Running is Never Boring

Most of the time I only only competing with myself.  In this case, I used all of the remaining energy I had to pass the guy right behind me.  In response to whatever he said that annoyed me, I activated my fast twitch fibers and showed him.

Most of the time I am only competing with myself. In this case, I used all of the remaining energy I had to pass the guy right behind me. In response to whatever he said that annoyed me, I activated my fast twitch fibers and showed him.

There is always a new challenge waiting around the corner.  I know most people would assume that you just go out and run and there isn’t much more to it.  Well, those people are obviously not runners.

Do you remember when you took that first step after you decided to find out what running was all about?  It was an accomplishment to run one mile without walking.  Then you moved on up to the ranks of the 3-mile runners.  And hey, if you could make it 3 miles, then why not sign up for your first 5K?  It becomes almost addictive once you have been at it for a while.  At first glance, it might seem like these runners posses more Type-A personality traits, but just because you might not be hard-core competitive doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the new challenges that running brings.  I encounter many runners who are in it for the fun and social aspect.  They team up with a buddy or a group and find new routes to tackle or new races to finish.  Running is a sport that is well suited for all personality types.

The challenge might be to find a race that offers the most swag or maybe a race that is in a desired destination.  Whatever keeps you running, right?  Why not keep running fun by finding races that allow you to do a bit of wine tasting at the finish line or have zombies chasing you down the street?  Sure, these challenges don’t suit everyone’s desires, but those runners who love the entertainment are definitely not bored.

I know I don’t fall in that category because I am pretty certain I have some Type-A personality traits in my blood. I enjoy a bit of competition and it is usually with myself (or the woman in my age group who I am trying to catch up to and pass).  My first few races were all about the fun and socializing, but then I started to challenge myself with new personal records.  I ran my fastest 5K, 8K, 15K and half marathon.  I could always run faster if I trained hard enough.  Yet, before I got bored with the fast goals, I decided to focus on more variety.  I started participating in triathlons.  My love of running only blossomed as I realized that I could swim a mile, ride my bike 56 miles and still finish a half marathon (not in record time, but pretty darn close).

Then it was back to a focus on running.  I had my eye on achieving my fastest marathon.  I stayed the course and was able to move beyond my goal and achieve a time that I never thought possible.  And why not run another marathon 3 weeks later… this one with a 2,000 foot climb.  It was that marathon that brought me to where I am now: enjoying nature and all of its beauty.  Might as well throw in the challenge of running up endless hills to the tops of peaks.  I thought about the trails in my own backyard.  I’m here, in Colorado, so why not take advantage of what nature has to offer?

My next challenge does have something to do with speed.  A much slower speed up and down hills, over rocks, through forests, in snow and over ice.  Yet, slow would not be a new and exciting challenge all by itself.  It needs to be combined with distance.  So, my next goal is to run an ultramarathon… 50 miles to be exact.

At this rate, I don’t think I will ever get bored with running.  There are so many new routes to try, new races to travel to, new distances to explore, faster speeds to tackle and many more new running buddies to acquire along the way.

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The Enlightening Marathon

Photos never do it justice... that was freakin' steep!

Photos never do it justice… that was freakin’ steep!

Most runners have a mantra (or two) that help them overcome a tough situation.  It might be a simple as “you can do it” or as deep as “keep running for those who can’t.”  I am typically deep and sentimental when it comes to my mantras.  I always think about how my mother would be proud, how I can be a positive role model to my daughters or about friends and family who have fought (or are fighting) cancer.   Those thoughts motivate me to push through the mental and physical barriers that try to keep me from moving forward.

Yesterday’s mantra couldn’t be further away on the mantra spectrum.  You see, I was smart (or stupid… still not sure yet) and decided to run a marathon 3 weeks after achieving a personal record in a marathon.  And not just any marathon…. a marathon that included a 2,200 foot climb up steep and winding roads through a national park.  A marathon that was going to be the most scenic racing adventure of my running career thus far, but a marathon that would also be the toughest one for me to complete.  I knew I could do it, but I wasn’t sure at what cost.  Would my knees buckle and leave me crying on the side of the road?  Would I hurt my ego as I crossed the finish line in last place?

