First Time Marathoners

I have been reading various articles about research done by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell University psychology professor, on the pursuit of happiness.  These articles caught my attention because, after nearly 20 years of research, Dr. Gilovich has come to the same conclusion that I have.  If you want to be happy, buy experiences, not stuff.

Dr. Gilovich has found that we are initially happy when we first buy some material possession but over time, the novelty wears off (or as he puts it, “we adapt” to it).   For example, you certainly are happy when you buy a new car – the fancy features like satellite radio and USB ports for your electronics, and of course, the new car smell.  But then a newer model comes out with better features, the new car smell fades and along with it the happiness from that new car.  It becomes just something you own, convenience to get you where you need to go.

Experiences on the other hand become part of who we are.  Dr. Gilovich explains experiences are a bigger part of who we are than the things we own.   You can recall a funny story about your first trip to Europe or the fear you felt when flying over Glacier National Park in a helicopter.  Our experiences – both good and bad – are what define us.

So what does all this have to do with running?  Well, during my 2015 spring racing season, I met many people who were running their first marathon or half marathon.  They all had the same apprehensive look on their face the night before the race.  They were not sure that they could finish the race.  I told them all the same thing.  Relax and focus on enjoying the moment.  Regardless of how you do in that first race, you will always remember it.  And the feeling that you have when you finish is something that you can’t buy in a store.  You won’t have that same feeling ever again.  It is special and something that you will want to savor.   It is an experience that will shape who you are.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 9.24.48 PMMy first marathon was the 2007 Country Music Marathon but I remember it as if it was last weekend.  I had no clue what to expect.  I was astonished to see so many runners.  There were over 30,000 people running the race.  At Mile 10, my coach saw me and yelled at me for going out too fast.  I had been running 4 minutes per mile faster than my normal pace.  The race strategy that he had given me the night before went out the window when the starting gun went off.  I had gotten caught up in the excitement of the race – the cheering spectators along the course, the bands playing at each mile, and runners dressed in costumes – and run way too fast.

I paid dearly for failing to follow my race strategy.  In the second half of the course I ran over 6 minutes slower than my normal pace.  My coach saw me again at Mile 25.  He ran with me for the next mile before stopping at Mile 26 to give me a hug and send me off to the finish line.  When I finished, I was in pain but I was extremely happy.  It was a huge accomplishment.  I had become a runner.  Even today I can still see every turn, every water stop, and landmark along the course of my first marathon.  I can’t say that for all the races that I have done since then.

There is something else that is special about my first race.  It is a comment that I have heard other runners make about their first marathon as well.  When I finished my first race, I stopped being afraid to do things.  I had run a marathon – something that I thought was impossible for me to do but I had done it.  There wasn’t anything that could be thrown at me that I couldn’t handle.  I wasn’t invincible but I wasn’t afraid.

So next time you think you need some fancy new gizmo, stop and reconsider whether it will really make you happy.  Take a trip, visit a museum, or better yet sign up to train for a marathon.  You will be creating experiences that will last a lifetime.

Interested in reading more about Dr. Gilovich’s research?  Here is a link to a paper he published with Leaf Van Boven “To Do or To Have? That is the Question”

Anyone Can!

It was pretty hot this weekend for my long run.  I wanted to avoid the heat as much as possible so I got up super early.  There were quite a few other runners who had the same idea.  For some reason, all the runners I saw seemed to be friendlier than usual, greeting each other, smiling or just nodding.  Maybe we recognized that we all are members of the same crazy fraternity of runners who had to get their miles in no matter what the weather.  Normal people would be staying inside their air conditioned homes.

I was running the last mile of my 13-mile run on a long straight part of the trail.  I could see over a mile down the trail.  I saw a young woman runner approaching me from the opposite direction.  This runner was a bit heavier and moving a bit slow.  I noticed that when someone passed her, she avoided eye contact and looked down at her feet.  As I came closer to her, she glanced up.  I smiled and greeted her.  Her apprehensive expression softened and she smiled back at me.

My encounter with this runner made me remember reading about a study done in the United Kingdom (UK) by the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee on exercise.  The committee found that while 56% of men do not get the recommended level of weekly exercise (2 1/2 hours per week), an alarming 68% of women don’t.  The committee found millions of women are reluctant to exercise because they are afraid of being ridiculed for how they look.  This is just as bad as that whole “Like a Girl” thing.

Many of the women that they interviewed explained that they did not want to be seen as someone out of breath and “struggling at the back” of an exercise class or a running group.  The report found that girls as young as ten avoided physical education class because of their concern over their body image.  Some of the women reported that they ran on a treadmill in a shed behind their house because they did not want to be seen in public.  It makes me sad that women are so self conscious about their appearance while exercising that they don’t, or go to great lengths to hide when they do.

