Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Runners "High"

Here in Ohio I have been coaching someone for her first marathon in late spring. Last weekend, we touched base and reviewed how she was doing on her training schedule. In mid-review, she stopped me and asked: "so why I don't I get the runners high that everyone talks about"? Fair question, I thought, as there is a lot of expectation among beginning runners that makes them think that, when they run fast or far enough, that they too, will experience this miraculous "high". It also made me examine whether I had experienced anything resembling this in all me years of running?
Well, the answer for me is similar to many questions: "it depends". For instance, while on any longer run, one will usually end up in your personal "zone", similar to what one experiences in yoga, or pure meditation. In this sense, running becomes a spiritual experience. One looks at the beauty of nature, and one can reflect on the love that they may feel for someone. I frequently stop during a run to take a picture of something beautiful that I have seen. Would I have been to able to see with the same clarity the beauty around me during a walk, bike ride, or driving in my car? I don't think so.
Although I just referred to it as a "zone", what I believe is really happening is that one is becoming fully engaged in the "present". At the beginning of a run, one may think about some anxiety over work or a lost relationship (the past), or worry about the presentation you are trying to finish for a meeting (the future). As you progress in your run, you become more relaxed, forgetting the anxieties of the past and future, smiling at passing runners, looking at the beauty of the surroundings on your path along a lake, park, or even an unfamiliar city. You are in the "present" and there is a lightness to your being that is hard to achieve as you go through the everyday tasks of your life. For me, this is the "high" that I experience during most of my runs. I usually come back more energized and  relaxed than when I began. And I can't wait to run again!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Synchronicity of healing

This April I had a great 8 mile run on a beautiful Saturday morning. I got back from my run and decided to take a leisurely bike ride to cool down and enjoy the morning weather some more.
On my favorite path, I came upon a couple walking three little dogs on retractable leashes. I gave them plenty of room as I passed, but at the last minute, one of the dogs veered into my path and I swerved to avoid it, my front wheel digging in to a muddy patch by the path, and I went pitching forward, hitting my head and shoulder. I lay there dazed, while the people kept asking "did our dog cause this?" A neighbor walking further behind came upon the scene and offered me and my bike a ride home. I was sore and had some scrapes to clean up, but thought I was fine. A couple hours later I woke from a nap and felt a throbbing pain in my shoulder and back. A neighbor took me to the urgent care, and an x-ray and examination revealed a broken clavicle and two broken ribs. The doctor told me that the clavicle would heal in 3 weeks or so, and that the ribs would take two months. The pain was pretty intense whenever I moved, so running would be out even after the clavicle healed. The days, weeks and months clicked away and gradually I was able to run again after two months. The time off had given me a renewed desire to run and an appreciation of the joy that I get from observing the changing view on the paths that I run and the thoughts that come in to my mind. There was also something else.
Just before my accident, I received the final documents ending a 36 year marriage. I realized that there had not been anyone to tell me that the healing I had been going through the past year had a prescribed "end date". It didn't. I also realized that there was no formula: keep your arm in a sling, avoid a particular activity. There was only myself and people that I could confide in, to help me make progress. I realized over time that I wouldn't heal if I wasted time going over the past, and that worrying about the future was futile as well.
When I took my first run, I realized that my shoulder and ribs were healed. I also found that I was full of joy at what I was seeing and feeling during the run. Suddenly, I was truly in the "present". Lately, I have been having a lot of experiences that seem to be explained by "fate" or "coincidence". Rather, I suspect that healing on so many different levels is actually "synchronicity". Yes, my shoulder still hurts at times and my ribs can sometime be a bit sore. I also still have memories of the marriage that come back from time to time. Whenever this happens, I remember to revel in the "present". There is a brightness and contentment to be found there. It makes me smile.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Running partners

Although I have several running friends who prefer running alone, the majority of my running friends have one or more regular "partners". How one finds a partner, and the qualities that one is looking for, are questions that have presented themselves throughout my running career. In the simplest sense, a partner can be someone that you meet every morning or afternoon, for the same route and at the same time. It could be a neighbor, a friend, or co-worker. The principal driver for such an arrangement is knowing that somebody is waiting for you, making it hard hit the snooze button or head home without doing your scheduled run. Some of these develop into a deeper friendship, but most either wither away or end up morphing into a larger group, with different times and people.

