Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Now let me just clarify, some pain DEMANDS attention, but in hindsight, I’ve realized that my pain was manageable. All I had to do was embrace it, and allow myself to fearlessly go through it. Running is as spiritual for me as it is physical. As a result, I began to allow myself to experience my knee pain and not go to pieces at the first twinge of discomfort. My natural inclination when I would feel knee pain during a run was to stop running and totally give in to the pain. Recently, when I feel pain, I scale back my effort (and as long as the pain doesn’t cause me to change my gait), I allow myself to fully experience it. I breathe through it, move through it, and give it to God.
I’m not suggesting that runners do this with all pain—if the pain is sharp or severe, by all means stop and get help. But if it’s just a little nagging pain, and you believe you can get through it without causing further damage, allow yourself to embrace it. This acceptance of pain hit me full force when my 91-year-old grandmother, Celia Frances Smith, passed away peacefully at her home on December 13, 2010.
When my devastated dad called me to tell me she had died, I fought to keep my emotions in check. I was determined to be strong for my father, and I did not allow myself to fully experience and embrace the pain of loss. A week later, my emotions washed over me like a tidal wave, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to pull myself together. After five days of no running, I was finally got 4 hard miles in, and I felt so much better. I pushed myself through the last mile, thinking of my grandmother’s strength and fortitude, and vowing to always allow myself to embrace my pain.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I hate running because I’m vain. I hate that on Mondays at noon, my carefully coifed, freshly shampooed, shiny, silky hair is going to “sweat out” no matter how carefully I ponytail it. After I shower, my perfume will be washed away (I’m simply not lugging all that stuff in with me every morning), and my makeup will not be as flawless as it was before I ran (even though I wash my face before and after I run, and reapply some basic makeup).
I hate running because I have to be disciplined. I used to live to sleep late on Saturdays, but these days, I’m out the door before the sun comes up, which means I have to go to bed early and eschew my favorite pomegranate martini and other fun nocturnal activities (but only the night before a big race or a long run!).
I hate running races because they stress me out. I generally train well, and no matter what the distance: 5K, 10K, 10-mile, half-marathon, or marathon, I toss and turn all night, and come race morning I will be totally and completely freaked the freak out. I spend hours in the bathroom at home (aw come on, you’re a runner, and you’ve been there, done that), completely losing all the good stuff I’ve put in my body to fuel it for the race. Without fail, my husband always asks, “Are you sure you enjoy racing?”
I hate running because I don’t like to think of myself as competitive. In addition to being a runner, I am a yogini. I’ve been practicing yoga for approximately three years. I’m all about being non-judgmental of my efforts and others efforts. Being competitive just feels wrong to me.
Then on my way back to the office, at about 2.25 miles into my run, with my pace well established, my breathing easy, and the gentle incline of 15th Street ahead of me, I realized that I actually LOVE running and the reasons why are as follows:
I love running because I’m vain. At 41 years old, I look damn good. I totally credit running with the fact that I am fitter than most people my age. I started running to lose the “baby fat” almost 12 years ago. Today, I weigh less than I did before the birth of my first child, and I am as energetic as ever.
I love running because I have to be disciplined. Running forces me to take good care of myself. I get the rest I need, I eat healthy foods, and I love that after rising early and putting in anywhere from 10-20 miles, I have the rest of the day to feel good about my efforts. Not to mention, seeing the sun rise on the National Mall, with no tourists in sight, is simply amazing!
I love running races because they stress me out. Once I finally calm down and the race starts, I am able to channel my nervous energy into speed and focus. I’ve learned to do the same thing in life when I’m facing a stressful situation. I know how to channel my stress and do what needs to be done.
I love running because it allows me to be competitive. I’m covering the ears of my inner yogini—I am competitive. I generally compete with myself; I’m always focused on beating Courtenay’s last PR. But truth be told, I love to see how I stacked up against other runners. I love to see how many people I “beat” who are younger than me (in some case decades younger!).
By the time I finished my run, I realized that I LOVE running because more times than not, after a good run I realize that I’ve gained far more than I had to put in.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I went to Greece primarily to run the Athens Classic Marathon, which is the original course that Pheidippides ran in 490 B.C. It was, without question, the hardest race I’ve ever run to date. For starters, it was pouring on the morning of the race. There I was, dressed in my singlet and shorts (and my hotel-issued red trash bag) in a vain attempt to keep myself dry and warm.
We were bussed from the Panathenaic Stadium (where we would eventually finish) to the start line in Marathon. Once we got to Marathon, we still had an hour to wait before the start. While I was waiting, I had the unique opportunity to meet and talk to Edwin Kipchom, an elite Kenyan athlete, who ended up finishing second in the race! He was amazed that I was an African-American (he mistook me for Kenyan) and I, of course, was dumbfounded that I was standing around casually chatting with an athlete of his caliber. He encouraged me to simply relax and finish the race. As he jogged away to warm up, he shouted back to me “success!”
