Friday, January 6, 2012

My Transcendent Moments as a Runner

In Amby Burfoot’s book The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life, there is a chapter titled “The Transcendent Moments of a Runner” which captivated me. He described his six favorite “precious” and “emotional” moments, including running at sunrise, the first race, runner’s high/runner’s “mellow,” cresting heartbreak hill, running with a partner, and slapping hands with kids at the side of the road.

Reading through this chapter, my mind became consumed with my personal experience as a runner. I have had many “transcendent” moments and I reveled at how precious they were to me, even though some of them may not have made it into the pages of this book. But of course, how could they? Certainly runners share many similarities, but within that realm of similarities, there exists much variation. In fact, two people can be running side by side on the same course, at the same time of day, wearing the same shoes and still, they will have two very unique experiences. If we were all exactly the same, think of the boredom that would ensue. So, in appreciation of our differences, here are my favorite “transcendent moments as a runner.”

Runner’s “Mellow” or When My Body Creates Cannabinoids

Burfoot distinguishes between the great but rarely-occurring “runner’s high” and the frequently-occurring “mellowness” that runner’s feel post-run. While I have experienced the runner’s high a few times in my life as a runner, the happiness that I feel after almost every run is so special to me because it is a constant reward for my physical labor. I do not have to wait for everything to magically “fall into place” to feel good—it just happens after most runs, even the easy runs! I do notice that after long runs, however, I feel more than happy. I feel euphoric. I find myself returning home with a probably annoyingly-giddy attitude, though my Husband never seems to mind.

This happiness, or euphoria is our body’s natural response to exercise. I recently read an article that cited a study which found that it may not be endorphins that cause our good feeling post-workout, but instead it is our body creating cannabinoids (yes, like cannibus) to make us feel “high.” Go, body!

Running with Buddies

The people with which I run are more than just “training partners,” they are my buddies. Something special happens when you run with someone else—it’s as if you are immediately bonded for life. The time I spend running with “buddies” is so special to me for so many reasons, but most important to me is the “realness” that exists. When you run with another person, you can’t be fake. You can’t hide beneath your running clothes. It is impossible to lie about your distance or speed. The makeup is off. You get sweaty. You get winded—sometimes you feel like you can’t take another step. And at some point, one of you is going to hack, spit, blow a snot rocket, fart or maybe even vomit. So sure, you might have a best friend that knows all of the intimate details of your life but I bet your best friend has never seen you blow a snot rocket.

Running buddies see the real you and keep coming back for more. There is only one explanation for this—bonding (or insanity). When you run with another person, you are doing more than just training for your next race. Running buddies tell jokes, give advice, share food and water and in some cases, running buddies may even BE your best friend, or at least act like one once a week. Think about it—a group run is perhaps one of very few moments during the week when you are with another living, breathing human being and there is no TV or any other distraction. Your focus is on your running and on each other and when you make it to the end of the run, you have each other to thank.

Trail Running

The very nature of trail running (pun intended) is transcendent. There is something almost magical about running in nature and enjoying the surrounding beauty, so much so that I often find myself forgetting that I am running harder than I ever do on pavement. From the sweet smell of wet leaves to the joyful view of a sun dappled tree canopy, there is much to appreciate when you are running trails.

One of my favorite trails takes me from an open field with a gravel path to a multi-track packed dirt path with lots of leaves and roots, and eventually into a totally shaded area with a single-track path of soft pine needles. There can be no boredom with trail running—from the changing seasons to the various natural areas, not to mention the wildlife, one can encounter on a single run—nature ensures this. There is only the glory of a challenging run in a beautiful environment, which is why I never feel better than I feel both during and after completing a good, hard run through the woods, around the lake or on a mountain.

Achieving Personal Greatness

Notice I did not title this section “Achieving a PR.” Achieving our personal best—whatever is most important to you as an individual—is often much greater than simply running as fast as you have ever run before. In fact, I believe achieving our smallest goals can be even more significant than meeting those massive ones. Of course, runners are always hoping to improve our speed, our distance, our form or our strength. And on those occasions when our training pays off and we achieve a hard fought goal, it is no doubt one of the most gratifying moments we can have. But I would argue that it isn’t those large “bests” that get runners to lace up their shoes and sacrifice day after day—it is the motivation to achieve those smaller, individualized goals.

When I look at my overall running career, what makes me most proud aren’t just the fastest race times or the longest distances I’ve run, but instead the challenging runs in a downpour, conquering the massive hills at my favorite park with fierce determination, and leaving everything on the track where I do my speedwork. These are the battles that we face daily. When you achieve a weight loss goal or successfully complete a killer workout, you have fought against your biggest enemy—yourself—and won. It is amazing to feel self-pride and it is perhaps what keeps us motivated to keep pushing ourselves to become the best version of ourselves. Nothing is more important than that.

Conquering THE Race

Most runners enter races at some point in their life and we “race” for a variety of reasons—to win, to PR, to prove something to ourselves, to motivate ourselves in training, or maybe because someone signed you up unwillingly! And if you race, then you know what I mean by “conquering THE race.” It’s the most meaningful or the most memorable race that you’ve run. It could be your first race or the one you did last weekend. It’s the race where you challenged yourself and succeeded by finishing, or maybe the race that you received your first age group award, or ran for your favorite cause. It can be a 5K or a marathon because it’s not the distance that matters to you as much as it’s what finishing meant to you. You proved something to yourself—YOU DID IT!

