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Posts Tagged ‘passion’

Why do I run?

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

At mile 11 of my long run today I stopped and walked onto the beach since it was low tide.  I looked north across Tampa Bay to see the Sunshine Skyway bridge.  It was so calm, peaceful, still, and cloudy with a light rain.  I just looked around at all the beauty and felt at ease.  Robinson Preserve is one of my favorite places to run because of how calm and peaceful it is.  I love taking in all the sights and sounds of the wind, birds chirping, fish jumping out of the water, pelicans diving in, and unknown little critters scurrying in the bushes.

I started my run slower today and decided not to focus on pace since I raced yesterday.  I ran easy and really enjoyed letting my thoughts wander.  My marathon training plan calls for very specific paces on all three of my key runs each week.  But since I did race yesterday and ran a total of 8 miles I gave myself a day off from pace so I could enjoy a true Long Slow Distance run with no pressure.

At the end of this 18 mile run I actually ran faster.  My last two miles were the fastest of the day at 7:59 and 7:47 respectively.  I just ran how I felt.  I guess I was feeling negative splits!  My long run goal pace was supposed to be 8:40 for this run…if I hadn’t raced the day before.  I ended up at 8:47 pace without checking the Garmin during the run, starting out slower, and just running how I felt.  I was totally amazed.  I was able to just run, let my mind wander, enjoy the experience, and still be pretty close to my scheduled pace.

Runs like today remind me why I run.  I think it’s important to find meaning in running.  “Running one might say is basically an absurd pastime upon which to be exhausting ourselves.  But if you can find meaning in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you’ll be able to find meaning in another absurd pastime:  life.” – Bill Bowerman

Today reminded me of one reason I run.  Why do you run?  To inspire others?  To win awards?  To set Personal Records?  For personal satisfaction?  To slow down the aging process?  We all seek peer recognition from time to time but ultimately, is what others think of us our reason to run?  Why do you lace up those shoes and head out the door each day, week, month, year?

Becoming a runner

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The first book I discovered by George Sheehan was “George Sheehan on Running to Win:  How to Achieve the Physical, Mental & Spiritual Victories of Running.”  I was browsing at Books-A-Million back in 1997 or 1998 and stumbled across it by accident.  I can admit that at the time I was not aware of this running guru or his amazing books.  I was only a couple of years out of college and had just jumped into marathoning without really knowing what I was doing.  I read the front cover, the back cover, then started reading the first chapter right there in the store.  After the first couple pages I could not believe that what he wrote applied so directly, so perfectly to me.  I had to buy it!

From that point I read everything I could get my hands on written by George Sheehan.  And even his early books that were out of print, thanks to Phil (now husband, then boyfriend) who was a computer and Internet whiz even back then.  This is before I was doing much online, never mind shopping.  I am now the proud owner of all of George Sheehan’s books and even a rare audio tape of one of his lectures and a VHS but we don’t have a VCR so I haven’t actually watched that yet.  But that’s a whole other story…

I have read all of his books and some twice.  After just 22 pages of “Running to Win” I am already inspired again and don’t want to put it down.  He starts out talking about the difference between a runner, a jogger, and a racer.  I won’t go into all the details – you should definitely read the book!  One of the most fascinating parts (so far) is about becoming a runner.  According to Sheehan, “running has become an accepted method of taking charge of one’s life and becoming one’s personal best.”

The premise here is that people become runners for the basic reason of changing themselves.  It can be a physical change they seek or a psychological change or both.  Sheehan goes on to say that every runner has a “before” and “after” story.  I have heard many great stories about lives changed by running.  They are dramatic and amazing and important.  The funny thing for me is that I started running when I was 11 years old.  Still a child.  My Girl Scout troop was working towards a fitness badge and the sport we chose was running because my dad was a runner, my mom was our troop leader, and running was a sport we could do without a lot of people or equipment.

