The Gift

I was a junior in high school and at the peak of my obsession with running when I learned of the tragedy that took place in New York City at the New York City Marathon. The young, seemingly healthy and elite runner Ryan Shay had passed away.

He wasn’t the best runner in the field, but he was certainly a professional. Running is what he did, day-in and day-out. His wife Alicia was also a runner. The marathon was nothing new to him. No one suspected anything to happen.

Yet somewhere around the 5.5 mile mark, Shay collapsed. He was announced dead not long after at the hospital. Doctors initially ruled it a massive heart attack. The final autopsy report said: “Cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiac hypertrophy with patchy fibrosis of undetermined etiology. Natural causes.” Basically that means he had an irregular heartbeat due to an enlarged, thickened heart, of which the cause for is unknown.

But that doesn’t explain why a 28-year-old, whose life was built upon track workouts and an acute attention to health would suddenly die. Was his heart only a ticking time bomb and the marathon set it off? It doesn’t make sense.

Which is the same thought that comes to mind when we learned that William Caviness, a seasoned marathoner and firefighter raising money for burn victims, collapsed 500 yards short of the Chicago Marathon finish line. And just like Shay, he didn’t make it. The autopsy report was inconclusive. And yet again, we are boggled.

I don’t mean to write about this to scare people away from running. I don’t think it’s usual that a perfectly fit person dies from participating in the sport, unless it was a mistake on the runner’s behalf, such as improper hydration while running in extreme heat. I haven’t done the research or the math, but I’m guessing that if you listen to your body and do what you need to do, your chances of death are pretty low. But tragedies happen.

I write this because I think sometimes as runners we see ourselves as invincible…at least, I know I do. Through all the miles and pains we endure, we start believing that we can overcome anything. We take on new challenges. We up our mileage. We change the intensity setting on our Smart Coach workout from “medium” to “hard.” We push ourselves to, literally, go the extra mile.

And these things are good. It’s what’s running is all about. Not just the times and bragging rights, but…well, I think Pre says it best:

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Pre

But I think it’s also important to appreciate running for what it is. So often do I find myself, and several of my running friends, getting caught up in the competition. I’ve had friends give me tissues to wipe away the frustration of a missed PR and I’ve been the one to offer a hug after a bad race. It’s hard not to focus on trying to get better, to meet our goals. The disappointment that follows is only natural.

But it would a tragedy to forget the true passion behind all those frustrations. Running is a gift that unfortunately not everyone is granted. So appreciate it. Embrace it. Don’t forget it. Pre’s motto was “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” It’s a great motto and I love it. But I think sacrificing the gift would be to forget the love you have for it in the first place.

This blog isn’t completely sad though. To end on a happy note, one woman ran/walked the marathon and then received a gift of her own: she gave birth to her daughter only a few hours later! So when you’re out there huffing and puffing and thinking “what the hell have I gotten myself into,” just think about doing that with an extra 8 pounds curving out on your stomach. Yeah, that’s badass.

 

My New Coach

I have decided to sign up for the 102nd annual Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati. It’s a 10k, which I think is an ideal distance for me at this point, requiring more mileage than a 5k, but not as much speed. It’s nine weeks away, which is also an ideal training plan for me, providing enough time to train, but not so far off that I lose motivation.

I’m a picky runner.

My greatest struggle lately has been getting myself out the door. I have no reason to go for a run unless I have a goal to go after. So I looked up races and figured the Thanksgiving 10k was a good choice, mostly for the reason that I know I’ll be home on Thanksgiving. (It’s hard to pick a race to train for when you have no idea if you’ll be in the area come race time. Job-hunting makes scheduling races difficult.)

But I have no doubt I’ll be in town on November 24, so the Thanksgiving 10k it is.

After deciding this is the race I’ll be training for I headed over to Runner’s World dot com to create a training plan. I have turned to Smart Coach several times in the past. As far as sticking to the training regimen it spits out, well, that’s a different story. But this time I’m going to find out if it works.

If you’ve never used smart coach before, it’s fairly simple:

  1. Login (or sign-up if you don’t have an account – don’t worry it’s free) to your Runner’s World account.
  2. Head over to Smart Coach.
  3. Enter in a recent race time. (Or cheat like me and put in your PR…hey, I want to break it and I need a training plan that’s gonna kick my arse back into shape).
  4. Fill in the info for the race you’re training for: what’s the distance, when is it, how many miles are you currently logging, what intensity would you like to train, etc.*
  5. Press submit and…Ta-da! You have your own personalized training program.

*Note: Smart Coach won’t let you enter a race date if it doesn’t fall on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, which is what happened to me when I selected Thursday, Nov 24. I opted for Nov 26 and will adjust my training as I get closer to the race. Just a heads-up.

