Questioning my (running) decisions

Yesterday’s 10 mile run in Chestertown was hot, humid, slightly hilly, beautiful, and HARD. I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for at least six months. I think I had the beginnings of it going into the Philly Marathon in November and didn’t let it rest after that.

After months of alternately treating it and trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, it flared up big time in the middle of a run, which normally doesn’t happen.

I had a long drawn out (obviously drawn out.. Got nothing but time on a long run) conversation with myself about my running goals for the year.

After Philly I swore I wasn’t going to run a marathon this year. Two years in a row I had mediocre training and got through a marathon by the seat of my pants. Working full time with all the other things I like to do really doesn’t lend itself to a schedule conducive for training to be competitive (with myself).

It’s time I’m honest with myself and realize that yes, I love running but no, I have no huge desire to run anything longer than about 6-8 miles right now. It’s okay to not sign up for all the races. It’s okay to not be constantly training for a half or full. Just because I’ve done marathons in the past doesn’t mean I have to keep doing them.

Like my husband (and therapist) tell me, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. That includes all the other things I like to be involved in.

Over the past several months through tracking my food and calories, I have proven to myself that I don’t need to be running an obscene amount of miles in order to stay fit or lose weight. In fact, I’d say my eating is better when I’m not burning ridiculous amounts of calories on long runs.

Summer is not usually a time of introspection for me, but the tough run yesterday has prompted me to reevaluate my running goals and become honest with myself. I look forward to the rest of 2018 as a year when I stop doing things I don’t want to do, and I rest when needed. Easier said than done, right?

It’ll be a busy running year

I updated my races for this year and man, looks like I’ll be busy racing all over Delmarva (local name for the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula). I am not running any full-length marathons this year. My goal was to be half-ready at any point in time, and I’m almost there. Truth be told, my training for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in DC has been very relaxed. I’ve worked up to 8 miles for a long run at a respectable pace and then put in a couple more runs per week, about 3-4 miles total.

Something broke loose within me during the last few miles of Philly. Actually, it started around mile 15 when I was feeling pretty down-trodden. I do this running thing for fun. It’s not a job, I will never be sponsored or featured in a magazine, I will never be super speedy without working my butt off to get there. Why slog through it and hate on myself with negative talk? It’s just not worth the effort to be like that.

So this year I’m doing a few half marathons. After starting the racing/running season off with the 10 miler, I’ll be doing a half marathon in Canada with my sister who will be doing her first half ever (!!!). Then I’ll train through a hot muggy East Coast summer to do the inaugural Susquehanna River Running Festival half right here in our new hometown. I have a thing with running across bridges, apparently.

Something new to me this year is running races with friends. I’ve been a solo runner for basically my whole running life, but I have a few friends who are into running local races. This fall I’ll be doing the running portion of a sprint triathlon – I will never do swim or bike portions! – and then I’ll be a 1/4 of a Baltimore Marathon relay team with my fellow Sunday School co-teacher.

I’ll close out the season with the Annapolis Running Festival half marathon in beautiful historic Annapolis. Super excited for this race because that late in the fall it’s bound to be cool enough to really reap all the rewards of training through the summer. Maybe I’ll PR my half….

Now, all of this will only be possible if I can keep this darned plantar fasciitis in my left foot from being too much of a nuisance. It seems that shoes more suited for stability (Brooks Ravenna) have helped, as well as inserts with arch support. Those things plus stretching + yoga have been great for this darn heel.

I have enjoyed running around this area since moving here two years ago. There’s such a robust running community and so many options for different kinds (and prices!) of races, both close to home and a little drive away.

Fulfilled

For the past couple years I’ve been on a quest to find out what on this earth makes me feel fulfilled. What can I do, where can I go, that makes me feel the best kind of emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t quite found the pot of gold yet but I know for certain one thing that fills the gap is long distance running.

I never wrote a Philly Marathon race report, partially because I was busy, partially because I was lazy, and lastly because the last three miles of 26 shifted my perspective in a big way and I didn’t quite want to share it yet.

It’s not a secret really: do what you do because you’re motivated to do it, and the only person stopping you is you. Thats it. But it’s something I’ve been battling within my soul.

Once I gave myself permission to break through the confines of pain, exhaustion, and basically any physical barrier, my mind was free to control my body instead of the other way around.

I no longer felt dread or like I was slogging my unwilling body through the mud step by step. Instead, I felt like I was truly free and fulfilled for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years.

The high lasted for little more than 12 hours. When I came down, I came down hard but I knew what to expect. My first question was how to feel like this not just again, but always. I think I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out.

Grit and Grime

Running, specifically long distance running, has a way of stripping a person down to the inner grit and grime of who she is. The effects of using all the body’s energy and breaking down muscle only to be rebuilt stronger don’t discriminate between man, woman, young, old, affluent, poor, elite, not elite (read: me).

