Running Addiction

Written by Ann Brennan

Running AddictionI am not sure running addiction is the right term. Addiction is such a harsh word, conjuring images of a young man slumped over on a dirty bathroom floor with a needle in his arm, a mom pulling a bottle out of the very back of the cabinet, drinking straight from the bottle while her children play in the other room, an older man leaving a bar, stumbling to the car, driving off and putting everybody on the road at risk. Addiction means lives falling apart. Addiction ends in either recovery or death. But still we talk about running addictions. Because our love of the run is that strong. Our love of running is, in less offensive terms an obsession. Something we can live without but cannot imagine how.

I am always amazed at how quickly my love for running can move from dread, to like to love to passion to obsession. After taking months off, working through our family issues and letting my fitness slide, I have come back to running. The first few weeks were tough. Part of me believed that maybe I had lost the love for the sport, that I would have to look for something else to light the fire running had always ignited. But soon, before I had time to give up, I realized I was looking forward to my runs again. I began to not just plan for them but to long for them.

And in the past few weeks, as an injury began to show its ugly head, I realized that I had moved past love and passion into obsession. I need my run. Although my foot had become almost too painful to stand I continued to run. I complained about the pain but was not willing to stop running to let it get better.

Then this past weekend, the foot screamed loud enough to break through the running obsession. I was reminded of the advice I give to others, “Take a week off now and you will avoid having to take 8 weeks off later. “ And in the first two miles of my long run I stopped. I walked back home and hopped on my bike, giving my foot the chance to begin healing.

But here, in what has happened since, is the true reason we call running an addiction. Two days later and I have had moments when the foot is not painful. By moments I mean actual moments. I will be sitting down to dinner and realize that I am not in pain. I will wake up in the middle of the night and not feel that burning sensation in the heel of my foot. And I will think, “Oh, maybe I can run.” This morning I had to remind myself that those are moments. They are not the truth. The pain has been almost constant; going back too soon will only prolong the pain.

So, this morning I put on my padded shorts and biking shoes and climbed on my bike. I resisted the call of the run. I resisted the desire to ignore the pain, to push through and get my run in.

Running is an obsession, maybe it can become an addiction but I believe the difference lies in this decision I am making right now. I can choose to run until the wheels fall off or I can rest, recover and live to run another day. So, yes I am obsessed with the sport. It brings a joy into my life that is hard to find elsewhere so I fight for it. I will rest. I will let my foot heal and I will come back to running with the same love I have had for over twenty years.

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Clicking Into Place

Written by Ann Brennan

Clicking Into PlaceIf you follow me on Facebook you will have noticed an unseemly pattern of whining. “Why I am training for another marathon? I will never run another marathon again in my life. Running is hard. My feet hurt…” If you are one of my regular readers you may have responded by posting a link back to The Last Marathon in which I complain over and over again about the marathon only to be reminded on race morning why it is I keep going back. And I thank you for reminding me. But the truth is that this time has been different. This time I was truly struggling, completely doubting myself and ready to give up. But then two weeks ago everything clicked into place.

We were in Alaska, running on the Coastal Path, when my Garmin died. I couldn’t see the time. I had no idea how far I had run and suddenly, while wasn’t looking, I let my guard down. I stopped thinking about my feet. I stopped thinking about being bored. I stopped worrying about how much slower I am right now and for just a few minutes I enjoyed my run. Suddenly, everything clicked into place. I remembered that feeling of being able to let go. I remembered what it felt like to believe that I could do something. I looked around me, watched the birds swooping down, skimming the water. Listened to the call of the loons. And for the first time in months I truly enjoyed the moment.

And then my feet hurt. My left leg started nagging me. I saw the train tunnel that I knew came just before the big hill and ugh, I was right back into the doubt. I remembered that I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I remembered that I hadn’t been running as fast. And I let go of the joy.

But running is funny that way, because those few minutes were enough to make me want to go back out again in search of the moment. Unfortunately the next run wasn’t as great. I struggled with jet lag. I began to chalk the run in Alaska up to the novelty of a new state, a new path. I wasn’t really going to love running again. I had lost whatever it was that made me a runner. But guess what? Even as I struggled, even as I doubted, I found myself falling in and out of love with the run. I had moments of love even in the midst of the pain. Since that run I find myself falling in love more than out. I find myself enjoying the moments more. And this weekend, on the first 18-miler I have done in more than a year, I was happy. I was happy to be a runner again. I was happy to find that everything is finally clicking into place.

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Little Victories

Written by Ann Brennan</strong>

Fat GirlI had a great run today. It was not significantly faster than all of the runs leading up to it. I did not cover more ground than normal. Looking at the numbers this workout was not significantly different in any definable way. But I noticed it. I felt it and today I am celebrating the little victories.

Today’s run was my first interval workout in almost two years. Two years ago I used a wonderful iTunes podcast set up by Coach Jeff because I did not have the discipline to make it through each and every interval. His workout podcast told me when to start and guided me through each and every interval and recovery set throughout the entire run. It acted as my discipline.

But today, I did not want to listen to the podcast. I wanted to prove to myself I would not follow my old patterns. I would not use excuses to slow down at the end of the seven minute interval. I would not use excuses to do 4 instead of 6 sets. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do all 6 sets according to plan on my own.

And I did. I plugged the workout into my Garmin and I set out for my run. Yes, I went out way too fast on the first set. I was so winded when I finished that first interval that I had already begun to make excuses why I wouldn’t be able to complete all of them. But I pushed the doubt to the side and I worked on my 2 minute recovery. I slowed down the second interval so I was solidly in Zone 4 but not pushing higher than that. And I made it through another set.