Here is my Smart Coach plan:

Thanksgiving 10k Training Plan

I think I’ll be doing a few easy runs on my Rest/XT days, just to up the mileage.

Anyone else out there ever use Smart Coach? Did/do you like it? Did you hit your goal?

And any Cincy runners participating in the 10k as well? Let me know! I need running buddies!!

Time

Taped to a wall in my room is the following:

“This is the beginning of a New Day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or grow in its light and be of service to others. But what I do with this day is important because I have exchanged a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. I hope I will not regret the price I paid for it.”

When I printed and posted that saying in high school, I did it as a gentle reminder to appreciate the time I have, to be inspired to seize the day. But lately that saying has felt more like a burden rather than an inspiration. Over the past two weeks it has served as a solemn reminder that I’m not living up to my potential. A reminder that time is precious and feels as if it is currently going to waste.

And seeing it sets off a small panic. Filled with impatience I try to remind myself some things can’t be rushed. But I look at the clock and all I see are the seconds, and minutes, and hours of my life slipping away.

I make it sound as if I’m dying. I’m not. In fact, as far as I know, I am in good health. My doctor would inform me that I have plenty of years still ahead of me. But it doesn’t take away the fear I’ve been dealing with.

My fear is time. My fear is that I may not experience everything I want before my time is up. Or worse: that the people I love the most may suddenly slip out of my life and I will be stuck with years upon years of living without them. I suppose you might think my fear is actually death. But I’m not afraid of dying, of experiencing the unknown. I am afraid of how soon death might approach.

Like most fears, mine is irrational. I am lucky that the people I love are in good health, surrounded by good people, and are not facing anything perilous. I am lucky in knowing that when friends and family say I have the “rest of my life” to have a career, to get married, to see and do everything I desire, they are probably right. There is no reason to think tragedy will strike soon.

But it can. Bad things happen to good people for no reason at all. There is no guarantee I have the rest of my life. All I know is I have today. And I’m very aware of it.

I’ve been aware of that fact for a long time now. I think it explains why I try to rush through everything, why I have problems living in the moment, because I want to get to the things I’m afraid I may never have. I tried to rush through high school so I could get to college. I rushed through college so I could get to the real world. And here I am in the so-called real world, panicking because it seems I can’t just jump to the next stage in life.

Thinking about all of this last night, it dawned on me how much it relates to my relationship with running. Perhaps this is the root of my love for the sport. Because runners are always in a rush. We start at one point and don’t stop until we’ve reached the finish line. We are always training our bodies to move faster, to take less time in the amount of distance we are trying to cover. And I think every runner can agree that his or her greatest competitor isn’t another runner – it’s the clock.

I’ve realized, just as I have with anything else I’m facing, running is how I cope with my fear. When the thoughts of fate slip into my head and I start questioning every little thing I’m doing, I stop. I change clothes. I put on my shoes. I grab my watch. I go for a run.

I start off slow and build into my pace. I find my rhythm. As the sweat pores and endorphins kick in, the fear melts away. The anxiety subsides and a steady breathing fills it place. It’s as if I’m literally running away from it. And when I get into the last mile of my run, I pick up the pace. When my finish line is in sight, I go into a full-on sprint. I pick up my legs, pump my arms, and increase my turnover as fast as possible. In those final seconds, it’s me against the clock. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t. But in the end, I always feel better.

Time will never be on my side, in life or in running. But thanks to the latter, I can always cope with the former. And I’ll never regret the price I pay for it.

Hudepohl 14k: The Zinzinnati Race

I ran the Hudepohl 14k this morning. If you’re wondering why the odd distance, it’s because Hudepohl is a Cincinnati brewery and they happen to have a beer called the 14k (where this name stems from, I don’t know). As you might imagine with any brewery hosting a race, there are two parts to this event. This first one is to run. The second is to celebrate your finish with a glass (or two) of an ice cold Christian Morelein.

Now, I’m not a big drinker. And I certainly have no desire to down any amount of alcohol after a run. So I never had any intention of participating in this race. However, when I went to the Flying Pig expo back in May, Hudepohl had a booth and you could sign up to win a free race entry. The chance to participate in a $50 race for free? I’m in.

Well, lo and behold, about a month and a half ago I received an e-mail from one of the race coordinators letting me know that I was one of the winners (yay!).

I’ve been looking forward to this race. But as I eavesdropped on the conversations around me at the starting line I quickly realized that most of the runners were looking towards the events taking place post-race.

Apparently the race directors might’ve been thinking the same thing.

The course wasn’t poorly marked, but poorly coordinated. The race got to a late start. There were a couple of water stops along the way, but no restrooms (which sucks when you’re at the third mile mark and realize you really have to pee). I only saw a couple of mile markers. And I know several 7k runners ended up running the entire race because there was no one directing them to take a different route (I never saw where we were suppose to split). On the contrary, my dad said he saw 14k runners coming in the way the 7k runners were finishing…which means the results are off.

