the finish line: the third time is charmed

--

when i shared my personal half-marathon anti-training program last week, i was truly uncertain of how sunday’s event would turn out for me. i’m sure i wasn’t alone in my skepticism, although i knew maintaining a positive mental state was crucial to my success. my goal was to at least match my previous two finish times of around 2:05. knowing that many have achieved a personal best on this course, i set a stretch goal of shaving a minute or two off this year. here’s the blow-by-blow.

i absolutely could not sleep the night before. i headed to bed at 10pm, planning to get up at 5am to eat breakfast so i’d have plenty of time to digest, and then maybe lay back down for awhile before getting up and dressed. in the end i was so nervous and excited that i laid there awake until 2am then dozed for a couple of hours, waking on my own a few minutes before my alarm. lee sweetly pep-talked and check-listed me, then went back to bed to wait for graham to wake. i left with a good luck kiss and the promise of seeing my favorite boys at the finish line.

--

grateful for the 7 minute drive to the stadium rather than the 47 minute drive across the metro i had for my previous races, i arrived in plenty of time, but the parking lot was already packed. i boarded the race buses (the only way to the starting line) at 6:30 and waited while the other runners trickled on. i killed the time eavesdropping on others’ loud and giddy conversations while making sure my running app was set up to the right distance goal, the right music, and connected to my bluetooth headphones. we pulled out at 7:00 and were at the top of the course by 7:15. the full marathon was well under way, but the half didn’t start for another 45 minutes, so after a visit to the water station and the porta-john, i still had half an hour to kill. (a far cry from last year’s hectic start!)

the chilly wind chased everyone back onto the shelter of the buses until the last minute, so i chatted with the other runners and played around with the nike app. i decided to use the facebook linking feature to get “cheers” from my friends. i didn’t know what to expect from this function, but this seemed like a good time to try it out. i also made the mistake of browsing my running log while i waited. i was astonished to see that i had overestimated my training runs by more than 50% (both in number of runs and in distance)! not a good time to realize that i was less conditioned than i thought! i shook it off, turned on some motivating music, and headed outside to warm up.

nike+ running app

i still had not seen any familiar faces by the time the gun went off, but i positioned myself in the middle of the pack and tried to get into a groove. the cheers from facebook started coming in almost immediately, and it was the most delightful surprise. every so often the music would fade slightly and give way to applause and whistles and hoorays. what a great idea for real-time support! the social aspect of the nike app is the reason i chose it over the myriad of other fitness apps or a separate gps device, so i was happy to find another fun feature executed well.

the first four miles flew by, my pace half a minute faster than my norm. i cautioned myself to take it easy, but i didn’t feel as if i was running any faster than usual. around mile 5 i came up on two girls from church, and ran with them for a bit before one outpaced me and the other dropped behind me. it can certainly be motivating to have a running partner, but i actually prefer the solitude and my music when racing. it’s enough to be surrounded by fellow runners without feeling tied to any one person.

the reported 531 ft elevation drop in the first three quarters of the course had me studying up on downhill running and worrying about my quads, but the grade was not nearly as steep as i imagined. in fact, it seemed more like rolling terrain with a few easy uphill sections as well. i carried on, glad i had injected some great new songs into my trusty playlist, and diligently sucking down energy gels at my predetermined intervals whether i felt like i was slumping or not.

course map

seven miles were gone before i knew it. i was still maintaining an 8:40 mile, and was amazed that neither my lungs nor legs felt overtaxed. they don’t call it the “fast half” for nothing! if i continued at this pace, i would finish in under two hours!! i tried not to get sucked into chasing the sparkly goal of a sub 2:00 time, but my secret ambition had been stirred up. i wanted it.

at mile 8 i got a surprise hug as an old family friend fell into step beside me. i had been hoping to see mike, and so i was thrilled to run a mile or so with him before he steadily moved ahead of me (the big hill at mile 9 got me). i was running a nine-minute mile by then, and every mile after that was 10-15 seconds slower than the previous one. but tenacity was on my side, and i knew i could still make my secret goal as long as i didn’t “bonk” horribly.

by the time i reached mile 11, i was tired enough that two more miles may as well have been twenty in my mind. i felt my phone buzz and looked down to see an encouraging text from my friend candice, who had estimated that i would be in the home stretch by now. it was just what i needed to rally. i fortified my mental resolve, chanted “mind over body” to myself a few times, and mustered all my remaining determination and grit.

mid racethis is the point in each race that i find my thoughts focused on my mom. she was the one with the most optimism, the most confidence, the most belief in the final mile. we were all in the race together, from the minute she was diagnosed, but it’s a lot easier to be positive and hopeful and energetic and ready to fight at the start of a battle. it’s when you’ve been beaten down repeatedly and your body and soul are weary that your bravery and perseverance are tested. she led the way with faith and a clear sense of purpose even when her troops were feeling worn out and discouraged.

i carried this motivation with me for the last two miles, even though i ran them at a pitiful pace compared to the first eleven. as i ran into the stadium i heard “triiiish!” and my childhood friend (and now neighbor), amy, ran up and gave me a quick hug as i passed. perfect. i picked it up for the final lap around the track, not about to let my far-fetched wish slip through my fingers. as i crossed the finish line at 119 minutes, i saw mike standing on the other side, arms outstretched toward me in a victorious whoop! i did it!

i found my boys, who had a series of mishaps on the way to the race, but made it just in time to see me run in the last quarter mile. (lee recounted his adventures with, “i nearly pulled a hamstring trying to hurry into the stadium with graham. it would be pretty bad if i injured myself walking from the parking lot.”)

