The Ghosts Of You And Me
There have been so many things I have done in my life I am not proud of. So many mistakes. For all of the times if have fallen down, I have always found a way to get back up. My decisions, good and bad, have made me who I am, and I have very few regrets. One of the days I do regret is May 15, 2010. Not because of my words or actions, though they weren't anything to be proud of, I was in a hospital room fighting with my dying mother. But because of the things I didn't say.
I never said goodnight. I never said I'm sorry. I never said I love you.
Nope. I was in a bad mood. I was selfish. It was Saturday night, visiting hours were almost over, and there were beers I needed to drink. Besides, even though you were sick, nothing was going to happen that night. We were coming back the next day. I was going to bring you Rita's, like my future intentions somehow made up for my being a douchebag in the present. The next day came, but not how I thought it would. The next time I would see you, you were on life support. I woke up at 6 a.m. in a drunken stupor to the messages that the cancer had caused you to have a massive heart attack overnight. They didn't know how long the machine would keep you alive. Some car accidents don't hurt as bad as that instant sobriety did.
You died that day. It wasn't the first time, or the last time, I felt like my world came crashing down around me. But it was the most painful. It's been almost 5 years. The road from that day to today has been long and winding, with lots of detours, pot holes, and speed bumps along the way. Watching you die convinced me to quit smoking. Before I would quit drinking, I would go to the bottom of many bottles in search of you, or something, or anything. When I did finally sober up, I started running. I don't know whether I was running away from something, towards something, with something, in search of something. In the beginning it didn't matter. In some ways it still doesn't matter.
The running changed me. At first it was just physical changes, then mental. It made me stronger. But I still didn't have peace. I still didn't have acceptance. I still had guilt, and regret, and so much pain. As the miles piled up, and the races came and went, I remembered so many things. I had always thought my early childhood memories were full of so much pain. But now they were what I was latching onto. Why? Because even in all those times when everything was wrong, when you were broken, crying, alone, defeated, there were two things you always told me when things were at their worst. "Goodnight. I'm sorry. I love you." and "Broken homes don't make broken people".
I realized at the end of last summer that the pain I was holding onto wasn't because you were gone. It was the pain of my inability to forgive myself for what I didn't say on May 15, 2010. Like that night, I was still being selfish. But I still wasn't ready to let go. I spent a lot of time looking for what you had left me. If I couldn't hold onto the guilt, what was there to hold onto? Where would you be? What did I have left?
Then I found it. I found it in the sparkle of those two big blue eyes of my little girl as she stared up at me while we danced in the living room while watching Cinderella. I found it in the infectious laugh of my little boy while we snuggled on the couch watching Saturday morning Disney cartoons. You left me love. Now it was my turn to give it to my kids like you gave it to us. Through all of my failures and my successes, you were always there to hold my hand and love me, no matter what. You taught me how to be a good parent. You taught me it was ok to make mistakes. You taught me that your children are the most important thing in the world.
So, what does this all have to do with running? When I signed up to run tomorrow's marathon, I knew this would be it. I knew I was going to move to Florida. I knew this would be goodbye to New Jersey, to the people, places, and things of the past. Even though I moved to Pittsburgh in 2004, I still never really left. But this would be different. Most importantly, I knew it would be time for me to say goodbye to the piece of me that was still holding on to you. He needs to go with you. Not because I need to forget about you, but because I only have two hands, and these kids are going to be needing them for awhile. I am finally ready to let go.
But there is still one more run to go. I need you to hold my hand for 26.2 more miles. Before I ran Chicago I asked you to give me wings, I knew I'd never qualify for Boston without them. No wings tomorrow. Just your company. I need you to run with me one more time. No fear, no pressure, no expectations. When we get to that finish line I can let go for the last time, and the piece of me that is going with you can finally be at peace, and I can take these two little sets of hands and head into the future giving them all of the love that you gave me. And whenever I need to find my mom, I won't have to look any further then the smiles of my son and daughter to find her. Or I could just go for a run, because these two legs seem to always be able to find where you are.
Goodnight. I'm sorry. I love you.
Since October 2013 my running/training/racing schedule has been a whirlwind. Since the day I laced up and got back on the pavement after a tibial stress fracture, I have run 4 5Ks, 5 10Ks, 2 10 milers, 5 half marathons, 1 30K, 6 full marathons, and my first 50K. It has been a busy 18 months to say the least, with a lot of personal and professional changes going on behind the scenes as well. I have pushed very hard for a lot of reasons, and beyond a day or two I haven't taken any time to appreciate how far I've come, how hard I've worked, or much of anything that has gone on around me. Nothing has felt good enough, so I've just kept pushing. PR'd? Not fast enough, new training plan. New diet. Lose weight, get faster. BQ'd? Hire a coach, push harder. Physically tired, mentally tired, keep going, have to get better. Day in and day out, wearing myself down, working through aches and pains, pushing through mental barriers in search of something, not really knowing what it was. Yesterday I found out what it was.
