Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Thoughts on Being a Loner

Credit: New York Social Diary

A few weeks back I was invited to a small 6-hour running event happening tomorrow. It’s a 3-mile looped trail course that my friend Brad put together. It was planned specifically for people in the area who are training for the Pinelands 50k, but open to all. I looked at the event description on Facebook and it seemed like a good time, and a good way to get some major mileage in. But I didn’t plan to go.

Why not? Was it because 6 hours is too long for me to run? Because I have a half marathon next weekend and I should be taking it easy? Nah…I  mean, come on, you should know by now that I don’t usually miss out on doing fun things just because they’re stupid.

No, I wasn’t going to attend the 6-hour Fatass run because I’d already planned a 15-16 mile run for today, and well…I wanted to run it alone.

Turns out, even though I’m an exceptionally social person, when it comes to running I’m a loner by nature. I realize this is a weird dichotomy, but it’s just the way I am. Normally, I will happily wax poetic with anyone on almost any topic, especially running. But the more time I actually spend running, the more I find I prefer being completely solo (except for my dog Oscar).

Running with a buddy is still fun, of course. It makes the time fly by, kills two birds with one stone (catching up with friends and exercising), and it’s good training for the slower or less fit person. Which is usually me.

But I don’t really want the time to fly by when I’m running (in fact, I’m usually sad when a run is over). I want – I need – to be mentally focused on my long run. On how my legs feel. How my form feels. How steady my breath is. How the woods sound. I want to run slowly and feel every rock under my feet, not pass the time talking about work or comparing cellphone carriers. I like to slow to a walk every once in awhile, and sometimes stop altogether. Stretch my legs out. Observe the brook rumbling along beside the trail. Refuel without having to chew while bouncing. Direct Oscar to some fresh water and watch him drink. Then start up again.

And that’s probably why it takes me so much time to be done with a long run.

Most people I run with seem to just want to run fast the whole way, and finish under a certain time. In that way, maybe the long run is different for me than it is for some others. I’m there to train, sure, but I’m also there just to be outside. And it’s hard not to feel pressured to move faster with the other person, or feel guilty because I can’t.

Perhaps that just makes me a runner (or maybe a jogger…heh), but not a racer. I suppose I’m okay with that. But, I digress.

I mean, lovely as it is, it’s the very distraction of running with someone else that screws up my whole run. It’s not so bad on a 4-5 miler where I barely have time to get tired, but it is on the long run. I get so caught up in conversation that I lose focus of my body’s movements. I never catch myself slouching, or over-striding. I talk the whole time, use up too much energy in conversation and have none left for the run. It usually results in premature fatigue, a bad race time or an injured…something.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, the only races that I’ve ever even kicked ass at were run alone. My first 10k, my best 5k and a stellar Thanksgiving 5-miler. My performances at those races still make me proud, and not only because they were nice PR’s, but because of how I felt throughout. Strong, calm, and most importantly: focused.

I can’t achieve those things while I’m chatting up a friend during a race, and I can’t stop chatting once I’ve started. So it stands to reason that my most important races and runs must be solo. And maybe for the most part, this also includes Pineland. Sorry, Sheree.

That said, I have decided to go to the 6-hour run tomorrow, after all. Why? Mostly because I need to train myself to be “alone” even when there are lots of people around. I need to learn how to ignore the temptation to be social every minute just because there’s someone within earshot to blather at.

I figure tomorrow’s run might somewhat mimic the social situation on race day at Pineland. So it will be a good opportunity to practice running my own race even though I am not running alone. And even if it turns out I’m by myself 90% of the time because I’m so slow, it will still be a lesson in not trying to keep up with everyone else. A lesson in letting go of my fears of being the slowest person there (which I am sure I will be). And the other 10% of the time it will be a lesson in still focusing on my form while there’s someone running beside me.

