A Runner Reborn

When I lost my job in March, I knew above all else that I need­ed to start run­ning again. Not only did I need to get my arms around my car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness after 8 straight years of being glued to a screen, I need­ed to get some time to reflect on my pri­or­i­ties now that I wasn’t star­ing into the gap­ing maw of the Inter­net.

But if you’re friends with me or have spo­rad­i­cal­ly read this blog, you know my track record. I hadn’t suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed a train­ing cycle since 2009! I have so many shirts and so few fin­ish­es to show for it. How could I break that pat­tern and not suf­fer anoth­er demor­al­iz­ing injury?

Well, for the first time ever, I lis­tened to my body. I stuck to the plan I out­lined here. I let myself rest. I didn’t obsess over splits. I laughed at the idea of speed work. What I need­ed was time on my feet, which trans­lat­ed into the time to reflect and time to rebuild my spir­it. And even though I broke a car­di­nal rule and signed up for a race, I nev­er once thought about a hard and fast time as a goal. I set my sights on just fin­ish­ing. And it worked!

After a chal­leng­ing month of trav­el and tem­per­a­tures in August that knocked me off my usu­al train­ing reg­i­men, I toed the line at Run Wood­stock wor­ried that maybe I’d some­how under­trained after months of 50+ mile weeks. That was sil­ly.

The race was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. I ran a sol­id first loop that start­ed in the pre-dawn hours and end­ed with me dis­cov­er­ing that I’d worn mis­matched shoes! I met my pac­er and she guid­ed me through a chal­leng­ing sec­ond loop on very tired legs and an increas­ing­ly fuzzy mind. 

The fin­ish felt tri­umphant as I sprint­ed to the line. I fin­ished just out of the top five in my age group and in the top 25% over­all. But after break­ing my leg in 2016, just being able to com­pete and fin­ish is all I need­ed.

None of this would have hap­pened with­out the fan­tas­tic com­mu­ni­ty of run­ners sup­port­ing me, both local­ly and online. The Grosse Pointe Run­ners group has been invalu­able. My friends Britt and Jesse back in Philly have been great coach­es, reas­sur­ing me that I’d put in the work. Last­ly, the ultra­run­ning com­mu­ni­ty online, rang­ing from elite ath­letes over­com­ing their own per­son­al chal­lenges to the run­ners doc­u­ment­ing the scene, espe­cial­ly Gin­ger Run­ner.

After a decade of false starts it feels great to be back, but it feels even bet­ter to be in con­trol, mak­ing deci­sions that are mak­ing my life bet­ter in ways I’d hard­ly imag­ined. Get­ting to the start healthy was one goal; get­ting to the fin­ish healthy opens the door to adven­ture.

A Runner Reimagined

I recent­ly wrote my near­ly oblig­a­tory “some per­son­al news” post relat­ed to leav­ing my job in March. I’ve been work­ing in dig­i­tal and social since you need­ed to code the page you want­ed to pub­lish. That’s a not insignif­i­cant time spent in front of screens. From desk­tops and lap­tops to tablets and phones, I have been hit­ting refresh on feeds and streams my entire career. Being able to step back from them, even just a lit­tle bit, has been trans­for­ma­tive.

So what have I been doing with myself when I’m not jump­ing on calls?

I’ve been retrain­ing my brain. I’ve been con­sum­ing actu­al cul­ture in a way I haven’t since I was a music crit­ic. And, I’ve been run­ning.

Now, I’ve writ­ten about run­ning in the past. In fact, when I start­ed writ­ing this this morn­ing, I had to edit — and ulti­mate­ly delete — a post I start­ed writ­ing about run­ning last Octo­ber. Why? Because I began the post the way I always do, say­ing that I’d learned from the last time I suf­fered an overuse injury and how this time would be dif­fer­ent.

Well — spoil­er — it wasn’t. I prob­a­bly had my short­est stint of active run­ning yet. I was hob­bled with a weird and painful ankle injury that side­lined me all win­ter.

So what’s dif­fer­ent this time? For one, I’ve actu­al­ly stuck to my stat­ed prin­ci­ples each time I’ve writ­ten one of these posts. I start­ed run­ning 6 slow miles a day in March, then bumped to 10 per day in May and am now flirt­ing with 12 a day in July.

Best of all I’ve dis­cov­ered trail run­ning. I watch an absurd amount of ultra­run­ner YouTube now, notably stuff from Gin­ger Run­ner, but also stuff from out­door and sports brands like REI, Red Bull, Hoka One One and more. Watch How to Run 100 Miles and tell me it’s not dif­fer­ent from every piece of brand­ed con­tent you’ve ever seen. It inspired me. It cap­tures so much of what I’ve been chas­ing in life: the abil­i­ty to dis­con­nect and, well, #OptOut­side in a way that too few of us make time to do.

