Lost: Running Mojo. If Found, Please Call…

…Me.

I started this post awhile ago. In fact, a couple days after I posted about my race in November. You know, over 2 months ago. I wanted to write this post like a motivated cheerleader and impart my love of running to all those that read this, complete with cartwheels and multi-person pyramids. It is the new year after all, and everyone seems to be getting into the motivated, running spirit. If I’m being completely honest, I fell into a little bit of a rut. I lost my running mojo! Initially, I had no idea how to get it back. I’d been battling a respiratory cold/illness/congestion thing. It aggravated my asthma and I started having attacks on seemingly every run I went on. Not really conducive to keeping the cheerleader spirit now, is it?

Two weeks of running without a mojo. It’s nearly impossible. Running didn’t excite me anymore. Three days went by without running and I didn’t feel like I could consider myself a runner anymore. A number of factors went into this: my stupid injury, the suddenly short days, frigid air, and the approaching end of semester with its plethora of projects and endless studying.

In my head, these were just excuses. But, valid nonetheless. I was hoping it would magically reappear. My desire to run, that is. I know all runners face this at some point, but I felt worthless and pathetic. And then I found this article and this song:

Now, I’m not saying these two things were the cure-all. But, you know that feeling when you discover a new song and you want it on repeat for days? You can’t help but sing aloud and dance around your room in your underoos? …Okay, maybe not the last part. Song addiction though. You binge on the song and it gives you a little boost every time it comes on. You smile to yourself. Your days brightens just ever so slightly. This is what happened with “Counting Stars.” It helped me to realize a couple of things:

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First, there is an ebb and flow to most things in life. Not to sound cheesy, but it’s like the ocean tide. At times, those waves ebb further and further away from the shoreline. And sometimes they come in full, crashing waves against the shoreline and encompass everything around. This was clearly an ebb of running in my life. I had to realize that it was perfectly okay. I hadn’t fallen out of love with running. I was tired, stressed and a little disappointed in my performance at the Happy Girls Run in November. (Full report here)
Too much of a good thing is a real concept. So is burn out. As is giving your body time to heal. Even more than that, I realized that I hadn’t been giving myself credit for the running I’d been doing, the accomplishments. It was time to take a step back.

The second thing was really an epiphany, if we’re being real here. I don’t run to continually accomplish goals. I run because it is now a part of my lifestyle. It is my lifestyle. I’m a runner. It’s like brushing my teeth. It is an integral part of my life. With this realization came a bit of relaxation. I don’t have to be constantly on it to consider myself a runner. Yes, goals are healthy and keep one motivated. But sometimes it’s just good to run to relax. Like I used to. Running used to be my catharsis, not something that stressed me out. I needed to revisit that cathartic running and appreciate that I don’t need to be doggedly chasing goals at all times.

I don’t know that I’ve actually found my running mojo again. What I have found though, is some form of clarity and/or sanity in my running little mind. Part of this clarity came when I had a short conversation with an older neighbor of mine, of whom I dearly adore. He looks like Santa Clause, but is a running beast. He runs 7 miles, 6 days a week in all types of weather for as many years as he can remember (30+.) He returns home to Belgium once a year to visit family and they all run a 10k race together. If I’m lucky, I’ll see him on a couple of my usual running routes. We have small chats, and he always, always has a smile on his face. The particular chat I’m referring to though, he greets me by saying, “Lighter feet, lighter feet!” in his brusque accent. I was dragging heavy that day, as I was running without mojo and it was raining. He slows down and says, “Your running has increased tenfold this year. It makes me smile to see someone out here just as crazy as myself.” I laughed and said, “thank you!” He then continued on his hustlin’ way and I on mine (not so hustlin’.) I don’t care what you say, my day was made!

So, here’s a little reflection. Here is what I need to stop and give myself credit for. In 2013, I ran three half-marathons. I ran my first marathon. I ran my fastest mile, my fastest 5k, 10k… PRs across the board. I inspired others to begin their love affair with running. I accomplished goals, fulfilled intentions. There’s something to be said in that.

