Finding the Joy in the Suffering: Barber to Boise 10k Race Report

I have some big running goals. I want to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. For an average age grouper now masters runner like me, getting to Boston would be like playing in the Final Four or competing in the Olympics. I was not an athlete growing up and hardly attach that label to myself even now, so the idea of one day running in an elite and prestigious race such as Boston would be a dream come true. In order to get there it will take years of hard work, patience and learning how to overcome the negative self-talk that seems to creep up when I start to get uncomfortable in races. I must learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable and believe in myself, even when I am hurting. I know this and my coach knows this, which is why she tells me that I need to practice racing more often.

I am in the middle of a marathon training cycle, but this weekend raced a 10k instead of doing my weekly tempo run. My coach told me to go for it and push myself. Taking her advice, I decided to go for the sub-50 PR that I had been chasing for a couple of years. The 10k is tricky for me. I tend to start out too close to my 5k pace and then flame out in spectacular fashion by the middle miles. I shared my goal with my friend Sam just before the race, and we decided to run together. I was thrilled to have someone to run with.

Sam and I started off together and ran the first couple of miles just under our target pace. I felt good and strong and with Sam beside me I felt like we had a ton of positive energy going back and forth. Without saying a word, I felt that we were supporting and encouraging each other with every step and I loved every moment. Just after mile three, Sam encouraged me to go ahead. I didn’t want to leave her side, but I also didn’t want to make her run at a pace that wasn’t feeling right for her. Eventually I pulled slightly ahead, hoping she would stay just behind. And every time I glanced behind, she was right there.

Around mile four to five, I started to get very tired. My legs felt heavy, I wasn’t sure where Sam was (although I was expecting her to blow by me at any second), and every time I glanced at my watch my pace was over my target pace. This is the point in the race where you need to stay strong. Where you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and soldier on. Where you need to build yourself up mentally, take it one step at a time, and will yourself to finish.

I know all of the things that I am supposed to do at this point in the race where it starts to hurt, where I get really uncomfortable, when I enter the pain cave and start to suffer. Yet there is a disconnect between what I know and what I actually do. Because what I actually did yesterday and what I tend do a lot in this situation is the following: When I got to the point of discomfort I started to beat myself up mentally. Instead of telling myself that I could do it, I told myself all of the reasons that I could not. I told myself that I was too old, too tired, and too heavy. That I did my long run last weekend too fast so that I ruined any chance I had of earning a PR at this 10k. That I am not a good person and I do not deserve things like PRs and negative splits and good races. Ridiculous, mean, defeating self-talk. Not the self-talk of a champion. I would never say these things to a friend, so why do I say them to myself?  

After the race, my running team met for happy hour. One of my friends and teammates and I were talking about goals. I told her about my Boston ambitions and how I would like to do a longer triathlon. She is an accomplished elite triathlete and although she clearly has racing goals when I asked what those goals were she replied simply and beautifully: “Joy.” I think this should be my goal, too.

I reflected on her answer for a good portion of my long run this morning. I told my husband last week that I want to and that I will get to Boston, but more than that I want to enjoy the process of getting there. Mostly I do enjoy the process. Having a big goal motivates me to get up early in the mornings and do the hard workouts. Running is a huge part of my mental health regimen, and my running group is my social outlet. I have met some of my dearest friends through running.  I also like having something to work toward, even if it will take years to get there. Part of this process will be learning how to keep those negative thoughts from creeping up when I enter the pain cave during a race. It will not be enough to have those around me tell me that I am strong enough and capable. I must truly believe it myself. Once I do, I will be able to silence those voices once and for all, even when I am pushing myself physically to the limit.

When I approached the end of mile five yesterday, I saw that I was going to be very close to reaching my goal of sub-50. At the six mile marker, I realized that I may just make it in under 50 minutes if the course was measured accurately. I pushed my legs as hard as I could, coming in at 49:46, barely under 50 minutes, proving once again that it was my mind and not my body that was holding me back.

I was thrilled to have met my time goal yesterday, but I do not like how I beat myself up mentally in the pain cave. Numbers are not everything and if my ultimate goal is to find the Joy in the Suffering, I have quite a bit of work to do. I race again in two weeks. My goal for that race is to enter the pain cave again, but next time I am going to be kinder and more gentle with myself. I am going to try again to find joy and beauty in the suffering that we as runners and athletes create when we push ourselves to our limits. That type of suffering is sacred and I am thankful for the days that I can race and do that without being injured. I want to celebrate it and be kind to myself in those moments. It may take some practice, which is precisely why my brilliant coach keeps telling me to race more and to push the pace until I figure it out!


