Rediscovering My Passion

Passion is a word we frequently hear when people talk about their professional work or their hobbies.  Their passion motivates them to work hard and pursue their goals. Being driven by one’s passion can lead to amazing achievements but it also can lead to burn-out.  In order to stay motivated, we need to ensure our passions do not dominate our lives to the point of being detrimental.  I have learned this with my passion for running.

A couple weeks ago I came home from my last half marathon really tired.  Perhaps it was Transverse Myelitis (TM) reminding me that it rules a big part of my life.  Or maybe it was the fact that I had run a lot of races in a short span of time.  I wasn’t tired of racing – I had fun traveling to races over the last few months. I was just physically tired.  Either way, I knew I needed some R&R.

As my massage therapist, Jen, worked on my sore muscles, I explained to her that I was taking a breather from running.  Jen knows me too well.  With a raised eyebrow she asked me when I last ran.  “Oh, two days ago I ran 6 miles and I plan to run a 4-mile race on Saturday night” I replied.  She laughed, “That’s not a breather.  That is just a breath!  You need a real break.”  Score one Jen.

When I ran that 4-mile race, it was very hot.  TM doesn’t like heat and my legs felt like lead weights.  During the whole race, I was questioning why I was running.  This was stupid.  I could be home in the air conditioning, watching tv.  As soon as I finished the race, I grabbed a bottle of water and headed home.  Later that night when I pulled up the race results, I discovered I had come in first in my age group – that never happens.  The first time I win my age group and I hadn’t even stayed for the awards ceremony!

On my training schedule for the next week, my running coach planned a week of R&R.  She only included activities like stretching, yoga, getting a pedicure, and walking the dogs.  I hadn’t taken time off from running since I broke my arm over 18 months ago.  It was strange not getting up early 3 times a week to head out for a run.   I didn’t think about my next race.  I couldn’t get my brain focused to write my Funatical Runner blog.  On the positive side, I didn’t have piles of soggy running gear waiting to be washed.  Sleeping in felt pretty good too.

I started to wonder if I really wanted to keep running. It didn’t help that I read an article by Daniel Engber, a columnist for “Slate”, on why he thinks running is a “risky, fruitless hobby.”  According to Daniel, runners could spend time doing so many other more useful things in the hours they would have spent on “worthless locomotion”.  Instead of spending hours training, he suggested runners could do things like learn a new skill to start a new career or perform a community service.  He introduced the idea of the “Anti-Marathon” – getting runners to focus on activities with “better and more lasting” use.

I have to admit.  I gave some thought to what Daniel wrote.  Perhaps he was right.  The world was my oyster – I could do anything.  I could learn to paint or take up photography.  I could do things where I didn’t physically hurt when I was done.  I started asking people to suggest new hobbies.  I got plenty of suggestions but nothing really interested me.

One day as I was driving I heard the song “I Lived” by One Republic.  I included their video for that song in an earlier post.  Hearing that song made me remember why I run.  It may be work to train for a race but it is exhilarating to cross a finish line. Yes, I could have traveled as a tourist to Berlin, Tokyo, London, Utah, Vermont, or the many other places I have gone for races.  But experiencing these places as part of a race is different than strolling through them on a sightseeing tour.  I see them with a totally different set of eyes.  More importantly, running is keeping me healthy.

Back out on the trail for a run

Back out on the trail for a Sunday morning run

I started running again this week.  It was still hot but I found ways to stay cool as I ran 11 miles the other day.  I felt energized at the end.  The way it should be.

Whatever your passion may be, it is healthy to step back and take a break.  It will give you an opportunity to remember what got you started in the first place. More importantly, a break will prevent you from getting to the point where your passion causes suffering instead of joy.  By stepping away, though briefly, I was able to remember why running is my passion.

R & R

Local businesses welcomed runners to Woodstock

Local businesses welcomed runners to Woodstock

One thing I have never done well is take a break to rest and recuperate.  I have some sense of urgency about achieving my goals, running as much as I can, checking races off my “to-run” list.  Maybe Transverse Myelitis is making me feel that way, making me not want to waste a moment being idle when I can be out running.

Recent events are a good example.  During a seven-week period, I ran one marathon and four half marathons.  That is on top of running during the week to stay in shape.  It was not surprising when I got home from my last race – the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont – I felt tired.  I need a break so I asked my running coach for a week off from training.  I could tell from her response it was something that she had been thinking about too.

When I first started running with Team in Training, our coach told us that we should take one day off from running for every mile we ran in a race.  If we ran a marathon (26.2 miles), we should not run for 26 days.  My schedule of running as many races as I can during the cooler spring and fall months doesn’t leave me much recovery time between races.  Lack of recovery time, on the other hand, is not helping me.  It took me almost six months to fully recover from twisting my ankle during the Berlin Marathon.  I never stopped to let it heal.  Elite runners don’t run as much as I do.  Frank Shorter once told me I was crazy to run eight half marathons and one full marathon in a year.  I wonder how he would react if I told him I ran thirteen half marathons and three full marathons in 2015.

