running, Thoughts, Uncategorized

why I’m obsessed with the marathon

I love seeing the number 26.2 in bold on bumper stickers, written across T shirts and engraved on rubber bracelets. To be honest, I’m thinking about getting it tattooed on my wrist.

It’s a strange number, if you aren’t a runner. A lot of people, when I tell them I’ve run a marathon, ask me how far it is- which is funny, because the word “marathon” is supposed to describe the distance.

To be fair, in some cultures (when I lived in Singapore, for example) it seems that people used the term ‘marathon’ in lieu of ‘race’ or ‘run’. I ran a 10k over there and even the people hosting the event kept calling it a marathon run… However, the accepted definition among distance runners, the definition I grew up with, is 26.2 miles (just over 42 km).

Why? Because of a legend with some plausibility involving a Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who allegedly ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for help during an invasion. The Spartans were in the middle of a religious ceremony and were unable to help for a few days, so Pheidippides ran back to inform the people of Athens. I think then he ran to the Bay of Marathon (which literally means “field of fennel”) to tell them the news, then join the fight. Upon their incredible victory (the Athenians were heavily outnumbered but still managed to defeat the invading Persians) he ran 26 miles back to Athens to shout his famous last words- “We have won!”

After which he promptly fell over and died.

Of course now we all run marathons because, what, we want to prove we won’t meet the same fate? I’m fuzzy on the details of how this became the massive cultural phenomenon it is today, but here we are!

Many marathons were run with distances around 26 miles before the 1900s, but that’s when the modern distance became official. The marathon course for the 1908 Olympics in London was extended by 385 yards so the athletes would finish in front of the royal box, and that became the distance we use today.

That’s the quick and dirty version. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes does the best job of telling this story in his book “The Road to Sparta“. So read that.

The marathon has so much history behind it I couldn’t do it justice in one blog post. From its origins in ancient Greece to its evolution into a semi-popular endurance event, so much ground has been covered. You have the success of elite athletes in continually bringing down the world record, the inclusion of women in running and endurance events, the training adaptations modern science has allowed us to discover, and the eventual inclusion of runners of all ages, shapes and sizes… The marathon is a world unto itself.

I love the marathon because it’s not just about who runs the fastest or who wins, it’s about finishing. Often it’s against beating your own times, fighting your personal limitations. It is a tough thing, yet people from all walks of life run marathons. From teenagers with lots of energy to great-grandpas with T-shirts reading things like “I ran this course 5 years before you were born!” Elite runners sometimes start a little bit ahead of the field, but at the end of the day, everyone starts and finishes in the same place, from the fastest in the world to people that jog at a snail’s pace.

People run for friends, family, community,

People run for themselves.

The marathon brings people together in a way that little else does.

It’s a feat of endurance, which as my coach used to say translates to everything you do in life. You get out of it what you put in.

When you run a marathon for the first time, you will change. It is a lot of running. I mean, even if you’re reading this as an ultrarunner who’s done 15 100 milers in the last few years, I’m sure you remember the feeling of finishing your first marathon.

First there’s the training. You cover at least a couple hundred miles over a few months, which may or may not be something you’ve ever done before. The training makes you appreciate your world. You learn to understand your body, learn how to work harder and grow stronger. You appreciate, the sights, views, sounds, and smells of wherever you’re running in a new way. The right music becomes something that makes you high. I think this is the feeling people are searching for when they get drunk and go clubbing- isn’t it great to know all you have to do to reach euphoria is wait for a great run?

You learn to push through pain, and how to differentiate the kind of pain that hurts you from the pain that challenges, then changes you. You are able to carry these lessons over into your daily life.

The training is half the beauty of it. Then there’s the event itself, a massive starting line or a small one, but a gathering either way of people about to submit themselves to the same challenge you are. These people, like you, are all running for a reason. They’ve all trained for this, as you have. You might swap stories on the starting line, you might just stand in companionable silence.

But you’re all there for the same beautiful struggle.

I am terrified of writing about the marathon. I worry I can’t breathe the right words into it, the words that will make you understand what running a marathon truly means. I worry that at the end of this post you will shake your head and sigh and wish me luck with my knees.

As I sit here still frustratingly in recovery, I worry that one day I’ll find out this isn’t my distance, after all. I worry that I’ll never qualify for Boston or New York, never break 4 hours, much less 3, never meet the goals I’ve set for myself.

But if there’s one thing the marathon has taught me, it is that worry has no place in my mind. All the worry and hype your brain tosses at you over the course of your life is just noise. What matters is the choices you make, the actions you perform, the work you put into things. I read once that there is no cheating in a marathon, because your body knows exactly what you have or haven’t done in training.

The marathon will test you. It will challenge you. Ultimately, it will change you. It will teach you to put the work in, to trust yourself, and eventually, to give the distance everything you have.