--

on facebook i reported that i came in at 1:58 because i thought my chip time might match my app time of 1:58:55, but my official time was 1:59:05. either way, i cut six minutes off my previous times and beat the two-hour mark! we celebrated by driving directly to our church down the street, just in time for the service, and going out to eat afterward with my dad and micky. i recouped with a long shower and good nap that afternoon, and felt fantastic the next day. (although the first few trips up the stairs took longer than usual. ;) )

i’m not sure if my triumphant race results can be attributed to good luck, willpower, genetics, prayer, or just a healthy lifestyle and daily cross-training with an energetic toddler in a two-story house, but i’ll take it! i’d like to say that i’ll actually train next year and try to see if i can attain another PR, but ya know, it’s not really my style.

a half-marathon anti-training program

on sunday, i’ll run my third half-marathon to celebrate my mom’s birthday (st. patti’s day ;) ). for the past two years, i have participated in the strides of march around lake stanley draper in okc, and this year i finally get to do the A2A race in my childhood hometown. my dad and i have twice run the A2A 5k in honor of my mom, but i’ve always wanted to try the longer distance that winds down through the arbuckle foothills. with our relocation to ardmore, the timing seemed perfect. i’m ready for another installment in this particular thread of my story.

my first half-marathon went splendidly. in fact, it went so well in spite of my minimal preparation, early pregnancy, and little rest the day/night before, that i fear it made me a bit dismissive of my physical limitations. my second half-marathon fell five months after my son’s birth, and even though i knew i had not properly trained, i made the mistake of blindly trusting my body’s resilience without considering the science behind athletic performance. let’s just say that i didn’t finish strong.

i have been blessed with consistent health and energy for most of my life, and i naively underestimated aging and hormones in my expectations. i’ve also had a hard time considering myself a “real runner,” and so it didn’t occur to me to to learn about fueling strategy or sport-specific gear. i was so uninformed as a runner that i didn’t even know there is a term for what happened to me at the end of last year’s race. what i described as my body giving up is what seasoned runners call “bonking.” even most rookie racers know about the dreaded bonk.

it is quite uncharacteristic of me to neglect extensive research on anything i do, so i decided to remedy that by preparing for this year’s physical event with a very trisha-istic training plan: READ! i looked at articles on everything from when to eat before and during a race and what it really means to carbo-load, to why a woman’s hormones affect energy expenditure and how breastfeeding impacts glycogen stores. i listened to podcasts from experts and watched videos by professionals. i ordered anti-blister socks and a high-tech running top after reading tons of amazon reviews.

what i haven’t done is run a lot.

now, before you scold me for continuing to foolishly register for races without conditioning with an intentional running schedule, let me defend myself with the lamest excuse ever — i hate long runs. i know, it seems silly. but i can hardly tolerate the prolonged jog when all i can think about is my growing to-do list and how i’m bored and burning up time. race-day atmosphere is completely different with the excitement and adrenaline and companionship of other runners to keep me interested. i also hate running several days a week. my personality craves variety, and i rarely want to run more than once per week. (i have more excuses that involve baby and busyness and barometric pressure, but i’ll spare you those.)

so, no judging. i’m the one that’s putting my burning lungs and legs on the line ;). and for those who’d like to reassure me that it’s okay to walk for a bit if needed, let me introduce you to my competitive side. my brain will undoubtedly equate walking with quitting. (for me, for ME! all you half-marathon walk-run warriors are champs, seriously–13.1 is no joke.)

but the challenge of this new march tradition is something that is an essential component for me. yes, i appreciate the motivation to be active and the sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie of other racers, but the real reason i stretch myself is to pay tribute to the heroic courage and perseverance of my mother throughout her battle with cancer. maybe that is partially why i commit to long-distance running even though i know it will be a bit of a struggle. an event that inspires me to push through the discomfort and dig deep for more strength and endurance is the most fitting way i can think of to honor my mother’s enormous stamina and fortitude through her own exhausting challenge.

so that brings us to this year’s half-marathon. i wanted to preface 2014′s race with some relevant context and reflect on how my approach toward half-marathoning has evolved, because my one word for this year is all about revealing the story that connects the pieces of my life.

the finish line – a sequel

over the last year or two i’ve surprised myself with an enjoyment of running, even continuing to run up through the final days of pregnancy. after giving birth, waiting six weeks to return to vigorous physical activity was hard. then, when i got the green light, finding time to fit it in was harder. i needed a goal to make sure i didn’t let myself neglect the movement that makes me feel alive and energized.

