Learning to Stop Chasing the Miles I Haven’t Run

At the top of 2015, I set the goal of running 1,200 miles in 12 months. I’m not going to make it. As of this writing, I’ve run 1,100.993 miles. It’s conceivable that I run just under four marathons in as many days, and it’s not likely.

It took me a minute to get comfortable with this. At the beginning of December, I had 207 miles to go, and I did the math. Twenty-one runs of 10 miles in one month? Sure!

Except – running isn’t all I do. Enter those character-building life lessons my mom has always been such a fan of. Up until about a week ago, my focus was on all the miles I haven’t run this year. They were all I could see. 

Focusing on all the miles I haven’t run would mean fatigue, injury, missed time with friends and family.

Those miles began to take the joy out of running. Every run was a task to complete, ticking away at the miles still out there waiting for feet on pavement. I’ve already run five times as many miles as I did in 2014. In the past thirty days, I’ve run 88 miles farther than the average for men 30-39. I feel better about my health and fitness than I have since my first few years as a runner. I haven’t been able to appreciate it until now, and if I were to hit 1,200, I probably wouldn’t be any see past 1,200.

This is what I’ve learned from running in 2015. As much as moving toward those 1,200 miles has pulled me into or out of bed early because, “I’ve gotta long run in the morning,” missing the goal has made me see the need to let go of some things to get to others. In November, when work had me reading, re-reading, and reading again to edit the National Ed Tech Plan and October’s marathon had brought a tendon strain to my foot, my mileage fell to 25 miles. That, as it turned out, was what I was mentally and physically capable of, and running forced me to find a way to be okay with that.

Slavishly working toward my goal in these last few days of 2015 could get me there. Focusing on all the miles I haven’t run would mean fatigue, injury, missed time with friends and family. It would mean starting 2016 resenting running rather than appreciating the lessons it continues to teach me.

I’ll run between now and the new year. It won’t be to run toward the realization of an arbitrary goal. It will be to run through whatever is happening in the moment and with appreciation of how far the last 1,100 miles have brought me.

Running through February’s Frost – 200 miles down

Snow? Check. Sleet? Check. One hell of a run? Check. #potd

February ended with 100.354 miles in the books. In keeping with my New Year’s goal of 100 miles/month, I embraced the chilly cold of D.C. as it wrestled its way out of winter’s clutches. I can say there was some serious bundling going on – one run featured two pairs of gloves, so that’s a thing.

Also in keeping with my goal, I ran using the Charity Miles app benefiting the Alzheimers Association. While January’s miles were in recognition of what running can do and the work of Back on My Feet, February was about running to stave off a disease that terrifies me.

I’m not sure if it’s because words and ideas mean so much to me, or if it’s the thought of having to watch as a loved one loses the pieces of the world they’d never had to think about holding tightly to at all. Either way, the 100 miles meant I was able to run $25 in donations to support the work of the Alzheimers Association, and I’m happy to do it.

I’m posting my mile log from the month below, including a new column of notes. While I read about a decade ago about the benefits of keeping a running journal, it’s not until this year of running that I’m feeling compelled to document not just the miles, but the basic thoughts around runs.


 