I recently came across a study (published in the American Journal of Pathology in February, 1985) indicating that marathon runners experience “exercise-induced muscular necrosis”.  (Necrosis means the “localized death of living tissue” – not a good thing.)  The study found that it takes seven days for the body to repair the muscle damage and reduce the inflammation that results from running a marathon.  Running back-to-back races means my muscles aren’t getting the time they need to repair.   And I wondered why my body always hurt.  I never give it a chance to recover.  Although taking time off from training is difficult for me to do, a break, even a week off, is necessary.

IMG_5196As for the Covered Bridges Half, this is a popular race in the New England area.  They sold out the 2,300 registration spots in eight minutes.  The race started at the Suicide Six Ski Area.  (I can add ski slope to my list, although we didn’t run on it.)  The predominately downhill course took us through the beautiful countryside of Vermont, over one cover bridge and past two others.  Another race with lots of eye candy.  IMG_5211Woodstock is a lovely little town with many interesting stores, including Gillingham’s General Store (established 1886).  I was glad I had time to do some sightseeing and shopping before the race.

Beautiful ferns along the country road outside Woodstock

Beautiful ferns along the country road outside Woodstock

So if you have been running a lot and are feeling tired, take some time off.  A break will help your body repair itself.  During your break, practice some yoga, go to a Pilates class, do light stretching.  When you resume training, you will feel reenergize and ready to go again.

I found the best flannel shirts and pjs in Woodstock at the Vermont Flannel Company store.  If you like flannel, you will love theirs.

I loved Farmhouse Pottery.  I bought some fancy water bowls for my dogs – beautiful and functional souvenirs, though I don’t think the dogs will notice.

Running with My Heart

Bench outside Fleet Feet store in Coeur d'Alene

Bench outside Fleet Feet store in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Happy National Running Day! And Happy Anniversary to the Funatical Runner blog.  I started writing this blog in 2014 on National Running Day. When I started writing, my goal was to run a marathon on all 7 continents. The blog was going to be a way for my friends and colleagues to track my running adventures. Things have morphed since then. A year into my blog I realized traveling to Africa and probably South America was going to be risky because of my Transverse Myelitis, an autoimmune condition. I am not certain how my body would react to any immunizations I might have to get to visit those places. I don’t want to get immunizations that would cause a flare up of my Transverse Myelitis symptoms. I ended up scrapping my 7 Continent goal.

I still planned to run a marathon in Antarctica. I continued to read everything that I could find about other runners’ experiences in the “Last Marathon” (as Marathon Tours calls it). Some of the stories mentioned runners falling on the icy surface and having other challenges during the race. Then I broke my arm during a training run. The long rehabilitation process to regain my range of motion made me reconsider whether traveling to a remote part of the world on a ship in heavy seas would be a good idea. If something bad would happen to me down there, I would be very far from an emergency room. I recently made the difficult decision to cancel my reservation to run in Antarctica next year.

My new goals are to run 1) a marathon or half marathon in each of the 50 States and 2) run each of the 6 Major Marathons. When I started writing this blog, I had only run races in 12 states plus the District of Columbia and none of the Major Marathons. If I was going to reach my goals, I had a lot of running to do. I joined the 50 State Half Marathon Club and started plugging away at my 50 State goal. I started running half marathons all over the country while I was training for marathons (much to the frustration of my running coach). As of today, I have run half or full marathons in 32 states and have completed 3 of the 6 Major Marathons. (“My Endurance Races” page shows my progress towards my goals.) In total I have run 12 marathons and 41 half marathons since I started running in 2007. It is hard for me to believe. I had only planned to run one marathon when I laced up my first pair of running shoes back in 2006.  I started running but just couldn’t stop at that first finish line.

View from the Coeur d'Alene race course

View from the Coeur d’Alene race course

IMG_5116This past weekend I ran the Coeur d’Alene Half Marathon in Idaho (state #32).  [Coeur means “heart” in French.] Coeur d’Alene is on a beautiful lake surrounded by pine-covered mountains. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to run. Plenty of eye-candy to keep me going. Those nice big mountains meant the race course had some serious climbs. There was a hill with a 2% grade at Mile 4 and Mile 7. I had expected to be moving pretty slow because of those hills.  At the end of the race, I was surprised to still be running fast.  I felt great.  It was a small race (just what I like).  There wasn’t any course entertainment but the residents made up for it, standing with signs and cheering us on.   The Coeur d’Alene Half Marathon is one of my top 10 favorite races to date.

Super Hero corner along the Coeur d'Alene race course

Super Hero corner along the Coeur d’Alene race course

I have more races scheduled. By the end of the year, I will have completed half marathons in Vermont, Maine, Nebraska, Washington, and New Hampshire while I train for my next Major Marathon, the Chicago Marathon. I enjoy my running adventures now as much as I did 2 years ago when the Funatical Runner was born. I know that running is helping to keep me healthy plus my travels take me to interesting parts of the country and world. While Scott Adams may say that goals are for losers, I think I’m winning with mine.  🙂