The Plus Runner’s Rules of the Road

I’ve been running for more than 10 years now, and there are only two rules I force myself to remember, each time I go out:  1) the first mile always sucks; and 2) distraction is a perfectly acceptable way to trick myself to keep running (because, in the end, it’s always worth it).

These rules might seem a bit…oh…pessimistic.  But in my world, they’re kind of helpful.  First, the mile thing.  I like to think of myself as a car, warming up in the winter.  Specifically, a really old, gas-guzzling sedan with about 100,000 miles on it.  When you first turn the key in the ignition, said car is usually hesitant to turn over.  In this scenario, I’m the car, and my Oldsmobile 88 legs typically feel sluggish and my breath usually comes a bit hard (especially if it’s been awhile since the last run, is hot, or I’m dehydrated.)  As a result, just like that car in winter, my body takes awhile to warm up, and if I’m hovering anywhere around Pity Party Lane, I’m typically struck by the feeling that this run is going to be a lot of work.

The second rule I learned from running with my early running buddies, Karen, Becki, and Kristin.  When I first started running, they would jog along with me.  They were all more experienced runners than I was, and in much better shape.  So it was just a smidge easier for them to plod along at my pace – and, like great friends, they took on the lion’s share of the work – the conversational work.  They would tell stories, narrate the run, distract me with entertaining tidbits from their day, and before I knew it, 45 minutes would be over.   I learned then that conversation (especially when someone else was expending the energy and using up precious oxygen) was a great way to get through a run.

When I began running solo through Chicago’s neighborhoods on my nightly runs, I’d lift my eyes up to the horizon (the running gurus say to look about 20 yards ahead, at about the tree line, to keep your chin up and help airflow).  I’d look in the windows of the buildings on my street; check out the architecture of the post-Chicago Fire buildings; and, when on the path, say hello to anyone who made eye contact.  When I was really bored, I’d play The Occupation Game, where I theorized about what people did for a living.  I doubt that I was right about anyone, because really, can you tell an Accountant from his Saucony’s?  But at least I had fun – and was distracted…..

As you might have noticed, there’s a common thread to my rules: I know my enemies (the feeling that I SUCK at this…and the panic which sets in when I think I might not be able to get through 3, or 6, or 12 miles…)  and I create some coping mechanisms for them.  Perhaps it’s a “glass half empty” approach, but in my mind, I know that if I can get past the first 15 minutes, the day will get SO much easier – and it does.  Ask me around Mile 3 how I feel, and usually I’ll tell you I could run all day.    And if I keep my mind occupied through the difficult parts of my run, it usually relaxes – and then I have time to think about what’s REALLY on my mind.  I’ve often found that at my most difficult times in life, I don’t need the games, or the manufactured distractions – because life has handed me enough of my own to navigate.

So next time you’re lacing up for that run that you really DON’T want to head out for, just remember this: the first mile always sucks; and distraction – in any form – is a wonderful way to cope with what the road is throwing at you. 

See you on the path….

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