An Accounting of February’s Miles

2/1/2015 8.02 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/2/2015
2/3/2015 REST Book Reading
2/4/2015 10.066 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/5/2015 REST Improv Rehearsal
2/6/2015 REST
2/7/2015 10.049 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/8/2015
2/9/2015 10.018 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C.
2/10/2015
2/11/2015
2/12/2015
2/13/2015
2/14/2015 10.139 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. This new distance means not only going farther, but going new places as well. Today was the first venture from my apartment through part of Rock Creek Park. Not for long, just a couple of miles, but for a bit, I was in nature.
2/15/2015 0.387 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. It wasn’t the cold, but the wind that stopped me.
2/16/2015 10 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. A route including Rock Creek again that included a blend of trails and paved. The semi-frozen creek, the other runners huffing along. It was a good run. It was also a learning experience. Today and Saturday, as I started on the trail hills, they weren’t the frustrations I had expected. They were tough, and the steeper inclines included some walking, but they were not impossible. They didn’t keep me back or break me. More seemed possible.
2/17/2015 10.4 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. Ran the Mall loop at sunset. It was cold, not windy, completely beautiful.
2/18/2015
2/19/2015
2/20/2015
2/21/2015 10.611 Alzheimer’s Association Washington, D.C. Snowing at the start, sleeting by the finish. Hard won run.
2/22/2015
2/23/2015
2/24/2015
2/25/2015
2/26/2015
2/27/2015 10.142 Alzheimer’s Association Portland, OR Ran 4 miles of this with Scott Nine after an engaging, insightful iPDX15.
2/28/2015 10.522 Alzheimer’s Association Portland, OR Fewer than 24 hours between runs is not advised. Ran to the Portland Waterfront, and along the river. Beautiful start to the morning. Tired legs, and delicious run.
February Total: 100.354

Four lessons from my first 100-mile month

Post-race face. #potd

Today marks the start of month #2 of my resolution to run 100 miles per month for 2015. How’d I do in month #1? The final total was 109.199 miles according to the Charity Miles app. I wasn’t trying to overshoot 100 by quite so much until Friday evening when I signed up for the High Cloud Snapple Half Marathon.

January 1, the thought of running a 13.1-mile trail race with a starting temp of 24º wouldn’t have been the excitement-inducing prospect I found it to be when I woke up Saturday morning. The race was great, and my experience was indicative of some of the other lessons I’ve learned this month:

  • I’m still a runner. The inconsistency of my running over the last year or so had me thinking of myself as someone who had run about a dozen marathons and other races. This had a sharp distinction from the more active claim, “I’m a runner.” It was mid-way through Week 2 that I noticed the furniture in my head re-arranged. “That’s me again,” I thought, and kept huffing through the freezing cold.
  • Two other resets have been key. Before I knew “Drynuary” was a thing, I decided to take the time between the start of 2015 and my March 2 birthday as two months of refraining from alcohol and choosing a solely plant-based diet. Both are things I’ve done for about a month a year for the past 5 years or so, but this is the first time I’ve decided to put the two in concurrent service of a specific running goal. As a result, my nights are full of much better sleep. I hit the mattress, and I’m out. Waking up is much easier as well. When I’m back in the apartment after anything from 5-8 miles, my selection of snacks is much healthier than what I was eating before, even though, that was still a vegetarian diet. For me, vegan has meant cutting processed foods as much as possible as well.
  • I can neglect Netflix with no emotional consequences. A new city, a demanding job, winter – these all created a perfect storm of couch-sitting and binge watching in my first 5 months in D.C. While I didn’t make it my conscious objective to make it through all of Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu’s catalog, a ticktock of my time pre-January would have provided evidence to the contrary. While I’ll still catch episodes of Parks and Rec, Arrow, and Flash; they will usually be one-off viewings before I start in on cooking dinner or head to bed.
  • I’m cooking again. I have to. Turns out not buying processed food, deciding to eat plant-based, and running a ton mean my body tends to ask for actual food. My slow cooker has been getting a ton of use. I’ve picked up Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook along with diving in to the plant-based Pinterest community. I’ve learned kale chips can be delicious. Not long after, I learned a person should not eat two entire cookie sheets of kale chips in quick succession.

All of January’s miles benefited Back on My Feet. At $0.25/mile, that’s just shy of $27.30 for the month. It seems small, but I hope it helps. With tomorrow’s run, I’ll be posting on February’s charity and why I’ll be running for them.


