Do You Have the Grit?

Written by Ann Brennan

GRITThere is a theme that runs through most of the posts on Ann’s Running Commentary. Grit. To do what we do, we must have the grit to push through. Whether we are pushing through a marathon, pushing through an injury or just pushing through everyday life, we need grit. Do you have the grit to push through? Probably. But you have to look for it. You have to dig deep and find the guts to take on whatever life throws at you.

In November, as I was struggling through the final miles of the NCR Trail Marathon I whined, I cried, I bitched, but I pushed on. I was in a ridiculous amount of pain. My back was swollen and throbbing. My glutes and hamstrings that had shut down because of the pain were giving me absolutely nothing to work with. I was quite simply done. And the truth is if I could have stepped outside of that moment for long enough I would have told you I was at my weakest point.

But yesterday I realized I must have been at my strongest point mentally. I had the grit to finish that race and that was not a small thing.

This was brought home to be yesterday as I was working the final water stop at the B&A Trail Marathon. We waited to take our water stop down until the very last runner made her way in. We knew we were less than a quarter mile to the finish but everyone of us wanted to be there for this final runner.

As she approached, I walked back towards her and I recognized myself in the look on her face. She was gutted; she was knackered; she was finished. Tears brimmed in her eyes but she would not let them flow. She was determined. She was dead last and had not made the cut off but she would not be stopped. She was going to get to that finish line come hell or high water. She had the grit and the guts it takes to get to that finish line.

When I write it, it doesn’t seem like much. But it is so much. It is everything. When she realized she was dead last, she could have quit. When she began to feel sick to her stomach, she could have quit. There were a thousands of times along that course she could have quit but she didn’t.

It takes one second to quit. One second. But that second is on repeat. There are 21,600 seconds in 6 hours. She had 21,600 opportunities to quit. She had just as many opportunities to push on. And she took those. She had to grit, to push through every one of those seconds. She had the grit to finish.

An Injury Update

Written by Ann Brennan

Injury ReportJust a quick injury update – I am still not running but the good news is that physical therapy seems to be working which leaves the doctors hopeful we can put off back surgery. Thank goodness for that, right?

On the other hand I have spent a lot of time complaining in the past few weeks. Yes, complaining about the pain and the fact that I seldom sleep but mostly complaining about working in a running store, organizing group runs, and going to running events while not being able to participate.

But today, I vow to stop complaining about this. Today, I realized how lucky I am to be in a community where being injured doesn’t mean I am no longer part of the in crowd. This was brought home to me this morning as I stood at the starting line of the Get Pumped for Pets 5k on the Eastern Shore taking photos and chatting with so many of the friends I have run with in the past few years. Although I would have loved to be running alongside, them I had a great time cheering them into the finish, cheering for the ones who placed and laughing as their competitive counterparts playfully grumped their way through the reward ceremony. I left feeling uplifted and happy.

Tomorrow, I know I will have a similar experience. I am not running but I am back to walking and as such I will be joining the local Moms Run This Town and Fleet Feet joint Monday morning run. I will walk in the back with a couple of other moms who are struggling with injuries and then, because we are both moms and runners, we will stick around and have coffee, bonding because we are, injured or not, always runners.

So, yes, I am still injured but this weekend, I am more grateful than angry. I am grateful to be a part of a community that embraces me, warts and all.

For The Love Of Running

love of runningThis morning as I was going through my emails I came across a notice from my blog. Someone had left a comment. Comments happen every day but today’s comment set off a series of memories, memories that were so vivid I was left with no choice but to examine them and in turn examine the true reason for my love of running. Surprisingly, when it comes down to it, my love of running has less to do with the endorphins that course through my body, the sense of accomplishment I get when I cross another finish line or the fact that running is absolute evidence that I am taking care of my own health, than it does with the people that I have met and continue to meet because of this sport.

The message this morning was from Jim Brennan, no relation, who I met six years ago at the starting line of the Baltimore Marathon. Six years later, Jim and I are still in touch. Not on a regular basis but enough to remind me that the best part of running is the people.

Every few months, when we start a new training group at the store, I tell them the same thing. “You came here to get fit. You came here to cross a finish line. And you will get those things. But you will get something so much better than that. Each week as you tackle your goals, you will build a bond with the other participants. You will find friendship along the miles. And that will be one of the greatest gifts this new sport will give to you.”

It sounds cheesy but it is true.

As I started examining my love of running this morning I thought back over the years. I thought about the people who have come into my life through running. The friends I made through our local running club, the strangers I met at the starting line of a marathon and never lost touch with. I thought about the people who I don’t really know but who have inspired me at almost every race for the past 20 odd years. People who ran for Ainsley’s Angels and other organizations pushing athletes through the race. I thought about the people who started out as anything but athletes, losing 100+ pounds along the way and covering far more miles than they ever thought possible. And I thought about all of my running friends who encouraged them all the way through their journey from fat to fit.

But it is about more than running. So many of the people I have met since I started my own journey are so much more than “running friends” now. Yes, there were literally hundreds of people sending messages through my husband as I made my way around the course at Beach to Battleship and there have been dozens of people cheering me on on other courses. But there is so much more than that. There was the friend who was willing to drop everything after a year of planning in order to be by my side two years ago when my whole world was turned upside down. There were the friends who started as “running friends” who called or sent cards or messaged me on a regular basis as we started living a new normal after depression changed our lives. There was my coach, who was there every step of the way even when I stopped running because I couldn’t run and cry at the same time.

Running is so much more than a sport. Running is a community. A community that is stronger than I ever imagined. A community that makes every day better for so many of us.

So, yes, I love running. I love the sound of my feet on the ground, the sun on my face and the sweat dripping from my body. I love that it has made me a stronger person. But mostly, I love the people running has brought into my life.

Thanks Jim Brennan, for helping me to see this.

How Did I Get Here?

confidence to continueHow did I get here? I often ask myself this question. How in the world did I become Ann from Ann’s Running Commentary? How did I become the person lucky enough to have met runner’s from all over the world, to receive emails asking for encouragement before a big event, or better yet, the person who receives emails thanking me for helping them achieve their goals? How did I become a person who who is confident enough to help others achieve their goals?

Today, I need that answer. Having been injured for almost 3 months, not being able to run at all, I need to think back on how this crazy journey started. And if I am honest with myself, it is the same answer any of us could give. It started with that first step, that first mile, that first run.

I look back on that day and see my overweight, out of shape self trying to get through that first mile. I can still feel the frustration and doubt. But I can also feel that sense of accomplishment when it was done. It all started back in March of 1992. Almost 24 years ago, I started my personal journey toward health.

It still amazes me how long it took me to admit to being a runner. It still amazes me that I couldn’t admit that to myself even as I ran 5ks, 10ks and my first marathon back in 1997. But it doesn’t surprise me that the first time I admitted it it was because I was trying to help someone else realize they were a runner. The only way I could convince them was to believe it about myself.

When Ann’s Running Commentary came into being, it was about writing. It was about getting my words out there. But it quickly changed. It quickly became about the readers, the people who would comment, “I felt just that way” or “I needed to hear that.” It became a circle of encouragement, each of us building on the others and gaining the confidence to continue.

The confidence to continue. That’s why I needed the answer today. How did I get here? I got here by developing the confidence to continue. I still don’t have a date when I might or even if I might be back to running. But I have the confidence to continue. I have the confidence to do what I have told my injured readers to do. Find something else I love and keep moving. Be patient. Be kind to myself. And have the confidence to know my time will come again.

I’m Not a Runner

rp_Dog-Days-Race-213x3001.jpgEvery day people come into the store where I work and introduce their needs with “I’m not a runner.” They go on to explain that they only run short distances or they run long distances but not fast or heaven forbid, they run with some walk breaks. Because of these shortcomings, their thoughts, not mine, they are not a runner. I always respond with some variation of, “Of course you are a runner. You put one foot in front of another. That makes you a runner.”