I knew the race would be difficult. Despite the rain, I knew the course itself was going to be a tremendous challenge. The first 10k of the race was all downhill, and I was doing well. I hit the 5k split in 29:30. I reached the 10K split at 58:34. I was feeling pretty good after I’d shed my trash bag and long-sleeved t-shirt. But then—the gradual incline, from which we’d experience a rolling course for the next 32.2K began. By mile 7, my knee was in agony (the incline, plus the rain were beginning to work against me). It’s one thing when you’re running a marathon and you see the splits marked as miles (there’s only 26), but when the splits are marked as kilometers it’s 42K, and it’s mentally tough!
Then I made the mistake of eating a half of a banana around mile 10. I was crippled by gastrointestinal distress shortly thereafter, and I ended up having to take a 5-minute bathroom break. But, that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because while I was waiting my turn, I met an American couple, who were living in Berlin, who reminded me to simply “enjoy the journey.” I was running in Greece after all!
At that point, I simply released my need for speed. I walked when I needed to, which was several times; I stopped by the medics to get my knee sprayed with this awesome cold mist. And I just took in the scenery around me. I dedicated miles to friends and loved ones; I had several deep mental conversations with God; I cried; I laughed; I clapped back at the spectators, and I let myself ENJOY THE JOURNEY.
When I approached the Panathenaic Stadium (which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896), I knew my mom and dad, my husband, and most importantly my daughters, would expect to see me finish strong, so I ran the last 120 meters with all I had left in me, and I finished the marathon in 4:34:46. Not my best finish, but certainly my most rewarding.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Then it turned out to be an awesome day, so I decided to get in an easy run in deference to the 12-miler I’ll be doing tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. As I changed clothes, I remembered I’d left my watch at home. It bears mentioning here, that I would generally rather run stark naked than to run without my Garmin. I am a data junkie. I have to know how far, how fast, and how many calories I’ve burned on every single run (bad, I know). So today was a unique opportunity for me to run in a state of true oblivion. Much to my surprise, I discovered I enjoyed running in blissful ignorance of my pace. (Of course, I immediately checked my distance at MapMyRun.com, when I returned to my office).
But the beauty of today’s run is that I really tuned into my body and my breathing. I was able to make the necessary adjustments as I ran, without worrying how it would impact my pace. And perhaps the best thing of all is that as I tuned into my breath, a breathing mantra just came to me, and I used the words “power,” “energy,” and “life” to regulate my breathing and finish the run. Good stuff.
Will I wear my watch for tomorrow’s 12-miler? You betcha! But I will dedicate at least one run a week as a watchless run.
Monday, August 30, 2010
During a random session on Amazon, I stumbled across a book titled, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, and I was so intrigued that I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. The author, Danny Dreyer, suggests that the road to running effortlessly starts with returning to our childhood. He encourages runners to return to the time when running felt like fun, which really resonated with me, because a good run always feels like recess to me! In the book, Danny provides detailed instruction on how to modify your running style to ensure pain-free running for life.
Although I had a pretty clear understanding of what Danny was suggesting (I’ve only read half of the book so far), I wanted to see it in action. I found a ChiRunning Half-Day Workshop in DC. The price was steep, $125 for 4-hours of group instruction (but I thought it was more feasible than $225 for a full-day session). I took the class on August 22. It was led by Lloyd Henry, who is a significantly accomplished athlete based in the DC area. There were a total of 12 people in my class: a few moms, a few men, and at least one trust-fund baby. Lloyd instructed us on how to correct our posture, lean into the run (let gravity do all of the work), and literally let our feet “peel off the ground” as we fell forward into the run. It was a lot of information squeezed into a 4-hour class, but in the end, I felt it was worth it.
I’ve been able to employ some of the things I’ve learned in my recent runs, and it has helped. But, it’s a lot to think about, which is OK for me, as I tend to be an associative runner. I check in with my body often during a long run, and ChiRunning has taught me to pay that much more attention. Am I a believer? Not sure, but I’ll keep you posted.
Friday, July 30, 2010
The weather in Washington, D.C. has been brutal. But today was a treat, no humidity a slight breeze, and the temperature was about 85 degrees. I took off headed towards the White House. I focused on my alignment, my breathing, and my foot strike and reminded myself how much I love running. I’m reading ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, in preparation for a ChiRunning workshop that I’m taking on August 22. Basically, the ChiRunning method focuses on making running an effortless endeavor. Although I’ve only scratched the surface of the book, I can see how what I’ve learned so far is helping me become a better runner.
