When Running is Your Coping Skill

A conversation with my Dad this weekend zapped me out of a no-running funk.

I told him I was volunteering for a second race. They were three days apart.

Dad: “Have you run this week?
Amee: “No.”
Dad: Pause. “Are you still running?”
Amee: “Yeah.”
Dad: “Better stop procrastinating. Gotta do what you gotta do.”

I had to laugh. Months ago he was asking me why I was running so much! It had been 14 days since my last run. A week ago, I had a major panic attack at 3 a.m. I’m back on track now, thanks to being pro-active and reaching out to people as well as using different coping skills.

But I notice that lately if I’m in a bad mood or struggling to accept something, my friends and family ask about my running:

“Would a run help?”
“Have you run today?”

It’s sweet and reassuring. It means they’re paying attention.

It’s an alert that maybe running is more important to me than I even noticed.

And I’m starting to get it. If you lace up and go consistently, especially when you don’t want to– running becomes a vital aspect of your routine. It’s another source of stability in your life; something you do regardless of your moods or even if you feel a little ill.

Dory told us, “Just keep swimming.”

I want to be like her. In my case however, the mantra is “Just keep running.”

I’m so hard on myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other runners.

And when I volunteered at these races, my running friends were thankful for my support on the course. But they also made a point to ask why I wasn’t running it.

“You gotta get back to running!” one person told me.
“It’s great to have you out there cheering,” said another, “but you need to get out there kicking some ass.”

That made me laugh. Me, kicking ass at a circa 14 minute a mile pace? But I realized, that’s just my own insecurity.

I’m racing on a regular basis. In the pictures, I’m clearly working hard. I’ve got a good stride, I’m IN IT. I LOOK like a runner.

Even if I don’t always feel like one.

Tonight I was well-rested and got a lot done at work! I came home excited to run. I broke it in half: I ran to and from someplace I was going. It wasn’t quite 3 miles– 2.92 when I added up both distances.

But I already feel more sane. And going home was easier, I was faster.

I’ve got a 5k this weekend, and there are several races from September to November I’m planning. GAME ON, I’m ready!!

The Last Firefly

Tonight I attended a 5k as a volunteer, not a runner. And was inspired!

Total last-minute decision.

Right when I reported for duty, I was happy. After hunting down someone in charge I was told to cut open the bags of colored powder at a table. Kids who had just done a 1 mile color run were coming over to get two bags each, with a countdown to throw it all in the air following.

Their energy was more refreshing than sweet pink lemonade. I was definitely at the cool table– it was mobbed! All different ages, jostling each other and deciding which colors they wanted. I threw powder at them and they loved it.

They danced around, they egged me on. There were also clear plastic bottles full, usually intended for condiments. I squirted the powder on their bright white t-shirts and especially on their hair– they were delighted! Of course, I patted myself down generously as well.

My next assignment was to get dropped off at a spot on the course to help direct them toward a turn. I went inside and found a supervisor, who directed me to the corner of the gym by the back doors. There I found two gals from my running club, Diana and Terri! We all got to wear these dashing neon orange crossing guard vests, and Terri took a selfie of us in them! Then we loaded up into a van and Jody joined us. Dropped off at designated locations to direct the runners around corners or just encourage them.

The last woman I saw come around was followed by a car. She was an older woman, sweating and smiling all the way! I had talked to her as she was running toward my post the first time, and told her I liked her silly yellow headband. It had two yellow sprouty things on springs on it, waving as she shuffled on.

She had on a bright yellow tank top and thick, beautiful white hair.

“We’re fireflies,” she said. I cackled at their creativity. The race was named the Firefly 5k– perfect. She kept on, undeterred about being the last runner. I admired her. On July 4, I was the last runner in my race!

I was picked up in the same van less than 30 minutes later I believe, and then I was told which direction to walk back to the finish line.

But en route, I saw all the supporters of the runners and decided to stay and encourage people.

And I saw almost every person come up the hill. I gained a new perspective about racing. Instead of focusing on how I’m always “back of the pack,” I saw how hard EVERY runner was working. Some were full-on sprinting, seemingly dancing and barely touching the ground with the balls of their feet. Others were a steady pace, but still really labored. Some were walking. Some were wincing, favoring one leg — but determined.

