Run to Remember

I am dedicating this post to my friend.  A friend who has been through far too many unfortunate circumstances.  A friend who was there to give me the nudge I needed in order to make the smallest of sacrifices for something greater than myself.   He once told me that my sacrifice of limiting my pizza and beer intake the night before a long run (yeah, not even a big deal in the larger scheme of things) was well worth the cause that I was running for.  And he understands this more than most because of his own connection to the cause.

One of the reasons why I started running again last year was to raise money for cancer research through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  When I joined and started training, I never expected to meet such a great group of people.  People were there walking and running long distances in order to make a difference. Running became more than my own personal sanctuary.  I wasn’t just running for myself.  I think I sometimes lost sight of this and it became more of an inward movement.  Then something would happen or someone would share a story and I would once again be turned outward.

The next season for Team in Training is fast approaching.  Once again, I will be running so that others may live and I will be encouraging others to do the same.  Not only that, but we will be running to keep the memories alive for those who are no longer with us.  It isn’t easy to reach this depth during a run, but reflection tends to seep into our thoughts.  More often than not, I think about how lucky I am for what I have regardless of what challenges have presented themselves to me throughout my lifetime.

I run so that I may live.  I also run so that others may live.  When it is too late, all I have left to offer is the the promise that  I will run so that the memories of those not with us can be remembered.

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The Next Generation

Okay, so most of you know by now that my mother was a runner.  I am sure she is still a runner wherever she is right now because I would only imagine a place where pure happiness outranks any other emotion. Thanks to her, I am now a runner.  And as fate would have it, my daughter appears to be exploring the same road.

As I encouraged my daughter to do her first fun run with me a few months ago, I reflected back to when my mother “encouraged” me to run similar races.  Unfortunately, at that time, I considered running to be a form of torture (quite a different feeling now).  My mom, being as competitive as she was, may have pushed me too hard.  My memory is vague, but I don’t recall being ecstatic about finishing a race.  I also wasn’t at all interested in just running around the block for fun.  On top of that, I DREADED those mile runs we had to do in school for P.E.  Oh my gosh.  I was totally the one at the back of the pack walking as much as I possibly could until I was yelled at and told to “pick up the pace.”  Yep, your typical non-athletic school girl who was way more interested in reading books (and of course calling boys and hanging up when they answered).

In the athletic domain, my mother was the perfect example, yet I chose not to follow (at least not right away).  However, we now live in a society where children are becoming obese at an alarming rate and kids spend more time in front of the t.v. playing videos games or watching meaningless cartoons.  I guess after giving birth to my first child, I realized that I needed to set a good example and I would go beyond my parents to include the idea that smoking is not good for your and greasy or processed foods shouldn’t be served every night for dinner (sorry for that jab, but some things are just obviously unhealthy).

So, here I am, working hard to be a healthy mom for my kids.  I have to try even harder than most people because I want to ensure that I live longer than my mother did.  I want my kids to be healthy and be encouraged to do the activities that they enjoy.  Part of a job of a parent is allowing children to try out different activities and dismiss the ones that they do not enjoy.  When I first introduced my daughter to running, I wanted her to like it.  Obviously, I enjoy running so I naturally assumed that she would. However, after reflecting on my own childhood experiences, I realized that this may not be the case.  I had to open myself up to the idea that my daughter might not want to run.

I guess I can say that so far I am lucky.  I try not to be a pushy mom coach, but it does happen sometimes.  I have that strong sense of competitiveness that I sometimes need to push deep down inside until it is appropriate for me to bring it out.  I don’t want to be one of those moms who expect way too much and end up pushing their children over the edge.  However, there is nothing wrong with high expectations as long as you know the limits and are always thinking in the best interest of your children.

So, I encouraged my daughter to run and she ran.  Then, she took it upon herself to request more opportunities to run.  Naturally, I was thrilled and began signing her up for more races.  Actually, she just completed one on her own this past weekend.  She ran it without me and recorded her best time since she started running.  Well, that just tells me that this is all her.  She has become her own motivator.  I was just there to get the gears in motion… now she can move her legs and fly.   Maybe she will continue in this direction or maybe she will choose a different path, but my job, as mom, is to just let her go in whichever direction she chooses.

Why Run?

Okay, so someone recently mentioned that running was a form a torture.  Therefore, why would I torture myself?  Hmmm, that is a good question.  I guess the easiest way to answer that question is to say that I don’t consider it torture.  Yeah, sometimes I test my limits, but I still keep coming back for more.  If you ask me, I think that I could torture myself in worse ways.  I could sit in traffic for hours during a long commute to work or I could jump out of an airplane with nothing but a piece of fabric to bring me safely to the ground, or better yet, I could stay inside all day with my three girls (okay, okay… I love them very much, but parenting isn’t ALL fun and games :).

