Thanks for the Reminder Women’s Running!

Thanks for the Reminder Women's Running!

Ah…so true….

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Thanksgiving Running: When time doesn’t count, but time means everything

The winter marathon has been run. Daylight savings time has arrived to make it more difficult to get out for that evening run. And the holidays are upon us.

November is a tough time for me to take running seriously. It’s when I recover from that 26.2 trek for which I trained all summer and fall. I’ve started going for a few longish runs, but nothing consistent yet. That will come soon enough, when I start gearing up for next year’s 26.2 with Donna on February 23rd  with my Charm City Run training group.  For now, I enjoy easing out into the cold air for an easy run through the neighborhood, leaving the watch behind.

Thanksgiving is usually my last hurrah. There’s food and travel and food and family — and did I say food? Let’s just say, I haven’t generally put Thanksgiving together with healthy diet and serious running. I don’t think I’m the only one to whom that applies.

This year was different. I ran two different races – a Turkey Trot for the Y of Central Maryland on Thanksgiving morning and a 10-mile Turkey Burnoff sponsored by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club on the Saturday after. Both runs were timed, but I can’t tell you how fast I actually ran. I wasn’t running alone, and time wasn’t why we were running. We ran because we wanted to run, and we ran because we wanted to run together. Both women were getting back into running after taking time off. Both were women I love to be with. And we all met our goal of finishing together.

Where and how fast we finished didn’t matter. We had a goal of finishing and we met it. Worrying about net time this weekend was suspended. There will be future races for that.

There is something fundamentally human about running a race with someone else. I somehow become aware of everything around me, from the other runners to the volunteers to the scenery. I smile more. I give away my gloves to the young volunteer holding the 1-mile sign in the freezing cold bare-handed. I cheer the leaders who lap me. I am present to the woman next to me as well as all those running around us.

So this year wasn’t about time goals and pacing and negative splits. But it was still all about time. Time to be thankful for so many things, but most of all for the time I spent with the beautiful women who allowed me to run with them this Thanksgiving.

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Running up and down hills in 98 degrees

“Training is easy or effective; it can’t be both.”

I apparently failed to save the author of this quotation, but I think it sums up last night for me. How easy it would have been to either skip or skimp on last night’s workout! I’m glad I didn’t skip because most everyone in the training group showed up, surprising even our coach. So then comes the question of skimping…our workout lends itself to an easy skimp. One lap is halfway up and back, then all the way up and back. The goal was three repeats, down from the scheduleed 4 because of the heat factor. Since you are on your own, it would be very, very easy to skip some or all of the last lap and head on back to the car. My last half mile was grueling, and I passed more people walking that running, and I could probably have walked at a one point faster than I was running. But. … I kept putting one foot in front of another.

I didn’t sign up for easy training. I can do that on my own. And I would have missed the feeling of accomplishment of checking the workout off my training schedule when I got home. Effective, and – as usual – not as hard as my mind told me it would be. So I could go home and watch the American League take the World Series without a trace of guilt. Effective.

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Lose the “can’t” and try the “maybe”

Most people never get there. They’re afraid or unwilling to demand enough of themselves and take the easy road, the path of least resistance. But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself—expanding and learning as you go—you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.  —Dean Karnazes

I have the great privilege of coaching runners for the Baltimore Women’s Classic, a women-only 5k that raises funds for support services to women with gynecological cancers.  It’s the first race I ever ran, so it’s near and dear to my heart.  I ran it that first year with a friend.  She and my husband were the only ones I told that I was going to do it, because I was scared I couldn’t do it.  I had no idea what finishing that race would do to enrich so many aspects of my life.

Over the next three years, I ran that race twice with other people who were testing themselves and once by myself.  The lesson for me was that I would much rather help someone else reach her goals than set a PR, especially at the BWC.  There is a special magic to run with those women, many running with their daughters, mothers or sisters.  The streets are lined with people who love those women, who only want them to accomplish something pretty spectacular.  Yes, there are many who are running for PRs, but I am pretty sure that there are at least half who have never run (or walked) a 5k before, and they are simultaneously scared and thrilled.

It’s to those women that I am attracted.  I’ve been there.  I love coaching the beginner runners, because they are sure they can’t run 20 minutes without stopping.  And then they do.  Or, this year, the woman who told me, I can never run more than 5 laps.  We sprinted to finish the 6th, and the next week, she was able to run on her own and finish 9.  There’s the woman who said that she can’t imagine how she’ll run the race without me (I’m going to be away on race day), but I know she’ll do it because she’s done all the things she didn’t think she could do already.

The first day of training, the coaches introduce themselves.  I have the opportunity to stand up in front of them and tell them that for years, I didn’t even try to run because I had been told “you can’t.”  And what I tell them is that one day, something happened and I changed a couple of words.  I can’t became Maybe I can, and then Why can’t I?  When you say you can’t, you won’t.  When you say maybe, you might not, but it at least gives you the option.

Dean Karnazes hit it on the head.  I know how to take the easy path.  It was only when I took the scarier, harder path that I found an entire new passion and fellowship and sense of accomplishment that comes for me with running.  I have that experience, and it’s the best thing that I can give back to those women who have had the courage to show up and try something they’ve never done before.  And if one woman crosses that finish line next weekend, and feels the way I felt the first time I –that amazing holy cow, I just did it! – …well, then, I will receive the greatest gift of all.   Helping someone else dig deep and do the seemingly impossible because I know it can be done.  Priceless.

