Battle plan

I had my podiatrist appointment last week, and it went way better than I expected it to. I had a bunch of x-rays, and nothing is broken or out of place, which is a big relief.

I had to give this guy my life story of the past 8 months: how it happened, what I’ve tried, which doctors I’ve been to, how it used to feel, how it feels now, what I’ve been doing exercise-wise, where I got my orthotics, the whole nine yards. When I described how the piano came flying toward me and crushed my ankle against a concrete step, he was horrified. When I told him I ran a marathon on it, he was incredulous, but pleased in the sense of “well, if you could do that, it can’t be that bad.”

There’s no name for what’s going on with my foot and ankle, with is annoying because it makes it cumbersome to describe. It’s not like “runner’s knee” or “IT band syndrome” or anything like that. Basically, that piano bashed the ever-loving hell out of some ligaments that tried to heal themselves and became knotted up with scar tissue and adhesions, which are stiff and inflamed, which prevents my foot from having a proper range of motion, which my foot adapted to because it’s lazy, which causes more swelling, which irritates some nerve in my foot, which makes it tingly and achy.

Solution: deep tissue “massage” and intense “stretching,” AKA torture. Basically, they are going to squeeze and smash the scar tissue out of me with assorted torture devices. I’m set to go to therapy twice a week for three weeks, then then see where I’m at.

While I was there, I also had him look at the custom shoe inserts I had made over the summer, and he was somewhat baffled. They cast the molds correctly and they fit my feet fine, but apparently they used a much stiffer material for the bottom half than what is common. Typically, they use a softer cork so there’s a bit more give when your foot hits the ground, but mine is really dense and stiff. He made a few adjustments and they’re fitting much better, but he said he’d like to replace the cork on the bottom with something more appropriate, so I’ll probably look into that after I see how therapy is going.

I ran 1 mile on the treadmill after going to the doctor Thursday, then Dan and I walked about 7 miles on Sunday. I don’t think my ankle is quite ready to pound the pavement just yet, and I’m definitely not comfortable dropping any money on race registrations, but I’m feeling much more positive about the situation and closer to running “for real” again.

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Chicago marathon!

I know, I know. It happened a week ago, but better late than never, right?

As I was running my race, I realized that 26.2 miles is really far, and that there was no way that I’d be able to remember or register everything that was happening during those miles in order to write about it. Having that thought is essentially the only thing I remember thinking during the entire race. Oh, that and the PAIN.

I’m only sort of kidding.

Actually, everything about the day of the marathon could not have gone better, which I am tremendously thankful for.

Dan and I got into town on Friday night, where our friends Lindsay and Kevin promptly took us out to eat at a great pasta place I can’t remember the name of. I didn’t even take any pictures of my food. Helpful, I know. I was being really lame, so we watched a horribly depressing episode of Taxicab Confessions then went to bed.

Saturday morning, we woke up and Kevin took us to Bang Bang Pie Shop where we enjoyed the most amazing biscuits, homemade jams and butters, and candied bacon ever. Breakfast stuck with me so long that I wasn’t hungry for lunch until almost 3…which is miraculous. After breakfast, I met up with some acquaintances/friends who were nice enough to let me third-wheel it all Saturday.

Katie and I met at the national ACES conference [nerd alert] in Cleveland back in 2006 [ouch]. We kept up over the years though social media and both started to get really into running around the same time. She and her longtime friend Mike try to run a race together every year, and Chicago was 2013’s selection. They found a nice apartment for us to stay at on Airbnb and were kind enough to let me tag along to the expo, go to lunch, chill at the apartment and indulge my crazy nail art hobby, go to dinner with their friends, stay with them Saturday night, and navigate to the race start Sunday morning. As Katie said after, it was nice to be friends in real life for once!

We made our way to the expo with Katie’s fiancé, Lance, leading the way. He worked in Chicago for several years and had a better sense of the city than the rest of us, that’s for sure! The expo was huge…it was so overwhelming that I was too busy navigating the crowds to bother really taking any pictures. It was really well organized, there was just so much…humanity. Not paying attention to where they were going or what they were doing. We got our numbers/shirts, and I made a brief stop by the DetermiNation tent to pick up my Charity Village credentials and make an extra race bib. Then we got out of there!