Today’s long run was more of a mental feat than a physical one. I’ve had this habit of doubting myself lately and what my body can accomplish. It’s still probably leftover from feeling an ultimate betrayal from my body, but what can I do besides keep pushing through it?

It wasn’t the number of miles that got to me today. It was the utter horrible, bitter, angry thoughts that found their way into my head during the last third of my run. For about 7 miles, I saw who I really can be sometimes at my core – jealous, envious, certainly not well-wishing. Something I realized though is that while I don’t generally feel that way anymore, it brought to light some interesting or surprising revelations about myself that are hard to confront.

I think God wants to reveal these things to me so I can be forgiven, but I push it down most of the time. It’s only on a 20-mile run that I’m a captive audience with little distraction but passing cars and music.

The truth is, I need redemption and love and to not feel lonely in the world. I need to feel like my life matters and that I can do something that counts. I need reassurance that the decisions I’ve made in my life have brought me to this place for a reason. I need to know that any and all hurts I’ve experienced haven’t been in vain. I need to know that even as a broken, hurting soul I still have love to give.

This morning I was mad, angry, jealous, upset. Those emotions felt to my soul like brushing off rough salt felt on my sweaty face. I felt exposed to every person I painfully strode by, not wanting to meet their eyes because I knew I couldn’t muster a fake smile. Surely they could see how grimey and gritty my soul really was.

Today’s run was wholly about the journey, not for one second about the destination. In life the destination is death, and then the afterlife.

But I’m not living (running) to die – I’m living (running) to live.

 

Philly Marathon Training Update

When I think of training for a race, I automatically evaluate it with a “good” or “not so good” or some other adjective to describe what I perceive it’s been like. Truth is, every day I get out there and pound the pavement in search of health (physical and mental), it’s a good day. And it’s a good training cycle.

Recently I’ve been down on myself about my paces. Why I’m not faster. Why some runs just feel so slllooowww. I try to find reasons, justifications, for why this could be. I compare myself to other runners on specifically Instagram, who provide inspiration, but who also are in a literal different league than I am running-wise. And that’s okay.

My health has been a struggle for a couple years. I’m talking about collective physical, mental, and emotional health. When I found out I was hypothyroid, my doctor said he couldn’t believe I had the energy to train for a marathon (last year, Marine Corps). The thing is, I didn’t. I absolutely didn’t.

This year feels so much better. I’m still staring down this next 26.2 and wondering some days how it’ll get done, but it will. So far I haven’t been plagued by sickness or injury. Let me just say that yours truly knows how to do rest days. I’ve been practicing yoga a couple days a week which has helped immensely with all around strength and flexibility. My chiropractor is happy about that development for sure.

The weather here in Maryland has finally broken – it now feels like fall even though the calendar has told us that it is for almost a month. I hope to see paces get faster and to feel all around better during and after runs. A downside to the changing season is the darkness in the morning. I waffle back and forth on whether I like the peace or whether it freaks me out. I invested in this running flashlight to help me not wipe out like I did a few weeks ago. I’m sure it’ll get a lot of use in the coming months.

It’s around this time of year that I think about moving my running schedule to after work. Some days, running after work is necessary, but truth be told I love having it done early. That cup of coffee post run is just so so sweet, and I can focus so much better at work not thinking about how I have to run after.

I’m ever so slowly finding a mind shift when it comes to running. Instead of thinking, “I have to run today,” I can say, “I get to run today.” That’s what it’s really all about.

Charm City 20-Miler, Take 2

I’m enjoying the AC on this apparently ‘fall’ day, wearing my newly earned race shirt and curled up under my blanket. Actually, my legs are resting on the ottoman because ouch. I just ran, or killed, 20 miles through the beautiful woods of central Maryland. You can read last year’s report here. You’ll also read a lot of “last year”s because the comparison is quite interesting.

I wasn’t quite as impulsive about signing up for this race as I was last year, but I was more apprehensive. The marathon I’m training for (Philadelphia) doesn’t happen until November 19, a full 3-4 weeks later than the Marine Corps Marathon I did last year. Naturally, I have less training behind me this year, and that made me nervous. I feel like I’ve been more consistent with training, but the longest run I’d done up until today was 15 miles. Just 5 more, right? That’s what I told myself. Until I saw the weather forecast.

Last year it was a cool and lovely 46*. This year we started with 67* with forecast highs into the high 80s, low 90s. Fortunately the vast majority of the trail is shaded and we begin in a valley, so it definitely could have been worse conditions. I knew that hydrating was even more important that usual with those temps. I drank probably 50 oz of Nuun (plus whatever water and Gatorade I got at water stops) and still downed a 16 oz bottle of water at the finish.

My pace overall this year was 11:54, only 5 seconds faster than last year’s pace of 11:59. Strava tells a different story (11:31) as well as Fitbit (11:39), but around mile 17-18 I lost GPS so that could have messed with the numbers.

