I often have deep and random thoughts when I run. Here are a few that I had while running in May:
1. It’s humid.
2. What is that smell?
3. Is that a water treatment plant?
4. Wow. I’m thirsty.
5. I could go for a banana.
6. Do bananas grow in Georgia?
7. It’s humid enough for bananas to grow in Georgia.
8. Is that a golf cart in front of me?
9. No. It’s a stroller.
10. Thats the biggest stroller I’ve ever seen.
11. That’s the biggest baby I’ve ever seen.
12. Maybe I’m seeing double.
13. Oh. Twins.
14. There’s sweat in my eyes.
15. Wow. I’m thirsty.
What do you think about while running?
When it comes to running, there are days when you simply don’t have it. Something isn’t working. You’re out of breath and your body isn’t responding. You don’t plan it. It just happens. And unfortunately, it happens when you least expect it.
It’s a strange phenomenon that really can’t be explained so it comes down to this. In running and in life…
Somedays you have it and somedays you don’t.
During a training run this week, I experienced one of those “You don’t have it.” days. I felt like an old washing machine that was missing a foot. The kind of washing machine that rattles and shimmies and makes all kinds of noises. I was the washing machine that wobbles around during the wash cycle and bangs against the back wall during the spin cycle. I was the washing machine that everyone hates.
A mile in and I was out of breath. My feet weren’t hitting the ground right and my legs where out of sync. I felt like my arms were flailing and flopping in the wind. My head was down and my rhythm was off. I was an old washing machine running down the trail. Clumsy, loud and off balance. I was the runner that I hate.
So what do you do when this catastrophe happens? How do you realign and get out of this funk?
Here are three simple things that will help:
* Find a beat – If you listen to music while you run, hone in on the beat. Feel the rhythm and focus on the drum beat or the bass line. Let your feet land in time with music.
* Find your inner metronome – If you don’t have music, imagine a metronome. Listen to the tick. Watch the needle move back and forth in your mind. In short, trick yourself and create your own beat.
* Disassociate – When your running is out of sync, think about anything else but running. Think about your favorite vacation spot. Think about your favorite person. Think about you favorite experience. Your body has an amazing ability to remember things. Your muscles have memories. Don’t think about running. Your body knows how. Let it do it.
Do you have off days? How do you get past them?
I often have deep and random thoughts while I run. Here are a few things that went through my head while I ran in April:
1. How much pollen do plants hold?
2. Everything is so green.
3. I need more plants in my yard.
4. There is no way to sneeze gracefully while running.
5. My trail is blocked.
6. I hate detours.
7. That guy in the hard hat looks mean.
8. I love new running routes.
9. Ohh. Taco Bell.
10. Yum. Sour cream.
11. That squirrel is going to move out of my way.
12. That squirrel is NOT going to move out of my way.
13. OH GOD! IT’S ON MY LEG!!
14. There is no way to gracefully shake a squirrel off of you while running.
15. Do squirrels like tacos?
What do you thing about while running?
“How do I make this pain in my legs go away?”
Part one of my answer is that I am not a doctor and if the pain is serious and persistent, you should see a doctor.
Part two of my answer is that if your a runner, pain comes with the territory. When your legs hurt in the morning, when you are sore in at least one part of your body on a daily basis, when you accept the pain as part of the package… then you know you’re a runner.
Along with being sore a lot, there are other dead give aways that identify you as a runner.
You know you’re a runner when:
- You find yourself stretching subconsciously in random places like a grocery store, at work, during a face to face conversation or at church.
- You bring up tempo runs in two out of three conversations.
- You think sweat is a fragrance.
- You don’t feel silly saying “fartlek“.
- People gasp when you tell them you went for a short and easy 10 miler.
- You run in your dreams.
- You put in extensive research before buying shoes.
- 90% of your clothing includes sweat wicking technology.
- If you’re not gasping for air at the end of a workout, you think it’s a failure.
- You own three or more water belts.
- You love the taste of Gel’s. (blech!)
- You have one or more playlists on your ipod titled “RUNNING”.
- You put bandaids in strategic places.
- You’re chafed… somewhere.
- No one wants to run with you on long run days.
- You’re a human garbage disposal.
- You have killer calves.
- You feel like you can conquer the world after a good run.
- You wish they sold endorphins over the counter.
- You feel alive!
And the list goes on and on.
What are some other things that identify you as a runner?
I believe runners are gifted athletes. We may not be able to throw a ball 100 mph, tackle a 200 lb. running back or perform a double windmill slam dunk but runners are gifted. As gifted or more so than a professional athlete. Why? Because we are consistent.
As runners, our season never ends. There is always another race. Ours is a year round sport. There is a 5k every weekend and a half marathon every month. We are constantly running and this is what makes us pro’s. We’re consistent. We always show up. But should we have an offseason?
In my mind, there is an unofficial running season. It ranges from mid march to late November, occasionally stretching into December. Just like seasons in a professional sport, there has to be a time to slow down and to take our foot off of the proverbial pedal.