An Accounting of January’s Miles

Date Distance Charity Location Notes
1/1/2015 4.238 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/2/2015 4.248 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/3/2015 4.642 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/4/2015 YOGA REST REST
1/5/2015 4.453 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/6/2015 4.3 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/7/2015 4.713 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/8/2015 REST
1/9/2015 REST
1/10/2015 5.372 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/11/2015 5.479 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/12/2015 5.506 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/13/2015 5.719 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/14/2015 REST
1/15/2015 REST
1/16/2015 5.868 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/17/2015 5.905 Back on My Feet washington, dc
1/18/2015 REST
1/19/2015 6.073 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/20/2015 6.041
1/21/2015 REST
1/22/2015 REST
1/23/2015 7.522 Back on My Feet Philadelphia, PA Great run w/ @jspry
1/24/2015 EduCon
1/25/2015 EduCon
1/26/2015 REST
1/27/2015 8.019 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/28/2015 8.001 Back on My Feet Washington, D.C.
1/29/2015  REST
1/30/2015  REST
1/31/2015 13.1
January Total: 109.199

 

A Running Resolution for 2015 (Putting $ in My Miles)

I’m usually hesitant to make New Year’s resolutions. For the past decade or so, my instinct has been to make birthday resolutions. They felt more personal. It didn’t matter when the calendar was starting its new trip around the sun, I wanted to make change based on when my trip started. This year, for whatever reason, I’ve changed my tune.

I’ll be writing about some of them here.


 

Running Shoes on StairsFirst up, my running resolution. While I’m still working on a marathon in every state, that’s not the resolution this year. Instead, it’s simply getting out there.

This year, I’ll be running 100 miles per month. Along with me on those miles might be the Nike+ app or MapMyRun or any of the other apps I rotate through trying to find the one I like the most. The app I’ll definitely be using – CharityMiles. This is the second half of my running resolution.

Through CharityMiles, which donates to a you-selected charity for every mile you log running, walking, or biking, I’ll be selecting a charity each month and running to donate to that cause for the month. It won’t be much, the $.25/mile for running and walking from CharityMiles will add up to $25 for each charity. Then again, this will be more than they were getting otherwise, and it will be tacked on to what I already try to donate to worthwhile causes each year. At the start of each month, I’ll post here about the charity I’ll be running for.

January Charity: Back on My Feet

The Gist.
Back on My Feet uses running as a means to engage local populations of people experiencing homelessness “to create self-sufficiency.” Started in Philadelphia, the charity has 11 chapters nationally. Participants in the program join other runners and local coaches for morning runs three times per week. After 30 days in the program, participants qualify for Next Step services which can include counseling, applications for financial aid and other services. According to BoMF, “on average, nearly 75 of Members are in the Next Steps phase of the program. Finally, once Residential Members achieve employment and housing, they become Alumni Members who often continue to run with their original teams.

Why?
I started running in 2002 for a lot of reasons. Mainly, after turning 21 and with many pieces of my life up in the air, I wanted some sort of goal toward which I could work. June 1, I signed up for the October 13 Chicago Marathon and tried to run 2 miles. It was disasterous, and the days that followed were painful.

When I crossed the finish line with a net time of 4:53:59, I started crying. While a good deal of that was likely exhaustion, its foundation was in being the kid who felt awkward, left out, and in the way in anything to do with sports and athletics while he was growing up. That kid would never have considered running a marathon while relegated to shopping for clothes in the poorly named “husky” section growing up. I wish I’d found running earlier.

At the same time, running has taught me the importance of running my own race. Running and I met each other at exactly the right pace. I can’t say that I’d have recognized the possible joys and self-reflection involved in showing up at my doorstep with heavy legs, soaked clothes, and a face encrusted with salt from evaporated sweat if I’d found running earlier.

The Members of BoMF are each on a journey much different from my own and different again from those on their teams hitting the pavement at 5:30am three times a week. I’m running for this organization this month because I know, if only in my small way, what kind of journey running can set a person on.