My DetermiNation bib.

My DetermiNation bib.

After the expo, we grabbed some Chipotle and went back to the apartment to chill out. We had a 7:45 dinner reservation for, you guessed it, more pasta, but we didn’t get our seats until I don’t even know when. By the time we ate and paid, it was well after 10 and we were fading fast. We headed back to the apartment and got our race day stuff together, agreed on a 5 a.m. wakeup time, and went to bed. Actually, I stayed up a bit longer to finish my race day nails, then finally got into bed around midnight. I slept OK; I fell asleep pretty quickly, but woke up a lot throughout the night. The upstairs neighbors were playing their music a bit loudly, then I heard gunshots, then fireworks, then it was time to wake up! Despite my fitful sleep, I hopped out of bed and was ready to roll pretty quickly.

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Obligatory nail art picture (grasping celebratory post-marathon wine).

My favorite part of the morning was probably the 5 minutes of standing in the kitchen with Katie and Mike, silently choking down various combos of peanut butter, bread, and bananas and drinking our coffee. Even though we didn’t say anything, it was really nice to share that moment with other people after months of doing the exact same thing all by myself every Saturday morning.

After breakfast, we walked to the L and made our way to the race start with no problems. Security was stricter than any other race I’ve done; I kind of felt like I was at the airport. Your race number had to be showing constantly, and they went through everyone’s gear check bag before admitting runners into Grant Park. We checked our gear and had just enough time to take a few pictures and wait in line for the bathroom before we went to our respective corrals.

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Me, Katie, and Mike right after entering Grant Park.

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Chicago skyline, right before entering Grant Park.

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Ready to rock and roll!

We lined up in our corrals with approximately 1 billion other people, and before we knew it, we were crossing the starting line.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I really don’t remember a whole lot about running the race. There were so many people everywhere that I was just trying to concentrate on not getting stomped on or elbowed or tripping over anyone. I was mostly successful. The crowd support was overwhelming. There were tons of spectators and they were cheering so loudly, it was like being in a wind tunnel. I just tried to stay calm and relaxed to avoid getting caught up on the moment and going out too fast.

Around 3 miles in, I realized I needed to hit the bathroom again. The lines were crazy long, so I decided to wait until the next stop, at around 5 miles. At that point, the lines were still really long,  but I figured that I would be uncomfortable for a large portion of the race, and I might as well be as comfortable as possible for the earlier, easier miles. I also figured it’d be better to get it over with early in the race so I wouldn’t have to stop and then try to regain momentum later. Unfortunately, my pit stop cost me somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes because the lines were pretty long. Not ideal, but I’m glad that I did it instead of risking feeling sick later in the race. Luckily, that’s the only time I had to stop.

From that point on, I put on the cruise control and kind of zoned out, making it a point to look around and check out my surroundings every few minutes. I didn’t bother checking my watch too often, as my Garmin paces were all over the place and wildly inaccurate. I tried to take a few Honey Stinger chews every 3 miles and mixed Gatorade and water at each of the water stops, which were spaced out about every 1.5 miles or something. I’d walk for 30ish seconds to drink and eat a few chews, then resume running. That was my strategy for the whole race, and it worked really well; I never got a stomach ache or bonked.

Dan, Lindsay, Kevin and the rest of the crew were all waiting for me at mile 16, so my primary goal was to make it to that point looking and feeling strong. I was due for some more chews around then, but I didn’t want them to see me walking, so I held off. I never did see them, though they saw me and yelled. Dan said I was totally ‘in the zone,’ which must have been true for me to miss them. I didn’t want them to see me walk, even just for a fuel break, so that propelled me through mile 17.5. Once I realized I had likely missed them, I just put my head down and powered through. I kept repeating the phrase “controlled fall” in my head and made it a point to check my posture and run as relaxed as possible. We hadn’t discussed it beforehand, but I knew that my mom and our friend Ann would be at the finish; I just had a feeling that I’d see them. I focused on getting to mile 20, then from that point on reveled in the fact that each additional step would be a personal distance record for me.

