With dozens of local events held each and every day of the year, how the heck does a person who enjoys running even choose what to do when they don’t know what they are cut out to do? Run. Hike. Walk.
Step one is just deciding that you want to move your body.
There is never a need to rush running head over heels (I know you want to get cruising through those soft, lush winding trails though!!) – or whatever the famous saying is, into running or a new strenuous exercise. Always start slow, get the blood flowing, get the muscles loosened up and whatever you decide to do, relax your arms, legs, joints and try to move as fluidly as you can, and always be working on being fluid with movements, becoming forever more efficient step by step.
I enjoy putting my paws on new places, but I really prefer to have a set loop or circuit in the woods that I can just traverse and not have to over think – throw on the shoes, the shorts and just run some familiar terrain. All while listening to your body, your lungs, and your footfall. While some folk’s will swear that they cannot run without blaring music (me being one of them – to get pumped up or to trance out and push through the end of a long run), it can be extremely beneficial to be able to hear your feet landing or hear the rise and fall of your chest while trying to utilize your diaphragm to take in slow, deep breaths. Just doing these “maintenance runs” regularly will give you a clear idea of how (or if) you are stepping up your endurance, letting you focus on the little tweaks of a pinch in the side of your knee, or if you land too heavy on your big toe. A lot of thought can take place in an hour of running (it can be therapeutic to drift away into far off wonderlands!), but also a great place to analyze and listen your body!
It can be thrilling to use techy devices such as a watch or even just the analog clock back in your car at the trail head to keep track of how long you hit the path each session (I have a Coros triathlon watch which I hit record and then forget it is on my wrist until I finish my work out!). This is a great way to track your progression day to day, or session to session, and an extremely great motivator when you see the seconds or even minutes drop off! (Hooray progress!!) But when I set my watch, like I said, I prefer to not look at it while I am in motion. I’ll tuck it under my jacket sleeve in cooler weather or make it a point to look ahead at the trail, not at the seconds ticking by! This way I am reminded to listen to my body, my breathing, my muscles whether they may be tight if I just began running, or trying to notice the progression of the fibers becoming loose, ready perhaps to push a bit harder up hills or even down when my knees are feeling up to it – my foot landing can vary on the day, on the surface I am running on, or even the weather I’m exercising in. Sometimes feeling harder or softer, despite trying to stay light and fluid on my toes – I just seem to notice the calamity of bones landing more some days than other despite all of my attempts to be “light like a feather”.
“But I don’t even do these things, how do I pick the ‘RIGHT’ one?”
Getting back to the original topic of that ominous question I would think anyone who has taken part in an organized event has asked at least subconsciously. There really is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ event (I prefer to use the term ‘event’ because there is no rule that what you do has to be a race, plenty of folk’s do organized events for charity or just for the camaraderie experience!) for you particularly. And that is more or less what it comes down to – is racing against other competitors your calling? Even during these races it can be possible to just race against yourself and see what you are capable of! An organized ‘race’ is a fantastic place because 99% of the time there is so much support from other runners of all ages and capabilities, it’s typically about pushing yourself, meeting people and just being a nice, decent human being! 🙂
I always felt a certain selfishness about running in a certain way; it feels so good when it goes well, even euphoric perhaps on some days! But at the same time I knew that I preferred to be alone while running and did not like tripping over other people with dogs or just feeling pressured, I enjoyed the freedom of ‘my pace’ on ‘my run’ in ‘my forest’. Then there was that text message that came through, making my pocket buzz with so many questions “Can I even do this? What if I cramp up and die on the side of the trail? What if I need to poop in the bushes one mile into the race? What if my shoes hurt my feet? What if people call me out for running funny? Will I even finish this thing in the allotted time?” All of the questions flowed into my brain, a bit overwhelming of course, the most interesting part though was that none of these predicaments ever dawned on me during my day to day runs, I never felt pressure and anxiety like this over something that had always been a form of decompressing and forgetting about daily nonsense.
The message read: “I signed us all up for our first 5K!!”
I didn’t know whether I wanted to respond with “That’s awesome!” or “Oh no… what did you do now?” Turns out all of the worrying was for nothing, race day came and went and none of the other runners mocked me or pointed fingers at my slow pace. I had survived my first organized race event and even had a heck of a lot of fun while doing it! In fact, we all had so much fun getting together and watching each other come in to the finish and take our sweaty-faced post-race selfie photos, and then we made it kind of like a ritual sort of thing of going to get some super good local plant based food near to wherever we had raced. 2017 brought us a handful of 5Ks which were all fun, but toward the end of “running season”, we discussed and signed up for an event along the shore of Lake Champlain, which was organized by Racevermont.com and listed as their Season Finale, and other folk’s listed as one of the most scenic courses on the east coast. Heck yeah I wanted scenic, heck yeah I wanted to be sore the following day, heck yeah I wanted to do something that I had not yet done – I guess just to say I was once able to run 13.1 miles, if I were suddenly stricken with the inability to run.
