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Practice makes stronger part II: A runner’s guide

Posted Jun 27 2010 8:36pm

Good evening and happy Sunday to you all! Sunday is really one of my favorite days of the week. Even when I have work to do, there is something so peaceful and wonderful about Sundays. I feel like the world is full of possibilities! What is your favorite day of the week?

Last week was long and challenging, and I have been using the weekend to recharge and relax. Up until two weeks ago, I spent all day every day on my feet, moving around constantly and hanging out with five-year-olds for eight hours a day; this summer, I sit in a classroom with no windows from 8-4. It’s a pretty big change for me mentally and physically, but I am trying to make the most of the experience. I am also really enjoying spending time with my fellow graduate students and my roommate. This weekend, I had some fabulous L.A. experiences, including a celebrity spotting (Steve Carrell!) at a movie premiere, the L.A. film festival, and a fabulous dinner at Doughboys Restaurant . I’m really enjoying myself here!

Ready for a night on the town (sorry for the self-photo!)

Steve Carrell!

I’ve also had a few beautiful runs in the past few days, including a lovely 8-miler yesterday morning.

Garmin statistics for my 8-miler

Whenever I tell my family or close friends about exciting runs that I’ve done in the past few months, I always get asked the same question: when did you become such a runner? A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers posted an entry about running and ended with this question: do you consider yourself a runner? I have spent a lot of thinking recently thinking about my running (mostly during my runs!), and my thoughts brought me back to a post that I wrote a few months ago about cycling in which I talked about practice making me a stronger cyclist (more on that in a bit!).

I feel like I truly became a runner when I stopped forcing myself to like the sport and started doing it because it felt truly natural and right for me. I mentioned that I recently read an inspiring book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall about a running tribe in Mexico. At one point in the book, he discusses Ann Trason, an ultramarathoner who discovered almost accidentally that she was not only capable of–and completely in love with–running 50-100 miles at a time. McDougall writes:

But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic, and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

This quote from the book dramatically changed my outlook on running. I hate to admit it, but for a long time I ran only because I needed to. At first, I ran because it kept me fit for soccer. It was my least favorite part of the sport, but I knew that being in shape made me a better player, so I ran. When I stopped playing soccer, I ran because I wanted to stay slim. I knew that running would help me maintain my weight so, as McDougall describes, I struggled through painful, miserable runs of three or four miles in the hopes that I would burn off enough calories to keep my figure. Running was always a struggle for me and, like anything else, I wasn’t good at it at first.

At some point in the last year, though, I broke through. It didn’t happen in a single moment or even during one particular run, but I gradually realized that I truly love running. I love the way that my body feels in motion. I love how clear my thoughts are and how focused I am on my breathing, my footsteps, my legs and arms pumping. I love exploring new places and seeing familiar places in a different way. I love feeling the sweat drip down my forehead and arms. And I love feeling exhausted after a run.

My first 5k in January 2010

Slowly but surely, as with my cycling–and everything else–I began to practice my running, and I improved. I was once able to run only two or three miles at a time; now, I can consistently and happily run 10-12 miles. I used to have difficulty maintaining a 10:00 mile pace; I am now running at an 8:50-9:00 mile pace without trouble. More than anything, I used to find every single step painful and agonizing; now, I find that running gives me satisfaction, happiness, and a rare sense of calm and peace. As with everything else in my life, practice made me stronger. Not perfect, but certainly stronger. Over time, it was as if my body stopped resisting the shock of running that McDougall mentions and began embracing the amazing way running makes me feel.

I also started paying closer attention to when I run. I used to force myself to run almost every day, no matter how I was feeling. Last summer, I had a pretty bad fall one day during a run because of exhaustion and overuse. I kept running after that, but I became aware of the fact that my body wasn’t always capable of running, even if I wanted it to be. Since reading McDougall’s book, I have been running when I truly feel inspired to run. Fortunately, I feel this way most days of the week, but I am also being careful to listen more closely to my body and allow myself days of rest and recovery. This past week, for example, looked like this:

Sunday: 6 mile mile
Monday: 4 mile run + strength training (legs/upper body/core)
Tuesday: 5 mile run
Wednesday: 5 mile brisk walk (my legs were a bit sore from Monday’s workout)
Thursday: 5 mile run
Friday: OFF (my legs were very tired and sore)
Saturday: 8 mile run

I usually incorporate other forms of exercise into my weekly workouts, but my bike is back home in San Francisco. As I get closer to my triathlon , I plan to incorporate more swimming and cycling. In general, as with other things in my life, I am trying to strike a balance with my running. I am working to honor my passion for the sport while simultaneously recognizing the limitations of my body, mind, and schedule. It’s not always easy, but I’m practicing and always improving and getting stronger.

In the spirit of falling in love with running–particularly longer distances–I just signed up for my first ever half marathon in November! I am really excited for this event, and I can’t wait to begin official training for it on August 15th (I’m using Hal Higdon’s intermediate half marathon training plan ).

I know that my relationship with running will continue to evolve over time, and I am okay with that. But at the moment, I have discovered a passion and truly become a runner, and I intend to enjoy my new role wholeheartedly. I will continue to practice and I will hopefully get stronger and faster as a result. I will push myself to run not because I feel like I should to fit into my skinny jeans, but because it brings me happiness, health, and joy. I will keep running because I look forward to that amazing feeling when my body relaxes into its natural rhythm and pace, and my mind slows and my thoughts become distinct and clear. I will run because I love it, and there is nothing like it.

Gavi the runner (again--apologies for the self-portrait!)

Have a great week!

How do you feel about running? What else do you do that brings you joy and peace?

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