so last sunday i repeated a feat that was a proud first for me last year, and ran 13.1 miles without stopping. it wasn’t the fairy-tale trip around the lake that i experienced the first time, but i finished!

it seems to be my m.o. to impair my race efforts with poor preparation. last year i set myself up by training too little, working on my feet the entire day before, sleeping only a few hours, and carrying an energy-zapping fetus inside me. since that race went so well (really), i suppose my confidence was a bit inflated, and i shrugged off my lack of conditioning this year. not that i felt invincible, but my body had recently impressed me with its stamina, and i trusted it to get me across the finish line again.

so, having run a total of eight times since giving birth (only one of which was longer than half the distance of the race), and carrying a sleep deficit that had been accruing over five months, i signed up to run the Strides of March Half Marathon a second time. the race was scheduled on my mom‘s birthday again this year (saint patti’s day), and so i set out to honor her with my commitment to finish strong.

getting out the door at 6:30 am was a bit more challenging with a wee one in tow, and we arrived at the race site with only 25 minutes to race time. which is not really much leeway when you have to feed a baby and go to the bathroom before you hit the starting line. poor graham was so sleepy and bewildered that he took longer to nurse than usual, but he needed to tank up to last a couple of hours without me, and i needed to downsize to comfortably wear my sports bra. (ha!)

the line for the bathroom is always crazy-long before a race, but it’s a must. so we all stood in the queue and lee pinned the number on my shirt while my dad secured the beacon to my shoe and i hopped around squealing about how cold it was. i was wearing a jacket and leggings, but decided against the hat and gloves, assuming i would warm up once i started running, as usual. (the previous day had been shorts weather, after all.)

i finally made it to the front of the port-a-potty line with about twenty seconds to the gun. i took care of business as quickly as possible, burst out the door and ran straight across the starting line. i waved to my three boys as i joined the last stragglers at the back of the crowd of racers. (so much for warming up/stretching.)

it only took two miles of facing the icy forty-degree wind to realize that leaving the hat and gloves was a baaaaad idea. my sleeves weren’t long enough to cover my hands, and my fingers were already painfully numb. i noticed a woman in front of me take her gloves off and clip them to her hip, and lusted after them for a full mile before working up the courage (desperation) to catch up to her and ask if she would like me to carry her gloves for her. ;) thankfully, she generously allowed me to borrow them for the remainder of the race. i’m not sure how i would’ve fared without them.

the first six and a half miles were great. my nose was frozen and my hands were still a little cold, but i felt energetic. dad and lee had driven to the turnaround to cheer me on, and i flashed a smile and thumbs-up as i passed by. i rounded the halfway point at the exact time of my split last year, and headed into the second half thinking i could kick it up a notch and possibly beat my previous finish time.

--

around mile 9, i lost all hope of setting a personal best. i was getting tired, and putting one foot in front of the other took more effort with each step. for the first time in my running career, it felt like my legs would fail me before my lungs. it didn’t help that everyone in this race was so fast. last year i passed at least a handful of people; this year it seemed everyone was passing me! (even though i was running around a 9:30 pace!)

by the time i hit mile 11, i reallyreally wanted to quit. my muscles were thoroughly fatigued and moving forward had become like dragging lead through molasses. i was forcing my legs onward by sheer will, praying they would not collapse under me. i tried to motivate myself with thoughts of my mother’s strength and visions of my family waiting for me at the finish line.

i had planned to sprint the last quarter-mile downhill to the end, but even as i saw the flags drawing closer and my cheering section jumping up and down, i wasn’t sure i could make it. i tried to turn on the afterburners, but the result was just me throwing myself toward the finish in the most awkward and laborious “run” that you’ve ever seen.

as soon as i cleared the finishing area, i allowed my legs to buckle and sprawled my weary body flat on the grass. through the stars spinning around my head i could see my family’s feet surround me and heard my sister squeal, “you did it!” yes, i did. and by some miracle i clocked in at 2:06–only two minutes over my previous time!

--

my one word for 2013 is grace, and i’ve certainly had to extend it toward myself over and over in the past few months. as the balance of my life continually shifts to accommodate the blessings and challenges that come my way, i know i’ll need an extra measure of grace to navigate the adjustments with aplomb. i hope i can continue to push toward my goals even when i want to quit, while having the grace to accept a less-than-perfect finish.

still running at 37 weeks

after i finished my first half marathon at 9½ weeks pregnant, i announced to lee as we left the race, “now i can just sit on my a** and get fat for 7 months!” and i kinda meant it. not having any idea what pregnancy would be like for me, i had moved my 2012 running goal up to the soonest race possible to squeeze it in before running would surely not be an option, right?

but 27 weeks later, i’m still lacing up my newtons to hit the pavement (or treadmill) once or twice a week. quite the pleasant surprise for me.

when others hear that i’m still running well into the third trimester, i usually get two questions: “why?” and “how?

