Flying Solo

In high school I gave a speech at graduation.  In that speech, I used the aphorism that “behind every good man is a great woman.”  Most of the bored soon-to-be-high-school-graduates rolled their eyes because they knew I was talking about my girlfriend of over three years.  I have sometimes wondered how many of our peers in that moment thought: “How long until they are married?”  The answer to that question was: just over 5 years.  A few of them even got to come and celebrate with us!

During our time together, my wife has challenged me in all the right ways to become a better person (this blog was even her idea) and to grow as a man, husband and future father. 

But yesterday, she was not there to go running with me.  

Fortunately, her hard work has paid off and I was able to get myself out of the house and out for a “light” training jog of running for 8 minutes, followed by 1 minute of walking, three times.  It was not easy, and I have to confess that I actually had to listen to some music after the first mile because I was so bored.  I had no idea just how much being able to chat with my partner made the training so much more enjoyable!  I would have much preferred the ability to ask her  random questions about her engineering job that I don’t understand at all, than listen to any music, sermon or audiobook on my phone.  

The single most frustrating part was not being able to spout off the random things that pop into my brain while I jog.  When I jog with my wife, I can vent all the craziness to her and she will either laugh or pretend she didn’t hear me so I move on to something else.  Let me tell you, the kid in his front yard in full football pads practicing kickoffs or the girl who walks circles in our neighborhood wearing headphones or the kid who was riding his bicycle around the same small area of his front yard (we are talking high school kid here) would have been excellent sources of conversation to pass the time while I jogged.  But alas, no one was there to absorb my deep thoughts. 

The funny thing is, I ran at a much faster pace than normal.  We usually go at what amounts to a 12-minute-mile pace (which includes the 1 minute of walking between intervals).  So yesterday I should have gone right at 2 miles during the 26 minutes of jogging plus walking.  When I finished, I realized I had gone a lot further than I expected and was much more exhausted than I should have been.  Come to find out, I ran 2.5 miles, which turned into a 10-minute-mile-ish pace.  

So what’s the takeaway here?  That I run faster/farther without her?  Absolutely not.  Had I been expected to go much longer yesterday, I most likely would have called it quits early because it was too hard for me by myself.  I needed her with me.  Just like in life, my wife is my running mate who helps keep me steady with the right pace and provides amazing support along the way.  If she had been with me yesterday, I not have run as far or at as fast of a pace, but I would have been much more satisfied with the run and enjoyed it a lot more.



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Mental Reps

How many times have you heard about the mental aspect of winning?  Get in the mental reps.  Visualize the victory.  Envision yourself crossing the finish line.  There are hundreds of stories of athletes who have spent countless hours mentally preparing themselves for competition and when the time comes to perform, their bodies just repeat what has happened in their minds already.

I will never be one of those people.

This past week was one of the more challenging weeks of running I have had in the last three years.  

It began with a four mile jog on Saturday (November 9th) at a jog 5 minutes walk 1 minute pace.  My wife and I finished at just under 51 minutes for the run.  The numbers themselves were not terrible – not earth shattering awesome, but let’s be real here – but the kicker was how amazingly exhausted we were for the next 12 hours.  Seriously, it was hard to move.  After four miles.  Not four hundred miles.  Not even six miles like we did this past Saturday.  

In between the four mile Saturday and the six mile Saturday was a jog 10 minute, walk 1 minute four times jog.  There was supposed to be another jog, but the realities of life got in the way.  What was amazing about this jog is that it was totally pain and stress free.  In the 4o minutes of jogging plus 3 minutes of walking, we got about 3.63 miles.  We definitely would have easily come under the 51 minute mark had we gone for four miles.  And afterwards we felt fine!  So weird.  It’s pretty cool to walk away from a challenging jog like that – you real runners can stop laughing at that comment – and feel great.

The six mile jog was mostly a mental challenge for me.  When I was mapping out the route we would be running throughout our neighborhood, I could see most of the route in my mind.  The scenery was great but there was just one problem: it kept going and going and going…Energizer Bunny style.  It was at that moment that the usual panic began to set in: “It’s too far.  You’ll never make it.  Do you realize how long this will take?  You don’t have what it takes.”  In the past (or as they say in Milan, “in the pasta” because they have to end everything with a vowel), these thoughts would have driven me to seriously dread this run, filling me with expectations of failure and humiliation.  My ultimate goal would be to just survive and make it through.  

But this time around, things are a bit different.  This time I put all visions of the route aside, put all thoughts of the time and the pain away.  This time I said I would be there just to enjoy the process.  It did take a very long time (over 1 hour and 15 minutes) and we did take a wrong turn and not quite get to six miles, but it was definitely a growing experience.  Instead of groaning every time we had to start back up for six minutes of jogging after one or two minutes of walking, my thoughts were simply “Let’s do this.”  

About a third of the way through, I said to my wife: “I’m really glad we’re doing this.”  Towards the end, I admit my attitude wasn’t exactly the same…but it took a long time before I really wanted to quit.  By that time all I was envisioning was the time I would have to rest when we got home.

