Are you made to run?

Just the other day I was running with someone who seemed certain that she would not be able to become a faster runner.  She stated that she had been running since she was 12 and was always pushing herself towards improvement. She made sure to note that her running form was top-notch (especially in comparison to whatever I was doing to propel myself forward).  It didn’t make sense to her that I could actually run as fast as I do.

Well, I will tell you that the speed does not happen overnight.  I remember the days when I ran 12-minute miles and I thought that was difficult.  Then I slowly improved my pace (yes, even as I aged!).  Actually, when I started the Team in Training season last fall I was content with running 10-minute miles.  And there are times when a 10-minute mile is better than a 7-minute mile… like when you have to maintain that pace for 26.2 miles.  However, I basked in glory on those shorter distance days when I was able to run an 8:30.  After I finished the marathon, I became speed hungry. Speed became my focus.  Afterall, I wanted to become faster than my husband.  Somehow I pushed harder than I have ever pushed before.  I ran with the fast crew and I sprinted up and down bridges.  I nearly made myself throw up half the time.  Yet, it was fun at the same time that is was challenging.  I nearly doubled over with pride when I realized I had managed to get a mile down to 7:30.  But to stay there, I really had to work at it.  Additionally, I knew that just a few quality running sessions each week was better than trying to quantify the miles.  My muscles just work better when they have a chance to repair themselves.

I’m sure I could still run faster, but I don’t feel the need to.  I am happy where I am at right now.  Some of you believe that it just isn’t possible to get your body to move any faster.  Well, based on my own experiences, it is possible but you have to really want it and you have to really work for it.  The same goes for running longer distances.  Somehow over the past year I have managed to make the impossible seem possible.  A positive attitude is the only way to achieve this along with proper training and nutrition.

However, I will say that most of us are at a disadvantage in one way or another.  Some of us have more hurdles to jump over than others.  Most of us know that males typically run faster than females (with the exception of my husband) or at least they have the capability to do so and it seems to happen with less training.  Additionally, there are other factors besides gender.  I have recently been reading The Runner’s Body by Dr. Tucker & Dr. Dugas and came across a list of factors that contribute to a better running economy.  These include: “smaller than normal stature” (not much hope for tall folks), “long-limbed and lean” (so I am guessing a small torso with long limbs… kind of makes me think of an ape), “low body fat” (yet, it also states that too low isn’t good either), “smaller calves” (don’t get too beefy), and “a narrow pelvis and smaller feet” (that blows my size 11 feet right out the window).  Most of the factors can’t be helped because you are born with what you got.  Other factors you might be able to work on:  “lightweight, but well cushioned” shoes, a stride length that is “freely chosen” and it goes on to state that “artificially changing yours will reduce the economy of movement” (ha!), and “the less vertical movement, the better” (oops, I guess I shouldn’t be swinging my arms so much).  So, this basically states that there are some things you just can’t physically improve, but there are a few areas where it might help.

However, that’s only part of it.  Proper training and nutrition are another story for another time.  The moral of this: Don’t fret if you struggle (especially if you don’t match the criteria listed above), but remember that struggling is what you need to do in order to get ahead.  I may think that a 12-minute mile is easy now, but it took me a long time and a lot of dedication to get here.  Now, if you asked me to get on a bike, I would probably fall over before I even got it in motion.

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My Mother

I have decided to dedicate this blog to my mother, Wendy.  She is no longer here to sign me up for races, to show me how to use the gym equipment and to encourage me to run with her around the block.  Those memories sound very pleasant, don’t they?  Actually, it was more like this:  My mom signed me up for races regardless of whether or not I wanted to walk or run any race and would drag me kicking and screaming to the car.  My mom would bore me with daily trips to the gym because she had no else to watch me while she did her workouts.  My mom would run ahead of me and tell me to keep moving as we went around a VERY LARGE block… it had a perimeter of at least 2 miles!  Yes, I was the complaining little girl and even more so as a teenager (so I hear, but I am not sure if I really believe it… I couldn’t have been anything shy of an angel).

Then it happened.  Wait for it… Yes, I grew up.  I became more active.  I actually LIKED exercising just a little.  Or maybe it was just the late teen period of freaking out because I thought I was getting fat.  Whatever… it worked.  I remember when my mom asked me to go with her to the Portland Marathon and watch her run.  She suggested that I participate in one of the shorter runs (like the 5K).  Surprisingly, I agreed without any complaint.  I was actually looking forward to seeing my mom in action.  I finally felt proud of her and her accomplishments.  I was so determined to go with her that weekend that I ended up having to quit my job.  For some reason the IHOP manager was not pleased when I asked for a weekend off.  Oh well, I was tired of smelling like pancakes anyway.  I hopped on a plane and flew to Oregon.