WHY i continue to run:

  • it feels good – i feel better when i’m active, pregnant or not, and i wouldn’t do it if it were uncomfortable or painful. i don’t let myself get out of breath or overheated. i try to stay very in tune with my body and what i’m feeling, and so i run when it says, “run!” (and stop when it says, “stop.”)
  • i run better than i walk – when i walk for longer distances (i.e. for exercise), i can feel myself settling back on my heels, jutting my hips forward, and assuming the pregnant “waddle.” when i run, i can move my center of gravity forward and keep my hips and spine aligned, which keeps my back from getting sore.
  • it keeps me regular – this may be t.m.i., but my non-pregnant self is a well-oiled machine when it comes to moving the goods through the system. my pregnant self…a little less so. a quick run every now and then keeps me from getting bogged down. all other exercise is much less effective.

 

HOW i continue to run:

  • i don’t run as far or as often – with the exception of my 13.1 mile race, before i was pregnant i was running six to eight miles a 2-3 times a week. now i only run about three miles 1-2 times a week, and that is usually with a bathroom break or two ;).  the last time i felt like running five miles was at 34 weeks.
  • i wear a support belt – around 30 weeks i found i could go farther without the bathroom urge if i pulled the baby off my bladder a bit with a supportive maternity belt. i also felt that he had grown big enough that wearing a belt would give him a smoother ride, no matter how improved my running form is.
  • i only run when i feel like it – i thankfully have not struggled with fatigue or sickness throughout this pregnancy, but some days – or weeks – i just don’t feel like it. so i don’t run. i’m not doing this to accomplish a goal or prove something to myself. it’s simply what my body wants to do.

i’m not the first or last pregnant woman to continue running into the third trimester. in fact, those ladies are my inspiration. i did my research on necessary precautions, cleared it with my midwife, and decided i’d take it day by day. i’ll concede that i’ve had the advantage of milder late summer temps (for OK) and a flexible work schedule that allows me to run whenever i feel the most energetic, but i honestly didn’t think i’d still want to run at this point.

when so many of my familiar postures have been inevitably altered (sleep positions, pulling my knees up to my chest, bending over to tie my shoes…), it’s nice to feel like i’m carrying myself completely “normal” for half an hour. we’ll see how many more miles baby graham and i will log together…

*disclaimer: the photo above was taken 3 weeks ago. my belly is considerably bigger now.

the finish line

it’s incredibly motivating and satisfying to set your eyes on the completion of any project, big or small, and reach the finish line successfully. jon acuff is encouraging a “finish year” with his online community, and so in january i set my own list of commitments for the year. my list mostly focuses on my one word for 2012, but also includes personal achievements i think will better me.

today i’d like to share and celebrate the realization of one item on my list. i want to remember the details, because even if i repeat the experience, i don’t think it will be as thrilling as my first time.

*             *             *

one of my goals for 2012 was to run a half-marathon sometime before the end of the year. i gave myself a long window of time, because it seemed like a monumental task to tackle. (my marathoner friends, bear with me. you amaze me.) i had never run more than ten tired miles in my life, and was only comfortable with about six when i set the goal. i figured doubling my regular distance would take some time.

but when scheduling conflicts* developed and my fall race was no longer an option, i realized that i’d have to run much sooner than planned if i wanted to achieve half-marathoner status in 2012. so when i discovered a race two weeks out on my mom‘s birthday weekend, i decided to run it in memory of her and hope she and her angel friends would whisk me forward if i pooped out. ;)

the problem was, i was already scheduled to work an all-day event the day before the race. on my feet. for fourteen hours. until 12:30 am. oh, and the other problem was i hadn’t really been training that consistently, because, you know, i wasn’t planning to race for many months yet. but ill-prepared, worn-out legs, and inadequate sleep be darned, i was going to try.

the morning of the race was chilly but not cold, overcast but not raining yet, and incredibly windy. i felt good, but confirmed my backup plan just in case: dad and lee stationed themselves at the halfway point offering two choices: sugar calories if i needed more energy, and the car if i needed a ride home. so with the 33mph gusts defying us to move forward, the crowd started running at the horn.

it always takes me a while to settle into a groove, but by the third mile i was just enjoying the scenery around the lake. i didn’t carry a timepiece, instead allowing my music to set my pace. when i have a time goal, i will obsessively calculate my pace throughout a run. i wanted to enjoy the experience, and i knew if i pushed too hard i might not finish, especially under the circumstances.

previous runs indicated that i could finish in 2:15 if i maintained my average pace throughout the race. i decided i would be happy with anything under 2:30. the fastest time i thought was possible for my conditioning was 2:10.

when i hit the halfway point feeling fresh at just 63 minutes, i knew i was having a good day. i waved happily to my small cheering section, grabbed a fistful of honey packets out of lee’s outstretched hand, and turned back toward the finish line.

as i ran the second half, periodically sucking down mouthfuls of refreshing sweetness, i was grateful for the wind now at my back, the motivating tunes in my ears, and the cheerful volunteers at the water stations. i was also thankful for the little fortunes (or lack of common annoyances): earphones not straying, ponytail not drooping, clothes not chafing, knees not aching, side not stitching.