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The week before beginning dental hygiene school, we took a tour of the main campus (I attend the health professions campus.) Part of the tour included walking through a labyrinth. Prior to walking through, our program director had us grab a stone out of a basket and reflect on it as we started our small journey. The above photo is the stone I drew from the basket. “Inspire.” It could not have been more perfect. This is what I aspire to do in every aspect of my life. As I traipsed around the spirals of the labyrinth, I thought of who had inspired me to get where I am now, how they’d inspired me, and what kind of attitude I needed to reflect to be able to do the same thing. The attitude? Staying positive, rolling with the ebbs and flows of the tide, enjoying the ride, but never forgetting to keep my sails directed towards my goals, intentions, and dreams.

Oh, I sound so cheesy…That’s what overthinking gets you, I suppose. I truly mean these words though! You, lovely readers, are getting the good and the bad in this post. We can’t always be cheerleaders and coaches. That amount of enthusiasm constantly isn’t real, people. What is real though, is being able to take a step back and look at things objectively. Evaluate. Give thanks.

In evaluating recently, I’ve made a decision. Due to an aforementioned leg injury over thanksgiving break, I’ve stepped down from running my 50k ultra next month. (Big, giant pouty and sad face.) It’s not that I couldn’t make it across the finish line, it’s that I want to finish strong. And, of late, I haven’t kept up my base of running enough to accomplish that. I’ve been allowing myself to heal (somewhat), so that I can choose another ultra and rock the socks off it! I’ve swapped my race entry though, and am going to run the 25k on that same weekend. I can’t throw in the towel entirely!

One thing I’d mentioned earlier with my lost running spirit was my asthma. It’s not something I’d touched on before, as I’ve always viewed it as a sign of weakness. Though, it is clearly not. I have sports-induced asthma. When I began training in 2012, I could barely run a mile without my lungs giving me grief. I used to carry an inhaler with me, and I used it before every run. I began testing myself though. I’d start my runs without Albuterol. So I learned that the more I ran, the further I could go without having an attack. The exception to that being the change of seasons. When the air started to turn crisp or suddenly warm again, my lungs would give me hell. This season though, I didn’t get a new inhaler. What a shame that proved to be. For some reason, regardless of my increased endurance, my asthma is right back to where it used to be. Inhaler needed before mile 2. And that is perfectly okay. 

I leave you with a phrase that has been floating in my brain for a few days now. Read it. Chew on it. Slowly.

We run both to lose and to find ourselves.

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Like a Ninja

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I looked out the window and thought, “Ugh, it’s raining. No one wants to go running in this.” Then, I had a reality check. I am not the Wicked Witch of the West, I am not made of sugar, and I am not water soluble. The rain isn’t going to make me melt, nor is it going anywhere any time soon. This is the Pacific Northwest. I better damn well get out there, get used to it, and use my integumentary system to the fullest of its protective abilities.

That being established, I went on a wonderful 6 mile recovery run. Recovery run? Yes, a run to recover from running. An easy run. One that is preferably devoid of any type of tracking device. A run more for your mind than your body. It is to remind yourself of why you run. Rekindle the love between your running shoes and the hard ground. This particular recovery run was very restorative, to both mind and body. I was feeling a little down after my performance in my last half-marathon. I took the time on my run to reflect on what motivates me, what drives me to lace up my shoes 6 days a week, and why I had suddenly become so competitive with others instead of just myself. It was only 2 days after my half, and the negative self-talk had to stop. This run was a cure-all. I returned home drenched with the perfect combination of sweat and rain and a giant smile pasted across my face. I had remembered how to run happy.

The Happy Girls Run half-marathon in Sisters, Oregon on November 2nd was beautiful. Central Oregon was the perfect change of scenery. Pine trees, red soil, and crisp air. Pine needles made itself a lovely ground cover intermixed with a little mud through the entirety of the 13.1 miles of single-track trail. The weather report said there was a chance of snow for the weekend of the race. Thankfully,  the frozen white stuff did not show itself the morning of the race, but the air was of the kind that cut straight to your lungs. To add to the beauty of the area, halfway through the race itself, we ran along the edge of Peterson Ridge that overlooked the little town of Sisters and the valley below. Not only was the view at once breathtaking and distracting, but the rainbow that had spread itself across the saturated grey sky increased the view tenfold. As beautiful as it was, you couldn’t stare too long. The trail was rather uneven and rocky at this point, and any glance away from the ground was a surefire way to trip and fall.

