The “D” word

Today’s run was one of those ugly, demoralizing events that made me question whether I should just throw in the towel, quit trying to rebuild my running base and take up competitive eating. I think I would be really good at that. I’m not that great at running.

Yes, it was ugly.  If you live in the south, you know that it’s hot.  No, I said that wrong.  IT’S.  HOT.  Insanely hot. Even for me, who really likes to sweat.  Especially if, through your own laziness and forgetfulness, you get up late, forget there’s a 5k at your usual running spot, and have to drive 15 minutes to another one.  No one to blame but me.  I know I need to be running no later that 6:15, so when I don’t get up until then, I’m already in a deficit.  Anyway, enough complaining.  It was hot, I was late, it was hard, it was ugly, but I got it done.  Four miles, even.  You did not want to be downwind from me when it was done.  And, if there’s any cell phone video of it while it was happening, I’m going to be needing that.  No one else needs to see just how ugly it really was.

Today’s run (and other recent doozies) was a reminder to me that nothing worthwhile (like good health) is easy to obtain.  I’ve managed to let me health decline, while allowing my weight to creep up, and it’s just going to take awhile to get back to the starting line.  As my wise daughter texted me the other day, “I wish getting fat hurt as much as getting fit.”  Ain’t it the truth.  (She’s so far from fat that’s almost laughable, but she knows the struggle is real, so she’s putting the effort in early.)  If getting fat hurt as much as getting fit did, I know for a fact I would be a size 2.  Running hurts.  Pizza feels good.  Not eating bread sucks.  I’m sorry, there’s just no other way to really say that.  

It’s physically and mentally painful to get fit.  It often requires more effort than I’m willing to give it, and this time of year, in South Mississippi, it takes 10 times the amount of effort it took just three short weeks ago.

I know why I do it.  I want to be healthy. I love to live life; scuba diving, hiking, exploring, letting my feet and lungs take me places others never get to go.  I have a hunger to experience life that it seems only my feet can fill.  I like the way the world looks from the trail.  And, I can’t run that trail, hike that hill, dive that reef, even walk all day in a new city, if I don’t keep chasing that running dream.  For me, it’s that simple.  

The reality of that 5 am wake up call is something else altogether.

Which brings me to that “D” word.

2Tim1-7

That verse is the first one I ever committed to memory as an adult out of need. It’s meant various things to me over the years. I’ve called it forth when I was fearful of something, whether it was as simple as singing a solo in church, or as monumental as trying to mend relationships that seemed broken beyond repair. At this point in my life, the “D” word is the one that jumps out. Yes, Discipline. Yuk. There are several translations of the words “self-discipline”, some translate it as “sound mind”, others as “self-control”. This is my favorite translation.

As I’ve pulled it into my heart this week in a daily reminder, I realized something that I don’t think I ever thought of before. This is a gift God has given me. The ability to discipline myself. Discipline as a gift? That had to settle in awhile before I grasped the absolute loveliness of it.

As with all His gifts, He’s given me the choice of whether to receive it or not. I can continue in my life as I have: sleeping in, eating/drinking too much, not allowing this gift of discipline to take hold in my life and set me on the path towards my goals; or I can embrace it with open arms and let it fill me with determination (another “D” word). I choose the latter.

Sigh. I really miss pizza.

warm up

Why do it?

As this glutinous season grinds on, it’s time to look forward to the new year and start making our plans for training and racing.  I’m excited that so many in my inner circle of family and friends are lacing up and hitting the road (or the treadmill), and hope that many more will join us as this year closes and a new one begins.  As you look toward a healthier horizon, know that it’s never easy, sometimes it’s really boring, and not all runs are good ones, but making the decision to become a healthier you is one you’ll never regret.  Here are a few things that keep me looking for my running shoes at the crack of dawn.

*It helps me be nicer.  I took the week off from running after last weekend’s half marathon to nurse a few ouchies, and by Thursday, my sunny disposition had melted into a snarling, semi-hysterical puddle.  I had two vicious run-ins over the telephone, both of which make me hang my head in shame today.  Not that they were unprovoked, just that I usually deal with that type thing much better.  Apparently, I need running to help me deal with anger issues.  :/  Who knew?

*I’m responsible for my long term health/well-being.  No one else.  I often listen to podcasts as I run, and this morning’s run started with an Andy Stanley series entitled “Take Responsibility”.  In it, he made the statement that if you aren’t prepared to eat right and exercise now, when you’re healthy, you should sit your spouse or children down and ask them to go ahead and plan on taking care of you as you age.  Ouch.  While there are many things that lie outside my ability to prevent, there are lots of things that lie within it.  Eating well and exercising help me be the best me possible, today and in the future.