As noble as all of this sounds about growth and change and commitment, I am stoked that this week is a “recovery week” in the training schedule.  Ironically, it means going back down to a four mile jog next Saturday.  It cracks me up that just a week and a half since my last four mile jog, it doesn’t sound so bad!  

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It still blows my mind that we humans have decided that it’s a wonderful thing to wake up early and have competitions where people run, walk or waddle for 27 miles.  Think about that for a second.  Or for those of us wimps who can only do half of that, we still end up going over 13 miles in one chunk.  I try to visualize 13 miles in my head and really it’s just beyond my mental capacity.

But 4 miles?  I can imagine four miles.  

In most marathon training programs I have come across, there are usually a couple of preparation runs during the week and then a longer sustained run on Saturday.  Two days ago was the first such Saturday in our half-marathon training.  We had to go 4 miles, almost a third of a half-marathon.  A little more than 1/7th of an entire marathon.  This is how I think people.

Seeing as how the longest I had run at any given time recently was 2.5 miles, my immediate internal reaction to thinking about four miles (by jogging in 5 minute chunks followed by one minute walks) was to be intimidated.  Especially after I mapped out the run and could see in my mind the entire circuit we were going to be following.  

4 miles is a lot longer than 2.5 miles.  

To my endurance-challenged body and mind, I really began to think all the negative thoughts that push for me two not even try.  Could I really do four miles?  Is it worth it?  Won’t I just hate life for that hour or so that I am out there?  Isn’t it going to hurt?  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard those thoughts when contemplating just about anything physically challenging.  Embarrassing, but true.

This time, though, I opted for something different.  Because I am committing to the process of running – not just getting it over with – I had to start telling myself that “Four miles really isn’t that bad” and “Won’t it be cool to know that you can already do almost 1/3 of a half-marathon after a week of training?”  And so that’s what I did.  And then we went out and did the run.  

I wish I could say it was a breeze.  I wish I could say I was never tempted to walk more than the plan called for or that I am not sore two full days later.  But, eh, that would take all the fun out of it.  We did the four miles and it took just under 51 minutes.  Not bad at all.  It was encouraging and motivating to go out there and get it done without dying, despite the fact that my wife and I had zero energy left to anything the rest of the day (besides celebrate her birthday with the surprise party I had been planning for almost two months – but that’s another story).  

I’m not sure what this  week’s training looks like just yet.  But I know that tomorrow we will go out and get a little bit better.  Go a little bit further.  Run a little bit quicker.  Enjoy it all just a little bit more.  

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“Na-ture” – Pam Beasley

A few years ago, when my wife and I trained for and ran our first (and only, up to this point) half-marathon, it was an awesome way to spend time doing something active together.  Since I am admittedly not an enthusiastic runner, having her run next to me was always the push I needed to finish each timed run, or to leg out the final few hundred yards of a 5 mile jog.  During the actual race, our final time was around 2 hours, 37 minutes…but that’s because she ran with me when I hit a wall.  Had she taken off for her own personal best, she would have finished around 2 hours. 

All of that to say this: yesterday was one of the first times I have gone jogging by myself in a very long time.  

With our work schedules now, it is most likely that every Thursday will be a solo run for me.  During those times, I have two main goals to work on: not cheating or giving up at any point and running without any music, podcasts or audiobooks.  

Yesterday’s run was five times of jogging five minutes and then walking for one minute.  The first two runs I felt great: the sun was shining, the temperature was in the low 70s and I had a rush of endorphins for just getting out and taking care of business.  But then fatigue set in (I mean c’mon, it’s been a few months since I have really done much of this at all).  I went through the usual debate in my head: “I can stop a few seconds short” or “You don’t need to go any further, you’ve done a great job already today.”  Those voices were almost as strong as the ones that say: “Eat that extra slice of cake” and “Think how much joy you’ll get from a hundred ounces of Dr. Pepper for only 99 cents!”  

My response to those voices yesterday was simple.  If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.  Why even be out there if I am going to cut corners and not give it my all?  So that’s what I did.  And even though I could hardly breathe after 30 minutes, I was proud of finishing.

The audio thing is a bit more tricky for me.  For years I used music, podcasts or audiobooks to try and distract my mind from the pain of long-distance running or to try not to be bored.  But I am tired of trying to avoid the pain now.  When I run with my wife, it’s easy because we can chat in little snippets or make silly comments (“Use your eagle pow-ers!”) to lighten the mood.  So yesterday was probably my first attempt at a real run listening only to Nature.  I’m not going to lie, it was tough.  But it got done.  I can’t even remember all the random things that went through my head outside of the voices telling me “You can’t do it,” but ultimately I’m glad I did it.  

Now if only I could play a montage of motivational theme music and skip forward a few months to the race when I will be in perfect running shape…

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Peanut Butter and Going All-In

When it is time for our dog to go into her kennel – whenever we leave the house or at night for bedtime – she does not handle it well.  She whines and barks and scratches at the mat on the bottom of the cage because she can’t stand to be separated from us.  All of this goes down unless we give her peanut butter.  Our dog will do anything for peanut butter.  All I have to do is grab her jar from the pantry and she sprints to her kennel and starts salivating because she knows what’s coming.  Pavlov would be proud.