I won't get in to a ton of details, but heading into my first 50K this past weekend at the Badwater Cape Fear 50K on Bald Head Island, NC I have to admit I was less then excited. First ultra race (had trained past the distance but never raced), unknown location, beach running, mentally and physically feeling tired, I didn't feel like I was ready. Even the night before while trying to fall asleep, the knot of nervousness in my stomach was so big and so hard I was actually dreading the morning. Once the race started I began to settle down, and the road miles went by quickly and as planned (I did get lost, but that's another story). As I began running on the beach, which was a struggle, I experienced something I had never felt during a race: I was alone. But it was what I needed. Miles of beach running slowly went by, and with about 3 miles left, heading towards the finish line all alone, I was in the lead and had a chance to win the race. Physically I kept moving, but mentally I stopped right there. That was the moment I had been searching for.
It wasn't winning that I needed, but those last few miles heading towards the finish line I let myself do something I haven't done since I can't remember when. I let myself appreciate what was happening. I was running on a beautiful island, I had come to the race with and met some awesome people, I had pushed myself harder and further then I thought possible. My support group isn't huge, but it is full of some amazing people who believe in me. I have some awesome friends who believe more in me then I have ever been able to believe in myself. I have only worked with my coach for 4-5 months now, and for as hard as he has pushed me he truly had me ready to run yesterday. For as difficult as things have been, I have two beautiful children who remind me everyday why I have worked to better myself. For as difficult as I have made things, I have a beautiful girlfriend (who also won the 50K) that I couldn't be happier for, more proud of, and luckier to have in my life. Everything I have lost, everything I have failed at, everything I have overcome, everything that is changing, I am literally right where I want to be.
Things are still moving and changing around me, but I finally stopped to appreciate where I am. I am happy. I am excited for the future. I am excited for what I have been able to do in the last 18 months. I am excited for what the rest of 2015 has in store. Running has done lot for me in the last 3 years and helped me realize quite a bit about myself, about life, and about the changes that have gone on around me and inside of me.
I usually end my blogs with the tag line "There Is No Finish Line". In some ways that is still true, but life does have finish lines at certain points. Sometimes you get to them and you've won, and what you've won is a lot more then just a race.
The 2014 Chicago Marathon
On Sunday, October, 12, 2014, I completed the Chicago marathon in 2:59:45. This was not only my first sub 3:00 marathon, this was my first sub 4:00 marathon. I PR’d from my previous best of 4:05:58 by over an hour and I qualified for Boston by over 10 minutes. Last year when I started running again my goal was to qualify for Boston within 5 years. I never expected it to happen so soon, and I have learned a lot in the last 22 months, about running, about life, and about myself.
I should first say, I have no natural running ability. I am not naturally an athlete. I smoked for 14 years. The sports I played growing up I didn’t play well. Running was punishment for me, not enjoyable. I am not tall, I do not have a perfect running stride. I spent a lot of my life overweight, eating horribly, and not taking care of myself. On January 13, 2013 I ran my first mile in almost 4 years, and I was at my heaviest weight of 225 pounds, little of which was muscle. That mile took me 15 minutes and I puked.
In the months that followed I got faster, stronger, lighter, and began racing. I dealt with setbacks, injuries, etc., and I never raced terribly well but my times were respectable enough. I was all set to change that on May 4, 2014. I had trained hard and had my eyes on a finish time of 3:45 or better for the Pittsburgh Marathon. This was going to be the race where I finally broke 4:00 and made significant progress towards qualifying for Boston. I crashed and burned. I finished in 4:05:58. I wasn’t prepared mentally. I didn’t run my race and I didn’t leave it all on the course. When my race went south I checked out mentally instead of pushing through. I was disappointed in myself. Plenty of people told me it was a good time, but it wasn’t good enough for me.
I had 5 months to train for Chicago, and I was going to change everything. I researched training plans. I found the Hanson’s training method and decided to modify the advanced plan to add intensity and mileage. Instead of peaking at 55 weekly miles like in my old training plan I was going to peak at 90. I was going to run over 300 miles a month. I was going to lose over 40 pounds by changing my diet. I was going to cut my marathon finish pace by at least 1:30 a mile. I was not going to cross the finish line in Chicago and be disappointed again. No junk miles. Hills, speed work, long runs, high miles, limited rest. I needed to perfect my hydration and fueling. I needed to learn to focus. I needed to stop being so afraid of failing so I could finally succeed.