and i tried not to think about the 11th mile.

everyone told me, “if you can run ten miles, you can run thirteen.” but i couldn’t help thinking that the extra 31% seemed significant. so every step after the ten-mile mark was  a milestone for me. “this is the farthest i’ve ever run. now, this is the farthest i’ve ever run.”

at twelve miles i knew i was going to make it, so i put an imaginary bulls-eye on the back of a girl in a purple shirt who’d been about 100 yards in front of me for the last five miles. i was determined to pass her by the time we reached the finish line. with the help of a downhill grade for the last half mile, i flew past her and practically sprinted to the end.

i was shocked to see 2:04:36 on the clock as i crossed the finish line. obviously i’m thrilled with my time, but i’m honestly just as happy that that i wasn’t miserable for the last several miles that and i didn’t have to quit. it feels awesome to have one of my big 2012 goals crossed off the list. thanks for letting me re-live it here.

*UPDATE: when this post was first published, it was not public knowledge that the conflicting event on the fall calendar was my first baby’s due date. ;)

figment friday – a good one

it’s figment friday around here, and i’m still enjoying writing in response to the daily themes from figment. sharing one theme each week is still scary and uncomfortable, though. posting for this weekly commitment is the first time in 3 1/2 years of blogging that i’ve published bits of fiction. i’ve always stuck to real life, and it took me awhile to get comfortable with even that. offering something that was created in my imagination feels more vulnerable, somehow. but that’s the kind of challenge that i’m determined to meet in this year of sharing more.

the topic of the week on okieOLIO has been the story of my running transformation, so i decided to keep that theme as i wrote each day this week. i’m going to put the prompt for the piece i’m sharing today at the end so that it won’t influence the way you read it. if you’ve ever taken a class on creative writing, there’s a possibility that you’ve done a similar exercise, because it’s not uncommon among writing teachers. i chose it from this week’s themes because i know that my normal writing style works in opposition to these guidelines. here it is:

my dogs lie on the floor and watch me lace up my shoes. can we come with you? their big eyes plead. “not this time,” i say out loud as i reach for my shades. i know that this will be a good run. i can feel it. i don’t want a hard tug at the leash or pee pit stops to break up my pace.

as soon as i crack the front door, i am met with the warm, damp wind of june. it seems too warm for such a wee hour. i turn to the  dogs and warn them, “we have quite a hot day in store for us, guys.” oh, i can’t wait for the cool temps this fall! i think as i close and lock the door. but the heat does not mean a thing. my legs yearn to move and i have steam to blow off. both good signs that i can beat my goal for this run.

the path by the pond is all mine. i take the loop twice, then turn on the main road when three young boys show up on their bikes. the sun starts to rise, the wind picks up, and i turn it up a notch as a strong song plays in my ears. my feet move as if part of a wheel that rolls by it’s own force—i am just on a ride. i feel at ease as i breathe in time with my steps and the beat of the tune, and soon my mind is lost in thought.

i’m shocked when i see that i’ve made it back to my house, and i check the app on my phone to make sure i ran as far as i planned. cheered by what i see, i walk in the door and tell the ones who wait for me each day, “yeah, it was a good one.”

PROMPT: This is a prompt I love to use when I first meet a new class. I tell them to take out their pens and write me a piece–the theme is up to them. It need not be long. But it needs to be a real scene. And the sole rule that frames what they write is this: You may not use a word with more than one syllable. It sounds hard, but “syllable” is the lone word used here that has more than one.

Today’s theme comes from Nathan Englander, whose new collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, came out this week to raves.

my running playlist

after tuesday’s post about the three things that have helped me to finally enjoy running, i had a request to divulge the music i listen to while running. i was initially hesitant, because (1) there is no shortage of running song lists on the internet, and (2) several of the songs on my playlist are not good music, in my opinion, outside of running.

but i also know how long it took me to carefully curate this list (after scouring my massive music library and online suggestions for songs in the right tempo range, each has been on quite a few runs with me and have survived the never-skipped-this-track test). it seems a shame not to share it. so, in the spirit of my top 20 songs, i give you my top running tunes.

these are listed in order of tempo, meaning that they start out at 165 beats per minute and gradually move up to 180 bpm. if i feel plenty warmed up i’ll skip the few at the beginning, especially when i know i’ll be on a shorter run.

the whole playlist is 1.5 hours, which gets me through about ten miles on the (rare) days i’m really feelin’ it. but there are a few songs on here that i routinely either fast forward the first half (see #13) or skip the last half (see #28), plus a few songs need a quick FF to get through a dull intro, so a play-through usually lasts me around 75 minutes (about eight miles). that gives me some wiggle room to skip a song or two if i’m bored or tired and still get in a good six or seven miles. UPDATE: i’ve added a few essential songs, so the total time is now 108 minutes)

so, without further yapping, here are the songs that motivate me. maybe you’ll find something that works for you, too.