Around 22 miles in, I definitely started to hurt. I didn’t hit the infamous WALL, but my hips and low back were aching and my calves started feeling a little crampy. I had to step off the course twice for about 20 or 30 seconds each to stretch a little. People always praise the Chicago course for being so flat and fast, but that also means that the exact same muscles are taking a serious pounding for all 26.2 miles of the race. It was a huge relief to shake out a little.

At no point did I ever, ever feel like I wouldn’t be able to finish. My ankle also felt great the entire time. After months of training, and several weeks of fretting over my ability to happily complete the race after missing some significant training runs because of my ankle issues, I felt oddly calm the entire time I was running. Once I crossed the starting line and began running, my brain shut off and I just went on auto pilot.

I took a slightly longer walking break at mile 24, probably about 2 minutes, then made a deal with myself that I would run the remainder of the race, and run I did! I got some kind of second wind and I’m pretty sure my legs were just numb after hours of pounding. It was a little frustrating, because the course got pretty narrow in certain parts and a lot of people were walking. Weaving around them was too much energy at that point, and I didn’t trust myself to not trip or lose my balance. I feel like I could have gained some valuable time had I not gotten stuck, but oh well.

Once I got around 1,000 or 800 meters away from the finish, I heard “GO, SALLIE, GO!!!!!!” Sure enough, it was my mom, screaming at the finish just like I knew she’d be. For context, there are thousands of people at the finish line, cheering, ringing cow bells, blasting music, etc. My mom has a…signature cheering voice that is capable of piercing through pretty much any other noise. Not only did I hear her, but I was able to zero in and find her and Ann in the crowd. After that, it was game over. I was so ready to be done, I tore up the “hill” (I think it was a bridge or on-ramp or something. I was super thankful for my Tower Grove Park hills at that point) and cruised across the finish line. Official finish time: 5:01:26.

I threw my hands up and let out a triumphant yell as I crossed the finish line. I miiiight have shed a few tears of joy as I hobbled through the finish chute and got my medal.

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Wahoo!

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Me with my new hardware and a giant smile.

The walk from the finishing area back to the gear check and park exit was brutal. It was about a mile or something and required descending some stairs. After running all that way, I managed to walk to the beer table, grab a cold one, and hobble off to the side of the fenced in area. I collapsed and enjoyed about half of my beer (after calling mom to tell her not to worry, I just needed to sit for a minute).

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The sweet taste of success.

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Bling bling.

Mom and Ann took me back to their hotel, where I took the hottest, most glorious shower of my life and passed out for a few hours. After I was back among the living, Lindsay and Dan joined forces to make an amazing celebratory dinner of Italian pot roast, horseradish mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and homemade bread. There might have been a little (a lot) of wine and champagne, too. I fell asleep with a full belly, happy heart, and major sense of accomplishment.

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Pizza and beers at Piece, aka Heaven on Earth.

Getting out of bed the next day was another story…but I managed to fight my way through it and eat all of the pizza and beer!

Overall, I feel great about this experience. Running in memory of Kim and in honor of my grandma was so tremendously rewarding. Thinking of them and of all the people who donated to the American Cancer Society in support of this run was a huge source of comfort and motivation during my training, especially when I was having doubts about my ankle. I wish I hadn’t lost that time in the bathroom, because a time of 4:XX would have felt pretty darn good, but I really can’t complain. I didn’t bonk, my body held up, I didn’t doubt myself, and I was able to raise money for a great cause. I can definitely see myself running another marathon in the future, but for now, I’m just going to bask in the glow of what I’ve accomplished thus far.

I did it!

Taper!

Weeks 14 and 15 are done! Now it’s time to taper.

Going into Saturday’s 20-miler, I was feeling pretty discouraged. I missed two important long runs while my ankle was being sorted out (16 and 18 miles), so my longest run prior to this weekend was only 15 miles. That means I added 33.33333% to the distance of my longest run at that point. Kind of scary.

Let’s start with week 14, shall we?