Now at age 37 I honestly don’t remember what I was like “before” running.  I have been running for 26 years.  The longest lay off I had from running was 4 months recovering from an injury.  I have been a runner for my entire adult life, teen years, and some of my childhood.  I don’t feel like I really have a “before” story.  I am blessed to have been a runner almost all of my life.  I could not even imagine what my life would be like without running.  I guess that is why I encourage anyone and everyone to try it.  I promote and educate, support and give back.  Running has given me so much.  I hope others find that gift as well.

Rather than a “before” and “after” story I think I have a long and varied journey through running, through various training methods, through various obsessions, and what I call “before” and “after” coaching education.  Training smarter after the coaching education was really key for me.  I think that is why I was able to PR at the half marathon at age 36.  Some PRs like the 5K and anything shorter than that are definitely behind me but I feel like the longer distances are still within reach.  And after 26 years of running and racing, it’s good that I can still go after these goals.  We all need purpose, right?

Sheehan answers the question of what makes runners run with this great quote from a 39-year-old runner:  “Running is the most important thing in my life.  It’s given me the freedom to be myself, to live a life I deemed not worth living.  It has freed me from the hang-ups of my youth.  It has matured and strengthened me.  It is the most important thing I have ever done.”  And he goes on to say “This runner has done what millions of other runners have done:  They have accepted a moral imperative, the necessity of being a good animal, and have become a good person as well.”

If you have not read George Sheehan, you are in for a real treat.  His focus is on being the best YOU, an experiment of one.  Not the fastest on race day or beating a training partner or rival, but comparing yourself to yourself and trying to be the best YOU that you can be.  Competing and winning are definitely great and can keep us excited, interested, and challenged, but truly becoming a runner is about you and the run.

Running to Win

Trail Races: Cross Country for Adults

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010


Most people who start out running cross country and track in high school would agree that the overwhelmingly popular response to the age old question of whether they prefer cross country or track is:  CROSS COUNTRY!  Drop by any high school anywhere and I am confident that you will find the same result.


There is just something unique about cross country.  To the untrained eye, it may appear to be an individual sport, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 


 Here are a few excerpts from an article on OregonLive.com written by By Joe Dudman: 


“Two of my favorite photos in my high school yearbook are on the cross country page:  In one of them a runner is yelling herself hoarse as she cheers on a teammate approaching the finish; the other is a group photo of the small, rag-tag, yet obviously tight-knit team.  One of my regrets is that I wasn’t part of that team.


I played soccer instead, and while I wouldn’t have traded in a single minute out on the “pitch,” I know I did miss out on the camaraderie and spirit of the cross country team.  And three fun years on my college cross country team only confirmed the value of what I’d bypassed in high school…


Make no mistake, cross country is a team sport, and not just in a philosophical or sentimental sense.  Every runner, from front to back of the pack, has an impact on team scoring.  Every place counts.  And everyone on the team – along with every spectator and coach – knows this, and understands that a mid-pack runner moving up a place or two can make a difference in the team score and vault a team onto the championship podium.


That team aspect of cross country is what makes it so exciting, and it’s why the cheers don’t die down once the lead pack has passed by.  It’s why teammates so often run together, a slower, less experienced underclassman pushing herself to match strides with her faster teammate, until the day she stays with her through the finish and realizes she really can match the times of the seniors she looked up to as a freshman.


I always have fun looking through the results of the State Cross Country Championships the next day, impressed by the individual champions of course, but equally impressed by the teams that place high without any single runners reaching the podium.  Sometimes individual success translates into team championships, but more often than not I’m fascinated by the teams who win despite a lack of finishers in the lead pack.  Those teams succeed as a group, and every one of them is a champion, regardless of how they placed individually.


That’s what makes cross country such a unique and exciting sport…”


And my favorite description of the sport (author unknown):


“If you run it right, cross country is a testament to suffering.  Success in this sport requires pushing your body to the brink of exhaustion, demanding all it’s capable of delivering for mile after mile of unforgiving terrain.  But you do not suffer alone.  You run as part of something bigger.  You run as part of a team in its truest sense.  And that’s why, when the pain sets in, you keep running.”


