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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

No Run Is Easy



There is no such thing as an easy run.  Sure, there will be those days when it feels comfortable, maybe effortless in the sense that miles could come and go barely noticed, slipping below my feet like invisible markers.  What I mean about an easy run has everything to do with getting to that actual moment, there within the run, metered breathing, efforting, living in the pace.  Arriving in that moment within that run has sprung from another run, dating all the way back to those first days when one mile was still a great feat.  I could never have run a 5K without first practicing shorter distances.  And believe me, this was no easy deed.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a dream that I would run a marathon.  I woke up thinking it was a funny thing to dream about.  At the time, I was a pack-a-day smoker, daily fast food goer, and sugar and coffee addict (my caveat for this last bit is that I drank coffee well into the evening).  So, you can see why someone with my lifestyle would find a marathon dream to be extraordinary.   Despite my diet and bad habits, I was pretty fit, owing this solely to the fact that I worked at a two-story restaurant and constantly ran trays of heavy food and dishes up and down a flight of stairs. I also traversed a college campus, back and forth between classes at least three times per week. Still, I was not near the condition of fitness I am today, being a dedicated runner for a few years now.

Again, in my early 30s, I had a similar dream about running in a large-scale race.  This time, I was surrounded by my people—friends and family, some thin and some heavy.  A few even smoked cigarettes as we ran in that odd-dream landscape.  That next morning, I remember telling my husband that it was time to quit smoking.  The way I went about that is a subject for another blog entry.  I will say now that I have never faced such a challenge and there are still times when I think I am going to smoke again, even after not having a cigarette for over 10 years!  Nicotine is insidious and addictive.  But I digress.

All of this went into that fateful first fun.  I was still a smoker during that first run.  I coughed and wheezed and admonished myself for even trying to run in the first place, but I kept moving my feet.  My miles today benefit from that first run, even if all I could do was shuffle my feet.  When Sarah in the movie Labyrinth decides to go into the endless maze to find her brother, she says “Come on feet.”  I say this too.  Come on feet.  Let’s do this.  It has been this way since my first run.  I have encouraged my feet to help me out, and they have never given up.  Even when under the toughest circumstances, my feet keep going—running, walking, shuffling, dragging; they keep going.   

Running is hard in the sense that each run has been a part of that first run and all the rest.  The next run has an element of every past run.  These activities are each connected, one event supporting the next, in a series of effort that I undergo to reclaim my life.  And today's run will benefit my marathon in a few weeks.  Each run is a part of my attempt to quict smoking (yes, ‘attempt’ even after 10 years).  Each run is the culmination of eating better, drinking more water, resting when I would rather have a cup of coffee at 8:00 PM, not eating donuts and cookies and cake (all the time).  I have learned to skip the  drive-thru to go home and cook when it would be so much easier (and even cheaper) to pull up to the speaker.  It has been years since I have had a taco supreme (do they still make those?) And there’s more too.  Often, I need to work around my family’s schedule.  I squeeze runs in between work and kids’ activities.  I have run on my lunch breaks and at 6:00 AM and in heat that I thought would kill me and at night with and without a headlamp.  I run when it is hot and I run in the snow. I bring that effort with me on the next run, and the next.  I have conditioned myself to keep going, but it is not easy.  It is never easy.

So, when I hear someone say, "I’m just going to go out for an easy three miles," I consider everything that has gone into their  three miles to make them “easy.”  No one wakes up and runs a marathon.  I suppose you could, but I imagine that would be the toughest of all races.  You could also just jump on a bike, or go out and hike a trail, but I guarantee that if you have not put in the effort ahead of time, it will not be easy.  And if it feels easy, it just means that you have already put the effort in elsewhere.

None of this is to say that I don’t have amazing runs, because sometimes I do.  Sometimes, I come in after a run and I think to myself, “wow, that is what I am in it for!”  And yes, I have had the joy of that dream-come-true experience when I have crossed a finish line at a 5K, 10K, Half or Full marathon and thought about the effort, the accomplishment and the benefits to my health and all of the runners around me and the experiences they must also be having.  Still, I never take it for granted what brought me there.  

I never take it for granted what brought me here, preparing for another marathon.  No run is easy. Each is a part of the previous run and the next.
Making it look "easy" with Jeff McKay, training for Eugene

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Disappointment? Nah...

I keep going back to this place in my mind.  I'm on a training run.  The sun is out and beating down.  I notice I use the pejorative term "beating down" instead of something less negative.  The thought enters my head, "you should not run the full marathon." And on that, I crumple from a 9:30 pace to walking. 

It happened like this quite a few times before I put in word to my coach that I was thinking of changing the distance.  Joe Henderson is a great and wise coach.  Here is the exchange that took place before this last September's marathon in Mt. Angel.  Joe's response, the compassion that he used in his carefully selected words, still moves me.

ME: Hi Joe. I think I would like your input on this. I'm concerned about the heat and considering asking the race directors if I can just run the half. This has come up for reasons other than just the heat, though the heat is the main factor. After the temps went up over 70 for the second half of the Eugene marathon in 2012, it really wiped me out, more so than normal. . . I don't know what to do. My sensible side is telling me to stick with just the half and have an epic run and possibly a PR but my  training and my ego are saying run the full. Any coaching advice that might help me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

JOE: With your special circumstances, the answer is easy to give and hard to hear. Switch to the half. You've surely never been better trained for one, as you come DOWN in distance. I'll send you race director Darwin. Rasmussen's email. Tell him straight out about your MS, and he's likely to be accommodating.

And, of course they were totally accommodating.  And I did end up having a great run, despite the rising temperatures at the end.  The thing is, though, I could not foresee how very disappointed I still was in myself and what I counted as "wasted effort."

Now, I have written about this here, I have talked about it endlessly with anyone who will listen, I have complained to my doctors about me throwing in the towel.  But it wasn't until recent--another 19 mile training run-- when I started to come around on this change in my plans last Fall. 

I found myself back at that place in my mind: I'm on my 19 mile training run.  I'm solo, listening to the pod cast of TED talks I had downloaded earlier.  It starts to get hot and I start to get slower. ONLY THIS TIME, I see the sun glinting off the water and feel the warmth on my hand, arms, shoulder (it's to my right) and I think to myself about the transference of energy beaming into me (bare with me; I know this is hokey).  And then it is okay to walk, but I don't want to.  And then it is okay to take a break, but I press on.  Before I know it, I'm sailing.

Yes, heat is certainly a factor for me, but it does not have to mean the end.  And it did not mean the end in September.

Since that 19 mile run a few weeks ago, I have had fatigue with sunshine.  I have walked, dejected and disappointed.  But then I remind myself about the sparkling sunshine and then energy.  This fills me up.  This is enough. And sometimes walking is amazing, too, all on its own.  Besides, if I ever could not walk, that would be the thing I would want more than even running.  See how that works...