Eight Minutes

Since late March I have been sidelined with a stress reaction in my foot. Yesterday I ran outside for the first time in two months. This also happened to be my first outside run in my 40s. My 40th birthday was almost two months ago. I had grand plans of running 40 laps on the track to celebrate my 40th and running parts of the Boston marathon course on my trip to Boston for a conference just days after my 40th, but none of that happened due to this injury. But I digress…

Yesterday I stepped outside in beautiful spring weather to run outside. It was glorious! Of course I wanted to go up into the Boise foothills and get lost for miles, but my body is not ready for that. My wise and wonderful coach prescribed a 2min run followed by 3 min walk on a soft surface for 20 minutes. I hit the North End alleys.


Sun on my face, flower in my hair and garbage behind me!

Those first two minutes felt strange. Having been accustomed to running on the Alter G for the past month or so, it was wonderful to be moving forward in the fresh outdoor air with the variation of scenery. Lovely wildflowers, spring sounds, people doing yard work and fixing their houses, children playing, animals exploring, and all of these other things I have missed while I have been exercising indoors and rehabbing my injury. I wanted to keep going and going!

But at the same time my foot was pounding! On the hard ground! And I was paranoid. What if I break it again? I was thankful to stop and walk after that two minutes. I am grateful for a smart and conservative coach who does research and talks to multiple health care professionals before determining the best course of action for her athletes.

Although it was not much of a run and yes it was mostly walking (I only ran for a total of eight of the twenty minutes), it felt great because it represented forward progress and I am finally outside again. But instead of feeling thankful for those eight minutes, I found myself spending much of the remainder of the day worried about the future. Thoughts like this ran through my head throughout the afternoon: Is my foot sore? I think it’s a little sore. Maybe it’s a lot sore. Was that too much? Will it feel better by tomorrow? How will I possibly run a marathon this fall if I can’t even run eight minutes without hurting myself now? Ugh. I am going to break my foot again and have to take more time off. And more into the negative thinking hole…

At one point during the day I saw my gratitude journal sitting on my nightstand. It is mostly empty. I have lofty goals of writing in it each night but end up collapsing into bed exhausted and don’t do it. Or perhaps I check emails and Facebook before bed instead. When I saw it yesterday I remembered that instead of worrying about the future or focusing on the negative, I want to make more of a concerted effort to be thankful for the positive in each day. Even being thankful for the little things can make a huge difference in our mindsets.

In yoga practice, they teach you to accept the body that you have each day you come to practice because each day your body is different. I try to apply that to my running as well. The body that I brought to my running practice yesterday allowed me to run eight minutes outside and for that I am exceedingly grateful. I don’t know what body I will have next week, next month or next year and it is a waste of precious energy to worry about it. Instead, I want to be thankful for today. Today I can run. And eight minutes is a fabulous start.

But I Get Up Again

As a runner, I feel like I deal with more than my fair share of injuries. Maybe I am just a glass half empty kind of gal but as I look over the past year I see three significant forced breaks. Granted, one of them wasn’t really a running injury, it was appendicitis, but three forced breaks over a years feels like a lot, especially when you have missed a great deal of the nice spring and fall weather. I guess the universe is still trying to teach me about patience and perseverance and I no I still have not learned. In looking over my Instagram feed the other night I came across this gem which I posted while on Forced Break Number One:

The reality is that if your dream is to accomplish something awesome, it’s not going to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. People who go for greatness are going to get knocked down a lot. They’ll have difficult times. They’ll struggle with doubt and uncertainty. People around them will question the wisdom of their quest. The issue is not whether you’ll fail, because you will. It’s whether you’ll get back up and keep going. It’s whether you can sustain your self-confidence and your belief in yourself and keep bouncing back.

Failure is only final when you stop striving.