I am certain that these feelings are not unique to the UK.  If they did a similar study in the US, the results would probably be the same.  When I first started running, I felt out of place.  The image that I have always had of the perfect female runner is a girl with her hair in a bouncy pony tail, short boy shorts, long skinny legs and a crop top displaying flat abs.   That will never be me.   Perhaps the young woman I saw on Saturday felt the same way.  I didn’t let my preconceived notions of the ideal female runner stop me.  My shape is different and always will be.  That is ok.  These feelings of inferiority are really not unique to women either.  I know men who have felt intimidated by other men who appear more trim and athletic to the point that they won’t get out to exercise.

Sport England, in partnership with other organizations, started the “This Girl Can” campaign in the UK to help “inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.”  The campaign encourages women to go out and exercise no matter how well they do it or how they look.  If it were me, I wouldn’t limit this campaign to women.  I think the message should be for everyone – men and women.  We all can!

Running on the trail is not just for the 10 percenters (I mean body fat, not wealth).  It is for everyone, regardless of your sex, your shape or how fast you go.  I wish I could find the young woman I saw on Saturday.  I would tell her to keep her head up and keep on going.  She looks great!

This fun video is part of the “This Girl Can” campaign.

Running Buddies

I have a friend, Jane, that I use to run with a couple times a week.  Although she is a much faster runner than me, it was a good way to train while enjoying lively conversation.  Our schedules don’t mesh very well these days and we don’t see much of each other.  It had been a long time since we enjoyed a run together.  I wanted some company so I texted her on Saturday to join me for my weekly long run.  We met up the next day and slid right back into our old running routine.  It was great to have my running buddy back and catch up.  I really miss running with Jane.

Having a running buddy is a good idea for a number of reasons.  First, it is a safety issue.  I was running alone last September when I fell and broke my arm.   Although I looked pretty beat up after my fall, several people passed by me and didn’t ask if I needed any help.  I was fortunate someone finally stopped and helped me out until a friend came to take me to the hospital.

Since my mishap, I have heard many stories about people who were out biking or running alone and had an accident.  In one case, a biker fell and was lying semi-conscious on the ground bleeding.  Several runners and bikers passed the person without offering assistance.  I am disturbed that no one helped someone in obvious need of first aid.   We all learned the buddy system in grade school and it works, especially for activities like running or biking.

Second, there is accountability.  Let’s face it.  There are some mornings where rolling out of bed to go for a run is the last thing I want to do, especially those cold winter mornings where a warm bed is much more appealing.  With the summer heat it is better for me and my TM to run before the sun gets high in the sky.  When it is really hot out, I have to get up by 4:30 AM to start running early.  Getting up that early in the morning is difficult.  I am a runner, not a farmer.   I find when I have agreed to meet someone at a certain time to run, I have more incentive to get dressed and head out to meet them.  In the end, I am always glad that I got out to run with my friends.  I can always take a nap later in the day.

Finally, there are training benefits.  My running coach recently told me to talk or sing out loud while I ran.   She explained that this helps develop lung capacity and breath control.  Although I probably looked like a crazy woman, I tried it.  It took me most of my run to find a song that I could easily sing while I ran.

When I run with someone, we are talking – about our families, books we have read, movies we saw, or upcoming races.  We don’t look crazy; we are just doing normal stuff.  Sunday I was chatting up a storm with Jane.  It was fun to see her plus I got a workout on my breathing.

I am back to training for the Berlin Marathon (hey, wasn’t I doing that this time last year??).  Although my training schedule is not in synch with that of my running friends, I will try to run with some of my friends during weekends, even if it is just for part of my run.  A little bit of company is better than going it alone plus it is safer and I don’t have to look like a crazy woman talking to myself.

Find someone to join you on your next run.  You will be doing both of you a favor.

Along Comes Mary

I have a friend, Mary, who I met through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT) back in 2008.  Mary is someone that everyone likes.  She is intelligent, witty, and what I would call “a good person”.  I don’t think there is a mean bone in her body.  More importantly, I think Mary is a terrific role model for anyone looking to get more active and improve their health.

Mary’s mother was a physical education teacher.  Mary, on the other hand, was not very athletic, more of a couch potato.  When her mother died from blood cancer, Mary was motivated to join TNT.  She signed up to run a marathon and raise money to help fight the cancer that took her mother.  By her own admission, Mary hates to run.  But Mary trained hard and on race day she finished her first marathon.

Like many people who join TNT, she got caught up in the comraderie and signed up for a few more seasons with TNT.  She completed the Disney World Goofy Race and a Half Challenge – a half marathon and full marathon on consecutive days.  It was a huge achievement for her but one she had to work hard to do.  Through it all, Mary still hated to run.

Then Mary’s father passed away.  He had difficulty adjusting to the loss of his wife.  He had come to live with Mary but his health started to decline.  A few years after Mary lost her mother to blood cancer, she lost her father.  Mary felt that blood cancer took them both.  Mary signed up again to run for TNT in memory of both her parents.  This time it was more difficult for her.  Work disrupted her training.  On race day she fell in the middle of the race and ended up being picked up by the sag wagon.  It was a low point for her.