I saw couples, kids, families. A boy who seemed to have been crying, but his dad was walking next to him, watching his son and encouraging him verbally to keep going. Maybe the kid wanted to quit. Maybe he was upset about something else. But you could see the love the father had for his son.

I saw racers going solo, as I often do.

One man seemed to be a giant— he looked to be nearly 7 feet tall! It was almost like watching a giraffe run. I was amazed he could be so coordinated. I realized that we all have our challenges. I am extraordinarily short. This man is astonishingly tall. And there he was, barreling along.

I did my best to constantly encourage them with claps, eye contact, pointing.

“You got this!”
“Keep going!”
“I like your shoes!”
“You’re doing AWESOME!”
“WOO HOO!”

And not just the ones struggling, but the ones KILLING it, too. Because running is hard, whatever your pace. And everyone out there is pushing themselves.

I am always so appreciative in races when I’m just slogging along and suddenly a volunteer is up ahead or around a corner– it inspires me to pick it up, get competitive again. To remember that I can do it.

Trying to beat a PR. Trying to support someone by running that race with them. Trying to block out the pain from injuries. Just trying to finish.

Toward the end, I made an effort to genuinely SMILE at runners. And a wonderful thing happened– it made ME happier to smile at them.

I’ve had a rough start to my weak. A panic attack Sunday night, must from general anxiety. Smiling and *meaning it truly made me feel more relaxed.

I was also happy to realize just how many runners I recognized. They saw me too and some haven’t seen me in months, since I haven’t done any group runs in awhile. We mainly interact on Facebook. They were surprised and genuinely waved and greeted me. One passing by, Laura, reached out to high-five me!

All the spectators were heading back to the finish line. The police left. I wasn’t sure if that last woman was still out there? I didn’t want to abandon her. It looked as if it may rain at any minute, so I headed back toward the finish. As I approached, I spied those same yellow firefly headbands. That woman had her own cheering section! I made small talk with them. They were closer to my age, 30’s or 40’s I’m guessing.

After 10 minutes or so I ventured back toward the street to look for her. And there she was! I ran up and she smiled at me with recognition. I ran back toward the finish line and joined her friends in cheering her on! I was on the opposite side, and we all cheered and yelled for her! Turns out her name is Lorrie.

“GO, LORRIE!” I chanted.

A race staff took her picture.

Lorrie was triumphant! And best of all, she medaled!

Just goes to prove it doesn’t matter your pace– don’t let that stop you from racing. She won 2nd in her AG– which running lingo for Age Group. You can be last in a race and still medal!!

Afterward I went to the after-party in a beer tent with some other peeps from our running club. We got free pizza, we took pictures. We bonded.

Robin told me, “You need to get back to running!”

Indeed, I do. I haven’t been on a run in a bit outside of a race.

Tonight I discovered five vital things:

1. Volunteering at races is almost as fun as running them! Sometimes more.
2. The people in my running club are welcoming, hilarious, good people.
3. I need to sign up for more local races and even some group runs to get to know them better.
4. If I don’t want to pay a race fee or don’t feel up to it, I can always volunteer. And still have a blast with my running peeps.

and most of all…

5. The running community is my tribe. They are energetic, generous and fit.

I may volunteer at a second race this weekend! Someone invited me.

Mud Factor 2017: Save Your Cash for Warrior Dash

I did my first (and maybe only) Mud Factor race today in Wilmington, Illinois. My first Warrior Dash was in 2016, last summer. I’d do it again if I can find someone to go. You might be wondering about the difference: I will tell you.

I actually had a great time! Got major sun on my shoulders. And it was totally last-minute. Wednesday afternoon I was craving a race for this weekend and found this online. I asked a few people in my running club, but no one was game for mud. I decided to chance it solo and then found a friend and her daughter had commented on the Facebook event page. They invited me to join them to run with her granddaughter.