*fair warning: i try to keep this blog family-friendly, but a couple of these songs contain one or two potentially offensive words. if you’re not comfortable ignoring an expletive, avoid #9 and #21… oh, and #28 if you don’t skip the end like me.

—-

1. “home” by marc broussard (165 bpm) – i just like this song, so the fact that it was close to the desired bpm secured it a place on my list. sometimes i’ll listen to it as i lace up my shoes and find my sunglasses, just to get in the mood.

<a

2. “the march” by josh garrels (166 bpm) – i adore every song on love & war & the sea in between, but never thought i’d find a song to run to on it. this really is the perfect song to get your run started—a steady instrumental track with little variance.

<a

3. “you’ll find a way” by santigold (167 bpm) – a good transition into the more uptempo tracks, and definitely fun for running.

<a

4. “riot rhythm” by sleigh bells (170 bpm) - fun song. great for running or dancing in your bedroom.

<a

5. “give it up” by lcd soundsystem (170 bpm) – i discovered this one on someone else’s list, and found i really like it when running, but not so much otherwise.

<a

6. “helicopter” by bloc party (170 bpm) – i really like the part at the end of this song when (and this is where i show my lack of instrumental knowledge) the electric guitar hits the melody of high notes with each beat.

<a

7. hide u” by kosheen (171 bpm) - this song was popular in europe when i was studying there, and so i already like it for the personal nostalgia. but electronic music in general has a way of being repetitive and beat-driven…perfect for running.

<a

8. “pink” by aerosmith (172 bpm) – truthfully, as much as i love this song, sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. but i figured you probably have it in your music files, so you should give it a try.

<span

9. “lose yourself” by eminem (172 bpm) – i think this song is on every running playlist out there, and i agree—it works. the undercurrent is steady the entire song, and his words really accentuate the rhythm. (just fast forward the first 30 seconds.)

<a

10. “paper planes” by m.i.a. (173 bpm) - my husband is amused that i have this song on my playlist, because i always thought it was a dumb song while he (and tons of other people) loved it. well, now i am eating my words, because it is perfect for running. when those repeated gunshots sound on the beat, i may or may not imagine that my 007 shoes are firing as my feet hit the ground.

<a

11. “only want you” by eagles of death metal (174 bpm) – this is another song i found on a online forum that i probably wouldn’t tolerate aside from running. i actually really like the multiple extended rests they take at around 1:55-2:15…each time it kicks back in i feel a little extra oomph.

<a

12. “footloose” by kenny loggins  (174 bpm) – how can i not recognize this as one of the ultimate get-off-your-tail-and-move songs?! i don’t care how anti-cheese you are…this is a good’un.
<a

13. monkey wrench” by foo fighters (174 bpm) – this song kinda gets on my nerves, honestly, but after the first two and a half minutes of the song there’s about 30 seconds of pure energy for me. i don’t care how tired i am, when dave starts yelling a syllable per beat, i feel like someone turned on my booster engines. so i usually end up fast forwarding through most of the song and reaping the benefits of the last 1:20

<a

14.“umbrella” by rihanna (174 bpm) – it fits the tempo, and i don’t hate it. this song signals the beginning of my “coast out of the last acceleration” phase, with two mellow-ish songs following.

<span

15. “yellow” by coldplay (174 bpm) – you’d be surprised how great this song is on a run. usually i’m running in cadence with drum beats, but the intro and transitions of this song offer some strong strumming to accompany each footfall.

<span

16. “come undone” by duran duran (175 bpm) – when this song comes on i can just zen out for a few minutes before i hit my next turn-it-up song.

<a

17. “miracle drug” by a.c. newman  (174 bpm) – this has been a fave of mine for a few years, and i almost missed it when calculating beats per minute. good song, good artist.

<a

18. “go!” by tones on tail (175 bpm) – this might be my favorite song to run to. i didn’t gain to many winners from my online searches, but this one made all the clicking worth it. more cowbell!

<a

19. “a-punk” by vampire weekend (176 bpm)usually, i am energetic enough after the last song that i hardly notice two minutes of a so-so song.

<a

20. “jerusalem” by matisyahu (176 bpm) – another song that lee teases me for adding to the list, because he has always liked it while i made fun of it. what can i say? it keeps me moving when i run. and i’ve always appreciated the nice little moment at around 2:23.

<span

21. “jesus walks” by kanye west (176 bpm) – if this song doesn’t make you want to push forward in time with the marching beat, i don’t know what will.

<a

22. “can i get a…” by jay-z (176 bpm) – a nice consistent downbeat. (this is the “clean” version, but the lyrics are still…jayz-z.)

<a

23. “dancing with myself” by billy idol  (177 bpm) – too perfect not to include. the driving rhythm, the theme, billy idol… c’mon.

<a

24. “no one like you” by david crowder band  (177 bpm) – i was worshiping in my car and realized that this joyful song would be amazing for running…i was right. (“here we go!”)