One can also develop partners in a training group. These are really pace driven in the initial sorting, and then as you do longer runs, one finds who tells interesting stories, has a sense of humor, or just likes quiet company for the first six miles. These tend to develop into deeper friendships over the course of the runs, breakfast afterwards, pot lucks and getting together on race weekend. I have about eight dear friends that were developed this way.
What does one look for in a partner? Obviously you want somebody who is compatible, in pace, ability to converse, and who is reliable. Let me digress. There is a diner that I frequent that had a new sign in the front window last week: "HELP WANTED A reliable DEPENDABLE SERVER, APPLY INSIDE". I was amused at the sign because the owner had hand written "reliable" above the printed "DEPENDABLE". At lunch I joked with the owner about his sign and he said the last server had been let go because she was habitually late, and yet lived 2 1/2 blocks away!!
In the running world, running or driving to meet someone and not finding them there, or getting a text that they're running late, are only going to last so long before you move on. One of my dearest running partners was established when I started running with her husband and other neighborhood runners. As time developed, most of the men frequently didn't show up, and the only constant was her.

As my training got more serious, and I wanted more distance and a faster pace, I started running with someone who I had spent years waving and saying "Hi" to each morning as we passed in opposite directions around Lake of the Isles. I had a whole story in my mind about her: she was a nanny and was running early before the parents left for work. Wrong. Actually, married with two children, and she was a college instructor!! She has developed in to my most frequent and closest running partner. Running in all types of weather, laughing while we jumped through snow drifts around Lake Calhoun, running races together, helping her train for her first marathon. An amazing person and a great conversationalist. Plus, she is dependable.

Sometimes fate or serendipity puts you together. After Grandma's Marathon five years ago, I had a good 
race and was sitting on a deck just past the finish line. I struck up a conversation with a younger woman and we both commented on how happy we were with our respective races. We ran in to each other again after she had met up with her boyfriend in the beer tent, and discovered that we were both planning to attend a Twin Cities Marathon anniversary party at Minnehaha Park the following week. After meeting again at that event, and exchanging e-mails, we scheduled our first run together, up and back on Wirth Parkway. I planned out an eight mile route, and took note where each mile was. We had a great run and, while she trains on her own for the week, we have met almost every Sunday morning for our "recovery" runs since then. She has since gotten married, had a baby, and yet we continue our tradition. She is reliable.

What do you look for in a running partner?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Are you still running?"

Leave it to my son to point out the obvious: visiting with him at the wine store last weekend, he looked at me and said "you're not in the shape you've been in". Darn! I thought I was the only one in on my secret. The bitter cold, a calf injury, travel, a funeral, and a lingering head cold have all left me "off track", and out of shape. My too infrequent runs with my morning running partner also revealed that she was on to me over a month ago. How this all happened is easy to explain with all the excuses I just listed. Turning it around is hard, in that one has to resist the urge to catch up on your mileage too quickly and end up injured, and set realistic goals that will show steady progress and are attainable.
The other part of this is that I wonder why I resisted the fact of my current state of fitness and needed an external observation to drive me to action? Aside from my son's direct statement, I realized that we get a lot of external input that is easy to ignore. When I stopped running after my Achilles tendon surgery, people would not say "you've put on some weight", but would ask "are you still running?"
Yesterday, with my son's voice still resonating in my head, I drew up a schedule for the next two weeks. "3 miles easy", were frequent entries with some "long" 6 miles on the weekend. This week's total is 21 miles and I go up to 23 next week. Yesterday, after work, I got my gear together and headed out for my run. Around the circle, down the hill, and along the lake to the park and back. It was slow, but felt good, and I set aside some dry clean clothes for today's run. Today, at work, someone asked me whether I was still running? "Yes" I answered, "I'm getting in shape!"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Records and resolutions