Having grown up running cross country and track in both high school and college, I definitely miss that team aspect of the sport.  But luckily in the past couple of years I have discovered trail races so I can at least experience the “mile after mile of unforgiving terrain” several times per year.  I love being able to experience that feeling of muscles and lungs burning and not worrying about mile splits or pace.  Trail races allow us to reclaim our youth – back when we used to have high school rivals and were not afraid to throw down a challenge (either out loud or just to ourselves) about wanting to beat a certain competitor over a few miles of challenging terrain.  Trail races allow us to race against ourselves, the terrain, and our competitors.  They take pacing out of it.  We can leave the watches and splits at home and truly race.


As I get older I have noticed that I appreciate the natural beauty of the parks and trails more than I used to.  Perhaps because there are fewer beautiful places to run.  Perhaps because the trails I have raced on lately have been such a wonderful challenge.  Perhaps because they bring me back to my cross country days.  It is probably a combination of all these things.


I do wish there were more trail races out there and if they could incorporate a team aspect for a few of them, more adults could see what they missed out on in high school and then encourage all the middle and high school students they know to run cross country while they have the chance.


I know I have written several times before about trail races but I simply want to share the joy to all who will read this.  I urge you to try a trail race soon.  You will not regret it.  Rather, you will wish you had discovered it long ago.










I’ve Got the Spark

Sunday, January 31st, 2010


Feeling a bit charged up and happy as I sit to write this one.  I often wonder how bizarre I look when I sit down to write because I know my face shows all of my emotions as I am thinking, smiling, trying to remember, and figuring out the right words to use.


Anyway, I started the last day of January getting up at 5:30 a.m. for a quick breakfast of Sharkies, a little caffeine, and lots of water while I checked facebook (of course!).  I read the funniest essay that one of the high school girls I coach wrote for a scholarship.  I mean, I laughed out loud on this one.  She’s so creative and while I say it was funny, it was also very good and I’m sure it made her stand out from the rest of the applicants.  My husband and I were then off to Alafia State Park for the Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K.


I was definitely looking forward to this race.  All of the TampaRaces.com events that I have done have been so great.  They are well organized events in such nice parks.  They hand out the awards quickly, offer good post race snacks and drinks, and have some of my favorite types of awards – campfire mugs and the overall and masters trophies are some of the best I have ever seen.


Anyway, we arrived in plenty of time and I did my usual warm up.  The race started on time and while I was a little nervous, I wasn’t overly nervous because I wasn’t expecting too much.  I guess mainly because I have not felt that spark for my training or racing since the Disney Marathon three weeks ago.  Post marathon funk can really get you down.  My training has been decent in the past three weeks but nothing to write home about.  At the start I knew I had to get out quickly because it was a single track course.  I did not know the course because I am not that familiar with Alafia Park and the map was not easy for me to understand.  So other than what I had heard and read about it, I really did not know what to expect.  Then this young guy in front of me turned around and told me that he rode the course yesterday on his mountain bike and it was really rough.  He said “just be sure to pick up your feet.”  The older guy next to him turned to me and said “that’s what you want to hear, right?”  We both chuckled and the race was on.


I started out a lot faster than I normally would, but I figured I had to in order to avoid getting stuck behind people on the single track course.  There were two women ahead of me going in to the single track path.  I was sucking wind by the first mile.  There were no mile markers on the course – this is cross country, baby!  Trail races are absolutely not about pace and splits.  This was my opportunity to just race.  I cherish opportunities like that.  Luckily I had my Garmin and it beeped at every mile so I knew how far I was in the race but I never looked at my splits.  There really was no point, besides if I did, I probably would have tripped.  This course was incredible.  Hard core road runners would hate it.  I absolutely loved it!  The 5K course was almost like a flashback to high school.  Our home course at Monson High was just as uneven and loaded with rocks and roots but we had major hills in Massachusetts.


