Sunday, September 1, 2013

Running lessons: Tough runs teach me a lot!

From the top of the biggest hill  - the photo doesn't really do it justice
Today's long run was all about form, strategy and pacing. There was a 23k run on my schedule and my friend, Janet, suggested I run up the Conquerall Mills Rd. so I'd have the experience of running some serious hills before Husband and I head for St. John's in October. She warned me the route was a tough one and she was right. Here's the elevation chart created by my garmin:

Over 23.4 kms, I climbed and descended 577 metres. The route wasn't quite as challenging as the one I'll face in Newfoundland - particularly since Cape to Cabot finishes with a nasty climb to the top of Signal Hill - but it was a darn good test of whether I'm likely to survive what's billed as "the toughest race in eastern North America", and I'm happy to report that I did just fine. I won't attempt this route again between now and the marathon on September 13th but will try to run it at least twice more before C2C. 

I was thinking about a few things during my run today. The first was how important it is to remember that, hard as the run was, I have no right to complain about it. After all - I chose to do it. The burning in my lungs and legs as I climbed the hills and the aches I feel as I sit writing this are the direct results of choosing to train for two big races this fall.  

By contrast, a couple of people close to me are undergoing cancer treatments at the moment. They didn't choose the discomforts they're experiencing. They didn't choose to be faced with a decision to be treated or risk losing their lives. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to wake up every morning for months knowing that they have no option but to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments that are likely to make them feel pretty ill for awhile. Given what they're up against, how can I feel anything but grateful that I'm well and strong enough to train for a couple of tough races? My aches and pains are the price I pay for that privilege.

Another thing I thought about was how often people (including me) avoid taking responsibility for our choices - particularly when things don't turn out the way we expect. Of course, it's often easier to blame other people or factors beyond our control than to accept that we exercised poor judgment or made bad decisions. I get that (boy, do I get that!) but it's rarely helpful to think of oneself as a victim and/or to sling mud at others. In general, the better option is to acknowledge and accept responsibility for those choices, get on with finding ways to improve the situation, make amends as needed and commit to doing better next time. 

Finally, I was thinking about how important it is to have good strategies for coping when times get tough.Throughout my run today, I did my best to focus on keeping a positive attitude, running at a moderate pace, and maintaining good form. 

For the reasons I've already mentioned, keeping a positive attitude wasn't difficult, but I struggled with pace and form. Like many runners, I have a tendency to speed up when climbing a hill. It's natural to want to reach the top as quickly as possible but I've learned that the better strategy when facing a series of tough hills is to moderate my pace so there's something left in the tank when it's time to tackle the next one. 

As for my form, I can't count the number of times I reminded myself to drop my shoulders and let my arms swing naturally - particularly, when a thunderstorm blew up and I became worried about the possibility of lightning. Fortunately, though there was plenty of rain and thunder, the lightning never arrived but my anxiety about it reinforced my natural tendency to hold tension in my shoulders.

Of course, the same is true when we're faced with other kinds of challenges in life. Magic solutions rarely present themselves. Instead, it's a matter of keeping a positive attitude, acting with integrity and doing the best we can in the circumstances. If we work hard and have good coping skills and a supportive network of family, friends and colleague, things usually work out in the end.

Phew. That's a lot of heavy stuff for one day. What can I say? I guess tough runs encourage me to think a little more seriously about thing than easier ones do. In any case, below is a rundown of my training for the past week. 

Total mileage: 38.4 kms
Total # runs: 3 
Longest run: 23.4 kms
Hill training: 8 x hills
Tempo run: 1 x 6kms

Oh, and here's a picture from my run today. I call it "Clandestine". Doesn't it look like they're whispering to one another?

Happy running and writing, friends.

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