Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012: More than just a list of PBs

I can't believe it's 2013! With the coming of the new year, it's an opportunity not only to make new resolutions, but also to look back on the previous year's accomplishments.

It's often tempting to gauge your progress as a runner based on races run, PBs set, and time goals accomplished. But I didn't race very much in 2012 (apart from the Halifax Hypo Half and Bluenose). And in fact, I ran my two slowest half marathons in my running career.

But that doesn't mean I didn't accomplish a lot in the past year. In fact, looking  back on 2012, it may have been one of my most transformational years as a runner. Since 2012 my surgery in the summer of 2011 essentiallly forced me to slow down and take the time to recover and get stronger, it forced me to also take the time to get stronger mentally and really think things through about my relationship to running. As a result, I probably learned some of the most valuable lessons in my running career.

Some of the key lessons I learned about myself as a runner last year included:

1. Running to the tune of my own footsteps: I have always tended to run with my earbuds plugged in, as a way to blast music and distract myself from my anxieties about a run, or to pump me up for a tempo run. Oftentimes, if I have my earbuds in, you can be sure that I've had a stressful day at work, or I'm feeling anxious about the run to come. But what I discovered in my training in the last year was that running with music lends itself to becoming a more antisocial runner -- and that having conversations with fellow runners can be a much better way to pass the time on a long run than blaring the latest pop song.

2. Pacing takes work, but it's worth it: Read back on any of my previous posts, and a theme that consistently comes up, time and again, is that I have a hard time pacing myself. Instead, I have tended in the past to get overly pumped up and enthused at the start of a tempo or speed run, and then burn myself out before the run is over. But one of the key lessons I learned in the last year (partly thanks to my finally listening to the advice of my coach), was to pace myself early, and then give 'er later if I was still feeling strong. Following that advice meant that I could last longer on a tempo run, thereby building up my strength.

3. Negative self-talk is a waste of energy: I can't remember who it was, or when (I think it was Wendy, in our marathon clinic, but sometime in the last year, I learned to recognize the times when I was engaging in negative self-talk ("I don't feel like doing this today," "I'm not sure I can do this," etc., etc.,) and then learning to tune that self-talk out -- otherwise I'm using valuable energy in defeating myself rather than focusing on the run. Granted, that doesn't always happen, and every so often I still catch myself in the negative cycle...But it's a skill to be developed and worked on.

4. Running is more than just racing: One of the key reasons why I didn't race this fall was financial - racing can be quite expensive. But when I made the decision not to race, I didn't regret the weeks of training that had preceded race day. I started to question my expectation that I should run at least one marathon and/or half marathon a year, and I realized that the only person imposing that expectation on me, was me. I realized that running simply to run and enjoy other runners' company is also enjoyable, just for the joy of being out there, healthy and enjoying the feeling of the pavement beneath my feet.

5. There is still so much more to be learned: Over the course of this summer's marathon training clinic with my friend and coach Wendy, I quickly discovered that although I have run two marathons, I finished those two races in spite of myself. It seems funny to say, but I realized, in listening to fellow runners in the clinic as well as Wendy's advice, that I had no idea what I was doing when I ran those two races. I learned so much about planning a good race, fueling, and more, by simply being open to their experiences and advice. I'm now excited to race my next marathon (perhaps in spring of 2013?) and to put some of the new lessons I've learned to the test. But I also know that if I want to progress as a runner, I'll also have to continue to be open to new lessons and insights about myself as a runner.

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