The course is a mountain bike course at the park that they closed just for us to use this beautiful Sunday morning.  It had so few straight sections that I do not remember them.  It was narrow (one person wide); it twisted and turned; it had so many quick ups and downs (mini hills to this former northerner); it was loaded with rocks, roots, leaves, and a little mud just for fun.  It was incredibly difficult to pass.  I had to run up a little closer than was comfortable on the person in front of me and then when a slightly wider turn presented itself, had to accelerate by.  It was challenging, tactical, and liberating.  Once I passed the two women in front of me about halfway through the race, I thought I was the first female, but was not 100% sure.  So I kept running as hard as I could for the last mile.  When I came out of the trail and headed for the finish, a couple of spectators yelled out that I was the first female.  After a quick sprint on the grass to the finish, I walked out of the chute exhilarated and quite out of breath.  Add another cool campfire mug to the collection.  ;)


I love that my husband is always right there to greet me out of the chute.  Sharing that joy and exhaustion with him makes it feel more amazing.  I had barely caught my breath but I could not wait to tell him how tough the race was and what the trails were like.  I know he could see the joy.  I could see it in his face too.  I set off to do a cool down jog and on my way back I heard the awards being announced.  I didn’t quite make it to collect my overall female winner trophy, but my husband picked it up for me.  These are the most unique trophies, made of a rock slab base and a laser cut metal girl running with a pony tail (a RunnerGirl perhaps) and a name plate with the race and award name.

Overall Female Winner Trophy


After a couple of award photos, I talked to several people who approached us and mentioned that they were fans of RunnerGirl and readers of my blog.  As we walked to the car, I don’t know who was more excited (my husband or me) or what we were more excited about (winning overall female or meeting people who read my blog and are fans of RunnerGirl).  Talk about a confidence boosting day!


The race alone had renewed my spark for racing and training.  I am all set to prepare my training plan for the next few months.  I needed a little inspiration to get me back on track after my post marathon funk.  It’s funny because a few years ago I had a similar situation where I had lost that spark and the Picnic Island Adventure Run had renewed it for me.  Trail races do amazing things for me.  Thank you TampaRaces.com!  Now I’ve got the spark…

I Did It. Now What?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


The 2010 Disney Marathon was quite the experience.  The weekend as a whole was amazing and fun.  I was fortunate to share it with many of my favorite people.  But why did it have to be so COLD?!!!


My last marathon was in 2001 so I definitely forgot what it would feel like during the race.  I figured I was prepared.  My training had gone well and I had raced many half marathons since 2001, including two pretty speedy ones just a few months ago in November and December 2009.  I had been training in the cold, getting used to running in those winter running clothes – tights, long sleeves, jackets, hats, and gloves – but not liking it.  I moved to Florida to get away from all that!


I had forgotten how easy it is to let the pace get away from you during the first half of the race when you’re feeling good.  I knew I had to keep my goal pace no matter how good I felt or how easy it felt early on.  Part of me thought about going after my PR (3:18) but I was smart enough to stick to my race plan…even pace through 20 miles then pick it up if I felt good.  After all, my goal was a BQ (Boston Qualifier), not to PR.  I did not let myself get caught up in the moment or caught up in someone else’s race.  I stuck to my goal of 3:45.


I never used to be a “techie” runner but having a Garmin definitely helped keep me on my correct pace.  I am so glad I had it!  I probably checked it more than I needed to, but I felt almost like a “newbie” for this marathon.  So I stuck to my pace and only visited a few of the hydration stations since I was not sweating as much with the freezing temperatures.  I did have to slow through all of the water stops due to ice on the ground.  The spilled water and sports drink was actually freezing on the ground during the race.  For Florida, that is COLD.