Mentally I was in the game the whole time. I never felt like I wouldn’t finish or do well. I encouraged others on the trail, too, not something I normally do, to be honest. I usually just keep my head down and plodding away. But like I learned at Marine Corps last year, there’s something that happens physiologically when you encourage others, high five, or let out any exclamation of positivity.

I ran without music the first 10 miles and then rocked from 10 until the end. Miles 8-13 were the toughest mentally, but looking at my paces I was pretty steady and staying within my long run training range of 11:18-11:48.

My plan now is to have another peak run of 20 miles sometime in late October, and then taper for Philadelphia on November 19!

 

Running to B’More

I’m sore today. As if I just raced hard yesterday. The kind of sore that comes after an almost-half-marathon distance race. I ran the Charles Street 12 Miler through Baltimore, Maryland.

Mileage: 12 miles

Average pace: 10:52 (per watch); 10:59 (per chip time)

Elevation gain: 549 feet

Calories burned: 1,849

Steps: 20,542

I’ve been out of the groove of writing race reports for some time. For a long time, as readers know, I was out of the running and racing loop in general due to some health issues. I raced the Marine Corps Marathon last fall after a tenuous relationship with training. I was exhausted all the time, and I chalked it up to beginning a new teaching position, coaching Girls on the Run, and teaching a college class in the evening. Sure, all those things can make a girl tired, but I wasn’t diagnosed with hypothyroidism until February, a few months after the marathon was over.

However, this fall I’m training for the Philadelphia Marathon and this training cycle is SO. MUCH. BETTER. I feel rested, I’m recovering faster, I don’t feel so anxious and overwhelmed, my eating is more on track, and I don’t have horrible cravings for junk 100% of the time like last cycle. Here are a few things I think are directly related to how great I’m feeling this time around.

  • Finding a thyroid treatment right for me. I started out on thyroid medication in February. I had bloodwork done in May and my numbers weren’t quite where the doc wanted them so he increased my dosage. I had more bloodwork last month and he was very pleased with my TSH and with the dissipation of my symptoms. I go back in February for another checkup.
  • Learning how to say ‘no’ to too many obligations. This has been a hard lesson for me. I grew up as a people pleaser, an approach to life that can cultivate some good qualities for being in a service profession such as teaching, but it has caused me to wear myself out and neglect important self-care. This fall I’ve pared down my responsibilities outside of work. Saying ‘no’ is hard at first, but in the end it feels so much better.
  • Getting my diet on track. After a painful ovarian cyst rupture in June, which made me rethink my health in general, I decided to see if dairy and/or gluten bother me. Turns out that dairy (the more raw the worse it is) really bothers me, so in general I’ve cut out cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, half-and-half, and adding cheese to meals. It’s helped immensely. Everything’s more regular (ahem), I have fewer headaches, and I am forced to eat a bit cleaner.
  • Hydrating like a mofo. I drink at least 8 oz of water right when getting up. I usually take a water bottle when we take our dog for a walk, and I don’t drink (decaf) coffee until after I get at least 16 oz. Then I’m drinking throughout the day – in the car, in my office, at lunch, etc.
  • Eliminating most caffeine. Anyone who knows me knows I live on coffee and have since I was about 12. But I know this stimulant can mess with adrenal function and also irritate the stomach. So I’ve cut out most of it. I still drink decaf coffee, but I’ve grown to love some caffeine-free herbal teas as well. Some of my favorites as of right now are rooibos, chamomile lavender, and Traditional Medicinal’s Healthy Cycle. I’m also feeling way less anxious throughout the day.
  • Reducing alcohol intake to 4 drinks per week. It’s amazing how fresh and awake I feel if I skip even just one glass of wine the night before. After awhile, I don’t want alcohol as much because I know how I’ll feel, and I want to feel good.
  • Having a positive mindset about running. To be honest, cutting things out of my diet isn’t that difficult – I know my headaches and GI issues were tied to mostly dietary factors that I can control, so once I felt good I knew going back to old habits would make me feel bad. But coaching my mind to be kind during a workout proved to be more difficult. I do try to hit certain paces and mileage per week, but if I miss a run or don’t hit a goal pace, I don’t freak out about it. Running is a hobby and it should be fun. I bust my ass all day at work and so running shouldn’t feel like  second job, but an outlet and therapy.
  • Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. I’ve never practiced yoga regularly before, but I now attend probably 7-10 classes per month, give or take. I’ve noticed more muscle definition, a calmer attitude, and my form doesn’t suck towards the end of my runs. I’m also starting to incorporate yoga-ish stretches before and after running.

I’ve turned a corner in my physical and mental health 31 has been innumerably better than years past. I’m looking forward to the rest of marathon training and hopefully PR-ing at Philly.