Friday, May 11, 2012

I'm still here... and still running

I'm done apologizing for my blogging infrequency. Life on the other side of burnout has brought me to a growing acceptance of who I am and how I roll. I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal, including my blogging frequency. Just call me a binge-blogger, posting a bunch at a time, and then nothing. I will blog whenever I'm inspired to blog, and stop apologizing every time I come back (so Canadian I know, eh?).

Now is an apt time for me to dive back in where I left off. Yep, I'm still here.... and I'm still running. This is a shock most of all to me. My all-or-nothing ways lead me to chew through a new pursuit intensely, and then move on to something else, sometimes never to return again. Yet somehow, even on the other side of winter, I'm still running. While my sister, whom I hold responsible (i.e. delegating the blame) for all this running ridiculousness, is a hard core runner and will do races in the dark, at night, in the heaviest of pouring rain, I am a fairweather runner. If it's anything more than lightly sprinkling, running for cover is the type of running you'll see me do.

After the first marathon I did in October, I swore I would never subject myself to that kind of pain again. Ever. Though I had trained hard and was in good shape, I made a critical yet classic newbie mistake of starting off too fast, and fell apart two thirds of the way through the race. Way too early I hit the "Wall" dreaded by all runners (when your body has used up every ounce of energy and you feel like you can't go on.) While I did manage to finish that race with a lot of walking (I would have crawled if I could have), the last third was so brutal and full of pain I'd rather not re-live.

Eventually memory of the pain wore off enough that I egged my sister on to sign up for her first full marathon, offering to do it with her if she took my dare. And she took the challenge! (Serves me right!)

The lessons and goals matured from my first to second race. The first time, I wanted to finish, and aim for a specific time (which I surrendered to the wind when I fell apart). This time, my goal was quality over quantity. My major aim was to run a better race, especially in how I ran the race. I didn't even care if my time was slower, I just didn't want to feel like I was going to die half way through like last time. And I wanted to finish strong, rather than slowing to a crawl near the finish line. Applying my painfully acquired lessons from the first race, I managed to run the whole race with only five brief walking breaks, with the bonus icing on the cake that I shaved five minutes off my previous time (which was unexpected!). The cherry on top was having energy (barely) to help my sister run the last leg of her race.

The end result was still the same (a finished race) but I felt so much better and enjoyed it more the second time (or at least all the photos with my cheesy grins would lead you to believe I was actually having fun out there, rather than enduring the foot abuse). I hope I can keep applying a few key lessons to finish the "race of life" strong:

  • Purpose and preparation is key. To know your goal and approach, and to have a direction is invaluable in life. You may not rock the plan every time or you may have some "off" days, but sticking to your direction overall prepares you and builds momentum for the finish (if you pace yourself... see below). Truth be told, I probably only stuck to the plan two thirds of the time, and there were other variables that meant my condition was weaker going into this race, but I knew where I was headed.
  • Pacing and refuelling is everything. For running, this includes pacing your training with enough recovery time so you don't injure yourself (the plan I use is actually called "Run Less, Run Faster" which is contrary to some of the approaches out there that go for mass volume of miles), and tapering (reducing your miles) to reserve energy for race day. And of course, managing your pace and energy, including breaks, water, and fuel, during the actual race, so you have enough in your tank to actually finish the race.

    This is probably the greatest life lesson running long distances has taught me. I used to try to push at an intense pace constantly and feel frustrated I wasn't always effective. Then I hit the Wall of living unsustainably. I burnt out. My body, mind, and heart shut down and wouldn't let me live as I had before. After a lot of recalibration and soul surgery with Jesus shining light on my inner drives and needs gone awry, I emerged out of the darkness into a new way of living and approaching the race of life. I now live more according to "seasons," knowing that if I am approaching a busy or difficult uphill stretch, I give myself permission to slow down before (to conserve energy) and after (to restore energy).
  • Traveling light is wise. In running you may not notice in shorter distances if you're carrying a pack full of stuff, even useful things. But the further you go, the more you feel the burden of every extra ounce of weight that you carry. You actually want to throw it off. In life, I see the wisdom of travelling with less and less as we go further, rather than going for more and more. Less emotional baggage. Less unhealthy expectations. Less material stuff. All this just weighs you down, keeps you from running and enjoying the race, and maybe even hinders you from finishing the race.
And so, we'll see where this running journey leads... I suspect I'll keep on keeping on, just because I am a learning junkie and love all the metaphors to be had (and a glutton for pain, apparently!).