The post-race events seemed to be in order. I got my free pint glass. I got my free beers (and handed them to my dad after taking three sips and realizing that no…my stomach could not handle this…not at 9:30 a.m… after a race…yuck). I got my free food, which I also handed over to my dad. And I sat there, sipping my water and watching almost every runner at the event down two beers. Just watching them made me want to sprint to the next toilet.

At which I began to wonder…was this about running or was this about beer?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the Hudepohl 14k isn’t supposed to be taken as a very serious race. Their website even states that the race was originally considered “a party where a run happened to break out.” I understand that most of the participants there signed up for the race knowing a lager or ale would greet them at the finish line. I understand that this weekend is Oktoberfest in Zinzinnati, the second largest Octoberfest in the world. I’m German. I’m from here. I get it.

I also understand that this was the first time the race has been held in awhile. I understand that you can’t anticipate everything and coordinators make mistakes. Not every race is perfect.

Truthfully, I enjoyed the race. The course was fairly flat. It’s just starting to get into fall so the weather this time of year is perfect. I like the unique distance; not as fast as a 10k, yet not as long as a half-marathon. If they continue to host this race, I’d like to do it again.

What I’m hoping is that perhaps next time the focus is put a little more on the actual race than the brewery. Maybe more foods that are friendlier to sensitive stomachs (not Goldstar coney dogs and Goetta burgers). Maybe some port-o-potties along the route. And definitely someone directing the 7kers to their respective route.

Until then, here’s to running. Here’s to drinking. Here’s to Zinzinnati and Oktoberfest. Here’s to rolling them all into one. I know a lot of Cincinnati runners enjoyed the combo.

Cheers.

The heart of a runner

Just the other day, while scrolling through the many tweets that were present on my twitter feed, I found one that caught my interest. It was a tweet by Ryan Hall, and it simply said, “My thoughts on who is the greatest runner of all time,” with a link to his blog. Curious as to who one of the great runners of today’s time was referring to, I decided to read it.

It wasn’t what I was expecting.

His blog wasn’t about an olympic-winning, record-breaking all star. Instead it was about who he thought God might consider the greatest runner. How it might be an ultra runner who has never ran a race, but enjoys every step. Or the runner who trained his or her butt off to run a marathon. Or those who run in memory or for charity. The list goes on. And then he says this:

Whoever Jesus would put in front of me I am confident of this: that it would be the heart of that runner that God sees as great and the ability they have to run with a heart full of love for God, self, and others, not the speed of their legs.

I thought it was humbling of America’s half-marathon record-holder to say this. It’s one of the many reasons I admire Ryan Hall. At the end of the day he is not running to break a record or win a race. He runs for something greater, something he believes in. And it is nice to be reminded that any runner can do that.

13.1 and I am done

I’m a wimp.

That was the thought that crossed my mind when I was running down Fourth Avenue, one of the several stretches of dirt road that go from the small community of cottages here in upstate New York out to the highway. I was about 3.5 kilometers into my run and feeling pretty good. My pace was consistent. My stride was strong. My arms swung at ease by my sides, unlike the last run I did up here a few weeks ago. It was just me and the sound of soft footsteps pounding the dirt below. I was content.

But then the thought of Dean Karnazes came to mind. I pictured him charging along a desolate highway, carrying his large Hawaiian pizza and cheesecake, with hours of running accomplished and hours of running to go. I thought of my friends who endured a winter I often refer to as a living hell to train for the Boston Marathon. I thought of my two friends who didn’t do any training for the Flying Pig Marathon, but still went out and did it.

Not to mention everyone else I know who has trained and participated in the 26.2 miles, including my boyfriend whose first marathon was a trail race in southern Indiana at the age of 16. The number of friends who have gone beyond 13.1 miles is starting to outnumber the number of friends who haven’t.

I am a part of the latter group. I’ve ran in the Flying Pig’s half-marathon twice, and both times I failed in training myself adequately. Even the 9ish-mile race I am training for right now seems to be enough. Going beyond 13.1 miles just does not pique my interest.

Yet because of this I sometimes feel as if I am not a “real” runner, that if I want to justify my passion for the sport I need to keep pushing myself. I need faster 5ks and more intense races. Runners are naturally competitive and I can’t help but think we’re all secretly judging one another based on what we have and haven’t accomplished. I believe that some of my marathon-running friends think that I am not as dedicated to the sport as they are. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s just in my head. Either way, it bothers the heck out of me.

But before I knew it I was heading down First Avenue, the most western road in the community. I caught a whiff of the vineyards that border the backyards of cottages and the Lake Erie breeze carried the sweet scent of concord to my nostrils. I slowed my pace and breathed deep, in through my nose, out through my mouth. Caught in the moment my negative thoughts disappeared.