So I was in! They weren’t running until the 1:30 PM kids’ wave, which was only a 3k– 1.86 miles. Of course my giant ego thought that wouldn’t be enough challenge– so I signed up for an earlier 12 PM adult wave to make sure I got the whole 5k experience. I had planned to run BOTH!

Yeah, that didn’t happen! That’s my beef with MF: this course isn’t a full 5k and requires that you run two laps to fully complete it. Warrior Dash gives you a solid continuous 5k course in one long lap.

But my shoes literally got sucked off in the mud about halfway (I’m estimating?) — I finished the rest of the lap in my socks! I stuck them out of the way on that mud hill and my plan was to go back for them and finish in my shoes, time be damned. But my socks were so caked in mud that I couldn’t get my momentum back. And for some reason, my toes were cramping?! It was damn hot and I told myself, “I’ll make up the difference in the 1:30 wave.” So I re-hydrated, had someone take a picture of me, all mudded up. Changed into clean pair of dry socks.

Then I realized I couldn’t wait that long, so I tried again. I think I made it about a quarter mile in (however long was left) before I knew I was done.

This was also my first DNF (did not finish) race: but I’m okay with it. The clock said it took me 36 minutes to get to the 3k mark. That’s respectable. I don’t in any way feel like I wimped out. There was A LOT of mud, it was damn hot, and I had gotten there at 11 a.m. so had already been in the sun 1.5 hours by then.

So I headed over to the wash-off station, which was a joke. The line was probably 45 minutes because they had a shoddy wooden structure with weak trickles of water, it seemed less than 10 people at a time could use it. Right when I got up there, it faltered. Warrior Dash had a more sophisticated system designed to get a big group through quickly– hoses which you can control yourself, with a steady, COLD water pressure.

I ran a mud race alone today. At 12 noon! That’s seriously bad ass. I almost didn’t sign up because I thought I’d feel like a loser running by myself. But it was the opposite: I felt brave. I felt proud. I felt strong.

Mud Factor has less obstacles than Warrior Dash– and my arms are weak. I really struggled getting up the walls with ropes at WD– but today, I kept moving. Even though I haven’t worked out my arms, it seems I’m overall stronger. I ran most of the course, whereas at WD last year I was mostly walking and gasping for breath.

I texted my friend and we met up at the taco truck. Things were getting packed up by then. We took pictures together and they were just as muddy as me! By the time we left it was about 3 p.m.

One thing that’s better about MF is the parking: attendants directed me and it wasn’t in a big mud field like WD had been. It was easy to get out, quick. But there are extra fees for everything: parking, bag check, food truck, bottles of water or Gatorade, merch. And the merch tent has less options, although the staff was great and didn’t hurry me along to make a choice.

I’d say this is a perfect race if you’re a family and really want to enjoy the course with your kids or just have fun with your friends. The savings could go along way if you’ve got 4 or more people to register.

But if it’s just you, the extra fees for Warrior Dash are worth it. The course is more challenging, there are better, vastly different obstacles. There are on-site photographers at several points and your race times are posted. I think pictures were up in a couple of weeks. Going down the big water slide at the end and then leaping over fire to finish WD just makes you feel invincible!! You can opt for a meal-included, and it’s easy to redeem your food ticket. You get a more ornate medal and a big fuzzy hat. There are multiple places to take photos before and after the race, and plenty of props as well to climb on and show off your guns.

Glad I tried a second brand of mud race today or OCR, obstacle course race.

My plans didn’t work out, but I improvised and had a blast! Bonuses were the cool head wrap included with the bib and safety pins. The finisher’s medal is cool and I like the race logo. I bought a neon yellow race tank as well but thus far, it’s not entirely clean after two washings. Hoping I can get it clean tomorrow with some Oxyclean!

And I got some great pictures!

It’s official: I’m addicted to racing!

Race Day Resilience

I nearly forfeited the 5k my work sponsors tonight because of a possible injury.

But I decided to buck up and give it a try: and I was fine! Two plus hours later, no pain.

Tonight I learned that our bodies recover when we least expect it, and to trust mine more when it comes to my running.