-Bob Rotella, How Champion’s Think In Sports and Life

The last two sentences really spoke to me. Sustain your self-confidence and your belief in yourself and keep bouncing back. You see, when I get injured or sidelined it is very easy for my mind to go to the places that say, “You are not a runner.” and “You are too old.” or too something or not enough of something else and then suddenly I am deflated and defeated and eating cookies for dinner. But champions do not think that way. Indeed, they cannot afford to. In the face of injury, illness or whatever obstacle they must sustain self-confidence and keep bouncing back. Because failure is only final when you stop striving.

Oliver Goldsmith said that success is getting up just one more time than you fall. Just one more time.

Those who are successful make it look easy. But we don’t see all of the hard work and struggle. The tens, hundreds, thousands of times that person might have fallen. We just see that one more time they got up. The success!

We also fail to consider the millions of small steps taken that when viewed alone seem totally insignificant but the sum of which equals greatness. Each day cannot be a personal best, but each day we can take a small step in pursuit of a long term goal. Whether it be getting that extra hour of sleep your body needs to recover, eating some extra veggies for vital nutrients, or pushing yourself a little harder on the track. Maybe it means practicing patience and positivity (ahem, I am looking at myself as I type) because in order to achieve peak performance we must not only be fit physically but mentally as well.

Whatever you do, make sure you keep getting back up, and keep moving forward. One step at a time.

Letting Go of the Numbers

My fixation with numbers has been leading me to some dark places recently. It started when last week I stepped on the scale and saw the number was higher than I tend to like it. At first I tried to blow it off as water weight or inflammation, but when I weighed myself again a couple of days later and my weight was still on the higher end of my weight range I continued to berate myself mentally with horrible self-deprecating thoughts.

My downward spiral continued when I went for my long-run last weekend. I set out to run 12 miles, which I did not think would be too difficult, considering I am training for a marathon. I started off okay, but as I climbed up into the hills I started to get tired and hot, my right hip and left knee started to ache, and I started taking some walk breaks. Half way through my run I ran out of water. As I climbed further up into the trail, it became overgrown and I started to worry about snakes. Some other runners warned me about poison ivy, so I found myself stopping frequently to examine the plants. Although I tried to look for poison ivy, the trail was so overgrown in places I couldn’t even tell what was growing in there. Eventually I gave up and turned around. Mentally I was alternating between appreciating the beauty around me and beating myself up. I felt old and slow and like my body was falling apart. I was frustrated that I wasn’t running faster and that things hurt. I kept looking at my watch and feeling like a failure. At the 10 mile mark, I burst into tears. It was taking me just as long to cover 12 miles as it had taken my coach (who is an elite runner) to run her marathon a few weeks earlier! I told myself that I had no business calling myself a runner or being on a running team and that I should give up immediately. With a combination of sweat and tears streaming down my face, I continued to run, but I also continued to say these horrible things to myself. Things I would never in a million years say to a friend or a running partner.

After that run I came home, refueled, took an ice bath, and tried to chalk the whole thing up to just a bad running day. But I’ve been in a little bit of a funk ever since. And I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my unnecessary focus on numbers: both the number on the scale and the number on the stop watch. What do they really mean? The number on the scale can be a measure of health (and I put can in italics because there are lots of other ways to measure health), but it does not define me. My body is so much more than that. And my worth and my value as a person has nothing at all to do with that number. So why would I let it impact my mood at all? Same with the number on the stop watch. Sure it is nice to run fast. It is gratifying to see just how much I can push my body sometimes. I love those endorphins, and I have race goals and love setting PRs just as much as the next guy. But why do I beat myself up if I don’t hit a time goal in a workout? Or if a race doesn’t go my way? This doesn’t define me. The stopwatch can’t tell me who I am. Isn’t it more important just to be out there and running, appreciating nature and the fact that my body can in fact move one foot in front of the other? Why rationally I understand this and in my heart I want to feel it, somewhere there is an emotional disconnect that too often forces me back to the numbers. Perhaps it is that I do not have sufficient self confidence coming from within, so I look to the external, definitive factors (ie, the number) for valuation.

But by letting the numbers define me I am robbing myself of the joy of the journey. For it is not really the number or the moment of the PR that I am striving for. I want to enjoy the process of getting there too. Scott Jurek stated it perfectly when he said, “The longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind — a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.” This is essentially what I am chasing. The ability to run and to be in the present moment. Without worry or concern about numbers or about being something other than what I am. It is my hope that running can help me let go and find that peaceful and present state of mind.