What I’m Doing This Year: The Resolutions

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At the end of May, I’ll be doing something different with my life than I was doing in October and different still from what I was doing 365 days before that. This promises to be a year of change to rival the changes of years past.
As I was working on my resolutions for the year, I kept this in mind. I want to document the year with the same spirit as last year, and I know another daily writing project will run the risk of draining me and distracting me from experiencing what’s going on as the changes take place.
As such, I’ve arrived at the following resolutions:
1. Run every day for at least 10 minutes. This one was clearing inspired by last year’s project. I understood the why better through explaining it to someone else. I came to know myself as a writer last year by putting myself in writing each day. In the same way, when I get to know people, I think of myself as a writer and a runner. So, I’ll be running. It’s a new approach. I’ll be running for 10 minutes some days, though my mind will want to go farther. I like that. I like actively working to shift my paradigm and experience as a runner. I’m also knowledgeable enough as a runner, at this point, to know to listen to my body and be mindful of the injuries possible in such an undertaking. If this year is to include the geographic changes I anticipate it to, experiencing where I am and who I am in those places through running will be interesting.
2. Make one photo each week that represents that week of the year. I thought briefly about a photo-a-day project, but my sister, Kirstie, helped me make up my mind. Kirstie is, as I have said, a brilliant photographer with a keen eye. She completed a 365 project last year to tremendous results. When I asked her if she would be continuing it this year, she said no. The goal of a photo each day meant she wasn’t creating shots of the quality she wanted. I can appreciate that. This year, she’s surveyed 52 friends and family members for inspirations quotations and ideas. Each week, she’ll be creating a photo each week around one of those guiding ideas. My project will be less global and much more self-centered, but I hope it to be a catalog of life this year that pushes me to think more visually. The photo above was my first week’s attempt.
3. Go vegan. I’m still a little sketchy of the details on this one. I wrote last year of my month-long go at eating vegan and the cultural and personal quandaries it inspired. Since then, I’ve continued to consider my role as a citizen, the effects of what I eat on who and what I am, and the footprint of all of this. I’m starting to think of this as a biological retirement plan. More on this later.
4. Journal each day (even if it’s only a line). My mom journals every day. Leading up to the new year, she spent her mornings on the couch reading through her life in years past and remembering the connective tissue of who she is now. For a long time, I journaled alongside my students in class. It’s different than blogging, and I want to remember why.
5. Read 52 books. That’s it. Similar to running, I count myself as a reader. As much as I could easily remain among the choir who chant solemnly they “don’t have time” to read, I know I can make time for this. To be sure, grad school will continue to help push me toward this goal. The other piece is one of genuine living. In the classroom, I told students over and over of the connection between reading, writing, and thinking. I insisted they would be better writers for reading and vice versa. If I am to stand by that and improve as a writer, I must read. Fifty-two is an arbitrary goal furnished by the calendar. Still, it’s as good a number as any.
I didn’t intend 5 resolutions this year. It just shook out that way. As much as I’m excited to work at each of them, I’m excited to find how my internal understanding and logic of the rules surrounding each resolutions shifts during the year.
I’m most curious to see how they shape me.

Things I Know 358 of 365: I’ve 2 races left

When I set the goal nine years ago, it didn’t have nearly the immediacy it will have after tomorrow. I’d just finished my second marathon, which meant that my body was, in fact, built to handle more than one marathon in our time together.

Not one for big goals or plans, I caught myself by surprise the first time I said it aloud to someone else.

External Me: I’m going to run 10 marathons in 10 years.

Internal Me: Wait. Who said that.

And so I started.

At first, it was one race per year. As I’d skipped a year between my 2002 marathoning debut and my second goal-inspiring race, I realized I’d need to run two races in one year to meet my goal.

It happened the year I ran both Chicago and New York City. I’d imagine this not to be much of a problem were the two races not separated by two weeks.

I finished both.

The back-to-back racing left a mental scar. I didn’t run for a year. I was back in the same predicament.

Heading into 2012, I’ve run 8 marathons in 9 years. I know it’s not much when compared to ultramarathoners or people who embark on quests like Dean Karnazes’s 50 in 50 in 50.

You have to understand, I wasn’t supposed to be a runner. My boyhood clothes came from the “husky” section. My P.E. grade was a mercy pass. The only R word I’d ever associated with myself up to my first day of training was reader.

And then I started running.

Now, it is a part of me.

It is a key to my identity.

I know more about myself and what I can do because I am a runner.

I will never be the fastest or the trimmest, but I will be running.

