Thursday, March 18, 2010

What running has taught me...

November 2, 2009 @ 3:20 p.m.:  My first run.  It was terrible.  I could barely run for one minute.  The Couch 2 5K plan didn't quite fit my condition.  It was more like Coma 2 5K.  I hated it!  My almost 41 year old body reacted strongly against my plan to be a "real runner".  If it hadn't been for the group accountability, it would have been my last run.  Now, I've been running for more than four months.  I've battled very painful shin splints, asthma flair ups, interruptions in my training schedule, and unusually bad weather--but I didn't stop.  I've also finished one 5K and am training for another in a few weeks.  I won't go so far as to say I like running, but I don't despise it anymore.  I actually, kind of, sort of, almost look forward to it on some days, and I always love the way I feel afterwards.  My progress has not been as swift as I had hoped, but I don't want to go back to my pre-running self.  (For those of you wondering, this skinny running girl in the photo above is NOT me.  I do have those pants, though.)

On my run today, I was thinking of all the "lessons" I've learned since I've started running.  They may not "rock your world", but I guess they're worth mentioning.  I ran long enough to come up with 9 lessons. 

1.  Change is hard.  Any change is hard.  I have to make the daily decision to keep making the change; to move.  Some days I move slowly and I don't get very far.  Other days I could move faster and farther if I just had more time.  The point is, I choose to move.  It's never easy.  I have to plan time to run, and somedays it's a real sacrifice for my family.  The change has to be a priority, or it will never be a reality.  If you decide to change something, just know it's going to be hard.  It's why the vast majority of New Year's resolutions are broken in the first few weeks.  Change is just stinkin hard.
2.  Most of the tough stuff is in your head. How many times have I lost sleep over something that turned out to be much less than I had feared?  My mind can get away from me so easily.  I guess I'm a worrier, a fidgeter, and a "worst case scenario" kind of person.  My mind can totally defeat me before I've ever left the starting gate.  Running is hard physically (and I mean hard), but the real challenge is mental.  I have always hated running, mostly due to the fact that running was the punishment for  negative behavior throughout my school athletics "career".  "You missed five foul shots!  That's five killers (or suicides)!"  "You took a third strike!  How about you run laps until you throw up!"  Fun stuff like that.  Mentally, running = failure.  I had done something wrong, so I had to run to make up for it.  I had to overcome the negative mental association I had about running.  I think I've done it, but it's still such a mental task to run.  There are some days when I'm aware of every single step and every labored breath.  Running on a treadmill is a particularly difficult task for me.  It's sooooo boring!  I try to watch television, but I don't run in my glasses and I'm so blind I can't tell what's going on.  I'm trying to train myself to think about anything BUT the running.  I'll let you know if I ever succeed with that one.  Running outside gives me something else to focus on (birds, the breeze blowing my curls, trees, a vicious poodle biting at my ankles...distractions.  The mental challenge is by far the greater battle, as it often is for me in life.

3.  Knowing someone is counting on you to show up is a lot of pressure.  I mentioned that I began running with a group.  I can't tell you how many times the only reason I was showing up to run was the accountability to the group.  Just that little push from a "teammate" may be all you need.  It's much harder to bail when there are other people planning on you being there.  We've talked about how we keep each other going.  We send uplifting emails and texts; we have matching shirts and headbands.  None of us have quit, so I guess the group thing really works.  I had tried to run on my own before joining this group, but I never made it more than a few days.  Now, we have bonded over our pain and the fact that we never want to return to our pre-running selves.  We can't imagine having to start over.  Working with a group just makes me perform better.

4.  I'm a better Mom because I run.  This can be a tough, guilt filled, lesson.  Let's face it, running is more time away from my kids.  It's time just for me.  It's more time away from my responsibilities.  I have less time for laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. because I choose to run.  But, I think I'm a better Mom because I run.  I have more energy and it relieves a lot of stress.  My daughter is proud of me and I think I'm a better example for her.  I don't want her to wait until she's three weeks shy of 41 to get active.  I hope we'll be able to run together soon.

5.  Goal setting is really important.  If my running group had not set a goal to run a 5K, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it.  When we actually did run the Scenic City 5K in February, we had a blast!  Who would have thunk it?  We immediately registered for another race to keep a goal in front of us.  I live most of my life minute to minute without a gameplan.  I don't recommend it.  I wonder how many people go through life with no goals?  I hope to do a better job of goal setting in the rest of my life.  But, right now I've got a race on April 17th to train for and I want to beat my previous race time.     

6.  Change one thing at a time.  Now that I'm a "real runner", it's time to change my eating habits.  If I had tried to "diet" at the same time I started running, I would have failed miserably.  My appetite has increased because of the running, so I can't imagine how challenging it would have been to lowered my calorie intake when I was starting out.  Now, it's time.  I can't justify the bags of Christmas/Valentine's Day/Easter candy and Girl Scout cookies any longer.  I've got to learn to eat for "fuel" instead of just "filling the tank".  I think people often try to change everything that's wrong at one time (think New Year's Resolutions).  Running has taught me to take on one challenge at a time.

7.  Results take time.  I'm not going to run a 1/2 marathon anytime soon.  It's still a challenge for me to run the first mile.  Running has taught me that real change takes a lot of time.  I've read that the majority of new runners overtrain and are then plagued by injuries.  Most of them quit.  I really wish I could take a six mile run a couple of times a week, but I'm just not there yet.  I do try to push myself to do a little more each week, but I'm trying to be patient with my progress.  I think people like to see quick results.  I know I do.  But, I want to make a life change so I guess it's going to take more than four months.

8.  Rest is essential.  I don't rest well.  I often have trouble sleeping and, as I mentioned, my mind never seems to slow down.  Once I'm awake, I'm awake (thanks Mom!).  Running has taught me how important resting, mind and body, really is.  I've slept a lot better since I've been running.  I also need a break in between runs.  If I push myself too hard, I just can't perform.  Some days I'm so tired, I'm happy to get one mile under me.  Those are the days I didn't respect that rest is essential.  I see a lot of people never take a minute to rest.  Our lives are so out of control busy that we've adapted to not resting.  That was me until I started running.  Now, my body won't let me not rest.  I'm still not good at clearing away the day and really relaxing, but one thing at a time.

9.  Every breath is a gift.  If there's one thing running will teach you quickly, it's that breathing is way underrated.  We become so unaware of our breathing that we don't even realize when we're holding our breath.  I used to take aerobic classes (ugh!) and the trainers would often say, "Don't forget to breathe!" or "Don't hold your breath!"  It sounded odd to me at the time, but then I would catch myself not breathing.  I took a few Yoga classes (another story for another time) and so much of the focus is on breathing.  A good, deep, cleansing breath is wonderful--but sometimes hard to come by.  I am trying to learn to breathe "correctly" while I run.  Because of my asthma, this has been a challenge.  There are times I've almost hyperventilated because I couldn't get a deep breath.  Very frustrating.  On days when my breathing is good, I can run so much farther and I feel so much better.  Each deep breath is rewarding.  Now, I'm trying to concentrate more on my regular breathing during the day.  Call it relaxation or whatever, but I think I was going all day most days without taking a deep breath.  It's just another change I'm working through.  But, running has certainly taught me that every breath is a gift.

I am really glad that I laced up my spiffy new running shoes a little over four months ago and started running.  I am really proud that I've kept it up.  If you've always wanted to run, find a few friends and form a group, set a goal, and push each other.  If I can do it, anyone can.  Take it, literally, one step at a time (just like life).  Run a race and proudly wear your t-shirt.  Who knows who you could be influencing? 

See you on the road...

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