And I also had my first-ever race mantra:

“Protect my feet. Make me powerful.”

After running 7 miles (for the first time ever!!) Tuesday and two miles yesterday to prepare for tonight, I noticed some pain in my right foot last night and again this morning. It had been seven days since my last run prior to Tuesday. The pain felt like it was on the top of my foot where the toes themselves connect to my foot. I’m a toe-cracker (sorry if TMI!) and it felt like I had cracked mine too hard. Walking at all was painful, though not agony. Just uncomfortable. But since I’m a receptionist I luckily spend the majority of my day seated.

After doing some Googling and posting on the message board for my running club, I was terrified that I either had a stress fracture or “a complete tear of the plantar plate, where the toes connect to the ball of your forefoot.” The latter was suggested by another run club member who said she’d had the exact same symptoms as me and ended up going to a wonderful podiatrist.

But I wanted to participate tonight with my co-workers, clients, and running club friends.

On my lunch I bought my first bottle of Ibuprofen (normally a Tylenol girl)– because people had said my usual remedy is useless for inflammation. I went home and took two 200mg and grabbed a freezer pack and towel from home. Elevated my foot underneath my desk for the remainder of the day. After work I slathered Bengay on both sides of my foot and hoped for the best.

And tonight, I was fine! I walked a lot because I had to pee BAD. I was afraid to run the first mile, but then the urge passed and I was able to pick it up a bit. The humidity was still horrid, but there was a magnificent WIND and the course ran downhill around a curve too, so that was helpful.

But I really felt like a runner today. Instead of getting all in my head and skipping the race to go to quick care, I just took practical steps to treat the pain and showed up determined to at least try. I had to laugh at myself– I’ve become the very stereotype of a runner who seems to live in total denial of an injury, obsessed with racing.

I’ve already missed one race in April, that 10k that I trained two months to run only to be saddled with such a sever cold I couldn’t get out of bed that morning.

I just want to get the money’s worth for my entry fee! Today I felt bad ass. And beyond that, the thought of having to miss races or even just a few days or a week because of injury made me… surprisingly sad. I had no idea what I had done to cause this pain. Even the possibility felt so UNFAIR!

And along with a several other vendors, there was a physical therapy tent. After the race, I asked a woman to take a look at my right foot. She had me take my shoe and sock off and examined me. She said there was no bruising, nothing seemed broken– I have a healthy foot and the flexing was normal. Relief! She attributed the pain to upping the mileage AND trying a new route simultaneously.

Glad to know I’m back in business! I’ll tape it up to be on the careful side tomorrow, and ice it a few times this weekend. Seemed it’s just pains of adjustment.

Which means I’m making headway as a runner. Which makes me happy.

The biggest gift is proving that I can take care of myself and that my body can heal faster than I anticipated. To not get hung up on “what-ifs” and solving a problem that isn’t even necessarily a definite problem yet.

I’m usually so solution-oriented and sometimes I need to just RELAX.

I get why running is such a mental sport now. It’s all about grounding yourself in your body, whilst also getting OUT of your head.

Prior to racing, we all were lead in some yoga. I was cracking jokes to my co-worker about how UNSUITED for yoga I am. He was laughing along until he just quit the stretching all together, when it was my turn to laugh!

Tonight I allowed my heart to lead, and my feet followed.

A Lesson in Humility: My first DNS Race

I had trained two months for this race: The Rockdale Ramblin’ Run 10k.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I arose and trained 5:30- 6:30 a.m.

DNS is runner code for “Do Not Start”– or forfeit. Since 2015 when I began racing, I had never missed one. This was unlucky #14.

And the morning of, my body said no. Need overcame will. Shot pride.

At 6:15 a.m. April 29, my alarm went off. Our team was meeting at 7:15 to stretch– the race began at 8 a.m.

But literally, I couldn’t even get out of bed. Sometimes I have random eye pain and it flared up that morning– I couldn’t see, let alone drive. I put my prescription eye ointment in, applied a cold wet washcloth, texted my trainer and a friend who was going to cheer me on that I wasn’t going, and went back to bed.