I remember the spaghetti dinner that night.  I didn’t quite understand why they were serving spaghetti, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t too picky when it came to spaghetti (a different story now…).  In the hotel room that night, my mom laid out her clothes for the race and pinned on her race bib.  I don’t even remember what I brought to wear for my race.  I probably had a pair of cheap sneakers from Wal-Mart and cotton shorts and a cotton shirt.  Obviously, I was not yet a real runner.  The next morning I know we must have woken up early, but that part is foggy.  Since I was only nineteen, I would suspect that I was not an expert in early morning wake-ups (but now I am… ha!).  I was able to see my mom off to her starting line as I made my way to mine.  She gave me an approximate time to be at the finish line.  A few hours sounded like forever to me.  How could anyone run for that long??

I was just thankful that I was heading to my little 5K.  I was clueless to how far a 5K even was.  It couldn’t be that far.  I definitely don’t recall any training involved.  I do remember not having fun on the hilly portions of the course.  I think I was pretty much dying and wishing that it would end already.  Yep, I think I probably only felt relief when I crossed the finish line.  Somehow I mustered the energy to collect my seedling (yes, they were handing out little trees as prizes) and rest for a while before I had to get up and walk back to the finish line.  Soon enough, there she was.  My mom was crossing the finish line with a wide smile on her face.  I couldn’t understand how someone could smile after running 26.2 miles and then be happy limping around afterwards.  It made no sense to me at all.

Now it makes all the sense in the world.  Now I understand what my mom was feeling.  Now I know what it must have been like for her to lay in bed because her back pain would not allow her to walk, let alone run.  Now I know how I would feel if I could no longer run.  I have to keep going.  I have to make new goals.  I have to keep running in her memory.   By the time she was 44, she never saw me cross a finish line with a smile on my face.  By then, it was too late.  I can only hope that she is watching me now.  I hope that she is proud of the runner I have become.  I never thanked her for showing me how it’s done.

What’s Next?

Well, I just finished one of the most successful races I have ever run, so what now?  Is there more?  Oh, there is always more to be had even if you think you have done all that you could do to improve.  I’m not sure if I could get any faster (and I’m not sure if I even want to), but a half-marathon in under 2 hours now seems very realistic.  Do I want to run a faster marathon?  Sure.  I guess for a runner it is always about beating your own PR (personal record) for each distance.  You could definitely focus on this type of goal for years.  Everyone has their own idea of “fast” and “slow” and I think that regardless of what you choose to focus on you have to ENJOY it.  I know that I will never be as fast as an elite runner, but that isn’t a goal of mine.  I just want to be faster than myself 🙂  Okay, faster than my husband also works (even if only for a day)!

It is often difficult to focus on speed at the same time you are trying to increase your distance.  It just isn’t realistic to run a marathon at a 5K pace.  Speed training does help you become a more efficient runner at your slower pace though.  Therefore, I would recommend it for anyone who is a runner.  It also makes running more challenging and fun!

I also realized today that another challenge is running while pushing a jogging stroller.  Yep, my pace was significantly slowed due to the extra effort of propelling the stroller forward in a straight line.  It also feels awkward because you can’t really swing your arms to provide that extra momentum.  I’m sure that my running form was not improved with this new addition.  I guess this jogging stroller challenge gives me something else to work on.  There is never a dull moment.

In the long term, I have another goal of helping others train for and finish half-marathons and full marathons.  This means that I will need to shift my focus from my needs to the needs of others.  When I am out there running with my group, I want to help them become better runners.  I think that anyone can learn to love running if they just give it a try.  It does take a few weeks to get into the grove, but the payoff is well worth the effort!  I think the best part of it will be watching my team cross the finish line, especially if they previously thought that they could never finish a half or full marathon.  If I can do it, then anyone can.  Many people don’t know that I was not at all athletic during my childhood.  My mom did force me to run a few races, but I complained the entire time.  In school, I focused on my academics and dreaded P.E.  I did try out for volleyball once, but got DENIED.  Yes, I was the nerd, not the jock.  It just goes to show that you don’t have to have a history of athletics in order to become an athlete.  And yes, when you are out there running at whatever pace you enjoy, you are an athlete!

So, what’s next?  Well, there is still plenty to achieve.  I guess that means that I will always have something to write about.

The Ultimate Victory

Sure, I just finished a marathon in a decent amount of time.  And yes, I just managed to run the fastest 5K I have ever attempted.  Yet, neither of those accomplishments can surpass what I just did today.  Today was the victory of all victories.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that happened to present itself today.  And I took it with all I had.  The victory is mine!