This is the time of year when everyone is trying to stick to the resolutions they made for the new year. Personally, I have never really cared for resolutions, especially the ones that aren't about an ongoing change in the way you conduct your life, or your interaction with others. I especially dislike what I call "destination" resolutions, where one vows to "lose 20 pounds by June", and then how one addresses what you are going to do for the rest of the year goes unanswered. In running, we sometimes have a resolution about qualifying for Boston or a new PR for the 1/2 marathon, but most of the time I encounter my fellow runners trying for a "record", not a resolution.
I know someone who has run all the Twin Cities and all the Grandma's marathons. Pretty cool, and he gets treated as a VIP every year that he extends his streak. Then there are those who have run a marathon in each state, and I also know someone who ran a marathon in each state in a 12 month period. I remember meeting a couple, both retired physicians, the morning of the Seattle Marathon and they revealed that they both run a marathon every week somewhere in the world. Impressive, especially considering that his times were always sub 3:45. But, on my flight back, I thought about them and realized they were pursuing something that really wasn't anything more than a personal goal and not something that anyone tracks as a "record". Unlike the 50 states folks, there is no website or embroidered patch for the couple I met. All this came back to me when I was approaching my 60th birthday. About 8 months in advance, I had already run 53 marathons and someone suggested that I try to run 60, or one every month by my birthday. I was intrigued by the idea until I realized that it was also not a "real" record and that no one would really care, other than myself, and that it would only reinforce the "crazy" tags we runners get meeting non-runners at cocktail parties or business meetings. To non-runners, finishing one marathon is impressive and an accomplishment that a very small percentage of the population ever achieves. Is running 60 marathons by the time you are 60 even something that is better than running 55 (which I had done when I turned 60)?
It was all put in to perspective when I was working a booth at the Medtronic Twin City Marathon Expo, (while still deciding if I wanted to establish my "record"). Someone in the booth bragged to a visitor that "Jon here has done 53 marathons". Someone with him pointed across the aisle and said "Alan, over there has done 320" and my friend Craig stopped by an hour later and announced that he was now doing a marathon or an ultra in every week and state next year. Suddenly, I saw the meaningless nature of what I was about to embark on, and decided not to pursue it. I have now run 55 marathons with out dropping out until Chicago last year. So that "record" fell.
I hurt my calf last weekend and have not run all was a new "record".

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chasing "perfect"


"Perfect is the enemy of good". I have always loved this saying. (It is from Voltaire and the literal French translation has "best" replacing "perfect"). The saying has great relevance for business, but I had never thought of it in the context of running and training for races. As we start the new year, take some time to think of what did and didn't work in your training during the past year. Did you reach a "plateau", felt great, and then "raced" your workouts until you were stagnant on race day? Did you run farther or harder than planned during long runs because you "could'? Or did you give up on a goal race because you missed a long run or were not happy with your training regularity? Most of this can come from chasing "perfect". Or put it this way: in all my years of training and coaching, I have never witnessed a "perfect" training schedule. During a fourteen or sixteen week training schedule for a marathon, people will get sick, have minor injuries, miss sleep, or have stress at home or at work. How they manage it is really what determines their success in meeting their ultimate goal. Rather than be discouraged that one hasn't run a "perfect" training schedule, I encourage people to keep a log, or make notes on their training calendar and then review it on a regular basis. This will allow one to gain an appreciation for the total effort they have been putting in, rather than dwelling on the day they missed a run. Chasing "perfect" may also keep you from starting your 8 mile workout when you only have time for 4. This is where the "good" comes in. You are not settling for "good", but accepting that it is part of the reality in any training program. Chasing "perfect" will also hurt you on race day. We think we know people who have run a "perfect" race, and think that some day we will do the same. We won't. A marathon is 26.2 miles of managing one's energy, spirit, hydration, and dealing with the elements. Even in the best marathons that one has run, there were various challenges that presented themselves and needed to be overcome. Last fall, at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, there was what everyone agreed to be "perfect" weather. Unfortunately, many runners went out too fast or ignored hydration and refueling needs because it was such a "perfect" day and they paid dearly for it at the end of the race.
My first run of the year was New Years day. It was really cold and windy. I thought about the warmth of Kenwood Cafe after the run, but it was closed. We meant to run 8, but turned around to have the wind at our back and we ended up doing 7 miles. It was good.