But suddenly I find myself believing that I am not a runner. After almost 25 years of running I find myself with a major injury. One that leaves me thinking my running days are over or at the very least, my long distance days are over. And even as I write this I want to cry. Even as I write this I feel my shoulders droop, my chest ache, and my feet itch to get out there and run again.

Am I really done? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have to practice what I preach. I have to give myself credit for what I have done and be nice to myself about what I cannot currently do.

Running has been a huge part of my life for so long and now that I work at Fleet Feet, helping with the group runs and training programs, meeting with runners on a daily basis, not running is harder. Not running defines me in a whole new way. A way I don’t like, a way I need to correct. I was a runner. I am not a runner. Hopefully, with physical therapy and lots of work I will one day be a runner again.

Stop Sabotaging Your Training

Written by Ann Brennan

Stop Sabotaging Your Training“Okay Mom, I will rest if you will just shut up about it.”

I have heard this several times over the past two weeks. Apparently I have become the mom of the running community. I am willing to accept that role if it means getting through to the runners who are sabotaging their chances of running a strong marathon.

In the past few weeks I have run with several injured runners. Yes, injured. People with injuries that are causing them to limp on a regular basis. People who can pinpoint the cause of the injury and still refuse to take a few days off to rest.

I understand their reasoning. The plan calls for a run today, therefore I have to get it in.

But these are smart people. They are people who can understand that running is only making their injury worse, but they can’t allow themselves downtime because the plan says…

So, today, I am here once again to play mom. Today I am here to say, rest, ice, compress and elevate. Stop sabotaging your training. Treat the injury now and you are much more likely to make it across that finish line on race day.

I get that it is hard to skip a workout. The workouts are what move you forward. That 20-mile run is just the thing to give you confidence for race day. But will it do that if you are in pain the whole time? Will it move you forward if you start the race with a limp?

Yes, I am being a mom. But the truth is, YOU KNOW THIS. You know that it makes no sense to sabotage your efforts by making an injury worse. It makes no sense to push through the pain if the swelling in that joint is made worse. It makes perfect sense to nurse it. Make it better and then go out.

I am never one to say skip a race (unless there is a good way to reschedule it sooner rather than later). I understand the draw of race day. But I am one to tell you that resting an injury is always the smart move, fresh legs never ruined a marathon, and knowing you have made the smart decision should give you the confidence you need to get it done on race day.

Okay, mom is shutting up now. Sort of, after I say one more thing. Go get that ice, the compression socks, watch some tv with your feet up and for God’s sake, get some rest.

Running With My Heart

Written by Ann Brennan

Running with my heartI am driving my husband out of his mind. To be fair, if I were to tell Ann Brennan of 2012 what I am doing right now, she would be going out of her mind as well. But it is okay, because I am having fun. I am getting the training done and I will run NCR Trail Marathon at the end of November without losing my mind.

So, what am I doing?

I am running with my heart. I have no training program. I haven’t used one since May. It started off innocently enough. I was struggling with the workouts in my plan. I was struggling to get them in at all but I was also struggling with the exactness of them. I felt pressure to get it right and in turn this pressure was discouraging me from getting out the door.

After two years of struggling to want to run at all, I decided it was time to find that desire again. I wanted to love running like I used to. I wanted to get a hankering to get out there and I had to find a way to get to that point.

The first thing I did was rope in a training partner who was also not loving the sport. I asked my son, Blaise, to train for the Annapolis 10-Miler with me. All summer we went out together, getting in our miles and enjoying the time, talking and having fun. The run was almost secondary.

I have run for an awful long time so, though I did not have a plan, I did know what it would take to get across that finish line. And Blaise knew how to push me just enough to get better every week without making me lose the joy.

In August we finished the race just in time for him to head back to school and suddenly I worried again. How was I going to get my workouts in without him. He had been my secret ingredient.

So I improvised. I started running with the Fleet Feet running groups twice a week and inviting people to run with me on my long runs. That left me one day a week to run on my own. It turns out that was not hard to do. After all the consistency Blaise and I had built over the summer I had found the hankering.I actually looked forward to those runs again.

This weekend, I have a twenty-miler. My husband casually asked whether it would be my longest run before my marathon next month. When I told him I wasn’t sure, he didn’t get it. He follows a plan. We have followed plans all of our running lives. It is just the way you get it done. What I am doing seemed crazy to him.

But I know. I know that I may not have a plan, but I have a heart. I have a heart that is telling me that I am loving running again. A head that is telling me nothing hurts right now. And this far into the marathon season that is a huge deal. I am listening to my body and using my past experience to get there.

In March I will be running a marathon with Megan, my 19-year-old daughter. In May, she and I will be running 24-hours for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For those, I will train with a plan. I have goals for the marathon. I want to go into the 24-hour run as fit as I have ever been and I will need my coach and his plan to get me there. But for now I want to run happy and to do that I will run with my heart.

What Are My Motives?

Written by Ann Brennan

examine your motivesA while back a friend questioned my blog. His theory was that I blog for myself. I blog to get thoughts out of my head and onto something solid. But the biggest accusation was that I blog because I am self-centered.

I don’t always take comments like this at face value but in this case I thought I should think about it. How often am I writing about myself and when I do write about myself is it really in order to help others who are facing the same issue or am I just self indulging? While thinking about this I thought about a conversation I had with my son about charity. My son’s theory is that there is no selfless charity because no matter what you are giving, you are always getting something in return, even if it is just a feeling of accomplishment.

Months later I realize I may have given this whole line of thought too much attention, because after a full year of writing here part-time at best, I have come to realize that what has been stopping me is not a lack of time or commitment but a serious questioning of my motives. If I am writing for myself, am I truly helping anybody else?

I would like to think, maybe I choose to think, that the wonderful note I received from a friend this weekend, telling me how much of a difference I have made in her life is the answer. This note sparked memories, memories of other notes, posts and letters from readers who have shared their struggles and triumphs with me. Notes that have given me more credit than I deserve for getting them to the starting line or the finishing line of races, helping them see they are not alone in their struggle with depression or helping them to feel free to ask for help.

Does the fact that I do help others mean I am not self-centered? I don’t know. I do spend an awful lot of time analyzing moments in my life, looking for stories in those moments and in turn looking for lessons to be learned from those stories. But is that a bad thing? Again, I am not sure. Maybe, maybe I could help people through their struggles in a different way, but I don’t know where I would begin. What I do know is that when I hear about someone else’s journey, their struggles and their triumphs I am always looking for the life lessons for myself. It is through others’ stories that I learn lessons for my own life. It is how I process. It is what works for me.

When I started this blog, I started it as a means to make myself write. After a few short weeks I realize how many people are looking for the same answers I am looking for. How many people are feeling overweight, not able to meet their goals, afraid of taking that first step. I could have continued to write the way I did in the beginning, telling funny stories about my kids or my latest race, but it didn’t seem right. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to turn my stories into lessons. The perfect time to look for answers. Sometimes those lessons help me. Sometimes they help others. Either way, it seems like someone is winning and isn’t winning a good thing.

Finding Ironann

Written by Ann Brennan

12011175_10205951356796015_7812811752821369364_nAt the beginning of the summer I found myself thinking about my trajectory since completing Ironman in 2012. How high I had felt after completing the distance, but more importantly, how strong I felt after all the training. And how quickly I was deflated. How far I fell after my depression and eventual hospitalization.

As I thought, I realized why the task of “getting back into shape seemed so hard.” I had, without realizing it, made the task bigger than it needed to be. I was aiming for that Ironman conditioning. I wanted to be that strong again and I knew how much work that would take.

That day I gave myself a secondary goal. I did not have to get in Ironman shape again. I just had to find Ironann. I had to find the person who could become Ironman again. I had to find the confidence and the drive I had lost over the previous two years.

