Well, it’s the end of February so, naturally, it’s back to the grind.
(This is what I imagine my running route looks like?)
That’s right, marathon training is in full swing! Somehow I’ve managed to coerce myself into spending five of the last seven winters clocking miles through a frozen Forest Park.
John and I are both knee deep in it now, with April marathons hovering on the horizon.
So, how’s it going so far?
Well, pretty good. The longest run I’ve completed this year was 18 miles, and that was last week. I’m at that point in the training where two or three days after the long run I CANNOT BE SATiSFIED. Seriously, I am always hungry. The challenge is finding healthy snacks to fill up on when obviously chocolate valentine brownies are a much more efficient means of replacing calories.
What have the highs and lows been of marathon training 2016?
My lowest point was a 12 mile run about a month ago. Mother Nature was being a bit nasty to me that week, but I decided to ignore that fact and try to get my long run in anyway. It was a sunny day in the 40s–not bad for January–so I opted to give it a go. I ran 6 miles and didn’t feel great but thought, eh, I can slog through another lap. About 8 miles in I hit the wall. HARD. My blood sugar dropped enough for the ground to do that tilt-a-whirly thing whenever I started running. So, I walked. However, at this point I was about 3-4 miles from home and I was dressed for running in sunny, 40 degree weather, not dressed for walking, so I got very cold. By the time I made it back to my apartment I literally wasn’t sure if I could get myself in the door because my hands did not seem capable of turning the key. If you’ve never felt the sensation of your brain being incapable of communicating with your muscles I will tell you it’s lots of fun! (That’s sarcasm there, people). But I survived, even though I spent the rest of that evening in a lot of pain. That was my low.
The high point so far was probably the 18 miler last week. It snowed the night before and my first lap of the park the path had not even been cleared yet! I kept passing the snow plow and by the time I was on my third lap, the asphalt was exposed and I was able to go much faster. There’s something that just feels a little badass about running 18 miles on an icy morning. It got me excited for the race!
(I’ve been listening to this audio book while running because it’s fun to look down at my iPod and see it say You are a Badass. I’m being 100% serious about that.)
At this point in my running hobby, a long run is more about mental toughness and pain management than it is about any sort of cardio stamina. When you’re running in a cold park, alone, for hours on end you have a lot of time to think.
Last week, during my laps, I started thinking about how one of my goals for 2016 should be to live in the moment. I see it with my animals every day. When their bellies are full and they have a fluffy bed of straw to lay on, they are happy and content. They’re not living in the past or the future, they’re just enjoying being right where they are.
I truly struggle with this. I feel like I pass all of my days daydreaming about things I did in the past or things I imagine for the future.
In running I do this as well. When you are on a long run, it’s so hard not to imagine how many miles still lay before you and what those miles are going to feel like. My knee kinda hurts right now, I might think. I wonder how much it’s going to hurt when I get to 13 miles? What about 19? Will I even be able to make it? I think about the miles I’ve already run as well. I’ve run 7 already, how can I possibly run 10 more?!
It’s difficult, but necessary, to stay in that very moment and mile of a long run. I remind myself to focus on how I feel in each individual minute. I keep track of how my body is feeling–sore muscles, aching knees, tight hips, blisters etc., but also the scenery and sensations around me–the birds, the plants, the feel of the wind or sun, my fellow runners and cyclists.
But it’s not easy. I often find my mind floating to the past or escaping to the future. I read a quote once that said depressed people are stuck in the past and anxious people are stuck in the future. Content people know how to be in the present. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be one of the content ones!
Running is such a perfect analogy for life, particularly for living in the moment. So, that is my goal for this marathon season–to practice being content and taking stock of each individual moment rather than agonizing or developing anxiety about the future or past.
One of my favorite writing books is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In it, Lamott tells the following story:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’
I used to use this philosophy as sort of a joke (even though I was actually totally serious) when I worked in the Children’s Zoo. While we were preparing for the summer show season, we often spent entire afternoons training owls, parrots, hornbills etc. etc…Needless to say, it was a lot and it could be quite stressful at times.
Any time things felt like they were getting out of hand I’d simply repeat Lamott’s mantra to myself and others. Bird by bird, people, bird by bird.
In that case, I meant it literally. But, honestly, I try to take this little philosophy to heart in a lot of areas of my life, particularly with marathon training.
Sometimes, I feel a bit immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.
When it’s cold, when I’m feeling anxious about the long runs or worrying about IT band pain, I just have to tell myself Mile by mile, buddy. Just take it mile by mile.
Every season of marathon training truly feels like a journey. I plan to take stock of this one mile by mile and try to enjoy each painful, joyful, insatiable, satisfying moment.
Eight weeks to go!
(I actually met this guy once on an airport escalator. True story.)