But I had also been desperately trying to fight off a cold since Weds– I even called off work Thursday. I had the works– sore throat, majorly runny nose, coughing. And the weather forecast was cold, windy and most likely rainy. I also have a suppressed immune system– so it takes me longer to get over being sick. It wasn’t worth it to miss another day of work just to for pride’s sake.

I slept till 11:30 a.m. and felt rested. But also kinda devastated. Especially since it’s the last year for this particular race, which is historic and has earned the nickname “The Toughest 10k in the Midwest” because of several steep hills. Plus, I just wanted to be there with my friends. We had so much fun doing the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in Chicago in March– and I had crushed it!

Also, it was going to be my first race with people cheering me on! I’ve been wanting that a long time.

I had promised myself I would go and try– at least up the first hill, where my friend Marlene would be cheering me on since she lives directly on the route, and I had asked for her support. And if I couldn’t, I wanted to be there to cheer on support my friends were were racing. I felt like I had let down my teammates, though running is a solitary sport. I have friends now through the training and also two local running clubs I’ve joined.

But most of all, I hated feeling weak and out of control of my body. I was convinced if I rested, I could summon the strength to power through. But truthfully, I burned myself out training so hard.

I had begun going to bed early and waking up early. About halfway through I just stayed up as normal and was barely getting 4-5 hours the days I trained. All I did for two months was run, work, sleep, and beat myself up about not running if I missed it. I didn’t really see my friends.

I thought my runner friends would judge me. But none of them did– they were actually very supportive. They wrote on my wall that they were sorry I couldn’t race, but there were other races. That I should just get better and rest.

I also realized I couldn’t expect myself to perform on their level when these awesome people have been racing for years and are a higher level of fitness. Most of them race nearly every weekend– if not twice! They do halfs and marathons. They can do 10 miles easy.

I’ve been racing two years but am only now getting “serious” about running. I’m starting to care about my times and train for specific pace goals. Learning about nutrition, stretching.

I’ve spent the past few weeks coming to terms with what changes I need to make so that this doesn’t happen –hopefully– again. I need to be realistic about my goals.

I decided to cancel my plans for the Solider Field 10 Mile I had been hoping to do for months–I just can’t add that mileage confidently in three weeks. My body needs more time to adjust, and that’s okay. Two people invited me to do a half-marathon this fall but I’m going to table that, although it’s a huge compliment!

I’ve decided that to make this loss right with myself, I will run the course anyway– just so I can say I ran the route. I love the event hoodie that came with the packet, but I feel like a liar wearing it. I have the course map and some friends who have run the race a few years. I’m going to use that route for training to get myself comfortable with the 10k distance and hill work. I will do it alone too until I can run it hopefully without the map.

And then I will pin on my race bib and run my best time, and maybe ask my friend to cheer me on again. I forgive myself but I can still learn from the experience and take on the challenge!

I’m still a little stuffy) but my throat is clear and no cough. I’ve been on two run since yesterday– 8 miles!

I may be slower to learn, but I’m not quitter! I have a 5k in Rockdale next weekend– so I’ll be running in the same neighborhood with some hills, even if it’s half the distance. That makes me feel better.

As runners often say: “It’s just a hill. Get over it.”

Running Though the Bad

I’m in a bit of a snit with running lately.

Truly, I have no idea why. My guess is that as I’ve become more aware to the running community, I’m feeling intimidated.

I joined a bunch of running groups on facebook and added several members of the two local running clubs of which I’m now a member. At first seeing everyone post their daily miles and races was exciting, but being inundated with paces in the 6-8 minute range has caused me to compare myself.

There’s that envy again! Now Lent is over, but I still struggle with it.

Suddenly, the activity that inspired me and was starting to feel natural got harder. I’ve fallen back with my pace– my confidence took a major dive with it. I’m feeling stuck.

However, there are also awesome benefits. For the first time ever, I (kinda!) knew some people running the Boston Marathon. Seeing their bib numbers and progress posted was exciting. And if these are the individuals in my running clubs, aren’t I lucky? I’m bound to learn and absorb SOME of their skill and running mojo.