No, running is actually the opposite of torture for me.  It is like going to a tropical island and sitting on the beach drinking mai tai’s with no one else in sight.  Seriously, it is pretty much a vacation for me.  I did just mention that I have three kids!  It is one of my few escapes from reality.  I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself and I have the freedom to go where I want to go (well, except for when I have to succumb to the dreaded treadmill).  Not only do I run to escape, but I run to feel good about myself in health and mind. Surprisingly, I have more energy on the days when I run and I just feel that sense of accomplishment when I finish a really great run.  Running has just become a part of who I am.

Everyone has their reasons as to why they choose to run.  Some people start running to lose weight.  I have to say that it worked for me after all three of my pregnancies!  Running burns twice as many calories than walking the same distance (actually, it burns more calories than most other activities, especially when you get into that interval training).  Some people just have a goal in mind, like finishing a half-marathon or a full marathon (maybe it is on their bucket list) and they train to finish.  Those goal-oriented runners may stop running when they have reached their goal or they may continue setting new goals (totally happened to me).  I think that running can actually become very addicting.  Hey, at least it is a healthy addiction (smokers tend to have issues running… something about not being able to breathe).  Running is something that you can take with you far into your later years.  You gotta love it when the really old couple passes you at mile 18.

Running is a great way to make friends.  During most of your runs, you should be able to sustain a decent conversation with someone who is running close to your own pace.  It is easier to run when time seems to fly by as you discuss your aches and pains, recent running gear purchases and upcoming races.  This naturally creates more happiness in your life and can bring you from a low to a high.  The other great thing about running is that there are so many events centered around the activity.  Just in Jacksonville, for example, there are races nearly every weekend.  Sure, it can get spendy, but at least you can choose a few great races each year.  It also gives you an excuse to travel to new locations.  And can you believe that they now offer running races on certain cruise lines?  I was just excited to have the opportunity to run through Disney World before the park actually opened to the general public… and we even went backstage :).

Sure, some people just don’t like to run.  I just hope that they at least gave it a good try before they came to that conclusion.  You really need to do it for 6 weeks, 3 times a week, before you can say that you don’t like it. However, I will say that I don’t like jumping out of an airplane before I actually try it because I will never bring myself on to an airplane with only a parachute strapped to my back.  No thank you.

Running Form 101

Now it’s not a question of knowing what to do, it is a matter of getting my body to actually do it.  As far as coaching goes, this may be one of those “do as I say and not as I do” topics.  Or, here is what NOT to do.  Okay, okay,  I don’t think I should give up too soon (because you shouldn’t either).

So, I decided to sign up for a free class on good form running.  How could I not?  I had been told that I have poor form on many occasions and I have seen the countless race photographs depicting my uncanny form in motion.  At least I am a teacher and I know that if I want to help others learn I have to continue to improve as well.  Therefore, I will share with you what I learned.

There are basically four important factors to remember when keeping good form during running: a straight posture, striking mid-foot, a slight lean forward and a cadence of about 180 steps per minute.

1. Posture:  Stay relaxed, with your feet straight ahead and shoulders down.  The elbows should be locked at 90 degrees and your arms should not cross your mid-section at any time.  Your eyes should be focused straight ahead (okay, if you have tripping issues like me, then glancing down every now and then is reasonable).  Always keep your knees slightly bent in order to absorb the shock of impact.

2.  Lean:  Lean from the ankles and not the knees.  A slight lean forward allows gravity to help you and you don’t work your calf muscles as hard.

3.  Land on your mid-foot:  Do not land on your heel or your toes.  The leg that is trailing behind should become parallel to the ground.  If you keep your knees flexed and land on your mid-foot, then this allows the muscles to absorb the impact (instead of your bones).  You should practice before you start running by marching in place.

4.  Cadence:  Try to aim for 180 steps for minutes.  This takes time and practice to figure out.  You can use a stopwatch and count the number of right foot strikes for 20 seconds and then multiply by 6.  You should barely hear your feet hitting the ground.

So, they decided to videotape us before providing us with any of this information.  Then we had to replay it for everyone to see so that the instructor could point out what we shouldn’t be doing.  Just let me tell you that at least 90% of those folks were landing on their heal.  A big no no!  I was one of those people.  Not only does this leave us prone to injury, but it slows us down (and causes other issues like my knee knocking and flailing legs).  If you land on your mid-foot underneath your body, then you are better able to propel yourself forward with the momentum (and greater surface area touching the ground).

