Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Hate Running...There, I Said It!

Maybe it was because I spent most of my time last week running in the streetcar tracks on the cushy “neutral ground” of St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, but when I set out for my run along the concrete, tourist-crowded sidewalks of Washington, D.C. yesterday, I was not enjoying it at all. In fact yesterday, I hated running. As I ran my 4.25 mile route (underdressed I might add, I’d gone from luscious 70 degree runs in NOLA, back to 47 degree runs in DC, and I brought shorts and a technical T-shirt to run in, instead of something more substantial), I came up with a few good reasons why I, Courtenay Brown, endorphin-addicted, sweat-induced sanity seeker, three-time marathoner (with a fourth on the horizon) self-proclaimed runner for life, hate running.

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.

Run well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ruminations of a Race Well Run

I ran the Athens Classic Marathon in Greece a year ago today. Here’s the recap that I shared with my friends and family when I returned. After taking a year off from marathoning, I have a renewed enthusiasm for the sport I love so much, and this recap reminds me of why I do.

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

Running Watchless….

I planned to do anything but run today. I’d expected the weather to still be rainy, and God knows I could NEVER run on my lunch hour in the rain and be able to put myself back together for the rest of the work day. So, I did the next best thing: I brought my yoga mat to work with me, but I left my Garmin at home, figuring I wouldn’t be running anyway.

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.