that plagued me since 7 pm the night before, but that oh-so-short time off my feet hurt my legs.

Specifically, my knee has been hurting badly. It caused me to walk much of the last few hours in that event, and it’s kept me from running much since the 12-hour event. What started as a sore spot on the side of the kneecap has become an almost-burning ache on the kneecap.

The Internet tells me – as only the Internet can do when searching symptoms of any injury – that I’m either suffering from a heart attack, PMS, or Runner’s Knee. I suspect it’s the latter.

There are a million articles about Runner’s Knee, but they’re nearly all about how to avoid the common injury. That’s like telling someone who walks into a cross beam to duck as they rub their bruised forehead. The only real treatment is rest, and I haven’t run much since Candlelight. But running is my primary distraction from the realities of life, and it’s also my main social outlet.

I’m choosing to treat my Runner’s Knee with benign neglect. I’ll ignore it if it ignores me. Keep running and hope it goes away or I get used to it. That’s healthy, right?

On the positive side, most of my injuries this year have gone away when new ones arose. My calf strain that bothered me for so long has been silent when tendonitis in the back of my knee surfaced. Now that tendonitis isn’t bothering me while my Runner’s Knee flares up. I can’t quite decide if it’s better to have all your injuries at one time and then get rid of them or deal with them individually.

The Blahs

13cBesides the views and the rampant opportunity to plummet down a cliff toward certain death, the best thing about trail running has to be the community. Every trail run or race that I’ve experienced has been full of the nicest, most supportive people. You can’t pass a person on the trails without hearing a “good job,” and people will actually stop during a race to help out someone who is struggling.

So I’ve pondered whether to write about an unfortunately negative experience. Ultimately, I’ll reference it in a confoundingly vague way, because it has bothered me these last two weeks, and writing about experiences is a way I process these things.

A trail runner I know came to Candlelight late at night, and I assumed this person was to encourage and support those running the event. Instead, as I passed three separate times, this person was outright rude and insulting to me. The first time, I laughed as if it was a joke. The second time, I challenged the person with a retort. The third time, I nearly stopped and offered a one-finger response.

Now I understand that everyone is different. It’s possible (even likely) that I don’t know this person well enough to understand his or her sense of humor. Perhaps I gave an indication from past interactions that this banter was amusing or encouraged. But late at night, after running more than 30 miles and with many hours to go, when I was struggling physically and mentally and challenging myself to continue, this was not a welcome, helpful, or appropriate communication.

Contrast this to another member of this same trail-running group who was also running Candlelight. I passed this person several times and ran/walk stretches with him. Each person he passed, he encouraged that runner by name. He knew nearly everyone, and even while he personally struggled, he kept calling out to those who passed him with an encouraging word or just a “great job!” It was clear he meant those words, and he was vital in continuing through the darkest hours of the night.

You can’t let one bad element spoil an entire community, I acknowledge. But this experience will certainly impact how I relate to this person in the future. And, to be fair, it will also make me think about my own interactions with others. I’d much rather say nothing than be seen to be discouraging or rude, even if the words I say are meant in good-natured jest.

Sick and Tired

The training season is finally winding down. Started in mid-January, my goal races of the Sehgahunda trail marathon in May and Catamount 50k in June seemed so far away. As the runs grew longer and longer and my legs grew sorer and more tired, training starts to take over your life.

Last year was a perfect year for running. The weather was dry and warm, and events were welcome runs in the sunshine and greenery. This year is dramatically different, almost historically so. Although the winter wasn’t especially cold or snowy, late winter and spring have been cold and rainy. I count one Saturday run in warmth and sunshine and countless runs in cold and rain.

The worst of it may have been a practice run for the first segment of Sehgahunda in Letchworth State Park. It was about 35 degrees, and the rain of the last few weeks didn’t let up that day. Every step was calf-deep in icy-cold water. On the trail back, the conditions were nearly unrunnable. Each step meant slipping and sliding back or to the side. I had never felt more frustrated with running.

And during these miserable conditions, my legs felt worse. The calf injury that nearly derailed last year’s training showed up again, and though I treated it just enough to keep going, it probably will continue through these long races. As I’ve written about earlier, I’ve struggled with the mental aspects of running as well. Things are not new and fun anymore. They’re a struggle.

The one truly good run was the Muddy Sneaker 20k trail race a few weeks ago, when the sun shone on a mostly dry course, and my spirits were high. I felt like this was a turning point for the running season. From here on, the weather would improve, and I’d rediscover the fun of trail running. Instead, the weather got colder and wetter. And then I got sick.

The cold or flu that hit me last week left my head achy and fuzzy, my body weak, and my thoughts discouraged. I didn’t run for a week, the first full week of no running in as long as I can remember now. I missed the same race that injury kept me out of last year: Medved Madness. I missed my longest run before the marathon. I wondered if I could start running again at all.

The cold hasn’t gone completely, but yesterday I ran in the sunshine. It was chilly, a mid-May day that would have been more suitable for mid-March. But I ran a few easy path miles and four miles on the trails. The legs felt heavy after a week of lying on the couch in misery, and my calf flared up in pain. But I got running again.

And it could have been worse, I know. I could have dealt with this flu or cold going into the marathon instead of two-plus weeks before. Or I could have dealt with a really significant injury that would keep me from running altogether. In fact, a week of no running after nearly five months of training may end up meaning fresher legs.

These runs will not be fun for me until the weather improves consistently above 50 degrees and spring decides to show up for good. But there’s an end in sight now, as I taper the distances down and work on psyching myself up. A marathon followed a month later by a 50k in the hills of Vermont will not be easy, no matter how many training miles I put into it. At this point, I’m looking forward to finishing them and seeing a way to enjoy my summer instead of seeing each day as a running or resting day. But there’s an end in sight.

Running Realizations


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.


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.


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!


This site is more for me than for you. But you’re welcome to read it.

This is not the first blog I’ve created over the last decade or so. Every so often, I get the urge to keep some type of record. And writing a journal for me and me alone has never been satisfying. There is something final and cathartic about putting words out there for others to see.

I thought I’d start a running blog to keep track of my current hobby. It seemed a way to organize my thoughts and keep me motivated in the coming year. But a blog about running alone would be unfulfilling. I’m more concerned with how the running experience fits into my life. And I’m sure I’ll have other things to say.

So rather than pigeonhole the site into one specific area, I thought I’d allow other ramblings to enter. Perhaps beyond motivating me to run, this will also motivate me to write.

A few promises here:

  • This site is for me; therefore, I will write what I want. If you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere.
  • I will be honest. Putting the words online is meaningless if one is not honest. Part of experiencing life is doing things that scare you.
  • There will imperfections and factual inaccuracies. This is a destination for my thoughts, not a media source.
  • I will use images found online where they seem necessary. Most of these are freely available and not used for monetization. If you find an image of yours is used incorrectly, let me know and I will remove it.

They say the first post is the hardest. More coherent ramblings to come…