Although I prefer running and racing in the usual hot, sunny Florida weather, I figured cooler would be better for the marathon.  Cool would have been nice.  Freezing was not so nice.  My quad muscles actually hurt during the race and it was not the normal pain, soreness, or stiffness I felt on a long run, but a cold, aching, tightness that would not let up.  Once I felt that, I knew I would have to work hard to run evenly, maintain my pace, and then once I hit 20 miles, I could pick it up if I felt okay.


Mile 20 ended up being my slowest mile of the day, but the last six miles were the fastest, which felt great.  I finished in 3:33:35.  I qualified for Boston.


After exiting the finish chute with mylar blanket, Mickey finisher medal, drinks, and snacks, I met my husband (my #1 fan) and two girls from the high school cross country/track team I coach.  It was great sharing the experience with them.  I know one of them will do her own marathon one day.  Once I told them about the race and they told me about their spectator excursions on the monorail and dealing with the freezing cold, I put on all the layers I had in my bag and I was ready to go.  I did not care to hang around the finisher hospitality area.


On the way back to our hotel, we stopped for breakfast around 10:30 a.m.  We were all so tired.  We had already been up for 7.5 hours.  One of the girls commented that she couldn’t wait to read the blog entries about that day.


It has been 12 days since the Disney Marathon.  I have not been able to write.  My sleep pattern has been off.  I feel like I have been in a bit of a fog; definitely lacking focus.  I remember back about 12 years ago when I was running marathons more frequently that the night or two after the race I would have trouble sleeping.  It was as if all those months of training and thinking about the marathon were suddenly over and my body and mind did not know what to do.


So, I did it.  Now what?


My training calendar has a few items on it, but it is not completely filled out like it usually is.  I have some races on there but no training plan to take me there.  The marathon can become such a big thing in our lives that we not only need to plan for physical recovery after it is over, but we need to plan for the mental recovery.  That is something I have not yet mastered.


This marathon hurt so much that when I was finished I was thinking that I might not run Boston in 2011.  I mean, why would I want to do this to myself again?  But now that a couple of weeks have passed and that vivid memory of what it felt like has faded, I have decided that I will run the Boston Marathon in 2011.  It will most likely be my last marathon, unless somehow that is an amazing and pain free experience.


I am so glad I ran the Disney Marathon because it was the right time for me to do another one.  I am so excited that I was so far under the qualifying time I needed.  I called Grandma to tell her about it and that I would be running Boston again next year.  [I grew up in Massachusetts where Boston Marathon Monday, well Patriot’s Day, is a holiday, so it has always been a big deal in our family.]  She was happy for me, of course, but in that worried tone she voiced her concerns about me running so far and on such a tough course.  I mean, I am getting older, I’m already 36.  But I smile because I know she remembers how out of it I was after running the Boston Marathon many years ago when it took me quite a long time to find my way back to the hotel where she and Bepa waited for me.  They were proud of me then and I know they are now.  Grandparents are the best.


When my muscles were aching during the race and a glance at my Garmin showed my pace slowing, I thought about what I was doing and why I was out there.  I kept telling myself that maintaining my pace and reaching my goal was how I could honor Bepa’s memory.  By doing my best I could honor God and thank him for my healthy body, the ability to run, and the strong spirit to push myself.  In the past I had always run for myself.  This time was different.  I am not sure exactly when that changed for me, but this marathon was definitely more meaningful.


I will end with two great quotes from the movie Chariots of Fire (1981).


Eric Liddell:  “You came to see a race today.  To see someone win.  It happened to be me.  But I want you to do more than just watch a race.  I want you to take part in it.  I want to compare faith to running in a race.  It’s hard.  It requires concentration of will, energy of soul.  You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it.  But how long does that last?  You go home.  Maybe your dinner is burnt.  Maybe you haven’t got a job.  So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities?  I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way.  I have no formula for winning the race.  Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.  And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end?  From within.  Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.  If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.”  If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”


Eric Liddell:  “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

The Adventure Never Ends

Saturday, June 13th, 2009


I have been running and racing for 24 of my 35 years.  I have a difficult time imagining what life would be like without it.  During those years, I have participated in a wide variety of races, including cross country races (mostly 5K), track meets (800 meters, mile, 3000 meters, 5000 meters), and road races (mile, 5K, 4 mile, 8K, 5 mile, 10K, 13K, 15K, 10 mile, 20K, half marathon, marathon, and marathon relays).  I guess I thought I had “seen it all” until I was introduced to adventure running last year.