I blazed through my first mile at a pace of 8:11. That’s the fastest mile I’ve run since recovering my last injury, and the thing is, I felt great! I didn’t even realize I was running at a faster pace until my Garmin rang out that I’d completed one mile. When I saw the pace, I was both thrilled and terrified. I backed off it a bit, in hopes that I could sustain it.
From that point, I just let the run happen. I took in the sights of the city, and I even stopped at the Corcoran Gallery of Art to snap a photo of a father and son. When it was all said and done, I'd run 3.67 miles at an average pace of 8:52 and I felt incredible! It was a glorious run, and tomorrow will be too, all 13 miles of it.
May you run effortlessly well.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Lesson 2: Don’t contemplate your bruises. I was training with the DC Road Runners for the SunTrust National Marathon in 2009. We were out on a 14-mile run in 30 degree weather. At about seven miles in, we approached the top of a hill. I was fatigued and my form was sloppy. On the descent, I lost my footing and went crashing down into the gravel. My right knee screamed in agony. As I pushed myself up from the ground, I decided that I had no other choice but to pull myself together and finish the run. So I didn’t even look down at my knee, because I knew I would not be able to complete the run if I actually saw my knee. I felt the sting of pain, but I could still bend it. When we arrived back at the Georgetown Running Company, I looked down at my ripped running tights and I saw my bruised and bloodied knee. I celebrated my ability to overcome my bruises with a new pair of running tights and a renewed sense of my own personal strength.
Lesson 3: Celebrate your body. I started running to lose the baby fat I’d gained with the birth of my first daughter 11 years ago. I’d gained 26 lbs while I was pregnant, expanding from 144 lbs to 170 lbs. I’ve never had the lean, lithe body of a runner. I’m built more like Serena Williams, much to my husband’s delight, with strong powerful quads and an impressive glute to boot. Yet, I used to yearn for what I considered the true “runner’s body.” Eleven years later, I love my strong, able body that has allowed me to complete countless races, including three marathons, since 2007.
Lesson 4: You never know who is watching. Today I broke down and ate a cheese steak hoagie for lunch. While I was standing in the café, mentally berating myself for my lapse in food judgment, I saw a woman who I used to regularly see at the gym where I’d change clothes before heading out for a run. She looked fabulous. I remembered when she first started working out—her hard work was evident. I told her about my guilty lunch selection. She told me, “It’s OK to eat the cheese steak. You’ll run it right off.” She further stated that she missed seeing me at the gym (I change at a new gym these days) and that I had been the inspiration for her to start running.
Lesson 5: You can do more than you ever thought you could. Three years ago, if someone would’ve told me that I’d be a marathoner, I would’ve thought they were nuts. I had just finished my first 5K, and while I thought perhaps I should try a 10K, a marathon was another matter altogether. Yet in 2008, I found myself at the start line of the Marine Corps Marathon. Crossing the finish line 26.2 miles later was one of the greatest moments in my life. Although I was spent and every part of my body ached, I already knew I wanted to do it again. From that moment on, I have never doubted my ability to achieve ANY goal in life.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
While I sought help from every practitioner under the sun (acupuncturists, massage therapists, physical therapists, you name it) my weekly mileage was severely curtailed. I missed the ING Georgia Marathon and the Long Island Marathon while I was in recovery, and I pretty much drove my family (and no doubt my colleagues) crazy with my crankiness.
Five months and many spin classes later (I was in constant search of a runner’s high) I’m glad to report that I’ve made a full recovery (due to a long overdue visit to an orthopedic doctor) and I’m now running strong again.
Still I have to remind myself to gently ease back into running, and I’ve been able to do that (for the most part). Take it from me, there’s nothing like an injury to give you a little perspective on running. I’m now so grateful to be running again, that I never diminish my efforts – no matter what!
I pray you run well today.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Today's run also made me realize how grateful I am for the ability to run one more day. There were moments in the run when my mind and my body were at war. My body wanted to back off the pace. But my mind kept focusing on the pure pleasure of running, and viola! -- that changed everything.
Running is a lot like life. When you find yourself going through a challenge, try changing your mental response to the problem. Start viewing your obstacles as opportunties to become better, faster, and stronger.
Briefly, I'm Courtenay Brown. I can quickly describe myself as follows:
I created this blog to share my love of running with others. I am especially interested in introducing more African-American women to the joys of running and yoga. I see so few "folks" out running at lunch time or participating in local races or taking time out in a yoga studio.Hopefully my regular musings will encourage others to join in the fun. Nothing compares to sweat-induced, post-run clarity. You may be reading this and thinking, "run, I barely care to walk from point A to point B." But let me assure you, the gift of movement is one of the greatest blessings you can offer yourself.
I pray you will be encouraged by what you read here.