As the writer Hunter Thompson said,

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!'”

 

 

running, Thoughts, Uncategorized

in search of solitude

You hear a lot about “the loneliness of the long distance runner.”

Which makes it sound like a bad thing, but…

I crave that solitude.

 

I walked through downtown Seattle recently, unable to run and trying to merge errands with a pleasant walk by the water. It surprised me how quickly I became frustrated by the noise, the people walking by, the multitude of things interrupting my thoughts. I tried to put on headphones but the tinny music made it worse.

I wanted to slip through the woods hearing nothing but the trees and the light tapping of my feet. I found a park but even the park was filled with people whose eye contact I wanted to avoid, whose conversations I wanted to not hear, who I wanted to breeze past in my own world.

But I couldn’t run, and that inability is making me so grateful for the times I have, and will, run alone again.

Then I will watch the shadows on the trail from the nettles that seem to always be where you think they’re not. I’ll round corners I think are going to be downhill but are actually steep hikes up to the sky, and take off my shoes before I go home so my sore feet can seek out the energy of the grass beneath them.

I want to tune into my own breathing, mimic the rush of wind between trees, that breeze coming off of the water that reminds you there’s motion in the world beyond your own.

I want to figure out what I’m thinking about all the time, what’s beneath the way I exist on the surface. There’s something deeper in me and I want to know it.

I want to know who I am, truly, what I know and what I don’t and what I really care about learning.

I’ll admit, city runs are an amazing way to see a new city, to open up a world beyond the one you already know…

but sometimes getting away from it all is what you need.

I think this is probably why people do yoga, only I have the patience of a flea and can only hold a pose for about 3 seconds before it starts hurting. I feel more relaxed when I’m faced with the challenge of an enormous hill or watching my footfall over uneven terrain.

There’s just something about moving through the world relying on just your body and your mind to get you someplace.

I want to run alone so I get a clearer picture of myself. How do I react when faced with a challenge? What speed, what distance makes my body sing out in joy? In pain? How much pain can I take, what can I push through, how much is too much ?

How much stronger than I think I am can I become?

I believe that the purest version of ourselves emerges when we are alone. When we are immersed in something that we love and that challenges us.

Running in a group makes me feel connected, social, happy.

Running alone makes me feel alive.

I am free to be selfish, to consider the needs and desires of no one but myself. I am permitted to be wild- no one can see the expression on my face, no one can hear the things I might say to myself. I can daydream and annoy no one with the fact that my mind is light years away from the present.

I’ve cried while running, pouring my heart and soul and the worst emotions I’ve felt into the ugliest of runs, and while I didn’t feel magnificent after, it felt like it helped lift some weight.

I’ve also bounced along grinning, rejoicing in the freedom of being alive and free and having a working heart and body and the fact that I get to be wherever I am, now, doing this one thing I love so much.

Again and again when I need to find myself, the answer is not to sit down and write about things.

It is not to read self help books or to turn to Google. It is not to sit and fume, to lash out, or even to blast loud music (though that can help).

Instead I rely on the resplendent, beautiful loneliness that is part of being a long distance runner- a pleasant loneliness, and a remarkable one.

When I need to find myself there are a few steps I take.

I put on running shoes.

I walk out the door.

I run miles and miles, enjoying the companionable quiet of solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

running, Uncategorized

the over-accessorized runner

I’m sure you know one.

They trot along with a watch strapped to each wrist so they can track their heart rate, pace, elevation gain, exact GPS mileage and goodness knows what else. In addition, two bright headphone wires snake out from their ears, eliminating all outside sound so all they can hear is the latest “motivational” pop hit. Their giant phone is strapped to their upper arm, so it won’t collide with the 6 bottle hydration belt they’ve strapped to their waist, a gel pouch tucked in there somewhere.

And all this for a 6 mile run!

Marketing agencies would have you believe that the latest gear is essential for becoming a smarter, faster runner. A better runner. A better coach.

Why? A few reasons, among them the fact that on some occasions new or better gear can improve your running. For instance, an ultramarathoner who needs a shoe with enough traction to get them up a narrow mountain climb, or an elite runner who actually requires fuel an hour and a half into a run at sub 6 pace.

But another reason is because running is inherently a sport that doesn’t require a lot of stuff. When you acquire stuff for running, it’s usually unnecessary. Good running clothes, good shoes and a watch are the only real essentials.

Without you being convinced to buy more running gear than you need, a lot of businesses would no longer be around.

I’m not saying to stop buying all running gear- there’s a time and place for it. If you need new running clothes, check out Janji! Not only do they make clothes in unique colors and great fits, but they also donate one of their proceeds to clean water projects.

But ultimately, you don’t need that much to run. That’s part of why running is the everyman’s sport- unlike figure skating, which requires expensive skates and the cost of rink time, or baseball, requiring a bunch of special equipment, all you have to do to run is head out the door.