Here are three benefits of a running offseason:
Healing - Running is grueling and the pavement and trails show no mercy. Our joints take a beating when we are in training mode. And just like the pro’s, we sacrifice and play hurt. The offseason gives us a chance to lower the mileage and dial down the intensity. It gives our bodies a chance to heal and strengthen.
Longevity - Though we love our sport, it’s easy to burn out. Running year round can get old fast and the enthusiasm that we usually have can be hard to conjure up at times. As much as running is a physical sport, it’s also a mental and emotional sport. The offseason is our chance to get our hearts and minds right and to make the joy of running last longer.
It’s flexible - I hate running in the cold so my offseason is during the winter months. But your offseason can be anytime. Every other month? Every two months? The beauty of a running off season is that it doesn’t come with rules or timeframes. You can take it when you want.
You are a runner. A gifted and committed athlete. You love your sport and you pour everything into it. But it’s a good idea to ease off the accelerator from time to time. Enjoy your offseason.
Here are five things that I learned or was reminded of this week:
1. The truth will set you free.
2. I have a love/hate relationship with my treadmill.
3. There is huge difference between watching playoff football live as opposed to watching on TV.
4. I don’t like going 20 plus days without seeing the sun.
5. Underdogs are dangerous.
What did you learn this week?
The last time I checked, my right shoe was a mirror image of my left shoe. It’s made of the same amount of fabric and rubber as the left. It has the same red, orange and black color scheme as the left shoe and it has the same length and width.
My right shoe is just as roomy and comfortable as the left. It has a little more wear on the sole than the left but that’s just because I’m right footed. If there is such a thing as being right footed.
To any other person my right shoe would seem insignificant compared to my left shoe. But my right shoe has special meaning to me. It’s more than a ride. It represents something bigger. Because my right shoe is where I begin.
Running is rewarding and fun but it can also be hard and intimidating. Starting is the most difficult part and that degree of difficulty varies from person to person. Where do we begin?
We begin by getting off the couch.
We begin by getting out of bed.
We begin by stepping out the door.
We begin by lacing up.
I begin with my right shoe.
Putting my right shoe on first is less of a ritual or quirk. It’s more of a battle cry.
It’s a warning to the asphalt that lies ahead of me. It’s an ultimatum to the clock that I’m determined to beat. It’s an angry glare into the eyes of doubt and fear.
But most importantly, my right shoe is simply where I begin. It’s that start of something good.
We all begin somewhere. How will you begin today?
“Three hours of non stop american history”.
This is what I thought to myself every time I entered the classroom on Wednesday nights back in the late nineties. Three hours of non stop american history, sitting in an out-of-date wooden desk underneath humming fluorescent lights. No breaks. No pauses. No escape.
Our teacher was an older man. He was mysterious and closed off. He reminded me of an old, battle hardened war vet, weathered and emotionless. The same solemn demeanor week in and week out. Picture being taught history by Clint Eastwood with a beer belly.
He always wore the same wrinkled button down shirt and a pair of khakis and he demanded that we show up for every class, on time. We could ask no questions. We just sat there, listened and tapped our pencils on the desks.
Every Wednesday night he leaned on the front of his desk and spoke for three hours with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. He used no notes or visual aids. Just a man and his memories. It was as if he lived in all those moments, recounting every obscure and minute detail like it was fresh.
His favorite phrase was “moving forward”. After he explained, in detail, every historical american event he would transition with “moving forward”. After every defining struggle and every monumental victory, we moved forward. Because history doesn’t stand still.
Every Wednesday night we learned how America grew. We learned how it over came adversity and became what it is now. Through the eyes of a grumpy old history teacher, we learned that history is dynamic and ever happening.
If there is anything that we can learn from history it’s that we can never be content with where we are. To make history, we have to move forward even when it is hard to do so.
When I think back on that class and remember the old mans words, I think of my own struggles:
When the words aren’t coming out right while writing this.
When my legs aren’t responding while during a run.
When the day job becomes mundane.
And when I compare those history lessons with my spiritual life, I understand that it also has to move forward. When I struggle with faith I’m reminded that God is compassionate and loving and that each day is a fresh start. Every day is a new opportunity.
Are you making history today?
(photo by: woodleywonderworks, creative commons)
The big, black dog barked at me from the other side of the fence. It wasn’t one of those deep, howling barks that says “Hey. Here I am. Look at me.” It was a snarling bark. That shrieking bark that says “I will rip you to shreds dude!”
I was running on a lonely stretch of road. A road where few people travel by foot. It was a narrow and hilly road that was lined with horse farms and vast private estates. I’m sure this dog wasn’t used to seeing anyone run by his place. I was an alien in his land. Un-welcomed.
It was as if he owned this plot of land and that I wasn’t allowed to run by it. He kept his head low and his hackles were up. I could clearly see his yellow teeth. His buddy, a smaller dog but just as loud, joined in when he heard the other one barking. I was outnumbered. Thankfully the fence separated me from them.