Week 14

Monday: Walked 2.25 miles. I was pretty sore after the half marathon that Saturday; the hills did a number on my hips.
Tuesday: 5 miles @ 9:29. I varied the pace on the treadmill for this one, doing 0.2-0.3-mile pick-ups (8:49-9:05) every so often. I’ve done so much slogging to get through all of my mileage; it felt good to pick up the pace a little. Forgot what that felt like.
Wednesday: 2.07 elliptical; 4.88 bike. Didn’t want to push my ankle too much, so I threw in some cross training. I hated it.
Thursday: 9 miles @ 10:01. Finally, a decent run. No walking, my ankle felt good, and the weather was pleasant. My right IT band/hip flexor was super tight, which I think is a function of old shoes and my stride being a bit different from the taping for my ankle. Something to keep an eye on.
Friday: Rest.
Saturday: 15 @ 10:43. Got a late start on this one. Had a friend in town, and we stayed up too late. Couple that with the great weather, and I wasn’t in a rush to get out the door. My right IT band started locking up around 10 miles in. I stopped to buy a Gatorade and had a rough time starting back up because of the tightness. Took it to task with the foam roller after my run, and that helped out.
Sunday: Rest.

Total: 38ish miles; 6 hours, 39 minutes.

Overall, I felt pretty good about week 14. Despite missing some big runs in the previous weeks, I was able to hop back into training with minimal consequences. I’m not sure what’s going on with my IT band; it’s been a while since I had an adjustment at the chiropractor, and that usually helps. It’s on the list for next pay day.

Week 15

This was supposed to be my “peak week,” but my mileage was way lower than it should have been. I was mega wiped out on Monday, but I really should have gone running. On Tuesday, we learned that one of Dan’s aunts had passed away after having surgical complications. That obviously put a damper on the day and the rest of the week, which was really emotionally exhausting. The funeral was Friday, and we just came home and collapsed. At any rate, I did get some good running done, just not the ideal amount.

Monday: 2.28 walk. Nothing to report.
Tuesday: Rest.
Wednesday: 3 miles @ 9:39 in the morning; 7 miles @ 9:42 in the evening. Doing a double was the only way I was going to get 10 miles done midweek. Even though I had to break it into 2, it felt good to get double digits on a week day.
Thursday: Rest. Long day at work preparing to be off for the funeral on Friday; I also had to take Dan into the office extra early, then we had a concert to go to that night, so there was zero time for running. I did, however, pack my running stuff and take it to work, hilariously thinking I’d have time to get a few miles in on my lunch break or something. Not.
Friday: Rest. Went to the funeral and burial in the morning and didn’t get home until the afternoon. We were both worn out and just took it easy for the rest of the day. It was super dreary and raining, so whatever.
Saturday: 20.5 miles @ 10:58. Got this one DONE! Took a semi-new route to change things up.

I ran by Big River Running to pick up some Honey Stingers, then did a lap around Francis Park, ran Chippewa to Kingshighway, then down Arsenal and around Tower Grove Park and the Botanical Gardens (a few times), then down Morgan Ford to get home. I only had a doughnut for breakfast, which wasn’t even close to enough food. I was feeling rough around 10/11 miles in, then I crossed paths with a guy who is always at Tower Grove Park selling Gus’ soft pretzels at the Center Cross intersection. This lovely, toothless man not only sold me an amazing soft pretzel for a dollar; he also told me a bizarre story about being propositioned by an elderly woman who wanted to take him home. Yeah,. It was…interesting, but I was too busy inhaling my pretzel to be truly disturbed by what he was saying until later.

Had I not gotten that pretzel, I don’t think I would’ve been able to finish this run. It was touch-and-go for miles 12-14/15, then my food kicked in and I finished the last 5 strong. Again, my right hip flexor was being weird for like the first 10 miles, then I stopped in the park and really, really stretched it out. That seemed to work and it didn’t bother me for the last half of the run. I felt great at the end and could have kept going. Given how shaky the past few weeks of training have been, this was a great confidence booster.

Sunday: Rest. Definitely sore when I woke up this morning, but not too terrible. I took a salt bath and will be spending some quality time with my foam roller tonight.

Total: 33 miles, 6 hours, 24 minutes.

It’s officially taper time! My long runs for this and next week are 12 and 8 miles, respectively, then it’s race time! After so many months of planning for, talking about, and training for this race, it will finally be here!

