I learned that running works as a kid. The first time I went for a jog I fell in love with it. I was nine years old. My rage-addicted father had locked me out of the house. Banished, I looked down at my feet and saw my precious purple Nikes with new eyes. It was 1980. At that time, these were a major fashion statement. I had coveted, begged, and saved for this beloved pair. They were grape suede with a pale pink swoosh.
But in that moment of pre-teen eviction, the Nikes meant opportunity to me. Fashion no longer mattered. I gazed up at the sky. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. The weather was cool. Perfect conditions for a run. I grew up in a tiny Maine town. So, without much thought, I started running its periphery. This felt like a fun challenge. I was going somewhere – finally. A famous marathoner (Joan Benoit) also grew up in my town. So, that’s how the running seed had first planted in my mind. A statue of Benoit graced our town library entrance. That place was my childhood sanctuary. I wasn’t just a reader. A full blown book junkie, I walked past Joan Benoit almost daily.
Running For Independence
On that first trek, I jogged around, not knowing the mileage. Still, it was 100% clear where I was and how I’d get back. Sensation left my legs and my mind cleared. I floated above the road. A few people I knew passed in cars, driving by. We waved to each other. I knew I belonged. This was my community too. I wasn’t alone in the universe. Sure, I was just a kid. But I also knew my place in the world was certain. I started to feel better.
Later when I got back home I stripped down and took a shower. My body felt strong – my spirit, powerful. For the first time I was conscious of my independence. I knew I could make it. One day I’d get out of this crappy family and leave this small town. I knew I was a runner. From that day forward I had a way to relieve my stress. It didn’t matter how much my father raged or mother cried. All I needed was a pair of running shoes and some gumption. That was forty years ago and there have been lots of long runs like that first one. They get me through and brighten my days.
Running Works For Confidence
I’m not ultra competitive… until I’m running a race. Something about a starter gun awakens this part of me. I compete with myself, of course. But sometimes I even beat other runners. It’s not because I’m especially fast. Races categorize by age. So, you only have to beat same gender runners born within your peer group. For instance, as of this writing I’m just turning 49 years old. Thus, this will be my least likely year to make top three. That’s because I’ll be among the oldest of the forties women racers. It’s cool with me, though, because next year I turn fifty. I’ll be the youngest whippersnapper of my 50s female group. Races will be mine to win next year.
All I’m thinking about during my runs these days is training for fifty. I’ve got a whole year ahead to increase speed work and build more endurance. Yes, I’m experienced. Running works for me now, as it has for forty years. But there’s always room to grow. I’ve learned a lot and evolved into a strong runner. Sometimes I need reminding of these lessons learned.
My mouth dries, breath escapes me, and my heart races at starting lines. Every race day reminds me of these three physical lessons. Thanks to them I learned meditation. Now I meditate before every race and it’s much better. I had to find a way to relieve my anxious raceday feelings. Turns out every race runs frantically in my mind before the gun even fires. Learning to quell this ferocity with meditation was the best lesson of all. In fact, I meditate daily now. It’s helped my entire life.
Running’s always been about my mental state. So, this relief that meditation brings has been its coolest bonus. Truth is, I already understood meditation. I knew the technical side from a month-long meditation retreat I did in college. But I didn’t practice meditation until I started racing again in my mid-forties. In the past I’d run seven marathons and countless shorter races. Racing and training brought me peace of mind while I worked eighty hour weeks in my twenties. After all, ad agencies in ’90s New York City kept me at a high pitch all day long and late into the night. Running made me sane in those crazy days.
I never stopped running. But I had children and they took my attention off racing in my thirties. That was my least hardcore era. I rarely even raised my voice, nevermind my heart rate. Then my forties were another story. I started swimming and even running races again. My hardcore side emerged more alive than ever. I became a competitor again. In fact, I started coming in second and third in races. It wasn’t pretty, though. My face contorted. I peed my shorts. Groaning, crying, and even ranting got me through many final race miles. None of this bugged me in the least. I didn’t care what anyone thought. My winning streak was too much fun. It’s easy to focus on yourself when victorious. The hard part comes when your winner’s circle fades away.
Lucky for me, I’ve got fifty years old right around the corner. Also, second and third place race awards pack my medal drawer. With all this experience and hope, I’m confident. Running made me a confident kid. Racing keeps me self-assured even now. When I race it’s always against myself these days. I calibrate my mood as well as my body’s pace. That’s because mental state impacts my races much more than physical. The mind controls it all. I’m grateful for my meditation and confidence. They’ll carry me across many more finish lines.
Running Breaks Work Too
Long distance has always been my jam. Sometimes I continue far beyond my original mileage intent on a run. That’s because I feel free – like I’m flying. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. But when it does there’s nothing like it. The more I’m running, the more likely it is to happen. For instance, in a primo training month it may arise once a week. That’s a peak performance sign for me. When I’m rolling along at that pace, it’s all systems go. The majority of the time, though, running challenges me much more than this. I run every day, whether it feels good or not. A lot of times, it starts out a struggle.
So, I’ve created ways to find joy in running. There are lots of paths to relief and pleasure. For instance, music helps. I love a dance beat pounding my brain while I run. It lifts me beyond my body and into the rhythm. Legs are carrying me but the music is doing the work. Buddies are a big boost too. Chatting makes a run feel effortless. Get lost in conversation and watch those miles tick by. It’s fantastic fun. Many of my friends also say it helps them show up for the run. After all, a buddy waiting at a set time forces you to get out there and do it.
But my favorite way to break up a long run is with arm reps. Before I started this practice, I hated doing arms. Now I actually look forward to them. Watch the video above to see how I do this. This way of running works because it’s mental. I’m pounding out the miles and this gives me breaks for relief. My speed is easy when I know it’s only a bit more before I’m horizontal and using different muscles. That makes each mile sprint much more fun. The end is around the bend – only steps away. In fact, if I do arm reps at every mile, I sometimes end up sprinting my entire long run. After all, it’s a breeze when there’s a break every eight minutes or so.
Hitting the road on foot keeps me happy and sane. Running works because it’s an ingrained habit. It’s not something I think about – I just do it.