And they stayed away for the rest of the run. Instead of focusing on pace and mileage I took in the environment I call heaven. I let my feet carry me where I pleased; across the roads, down to the beach, and back again.

In the end, my run was not perfect. I wasn’t happy with my pace. I still feel I should’ve done a longer distance. But I went out, I ran, and I enjoyed it. At this point in my time, I think that’s good enough.

Maybe I’m not as hard-core as some of the runners I know. But it doesn’t mean I am any less passionate about this sport. And in the end I think passion, the driving force behind all that running, is all that really matters.

 

Ultramarathon Man – The Book

Sitting in front of the small white bookshelf that sits in the corner of my bedroom, I tilted my head sideways and glanced over the titles of books I own. I was disappointed. Of the small selection I have, all the books I was interested in I had already read. The others were all books given to me, their current purpose to take up space on the shelves and collect dust. I’m a picky book reader, and have often spent hours in a library or online trying to decide on one to check out. I had a few books in mind when I ventured over to the library earlier, but I was six minutes too late. The library had already closed.

But I was determined to pick out something to read over the long weekend. I would be staying at my family’s cottage in New York and wanted something to occupy my mind while I lounged for hours on a rocky beach. Looking over the books one last time, I finally came to a decision: Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes.

Ultramarathon Man has been in my possession for a few years. It was given to me from a family friend up in New York who saw me running along the dirt roads and thought I might be interested in it. I accepted, put the book on the second shelf, and hadn’t touched it since.

That was until today, after exhausting myself from a session of kayaking and swimming, when I plopped myself into a lime-green beach chair and pulled the book from my bag. Fifty pages later I didn’t want to put it down.

Despite being a runner and an avid-reader of anything related to the sport, I was simply uninterested in reading Karnazes’ book. The primary reason being that it was about an ultramarathoner. No offense to ultramarathoners, but as a runner who currently doesn’t have any heart in running even 26.2 miles, I didn’t know if I would find any interest in reading about one’s journey to run for hours and hours upon end. There is a certain level of crazy all runners possess. But running an ultramarathon? That’s beyond our comprehension.

Fortunately, Karnazes recognizes this. In the very beginning he takes us to him ordering a large Hawaiian pizza with extra toppings, along with a full cheesecake and coffee, while running across an isolated highway after midnight. When the pizza man meets up with him to deliver his calorie-loaded meal, he asks Karnazes why he’s doing this. The rest of the story is his answer.

Where I am currently in the book is the turning point for Karnazes. And up to this point, I’ve surprisingly been able to connect with him. Those connections I will blog about later. But for now, I’d like to get back to my book. (And I encourage you, dear reader, to check the book out as well🙂 ).

Take It On the Run

You’ll notice that while the name of this blog is “Blondie Runs,” the site address is not. There are three reasons for this: 1) “Blondieruns,” along with blondieontherun, runningblonde, and other corny variations, were all taken. 2) I like to borrow lyrics/song names and use them as titles for such things. If you know of the band REO Speedwagon, then you know where this site address comes from. 3) It is probably the most accurate description of my relationship with running.

I have had a love for this sport for as long as I can recall, but I distinctly remember the day I stopped doing it “just because” and turned to it in a time of need. I was in the sixth grade and hoping to join the 7th and 8th grade show choir, also known as Rhythm Express. When the final bell rang on the day the callback list was posted, I confidently walked up to the choir room door and went over the list in search of my name. I went over it again. Then again. And… again. Finally, after having carefully read the list line-by-line for the seventh time, reality sunk in. My name was not on there. I would not be returning for callback auditions. I would not be joining Rhythm Express. I held myself together long enough to walk out of the school and into the front seat of my mom’s car before having a complete and total meltdown.

I sobbed as she drove me home, heartbroken that I would not be singing and dancing my way through middle school. (Which, now that I think about it, might explain my strong dislike for the show Glee). When I made it back to my house, I did the only thing that seemed to make sense at the time: I changed clothes, threw on my tennis shoes, and went for a run.

If my memory recalls, I only went around the block, about half a mile. That was enough. When I got back to my front yard I felt relieved. Relaxed. Okay.

That was the first time I used running to work out a problem.

Nine years later, I believe that is still the main reason I lace up the pink asics and hit the road. I run when I’m stressed, upset, confused, and angry. I run when I need some breathing room. I run when I’m happy and feel like seizing the day. Whatever it is I seem to be facing, I can always take it on the run. And even though running usually never solves the problem, I know that when I’m done I’ll feel calm and collected. Running has a way of reminding me that in the end, everything is going to be okay.

This is why the site address is “take it on the run.” This is why I run.