I trained, made my own plan of how I thought I could best prep my muscles and stamina for just getting through all thirteen point one miles: I ran, pushed to 10 miles. Once that wasn’t too bad, I pushed to 12 miles and thought “I can do thirteen, I’ll try it next week!”. I did the 13.1 and on my first attempt thought “I just hit the wall at 12.5 miles, how can I do 13.1?” so I did 13-14 miles at least once a week probably 4 or 5 more times before race day and took the two or so days prior to race day light. (turns out that I did NOT at that time know what The Wall really was, I only craved my lip balm and then I somehow felt refreshed and the final mile or so was no issue..strange, I know, but that’s how it went!) The actual race went fantastic, I thought I had started (“gone out”) too fast – but I just concentrated on my breathing and making every step meaningful, and of course enjoying those views of the Adirondacks from across the Lake. I even had Ciara (she ran the 5K) there to grab some photos of me and finish the final stretch of road with me – I somehow realized that day that I was hooked; I loved to run, I loved to push myself!
For the next 8 months we really had nothing on the radar. We had recently moved to New Hampshire, both working at jobs that we really did not mind, we hiked almost every weekend and worked on our new toy: our school bus turned Tiny Home! When I first started my job, it is safe to say I had some down time. Down time to read blogs and of course – check race schedules. I was gifted the New Hampshire Trail Race Series which consisted of 5-12K trail runs just about every other weekend, I saw a lot of the same folk’s event to event. This also gave me a great opportunity to learn of new trails and nature preserves for Ciara and I to take the boys to burn off some puppy energy!
“I’m definitely not getting any younger”
This was my mantra as I perused the list almost daily at that point looking for what I thought would be “The Perfect Race”, I wanted my opportunity to run a full marathon. Something that I NEVER thought I would do, I thought of it back in my troubled twenties as a mileage territory that my body was just not cut out for. Three miles? Check. Seven miles? Check. Thirteen point one miles? Again, check! But that random number (26.2 – a nod to Greek History) that I could never remember until I saw the white oval stickers on every Toyota Prius ever driven. I wanted to check that off my life-long “want to do, but probably don’t really have the balls to try List”. I found a course up in Maine in Acadia National Park. Ciara and I stayed for the weekend in October 2017 and fell in love with the whole Bar Harbor area, so we went back in 2018 with her mother, hiked and camped, having an incredible time making vegan finger food in the back of the SUV as the sun set behind Cadillac Mountain. I had been eyeing this event, had my finger on the sign up button for nearly two weeks but just did not have it in me to jump on it, until the day I finally realized that if I did not hit “Take My Money”, I would live with the regret of not knowing what would have happened, not knowing if I was capable of running 26.2 miles. I hit the button, they took my money, and I had to break the news of what I had signed up for to Ciara.
In a fit of selfishness I had signed myself up for the Mount Desert Island Full Marathon
Which took place just a few weeks after we were due to return from our vacation get away to the very same island. Follow along for a journey through my eyes as I tackled my hardest and longest run up to that point! Was I mentally prepared? I sure thought I had read enough and ran through the day mile by mile until I could see the finish line! Was I physically prepared? I was scared shitless! While everyone told me to hit the mileage at least once to get a feel for it, I had not gone over 16 miles and was barely pushing 20 mile weeks!! Spoiler alert – I ran my first marathon, loved the pain I experienced (the oh-so-good kind!) and felt content that I had decided 4 months prior to sign up for a 50K just two weeks after the Mount Desert Island full marathon. I loved the punishment and escaping into a world where nothing mattered but just running. One foot in front of the other. I loved what I was doing because I was doing what I loved.
I am beyond excited, and feeling a bit lucky to have the opportunity to run next to Ciara while we bust out the Runamuck 50K in April (I have decided I want to start together and finish together, this is OUR run – not MY run this time, and this makes me super stoked to share!!), while there is a chance there may be cold and snowy conditions, as long as we get the hydration, nutrition and clothing layering right, I know we can do it.. and I am here to make sure we have a whole lotta fun out on the trails together!! We have a mountain run through the White Mountains planned that (luckily) falls in my birthday in June, and her incredible plant-powered mama (Tuesday) just gave us The Vegan Power 50K as a 3 person relay (Ciara, Tuesday and myself!) as a Christmas gift, which happens to fall on Ciara’s birthday this year – so needless to say we are both super psyched for what the future holds for us! Be sure to follow along, and see where the next adventure will take us!!
Much love and happy trails!!