<a

25. woke up this morning (chosen one mix)” by a3 (178 bpm) – once i started looking for songs with the right cadence for running, i realized that i was able to (fairly accurately) judge the approximate tempo of a song just by tapping it out on my leg as i listened. i found myself doing this any time i heard a song i liked that sounded close. yes, even while watching old episodes of the sopranos. (you’ll probably want to fast forward through the first 20-30 seconds of this one.)

<a

26. “everlasting light” by the black keys (179 bpm) – i was thrilled when i discovered that one of my favorite songs from this album fell into the target bpm range. but be warned: although i haven’t tested it all the way through, i have the suspicion that the tempo fluctuates slightly throughout the song.

<a

27. “kickstart my heart” by mötley crüe  (179 bpm) – i was recently reminded of this band and just had to add this song to the list. how could i not? it’s energetic and nostaligic all-in-one. this brings back memories of my ten-year-old self listening to dr. feelgood all summer with my cousin and being surprised i liked metal.

<a

28. “i’m not okay (i promise)” by my chemical romance (180 bpm) – another song i kinda hate when not running. but when i‘m going the distance it’s good for the first 2 minutes… then i usually skip to the next song, because the end gets all screamy.

<a

29. “bang bang” by knaan (feat. adam levine) (181 bpm) – okay, i take it back about #18. this is my favorite song on the list. it’s SO perfect for the end of a run, because i never feel tired while running to it. i don’t get how that’s possible, but i’m not going to question the gift of a strong finish.

<a

i hope some of the tracks on my playlist can bring power and stamina to your runs. if you have suggestions for adding to this list, please share in the comments. right now i’m not tired of these songs, but i know that can’t last forever.

BONUS  (click to listen to a sample):

:: songs i rotate in for variety ::
the rat” (170 bpm) — the walkmen
misery business” (173 bpm) — paramore
ocean avenue” (175 bpm) — yellowcard
curbside prophet” (179 bpm) — jason mraz
cherry pie” (177 bpm) — warrant
jumpin’ jumpin’ ” (178 bpm) — destiny’s child
screenwriters blues” (178 bpm) – soul coughing
miss independent” (177 bpm) — kelly clarkson
basket case” (171 bpm) — green day
bulls on parade (explicit)” (170 bpm) – r.a.t.m.
i hate everything about you” (179 bpm) — three days grace
:: songs i love but can’t run to (maybe you can) ::
such great heights” (175 bpm) — the postal service
the sound of settling” (176 bpm) – death cab for cutie
generator ^ first floor” (180 bpm) — freelance whales
somewhere only we know” (173 bpm) — keane
wonderwall” (174 bpm) — oasis
belated promise ring” (177 bpm) — iron & wine
neon tiger” (176 bpm) — the killers
good people” (176 bpm) — jack johnson
secret” (178 bpm) — howie day
she don’t use jelly” (174 bpm) — the flaming lips
tonight i’m gonna rock you tonight” (182 bpm) — spınal tap
fyi: i determined the bpm of a song using this handy tool, which is surprisingly fun and strangely addictive.
image via ooohcool.blogspot.com

bookworm wednesday – born to run

as i was writing yesterday’s post about how this book had a significant impact on my approach toward running, i had to exercise some real restraint not to gush about how great it really is, beyond running inspiration. today’s bookworm review is of a book that i believe has a very broad appeal: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (4.5 of 5 stars).

.

if you enjoy epic stories, you’ll like this book. if you are awed by incredible physical feats, you’ll like this book. if you are delighted by interesting characters, you’ll like this book. if you are fascinated by anatomy and physiology, you’ll like this book. if you are intrigued by different cultures, interested in science or history, or excited by adventure, you will like this book.

mcdougall’s writing style seamlessly transitions back and forth between research and information and the compelling narrative. it is his own story—his search for an answer to the nagging question of why running caused him nothing but pain.

much of the book is spent uncovering the secrets of the reclusive tarahumara indians, who for centuries have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest over the savage terrain of mexico’s copper canyon and enjoy every mile of it. but mcdougall also takes you from the high-tech science labs at harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across north america, meeting fascinating people all along the way.

i loved marveling over the ultra-athletes, learning awesome scientific and cultural facts, and feeling encouraged about my own potential. i would recommend this book to anyone. it is entertaining and informative, no matter what your interests.

(re)born to run – the formula

yesterday i confessed that i was once a slave to miserable running, but now i’ve been set free. today i’ll share the recipe that saved me as a runner.

as i mentioned, the advice i’d always received on increasing my distance–and enjoyment–usually boiled down to three main components: good form, good shoes, and good music. yet my early attempts to improve those things did not result in a notable difference. here’s why i took another look at all three variables.

running form

when i first encountered “natural running,” i was skeptical. but what i was hearing made sense, so i checked out the audio version of danny dreyer’s chi running from the library. i listened while performing the exercises according to the prompts, and was soon quite comfortable with the postures.

i’m not going to get into the specifics of how i adjusted my form based on the book, because for that you’ll have to read the book. ;) suffice it to say that i began working with my momentum, and gravity, to keep the movement unbroken and efficient.