So, what do you NEED for a run?

Let’s bring it back down to the basics.

Again, you need good shoes. Clothes that don’t chafe (yes, chafe). Wear a watch so you know how long you’re running / you can calculate pace if you need to.

If you’re running for more than an hour, you might need some fuel or water. Is there a water fountain on the route you’re running? Then ditch the water and use that water fountain. You should only need a few swallows, as there’s no need to hydrate unless you’re thirsty. Did you know these days more people die of over-hydration in sport than dehydration?

You might want headphones, but only wear them a few times a week at most. I absolutely love running with music, but not on easy days (you’ll get excited and run too fast) and not when you’re doing a speed workout because you won’t be able to gauge your efforts. Music changes your perception of what you’re doing more than you might realize. I recommend only using music if you’re stuck on a treadmill or an elliptical and you’re not worried about what pace you’re running.

If you’re training for something intense and specific, you can use a heart rate monitor if that data is valuable to you and you know how to use it. Even then, you should only use it now and then until you learn how to intuitively figure out your heart rate/ effort level.

Just remember that ultimately, you didn’t start running because you wanted to plug yourself into a bunch of gadgetry and fancy new clothes. You started because you liked the motion of it, the results, the alone time, the success, whatever. But all that came from the work you did with your physical body, without all these accoutrements.

If you don’t love the sport. you won’t stay with it. If you love all the gadgets, that’s great, but remember that if you overuse accessories, you are separating yourself from the purity of the sport.

What do you truly need in order to run?

At the most primal level, your body. In motion, with good form, enjoying the moment. Working hard or taking it easy. Hitting splits or relaxing into the rhythm.

The run is not about the stats, the gear, the gels, the numbers.

That’s part of it if you’re competing, yes, or if you’re curious.

But you wouldn’t have gotten there if you didn’t love the sport in the first place.

The act of running, its eloquence, the purity and simplicity of it. This fully immersive way of connecting with your body and the world around you.

Next time you’re out there, leave the gear at home and just run. With your feet, your lungs, your legs and arms in beautifully orchestrated motion, pushing you forward and propelling you across the street, up the hill, towards a new PR or the next great adventure. Put one foot ahead of the other, again and again and again.

Don’t become an over-accessorized runner.

Just start running.

 

Featured photo by Franzie Allen on Unsplash.
Uncategorized

your new workout playlist

Hey friends!

I don’t know about you, but a few times a year my workout playlist seems to need a refresh and I spend hours scrolling through lists of motivating music to see what catches my eye- or ear, I guess. When I’m running I often go without earbuds, but as I’ve been stuck on the elliptical lately I’ve complied a ton of great music. To save you the time of digging around for new songs, I’ve compiled a bunch for you. I hope you find something to enjoy here!

 

Featured image by Filip Mroz on Unsplash
Uncategorized

shifting gears

Hey friends!

I want to give you a quick update on where this blog is going. For a while it’s been focused on travel, exploration, etc- which I still believe in, and won’t be quitting anytime soon. However, I’ve been balancing this blog and my running blog for a while and would rather just pick one and run with it (pun intended).

Keeping my running and travel blogs separate feels too forced, too restricted.

I always want to talk about running on this blog, but it feels like it doesn’t go well enough with travel. In hindsight, maybe I should have realized right off the bat that this meant I should focus on running.

I’ve been injured for a year and am finally getting back into the sport, and the trial of taking a year away from my passion has made me realize where my priorities lie. I am so excited to get back into this world, and I have so many exciting running-related things happening that I can’t avoid the natural evolution of this blog.

So from now on, this blog is going to be running focused.

I’ll still talk travel, and for sure healthy eating, but now it will be coming at you through the lens of a runner. I want to talk sports, endurance, athletics, but also nutrition, health, holistic living. For me travel is definitely related to of all that, so don’t worry- I’ll still try to inspire you to see the world! And maybe go for a run while you’re out there… 🙂

I am an RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) certified coach, so alongside the advice I give on this blog I also offer personal training programs with Team Run Run (you can find my profile on teamrunrun.com or click the “run” tab on this blog). I also offer one-on-one consultations in case you’re not sure running is right for you or are worried about whether or not it’s worth hiring a coach.

I’m also figuring out how to gain a nutrition coaching certification, so I can eventually offer nutrition coaching and certified advice as well. I’ll still share the food I eat and fuel with, but always with the caveat that I am not yet a certified nutritionist and therefore cannot offer any medical advice.

At the end of the day, I want to live a holistic life to as a runner, and as a traveler, while eating in a way that nourishes my body and mind. And I want to share that philosophy with you wonderful people, because it is an absolutely delightful way to live.

Featured image by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash