I Run, Therefore, I am a Runner

“No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch,”–Unknown

I try to be careful about how I write/talk/post about my so-called running practice.  When doing so, I typically attempt to lower the expectations of the readers/listener with some sort of self-deprecating humor.  Why?  Beside the fact, that I can’t take myself too seriously, I’ve also had too many encounters with those competitive souls who immediately insist on knowing my stats/pace/race times in order to determine, it seems to me, how to best classify me:  Real competitive runner or the oh-aren’t-you-so-cute-in-your-attempts-to-jog?

Personally, I am not ashamed of my snail-like pace when I run, but I have allowed myself, at times, to feel less-than, especially in conversations with those runners who throw around finishing times and running paces like bodybuilders flexing their muscles in a gym mirror.  If running paces were bicep bulges, then mine would be that proverbial image of a skinny kid with biceps drooping down like a lowercase u.  Okay, maybe not the best illustration, but the point is this: I still cover the same distance and cross the same finish line as any other runner, and I have finally decided to no longer feel like a less-than runner because I am not as fast.

“We are all runners, some are just faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”–Bart Yasso

Since the week following Thanksgiving 2021, I followed a training plan for the 2022 Shamrock half marathon/marathon weekend in Virginia Beach.  I had previously trained for and ran this virtual event last year, which was highly restricted due to COVID.  Training, at that time, was challenging, not only because I was returning to running after several years of a hiatus, but also due to the snow, ice storms, flooding, and other winter events that seemed to plague last winter.  Therefore, most of my training, including those all important weekly long runs, were mostly completed on a treadmill.  

During 2021 Shamrock weekend, the Virginia Beach boardwalk was nearly devoid of visitors. This was not the case for 2022

This year, however, I committed to completing as many of my long Saturday runs as possible, outside, despite winter weather with the goal of running in Virginia Beach.  I also made changes to my weekday training, moving my workouts to early morning, before my workday began, as well as incorporating more strength training, stretching, and a weekly yoga session. Since this was the 50th anniversary of the Shamrock, it was sure to be a big event for the town, especially with many of the COVID restrictions of last year lifted.  Nonetheless, runners still had the option to run it virtually. 

Therefore, traveling to Virginia Beach this year, I knew I was ready to give it my best–nothing record breaking, but it was my best, and I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my consistent winter efforts!  Upon Thursday’s arrival, John, my husband, and I could sense the town’s atmosphere–full of anticipation, joy, and celebration.  Signs welcoming visitors were posted throughout, and we met numerous people in the service industry expressing their genuine excitement for the “first event of the season,” especially after the challenges of the past two years. 

The famous Shamrock sandcarving is safely blocked off until the day of the event.

On Friday, John and I interacted with an abundance of the participants while attending the Shamrock Sports and Fitness Expo. Like me, they were there to not only pick up their race day bib and shirt, but also to browse the vendors’ displays and soak up the levity leading up to the event. Walking around the large arena, what surprised me the most was that there were so many other runners who, like me, did not fit the so-called mental construct that is often associated with what it means to be a runner.  All ages, shapes, shades, sizes, and any other manner of differentiation–it seemed–were represented as if every possible background category box was checked. Oh, to-be-sure, there were plenty of competitive runners who obsessively talked to anyone who would listen about finish time, pacing, and other stats, but the majority of runners seemed to be there in order to have fun and relish the experience.

Let’s go!

Perhaps, I always knew this about running, and had not allowed myself to see this, but surrounded by the high spirited energy of all those different types of runners made me rethink my own feelings—so much that I recall telling John, over dinner that night, that I was no longer going to choose to feel less-than because I am not a fast or competitive runner.  

I run, and therefore I am a runner.  

Bottom line, I find joy in any movement, but especially running.  Running is what I do to reduce stress, increase my sense of energy and positivity, it provides me the ability to sleep soundly, and other countless benefits. Furthermore, after years of experiencing the captivity of an injury, I feel grateful for having the ability to recover and move my body freely.

Let’s make friends and have some fun!

Ultimately, this year, I decided to virtually run the half-marathon on Saturday, instead of Sunday, when the actual Shamrock was scheduled.  I made this choice in order to have the rest of Saturday, after my 13.1 mile run, to enjoy beach and relax before making the seven-hour drive home on Sunday.  This meant I would have to slightly modify the route, due to the fact the actual Shamrock course looped through Fort Story, and that section of the course would remain closed to runners the day before the event.  Nonetheless, if I ran the course as an out and back route, I would still cover 13.1 miles.

John and I were fortunate to watch a beautiful sunrise over the ocean the morning of my 13.1 mile virtual run.

Saturday morning, I began my personal half-marathon at the starting line area at 7:30, the official start time of the following day.  The roads were not closed, as they would have been during the actual event, so I had to carefully navigate the sidewalks through town and run the bike path section of the isolated, four-lane stretch of Shore Drive.  Fortunately, it was not a work day, so traffic wasn’t as busy as it might have otherwise been. Still, there were a few times in which I had to hop off the lane to make way for curb-hugging cars and/or bikes.  

As a runner, especially on those long runs, it’s always good to know where the “Elite Seats” are located!!

All the while, John kept driving in a loop, repeatedly checking on me, and shouting out encouragement through the car window.  As part of the plan, John met up with me at the halfway point.  This allowed me to pause for a quick drink break before turning around and heading back into town.  

Reaching the halfway point, I felt strong. However, since I had trained through winter, I was acclimated to cold temperatures.  It had been months since I had run in the 70 degree temperatures for which I found myself running.  Therefore, my pace began to slow the closer to the end I came.  Still, I finished.  I. Ran.  In fact, I ran slightly over 13.1 miles.

“Running slow isn’t a character flaw: Quitting is.”–Unknown

Dear Reader, I am a runner, and I will never allow myself to again feel slighted by my pace, my age, my stature, or any of those supercilious definitions–AND neither should you–no matter what your endeavors.  God designed our bodies for movement, and we should celebrate and enjoy that ability.  One day, Dear Reader, I may not be able to move freely, but that is not today . . . and so, I will continue to walk, hike, move, stretch, and, yes, even run. 

Time to start!
That feeling when it’s over, and the distance is covered!
John and I can relax now relax on the beach!

Steph’s Blues Busting Chocolate Green Smoothie

“If you have a chronic disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, (arthritis, cancer, dementia) or back or joint pain — exercise can have important health benefits.”— “Exercise and chronic disease: Get the Facts,” Mayo Clinic Staff

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

COVID has taken away many so-called practices and habits that were once societal norms.  I think it is fair to say that many of us, from time to time, have felt weighed down, a bit angry, and even bereaved over the loss of the “way things used to be.”  In fact, now that we’ve begun traveling down this new road of living, I suspect there may be many things that will never return.  However, on the positive side, there are a few things that have evolved from this swift shifting of life.

One such personal benefit began during the quarantine period of 2020 as I reflected on my own health.  As I recently shared in other pieces, I have a genetic predisposition to colon cancer and heart disease.  Therefore, in an attempt to boost my immune system against these two inherited threats as well as COVID, I began to dial in my focus on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and plant based eating, while still continuing some strength/flexibility/mindfulness practices.  None of these attempts have been perfect, but they do provide a sense of personal empowerment–a worthwhile feeling in a world that often feels out of control.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Of particular focus for me was a renewed desire for out-of-doors exercise; however, the ever-present battle with two bulging discs and an extra vertebrae was/is a never-ending reality.  Therefore, towards the middle of May 2020, I began researching ways to strengthen my back and core muscles while simultaneously gradually working my way from walking to running in order to increase my cardiovascular fitness level. While there is nothing wrong with walking–in fact, I love it, and I honestly believe it is one of the safest and best forms of exercise–there is something about the heart pumping vigor of running that leaves me, well, breathless!

All kidding aside, I do not want to give the illusion that I run fast.  Speed is not, per se, part of my goal; instead, I focus on increased endurance.  In particular, I put greater emphasis on my resting heart rate.  The lower my resting heart rate, the better I sleep, and the less stress affects me–especially at bed time.  

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Therefore, without belaboring the point, I found a program for strengthening the back and core called, the Mckenzie Method.  Using some of the exercises from this back method and combining them with exercises from my time spent in physical therapy and practicing yoga, I cobbled together my own DIY daily back/core care routine.  Additionally, while researching this method, I ran across (See what I did there?) a book/training entitled, Run Your Butt Off, about which I have previously written.  This running program offers a plan to help a walker go from walking for 30 minutes, to running for the same length of time in 12 weeks (or however many weeks you decide to take it).  

Since completing the Run Your Butt Off plan, I have continued running 3-4 times per week. On the days that I run, I sleep much better–even if I don’t have the time to sleep long.  Even more exciting is that I have signed up to run a virtual half marathon.  Due to this, I have put greater emphasis on personal nutrition for the purposes of reducing inflammation and fostering recovery as the running mileage increases each week.

“Choosing plants will help all your body’s systems work the best they can.”–Heather Alexander, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center

One way I am doing this is by continuing to eat plant-based.  While plant based eating does not have to mean that you will completely forgo meat and dairy, it does mean that those foods are dramatically reduced.  However, my personal choice, other than my occasional indulgence of black bean nachos, I choose not to consume meat and dairy products.  Additionally, I have (once again) committed to breakfast smoothies during this time period rather than skipping breakfast.  These smoothies are whole food, plant based powerhouses with no added sugar.  Every ingredient contained within them is full of fiber and a solid source of nutrition.  

I know that many people are opposed to drinking calories, and I understand abiding by that rule. However, I simply do not have time to commit to a sit-down breakfast, plus my stomach is often a queasy mess in the mornings.  A premade smoothie that I make ahead of time is a portable package of sound nutrition that my stomach can tolerate a couple of hours after rising.  They fuel me through my morning, and by lunch, I find I am not, per se, ravenously hungry.  

Additionally, by the time I head for my after-work runs, even if I am mentally exhausted, once I force myself to my running destination, I have plenty of fuel in the tank to complete the run.  Afterwards, I ALWAYS feel better, and even if everything else about the day seemed like it went wrong, at least I did two positive things for myself: fed my body good nutrition and exercised.  In my book, that’s a win. COVID changes be danged.

What follows below is one of my newest smoothie creations. (I’ve got a few more recipes I’m refining!)  No matter how frazzled, frustrated, or dissatisfied I may feel with external situations, this recipe has a way of mentally picking me up with its bright flavors and hint of chocolatey goodness.  Feel free to play around with and/or change the ingredients and/or the amounts to meet your personal dietary needs and taste preference.  Additionally, serve it up in a nice glass or even canning jar, and don’t be ashamed if using a straw (I use metal, reusable straw.) to slurp up all of the goodness at the bottom of the glass!  

From my home to yours, I wish you much happiness, health, and harmony even during these challenging times.  

Steph’s Blues Busting Chocolate Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

½ cup favorite milk or water (I use plant based milk.)

1 cup (75 grams) chopped romaine lettuce

1/2 ripe banana (I buy them ahead of time and freeze once ripe.)

2 tablespoons flax seed (Can use hemp or chia seeds.)

**2-4 tablespoons of Dutched cocoa powder, depending upon how chocolatey you want it.

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean powder

1 ½  cup (45 grams frozen; 85 grams fresh) chopped spinach 

1  cup blueberries (Can use frozen.)

½ cup cherry, pomegranate, or pomegranate/cherry juice

Dash of salt (I use a twist of ground pink himalyan.)

Optional: Add 1-2 teaspoons of favorite sweetener if desired, such as pure maple syrup, molasses, or honey (I do NOT add any sweetener, but I know others prefer a sweeter smoothie.)

Place in a blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Divide between two glasses.

Can be served immediately or stored for later use in the fridge.

Makes 2 servings.

**If you are not a fan of chocolate, you can skip the cocoa powder altogether.  However, you may want to consider adding, at the very least, 1 tablespoons of it.  Cocoa powder has numerous health and nutritional benefits.