So wish me luck, folks! It’s going to be a brand new trail for me, hopefully a new distance PR, and a tough mental training challenge. Also there might not be any bathrooms – and some of you may know by my status updates how many times I’ve ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom after 8 miles or so. Could prove interesting.

Those Central-Massachusetts squirrels better be on their watches tomorrow.


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Smile like a Bad-Ass

 

Last weekend, I ran 12 miles.

It’s been six days since then, and so the triumphant feelings have dulled a bit. But the fact remains that I did it. To many of my readers, 12 miles is barely a long run. Even to me that distance isn’t much of a big deal anymore. It’s just four 5K’s back to back; a ten-miler plus twenty minutes. I’ve done it before and will again. But because of how this run felt and how I handled it mentally, it was as if my glass ceiling finally got smashed to pieces.

It wasn’t about the number of miles run. It was about the number of miles run with a smile on my face. It was the fact that by mile 11 I wasn’t obsessing about my sore feet or about how far I was from home like I usually do, instead I had a big, fat, bad-ass grin on my face.

A little back story. The last time I reached the 12-mile mark during a run, I was crying. It was the famously hilly Great Bay Half Marathon and I had tweaked my IT band at mile 7 because I didn’t know how to run downhill properly. I was in pain, I was disappointed by my performance, and I was tired of running. Worst of all, I was in a shitty mood during my first half marathon when I should have been enjoying the achievement.

Like I have done on some other regrettable occasions in my life, I let my bad attitude ruin what could have been an amazing experience.

But this week I was a completely different person. I crushed those miles. Yes, they were long…I won’t pretend that they were not. It took me longer to complete this trail run than it took me to finish the Great Bay Half Marathon on roads. This run was comprised of several out-and-back mini runs, so I would never be too far from my car and could make pit stops to drop clothes or get more water (which probably helped a lot). At times I was cold, because I was only wearing a long sleeve tech shirt over my tank top and the wind got through it during walk breaks. There were too many people near the start of the trail with unleashed dogs and I kept having to strong-arm Oscar to keep him from jumping at them. The effort screwed up my form and by the last pit stop my IT band was bothering me for the first time in 10 months.

But my mood didn’t falter, not once. When I hit the trail head at mile 9 I dropped the tired pooch off in the car for a short nap, and continued on for the last three miles. With better form my knee hurt less, but I still needed occasional walk breaks to ease the strain. At 10.5 I turned around for the last time and said to myself, “You got this, Trish. You’re a bad-ass distance runner, and you’re amazing. You’re about to run 12 motherf***ing miles.” It sounds dorky as hell now, but at the moment it made me smile so hard my face hurt a little. It’s amazing how far a little self-motivation can go when you’re alone on a deathly-quiet wooded trail.

At 11.25 the song “I’m Too Sexy” came on my iPod and I danced a little while I ran, bopping my head until I was dizzy and laughing at an old joke between my pal Lynsey and me. I thought of Lynsey and how I wished we could be finishing this run together. Then I stopped because my knee was screaming. Walking felt like a massage on my tired hips. My feet didn’t even hurt like they usually do – or if they did, I was in a mental state that kept it from annoying me. I ate the last of my mango slices and praised them for giving me the best (chemical-free) energy surges throughout the whole run. I ran through the weird concrete tunnel under the road for the last time and finished the water in my CamelBak. At the very end I passed a runner just starting her journey for the day and I was glad to be finished with mine.

When I reached the car I said to myself, “See how easy it is to run these miles without that shitbag attitude?” Yup.

The truth is, no matter how far you can run, no matter how many hours you put into training, it’s all about attitude. You can drop out of a race, you can injure yourself during training, but you don’t have to let your discomforts and limitations determine your mood. After all that I learned on this one 12-mile long run, I know that if I had the choice to finish the Pinelands 50K in a shitty mood or DNF it with a shit-eating grin on my face, I’ll take the DNF.

Because I feel like more of a bad-ass when I’m smiling.