Because I can’t shut off the part of my brain that thinks about how con­tent can con­nect us to mean­ing, I’ve gone deep on out­door brands because I think that since REI went big with #OptOut­side they’ve real­ly cap­tured an ethos that many Amer­i­cans I know yearn for: the abil­i­ty to escape and push the bound­aries of what’s pos­si­ble. I think it’s what Stra­va got half right in its #GiveKu­dos cam­paign when they tried to con­nect inter­ac­tion on their app to some­thing dif­fer­ent from the hell­stream of polit­i­cal memes we see every time open our phones in the morn­ing. It’s a noble effort and one that I hope these brands con­tin­ue to pur­sue.

I know what you’re think­ing. This is where I announce my next race. You’re not wrong. I’m hop­ing to run my first ultra­ma­rathon — a mere 50K — in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber. I’ve got this!

The Runner Returns

I last wrote about run­ning on this blog in Novem­ber 2013. Look­ing back at ear­li­er posts, it’s hard to believe how chal­leng­ing it was to run after Char­lie arrived. I’m remind­ed that my run­ning bud­dy for my first Philly Dis­tance Run, Mark Gat­ti, promised his wife that he’d take a break from run­ning until his son turned five, a sto­ry he told Jen A. Miller for the Inquir­er back in ’08.

Con­sid­er­ing how many sleep­less nights and impos­si­bly ear­ly morn­ings I had with Char­lie from ’09 to ’11, I couldn’t find the ener­gy to get out and run and when I did, I over­did it and injured myself repeat­ed­ly, cul­mi­nat­ing in a pret­ty seri­ous adduc­tor strain in 2012.

I’ve peri­od­i­cal­ly got­ten out for runs since rehab­bing, but those were very short stints. I imag­ined mov­ing to Jer­sey would trans­late into fan­tas­tic runs along the Coop­er Riv­er, but I still couldn’t find the time.

Now that we’re in Michi­gan and have set­tled in our new home, I’ve start­ed get­ting back after it. I start­ed out in late March with the idea that I’d ease back into shape and not make the sort of com­mit­ments that have end­ed in injury and inac­tiv­i­ty. Welp. I don’t think it was May before I signed up for the Freep Marathon in Octo­ber.

Unlike what hap­pened in 2012, I’ve man­aged to baby myself just enough to get into decent shape. My goal is to qual­i­fy for Boston, just as it was 8 years ago. I’ve set an ambi­tious goal to get as close to that 3 hour thresh­old, but if I come in under 3:10, I’ll be thrilled. Hope­ful­ly this will be my last couch-to-marathon train­ing!

No Goal But Mileage

It’s been a while since I called myself a run­ner. After run­ning con­sec­u­tive marathons in ’08 and ’09, I took a long hia­tus. Turns out being awake all hours with a sleep­less infant isn’t con­ducive to dis­tance run­ning. I tried com­ing back in clas­sic couch-to-marathon style last year, only to injure myself about halfway through train­ing. After months of phys­i­cal ther­a­py, I still didn’t feel quite right, but that didn’t stop me from try­ing again this year, only to meet the same end. It’s been frus­trat­ing since I still want to run that Boston qual­i­fi­er I just missed in freez­ing temps in ’08.
A few weeks ago I start­ed run­ning again. Just three miles, five times a week. No goal but mileage. It’s tak­ing me back to a time before I had a Garmin watch, before I micro­man­aged every step I took on a run. I’m just out there in the cool fall air putting one foot in front of the oth­er. I’m feel­ing bet­ter than I have in years. Turns out run­ning with­out a race in sight is help­ing me build the base I need to get back on track.
Well, that’s not entire­ly true. I signed up for a half marathon at the end of March. I couldn’t help myself. I need a rea­son to stay moti­vat­ed dur­ing these long, dark win­ter months run­ning along­side the Coop­er Riv­er. In the mean­time, I’ll be log­ging miles at a snail’s pace until I feel good enough to push toward my real goal of qual­i­fy­ing for Boston.

I Want to Run

I want to hide, more accu­rate­ly. I’ve run just once since Char­lie start­ed sleep­ing more sound­ly, but that has to change. Not only do I need to run to blow off stress, I need to do a bet­ter job of man­ag­ing my weight. I can’t do that exclu­sive­ly through exer­cise though. Some­thing I need to do a bet­ter job of in 2012 is eat­ing smarter. I know I’ll feel bet­ter if I eat right.

I need to get to the gym, too. Right now I’ve paid $120 for one gym vis­it. There’s no good excuse for that. Can’t wait to get my act togeth­er in 2012!