CranioSacral Therapy and the Unquiet Mind

In last weeks’ episode of “Let’s Fix My Hip” I tried CranioSacral Therapy for the very first time. What is CranioSacral Therapy, you may wonder as I did too before I went in for my session? Google taught me that “CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle, hands-on method of evaluating and enhancing the functioning of a physiological body system called the craniosacral system – comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Using a soft touch generally no greater than 5 grams, or about the weight of a nickel, practitioners release restrictions in the craniosacral system to improve the functioning of the central nervous system.”

A couple of my friends had suggested that I try CranioSacral Therapy (or CST) to see if it might help my hip pain. As a traditional consumer sports type massages, I was pretty unsure of this whole thing. Soft touch no greater than 5 grams? No thanks, I like it hard and deep. (WAIT, WHAT?!) Massage, deep tissue massage. So I wondered what 5 grams of pressure could possibly do for my chronic hip pain. A quick Google search will result in claims that CranioSacral Therapy can help with things like migraines, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and orthopedic issues. There are also reports that it is a total scam. Although skeptical myself, I was willing to give it a try.

My therapist was very friendly and the session started off similar to a regular massage, except that I remained fully clothed. I found myself trying to relax in order to fully reap the benefits of the session, but instead of having thoughts float by me like wispy clouds over a summer meadow, they came hurling at me full force like a freight train.

Should I be feeling anything? My nose itches. I hope I don’t sneeze. I hope my stomach doesn’t start growling. Maybe I should have had more breakfast. Will it be time for lunch when I’m done? Why am I always thinking about food? Maybe I should have had less coffee. I should go get more coffee after this. I’ll relax more if I go to my happy place. (Envisions self on beach in Kauai listening to ocean waves and breathing fresh salty air but uh-oh, here comes the freight train again.) Has it been an hour yet? How does light pressure around my chin affect my hip? Are Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner getting a divorce? It’s really hard for me to quiet my mind. I wonder if this is why I’m not better at yoga. I should meditate more.

I think you get my point. After an hour I felt relaxed, but I am not sure my hip felt any different. When I stood up off the table it felt pretty good so that’s positive. Soon after leaving, however, the regular soreness returned. And I found myself wishing that perhaps I had spent my time and money on a deep tissue massage instead. Three days later I saw my regular massage therapist for some deep tissue work, and although she called her deep tissue massage that she had just given me “mean”, I felt so relaxed during it that I almost fell asleep. In other words, no freight trains. Maybe I need some discomfort during my massage to keep me focused on my breathing, or maybe I should give CST a try again. Maybe I need to do more yoga and meditation to quiet my mind. Regardless, I am pretty sure my racing mind is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Trusting the Process Part II: Uncoordinated Runner Attempts Mountain Biking

I am not coordinated.  I fall while running, while walking, while going up stairs, you name the activity and I’ll find a way to injure myself.  My daughter’s name means “one who walks with a strong proud gait.”  It is my hope that by bestowing such a name on her she will be more graceful than her poor mom.  But I digress…

My husband wants to do a long bike ride for his upcoming 40th birthday and was sweet enough to buy me a nice mountain bike so that I could join him.  The first time I took it out I crashed within 15 minutes.  Today I rode with my husband in lieu of doing my long run.  We were on a beautiful trail in the mountains in McCall, Idaho.  I don’t think this trail would be considered difficult or technical by any standards.  Nice and wide with some ruts, not too steep.  About three miles in I somehow popped my chain off of the gears and got it stuck.  While my husband was patiently trying to fix my bike for me, I was repeating to myself, “This moment is exactly as it should be. This moment is exactly as it should be.”  But although my head was saying that and my eyes were looking around and trying to appreciate the beautiful scenery and the peace and quiet of being along in the mountains with my husband, my heart was screaming the following:

“This moment is NOT as it should be!  I should be on a long run!  Or with my running team at the Famous Potato Races trying to get a PR! What is wrong with me? Why am I always injured? I don’t like mountain biking.  I should sell this bike.”  I almost burst into tears.

