Monday, February 27, 2017

When the answer is always "run more," what's the question?

On Thanksgiving Day 2016, I started a 39-day challenge for myself. I wanted to see if I could run three miles a day every day until January 1, 2017. Why? Mostly because I was burned out from training for and running long distance events. I liked the idea of having an excuse to run short, and somehow running every day made those short distances more I wasn't really throwing the towel in on running, just making it challenging in a different way. Also, as someone who always seems to have major injury cycles with my run training, I just wanted to try something different, something I decided to run more.

On the surface, this whole idea seemed ludicrous, and I was fairly certain I would put myself out of commission soon enough with such shenanigans. However, on the other hand, there was enough affirmation from others who had tried this (and even my chiropractor and PT person) that I had this niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that this may not be as crazy of an idea as it sounded.

So, I tried it. And succeeded. Although the first couple of weeks were a bit rough (after all, just because my mind was made up didn't mean my body was convinced), I persevered and managed to hobble through the rocky patches - those first couple of weeks when my body really balked at the continued assault. After about two and a half weeks, though, I somehow found my swing. Suddenly, running wasn't foreign. My physical self stopped fighting back and seemed to accept that this is how we do things now. It got on board with the challenge. After that, although there were days that were harder than others - maybe I was tired, or just wasn't feeling it - my body performed up to expectations, and I got through the challenge.

Then it was over. As the weeks ticked by, I started counting down until January 2, the day I thought for sure would be my first rest day in six and a half weeks. I couldn't wait to get there so I could take some time off, make some training plans, and get back to reality. Funny thing is, as January 2 got closer and closer, I seemed a bit at a loss. I found that the idea of NOT running come January 2 just seemed wrong. It appears I had created a habit for myself, no less important to me than brushing my teeth in the morning. When I consulted with a friend, who was the inspiration for this challenge having done something similar years before (and who continues to run most days), the answer was RUN MORE. Huh. Okay. So, I continued. And continued. And continued.

To this day, I have run 96 days in a row, covering no less than three miles a day. (I say "covering" because there have been a few days where I took a few walk breaks here and there.) I have not missed a day. In fact, when the time came to start building a training plan for my first half marathon coming up, I opted to start building a training program around the daily runs. At this point, I have one day a week where I run five miles, my long run day is now officially up to ten miles, and one day a week I make sure to run a very hilly three-mile course. Those are my "workout" days. The rest of the week, my "rest" days consist of slow three-milers, usually on the treadmill.

I suppose some people would call my three-milers now junk miles, and maybe they are. Maybe I would be better served taking a true rest day, or cross training. But, the thing is - and I'm knocking on wood here - I feel better than I have in a long time. So, what's going on? For someone who could barely run three days in a row, I don't know as I understand how this all works either. My guess is that physically my body "gets" running now. Literally, through building of muscle memory, the actual "running" has become the least of my issues. My body knows what to do. Now, on any given day, I may be tired, or my breathing may be off, but as for my legs - they can run.

And, I think the consistency of running every day is right for me. Through all my cycles of tendon injury, one thing always seemed clear: my tendons tighten up with inactivity. I have to remain a moving target to stay healthy. Run more.

Mentally, I love the freedom of running every day. Yes, the FREEDOM. Running only three or four times a week and having that ability to juggle when I ran, THAT was stressful. There was a lot of thought that went into running. Do I run today or tomorrow. Run long today or not. When do I fit in my runs this week. Running every day, all that is gone. Do I run today? The answer is yes. Do I run tomorrow? The answer is yes. How about four days from now? Do I run then? The answer is yes. At some point, I stopped asking the question, because I already knew the answer. The less thought that went into it, the lower the stress levels.

And, I shouldn't forget the stress of NOT running. The most fundamental answer I can give to someone who might say I'm running a lot of junk miles is that running makes me happy. And I don't mean in some kind of "yay, I got it done way," I mean in a physical endorphins-released, actual measurable-rise-in-contentment way. And, if running makes me happy, shouldn't I run every day? Don't I want to be happy every day? Naturally, the answer is yes.

So, at this point, I am still running daily. I keep wondering if this day or that will be the day it ends, as it seems clear that it probably will have to end at some point. It's still hard for me to believe that this is going so well. That other shoe has to drop sometime, right? Well, maybe. But, in the meantime, I'm going to try to keep moving. Because, if the question is "what makes you happy?" and the answer is "running," then why wouldn't I want to do more of it?

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