Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dreaming Big and Going After Those Dreams

Decision time has come.  The past eight months, I have been working on increasing my fitness level and decreasing my body fat percentage.  The next four months, I will continue on this same path, building a solid foundation and leaning down.  As of February 2014, after spending this year building my endurance, developing my musculature for running, developing my heart/lung efficiency, increasing my physical strength and, possibly more importantly, increasing my mental strength and fortitude, I will begin training for my first marathon.  This will be my first step towards fulfilling my dream of running ultra distances, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with what constitutes an ultra, any distance over the distance of a marathon or 26.2 miles.

It’s scary taking first steps.  It’s exciting, too!  I can’t wait to begin training with a specific race and distance in mind.  When I think about it, I feel as if I might bubble over with excitement.  I feel even more excitement when I think about pushing my body and mind beyond my comprehension.  If you were to ask me why I want to push my body to the brink, push my mind beyond perceived limitations, I don’t know that I could tell you in words.  I just have this deep-seated desire to do so.  Because everyone experiences pushing themselves differently, it is just something one must experience for him or herself to understand such a desire.

I will find out, over time, whether or not my body will handle an ultramarathon.  I know, right now, it wouldn’t, because I don’t have the necessary foundation.  I have been much too sedentary and overweight most of my life.  That is why I am taking a full year to lay that foundation.  Only after that year will I begin training towards something as specific as a marathon.  My body and my mind need that time to strengthen and develop.  What is interesting to me is how much I have developed over the last eight months.  My body is transforming into a runner’s body, slimming down and becoming increasingly fit.  My mental stamina and focus has increased exponentially.  When I think back over my training, I remember the days when it was all I could do to push myself out the door and go for a run.  Seldom did I give in to the voices in my head about being tired and not wanting to go, which I know has contributed to the increase in mental strength.  I remember the runs that just felt like they hurt so bad (not injury-wise, but rather just my body adjusting to the activity), I didn’t think I could go on.  I went on anyways.

Then, the perseverance, the doing it anyways, paid off.  I experienced my first run where cardiovascular and respiratory systems collided and began working together instead of separate.  What a joyous day that was!  I don’t think I had ever experienced anything so freeing.  Slowly, gradually, I began experiencing that feeling more often.  Now, I experience it regularly for longer stretches of my runs.  For several months, I have felt exhausted after my runs.  I’ve been tired at work and have felt like I haven’t been able to get enough sleep.  I’ve kept running anyways.  I have pushed through the fatigue, knowing I would eventually get to the point I wouldn’t be as tired as I was.  I was correct.  Yesterday was the first day I realized I wasn’t fighting to stay awake following my run.  I also realized I didn’t have to fight through any exhaustion at work.  I am beginning to feel alive.  Not just living, but alive!  I feel good!  All this, after I just completed the most miles I have run in one week when I finished last week with over 40 miles.

I can’t reiterate to you enough how persevering through and ignoring the negative voices in my head has contributed to where I am today with my running.  It is so rewarding to look back at where I was and where I am now.  I get excited considering where this journey is taking me, especially when I consider then and now.  I can see how far I have come in just eight months and it is nothing short of incredible to me.  The growth and development increases my belief in myself and fuels my dedication to my journey.

I know running a marathon will not be easy.  I know running an ultra will be even more difficult than a marathon.  Will I ever complete an ultra?  I don’t have an answer for that question right now.  My preferred answer is yes; I will complete an ultra.  I will complete many ultras, ideally.  But, right now, it is just that, an idea, a desire, a dream.  Only with time, dedication, and perseverance will this dream have the potential of becoming reality.  In the meantime, I will continue sharing my progress and my journey.  When I begin, training, I will blog about my training.  As I continue to progress mentally, I will share that journey as well.  Who knows…maybe someday I will see my name among the list of runners who have finished the Badwater 135 or Spartathalon Ultra Race (153 miles) like so many ultra-distance runners before me.  What I do know is I am going after this dream with every fiber of my being.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rewarding Interactions with Strangers while Running

Running on the roads can be a dangerous venture, with drivers who are more interested in paying attention to their phones than actually driving and individuals who stubbornly refuse to yield an inch to a runner who has no recourse other than to run on the shoulder of the road because of a lack of sidewalk.  We have had people deliberately drive straddling the white line, forcing us off the shoulder of the road.  We have had drivers come flying up to a stop sign, tap their brakes and fly through the stop, all so they don’t have to wait on us to cross the road.  We have come close to being hit because we have been crossing an intersection and someone who stopped after we were already in the crosswalk blew through the stop as quickly as possible, nearly colliding with us.  Many times, it is deliberate.  Other times, it is out of inattention.  Regardless of the intentions behind the actions, it makes it very difficult to run with comfort.  Alertness and awareness are hugely important, every time we step out the front door to go running.