So training started. And I ran. And ran. And ran. And I learned something. It only gets easier if you let it. There were no easy days. I wouldn’t let them be easy. It was grueling at times. There were nights I would run a 17 mile tempo run and have to travel for work the next day, so I would sleep two hours and then run another 11 miles before heading out. I ran early in the morning, late at night. 60 mile weeks, 70 mile weeks, 80 mile weeks. Started seeing a chiro for some pain in my ankle (missed two runs). I ran when everything hurt, when my legs screamed, when I felt sick, tired, it didn’t matter. I saw one of those motivational videos once, and what the guy said stuck with me. “When you want success as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.” That’s how bad I wanted it. I work 60+ hours a week, sometimes more. I have kids. I sacrificed my life outside of that to run. Because I learned the only way I was ever going to get what I wanted was to give up a piece of me to get it. On October 10 when I left for Chicago I had logged over 1450 miles in 23 weeks, and my weight had gone down to 148 from 195.
I will share a secret. I decided I was going to try and qualify for Boston a few weeks before Chicago. I didn’t think I could honestly do it, but I knew if the conditions were right I would try. Five people told me they thought I could, fellow sponsored athletes Addie, Andy, and Megan, my friend and fellow runner Tom, and my best friend Brian. I shrugged it off whenever they talked about it or brought it up, usually changing the subject. Partially because I didn’t believe I could, and partially because it scared the shit out of me. I did have one conversation with Brian about it, and I told him as a joke that I was going to break 3 hours and then put a post on Facebook telling everyone kiss my ass. We both had a good laugh. Then I told him, in all seriousness, if I was under 7:00 minutes a mile after 3 miles and it was under 60 degrees I could give it my best shot. Registration for Boston 2015 is closed, so the earliest I could qualify for was 2016. I’d be 35. I needed 3:10 to qualify, 3:08 to realistically get in, and 3:00 to sign up “week 1, day 2” and not have to sweat it out. The thought of that seemed impossible, and scary, but I was ready to try. I told everyone my "race plan" was to split the race into 4 sections like I did my long runs: 7:30 pace for the 1st quarter; 7:15 pace for the 2nd quarter; 7:00 pace for the 3rd quarter; sub 7:00 for the 4th quarter. This was a lie. I had no intention of pacing myself. The legendary Pre said "The best pace is a suicide pace, and today is a good day to die". My goal was a suicide pace from start to finish and a BQ. I didn't train for 5 months to not chase my ultimate goal. I didn't have the guts to tell anyone that, because then I could fail. If no one knew, there would be no pressure. Before the race I had never held a sub 7:00 minute pace for longer then 8 miles. No matter how the race ended, I was leaving 150% of what I had to give on the streets of Chicago.
The trip to Chicago was a nightmare. My flight was delayed, cancelled, they tried to fly me out on Saturday instead of Friday. When I finally got in late on Friday night Hertz didn’t have a rental car for me. I got to the hotel after 1 a.m. I overslept, lost my room key for the hotel, got stuck in traffic on the way to the expo, missed meeting up with some friends because I was late, hit a pole in the parking garage, and got lost trying to find a restaurant for dinner. I went to bed early, and to my surprise, go my first good night’s sleep in weeks. I was up at 3 a.m., packed my room, loaded the car, got breakfast and headed downtown. For the first time ever I was comfortably early for a race. No rushing. Relaxed in the car for a bit and and headed to the start line. Got a pep talk from a good friend and the best advice I have even been given "don't think, just run". I made my way up to the front of Corral C and put my headphones on. No rain, about 50 degrees, and the city looked beautiful.
For some reason they didn't stagger corrals B and C by much more then a minute. The first mile was an anxiety filled disaster of trying to weave through traffic at every available opening. My pace for the first mile was 7:52. That wasn't good enough to get to Boston. After the first mile I picked up my pace and was able to pull away from the crowd. Between 1.5 and 2 I went under an overpass. When I came out the other side I was alone in the middle of the road. The sun was reflecting off the buildings above me, and the city looked beautiful. I thought about how lucky I was to be there, running, at that moment. My pace for mile 2 was 6:48. During the third mile I took an inventory of how I felt. My legs felt good, I was breathing good, my mind was in the right place. Mile 3 was at a 6:48 pace. Under 7:00 after 3 miles, weather was perfect, and I felt great. Time to go for it. This was one of two times in the race I thought of breaking three hours, because I knew if I kept this pace I would be close.