But I got back on my bike. Repeating, “This moment is exactly how it should be.”  My encouraging husband kept telling me what a great job I was doing even though he had to slow his pace and frequently wait for me while I walked my bike around ruts that I was too timid to ride around.  I felt like my heart rate was getting higher more from the adrenaline pumping through my body due to my fear of crashing rather than anything my legs were doing to power me up the hills.  My hands were getting tired from white knuckling the handlebars.  I knew there was so much beauty around me, yet I was afraid if I took my eyes off of the trail in front of me, I would miss a rut, rock, or stick and crash.  At one point my husband asked me if I was having fun and I just smiled.  Fear and frustration had been the more dominant emotions, and I didn’t want to lie.  As I rode along I thought also about a passage I read earlier this week in a book called “How Champions Think” by Bob Rotella.  In it he says that “Failure is only final when you stop striving.”

So even though I was slow, clumsy and awkward on the mountain bike, even though I was missing running something fierce, I was no failure.  I was out there.  I was only a failure if I stopped trying. This moment is exactly as it should be.

As my husband and I got to our halfway point and turned around, the most amazing thing happened.  I started to relax and bike a little faster.  I was able to take my eyes off the bike for long enough to enjoy the amazing views around me.  I was able to chat with my husband some and enjoy his company.  A luxury that we don’t get very often with three small kids in the house!  I was actually enjoying myself and having fun!  I returned home from that ride happy, refreshed and with a feeling of accomplishment.  And when I got on the bike again a couple of hours later to ride with my kids I realized that my legs had gotten much more of a workout than I thought.

I will get back on that bike and ride again with my husband tomorrow.  And I will probably be scared.  And I will probably get off of the bike and walk around the ruts.  But I will do it.  And I will keep going.


Trying to keep up!

Trusting the Process

This moment is exactly as is should be. Words spoken to me this week by my friend and coach, who also happens to be a very well rounded and smart woman who I admire and respect.  So I’ve taken these words to heart and tried to make them my mantra with respect to my hip injury, which was the topic of our conversation, and life in general. Easier said than done.

I have no idea what is wrong with my hip.  I have had hip problems since we were blessed with child #3 with the large and non-molding head.  My hips will often get tight and sore along the iliac crest.  I’ve been to multiple physical therapists and do a litany of hip strengthening exercises on a regular basis, yet the problem persists.  On this most recent flare up, which involves my right hip, it seems to have gone up into my side as well.  I feel like maybe I have strained an oblique?  I have an appointment with a doctor next week.  I have not been able to run for about a week and a half now (read: the situation is getting dire!), so I’ve made appointments with various specialists in an attempt to get to the root of this problem.  I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor, a pelvic floor therapist (doesn’t that sound fun?! I thought so.), and an osteopath. To my surprise, I was able to get in to see the doctor first, the therapist second, and the osteopath a distant third.  Go figure.

Anyway, the forced break from running has made me slightly grumpy.  If you ask my husband he might say it’s more than slightly, but whatever.  The last marathon I ran was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006.  Against my better judgment, I attempted it on an IT band injury ended up hobbling across the finish line in around six hours.  It was ugly.  I was on crutches for a week afterwards.  Nine years and three kids later, I finally feel ready to attempt another marathon.  I registered for St. George this year and no sooner does the payment clear than my hip thing rears its ugly head to the point that I cannot run without pain.  This moment is exactly as it should be.

Yes, it’s true.  I am doing things I would not otherwise be doing if I did not have the forced break from running.  I am doing more cross training, different types of cross training, I tried a new swim workout, and I am learning new strengthening exercises.  All while listening to some new podcasts and learning some new things.  But I also miss running and my running group.  I fully intend to come back to both with a renewed mind, body and spirit and ready to train.  And meanwhile I repeat (often while gritting teeth). This moment is exactly as it should be.

I am trying to make this my mantra in daily life too.  In the moments that are not so pleasant.  Like when I finally sit down to eat after having driven three hours and having fed all of the little people and then the littlest one crawls up on my lap having pooped in this pants. This moment is exactly as it should be?

Or when all three kids are yelling and screaming at each other in the back seat and I am trying to drive.  This moment is exactly as it should be?

Or when it’s 10:00pm and the kids are still running around like mice on crack and all I want is to watch a TV show or curl up with a book.  This moment is exactly as it should be?

Ok, so this is going to take some time and practice.  I have never been accused of being the most patient person in the world.  Perhaps the universe is trying to teach me patience.  And to trust and enjoy the process.  For it is not the end result that makes the journey worthwhile, but the journey itself.  Yes indeed, perhaps this moment, these moments, are exactly as they should be.