When it comes to running, I haven’t found my peanut butter yet.  That’s why it’s been about three months or so since I last put foot to pavement.  There is absolutely nothing about running that gets me focused like my dog with peanut butter.  

But it still needs to be done.

In 2010, my wife and I competed in and finished our one and only half-marathon.  It took 2 hours and 37 minutes.  Please, please, try to contain your shock and awe.  A year ago, we tried to commit to training for and doing the same half-marathon, but life got in the way and it was easy to drop the dream because we had not paid for the registration.  Well, earlier this week we decided to give it another go.  Registration will be paid later this month (our apologies to Dave Ramsey, since we did not budget for this) and this blog will officially be about the journey to the Armadillo Dash in College Station, Texas.

Last night we began the same training regimen as three years ago.  The only problem was that we are already behind schedule and decided to pick up on the plan as if we had been training for a few weeks already.  This meant that last night we ran for 8 minutes followed by a 1 minute walk, four times.  Yikes.  Ultimately, we got almost 3 miles in about 38 minutes.  For you english majors like me, that’s still less than a 13 minute mile.  Yay us!

Well, they are giving me the light because this post is running long (running pun…nailed the joke).  I’ll update you more after Thursday’s run.

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Chips and salsa. Dr. Pepper. Donuts.  

What do all of these things have in common?

They currently mean a whole lot more to me than running or being fit. 

Otherwise I would have said no to consuming way too much of all that stuff this weekend, right?  Especially when it’s been three days since I’ve gone for a run.  Alas, in the fight for my soul, junk food is Mike Tyson and running is Mike Tyson’s punching bag.  Admittedly, it’s frustrating.

When I started this, I said I wanted to become a runner.  In my mind, the definition of a runner is someone who doesn’t make excuses not to run.  Someone who seeks to make running important and finds time to make it happen BECAUSE it’s important.  That’s definitely not me right now.  Not even close.  And with the severe but not debilitating pain in my lower back right now, I really don’t know when I will make it back to pounding the pavement.  

I read a quote today by former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz that has me thinking about all this.  Smoltz wrote in his book: 

“The principles I used to push myself through adversity in my career are applicatble in real life in many ways, whether you are trying to start a new career, get out of debt, or even run a 5K for the first time.  I think most people can get started down the right road, but then it seems like the natural tendency is to give up at the first sign of trouble, or the first taste of failure…those limits are mostly in your mind; we all have that capacity to surprise ourselves and attain or achieve things we never thought were possible.” -pg. 70, Starting and Closing.

So where do I go from here?  Crank up the Rocky music, lace up the shoes and go running right now?  Negative, Ghostrider.  I’m going to admit that I have failed myself (and publicly, might I add) and get back on the horse.  As frustrating as this is, it’s really a minor setback in the beginning of what I want to be a life change.  So no harm no foul.

And I’m pretty sure I made it though this without writing a single overused sports cliche that are all just simmering below the surface right now, waiting to bubble out while I explain myself.  Phew.

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Why Run?

Last night we had Bible Study, so we took the night off from running.

I have been meaning to address something about this project since it began: why choose running?  There are so many awesome workouts out there and so many more ways to get fit, why choose this age old method that I proclaim to dislike so much?

Great question.

Quick background on me:  Playing football, basketball and baseball through middle school and then just football and baseball in high school, I was initiated into the world of working out pretty early on.  Through all those years, lifting weights and running sprints were a means of punishing the body into top physical performance.  I am pretty sure the idea was also to build mental toughness, but in reality it just made me hate the work that we were doing because it made me throw up and get migraines.  

I chose not to play college football one morning in high school while running stadium steps after football season was over.  I stood at the top of the steps, looked around and thought “I hate this.  I don’t want to do this anymore.”  For the next few years I worked out sporadically and rarely with a specific goal.  This led to some major weight gain…especially when I hit the all-you-can-eat buffets at my college dorm.

Skipping forward to the last couple of years.  My wife and I tried P90x.  It was a good workout sometimes, but it felt like it lasted 90 minutes most of the time.  Not something we could stick with.  We tried Insanity.  I won’t lie, I had a blast yelling “Cmon y’all….let’s goooooooooooo” along with Shaun T every time we popped a DVD in to get started.  But that’s about the only fun I had.  How am I going to stick with something that’s not in any way actually fun?  For a few months we tried working out at 24 Hour Fitness, but it was too easy to make excuses not to go and thus ended up not being cost effective.

So why running?  It’s cheap and does not require a gym membership.  I don’t have to go buy any equipment.  My wife and my dog can be along for the adventure.  And there is something concrete that I can set as a goal and work towards.  There are tons of short and long distance races that I can strive for.  There are marathons in Hawaii, Greece and Zermatt, Switzerland.  I can listen to music, or baseball or Dave Ramsey as we train.  

The simple fact is, I want to be able to identify myself as a runner.  I’m not there yet.  I’m not someone who sticks with long-term, difficult projects like this very well.  But there is something different this time.  Something more intrinsic.  This isn’t for anyone else.  This isn’t because I feel I have to.  This is because I want to.

Who’s going to stop me?

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