There was not a lot of thinking going on in my mind from miles 3-10. I followed my hydration and fueling plan I had been using during training. Hydrate at 3 mile increments, fuel and hydrate at 6 mile increments. I did not slow down through aid stations. I yelled thank you, grabbed my drinks and drank the best I could while maintaining my pace. I did not read signs, high five anyone, take in the scenery, nothing. I zoned out and checked my pace, that was it. When I hit mile 10 I realized I had held a sub 7:00 pace for 9 miles for the first time ever. I also realized that from my torso down my entire body was in an amazing amount of pain. I told myself the paint meant my plan was working. I passed the half marathon point at 1:31:13, and I realized I had just PR'd a half marathon by over 13 minutes. This was second time in the race I thought of breaking three hours, because I would have to run a negative split on the back half to do so. I passed the half way point at a 6:25 pace.
Miles 13-22 were all under 6:40. At Mile 16 I was in a considerably higher amount of pain. This feeling intensified at mile 18. My hamstrings, calves, quads, and abdomen all felt like they were ready to cramp. I refused to slow down. My body would have to force me to slow down before I let it. Too many times in my life, not just running, I had given up when things got tough. Not today. I didn't run 17 of the fastest miles of my life to get conservative with 8 left. I thought about my family, my friends. I thought about how much I would regret slowing down for the rest of my life. I picked up the pace. At mile 20 I closed my eyes for a few seconds. I felt like I was flying. I have never felt so alive in my life. When I opened my eyes I realized this was why I was a runner. For the chance to fly. For the possibility that for a moment in time, it could all come together, and for an instant you could outrun everything, even yourself, even your soul. The last 6.2 miles had been my Achilles heal in my previous marathons. Not today. I was in intense pain but I wasn't going to let up on my pace. I couldn't.
At mile 22 I decided I needed to stop looking at my Garmin. I was starting to get anxiety about the final miles, and I knew how far off I was from gun time so the timing stations at the mile markers would be good enough to let me know I was on pace to finish a BQ. Everything was a blur at this point. My head was pounding, and every part of my body was in some type of pain, even my eyes. But I was dialed in. Each step hurt more then the last and it didn't matter. At mile 25 I looked at my Garmin and it was frozen without a satellite, but I knew from the timing sign I was going to qualify for Boston barring a catastrophe. I started crying and sprinting as fast as I could move my dead legs. I hit the hill at 25.7 at a full sprint and didn't slow down. At the 26 mile sign the course heads downhill for the last .2 miles. Everything felt like it was in slow motion for the final push, even though I was at a full sprint. I knew I was about five minutes off of gun time, and when i crossed the finish I knew I had qualified for Boston. I don't think I have ever screamed so loud or been in so much pain. I didn't know until I turned my phone on that I had broken 3 hours. 2:59:45. I qualified for Boston by over 10 minutes. 1,020 out of well over 40,000 runners. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't think. Exactly 21 months earlier on January 12, 2013, my ass was on the couch weighing 225 pounds and getting out of breathe walking a flight of stairs. Now I was a sub 3:00 marathoner. My Garmin was working and my splits confirmed, 25 sub 7:00 miles after the first mile. I had held my suicide pace for the last 25.2 miles. After the first mile I didn't see anyone pass me. As my friend Robert would later say, I successfully shot the moon.
In the days following the race it hasn't really sunk in. It still doesn't feel real. I have tried to think about what I learned. You know what I learned? Let go. Of everything. Fear. Pain. Failure. Control. Clear the mind and let your legs do the thinking for you. Just run. That's what it had always been about, but I didn't realize it until I was told not to think. People run for a lot of different reasons. I run for days like Sunday. I will run for a lifetime for the chance to feel like that again. I was asked by a co-worker what the race was like. I had to think. I don't remember much other then what I posted. I don't remember any signs, any faces, I don't even remember what Chicago looks like except the view at the start and the fountain in Grant Park at the finish. I told her it was perfect. I learned that you have to want it. You have to be willing to give up everything. Sleep. Time with your family. A social life. Your body. And a piece of who you are. I learned to believe in myself. Some amazing people taught me how to do that by believing in me. Karma, fate, a god, none of those things helped me accomplish my goal. Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears did. You have to give up control in your mind, and trust you legs to carry you. 99 times out of 100 I don't think I could run that race in Chicago. But I'd run it another 100 times for the chance at reliving it once.
To show how out of my element this race was for me:
My fastest 5k race to date is 22:35. All of my 5k splits were under this time.
My fastest 10k race to date is 46:52. All of my 10k splits were under this time.
My fastest half marathon race to date is 1:44:49. Both of my half marathon splits were well under this time.
