Tuesday, May 17, 2011

10 Things I Learned on the Path

Here are some observations I made while training for the 2008 Chicago Marathon.  While this doesn't refer specifcally to biking, the same principles apply, and I will refer to this essay from time to time:

10. You have to start somewhere, and getting started is the hardest part. Making changes is tough. I was not a runner by any stretch of the imagination, and I really was not looking forward to this quest. But I wanted to challenge myself and make some lifestyle changes, so I started. I got up every morning and did what my schedule told me. 5 months later, I completed a marathon.

9. You can't start at the end. You don't just get up one morning and run 26.2 miles. Constant focus on the end goal will either defeat you or make you impatient. You do what you have to do for that day.

8. Break things down into manageable goals. In my training, I broke my runs down into how many water and nutrition breaks I would take. During the marathon, I ran from water station to water station. I always had a goal I knew I could reach. As I achieved each goal, I got closer to the finish line, and before I knew it, I was there. I would never let myself think about how far I still had yet to go.

7. Toenails are for sissies. While running in the marathon, I kept seeing signs on shirts and on the side of the course displaying this truth. It wasn't until got to the end of the race that I realized I had a blood blister under my toenail, and I too am going to lose a nail. The point is, losing a nail is a sacrifice runners expect to make. What sacrifices are you willing to make?

6. There is no room for negativity. During the course of my training, I kept running into a "two mile" wall. When I went on my longer runs, I seemed to crash two miles before the end. After much analysis, it turned out that at the two mile mark, I would "see" the finish line, recognize how tired I was, and I would shut down. One negative thought would cause my leg to cramp up. We have that much control over ourselves.

5. What you put into yourself is what you get out. Note: When you eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food the night before a 16 mile run, don't expect much. The next morning, ten miles into a hilly course, I was done. Out of gas. I walked four miles home in the heat, and eventually had to be picked up. This lesson also applies to other facets of life as well. What you are putting into your body, mind and spirit is what you get out.

4. You HAVE to rest. One of the beauties of running on a schedule is the day where all it says is "REST". You look forward to that day, because after a 40-mile week, you need a break. So I took rest days seriously. You should too.

3. You can't let one setback defeat you. On one particular week, I had just completed a 16-mile run, done a full week of training pain-free, and was setting out for a nice 12-mile run. 5 miles into it, my leg locked up and I found myself sitting on the side of path, bewildered. I tried to work through it, but the cramp wouldn't let up. I had to walk the 5 miles home, and was utterly defeated. I began to lose hope that a marathon was attainable. But come Tuesday, I got up, ran my miles for the day, and just kept following the schedule as if I had never had the setback. Although my longest run for the period was 16 miles, I refused to let that convince me that I could not do 26.2.

2. If you are struggling to find time with God, go for a run. When I first started, I hated being alone with my thoughts. I would crank up my MP3 player, anything to distract myself. By the end, I would leave my MP3 player at home, and as I settled into my run I would say, "So, God, what do you want to talk about today? We have a couple of hours."

1. Don't scrunch your toes. When I started running, I would hit the three-mile mark and experience tightness in my left leg. It was like clockwork, Some days I would run through it, most, I ran with it. On the last morning of training before the race, I was doing my running inventory, "How's my breathing? How are my legs? Am I relaxed?" When I got down to my feet, I realized my right foot was really relaxed and my left foot was tight. Upon further examination, it dawned on me that for five months, I had been running with my toes curled, which also explained why I had blisters on the tips of my toes! All this time, I had been running with a limp. Some of you reading this right now may be running through life with a limp, and it's hampering you from enjoying the full experience. But we've all grown so accustomed to the pain, we think it is normal. Trust me, it's not. If there is something that is causing you to limp, start working on correcting it. It may take awhile. It took me five months, but in the end, I completed a marathon with no leg pain, and I'm gearing up to do another challenge.

Gotta run,