 

Recap: 8, 9, 10

Get excited! I’m finally catching you up on my stellar training. Ha. *crickets*

For the past 3 weeks, I’ve only been managing about 3 runs/week, which is far from optimal. Every summer from mid-July to mid-August is always crazy for us, including this one, mostly because there are so many family birthdays during that time period. Add some travel and rough days at work/life, and the running just had to give. However, I’m feeling motivated and back on track for Week 11, which is good; the mileage is starting to ramp up. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s what I’ve done the past three weeks:

Week 8

Monday: Rest.
Tuesday: 6.45 @ 9:10. Super fun run! It was misty and overcast. Really reminded me of my old cross country days. Ran out at Westport immediately after work, which is pretty hilly, but I didn’t even feel it. Very satisfying.
Wednesday:
Rest.
Thursday:
3.05 @ 9:10. Made it a point to wake up and get some miles before work on my birthday. Wanted to start another year on this planet right.
Friday:
10.5 @ 11:25 + 1 hour pilates
This sucked. I took the day off to go shopping for my birthday and figured I should do my long run so I could enjoy the rest of the weekend. It was muggy, the trail was super boring, and none of the bathrooms/water fountains were where the map indicated they would be. Not awesome. This was supposed to be 12-14 miles, but I ran out of time before I was supposed to meet up with Lacy for pilates, which was super challenging after such an awful run. Then I shopped all afternoon. I was exhausted.
Saturday: Rest.
Sunday: Rest.

Total: 20 miles; 4 hours, 12 minutes

Week 9

I knew this week would be a stretch because I was traveling to Chicago for a raging bachelorette party. I had hoped to get in my 10-mile long run after we arrived on Friday…fat chance of that. We hit the boardwalk and got beers right away. Anyway, still managed some miles. I also felt mega wiped out, like on the verge of being ill, earlier in the week. Took some rest when I should’ve been trying to front-load my runs…but I was just so run down.

Monday: Rest.
Tuesday: Rest.
Wednesday: 4 @ 9:20. First run after my suckfest of a long run the previous week. Needed to shake off that bad mojo.
Thursday: 3 @ 9:30. Did some easy miles before work on the treadmill at the gym.
Friday: On the bus for the bachelorette party…let’s just say I was lucky I was still standing.
Saturday: 4.25 @ 10:35. Woke up feeling rough, straight up. Drank some water and slept it off for a bit, then grabbed some breakfast and ran a few miles by the lakefront in Chicago. It was a gorgeous day…had I not been hungover, there would’ve been more miles in me.
Sunday: 5-mile(ish) walk. Walked all over Chicago killing time before the bus came. Was running on 5 hours of sleep, which is about twice as much as everyone else got…

Total: 16 miles; 4 hours, 20 minutes

Week 10

Monday: Rest. Still recovering from the bachelorette party. Bouncing back from sleep-deprivation is getting harder and harder with age.
Tuesday: AM: 3.2 @ 9:22; Lunch: 1.3 walk.
Woke up mega groggy and cranky. Didn’t fully wake up until about a mile in. Did this on the treadmill; it seems to be easier on my ankle, which has been feeling tingly and annoyed lately. Walked on my lunch break.
Wednesday: 7.25 @ 9:14. Got this done after work. I ate too many Mike and Ikes, which made my stomach grumpy, but that feeling passed around 3 miles in. Maybe they’d be good long run fuel…
Thursday: Rest. Totally should’ve done my other short run today, but didn’t. No good reason.
Friday: Rest, as planned.
Saturday:  15 miles @ 11:09.
Personal distance record, woooo! I maintained a 10:25ish pace during the running parts, but the last 3-4 miles were pretty rough. I really want to get to the point where I don’t need walking breaks at the end of these longer runs. I don’t know if I need to start slower or begin fueling earlier, but something just doesn’t feel quite “on” for these long runs yet. Hoping to figure that out over the next 8 weeks. Anyway, took an ice bath after, and dozed for about 45 minutes, then lazed around the house all day. Went out for an amazing dinner of filet mignon and lobster. I’m sure that aided recovery.
Sunday: Rest. I foolishly hoped I’d be able to cram my last 4 miles of the week in on Sunday, but my legs were toast…duh. Took a salt bath and stretched really well, which helped a lot!