I PR'd by over 1:06, and by 1:52 from my full last November.
21 months ago I was a lazy fat guy on the couch. I am not an elite runner. I don't even know what I am doing most of the time. Everything I know about running came from a few select friends, a couple of books, Google, and trial and error. I have a lot more I would like to accomplish with these legs, a lot more running left to do. I was told every runner has their day, and I am not going to stop pushing until I earn another one.
Forget about what you think you can't do. You will never accomplish anything if you tell yourself you can't. Forget about what you're afraid to do. Fear will only hold you back. Decide what you want to do. Then run until you do it.
There is no finish line.
This blog is a special shout out my to my training partner for the Chicago Marathon, 4:05:58.
Unfortunately, on May 4, 2014 at the Pittsburgh Marathon, I missed my dates with a PR of 3:45, 3:50, 3:55, 4:00, and even 4:05. Physically I was trained to run 3:45 or better. Mentally I was not focused enough to run my race the way I wanted. As happened in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Disney, my head got in the way. So for the last 20+ weeks, you and I have spent a lot of time together, 4:05:58.
I have you engraved on a medal I despise, that I look at everyday, out of disappointment.
My profile picture comes from the day we first met, and I hate looking at it everyday, but won't change it until we finally part ways.
I constantly think about the sinking feeling as the wheels fell off of that marathon, with downtown Pittsburgh straight ahead of me as I ran towards the city, my Garmin reminding of the time that kept slipping away. This wasn't the first time it happened. As mentioned above I experienced similar race train wrecks in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Disney. I have never really talked about them, admitted what happened, or discussed it with anyone. I always thought it was because they were destination races, and travel and stress contributed to the issues I had. My times were always respectable enough for me to just shrug it off and act like everything was fine. Not this last one. Not you 4:05:58. I can't shake you. This happened at home. I knew the course, the hills, the bridges, the towns, the crowd. You snuck up on me out of nowhere. The feeling of heading towards the finish line was not one of excitement, it was a feeling of failure because of what could've been. And there you were waiting for me 4:05:58, the prom date I never wanted, the blind date that I would've run from if I had the chance.
In the last 20+ weeks you have motivated me in ways I have never thought possible. I have lost 45+ pounds in that time. Completely changed the way I train. I took on an advanced training plan I didn't even know if I could finish, because you convinced me I needed to do more if I wanted to be better. You have taught me to fuel, hydrate, pace myself, and approach each run with a strategy. I have done more speed-work in one week this training cycle then I had ever done in the past. I consistently run negative splits, and have even been able to finished long runs with sub 6:30 miles the last mile. This is not the pre 4:05:58 Mike. You have made me more focused then I ever thought possible. The times in my training when I would have previously pulled back or gotten overwhelmed, you have convinced me to push through, work harder for one more hill, one less second, one last mile. In some ways, 4-5 miles of falling apart may have been the best thing to ever happen to me, because if I had never met you, I may never have lit this fire inside myself on my own.
Just over 2 more weeks from now, and we get to dance on the streets of Chicago together. What will make this different then the other races? I will have something for 26.2 miles I never had before, I will have you. I will be talking to you a lot, reminding myself of how you have made me feel for 5+ months. You are the main ingredient to the glue that has kept my head together through this training cycle, 4:05:58, and I intend to use you for everything you are worth. I hope to never see you again, but I will say, you have been one hell of a motivator. I hope I find a replacement that can push me even harder.
There is no finish line.
Physically Strong, Mentally Weak
It has taken me a long time to accept who I am, accept and embrace my faults. It has taken even longer to acknowledge me weaknesses, admit them to myself, and struggle with how to overcome them. Its funny, because its been through running and being sober that I have been able to find out what my biggest weakness is, my fiercest demon, my biggest adversary: no matter how strong or how far I have come physically, I am still weak mentally. That doesn't make me a weak person. That just makes things more difficult. Racing in particular.
Obviously, most of my reasons for not leading a sober life for over 32 years had to do with my inability to handle my emotions and the events going on in my life. I thought I was independent, tough as nails, and walked through life without a care. In reality, I was scared, frightened, and hiding, using drugs and alcohol as a mask to hide behind. Since becoming sober close to 2 years ago, I have experienced stress, anxiety, sadness, heart brake, fear, anger, and various other emotions, and they hit me like a freight train. I don't have a crutch to lean on anymore. I don't have a mask to hide behind. That's a good thing. But its a struggle. I get lost in my head. I frustrate those around me. I frustrate myself. I feel weak and alone, and I get in moods that I know annoy the people I care about. I say and think stupid things. Its tough to accept that you are this way, and its even harder to know that it makes you a difficult person to be friends with or close to. Communication is difficult because I never even shared these feelings with myself anymore, how do you share them with someone else? That's where running comes in.
