So, let’s see … where did I leave off? To sum up from Part One:
- I spent most of my life utterly despising Running.
- After playing on an intramural soccer team, I realized that running around could actually be kind of fun
- I trained for and ran a half-marathon
- Toward the end of training and during the half-marathon, my knees H.U.R.T., sooooo…..
- I decided Running and I were through … at leaast until we worked on some of our issues.
At first, my intention was to only temporarily break up. I would figure out what the heck was going on with my knees, solve it and lace up my shoes again. But as is often the case, life saw a void and filled it with Busy. I wrapped up my research and sequestered myself away into full-on no-I-can’t-shower/get dressed/cook/eat- I’m-writing-my-thesis-mode. Once that crazy period ended and I actually changed out of my
pajamas totally professional writing apparel, I successfully defended my thesis and launched myself into job-hunting as winter settled in. I turned my fitness focus to strength training at my nice warm house and circuit training at the nice warm gym, and let running become a distant memory. Once the snow melted, I found myself with a shiny new job.
A shiny new DESK job.
Stress + being sedentary most of the day does not a healthy person make. Over the next year, I struggled to maintain some level of fitness. I tried the crack of dawn Body Pump class but found it hard to squeeze in a shower and breakfast before I had to commute to work. I tried evening boxing classes but realized that it didn’t relieve stress like I hoped it would – instead I felt worse as my body stayed tense and I tried to keep a ‘tough’ mentality.
What I wanted was simplicity.
What I wanted was a reprieve from the daily grind of responsibility and requirement.
What I wanted was Running.
But I pushed that thought away. Silly. I thought that so much time had passed that it would be like starting over all again, and quite frankly, I was just too tired to try.
But Running refused to take no for an answer and slyly tried another avenue – my mother-in-law. This past spring, Andrew’s mom asked us if we had any interest in running the 2013 Disney World Half Marathon.
My initial response was ‘ H-E-Double Hockey Sticks NO! I’m done with Running! We’re not friends anymore!’
But the idea was planted. Soon, I began to remember all the good times that Running and I had had together. And I wanted to try again. But this time, I was going to do things a little differently.
This time, my training would focus on three areas:
1. My Form
For most of my life, whenever I took a PE class or participated in any kind of sports, people always told me that I ran on my toes and I needed to run on my heels instead. Because I didn’t know any better, I listened to them and when training for the first half-marathon, painstakingly changed my stride to strike my heel first. Big mistake. This was not my natural movement, and my body paid for it as my heavy footfalls sent jarring impact up my leg and to my knees. The truth was that I wasn’t sure what proper running form even looked like, and in particular, what it should look like for me. So, I studied up. After reading Born to Run and soaking in the details of the legendary Tarahumara runners who cover vast distances in thin sandals, I set one simple goal: to strike softly on the balls of my feet. But how to do this??
My answer was two-fold. First, I switched out my shoes for a minimalist pair, Brooks PureFlow’s, which offered a lower heel profile and the ability to actually ‘feel’ the road.
I know that sounds ridiculous but in my old shoes, I would strike the ground heavy and hard, relying solely (<–pun, teehee) on the cushioning to compensate for the impact my terrible stride was generating. Second, I leaned forward. Yes, that’s it. I leaned forward slightly, as if I was going to fall, and moved my arms farther back for balance. Sounds easy but it took me awhile to turn it into a habit, and I admit, I felt totally ridiculous at first. I figured I must look silly to any onlookers but soon enough I realized that it only felt extreme because previously, I had run with my back straight, and legs shooting out in front of the rest of my body (again, because that’s what I though I was supposed to do).
As I focused on leaning forward, I found it much easier to land on my forefoot and the minimal shoes insured that I landed softly because, well, landing any other way was highly undesirable. Bit by bit my form changed … and knee pain stayed noticeably absent.
2. My strength
After several months of focusing on form and steadily working on my mileage, I added in strength training. I went back to what worked for me in the past – Men’s Health Power Training. Yeah, it’s from Men’s Health but training sessions are effective for anyone, regardless of chromosomes. However, these workouts are tough! We’re talking squats, deadlifts, push press, pull-ups, bench press, etc. I maintained a steady routine of strength training three times a week and running threes times a week, usually two short runs and one long run.
And my body responded. I grew stronger, and I grew more capable of handling being ‘uncomfortable.’ When you’re running, it’s easy to slip into a pace that is simply comfortable and not push yourself. But I derive great joy in propelling myself through a challenge and coming out on the other side a sweaty success. My legs, with their new-found strength, carried me to a faster pace in training and to my greater surprise, in races. After ~ a month and a half of strength training, I was shocked to find myself setting a PR of 55:24 and placing second in my age division in a 10k road race.
An even greater surprise came two weekends ago, when I ran with my beagle Wally in the Santa Paws 5k at my parents’. Wally howled the entire way, announcing our every step and leading me to finish as the second female overall and first in my age division. Granted, it was a small race but I achieved a new PR, and I felt strong – a win in my book.
And all the while, no knee pain.
3. My attitude
One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced with Running is learning how to handle the little voice in my head that tells me I can’t do things. ‘You can’t run that distance’ or ‘you’ll never run that fast’ or ‘you could just walk instead.’
My mantra became ‘Very next steps.’ I would focus on running the very next steps…. and then the steps after that, and before I knew it, the negative voice had no choice but to be silent. I’m not saying that every run is perfect, with Chariots of Fire blasting and my hands up in the air in victory. I’ve certainly had my share of arguments with Running, where I just feel like poop and it’s a total struggle. But increasingly I’ve learned to appreciate the hardness of it. The level of hard is always shifting – what used to be hard for me is no longer, and what is hard for me now will one day be easy.
There will always be a new level of hard, of challenge. It is my choice to embrace that challenge and make it my own.
So it is in life. Running has equipped me with dedication and self-discipline, qualities that keep me grounded and clearheaded. If you had told me five years ago, that I would go for a 13 mile run with my husband on Thanksgiving just for the heck of it – no race, no fanfare, just the two of us- and that I would love all of it, even the last excruciating miles, I would have dismissed you as a crazy person. But I did go on that run, and I’ll cherish that memory for a long time.
This past weekend, Andrew and I joined his parents to run a 5k as a team, and I acted as pacer for his mom. It felt so awesome to be motivating and encouraging someone else to love Running, and I’m proud to say she finished strong with a shiny new PR. And what do you know? Team Will Run for Rein-beer took first place in the team division! I have no clue how many teams there actually were we’ll take it .
Wow, this has turned into quite the monster post, so I’ll tell you how the story ends.
I love Running.
And we plan to live happily ever after.
I may never run a six minute mile. I may never run an ultra or even a marathon.
But I will lace up my shoes, step out into the cool morning air, and jog quietly down the street, relishing the fact that I am moving of my own accord.
And for that, I will be thankful.