I have two of these significant races—my first half marathon, the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon in 2009 and my first trail race, the Otter Creek Trail Race in 2011. Finishing the Mini-Marathon was emotional for me because I was running to raise money for Kosair Children’s Hospital and I was so touched by the individual stories of the children and their families that were helped by the Hospital. Also, finishing this race was a huge personal achievement. Though I had been running for more than 10 years at that time, I never imagined that I was capable of actually running the half marathon distance. It was proof to myself that I did have discipline, dedication and endurance, and that was and still is important to me.

My first trail race was another huge personal achievement and the most exciting race in which I have ever participated. I am passionate about trail running and to actually run in a trail race was the pinnacle of my running career.

Whatever your Race is, it will always have significance to you—and not just as a runner. And when you remember it, you’ll always feel the same rush that you felt when you finished it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hangover Classic 10 Miler – 1.1.12

Let me preface this race report by saying that I have wanted to do this race since 2009 but have been unable to because of a horrendous work schedule. Since the Summer, ter having my baby and deciding not to hurry back to work, I knew that I would finally be able to do this race. Needless to say, I was very excited this morning!

When I awoke, the temperature was a very mild 57 degrees. I checked the forecast and found that by the time I would finish the race, it was going to be 42 degrees. I dressed in thin running tights, a singlet and a thin jacket but threw arm warmers, gloves, extra shirts and another jacket in my bag and decided I’d figure out my wardrobe once I arrived. After my one mile warmup, however, I decided that what I had on would work best. The wind was incredible this morning and had everyone chilled, even with the mild temperature. I ran down to the river, just for fun and I have never seen it so rough. I knew that the wind was going to be trouble!

Let me back track—I forgot to pick up my packet during the week so I had to grab it this morning. Only thing is, I had no idea where to go once I arrived at the American Turner building. There were signs everywhere that read “New Years Party, 3rd Floor!” What I—and tons of other runners—failed to realize was that those signs were for us! I picked up my packet, said hello to a few familiar faces and grabbed a cup of the blackest, strongest (and best!) coffee I have ever had outside of my house.

For my warm-up, I ran to Cox Park and back. It was during this time that I realized that I wasn’t really in the mood to run. I feel this relatively often during warm-ups but don’t let it bother me because I find that I typically get into a good zone after I start the race. I figured this time would be no different. I also confirmed my suspicions that the wind was going to be very annoying and I hoped that we would have it at our backs the majority of the time. Hope all you want, sometimes you don’t get what you want.

My goal for the race was to finish in 2 hours—slow to you, yes, but not for me right now. My plan was to run relatively slowly for the first 5 miles and then try to speed it up just a tad for the last 5. Miles 1 and 2 seemed to drag on and on. I got a brief adrenaline rush at the start of mile 2, which was at the Water Tower, when a truck driver hopped out of his cab and proceeded to yell at the officers blocking traffic. They responded with their own yelling, “GET BACK IN YOUR TRUCK, GET BACK IN YOUR TRUCK, NOW!” Was I going to see my first arrest during a race? Running the Water Tower loop was nice but I still felt unmotivated to do this race!

Through mile 6, I felt pretty low, mentally. The only bright spot was the volunteers who were incredible and the police officers who were super friendly. I noted that I finished the 5 miles in 1:01 and figured I could, in fact, reach my goal if I could keep going just a tad faster for the next 5 miles. During races, I rarely question why I'm actually there. But today, I did many times. I found the course to be very boring and not scenic enough--which is probably why I prefer trail running. I talked with another runner about why we didn't want to be doing what we were doing and how we wanted to go home and drink mimosas. Fortunately, just before mile 6, my wonderful Mom made her first appearance. It means so much to see someone out there cheering for you. And on this course, especially for someone slow like me, that was even more important because I felt very lonely at times. It was good to get a hug!

By mile 7, I was running on fumes and decided it was time to have a chat with myself--physically, not just mentally, I was breaking down. I reminded myself over and over that I COULD do this because I had just done it the previous week with our running group. I was so thankful for them while I ran today, because without them, I know that I wouldn’t have finished at my goal time. I wanted to walk so badly but I knew that I was cutting it close and had to keep pushing through the pain and I was in pain. I reminded myself that if I was able to give birth naturally, I could keep running for a couple of miles. Around 9.5, I was ready to give it up but I saw Craig Dooley, the photographer so I pretended I had some strength left! SMILE!

At the finish, my Garmin read 10.11 miles in almost 2:01. I did it, at least! It didn’t feel good, but I did it! The wind was brutal and battered us almost the entire race. It was unpleasant and it made me never want to do this race again!

Here are my splits, which averaged 11:53 for the race:

Mile 1 - 11:42

Mile 2 - 12:17

Mile 3 - 11:51

Mile 4 - 12:24 (I walked the first .25 of this to refuel and hydrate)

Mile 5 - 12:11

Mile 6 - 11:35

Mile 7 - 12:01

Mile 8 - 11:32

Mile 9 - 11:48

Mile 10 - 11:34

Final .11 - 10:57/mi

Again, I realize most of you think this is incredibly slow but it sure feels good to see my average pace for a 10 MILE RACE at the sub-12:00 mark. I can see that I'm making improvements and of course, it's exciting.

Big thank you to Todd and Cynthia Heady for what they do, the volunteers who were the best I've ever seen, and the police who did a remarkable job and were friendly!

Here are a couple of pictures my Mom snapped at the Finish:

And here I am shooting hoops after I cooled down. Someone commented that I had a lot of energy to have just run 10 miles. I did, I don't know where it came from!