Beautiful scenery aside, this girl was anything but happy during that race. I started off like a shot. 7:30/mile pace for the first 4 miles. I ran alongside (technically directly in front of, as it was a single track trail) a woman who told me of her previous races she’d run. My favorite was the thought of running a marathon in Hawaii. Yes, please! I love how distracting conversation can be during a run. At the start of mile 5, she tells me, ‘I’m going to turn it on for a bit’ and took off. I didn’t see her until after the race.

It was a crisp 40 degrees F on race morning. The kind of cold that makes your nose run (get it, get it?). Right about this time, I reach up to wipe the snot from my nose — yes guys, girls have boogers too– when I realize just how much serous liquid is coming from my nose. But it wasn’t. The combination of a lingering sinus infection, cold air and the elevation change produced a lovely case of epistaxis. A nosebleed. During a half-marathon. Just what I wanted.

I wish I could say that I stopped, dealt with the situation properly and finished the race in good spirits. Any runner who has experienced any kind of malady or injury on a run can empathize. It is not the fact that you’re injured or experiencing some kind of systemic issue (vomiting, nose bleeds, GI distress etc.) that upsets you, it is the fact you had to stop running, slow down or take the time to recover. In my case, I was thoroughly angered by the fact that it took my nose nearly 5 minutes to stop bleeding. That was 5 minutes of vital race time lost. 5 minutes of stewing about starting out too fast. 5 minutes of watching my fellow female runners pass me by without so much as a look over their shoulder to the girl with her running glove shoved up her nose. But, I rallied.

I wasn’t happy, in case that wasn’t readily apparent. The rest of the run was spent ‘getting my mind right’ so to speak. The trail was beautiful, yes, but my mind wasn’t. I felt like I was running with a stormy black rain cloud hanging over my head, cartoon style. I had to find a mantra. “Good thoughts in (inhale), bad thoughts out (exhale.)” I ran with the dread that the 9 minute mile pacer was going to overtake me, like the Grim Reaper. He did.

I’d like to say I got happier, but all I could think about was finding that damn finish line. And wondering how terrible my time was going to be. I was frustrated by the downsides to running a race on single track trails. They’re wonderful when you’re alone, but running the same trail as a few hundred women…not so fun. Passing becomes an issue. Especially when said women haven’t been educated on proper trail etiquette. What is proper trail etiquette? Holler at the person you’re about to pass, “Passing on your left!” or “Passing on your right!” Do not wear headphones. If you must, keep only one earbud in. You’ll want to hear us when we holler. If you need to walk, step off to the side. Be kind to fellow runners. Don’t cut them off. And for goodness sake, smile! This is a happy run. Run for you. Not against the women around you.

A very fitting sticker outside Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters.

I finished in 2:04 with a 9:28/mile average. The exact same time as my first half-marathon nearly a year ago. Not exactly the new personal best I was hoping for.

Negativity and nosebleed aside, it was an amazing weekend in Central Oregon. My running buddy, amazing friend and previous employer, rocked the socks off her first half in a couple years. She came across the finish line with a smile on her face, only a few minutes after I did. Here we are just after she crossed the finish line (can we tell someone is tired?):

We stayed at a condo in Sisters all weekend, complete with a hot tub. We spent the rest of race day in Bend shopping and catching up with friends. Dinner was spent at 10 Barrels Brewery. That burger was the best I’ve ever had. As was the wood fireplace outside. Imagine sipping a beverage while sitting outside all bundled up in front of a crackling fire. The smells, the sounds, the ambiance…And then the snow started to fall. Soft, white flakes floating down from the night’s sky. It couldn’t have been a more perfect end to a race day. Good company, great friends, amazing weekend.

I may not have run like a ninja, as my socks would indicate, but I ran my heart out. I ran against every negative thought in my brain and still crossed that finish line, even though it seemed a dreadful distance away. I once again neglected finish line cupcakes, but made up for it in trail mix consumption and pastries at Sisters Coffeehouse the next day. Cupcakes at the next race, I swear!

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Gluten free cherry almond muffin. Nom.