Oh, let me back up a few years… about 8 1/2 to be exact.  Lets go back to the time when I met my husband.  We were at Coast Guard training.  I liked him.  He liked me.  He was very athletic.  I wasn’t, but somehow I managed to pass the physical requirements to get into the program.  Well, we didn’t really have much time alone so we figured that the best way to get to know each other would be to run together in our free time.  I suppose he must have done all the talking because I know I must have mustered all of my energy and lung capacity to keep up with him.  I knew that he was running very slow in order to maintain my pace.  But that is what we do when we like someone, right?  🙂

Yeah, he ended up getting the physical fitness award for our group.  He was in prime shape and I was, well, just me.  Then things started to happen.  We got married, we moved (many times) and had three kids.  Somewhere during all of that chaos, he started running less and I actually started running like someone who likes running.  I even signed up for races, like half-marathons!  My husband did his thing and sometimes he would run the race and sometimes he would just cheer me on at the finish.  Actually, he could do both at the same time because he was always at the finish well ahead of me.  What really irritated me was the fact that he could just run a race without even training for it while I worked my butt off to get myself to the finish line.

As most of you know, just recently, I started running a whole lot.  Loads of running with some half-marathons and marathons mixed in to keep it goal oriented.  I remember the first half-marathon after giving birth to my third child.  Not my best time, but I was proud no less… seriously, I had just given birth 3 months prior to the event.  No surprise that my husband flew by and made great time.  But that wasn’t even close to being the end for me.  I was in serious training mode and I ran my first marathon just months later.  At the same time, my husband was not so focused on running.  Oh, he is intent on completing an Ironman Triatholon by the end of the year, but he has been on the bike and in the pool and not so often out pounding pavement.

I saw all of these changes as a chance to turn things around.  The Gate River Run 15K was in my sights.  A week ago I asked my husband if he wanted to run with me and you know what he said??  That he would be mad at himself if I made it to the finish line first.  Well, how is that supposed to make me feel?  Yes, you said it:  super competitive.  So, on Tuesday night I worked hard on speed and I told my running buddy that my only goal for the race was to beat my husband.  I didn’t have a time like most people set their sights on.  No, I could care less about the time.  I just wanted to BEAT him!  As we ran the bridges fast that night I thought about how I did have one advantage… I am GOOD at bridges.  They don’t scare me in the slightest.  Actually, they get my adrenaline pumping even more and somehow I can move my legs faster than most people.  So, the plan I had formulated in my head was to stay behind him for the first 8 miles and then pass him on the bridge that leads to mile 9 and then bring it home!

Soon it was the morning of the race.  I was standing next to some of the members of the running group I often participate in (the one with the really fast women who keep me going) and next to my husband.  As soon as we passed the starting line, he took off in a sprint.  There was nothing I could do because it was a mess of runners in all directions.  He was wearing the blue race shirt that like half of the other runners were wearing! I lost him right then and there.  I didn’t even make it a half mile.  All I could think was that I just needed to keep moving fast.  And that is just what I did.  I don’t even know what happened to the rest of the group because I was so intent on propelling forward.  By the time I got to mile 2 I was a little scared.  I was worried that maybe I had started off too fast.  What if I die during the last half of the race?  No, don’t think negative thoughts Heidi!  I have read that positive thoughts can actually make you stronger so I just kept thinking about how I would catch my husband.  I spent most of my time scanning the crowd ahead of me so I had little time to think about how my legs felt like they might fall off or how I felt like I was choking on air.  I kept telling myself that I should probably slow down, but that didn’t really happen.  My body did force me to slow down, but my pace was a lot better than I ever expected it would be halfway through the race.

Then, around mile 8, there it was.  The bridge.  I had never been on this bridge because it doesn’t have a sidewalk so people can’t legally run on it (that doesn’t stop some runners).  It looked very long… very, very long.  And my legs were feeling weak… very, very weak.  I started up slowly, but then I saw the fast woman from the running group and I passed her so that only gave me more motivation to increase my speed.  I was passing people left and right.  Ha!  They don’t seem to be a fan of bridges!  Then there was this really loud, obnoxious music coming out of the speakers near the top of the bridge.  I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings because I was waiting for the downhill portion of the bridge to show itself.  And thats when I saw HIM.  Yes, my husband was right there in front of me.  I just said “hey” as I continued running past him. Then the downhill side of the bridge stretched before me.  I ran as fast as my legs could carry me down that hill.  I didn’t even risk using energy to look behind me.  I feared that every runner passing me was my husband.  I couldn’t let that happen.  Not now.  Not when I am this close.  I just pounded the pavement not caring what I was doing to my body.  I will pay for that later.  For now, I just need to cross that finish line.  Then there was a curve in the course and all of these people were there cheering us on.  I totally thought it was the end of the line so I started sprinting around the bend just to find out that the finish was not there.  It was at least another 0.1 miles further!  I nearly ran out of steam.  I have no idea how I looked when I crossed that finish line, but all I can say is that I was so proud that I made it there before my husband did.  He wasn’t far behind, but he was still BEHIND.  This time, I had to wait for him.

This will probably be the only time that this will ever occur, but it will forever remain in my memory as one of the best moments of my running career.