it felt good, but habits, doubts, and the structure of my shoes caused me to waver back and forth between my old posture and the new. it wasn’t until i read the incredible book born to run by christopher mcdougall that i decided to really go for it.

and oh, i’m glad i did. completely committing to the new form was seriously like unlocking the shackles from around my ankles. it felt easy, light, and natural.

running shoe

a quality shoe is supposed to be the foundation of good running, right? well, it turns out that the real foundation is your foot, not engineered in a research lab, but created by the Maker of everything. the best running shoe doesn’t try to stabilize or correct your natural foot strike, but is designed to complement it.

after listening to dryer’s techniques, i transitioned into a more “minimalist” shoe–still from a trusted brand, but with more flexibility and less rise in the heel. truthfully, this did not work for me. i think it was the same case as above: caught in the middle, not quite dedicated to a new stride or truly natural footwear. 

when mcdougal’s story inspired me to go all in, i sought out the most natural footwear possible. (this included a brief trial of running barefoot. since i love to go shoeless as much as possible, anyway, i thought it would be great. but it’s just not practical if you like to run outside.)

once i discovered the best running shoe ever, i never looked back. if changing my form was like being released from my chains, finding this shoe was like being propelled forward by an invisible jet pack. browse around newton’s articles and videos to learn more about why this shoe is so life-changing.

running music

i am very motivated by music. it stimulates creativity when i work, energizes me when i do chores, cheers me when i’m in a funk, and inspires me to dance, always. naturally, i assumed the songs that give me extra oomph at the gym would also drive me forward on a run. not so.

well, they certainly motivated me to move, but the variance in rhythm made my pace just as erratic, which meant i was either sprinting and winded, or adopting a bounding stride to move in time with the music.

natural running proponents recommend maintaining a cadence of around 170-180 footfalls per minute, regardless of your speed. so i collected a list of songs that play at 170-180 beats per minute, and deleted everything outside of the tempo range from my playlist. suddenly running was like dancing, because i could move in sync with the music! when your foot strikes the ground with each drum beat, it almost seems as if your feet are creating the sounds. okay, maybe that’s just my active imagination.

with the new tunes, i will honestly continue running when i would otherwise deem myself spent, simply to finish the song. and then the next song often changes my quitter mind again. i wouldn’t leave the dance floor if they played another great tune, why would i stop running to the beat of a great song?

natural form + smart shoe + right music = t’s running bliss

i spent the first few decades of my life convinced i was just not made to run, when all i needed was a fresh approach to these three major elements. you may have already discovered the resources that i have. you may disagree with the concept of natural running. all i know is that i can go three times as far as i could before these changes, and it doesn’t seem like work at all. although it’s still difficult to imagine running 26.2 miles, for the first time i am considering signing up for a half marathon!

i can’t promise this formula will work exactly the same for you, but if you’ve been frustrated or discouraged by running, maybe it can be a blueprint for your new life as a runner!*

if you run, what are your keys to running happiness? if you live in the okc area, do you want a running partner?

*if you explore any changes based on my recommendation, please read articles and books and watch videos to get more instruction before hitting the road. the info here is just a summary of my experience, not nearly an adequate explanation of natural running technique. also, please heed the advice to go shorter distances while your muscles get conditioned to a new kind of use. i tried too much, too soon, strained something in my foot, and couldn’t run for awhile. (no worries, i just spent my energy riding the slopes in colorado while my foot recovered.)
image via guardian.co.uk

(re)born to run – the story

this is the story of how my lifelong abhorrence for running has been transformed into an all-out enthusiasm that makes me question my own identity. i’ve deciphered the secret code to my running happiness, and i’m a new person when i lace up my running shoes. the old me was hopelessly lost when it came to running:

before i graduated from high school, i had never run more than a mile or two at a time. i was fine with that–i hated running. i spent my teen extracurricular hours dancing at a local studio and for the school drill team (playing sports only for funsies at summer camp and church leagues), so team “conditioning” was not a part of my athletic training.

in college i made myself go 3.1 miles once a year for our sorority’s charity 5k. i joked that the stars had to align just so for me to have a good run: enough sleep, the perfect amount of the right food at the precise interval of time, the best time-of-the-month…i maintained that i was just not a “runner.”

in the years after college, a weekly-ish 2-3 mile jog worked it’s way in to my exercise routine, and i would complete the occasional 5k with respectable results, but i never got it. i enjoyed moving my body, but running didn’t feel like something i wanted to tolerate for more than thirty minutes–much less hours.

a handful of times i decided i was going to try to increase my distance, and my approach usually involved one of three things i heard often from runners: you need better form, better shoes, or better tunes.

following popular tips on posture and stride yielded minimal improvement. the latest high-tech shoes gave me a temporary spring in my step, but did nothing to increase my endurance. listening to my favorite upbeat music had mixed results: it inspired me to move, but messed up my breathing and pace.

i was focused on all the right areas, but in all the wrong ways.

tomorrow i’ll share how i looked at those three elements in a different way, and discovered a formula that really works for me.

image cropped from thisislondon.co.uk