For the love of it

The weekend that everything shut down in Michigan my partner and I were signed up to do a Pi Day run. It was a fun, no stakes 5k on a (kind of boring) course that we’ve done a few races on. The most exciting thing about it was the the shirt and metal….and as any casual runner knows, after a couple years of doing these races neither is in short supply. And I’ve been a regular, casual runner for the past ten years now. I’ve got an abundance of shirts, medals (mostly finisher medals), race logo bearing headbands, hats, gloves and so on and so forth. But I was still quite disappointed when the Pi Day run got cancelled and I realized there would be no new race paraphernalia that weekend…or for quite a while as it turns out.

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Some of the race swag I’ve collected over the years.

In lieu of the scheduled race we were offered the option to defer our registration to another of this companies races or to switch our registration to a “virtual race”. I’ve heard of these “virtual races”, they existed even before the pandemic forced us into isolation, but  I’ve never understood the appeal. I did briefly consider switching my registration for the Pi Run to a virtual race, I really wanted a Pi Day shirt and metal! But that would mean we basically just bought a shirt and silly metal for $45. That’s $90 for the two of us…To a cheapskate like myself that’s not justifiable.

So why then am I willing to pay so much to go run a relatively easy distance on a lame course at a super non-competitive pace? (Because let’s be real, I’ve got no chances of placing at these big events.)

I’ve asked myself this many times over the years and occasionally have decided it’s not worth it but more often than not if a race catches my attention I’m willing to shell out the dough, get up somewhat early on a weekend morning, and go spend some time running with a bunch of equally silly random strangers. Sometimes the weather is quite unpleasant. Sometimes it’s very early. Sometimes we’re wearing ridiculous outfits. Why?? Because it’s fun (and we’re slightly off our rockers). There’s nothing like a crowd of enthusiastic runners waiting around in the early morning mist for the gun to go off. The energy is unique and palpable. There’s a sense of camaraderie, personal challenge, and adventure.

Personally, signing up for a variety of races throughout the year helps keep me motivated as a runner. It gives me a structured goal to push myself towards, it helps motivate me to challenge myself whether it be by running a longer distance or trying to beat a personal best time. It also brings a sense of community to running.

Doing fun and/or challenging races has kept me excited about running for the past decade. But now, that’s all on hold….So what now?

These days, like so many people, I find myself with much more time on my hands than usual and some pretty decent weather. I’ve been able to get out and run three, usually four times a week. But it’s just running with no goals in sight; no fun race, no interesting medal, fun experience or shirt to show for all my time spent running. It’s just running…for the sake of running. Of course there are the usual benefits of getting fresh air and sunshine, time spent alone to let my mind wander, all that but no additional external motivation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. I still have demands on mine and things to fill most of it but, right now during this everything shut down stay-at-home-order (I’m not even sure what to call it), I have the most unstructured time that I’ve had since I was eighteen and fresh out of high school. It’s most certainly a dramatic difference from what I’m used to. On one hand it’s unnerving; I’m not great at self-managing without some sort of structure. But on another hand, it’s quite lovely being able to choose what to do with so much of my time. And the things I’m choosing to do, mostly, are things that I am doing for no other reason than to do them. For example, I crocheted a big fat scarf. We’re heading into much warmer weather, I don’t have any person or purpose in mind for this scarf… I just made it for the fun of it. I liked the colors and thought they called for a chevron pattern. SO I crocheted a scarf. My running this past month has been just like that: it doesn’t necessarily have a purpose or plan, there’s no real reward other than the enjoyment of the time spent doing it. Right now that’s enough.

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The wide chevron scarf in progress. 

So much about this pandemic and being “quarantined”, about this forced slamming the brakes on life as we know it, really sucks. For so many people it does. I get it, I’m living that too. Seniors in both high school and college are missing out on socially important milestones and there’s no getting those back. It’s especially hard for students who are missing their final season of a sport. In the grand scheme of things that might be inconsequential but in reality it’s a heavy loss to bear. I’m not going to put a positive spin on that, not even going to try, but I do hope some of those athletes are using this time to engage in their sport, to practice their craft at whatever level they can, just for the sake of doing it.

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We interrupt this training plan for The Sickness.

I’m signed up to run in the Detroit half marathon, not the international one but the one that stays state side and runs around Belle Isle. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is (other than the course…obviously) but I’m not all that excited about this half. Mostly because the training has not been going so great.

Over the summer I didn’t run as much as I had hoped to. Long runs became a thing of the recent-past while  I struggled to finish the hundred shadowing hours for my dental school application. I did get some speed work in while working with my kids’ cross country team in their pre-season and I tried to get back on track in August after the application was submitted but I also started coaching middle school cross country at that time. I love caching but it cuts into my already limited running time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I realized there was only a month until the Detroit half…

I regularly maintain a decent level of running ability but I knew I needed to kick this training into gear if I wanted to reach my goal of 2:05 (which would be a PR by 2 minutes and 27 seconds). With exactly a month left to train, I got in my first ten mile run of this cycle but it was slower and more painful than it should have been. That same week I ran half of a half (or just over 6.5 miles) at slightly faster than a 2:05 half race pace. I was pretty pumped and felt like things were getting closer to where they should be. No, I wasn’t going to be able to do a long run every week but by following a two week rotating schedule I’d still get a couple above-ten-milers in before race day. Other than that I was going to focus on pace and do some speed-work while logging three to six mile runs…

Was. Going. To.

In the process of rolling out the amended training plan something happened, another snafu. I got sick. Like the Can’t stop coughing, crap in my lungs, I can’t breath so I can’t run kind of sick. I did try. I’ll pretty much try to run through anything. Sometimes it helps, not so much this time.

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After trying to run anyhow, I realized this rule has some merit.

As September rolled into October I watched what should have been a hundred mile month turn into just under eighty and my hopes of PR-ing this go round get dimmer and dimmer. Altogether I missed a week of training. There were a couple slow, painful 3 mile runs in there but that hardly counts.

So, here I am with just under two weeks until race day feeling very under-prepared. I’m doing what I can to make up for lost time starting with a (hopefully) ten mile run today but breathing is still tricky. There’s definitely some fluid movement going on in the old lungs. I’m going to do what I can to salvage this go-round of half marathon training and hope I can somehow miraculously manage to PR  try to avoid embarrassing myself come October 16.

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One thing I’ve learned from this, I am definitely a process runner. Like a process knitter or crocheter enjoys the making of something as much as the final product, I truly enjoy training for a relatively longer race like a half-marathon as much if not more than I do actually running the race. Sure the race is the pay off, the proof that you did the hard stuff, but the hard stuff, the day in and day out training, is the part that matters.