We drove the route the night before the marathon.  It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen it before.  Last spring we came out and did the tourist thing.  At that time I never imagined running the road we were driving on.  As we drove it again the night before, I had a whole new perspective.  Wow, that was quite a climb!  I will be running up that?  This part of the road looks relatively flat, but there really is no true flat section.  I have to run down that?  How will my knee react?  There were some positive thoughts as well.  Holy cow, would you look at that view??  I get to stare at that for 5 or more hours?  I should just look at this marathon as a run to tour the Colorado National Monument.

I went to sleep thinking that everything would be alright.  And then I was wide awake at 4:30 am even though I didn’t need to wake up until 6.  My mind was racing.  Should I wear that shirt or the other one?  How many bottles of water should I carry?  What should I eat for breakfast?  What if it is colder at the top?  How the heck am I going to get up those hills??

Eventually it was time.  I was there at the starting line.  The road started off as a slight incline for the first half of a mile and then it went up.  Up, up and up.  I kept thinking about getting to the halfway point.  Once I was there it would all be downhill.  Then a negative thought popped into my mind.  Yeah, downhill looks good on paper, but the reality is that you could be hurting so bad by the time you get there that it really sucks to go down.  It is not fun to run downhill when your quads are on fire.

But wait, here comes the mantra.  I was recently reading a book about running (okay,  I tend to read these books a lot) and I came across an excerpt on hill training.  It emphasized the need to activate your glutes (yes, your butt) in order to alleviate some of the work that is ultimately placed on your quads when running up a hill.  It happened to mention the fact that you are definitely using your quads if you run up a steep incline and feel the need to put your hands on your knees.  Yes, I was just doing that the other day when I was running up a steep trail.

So, I decided on a new mantra: “Activate your glutes!”  Yep, that was it.  I kept repeating that over and over in my head (maybe out loud a couple of times too… not sure since I was in a daze).  I wasn’t really sure how to activate my glutes, but I just kept my focus on them and hoped that it was working.  Any time I felt like I wasn’t going to make it up the hill I just repeated the mantra.  Somehow I made it up the worst part… the first 4.5 miles of straight climbing.  That was when I reached the first aid station and was greeted with volunteers cheering me on.  I felt like I had just won a major victory!  I was pumping my arms up in the air!  And then I remembered that I still had 21.7 miles to go.  Um, I think I just used all of my energy on that climb and I am not sure how I am going to keep climbing.  “Activate your glutes!”  Then I was off again!

Any slight flatness or decline and I felt like I could fly.  Running on level road or running down a slight incline just seemed so much easier than before!  Of course I didn’t know how fast I was going.  I had decided to leave my Garmin behind and just run based on how I felt.  Afterall, my only goal was to finish.

It seemed like forever, but I finally made it to the final incline (well, I was smart enough to tell myself that there could be a few surprises down the road… which there were).  I was feeling okay.  My legs were still with me and I didn’t feel any unusual pains (not even in my knee).  I tried to tell myself to take it easy going down.  From mile 14 to mile 20 it wasn’t so bad.  A bit rolling, some flattish, slight declines with a few of those “surprise” inclines.

Then I looked over the cliff and saw the road.  Steep switchbacks heading down.  I looked out and could see the park where I would finish.  Just a down and out.  That was it.  I tried to tell myself to take it nice and easy going down, but I don’t usually listen when I spout good advice.  I didn’t focus on my glutes as much because I turned my attention to my form.  I tried to get into a downhill rhythm.  Then I saw them.  The runners who were walking down the hill.  One even stopped to stretch his… yep, he was stretching his quads.  I wanted to yell “you should have activated your glutes on the uphills!” but I figured that it was better left unsaid and I just said “Hi!” instead.  I was so sure that I was going to get passed going downhill.  Yet, somehow I managed to be the one doing all of the passing.  That made me wonder if I was running too fast.

When I passed mile 22 I knew I was as good as gold.  Miles 20-22 are usually my toughest both mentally and physically.  Not this time.  I was even speeding up.  And then there it was right before mile 25.  One more freakin’ hill.  Nothing major, but not something you were hoping to see again.  I just kept going because I didn’t want to be passed.  As I came down I saw a friend of mine.  I ran right up to him and we crossed the finish line together.  I was so relieved to be done that it didn’t dawn on me for a minute or two to find out what my time was.  I couldn’t believe it when I found out I had done that crazy course in 4:03:34!  I was expecting to take at least 5 hours.

Then I realized something.  Nothing is out of reach.  You just have to work hard to grab it.  I never believed I could be so strong and endure so much.  Running that marathon was an enlightening experience that I will never forget.  What’s next?  I’m not sure yet, but I will let you know.