This does not solve my problem. I have two races to run. My habit of approaching goal setting with a minimalist’s penchant gives each greater heft when I do commit.

I’ve two options.

The first is a Spring race and a Fall race. This would put a marathon smack in the middle of my Spring semester of grad school. Consequently, it would mean training for a marathon throughout the first half of the semester. I’d have to dig deep for the moxy.

The second option is two Fall races again. Because it was my first, I’ll be running Chicago this year. I just have to decide if I want to re-visit the gauntlet of two races in close temporal proximity to one another.

I’m open to suggestions. No matter the decision, I am thrilled to run these races, to do something 5th-grade me never considered.

Things I Know 323 of 365: Turns out I’m no huge fan of standardized running either

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea.

– Isak Dinesen

After 10 years of running, I’ve tried a treadmill for the first time this week.

Once, in my first weeks as a runner, my friend Katy persuaded me to try running on a treadmill at the student recreation center. Though I was struggling with running half a mile without walking, I was already enough of a runner to know something seemed wrong about running on a treadmill.

The weather back home in Illinois has been a bit gross over the last week, so I decided to give the treadmill another choice.

Three times this week, I put Google Music on shuffle, punched in a program and “went” for a run.

I’ll not lie. I ran faster than I’ve been running as of late. I was able to keep track of my pulse whenever I wanted. I new my speed at all times. I kept running the entire time. I was protected from the elements. I had a full report of each accomplishment when I was done.

As helpful as all that information is, I miss running outside.

When I was done with each treadmill run, no matter how successful the data flashing on the screen told me my run had been, I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I was still in my mom’s basement – staring at the furnace. I’d gotten nowhere faster and more efficiently than if I’d run outside, sure. But nowhere was still nowhere.

While I might pause to walk sometimes while running outdoors, I have control of that stopping, and it’s up to me to set the goal for starting again.

Sure, I was sheltered from the elements and protected from distractions, but I hadn’t seen anything. I imagined if I’d been running on a treadmill exclusively in training for my first marathon. Each week, my training would have improved, racheted up mechanically according to schedule.

What a shock it would have been, footfall after footfall, to attempt to reach my goal on a course filled with imperfections and distractions. I would have trained perfectly efficiently, but have no idea how or experience in adapting to my surroundings.

To learn how to run in the real world, I needed to practice running in the real world. My success wasn’t in a computer read out, but in the sense of accomplishment of enduring freezing rain or discovering a new part of my neighborhood.

While I’m home during break, I’ll likely continue to use the treadmill from time to time.

Starting next week, I’ll be back outside. When you’ve learned to do something authentically, anything less than feels just that.

Things I Know 152 of 365: Kirstie graduates today

The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Mary Schmich

At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school. I’m back home in Illinois at my dad’s house for the occasion.

Kirstie is 12 years younger than I am.

She will forever be the same age as the last class of my students I will see graduate. I realized this on the plane ride last night and almost turned to the stranger next to me to share the news.

My other sister, Rachel, is another keystone of my teaching career. The first time I stepped into my own classroom in Florida, my eighth graders were starting the same year of instruction as Rachel was back up in Illinois.

Though the ages of my students have fluctuated as I’ve taught different grades, I know that those from that first class who went to college just finished their third year.

Next year, as Kirstie begins her first year at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, I’ll think of this graduating class of SLA students who will be starting their full-time college careers all over the country.

My students will be taking all sorts of paths once they leave our halls and classrooms. My connections to past students on Facebook have taught me this. Still, Kirstie will be my bellwether of where they are in their lives. For every milestone in Kirstie’s life over the next few years, I’ll wonder about the same milestone in the lives of any number of students.

This is a change.

For the past 8 years, my students have unknowingly filled in for my siblings.

For each teen drama, every end-of-quarter stress out, all the proms and formals – I watched my students feel their way through the chasm of adolescence, thinking of my siblings stumbling along their own paths hundreds of miles away.

My students have helped me come to terms with choosing to move away from my family after college. The pieces of their lives they brought with them to school and allowed me to counsel them on helped me to be at peace with not helping my siblings work through those same experiences back home.

