Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I Run

Why do I run? The short, and half-in-jest, answer is so that I can eat ice cream. The real reasons why I run are as follows:

I can do something that only a few people can do. I have been a bit of an underachiever in the professional aspect of my life. In school I was also a good student but not a stellar one. But when I run, I'm automatically part of an elite few. A while back I read that only 3% of the American population can run 3 miles (about 5 km). That's my warm-up! An even smaller percentage can run 10 km (6.2 miles), a half-marathon (13.1 miles/21.1 km), or a full marathon (26.2 miles/42.2 km).  I may not be the fastest runner out there, but I'm in the top 3% of the population for something.

Setting a goal and then accomplishing it. Deciding to run a race, training for it, and crossing the finish line on my feet all require setting a goal and doing the necessary planning and training to accomplish it. My former running partner Bill told me what a long race finisher's medal is really all about. A medal proves that I ran a long distance on a particular day. But the real significance of that finisher's medal is that it represents all of the training that went into being able to earn it. The medal really shows that I accomplished a goal that I set for myself. Finishing long races has also given me the confidence to try new things that would have scared me before. If I can run and finish a marathon, I should be able to face the other challenges that life throws my way.

Getting to be outdoors and discovering new places. One of the fun things about long training runs is finding new trails and following them to see where they go. I have found some places off the beaten path and let myself wander on them. When I travel, I like to run because it allows me to see new and different things. One of my favorite running memories was in 1996 on the Greek island of Kalymnos. I went out for an early morning run. As I ran up a hill, I started hearing bells. The sound got louder as I climbed the hill. When I got to the top, there was a large herd of goats, with bells around their necks, and their herders. Running is also an outdoor sport. I would much rather exercise outdoors than inside a gym. I run outside in pretty much all weather conditions except for pouring rain and hail.

Fitness. Since I was a child, I have been a active person. As a child and teenager I did swimming, gymnastics, tree climbing, and lot of general running around outdoors. I was more of a tomboy than a super feminine girl. As an adult, I run, ski, and hike. I have always been physcially fit and can't imagine being unfit. Running keeps me fit and healthy. I'm one of those people who hardly ever gets sick. I believe it's because the running I do has strengthened my immune system.

Running allows me to eat ice cream. Ice cream is a major food group. OK, maybe not. The calories that I burn through running allow me to have some ice cream as an occassional treat. I don't have to feel guilty or worry about gaining weight from a summer ice cream cone because I know that I will burn off the calories on my next training run.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Blessings of an Injury

The title of today's post comes from Wendy Mogel's books The Blessings of a Skinned Knee and The Blessings of a B-minus. This post was also inspired by a chat that I had a few days ago with a Facebook friend about how injuries can actually be a blessing in disguise.

Being injured is no fun. The worst thing about being injured isn't the physical pain. Ibuprofen or Voltaren and ice can take care of that, or at least make it more bearable. It isn't non-runners telling you that being injured is the natural consequence of participating in a sport that's "bad for women." Most of those people have no credibility with me because they don't exercise at all, so I just ignore them. No, the very worst thing about being injured is seeing someone running down the street and wanting nothing more than to be able to do that too. Whenever that feeling came over me when I was "out of commission," I had to tell  myself that I would be back running soon enough with proper rest and a slow comeback. Eventually my rational side would win and I would come back even stronger.

My late running partner Bill used to tell me that running injuries were caused by: 1) trying to increase speed too quickly, 2) trying to increase mileage too quickly, 3) not enough rest/recovery time after a big race, and 4) a combination of the first three things. When I look back on the injuries that I have had, I realize that he is right. All of the injuries that I have had were caused by one or more of those things.

Even though we don't realize it, injuries are really a blessing in disguise. They make you more appreciative of being able to run. Before I had my first knee injury, back in 1992, I took it for granted that I would always be able to run. After that injury, I realized that my ability to run was something that I could easily lose, which made me appreciate it more. Every day that I run injury-free is a real gift that I do my best not to squander.

Injuries have also made me slow down and think about why I started running in the first place. Most of my injuries were from trying to push the speed envelope. I then have to remind myself that I didn't take up running just because I wanted medals, trophies, plaques and personal records in every race. I run because I like to be outdoors exploring new places and seeing what there is to see. Sometimes it's best to slow down and see what would otherwise go unnoticed. Running is also a great way to keep fit and it keeps me young. It's something that I want to do for my whole life. The worst thing would be to push myself into a "career-ending" injury. OK, I also run so that I can eat ice cream and chocolate, but that's another story.

Another benefit of injuries is that they are a way of forcing you to correct errors. As Dr. Phil would say about a training plan that resulted in an injury, "How is that working for you?" Something obviously wasn't working, otherwise you wouldn't have gotten injured. Being down from an injury gives an athlete time to evaluate what went wrong and how to correct in in the future. For example, when I ran the Berlin Marathon in 1994, I had a very brutal training plan. It was to the point where the month before the race I couldn't wait for it to be over with so that I could rest. During the last third of that marathon one of my knees was really hurting. I walked a lot in the last 10 kilometers and was so glad to cross the finish line. After that race it took two months before I could run slowly for 20 minutes because of the knee injury. When it came time to train for the 2007 Munich Marathon, I looked back on what I did for Berlin and decided I needed a much different training plan that incorporated a combination of long runs and total rest days. Munich 2007 was a lot of fun and I came out of it with a personal record and some muscle soreness that went away after a few days.

I have been relatively lucky with regard to major injuries. In the past I had a couple of knee injuries which prevented me from running for more than a month. But with time and patience, I was back on the trails and stronger and wiser than before. That's not bad at all for over 20 years of running and racing. I  have tendinitis in my knees, but know to increase my mileage very slowly in order to avoid it flaring up. Now the only time my tendinitis acts up is when it's time to get new shoes. Last year I had problems with calf cramps, but they seem to have (thankfully) disappeared. I also have tight hamstrings and use my massage stick on them after every run. This year I am feeling good and am seriously considering running the Munich Marathon this October.  I'll train smarter, and not harder, and will hopefully stay injury-free.