Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Running on empty

All the research shows that regular exercise is one of the keys to living a long and healthy life. A recent CDC study found that people who practice four behaviors: eating healthy, maintaining healthy BMI, exercising regularly, and not smoking were 80% less likely to have any major chronic disease. 80% less chance of having diabetes or heart disease.  Exercise is found to have mental health benefits, too, fighting depression and stress.

Our first half - Missoula 2007
Being one of the least coordinated people I know, I find walking and running* to be my exercise of choice.  No complicated or expensive equipment, other than good athletic shoes, and the instructions are simple:  right…left…repeat until you can’t breathe any more. Of course, this simplicity also means running is boring. Unless you are a Zen master or Secretariat, the monotony will eventually win.  A good way to overcome the repetitiousness of running is to have a partner or group to run with.  Having a goals also helps maintain motivation.  I frequently run with friends, and we participate in a variety of runs:  Bloomsday, the Hot Chocolate Run, Color Runs, and half marathons.  There really is nothing like having a 13.1 mile race on your calendar to motivate you to get out and run 2-3 times a   week.  

At the trade show for our most recent half, the Disneyland Half marathon, one speaker said “you run the first 5 miles of a half marathon with your head, you run the second 5 miles with your legs, and you run the last 3 miles with your heart.”  Personally, I find a running a half marathon is more like Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief and loss:

This year's runs - Missoula and Disneyland

  1.  Denial – My first thoughts are “this isn’t really that bad.  It’s less than two Bloomsdays, and I’ve run about twenty of them– just not back to back.”  Also, I notice all the people around me who seem (to me) to be less fit than I am.  “If they can do this, so can I! “
  2.   Anger – this is the stage when I blame my running partners for getting me into this mess.  I also spend a considerable amount of this stage mentally kicking myself for not training more, not losing those 10 pounds, and not treating my body like the temple I now wish it was. This starts about mile 4, when I remember how hard and sucky this is going to be.
  3. Bargaining – at this point, I start to revise my expectations – I just want to finish, not PR.  If I can just beat that one chubby person ahead of me, I will be happy.  Next week, I’ll start eating right and training more.
  4.  Depression – About mile 6 – 7.  I realize that the only way to get to the end is by continuing.  It’s now just as far to turn around and go back, so that’s not an option.  This is the point where I wish I’d worn the T-shirt that says “If found on the ground, please drag across the finish line.”
  5.   Acceptance – Now I remember that I could walk 13.1 miles if I had to. I’ve done this before.  Also, after mile 7, I count backwards so that after each mile marker, the distance is shorter.  It’s a mind game, but oddly, it helps.

At the finish line, there’s always people cheering and yelling.  Some of them are my faster (now former) friends.  We celebrate together with Poweraid, trail mix, bananas and watermelon, whatever refueling snacks are provided.  Later there will be beer and more food – and no one will feel guilty about what they’re eating.
At the end of the day, it’s about going after a challenge and achieving it…and the friends….and the food. Oh yeah, and the medal.
All the bling - 11 half-marathons

*To be clear, I use the term “running” very loosely here –my running pace is nearly a shuffle and I alternate with frequent brisk walk breaks. I know people who walk faster than I “run”.