*I’m good to myself.  Time spent alone on an early morning run is the most quality time I spend with myself.  I relax, recharge, regroup, and reenergize.

*I catch up with my girl time.  Occasionally, I like to run with a friend.  It’s fun, motivating, and keeps the route interesting.

*I catch up with my guy time.  The thing I miss most about having my man down for the time being is running with him.  Yes, he pushes me hard.  Yes, that makes me grouchy.  It also makes me a better runner.  Get better soon, old man.

*I catch up on my reading.  I love to read.  But, my schedule (like yours) is overly full, especially this time of the year.  So, I download great books to my iPod that keep me company on long runs.  I’ve run with Harry Potter and friends, Jay Gatsby and Daisy, the inspiring women in “The Help”, Jamie and Claire Frasier from the “Outlander” series, and many,  many more.  I also like to listen to podcasts by some of my favorite speakers, including Andy Stanley (pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Atlanta), the late, great Zig Ziglar, the down to earth Joyce Meyers, and the funny girls over at Another Mother Runner.  Long runs are often “catch up on my podcasts” time.  

*I have a worship experience.  I have lots of music on my iPod and that sometimes leads to an amazing run.  My running playlist is very eclectic, running the gamut from Queen, Steppenwolf, and Tom Petty to Jonah 33, Jeremy Riddle, and Mercy Me and everything in between.  I dial it in, hit shuffle, and let God choose what I listen to.  At mile 4 this morning, just as I was getting in my groove, He selected Mercy Me’s “Word of God, Speak”.  And, it did.  Mile 4 was a hands raised to heaven kind of mile.  Love it when that happens.

*I feel spectacular.  I’ve been running consistently again for a little over three years.  I felt better after the first six months, then after a year, I felt great.  Now, I have energy to spare, morning runs fuel my day, I’m seldom sick with anything worse than a fever blister, and I wake up easily in the mornings, looking forward to the day.  Does it get better than that?

I hope this list helps you get motivated or re-motivated to move.  Please, don’t think you have to be a runner.  In fact, if you’re just starting out, haven’t run in a long time, are a little older, or are prone to injuries, just walk.  You never have to run, you certainly never have to race to reap the benefits of adding exercise to your life.  Everyone starts slowly, then gradually improves. It’s the natural way of things.    In the words of the incomparable, recently departed Zig Ziglar:

zig

A strong finish

For a self proclaimed anti-racer, I’ve been lining up at a lot of starting lines lately.  Blame it on the magnificent weather, which dawns a little on the too cold side, then blossoms into a beautiful sun filled day. Or, blame it on the fact that my training has been going really well lately.  So well, in fact, that I kind of overdid it a few weeks ago and ended up with some unwelcome off days to rest a slightly inflamed ankle.  Old ankle injuries apparently never really die, they just go into hibernation until you make them mad, then they come roaring back to life.  Fortunately, a week off worked wonders, and I even raced on it at the end of that rest week, to beat my 5k PR by almost a full minute.  Yes, racing is fun to me, finally.  Whatever is to thank (or blame) for it, I’m grateful.

Yesterday found me at the starting line of another local 5k, this one very small, maybe 30 racers total.  It was a benefit for Bethany Christian Services, and was in the beautiful Bellegrass subdivision of west Hattiesburg, which has a surprisingly hilly course.  I signed up on race morning, as this was a last minute decision, and the early morning cold almost made me change my mind.  I wasn’t sure I should even race this weekend as next weekend is my next “real” race, a half marathon in Orange Beach, Alabama.  But, my training schedule for the half has been erratic, at best, since Gary’s accident, so I figured, why not throw in a last minute 5k to make things shake, rattle, and roll?    Gary & I loaded up early, got coffee at Starbucks (he ate cake, I had my usual 5k pre-race meal of coffee & hard boiled egg), then headed out to find the race site.

I didn’t really have a race plan, but once I started running, I just pounded it out to the end.  Up hill, down hill,up hill again.  Past groups of chattering young women, a few men who were taking an easy morning jog, and around the beautifully laid out development to the last hill at the finish line.  Hate hills at the finish line, by the way.  Ended up shaving a couple more seconds off my PR and winning my age group again.  Not that difficult, but I also blew past a lot of women much, much younger than me.  Well, blew past may be a little on the extreme side descriptively, but I like the way it sounds.

I love how small town races reflect the diversity of the running community.  People in all sizes and shapes, in all ages and stages, with varying skill and speed levels, all line up for a good cause and a little exercise.  There were two young boys (maybe 8 or 9) who were just ahead of me for most of the race.  They were obviously racing each other and unconcerned about the race as a whole.  One made a dash into the woods and I thought, Ok, I’ll pass them now.  But, no, they easily got back on course and were pacing each other and punching each other for the next 27 minutes or so.  I would gain on them, then they effortlessly glided ahead and away while laughing and hollering.  My breathing sounded like I had on Darth Vader’s mask, and any conversation on my end was short and to the point.  They danced across the finish line a full minute ahead of me, with energy to spare and slaps and giggles all around.  Loved it!