Total: 27 miles; 4 hours, 49 minutes.

Week 3 training recap

Week 3 is done! Last week was super busy; I wasn’t home nearly enough and didn’t run in the mornings like I wanted to. I also didn’t do much walking or cross training, but I did get in my mileage (and then some), so I’ll take it!

Monday
Plan: 3 miles easy
Actual: 3.2 @ 9:22. My hamstrings were still pretty sore from last Friday’s deadlifts, but this still felt good! I also got a walk in on my lunch break.

Tuesday
Plan: 4 miles easy
Actual: Big River Speedwork at the track –

.5 warmup
4 sets of:
2 x 200m + 400 m @ mile pace, approx 6:44
Recovery jog/walk to match distance ran
Some kind of cooldown.

My Garmin was out of whack, but I think I ended up with around 4.5 miles for this one.

Wednesday
Plan:  Rest
Actual: 3.25 @ 9:13. I usually take the day after speedwork off, but I was feeling good and didn’t know how Thursday would play out. Started around 9:40 and worked down to 8:00. Felt easy after the sub-7:00 repeats the day before!

Thursday
Plan: Cross train
Actual: Rest. Kind of? I had too much stuff to do around the house, including some freelance work.

Friday
Plan: 3 miles easy
Actual: Rest. Again, lots of stuff to do, and Dan and I had a date at our favorite sushi place.

Saturday
Plan:  5 miles long
Actual: 8.25 hilly miles @ 10:30.

This was supposed to be my first cutback week on the plan, but I wasn’t feeling ready for that yet. I also wanted to make it to the first St. Louis Track Club group marathon run to see what it was like. The course was two 4-mile loops through Queeny Park. I hadn’t gone running in that area in years (since high school XC) and there were some really tough hills! I stuck with the group for the first loop, then kind of got left behind on the second loop when I made a pit stop. The second time through was tough; there were a couple of hills that I barely ran up, but I made it! All of the downhills did a number on my calves and shins. Definitely still feeling it today.

Sunday
Plan: Rest
Actual: 30 minutes of stretching/foam rolling.

I’m going to count this in training because it requires a lot of effort and pain! It’s also super important. I felt much better after this session, but my left hip and IT band are still pretty tight.

Total: 20.45 miles, 4 hours 11 minutes.

Because of the holiday, I won’t have my track session on Tuesday. Instead, I’ll be waking up bright and early on the 4th for the Freedom 4-miler downtown. I’d like to run harder on this one. If I can break 35 minutes, I’ll be happy enough.

Fail.com

So remember that whole at least 3 morning runs goal for this week? Yeah.

I guess it’s “only” Thursday and I could still get in 3 runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, but who am I kidding?

I’m sure it’s just a result of my increased activity level, but I’ve been needing about 9 hours of sleep every night this week. I conk out and don’t stir until my alarm goes off. Related: I’ve been having really vivid dreams (mostly related to running).

Wins so far for the week:

1. Three days of running in a row, including one really hot and humid track session that left me drenched. I’ve been cross training or taking the day off after my track workouts because they’ve been leaving my legs so dead, but I actually felt pretty good on Wednesday and managed a 3.25-mile progression run, starting at 9:30 and working down to 8:00 miles with some good climbs and a little downhill running (all on the treadmill).

2. I’ve kept my nutrition in check, and with the exception of a Snickers ice cream bar (who can resist?) and my mom’s homemade ice cream (no, really, WHO CAN RESIST?), I’ve eaten really well from a nutritional standpoint this week. I will say that “the hunger” has started to creep up on me, and I’m just always…hungry. But it’s not too bad yet.

3. It’s only Thursday, and my long run is the only planned run I have left. My legs are feeling pretty good, too.

Saturday marks St. Louis Track Club Marathon Training Group’s first meeting of the season. On the docket: 8 miles. Early. Like…I’ll have to wake up some time before the 6 a.m. hour to make this happen, but I guess I deserve it after slacking off on morning runs all week.