As Mary puts it, she was “two feet too short for [her] weight” and “didn’t feel healthy.”  That’s when Mary decided to take a different approach.  She found a gym that gave semi-private training and had a very supportive staff committed to helping their clients reach their fitness goals.  While some gyms might have thought Mary was a lost cause, these people embraced her and helped her be successful at what she could do.  The end result was Mary began enjoying exercise, which reinforced her commitment to keep at it.  She lost over 40 pounds, and more importantly, she gained self-confidence.  Mary went back and ran that marathon she dropped out of two years earlier.  Instead of a DNF (Did Not Finish), she got a PR (Personal Record) for the marathon.  This year she ran the Disney World Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon over 4 days) but she still is not a fan of running.

Recently her gym put together a team to do a bike ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association.  Mary joined their team and planned to complete a metric century ride (normally 62 miles but, for some reason, the Diabetes folks made their metric century 68 miles).  The ride was this past Sunday.  I was out on my weekly long run when Mary passed me early into her ride.  I yelled out to her and she beamed me the biggest smile as she rode by.  I can’t say that I have ever seen her wear a smile that big during a marathon.  I think Mary has found her sport.  I run; Mary rides a bike now.

IMG_2030The lesson we can learn from Mary is that when it comes to exercise, you need to do what you enjoy.  Otherwise, you probably won’t exercise.  Maybe it isn’t running.  It might be yoga or biking or hiking or going to a gym like Mary’s.  Whatever it is, the important thing is that we all just need to keep moving.

Happy Anniversary, Funatical Runner!

Today is National Running Day and the anniversary of the debut of the Funatical Runner.  It is hard to believe that a year has past since I started this blog.   In my first blog post I wrote about Harriette Thompson who had just run the fastest marathon for women over the age 90 – 7 hours, 7 minutes, 42 seconds.  Well, here we are a year later and Harriette has done it again!  She set another world record this past weekend when she became the oldest woman to complete a marathon at 92 years and 65 days old.  What a perfect story for National Running Day!Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 11.36.18 PM

Harriette is an incredibly strong woman.  She has lost many family members to cancer – both of her parents and three brothers.  She started running at the age of 76 to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for her brother who died from lymphoma and has raised over $100,000.  This past January Harriette’s husband died at the age of 90 from cancer.  Harriet has survived three bouts of cancer herself.  It is a disease she knows all too well.

Harriette has gotten lots of publicity over the last few years because of her marathon running.  Let’s be honest.  There aren’t a lot of 90+ year old women running marathons.  But through the attention, she has inspired all sorts of people to become more active – young people; older people; people with weight issues; even people in wheelchairs.  Many people look at her and say if Harriette can do it, there is no reason why they can’t run too.  And they do.

I had been wondering if Harriette was going to run again this year.  Then on Friday I saw her hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, featured her in an article.  There was lots of excitement brewing because Harriette was heading back to San Diego to run the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon for the 17th time (it is the only marathon that she has run).  The race organizers paid to fly her first-class to San Diego.  They paid for her hotel.  She got VIP treatment on race day and got to meet my favorite marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, before the race.  She even had a personalized bib with her name on it like one of the elite runners.  Reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox followed Harriette and were waiting at the finish line for her.

It wasn’t in the bag that Harriette would be able to finish.  She hadn’t gotten all the training she needed going into the race.  Last year, she put her training on hold to spend time with her husband before he died.  Her longest run before Sunday’s marathon was an 11-mile run/walk.  It is a big jump to go from 11 miles to 26.2.  She was battling an infection in her leg that hampered her training.  Plus I am sure that all the attention from the media added to the pressure and made it difficult to get rest before the race.  I think that even Harriette wasn’t certain she could do it.

Her son, Brenneman (or Brenny), came along to run the race with her.  Harriette has some balance issues and tends to lean to one side.  Her son kept an eye on her to make sure she stayed upright as they ran.  Brenny also protected her from enthusiastic fans who could have accidentally knocked her over with a high five or an encouraging slap on her back.  He fed her carbs to keep her going.  And of course, he took lots of videos and photos with his iPhone to record her achievement.  Together they finished the race in 7 hours, 24 minutes, 36 seconds.

After the race, Harriette felt exhilarated – and tired.  She has said she feels like a million dollars when she finishes a marathon.  Any marathoner can understand that feeling.  It is what keeps us signing up for race after race.

I wonder if Harriette will be in San Diego again next year.  It is physically demanding to run a marathon.  But training for a race keeps Harriette active all year long.  She believes that running is keeping her alive.   She knows she inspires others and I think that is another reason why she keeps running.  I sure hope she makes it to San Diego next year.  I want her to be part of my National Running Day celebration again.

Jeff Galloway wrote Running Until You’re 100, a book to help runners in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s run injury free.  While researching this book, Jeff found numerous studies showing the beneficial effects of running on the bones, joints, and heart.   Jeff’s run-walk-run method is one that I follow and is ideal for older runners who want to stay active.  Remember you don’t have to be a fast runner.  You just need to move at whatever pace you can – running or walking.  Just don’t stop!