Thankfully, I had already taken steps in the right direction. This was not going to be a matter of starting from scratch. Meg and I had been training since January for our 24 hour walk, an epic feat in and of itself. At that point we had completed walks up to 15 hours long and we were confident in our ability to cover the 24 hours we were aiming for. I had registered for the Annapolis Striders’ Championship Series and had already completed two of the races. And I had signed up for the Annapolis 10-Miler with my oldest son, Blaise, as well as the Patriots Half Ironman. I was setting goals. I was reaching Ironann already, all I needed to do at that point in the summer was to keep moving forward and to find the strength and confidence I had lost along the way.

Coach Jeff is constantly pushing consistency. Consistency is the key to success. I put that idea to the test this summer, I went back to my favorite quote, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time and I forced myself to get every single workout in. Even in the week after completing the 24 hour walk with Meg in July, I ran with Blaise, just to make sure I did not lose momentum.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed I am stronger. I could feel it when climbing uphill. It was clear to me when Blaise and I started pushing our mileage higher with less effort than I expected. But it was not until this weekend that I realized I had found the other part of the formula. I had found my confidence.

This weekend, as I completed the Patriots International* Distance Triathlon in Williamsburg, I found myself struggling. I had not put in enough swims over the summer so a good day in the water would have been tough for me. Unfortunately, I did not have a good day in the water. Just as we turned the corner to head back for the final half of the swim, a storm came in. The waves kept me from being able to sight. I drank far more river water than I would like and at moments I felt like I was swimming on a treadmill, making no progress whatsoever. In other words, I had the worst swim of my life.

When I left the water I was gutted. I wanted to cry. Worse yet, I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. Because you eat an elephant one bite at a time and because I love the next bite of the triathlon. I pushed on. It was after coming off the bike that I found Ironann. After leaving everything on the bike course, my legs were shot. I began the run by walking and again, almost crying. And that’s when it happened. That’s when a little voice inside, said, “It’s an hour, Ann. Not 24 hours. Not even two hours. Just an hour.” And suddenly I found myself running and better yet, I found myself enjoying the run. Enjoying the fact that I have a body that can carry me through the waves of that river, along that bike course 3 miles per hour faster than I have ridden all summer and finally through this hot and humid run.

Along that course I found that old confidence. The belief in myself that pushed me to try Ironman in the first place. Along that course I found Ironann.

*I stepped back from the 70.3 distance because of my work schedule.

Running For Joy

Written by Ann Brennan

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWhen I started Ann’s Running Commentary 9 years ago, I had just completed the Marine Corps Marathon with a 20 minute PR. I was on top of the world. Part of that joy was the PR but, the bigger part was that I had been running for joy. I was not looking for a PR that year. Instead I had been running because it was fun.

But I have often said that running is an evolution. We start for one reason and continue to run for different reasons and these reasons are constantly evolving. Over the past 9 years I have gone from running for joy, to running to qualify for Boston, to running to lose weight, to literally running for my sanity, and back to running to lose weight. Somewhere along the way, the joy I found in running went away. It became a job.

Over the past few months I have let everything else go and I have run for joy once again. I did not plan it this way. The truth is that I started this summer with a completely different plan. I wanted to run a fast Annapolis 10 Miler in August and I had a plan. Get my oldest son to run with me and push me until I met that goal.

Blaise and I started running together as soon as he got home from college and suddenly my outlook on running changed. I couldn’t wait to get up at 5 a.m. to run with my son at 5:30. Not because I looked forward to the act of running but because I looked forward to running beside my son. We went from two days a week to three days a week and are now running consistently 4 days a week.

And that consistency is part of the joy. Knowing that the run is there, that I am going to do it, no questions asked, makes it fun. It is no longer a chore. It is part of my life.

Lately, Blaise and I have taken to inviting others to run with us, whether it is an impromptu pub run, a friend who just needs someone to help motivate her or a group of local runners getting together for a run on a tuesday night, we are enjoying the extra company.

After Ironman I never really found that love of running again. For many reasons I forgot about running for joy. Instead, I ran for purpose. Today, I run because I want to, because I love the sound of my feet on the pavement, the feel of the sweat dripping down my face, and the company that is doing it with me. Today, I run for joy.

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