Wednesday, May 27, 2009

on 1000 miles and running.

My dad was a runner.

I am not a runner.

Those two statements, both true, have pretty much controlled and dominated my running life since I was 14 years old. I've been running since then, on and off, and, even though I still maintain that I am not a runner, I run frequently. I talk about running. I think about running. I dream about running. I love to run. But I am not a runner.

When I was growing up, while my parents were still together, my dad was a runner. He competed in the Duke City Marathon and even did some duathlons. He liked to ride his bike, but he loved to run. Some of my clearest childhood memories were of him in his skimpy running gear either coming home from a run, or me, my brothers, and my mom waiting for him to cross the finish line of some early morning run. He loved running.

When I got to high school, my relationship with my dad was complicated at best, but that didn't change the fact that I wanted to please him by running. But while he was built for marathons, lean (at that time) and sinewy, a runner's body built up over time, I was lazy and uncommitted to the sport. I sprinted, running the 400 damn well my freshman year and while everyone else trained, I coasted on the speed of a teenager. Eventually, their hard work and my laziness combined to make me an average runner by senior year, surpassed by my peers who worked harder and younger kids who were way more naturally gifted. I was never a great runner, but I was hardly the worst. I was solidly in the middle of the pack. (Ironic because that sentence could pretty much apply to everything I do now.) I liked running with the track team, probably a disproportionate amount, given my lack of natural talent, but I loved the camaraderie of running with the guys. Still, to this day, I consider running on the track to be the best team I was ever part of.

When I got to college, running became less important to me. I was concerned with other things. When I moved back home, running continued to be something that I used to do, as opposed to something I actively did. It wasn't until I broke my jaw and became pleasantly plump that I considered running as a method of controlling the weight. I'd always been an active guy, so I'd never been fat, per se, but I'd never been cut like some of my soccer- and running-friends. I got myself a Nike Plus iPod kit (linked because, seriously, it's an intense motivation tool and I'm not trying to come across like a shill or anything, but I'd highly recommend one) and I started running.

But then I stopped. And I started again. And I stopped again. And I started again. Even though I had to motivation of competing against strangers on the web, it never seemed real. It wasn't enough. I needed something else. I committed to running a marathon. But it was so far away and the training regimens that I found online were difficult for me to keep. (In retrospect, this is probably because I was vastly overestimating myself. Had I started a bit slower, I think I could have succeeded.) The marathon training was difficult and I was semi-unhappy with it a lot of the time. Then, about a month before I was supposed to run my marathon, I injured my foot. I thought that I could take some time off, but still, essentially complete my training and that I'd still be able to complete my marathon. That was a silly thought.

Near the last day possible to make the decision, I decided to run the half-marathon instead. It was a good choice. I ran under the time that I wanted to, and I felt good at the end of the race. Despite the positivity, I was pretty sure that, had I tried to run the whole thing, I would have died.

After that happened, I realized that I needed mini-goals in addition to a longer-term goal. Thus, at the end of 2008, I vowed to run 1,000 miles in the year 2009. It seems like a really big number (at least, to a semi-amateur like myself) but it's easily manageable if it's broken into 20 mile chunks. In fact, running 20 miles a week means that I'll actually run more than 1,000 miles.

Helping me out was my sister, who hooked me up with a 3 month gym membership for Christmas of that year. Without the gym, I'm not sure that I would have been so successful in January and February, when it was too cold for a man from the desert to run. (I know, I know, not cold compared to Minnesota and certainly not too cold to run in general - I mean, there are people who do it - but I just can't see myself doing that yet.) Regardless, as the winter months started to pass, I was proud of myself - I'd kept steady with my goal. By the time 1/4 of the year had gone by, I was only 8 miles behind my overall goal. This, to me, was acceptable, because I knew that, as the year progressed, I'd increase my long run, in preparation for the November marathon, so I'd rack up more later. However, at the 1/3 mark of the year, I was about 20 miles behind my goal, and in the month of May, I'm on target to only run 65 of the 90 miles that I was scheduled for. (May is the end of the school year and, as a teacher, it's one of the busiest times of the year. Still, more than doubling the amount of miles that I am behind is not a good thing.) Many factors conspired to rob me of my runs in May, not least of which was the afore-mentioned job. Little injuries, laziness, etc. are always easy scapegoats, but it's only serving to reinforce my overall goal for me. I still want to run 1,000 miles this year, and I still think I'm more than capable of doing so. I'm going on extended vacation to Pittsburgh this summer, and while I'm there, I think that I'm going to make a secondary goal of running at least five kilometers every day, except Sundays. (Recover days are important.) Not only will this perk my overall mileage back up, but it'll establish a good routine for me to follow when I might otherwise fall into a lazy pattern.

All of this, however, serves only to make me question: why do I run? I'm not really a runner. And I'm beyond the stage in my life where I think I need to run to impress my dad. So why do I run? I run to stay in shape. I run because I like exercise, it makes me feel good. I run to soak up the sunshine of New Mexico. I run because, when I do, I think to myself that I can eat whatever the hell I want that night. I run to see parts of the city that I otherwise wouldn't get to. I run because I've set a life goal of running in a marathon. I run, most of all, because it gives me time to think. When I have big things that I need to think about (changing jobs, girls, finances, etc.) I find that I always want to sleep on the matter, of course, but also that I don't feel ready to make a decision until I've had a long run thinking about it. Running helps me think.

Running also presents me with a community. The afore-mentioned Nike Plus website is a good one, and I just joined the Fittest Tweeter Challenge, where part of this entry will (hopefully) be modified and appear. The community that I feel when I'm running, even with strangers who merely pass me on the street, makes me feel good.

I'm not a runner.

But I love to run.


Mr Radio said...

Trying to get into running myself I think this blog was a good read.

Until I got to the part about it being "too cold" outside in Chicago in Jan - May and then let's talk about cold


Honda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Honda said...

On Injuries...

While you may have increased the number of miles you are behind by a significant margin this month, it would be unwise to significantly up your mileage.

It is only recommended to increase your mileage by 10% per week to avoid injury. And as you are already borderline injured it would be silly to start running 6 days a week (if you don't want to be truly injured). Just because the lazy days of summer have arrived doesn't mean your body is prepared for it. Start slow and cross train. Don't ignore your body, it is smarter than your brain (a large majority of the time).

And try not to kick anything... ;)

Your nerdy physical therapist friend... :-)

OneThousand2Go said...

This is an excellent read. I'm going to be entering my senior year of high school after this summer. I also have created a goal to run 1000 miles, but I plan on finishing very soon before then end of 2009.

This helped alot to get me focused even more on my goal. I'm actually going to start this tomorrow. I haven't posted a blog or anything, but I'll more than likely be "blogging" via YouTube. If you're interested. I could use as much support as possible. My user name there is OneThousandOneMiles.

Thank you for the good read. =)

Michael said...

@MrRadio - I readily acknowledge the fact that NM is an exceptionally warm place to live and run, but acclimation is everything. :) Good luck in your quest.

@Honda - Thanks for the advice. Believe it or not, I take all of the things like this that you tell me VERY seriously.

@OneThousand2Go - Thanks for the comment. Good luck on your runs, as well. I'll definitely be checking in on YouTube. Have a great senior year, too!