I don't run from these feelings, I run with them. In training its fine, however my problem has been racing. I struggle to race because my head is all over the place. I have had some successful races, but have never put it all together and accomplished what I think I am capable of because I get lost in my thoughts and I mentally sabotage myself. I have spent close to 21 weeks now training for my next marathon. I have logged more miles then ever, lost over 45 pounds, worked on speed, hydration, fueling, and feel great. I think I am ready to take a huge leap as a runner, but that big question mark still looms over my head. Can I handle it mentally? Will I finally be able to get to the start line, look up, smile, and do what I've worked so hard for? Or will success get stuck somewhere between the thoughts of fear and failure that have loomed inside my mind for as long as I can remember?
It won't be long before I find out. I see so many people struggle with injury, injuries have never been a big obstacle for me. I have always been able to draw motivation from within to keep going, even when physically I feel unable. Last year I learned what it takes to mend a broken bone and was able to keep training and become a better runner because of it. Now I have to try and mend a broken mind.
Its fitting that October 10 I will travel to Chicago alone, taking a trip to run a race against the person who has always stood between me and success, happiness, and peace of mind: myself.
On October 12, when I run the streets of Chicago, I am going to run with the last skeleton in my closet, the one I have never been able to face. Its not alcohol, drugs, suicide, my parents, divorce, it's me. After 26.2 miles we'll see which one of me wins.
There is no finish line.
Injured or Hurt?
Am I injured or am I hurt? I ask myself this every morning before the sun comes up, several times throughout the day, and after the sun goes down. You can run if you're hurt, if you're injured you can't. And it hurts. Ever day it hurts. My calves scream. My heals throb. My knees are tight. Scar tissue is built up in my ankle. My back feels like boulders are sitting in it. Headaches make it hard to take my head off the pillow. None of these are injuries. This is everyday.
Sometimes people act like running a lot of miles every week is easy. Because RunJunkEes sponsors some of us that we have superhuman recovery. This is not the case. I will let you in on a little secret: my legs hurt more today, after running a 90 mile week, then they did when I first started running. It has never gotten easier for me. I can just push harder, go faster, and run stronger. I run with pain that would keep some people in bed for the entire day. This doesn't make me special, or superhuman, or anything like that. Anyone can do it if you want it bad enough.
As for injuries, I have had plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, it band problems, ankle problems, on and on. Smart or not I ran through them all. Except one. Last August I got the bright idea of doing one of those zombies are chasing me mud runs. I fell a few times, and unknown to me I got a stress fracture in my tibia. To make the fracture worse, I went for a 20 mile training run the next day. It hurt, but I thought that was normal. I couldn't walk afterwards. Stubborn as I am I still thought I just hurt myself. Tried running two days later and couldn't make it 10 feet. Off to the doctor's I go.
After being diagnosed the doctor told me I'd be off my legs for 12 weeks and couldn't run my full marathon in November. After some back and forth he agreed to do another MRI after 9-10 weeks and if all was clear I could try to run. But how to stay in any type of marathon shape when I couldn't? It was not the time to be depressed, get lazy, or give up. I found other ways to keep training.
I got up everyday and was at the gym when they opened at 4 a.m. I lifted for an hour and a half to two hours. I got a pool running belt, shoes, and a heart rate monitor and simulated all of my runs in the pool for 1-3 hours a day. It was boring. It sucked. But it worked. Once my leg felt little better I was able to go on the bike. And I did this everyday. For two months. It was boring. I wanted to cry. But I was not going to give up. My ass was going to be at the start AND the finish line on November 17th in Philadelphia for the full marathon, fracture be damned. If you want something bad enough you will find a way. If not you will find an excuse. Being injured would not be my excuse.
I was cleared to run after 9 weeks. Within a month after being cleared I ran a 10k race, a 10 mile race, and a full marathon. Each of those races remain my worst time because I had lost a step. But I finished each of them strong, standing upright, because I didn't allow injury to make me lose sight of my goals or diminish my motivation to keep moving forward.
Each of us has to decide what they want out of everything they do. Running is more to me then a recreation, then a hobby, or a way to keep in shape. It is part of who I am. Whether injured, hurt, depressed, heartbroken, afraid, anxious, lost, it doesn't matter, I have running, if nothing else. So no matter how many obstacles life throws at me, I am going to bust my ass to make sure I am the best runner I can be, even when I can't run.
There is no finish line.