Another issue noted in the video was that the runners tended to crunch up their shoulders and keep their arms high. The shoulders should be relaxed and you should swing back and forth using your forearms (which reduces the rotation of your upper body… a movement that causes you to bounce too much so you put energy into going up and down instead of forward).

Yep, so there I was with all of this information wondering how I was going to put it together.  It seemed to work okay when I ran alongside one of the instructors.  I was actually pretty excited and thought that it wasn’t as hard as I thought.  Then I said thanks and headed out alone for a 4-mile run.  So there I was, focused on standing straight with a slight lean, swinging my forearms while trying to relax my shoulders, focusing on the mid-foot and counting my steps.  Whew!  Way too much to focus on at one time!  I decided to try one step out at a time.  First I would think about my posture, then I would move on to my arm swing, and next on to my feet… and you get the point.  Well, I am not really sure how it worked out because when I returned back to the first step I think I was already back to my old habits. On top of that, I was going so SLOW and it was making me frustrated.  I finally made it back to my car more tired than I have been in a long time.

Okay, so I didn’t see results overnight, but I am at least smart enough to know that it just doesn’t happen that way.  I think I will try to work on one piece at a time over the next few runs.  I would recommend the same for you.  It was slightly embarrassing watching myself run on video (especially in front of the whole class), but I learned a lot about my running form.  Now I find myself slowing down in my car if I see someone running down the street so I can check out their form (yes, I’m sure they think I am a stalker).  I plan to videotape myself in about a month to see if anything  has changed.  If it helps, then great.  If not, then it just wasn’t meant to be.  It should always be about what feels right for you and leaves you injury-free… everyone is different.

Running Just to Be Me

As a veteran and a current military spouse, I know that the ability to remain flexible and open-minded is the key to survival in a world that constantly shifts.  Over a year and a half ago I was brought to Florida.  It was not by choice.  I was a very unhappy person.  I remember the day when my husband called me at work to tell me that it was official… we were moving to Florida.  I just hung up the phone and cried.  I could not believe that I was going to have to leave behind my family and friends and move all the way across the United States!  Needless to say, I would have been happy if they sent us to Alaska (that would have been about the same distance I suppose), but I was not having it with this Florida gig.  For one thing, I would choose cold, snowy weather over hot, humid weather any day.  Second, I am not a fan of big, ugly, nasty bugs.  Oh, I also don’t like the idea of snakes and alligators wandering through my yard!

It was a very depressing goodbye.  A tearful goodbye to one of my favorite towns.  Goodbye to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Goodbye to a wonderful school to work at.  Goodbye to all of the parks and museums.  Goodbye to the quaint, little coffee shops that I adore.  Okay, you get the picture.  Saying goodbye sucked.

I know I did mention something about being flexible and open-minded.  I tried to think about the positive aspects of moving:  being able to buy a house, exploring new places, making new friends, actually being able to swim in the ocean without a wetsuit, wearing flip flops and tank tops year round, etc.  So, for the first few months, I focused on those things.  I even found a teaching job to keep me busy.  However, it wasn’t soon until I realized that there was a void I couldn’t fill.   To make a long story short, I was unhappy and didn’t know how to turn it around.  I couldn’t quite make the connections I needed to make.  I had my husband and my girls, but I needed something separate; I needed something that was just me.

Then, nearly a year later, I made a decision.  I told myself that I would once again become involved in Team in Training.  My goal:  to run a marathon.  Not only did I run a marathon and raise money for cancer research, but I was once again doing something I enjoyed and I was doing it for myself.  The added bonus was that I made great friends along the way.

I reflect back to this trying time because of what I did today.  Well, what do I do most days?  I run.  The different thing about today’s run was that I finally had a realization.  Today I realized that am lucky because I found my passion.  Not only did I find something that I enjoy doing, but I found a great friend who enjoys the same thing.  When my alarm went off this morning I was really hoping that I could just turn it off and forget the morning run.  Not that I didn’t want to run, but I just didn’t want to get out of bed.  However, that wasn’t an option for me since my friend was going to be at my house in 15 minutes.  When she arrived, she told me that she almost sent me a text at 2 am to tell me that she would be too tired for a run (since she was obviously still awake).  Yet, there we were, standing in my driveway, putting on our gear.  That’s when I realized that I am even more lucky that I had previously thought.  I have this friend who will push me forward and get me going in the right direction.  When I moved to Florida, I thought the world as I knew it would never be the same.  And it isn’t.  It shifted.  Yet, with flexibility and an open mind, I was able to regain my sense of belonging.