While always my students, in moments, they let me care for them as a big brother.

In the same way I hope Rachel, Kirstie and my brother Taylor will choose their own paths in life and go where their passions take them, I have done the same.

At mile 10 of my first marathon, my friend Julie, with whom I had run almost all of my long training runs, turned to me.

“Ok, Zac, go.”

“What?”

Julie had a slower pace than I did. She was telling me to leave her behind.

My gut resisted the idea.

“No. I’m fine running with you.”

“Zac,” she said with a sternness that was impressive 10 miles into a marathon, “run your own race.”

I did.

We both finished the race. Had I stayed with Julie, I would have felt the frustration and pain of running someone else’s race. Had she run at my pace, Julie would have felt the same pain and frustration.

We each needed to run our own races.

This is what I want for Kirstie. It is the same thing my students have afforded me as a long-distance big brother. It will be the thing my sisters and brother afford me as I leave the classroom.

At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school and passes another mile marker.

Run your own race, Kirstie.

13.1 miles and living

Running 13 miles didn’t kill me. I don’t even think I garnered any scars.
As I wrote earlier, I’m pushing through with Toronto Marathon training this go round in South Africa.
That meant a long run Sunday.
The last time I tried anything over 10 miles, I ended up running 10 miles. It wasn’t pretty. Not enough to eat that day, dehydrated from the get go, no precursor training beforehand. Name a stupid error distance runners make and I made it.
It was ugly.
Luckily, it was also 5 months ago.
I’ve a solid training foundation of approximately 30 mi/wk working for me this time.
Sunday worked.
Though I had to complete it by repeats of running out 2 miles and back 2 miles, I got my 13 – well, 13.1 (Why not run the half when you’re that close anyway?).
Clocking in at a 8’11″/mile pace, I was proud.
The only real break was when the ole digestive track sent me inside. No worries on that; it provided a chance at grabbing an orange.
After a day off for recovery Monday, I hit the road again Tuesday, running toward the sun setting behind Table Mountain. There are worse moments in life.
Six miles completed with a 8’19″/mile pace.
I didn’t stop the entire six. The goal was to slow myself down.
It didn’t really work.
I need to run with someone else. I need a pacer.
This has never EVER been a problem for me. Then again, I’ve never run this much or this fast before.
All I know how to do is run.
I mean, I know more than that. I know a bunch of the jargon and science and philosophy.
But, when I’m on the road, all I know how to do is run.
Slowing down was never an anticipated problem.

13 miles tomorrow

October 17 I’ll be running the Toronto Marathon.

It’ll be my eighth marathon.

When I turned 21, I decided to run my first marathon. The whole idea was that the only milestone of being 21 years old shouldn’t be the right to legally drink.

From there, somehow, the goal became running 10 marathons in 10 years.

Sure, people run a marathon a month or 50 marathons in 50 days…

…but I’m a mere mortal.

I’m training for #8.

Being in South Africa and training for a marathon whilst working with teachers in schools and planning workshops and all the other life detritus makes scheduling a little weird.

Last year, I felt wonky about running at night.

This year, I know my surroundings. I know what’s what.

In this, our third home of the trip, I’ve marked an out-and-back course that’s 4 miles, round trip.

Tomorrow, I’ve a 13-mile long run.

That’s 3 out and backs with a mile somewhere at the end for good measure.

Should be interesting.

I’ve been averaging 25-30 miles/week the last few weeks.

The other piece of this training puzzle that’s been a tough navigation has been diet.

Vegetarian distance running is one thing when I’m in the familiar confines of my own city and have total control over my diet.

I learned last year that “vegetarian” here oftentimes translates to “only chicken and fish.”

I’m turning to No Meat Athlete and The Runner’s Kitchen for my inspiration to keep my hopes high.

Sure, they lose me when they start talking brand names that aren’t on the shelves here, but talking protein content of everyday foods is crazy helpful, not to mention the recipes.

13 miles tomorrow

I’ll let you know how it goes.