In my time running, both before and after I got into races, I have always looked for the best physical activity to complement my running. The perfect cross training. I have tried lifting, core exercises, swimming, Insanity, P90X, stretching, yoga, and riding the stationary bike. I have been asked to try Crossfit so many times I have lost count. After a lot of trial and error, I think I have finally found a good cross training routine that works for me, has kept me healthy, is helping me lose weight and making me a stronger runner.
Lifting: I lift three days a week. I normally run in the morning, lifting is done at night. I never ever lift before I run, primary focus for all of my energy is running. After years of going to a gym and lifting heavy I started just lifting at home. I use free weights and dumbbells up to 60 lbs each for all exercises. One day is biceps/triceps, one day is chest/legs, one day is back/shoulders. I do about 10 exercises for each body part, lower weights, high reps per set (at least 20), and average about 3 sets per exercise. Not a lot of breaks in between sets, I normally finish lifting in an hour or a little longer. In the past I lifted much heavier, but increasing any type of muscle mass just slowed me down. In the past few months I have gotten much leaner, but maintained a lot of my strength, and this has contributed to increased speed in my running.
Stretching: I have been stretching daily for the last 16 months and it has helped more then I could ever explain. I had a lot of nagging injuries when I first started racing, plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, shin splints, etc. Nothing that kept me from running, but a lot of annoying aches and pains that kept me from enjoying it as much as I should. I looked online, in books, and asked others directly and finally came up with a stretching program that I do everyday that has kept my legs relatively pain free as I have increased my mileage and become a stronger runner. I stretch for about 15 minutes before every run, another 20-25 minutes after every run, and then rumble roll (its a type of foam roller) for another 10-15 minutes every night. My stretching primarily focuses on my calves, hamstrings, groin, and it band, with a few other areas covered. Additionally, I do some shin and knee strengthening exercises after my runs as part of my stretching (to keep the shin splint sand runner's knee away, so far so good).
Core: I do core 4-5 times a week, usually in the evening after my rumble roller session. Lots of planks, all different kinds of crunches, abdominal holds, etc. The main focus of all of the exercises is to have a stronger core to support the rest of my body when I am running. Core work has helped me to greatly improve my running form, I get fatigued much less, and any back pain has gone away for the most part as the improved form allows me to run with my back straighter. A six pack would be nice, maybe one day.
Additional Cardio: I have always done some kind of additional cardio in addition to running. I will never be a tri-athlete because it doesn't appeal to me. I tried elliptical and stair machines at the gym but was never a fan. I don't bike outdoors because I could never get into it, I'd rather be running if I am outside doing cardio. Swimming is fine for recreation but I couldn't get into it as a form of exercise (I also don't own a pool and don't see the value in joining a gym just to use theirs when I am not that into it). That leaves the stationary bike. Mine is old and scary, but it does the job. 30 minutes 3-5 times a week, always to warm-up before lifting and then a few other days a week. I don't monitor the miles or go a specific speed, just keep a steady pace to keep my legs loose, get my heart rate going, and break a sweat. In addition to stretching, this has really helped keep away the annoying aches and pains in my legs.
Well, that's it for me and cross training. After spending years trying to look a certain way, lift a certain weight, and all that nonsense I have now shifted my focus to being the best runner I can be, and my cross training in combination with my running workouts is definitely helping me see progress. Everyone is different so get some books, look online, and experiment to find out what works best for you.
There is no finish line.
A Good Month
So on June 1st I set a few goals for the month. One was to run 200 miles for the first time in a month as I kicked off training for the Chicago Marathon in October, the other was to lose at least 5 pounds, with a goal of going from 188 to 183 by the end of the month (I have a goal race weight of 160 in Chicago). The final goal was to run my last long run of the month a pace faster then 8:29, which is how I started the month off with my first long run.
Well, for goal number 1, I finished the month off with my highest weekly total ever at over 67 miles, and also had my highest monthly mileage ever with over 263 miles. Surprisingly, my legs aren't sore at all, and feel better then months where I have run much less. I am into the fourth week of the Hanson's Marathon training advanced plan (I have added some mileage to the base plan) and am loving it. The speed work feels great, and besides some overheating issues on a few longer runs everything has gone well. My mileage goal for July will be a whole 1 mile higher, at 264. Let's see if June was luck or if I have more in me.