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Cross training, the battlefield style!

Nothing like a couple of hours on a bicycle to remind me how much I love the outdoors. Especially when I’m out Yorktown, following the footsteps of Washington (ok, and the French, without whom we would have been cooked). Amazing to think what it must have been like, separated by less than 400 feet from someone with a mortar with your name on it…

If they can do that, I think I can run for a few hours…

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Rest, Recovery, Relaxation and Restart!

I have been told repeatedly – and tell others repeatedly – that recovery is part of training.  Rest is absolutely necessary to optimal performance. 

Ever have the best advice that you don’t take?  Or take and way overdo?

I have. I did. I have had an insane workload for the last year or so, but thought I could push through and still perform on the road with the same intensity as I had in the past.  My training suffered, and more importantely, my sleep suffered.  My the time I crossed the finish line at my last marathon, I was finished.  The tank felt empty.  I needed a break.

Instead of realigning everything in my life, I backed off my running.  I still went to the gym, but without a goal, I didn’t give it much intensity. Soon,  I didn’t even make it to the gym. I slept. I needed it, and I thought I was doing my body right.

It turns out I was wrong. A couple of minor physical things popped up unexpectedly.  Then I started running again.  I’m a coach for the Baltimore Women’s Classic.  I get to run with the beginner runners, many of whom have never run a 5k before.  I was expected on the track on Tuesday night again.  I started running again.  I started feeling better.

On June 1, I ran a 5k on an insanely hot morning (83 degrees at the start).  I don’t do heat well, and quite frankly, I wasn’t in shape for a 5k.  I felt every step – for about 2 miles.  And then something amazing happened. I remembered, deep down at a physical level, why I love to run.  It was as though all the dormant muscles remembered something inspiring in their past.  I was hot and miserable and ecstatic as I crossed the finish line. 

And so, marathon training begins anew, and for that I am ready and willing.  I feel like a beginner again.  Thank goodness.
Let’s go for a run!

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“VICTORY” gets a new definition

What if today, we were just grateful for everything?

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of all those cutesy memes currently clogging up my Facebook page. But when a friend posted this one, I had to stop and pay attention.  How many things and people and experiences happen in my life that I take for granted?  Why is it that when life is good that I seem most likely to forget that pretty much everything in it is a gift?  Sometimes it takes a real gut check to remember that life is a gift, not an entitlement.

Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me again to stop and let the gratitude sweep over me.  The trigger was an insane physical and mental challenge:  the Charm City Run 20-miler.  Now, I have to say, I didn’t just sign up for a 20-mile run without preparation; no, this was the scheduled 20-mile training run built right into my schedule.   I was sure that my legs were up to the challenge.  It was the rest of me that I doubted.

You see, last year, I tried this run three weeks after wrist surgery that had interrupted my training.   For a variety of reasons, I decided to run even though I knew I wasn’t ready.  It was hot and humid that morning, but I chose to ignore all the warning bells going off in my head.  But here is a indisputable fact:  hot+humid+lack of preparation+MS = “not going to happen”  — and it didn’t.  I bailed at the 11 mile marked, and while intellectually, I understood the decision, emotionally, I carried that decision like a ninety-pound weight around my neck all year.

This year, I had every intention to volunteer but not to run this race.  It always happens on the Sunday before Labor Day, so it’s going to be hot.  But the universe had other plans, and yesterday, I ran that freakin’ race.  And I finished it.  If you consider speed a measure of accomplishment, I failed miserably. Those 20 miles took almost as long as any of my full marathons. Take away the time, though, and I won on so many levels that I am truly overwhelmed with gratitude.

Some of you may not be runners, so let me explain how running 20 miles in 82 degree, 93% humidity can possibly inspire gratitude.

Let’s start with the most obvious, most amazing aspect of that:  I have multiple sclerosis.  I am NOT supposed to be able to walk, much less run, at any speed in those conditions.  Period.  It’s not supposed to happen.  And I did it.  I have been blessed to do something that others would give their right arm to do again.  Go back to my older posts when I first started on this running journey, and you hopefully will understand why I choke up every time I see a finish line.  It’s just a gift.  And it’s one that I may have been taking for granted this summer.  I’m grateful for the reminder that every stride, no matter if it’s long or short, is a gift.

I could stop right there, but I shouldn’t.  Sunday reminded me of how I have been gifted with an amazing group of people from my running community.  Some I know very well, and some I just know tangentially from training.  But I know one thing: there was no one on that trail on Sunday who wanted anything for me but to have the best run I could have.  From great coaches to running buddies in the race and volunteering on the course to complete strangers that urge me on to complete strangers just out for a Sunday bike ride – how many people can say they have support ike that?

And then there were Pam and Bob.  I know Pam, but we’ve only run together a couple of times. I met Bob Sunday. We ran together until the very end, and I don’t know that I would have finished without them.  And it was while talking about things other than running that I was once again reminded that my life is beyond my wildest dreams, eHow many people can say they have a support system like that? ven as I push through 20 miserable miles just to prove something to myself.

And how appropriate was it that my personal gift appeared as we exited the trail, cheering like a maniac as his exhausted wife dug into what was left to finish the last mile?  His very presence injected the last bit of energy that I needed to cross the finish.

So I won on Sunday.  Yes, 95% of the runners finished in front of me.  But for me, running is often a spiritual experience, and Sunday was one of those days.  I am still kind of overwhelmed by it.  Today, at least, I am grateful for everything – including sore hip flexors!

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