If you want to be great, surround yourself with greatness. These people genuinely LOVE running– they run early, in all kinds of weather. Some race nearly every week. They look fit– like runners. They know their pace and seem RELAXED while running– they are able to go on long group runs and even have conversations while running. They travel to Boston just to support other club members– that kind of devotion is impressive. They know who they are — runners– and they’ve built a comfortable life and group of friends around it.

I want that!

I’m in the process of doing the same. I just have remind myself that I can’t compare my beginning to the established routines and athletic excellence that took years to develop.

And I have to be more forgiving of myself and the humility of my body’s limits.

As much as I aspire to it– I’m not Haruki Murakami. I can’t magically up my mileage whenever I feel like it and run endlessly, without walk breaks. He was born with some genetic predisposition to running that is truly a gift.

The rest of us have to earn all those skills and miles under duress.

But I know that I have the heart of a runner, even if my legs and my lungs fight me.

Because I’m reading books about it, signing up for races months in advance, and making major lifestyle changes to better enable myself to perform at a higher level. I’m foregoing other purchases, thinking, “I could put that toward a race fee.” The next thing I fantasize about buying is a new pair of running shoes– mine are starting to feel flat.

Because although right now trying to improve and acclimate myself to this sport honestly sucks, I’m thinking long-term.

Growing pains are awkward, but that’s all these are. Pains of transition.

I can’t wait till my next race– this weekend. It’ll be my first 10k– in an arboretum.

No one I know is doing this race, and I love that. I’ll be free.

No pressure. I’m just going to enjoy myself, push my pace, and look at the trees.

 

First Hill Training: Winded and Windy!

A four week hill training workshop is hosted this month by a local running store to prep us for a race coming up April 29– with monster hills! I had missed last week.

I was STOKED for my first run in a t-shirt and shorts, too. It was gorgeous, around 65.

For the first time I pulled up to Four Seasons Park in Shorewood, Illinois. I’ve run often nearby, as it’s been my neighborhood twice. But I’d never ventured that far up Seil Rd. I was happy to find the place teeming with people and sports in progress. I drove around and spied a large group of adults in neon colors, who seemed in running attire. That was my crew. But by the time I parked a little bit farther up, they had all turned and began running toward the street!

So I broke out into a full run, trying desperately to catch up. I recognized two ladies from my training class near the back.  I had to stop and breathe several times. “WAIT!” I called to my two classmates. They turned and saw me. They slowed down and I was able to get nearer, at least.

I thought we were here to run hills, not go on a run?! Apparently it was a warm-up. Finally I caught up to the group as they gathered for dynamic stretches and some verbal instruction and demonstration on how to run hills.

So many adults around, all in a great mood! I recognized members of the local running club I’ve joined, people I saw at the Shamrock Shuffle or who post frequently. I knew some people. I was so dang happy to be outside. I even put on my Warrior Dash 2016 finisher shirt: hills are serious business!

Our leader explained there were three levels of hill-running: advanced (all running), intermediate (run hill, jog down, walk back,) and beginners (run hills only at pace/extent they are capable.) I put myself in the intermediate group.

The first pass was brutal! But still, I loved it. I seek out hills in my own runs but have never known a strategy for them. He demonstrated strides for us. I may be slow, but I was reminded that I *am athletic. I was able to muster more energy than I expected.

I wasn’t counting at first but he said we should do a minimum of six passes. I believe I did, if not seven. Our leader stood and gave us encouragement and feedback. He said my form was good– hearing I was doing it right spurred me forward.

After I turned on my running app, I got probably the last 4 or 5 passes.

I got stronger each time.

Afterwards, we all did a team cheer where we put all our hands together and yelled, “HILLS!” Like in middle-school. 🙂 A group of people did some shots to celebrate. Some went back out to run more.

I went home! The wind was getting to me. I didn’t want to get sick. I could feel it in my legs today, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. Those leg muscles must be getting more tolerant.

This is going to be my new favorite place! I will do hill repeats on my own. I will explore the park and find a new running route. I might go back with a friend.

I feel like a whole new aspect of my community opened up to me. What a gift!