I’m not running outdoors as much as I probably should be, but I don’t feel too bad about it because I”m doing my 2 hardest workouts of the week outdoors: track sessions and long runs. As long as I can keep that up, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape. Ideally, I’ll start doing more outside, but that’s all contingent on me getting up on time. Right now, I’m satisfied with just getting my workouts done every week, whenever I have the time to do it. No use in stressing over the when and where!

I run because…

Today is National Running Day. I follow a lot of runners and read a lot of running and fitness blogs, and there was a prompt floating around: “I run because…”

It got me thinking…why do I run?

Short answer: I run because I can.

Long answer: I run because it makes me happy, it pushes me to become a better person, to eat cleaner, and to take better care of myself. It gives me alone time to clear my mind. It prevents me from having to take anger management classes. It gives me time to enjoy nature and get some fresh air. Running gives me confidence, physical and mental stamina, and peace. I run because I can’t afford a therapist. You get the idea.

I started running in high school. For whatever reason, I just always knew I’d be on the cross country and track teams. I don’t know why I had it in my head. I dabbled in softball and did some gymnastics as a kid, but I never really played organized sports. It just wasn’t my thing. My mom jokes it’s because I don’t play well with others. There might be some merit in that.

When I first started running, I was not good. (Disclaimer: I’m still not). I was the slowest girl on the team, and that’s not an exaggeration. Every race, I gutted it out for second-worst time on the team with one other girl, and she usually won. Many of my peers seemed naturally better at running that I was. There were several freshmen on the varsity squad. Now that I’m more experienced, I realize that I was running with some amazingly talented people. As a slow freshman surrounded by speedsters, I felt like a failure. But I kept coming back. And coming back.

And every time I came back, I got a little faster. Was I ever the fastest? Nope. Did I still feel inadequate compared to other, faster girls on the team? Sometimes. But I was still proud of my improvements.

I finally made the varsity cross country team off and on my senior year, always as the slowest on the varsity squad, and I had to bust my butt for it. I won “Most Improved” at the end of the season. From freshman to senior year, I took over 9 minutes off my 5k time (told you, SLOW). I was so proud of myself and incredibly excited for spring track season, which had always been my stronger sport (relatively speaking, that is!).

During winter training, I somehow managed to hurt my back. It took forever for the doctors to figure out why I was in so much pain. My legs were going numb and I couldn’t sleep. Sitting in a school desk was excruciating. I was miserable. Turns out, I had torn a disc in my lower back. I still have no idea how.

With that, out went my track season. I never got to see how much I had improved in the 3200m run. Watching from the sidelines was awful, but I had no choice. I was too injured, and recovery was going to take months. I felt really sorry for myself; luckily, had I had other activities to keep me busy. I didn’t get well enough to run again until about halfway through my first year of college.

I ran sporadically throughout college, but never more than 4 or 5 miles at a time. It wasn’t a priority and I had other things to occupy my time. I picked it up much more regularly after I graduated and started my first job in South Carolina, where I hadn’t made friends yet.

I’d gotten back into a serious fitness regimen in the spring of 2010 when I started having a lot of pain and cramping in my abdomen and back. As it turns out, I had a giant cyst in my ovary. One so big, they had to remove the cyst and the ovary via open abdominal surgery. I spent the next 8 weeks recovering. During that time of inactivity, I realized how important running actually was to me. How much healthier it made me, mentally and physically. Because I was a runner, I recovered from surgery faster. Because running made me more aware of my body and how it should feel, I noticed something was off and had it checked out, despite my doctor’s suggestion to “just wait.”

As soon as I got the OK to start running again, I signed up for my first half marathon. It was something I’d “always wanted to do,” but never bothered making time for because I thought I could do it later. That surgery made me realize that there isn’t always a “later.”

If you want to do something, go do it. This was made even more real to me when Dan tripped during one of our runs together and broke his tibia and tore his MCL, ACL, and PCL. He hasn’t been able to run since, and just had another surgery with the hope that he will be able to in a few months. So far, things are looking good. I had the same feeling last summer, after Kim passed away and I realized I’d never watch him come running down Royall Prairie Lane ever again.

So. I run because I’m here, I’m healthy, and I can.