That’s what running is all about.  Fun, camaraderie, testing yourself, pushing limits, trying new things, making new friends, and more fun.  Runners come in all sizes and shapes (thank goodness!), and isn’t a one size fits all sport.  You never have to run a race, or be particularly fast to be a runner.  I have lots of fast running friends who never talk down to my slow, plodding times.  They treat me like what I am – a runner.  I heard on a podcast the other day that a real runner never asks you what your finishing time is, they just rejoice with you that you finished.  I have to agree with that.  All the runners that I consider “real” runners are exactly like that.  They know that their only real competition is themselves, and continually strive to better their own performance.  Most of us will never win a major race, or even place in our age groups in those races, but we’ll finish all the same and be happy, content, stronger, and healthier than our non-running friends.  And, really, isn’t finishing well what life is really all about?

Permission to fail

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”  Zig Ziglar

I love Zig Ziglar.  He’s corny and old-fashioned, but he is spot on in his presentations.  He makes me laugh and he makes me think.  Anyone who can do both of those things is more than all right in my book.  I listen to his podcasts often when I’m running, and recently he made the comment that I quoted above.  My initial reaction was, “What? That’s not the way I learned that!”  But, as he talked, and I began to reflect on what he said, I realized he was right.  His point was that when we start something new, we are seldom going to be good at it at the beginning.  It may take years of doing something before we finally begin to do something well, or even just do it better than before.  I used to limit myself to only pursuing things that I felt accomplished at, things that I didn’t have to work hard to do well.  That list is pretty short.  Eating and sleeping are about the only things I can do well with little effort.

It seems I’ve encountered a lot of people lately who say they can’t run.  They’ll marvel over the fact that I train for and race half marathons (remember these are people who have never seen how badly I actually run), then they sigh and say, “I wish I could run.”  My response to that is almost always the same.  If you really want to be a runner, you can be one.  There are very few things which truly disqualify you from becoming a runner.  Just look at the roster of any race and you will see many, many people running with disabilities far worse than your own.  There are, of course, some disqualifiers, but search yourself, talk to many doctors, do some research if you think you have one of those.  It just might be that you can be a runner, if that is something you truly want.  Running isn’t for everyone.  I have a friend about my age who does competitive dancing.  That’s something I would do really badly for a very long time if I took it up.  But, as beautiful as it is to watch, I don’t have the desire to become a dancer.  Other than around the house and to embarrass my daughter, that is.  It’s the same with running.  It may not be for you.  But, if you want it, you can have it.  Here are a few tips that will hopefully set you on your way.

Know that it’s going to be really easy.  All you really need is a good pair of running shoes, comfy clothes, a safe place to run, and a good sports bra.  Men, you’re exempt from that last one.  There is a lot of icing to go on the cake after you establish some good running habits, but to begin, that’s all you need.  Don’t worry about pace or distance.  Concern yourself with working up to running 30 minutes.  Don’t even start a running program until you can walk 30 minutes.  After that, start sprinkling in some 20-30 second running spurts.  Easy does it, what’s your rush?  Before you know it, you’ll be running 30 minutes and ready to challenge yourself more.

Know that it’s going to be really hard.  You don’t ever have to race to be a runner.  You never have to run a certain speed, or go a certain distance to be  runner.  You just have to run.  But, if you’re like most people, once you get the hang of it and start running, you begin to want to test your limits.  I read a great quote this week:  Happiness is pushing your limits and watching them back down.  This has been that year for me.  Testing boundaries, pushing limits.  Times I thought were long out of my reach are dangling just in front of my nose and I can’t wait to grab them.  I’m still slow and steady.  But, it’s been tremendously fun and highly motivational to add some workouts that are increasing my strength and speed.  Know that when you start to do that, though, it’s going to hurt.  I don’t mean hurt to the point of injury, but hurting while you’re working out.  When you’re done, you’ll have the most spectacular sense of accomplishment.  I’ve discovered that really helps with the pain.  😉

Get over yourself.      If you’re worried about how you’re going to look, or that you don’t look like all those cute little runners in their chic little running outfits, get over it.  Let me tell you something that God has taught me through running.  Worrying about those things means that you are prideful.  Yep, that’s what I said.  I would have told you 10 years ago that pride was not one of my sins, but God has enlightened me over the years that indeed I do have a problem with it.  Everybody has to start somewhere.  Throw on some comfy clothes and get your butt in gear.  I can guarantee you that, just like in life, there will be people out there who consider you a hero and there will be people out there who consider you crazy.  Doesn’t matter.  Just do it.  (Wow, I’m really throwing in a lot of athletic gear slogans.)

