Hittin’ My Stride

In an effort to evolve into a more healthful person and in an effort to challenge myself to do something I’ve never done before, never thought I could do, I took up running, just about a year ago. I ran my first half marathon in October 2012 and have signed up for my first full marathon in December of 2013.

While living in Sacramento, I trained with a large, local running group (SacFit) on the recommendation of a friend I’d gone to high school with in Napa. There were over 500 members in this well organized group. We ran in groups according to our “pace”, how many minutes it takes to run a mile. Each pace group had at least three coaches who provided us with advice and recommendations. We run two abreast in groups of twelve, or so. The coaches time our run/walk intervals, set the pace, remind us to drink and to fuel. There are dozens of pace groups running up and down the bike trail that parallels the American River every Saturday morning. This is how it’s done. I often mused that we must look like the armed forces in training, minus carrying our rifles, as we ran in tight formation up and down the trail. Our training was all according to a carefully designed and proven plan to help us meet our goals, finish our races at our pace, and avoid injury in the process. It was perfectly regimented and I like that.

My life is pretty haphazard, I travel often for work so I’m in different time zones all the time. Even when I work from home, I’m often working with clients in different time zones. My life lacks routine in many, many respects. So, I seek routine and regiment in a few areas of my life just for some semblance of normalcy, like a touchstone. My workout routine is one, my writing is another, running another. For those who know me, they know, when I decide I’m doing something, I do it. Relentlessly, according to plan and to a very regimented schedule.

Routine is good, as long as we build some goals into the plan and strive to improve. In running, I started with a goal in mind; I wanted to finish a half marathon and I’d like to run faster than I walk. I can walk at four miles an hour for extended periods of time (like twelve hours, if necessary, carrying a backpack, up and down mountains). When I first started with the Sacramento running group, I was placed in a pace group based on a one mile trial run. Now, my one-mile trial run was the first time I’d run, at all, in, well, since like junior high. I took it easy, even though my cardiovascular fitness level was really quite good. The first pace group I was with nearly made me crazy. I could’ve walked faster. I promoted myself once, then again, and found a comfortable pace with some great coaches at 13:00. I trained at this pace for the full season leading up to the half marathon, which I ran at 12:00 sort of against my plan. I stumbled upon a pace setter amidst the sea of runners who was timing and calling for routine run/walk intervals. I just ran with him at a pace a full minute faster than I’d been training at for the last four months. But I did it, for 13.1 miles, proving to myself that I could run faster if I only tried. I totally surprised myself.

The next season, I promoted myself to the 12:00 pace group and was quite comfortable with that. I was challenged on some of the “race pace” runs, but probably more because I only run on weekends, and sometimes I miss a few weekends in between. In other words, unlike most “runners” who run multiple times a week, I sometimes only run once every three to five weeks. Meanwhile, that marathon looms ahead. My ultimate goal is to run a 10:30 and “qualify” for “ultra-marathon” running. This seems a distant and somewhat unlikely goal, but I’ve put it out there and I’m working towards it. Sort of. I haven’t run in weeks. And now I’ve moved an hour and a half away from Sacramento and my early Saturday running group. I need to find a routine.

When I go to the gym and do cardio, I have a routine I favor, certain machines, certain resistance settings, certain times, I even have a preferred order. In yoga, I like the routines, the sun salutations, the balance moves, the strength moves, the relaxation moves. Zumba, crossfit, body sculpt and barre classes all offer the same basic routine, warm up, work out, cool down. This I find soothing and centering. Running has been the same, very regimented, very routinized. Warm up, run at a certain pace for five minutes, walk for one, run for five, walk for one. Drink water every walk break. Fuel (eat) every forty-five minutes. Very regimented, very routinized.

Until today.

Today, after poking around online, I found a running club here in Napa. I thought I’d try them out, they were on both Facebook and MeetUp. There wasn’t anything in their information about pace groups or anything, so I was a little unsure, but I thought it would be worth checking out before I re-enlist and pay my $100 for another season with the Sacramento running group. At the price of free, it was, at least within my budget. No one is going to pay me to run, so free works.

It was a perfect morning in the Napa Valley as I drove to the local running store where we were to meet. The sun was shining, it was warm, and though it was pretty early, for a Saturday in a town where people drink a lot of wine, people were out walking and jogging and cycling. There were folks walking their dogs, couples pushing strollers and the limousines were all gassing up at the gas station, preparing for their extended journeys from winery to winery to winery to winery to winery. I was taking all this in, the serenity, the peacefulness. I saw a small herd of deer in a field in front of an old Victorian home. One of them was defecating. Illusion shattered, back to reality.

The Napa club is run (no pun intended) by a man at the local running store. I was greeted warmly and introduced to people as they arrived. I signed the hold harmless release and was briefed on how the run would go. There were options to run 3, 4, 5, 6 or 10 miles. I was thinking 10, but those folks met and left earlier. I settled on 5 miles. I asked about pace and there seemed to be no real concern about it. When I said I ran at a 12:00 minute mile pace I was introduced to a couple and told I should run with them. Okay, cool. I looked around at the group of runners, probably about twelve in all, and no one had a hydration pack, like mine, no one even had water bottles. Nothing. I dismissed this observation, I figured they’d pick them up on the way out, or something. Soon, we headed out the door and BAM! We were running. We were running really, really fast. Around the corner, down the street, over the bridge. These people just fucking run! I asked the woman I’d been told to run with what run/walk intervals she ran. She looked a little confused. “Oh, I just walk for a bit after a couple miles or so, it just depends.” Just fucking run. So I did. I ran and, after a few blocks I thought I might die. I was winded and we hadn’t even hit the upgrade yet. In Napa, there are a few more hills than Sacramento. I’m sort of a flat lander as a runner. I can hike mountains all day long, running, I only know flat. After we crested our first (pretty wimpy) upgrade, I took stock of myself and I was okay. My breathing rate had settled, my heart rate seemed under control again. I’d hit my stride. I felt like I could sustain this pace for a while, which we did. And by we, I mean me and the woman I was told to run with, and her significant other. And it was only his second time running. Ever. The rest of the group were mere dots on the crest of the next hill. Just fucking running. We ran for two and a half miles and walked for about three seconds at the turn around point, then ran two and a half miles back to our starting point. And I was fine, even carrying the extra six pounds of water and fuel in my hydration pack. I consider that my handicap, like weighting race horses to compensate for the differences in the weights of the jockeys. My handicap was a six-pound hydration pack. And I just fucking ran. I ran a sustained pace of 10:30 for five miles, without walk breaks every five minutes. I just fucking ran and I met a goal I thought was distant and unlikely just a few hours ago. I hit my stride.

This lesson can be applied to so much more in life than just running. Setting a goal, the bigger the better, distant and unlikely, then working towards it. Often, in working towards goals, we tackle them in a routine and regimented fashion. Whether a career goal, an academic goal, a fitness goal, a health goal, a relationship goal, we work steadily towards it. Sometimes, though, it may be to our benefit push ourselves a little harder, a little faster, maybe a little sooner than we think we’re ready for. We may surprise ourselves. In other words, just fucking run with it and you may find your goal is much more easily met than you ever imagined. Twice now I have surprised myself with my running pace; my first half marathon pace and my running pace today. I know, now, more than ever, I can do anything if I just fucking run with it.

When you think you’ve hit your stride, in whatever goal you’re pursuing, I challenge you, like I challenged myself today, take it up a notch. You can do anything, and you can probably do it faster, sooner, better than you give yourself credit for. Routine is great, but every now and then, just fucking run and hit a new stride.


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