Sunday, March 8, 2015

Learning through Running

The other day Shannon had a four-mile run on her schedule.  I asked her about it when we chatted in the hallway between classes.  "Oh, I didn't go.  I had to drive my kids to practice, and then (voice drops and falters) I went out.  I need to make it up.  Maybe I'll tack it on to today's run."

This is where I stopped her with unsolicited advice because--hey--ME.

"I would not suggest you add mileage to your run tonight, as you haven't established a base yet, and even one more mile would be a significant add-on at this point.  Let it go, learn from it, and move on."

Shannon sometimes suffers from injuries, but today she suffered mostly from guilt, and I would hate for her to hurt herself in an attempt to make up a lost run.  Too often we adhere to a rigid training plan, and when life gets in the way, we beat ourselves up.  Does that mean I should drop a run anytime I don't feel like getting out there?  No.  At this point in my running, I know what my options are when I feel like I need to bail, but it took me a while to figure it out.

I believe the first year of running is a way to learn more about yourself THROUGH running.  The added mileage and endurance is a plus.  When I explained this to Shannon, she asked, "What do you mean?  What do I need to learn?"

Here are some things I learned about myself through running:

1.  How and when I need to eat to have a successful run.  For example, if I run six or fewer miles, I know that I don't need to eat breakfast first.  I can just wake up, chug at least sixteen ounces of water, and lace up.  If I go longer, the rules change.  I need to wake up at least one and one-half hours before I leave, eat a bagel with cream cheese, drink coffee and lots of water, and spend some quality time in the bathroom.  I didn't learn this the first time I ran more than six miles.  It took me a good year to figure it out through trial and error.

Mmmm.  Food of the gods.  Except I definitely need cream cheese, and that coffee needs some Thin Mints creamer.

2.  Water is non-negotiable.  I HAVE to drink at least six 8-oz. glasses of water a day, more if I'm running.  If I run more than five miles, I have to carry my water with me or run where there are drinking fountains.  The pre-run hydration is the most important part for me, though.  Not drinking enough before a run is a bonk waiting to happen.

My favorite beverage.  I even like it more than I like wine!

3.  When I should run.  When I first started running, I ran with my friend Deidre after work.  Because we were both always so tired, both physically and psychologically, we rarely had good runs, and we were rarely able to push ourselves as much as we should have.  I have learned that with very few exceptions, I can't have a good run when I've been teaching all day.  It just doesn't recharge me, and my chances of bonking increase exponentially.  On the other hand, if I run in the morning, even as early as 4:30, I've set myself up for success.  My mood improves dramatically, and the runner's high carries me through the day.

Wake up!  It's time to run!

4.  How much sleep I need.  I've learned that I function just fine on very little sleep for short periods of time.  This means that if I whine to myself that I'm too tired to get up at 4:30 to run, I have to tell myself to suck it up and run.  I am not allowed to use lack of sleep as an excuse.

5.  When asked to try something new, my first response will be "No."  You should ignore this response because I will do said new thing anyway.  I don't know why I do this; I think I just don't like people to tell me what to do, even if it's something I want to do anyway.  I learned this from my running coach, who does a great job of ignoring me when I bitch and moan or even just say no.

6. My most efficient running weight.  I'm still trying to figure this one out.  This year I've lost about twenty pounds, and it's had a dramatic effect on my pace.  I've got to figure out how to balance my need to eat and drink everything I see with my desire to hit certain paces.

How much weight do I have to lose to get a PR?

7.  I am my biggest driver and harshest critic.  Nobody has higher expectations for me than me.  I have long-term goals, short-term goals that lead to the long-term goals, and secret goals.  I have tests that I give myself to see if I'm going to hit my marks.  I punish myself if I don't make it.  Sometimes I have to do a check-in with my coach to make sure I'm not being too hard on myself.  Sometimes I need to "fail" in order to get a reality check.  It's funny because I don't have impossible aspirations; for the most part I know that I am a middle of the pack runner, but I want to be the best middle of the pack runner I can be.

Everything I have learned so far doesn't just apply to running; it applies to ME and the way I live.  It is extremely valuable information, and it has taken me three years to get this far.  I'm excited about what I can learn in the running years to come.

This is the third week for the Towpath Turtles, our new runner group, and I can't wait to meet all of you on future runs.  The advice I have for you is the same advice I gave Shannon:  Take this time to learn about yourself through running.  You won't regret it.

Run happy, Turtles!

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