In the spirit of becoming less prideful, I’m including my race picture from my first half marathon in January of 2010.  Hope it makes you feel just a little bit better about how you look when you run.  In my defense, it was 19 degrees at the starting line and started snowing on mile 7.  And, don’t think my eyes are closed because I’m praying.  Although, I may have been.  But, be assured it was more “please let this be over soon,” than some lofty prayer for world peace.

My goal for 2013 is a good race pic. Calling all my photographer friends to come give it a shot.

And finally, remember that running is more mental than physical.  When I was growing up my dad had a saying, “Can’t never could do anything.”  I never fully understood that until I became a runner.  If you believe you can, you can.  It may take a lot longer than you want it to, and it will certainly hurt a lot more than you want it to, but you can do it.  Never, never say can’t.  You have permission to fail as many times as you need to.  I still have bad runs.  Fortunately, though, these days, the good ones far outnumber the bad.  That keeps me lacing up and heading out to try it again another day.

How bad do you want it?

Years ago, I belonged to a Weight Watchers group in Hattiesburg.  My favorite instructor was Marsha, a woman older than myself who has been there and done that when it came to weight loss.  Her approach was very direct – no nonsense, and unsympathetic.  Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but it worked for me.  One of the things she always asked anyone who was falling down on their plan was, “How bad do you want it?”.  You have to want to lose weight more than you want that slice of red velvet cake if you’re going to be successful.

That’s a motto I’ve carried with me since then.  Whenever I approach a long term goal, whether it’s weight loss, a running goal, a business goal, or any other personal goal I’m reaching toward, I ask myself that question.  Because, if you don’t want it badly enough, you’re not going to be willing to put in the work required to get there.  Most goals worth setting require time, intense effort, and patience.  Few things in life worth having come to you without effort.

Getting back to running was one of those things for me.  I knew I wanted it in my life, had allowed it to fall by the wayside, and was ready to pick it back up and try it on for size.  Let me tell you, it wasn’t a good fit when I started back.  But, as the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, I established patterns that I’m excited to believe are with me to stay.  I’ve had to overcome a few things, and am still working to overcome some issues, but the end result is absolutely worth it.  I can say with confidence and no exaggeration that I feel better now than I ever have.  And, I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been.

Reawakening the discipline of exercise in my life has led me to become more disciplined in other areas of my life.  I eat much more intelligently now, and see food as a source of fuel, rather than a source of stress relief or comfort.  I’m learning to refine it so that it is the most efficient fuel burner I can make it.  This is a work in progress, but again, I want it badly enough to do it.

I’ve learned that my body doesn’t like it when I don’t give it the daily attention that it needs in the form of prayer, movement, and proper fueling.  On days that I oversleep and miss my early morning run, I’m foggy and foul tempered the entire day.  Summer runs in Mississippi have to be done very, very early out of necessity  in order to beat the heat.  Even 5 am runs can be 85 degrees with 95% humidity, so running any later in the day is a death wish.  I’m not a morning person.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I know if I don’t run or crosstrain early, it won’t happen.  So, when my alarm goes off at 4:30 or 5 am, I have to bargain with myself to make it happen.  Usually, I tell myself that if I will just get up, I don’t really have to run, I can walk my miles today.  Of course, I know that when I get started, I won’t walk, I’ll run, but I have to trick my psyche to make it leave my nice warm nest.  Amazingly enough, that works almost every time.  I guess my psyche is too groggy with sleep to call me on the lie that early, and by the time it catches on, the run already feels pretty good.  Sometimes, I just have to remind myself what a foul mood I’ll be in if I don’t get my run in.  Those moods are serious enough that I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent them, so out the door I go.

So, how bad do you want it?  Whatever your goal is, write it down, pray over it, and let God lead you to the best way to accomplish it.  Know ahead of time that it will take time, much more time than you want it to.  Prepare your mind with prayer, seek good, Godly advice, and most of all, know that as you are striving to achieve your goal, God will provide what or who you need to reach it at exactly the right moment.

My journey is ongoing.  I’m still struggling with weight issues (although I hope to have an exciting post about that in a few weeks) and am still really struggling with GI issues when I run.  But, with age and determination have come wisdom and patience.  I know I’ll get where I’m going, because God has set my feet on this path.  I recognize that this is my journey, and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others. If it took some gray hairs and the permanent sagging of my skin to get me to this place, then I can live with that.  And, I have a really good hairdresser (love you, Amanda!) and excellent skincare that is second to none (love you Fleur de Vie!).    😉