For weight loss for the month I was able to go from 188 to under 175, at 174.4. I changed up a few things in the beginning of June to jump start some weight loss. Obviously, I am running more, so this was a huge factor. Secondly, I completely changed up my cross training. I decreased the weights and upped the reps on all exercises. I have always lifted to increase muscle mass, but I have incorporated some new workouts and my #1 goal now is to get leaner and train my muscles for endurance. So far it seems to be working well. Finally, there has been a pretty big change to the diet. Cut down on eating out, junk food, red meat, and other crap and increased lean chicken, fruits, vegetables, while also controlling portions. It wasn't too easy the first 1-2 weeks, but I am pretty used to it now, and I may even be enjoying it. For July I my goal is to cut another 5 lbs, which would put me under 170 for the first time in 5-6 years, at 169.
Finally, the long run pace. The main goal of this was to see if I could see any noticeable improvement in the first few weeks of speed work (interval and tempo runs) that are prescribed by the Hanson's training method. On 6/1/14, I ran 16.26 on the trail by my house at a pace of 8:29. This was before doing any speed work and in moderate temperatures. On 6/29/14, in temperatures that were about 20 degrees warmer (in the 80s) and much higher humidity ran 15.33 miles at an 8:09 pace. In the middle of the month, I also put in a 15+ mile run at a little over a 7:00 pace, something I had never done before, but I have a lot more work to do before I am confident I can keep that a consistent pace. I won't be setting a pace goal for July, as the training plan calls for me to slow my lower runs down a little bit as I get into the heavier mileage weeks, so I am going to follow that.
All of this is great, but in reality, it doesn't mean much. The overall goal is to run a better race in October In Chicago then I did in May in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was the first race where I felt truly disappointed after the finish, and knew I didn't run the race I trained for. The only way to fix that to work harder.
Hope everyone's goals for June and 2014 are going well.
There is not finish line.
Everyone has some sort of support system. Sometimes its their parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, peers, hell, it can even be themselves. A lot of times a running support system is not something you think about if you aren't a runner. When you see someone running, training, racing, they are usually alone. Someone on the sidelines doesn't see the support system, and understand how important its existence, or non-existence is, to a runner.
Inspiration, Who Me?
So recently I was asked how it makes me feel to be told I inspire someone. At first I wasn't sure. Up until being asked this question I had never considered that anything I do, or have done, or any of the things that make me who I am, would ever inspire anyone else in their journey through life. When I look in the mirror I see years of wasted potential that are just now starting to take root and grow into something meaningful. That has never really seemed like an inspiration to me.
This feeling is backed up by a lot of fact. I mailed in the first 25 years of my life. I did the absolute minimum to get by, and was lucky I never wound up dead or in jail. The only reason I have a career now is because I was blessed with some semblance of a brain, that despite my best efforts to kill its contents, has managed to outperform my expectations. I was lazy, unmotivated, and most likely drunk or high most of the time. I thought I was entitled to the world but wasn't willing to lift a finger to help myself get out of bed on a Saturday morning. The list of mistakes I made during this period of time is long, but those are stories to be told another day. About the only non worthless thing I did was run and lift, and even that was a purely vain action. That's not very inspirational.
When I met my wife in 2005 I slowly started to change. I started my own business, got my graduate degree, invested more in my career and in my future. I lost my way a little bit through some tragedies that occurred and stopped running, but with my wife we got through it together. No more drugs, no more drinking, no more smoking. My daughter was born, then my wife got pregnant with our son. When I started running again it was to be healthy for my family. It has obviously become much more then that, though I don't know if inspiration can be found in that.
Every day, I try to do a few things that are important to me. I try to be a good father. I try to be a good husband. I try to give running my best effort. I try to do my job to the best of my ability. Many days I fail at one, some days I fail at them all, but I always get up and no matter how bad a day goes I give it my best effort. I go to bed many nights feeling like I have let my family, my employees, and myself down. Being an accountable and responsible person is a lot harder then being a screw up was. No matter what though, when I get out of bed the next day, I still feel a million times better then I used to, because I know I am going to face the day and give it my best shot. I don't know if that's inspiring, I just think its normal.
So where am I going with all of this? I realized it has nothing to do with me or how I see myself. When someone tells me I inspire them, as I said above, it makes me feel good about myself, and that's the most important thing it does. I don't have a lot of family support, friend support, cheering section, etc. in my life. I am very critical of myself and have always felt if I stop and congratulate myself and let up I will slip back into the past I have struggled so hard to escape. Life has beaten me up more times then I can count, and no matter what I always get back up. Having someone tell me that I inspire them makes the next time I have to get back up a little easier, because it means someone believes in me. To someone that hasn't experienced that often in life, that means more then anyone could ever imagine.
Make sure you tell the people who inspire you that they do, you never know how much it might mean, not just to you, but to them as well.
There is no finish line.
Every day, every minute, every mile. Make them yours, no one else is going to do it for you. "There is no finish line."