After so many years of training and racing, running is still my passion.  Sometimes the “same old” races just don’t light that competitive spark anymore.  Summers in Florida don’t offer much more than the usual hot, humid 5K.  When I first heard about the Picnic Island Adventure Runs last summer I was hesitant because I had concerns about crawling under a cargo net and going through, over, or under other obstacles.  Wouldn’t that slow me down?  What if my lack of coordination caused me to look silly or hurt something?


Luckily I put my fears aside and took the leap to try something new.  It was the best decision I ever made.  There are more adventure runs out there, but my experience is limited to the Picnic Island races.  I ran in two of them last summer and just finished my third Picnic Island Friday night.  These races are usually 3.1 to 3.3 miles in length and have really grown in popularity.  The May 2009 Picnic Island race had about 700 participants.


Each time I finish one, I feel inspired.  I don’t know exactly what it is.  It could be the fact that we don’t really know the exact distance of the race and there are no mile markers; the funny thing is that no one seems to care either.  Maybe it is the uneven terrain, sharp turns, single lane path through the mangroves, or the short, steep zig zag hills at the end.  Or it could be the return to childhood while crawling on hands and knees through sand under a cargo net, taking a sharp right turn, covered in sand, then running through big, inflated tubes, and with wobbly legs attempting to jump a big hurdle.  Each year there are three races over the summer and no two races have been the same.  One thing is for sure, I love the crazy terrain.  I find myself pushing the pace, pushing my limits just based on how I feel.  Time doesn’t mean much on Picnic Island.  My goal is to finish in the top 50 in order to receive an award at the finish line.  During the race I always seem to find a few people who become my short term goals.  I keep pushing the pace throughout the race so that when we get close to the finish line, my lungs are burning and I am gasping for breath.  That is when I feel so incredibly alive.


Friday, June 12, 2009 was the second of the three Picnic Island Adventure Runs.  There were five RunnerGirls pushing the limits Friday night.  Four of us finished in the top 50 and received hats at the finish line (Jessica Pate, Diana Nelson, Nicole Iglesias, and Rae Ann Darling Reed).  Our fifth runner (Clancy Vaughan) just missed it, placing 51st.  It was Clancy’s first experience at Picnic Island and I’m sure she’ll be back to try to get into that top 50.  Clancy will be in 8th grade at King Middle this fall.  She is an outstanding soccer player and has great potential as a runner.  Jessica Pate is a recent graduate of Manatee High where she was a state finalist in cross country and competed at region in track.  She will run for Furman University this fall.  Diana Nelson and Nicole Iglesias will be seniors at Manatee High in the fall.  They have both competed at the regional level in both cross country and track.  Nicole and Diana are outstanding student-athletes who will be team leaders in cross country, track, and basketball.  They are both three sport athletes who thrive on the diversity of their three sports.  This is very important in high school to avoid the burn out that often results in specializing in one sport too early in life.  After all, “variety is the spice of life.”


In comparing races to the “spices of life,” Picnic Island Adventure Runs would be something hot like cayenne pepper.  It’s not something you would do (or use) all the time, but it is exciting and different and can really spark a renewed passion for running, racing, and life.  It makes you feel alive.  As a warning, you may be sore in muscles you have forgotten about from crawling, jumping, and running the wild terrain, but you will smile thinking about how those muscles got that way.  The Picnic Island Adventure Run (or any adventure run in your area) might be exactly what you need to put that spark back in your running.  It is definitely one adventure I am glad I tried.


RunnerGirls at Picnic Island

RunnerGirls at Picnic Island





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