I didn’t slow down. They ran with me from the other side of the fence and when I was passed their property, they disappeared into the woods and the barking stopped. Out of the corner of my eye I could see them shuffling around were the fence turned away from the street. There was a spot where the rain had created a dog sized hole around a fence pole.
Without looking back I knew what was about to happen. And then I heard the tapping of claws on asphalt. They were tapping in rapid succession. The dogs were free. I was being chased. Release the hounds!
I knew I wouldn’t be able to outrun them. I was running up a steep hill and there was nowhere to hide. I looked around for anything I could use to defend myself. A rock. A stick. Anything. But there was nothing but leaves and rotten apples that fell from an overhanging tree. My only hope was that they were hungry for fruit.
With no weapons and no plan, I instinctually stopped and turned to face them. The big dog was running toward me and barking. His buddy trailed behind. I thought briefly about how good my round house kick would be. Would I be able to make contact? Should I go for the eyes? Maybe a judo chop to the throat.
I knew if I tried to run away that they would see me as prey – so I stood my ground. I raised my arms and made myself as big as possible. I remembered something from a television show about dogs.
No talk. No touch. No eye contact. So I stood there quietly with my gaze just over their heads.
At that moment I realized what I was really afraid of. The clock on my running app was still ticking as the dogs and I were facing off. I had a goal in mind for this run. A pace to keep. And this altercation was helping none to much. These dogs were holding me up and at that moment my fear of being mauled was trumped by my fear of being slow.
In that instant I was motivated by fear. The fear that I wouldn’t meet my goal. The fear that my average minutes per mile would grow higher. I couldn’t let that happen so I walked away from the stand off and continued up the hill, unconcerned about teeth sinking into my heels.
When I reached the top I looked back over my shoulder and the dogs were still there. The big one stared at me from afar. He stood there proud and tall – “Don’t come around here no more!” The smaller dog stood behind him with his tongue hanging out to the side – “Yeah, you better run!”
So I used that fear of not finishing strong to my advantage. It turned it into fuel. I fed off of it. The fear of chasing dogs slowed me down but the fear of being slow kept me going.
Are you motivated by fear?
The hills of Atlanta started taking their toll on me at about mile eighteen of my first marathon. Each step forward was a monumental task. Every footfall was a small victory. There were only eight miles to go, but the finish line seemed like a world away.
It became clear to me that the person who designed the streets of Atlanta didn’t have runners in mind. Instead of winding, flat, asphalt roads, I pictured the streets of Atlanta as a long, steep staircase that led to a summit. The kind of staircase you see in old kung fu movies. The ones that are made of stone and zig-zag along the side of a mountain that leads to an ancient temple at the peak. Success and enlightenment wait at the top for those who can make the climb.
It’s no mystery that the mind starts playing tricks on you at that stage of the marathon. During those last few miles I was passed by a gangly older man, wearing all black. His skin was olive and we shared the same hair line. I noticed our similarities.
He mumbled to himself while he ran, like I sometimes do. He ran with his head slightly down, like I sometimes do. His arms and shoulders were relaxed and his cadence was steady – like mine sometimes is.
In the distress that I was feeling in those final few miles, I saw that man as the future version of me. My thoughts began to race as I watched him pull away and disappear over the next hill. The marathon is emotionally draining and when my future passed me by, I began to think that my life was flashing before my eyes right there amongst the hills of Atlanta.
I wondered where the old man in black had been. Where did he come from? What got him to this point?He never gave up on running. He was lucky to have not sustained any injuries that would keep him off the street. His legs were strong and quick. His passion and determination are what got him here. Two things you need in a marathon and in life.
I wondered where the old man was now. Maybe he had a family waiting for him at the finish line. A wife, children, grandchildren ready to welcome him with open arms and a cool bottle of Gatorade.
Did he know God? Was he praying that he would make it over that next hill? Not to puke? To reach the finish line? I had to believe he was asking for help from above because that’s what I was doing at that point. I had to rely on God at mile eighteen because my own strength wasn’t enough.
When I crested the next hill, I saw my future far in the distance. He was climbing the next hill. One of the many endless hills that stood between us and the finish line. But he wasn’t intimidated. He never slowed down. He was strong and fast.
I liked how my future was shaping up. It was bright and exciting – but it wasn’t necessarily true.
When the hills flattened out during the last stretch of the race, my foray into the future came to an end. I could see Centennial Olympic Park just down the road. The finish line was near. At this point the future didn’t matter and neither did the past. At this point during the race all that mattered was the here and now. This stretch of road.
I have an idea and a vision of my future but it isn’t guaranteed. Because His ways aren’t my ways and even though I’ve learned from the past, all that matters is where I am now.
My future may not be a gangly old man in black who runs like the wind. I can’t say with certainty that I’ll even be running when I’m his age. I can only hope.
But I believe that there will be hills to climb and that the road will sometimes be flat and smooth. There will be mountains to traverse and the view from the top will be spectacular. And I believe that my strength alone is not enough to make it.
All that matters is where we are now and that the only way ahead is forward. One monumental step at a time. One small victory at a time.