Despite this danger, there exist those people who are the exact opposite: those drivers who communicate with us, even if it is just with a hand signal, so we know what they are doing and they know what we are doing.  They are aware of us out there, giving us room to safely run on the shoulder when we have no other recourse.  They pay attention to the road and driving instead of everything but.  We appreciate this type of driver very much.  We also appreciate the positive, uplifting people with whom we come in contact when we are running.

In the beginning, many people were rude and negative, making nasty comments as we would run.  Now, however, we come across many more people willing to communicate words of encouragement while we run.  This past week, a fellow runner commented to my husband that he was out there running because of the motivation my husband demonstrated by getting out there nearly every day and running.  A lady drove past me the other day and asked if the man she sees running all the time is my husband.  She then asked me how much weight he has dropped since he started running, to which I answered 57 lbs.  (On a side note, my husband was a powerlifter for several years with a LOT of muscle mass.  He still carries a lot of muscle, but he has gradually been dropping the excess mass and weight with all of the running we do.)  Before driving off, the woman shared that people have been taking notice of what we are doing and to keep up the great work.  I thanked her as she drove off.  Earlier that same run, a couple of young men stopped at a four-way stop to let my daughter and me cross the road safely.  As they drove off, they waved and said, “Have a safe run out there!”

I can’t tell you all enough how much of a difference this type of interaction makes.  While we must maintain heightened awareness due to others who are not nearly so considerate with their driving or positive with their words, each interaction we experience that is similar to the above experiences provides a glimpse into the goodness of humanity and exemplifies positive interaction between total strangers.  Thank you to all of you who take that moment to slow down and give space for safe running.  Thank you for the positive comments and the thumbs up you give, the friendly hellos and waves of the hand.  They are appreciated more than you might know and more than we are able to convey.  Keep it up!  Our days are so much brighter because of you!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Highs and Lows of Running: Appreciating Both

One of the things I am finding as I continue progressing in my running is the frequency with which I vacillate between the highs and lows of running.  One run, I will feel light as air and another run on the very next day, I feel as though my legs are made of concrete.  Who am I kidding, though?  This vacillation occurs within runs, not just from run to run.  I know it is just a part of the experience of running.  It has been part of the journey from the beginning.  I guess what is so amazing is the increasing frequency with which I experience the highs of running and the joy that comes with it.  These highs make the lows more bearable for me.  Yesterday’s six-miler was difficult at best.  The first four miles, I felt as though my legs were along only for the ride they were getting from my upper body dragging them behind, they felt that heavy.  I almost started walking at mile three.

When the thoughts about walking began creeping in, I was able to quash them quickly by remembering my long run from the previous week, in which I felt like my feet had wings.  I told myself to push through the deadness and I would get to the other side of it mid-run and feel better, or I would have the satisfaction of having completed my run regardless of how bad my legs felt.  I pushed on and I am glad I did.  Around mile four, everything loosened up and I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit and bring it home strong.  If I would have listened to that nagging, negative voice inside my head and walked, I wouldn’t have experienced being able to push through the tiredness, an experience important to developing into an endurance runner, because of the amount of time one must spend running and the distance required.  Since running ultra-distances is my ultimate desire in running, yesterday was a huge accomplishment.  I know what it feels like to push through.  I know that mentally I am capable.  I know my body does not have to rule my choices and my current mental state does not have to be the end-all decision.  I know I can dig deep and keep pushing on.

On the flipside of yesterday’s run was my long distance run last week, which I alluded to earlier.  I had not experienced what I went through during that run on any previous run, ever.  When I set out, it took just a short time to get into a good rhythm with my pace, my breathing, and my heart rate.  Everything just seemed to be working in tandem.  Before I knew it, I was at mile six of 9.6 miles.  I thought to myself, “Wow.  How did I get here so quick?”  The next thing I knew, I was crossing an intersection I couldn’t believe I had already approached.  It felt like I should have been only halfway through my run, and yet, I was nearly three-quarters of the way home.

My body and legs felt as though they were light as a feather, gliding through the air, just barely skimming the surface of the pavement as I ran.  I passed landmarks I felt I shouldn’t have been passing yet.  The miles just kept falling away, until I was in the final mile headed towards home, my least favorite section of all my runs because of the slow, steady climb that seems to drive my heart rate through the roof, regardless of how my heart rate has been through the rest of the run.  Ah, but not so on that day.  That mile fell by the wayside in the same manner the rest of the run had.  It was a wonderful, fantastic experience.  I can’t wait to experience it again, no matter how long it takes.  I know as I get to my running weight, I will experience it more than I do now.  I also know it will not be part of my experience every time I run, or even every other time I run.  What I am finding is that because of the experience of the low points, I treasure the high moments.  I relished that run and I keep that experience tucked away where I can revisit it at any time I wish to do so.  As I sit here writing about it, I can feel the emotional experience I had and I feel the mental uplift.  I can feel the sensations I experienced physically as I ran, even though I am not physically running.  This, this is yet another reason why I run, why I am pursuing this journey with a level of passion previously unknown to me.

What are you passionate about and how do you pursue those passions?  Do you experience highs and lows as you chase your dreams?