In the end, as my Garmin Forerunner 220 beeped at me letting me know it was time not for a recovery but for my cooldown I was almost disappointed. That was it. All of that build up of worry and that was all it took? Really? But then I thought about it. I thought about how mental this sport really is. How setting your mind to something can make all the difference and I knew I needed to celebrate. I needed to celebrate my discipline. I needed to celebrate my consistency. I needed to celebrate the little victories.

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No Excuses

Written by Ann Brennan

No excusesEvery day without exception I run across one Pinterest photo or another along the same lines, “No Excuses.” And every morning without exception I think, wouldn’t it be nice if I could live by this motto. But unfortunately I am human and life is full of excuses. One of my kids was awake all night with a stomach virus, one of the dogs made a mess of his crate, or I am just plain exhausted from having tried to cram too much into the previous day. There is always an excuse.

But, Coach Jeff is right, the trick to any good training season, before speedwork, before hill repeats, before heart rate training, is consistency. Without consistency there is simply no way for a race to go to plan. Jeff’s other favorite saying is to work the plan. Well, there we go again. If we are to work the plan, there is no real room for excuses. So, what do we do?

How do we move past the excuses? How do we take what we are dealt and still move forward? With a plan. Whether you use a coach or a training program you found in a book, the plan is the first step to consistency. Yes, you still have the excuses. There will still be days when the workout is just not going to happen. But with a plan you can begin to juggle. You can move today’s workout to tomorrow and try to fit a shorter workout into today. You can juggle your workouts to fit with your life and you can develop the consistency, even with the excuses, that will inevitably get in the way.

Without a plan procrastination sets in. You push the workout to tomorrow but you can just as easily skip it tomorrow as well. Without a plan you have no map and without a map, you will not get to that destination.

Today, I missed my workout. But I have a plan. I know where I will move things around and I will get it done. Because I have built the consistency I don’t doubt that I will make it to the finish lines I have set out for myself this fall. Yes, I have excuses and yes, life gets in the way. But with a plan and consistency, those excuses are not roadblocks. Instead they become speedbumps. They slow me down but they don’t stop me.

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Final Sunrise – New Beginnings

Written by Ann Brennan

Sunrise Brooklyn BridgeYesterday our family went on our final sunrise hunt of the summer and what a great way it was to end the summer. Hours before we were to move Blaise into his dorm at NYU, we walked through the city onto the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed the most spectacular sunrise of the summer.

For the past few weeks our family has felt like it was in limbo. We were all waiting for the next big event. For school to start, for Blaise to leave for college, for the soccer season to begin and for me to start my first out-of-the-house job in 16 years. During this time we spent a lot of time waiting, barely moving forward. Today the waiting ends.

Blaise is in his dorm and is in the meat of orientation this morning. Zane is at school for his first day of first grade. Meg is putting the final touches on her summer assignments. And I start work at Spark Running. After a month of being in limbo and a year of being in absolute and total flux, we are settling in. We are making big beginnings and looking forward to where they take us.

For me, these new beginnings mark a rejuvenation of Ann’s Running Commentary as well. Once again I am sitting in front of the keyboard. Once again, my thoughts turn from everything that is happening outside to what it means to be a runner/mom/writer. Today I begin anew and I am so happy that so many of you have stuck around, waiting me out. I look forward to sharing this fall’s marathon season with you. I look forward to sharing Meg’s senior year and Blaise’s adventure in NYC. I look forward to being Ann from Ann’s Running Commentary once again.

There will be many more sunrises for us. Yesterday marked only one thing – the end of summer. The rest of the story is yet to come.

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Taking the First Step

Written by Ann Brennan

Taking the first stepI have been feeling pretty good about myself lately. Yes, I still look in the mirror and want to cry because I am so out of shape. And yes, I am still fighting for every mile I put in out there but, I am happy anyway. I am happy because I am looking at the target. I am aiming for two marathons this fall and I because I have those two marathons in my sights, and have taken the first steps in getting to that target, I feel as though I am moving forward. By taking the first step towards that goal, I am making progress.

If you have read Ann’s Running Commentary for a while you may remember my post about how to eat an elephant. In it I talk about what it takes to meet a big goal, about how sometimes that goal can be overwhelming and how the only way to tackle that goal is one bite at a time, one step at a time, one mile at a time. If you haven’t read it go back and give it a go. I personally head over there the minute I get overwhelmed.

But as much as I like that post and as much as that saying has helped me, I still find that the hardest bite, the hardest step is that first step. Whether it is the first step in a 4 month marathon training plan, the first form for your college application or working up the nerve to ask out the person who might turn out to be the love of your life it is the first step we have to overcome.

A few years ago, I was terrified of open water swimming. Once I got in the water I was fine but everytime I would stand on the dock looking down at the water, knowing I had to take the plunge my heart would stop and I would be completely stuck to the wood planks. I could not make myself get in that water. Eventually, I would ask Blaise to shove me. “Just push me,” I would beg. And of course, being the good husband he would. Over time I learned to push myself, to give myself the heave-ho off that deck and these days it is a much better experience.

What has you stuck? How can you take the first step to get past it?

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What was the hardest first step you have had to take in life?

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Summer Reading

Written by Ann Brennan

Summer ReadingI love books. I love the feel of them in my hands, even the Kindle version. I love the way a story builds from beginning to end. I love the characters who worm their way into my heart. I even love the books I hate, because they give me something to judge other books by. But there have only been two times in my life when I finished a book and turned right back to the beginning and started all over again. The first book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. At the time I thought it was because it had taken me by surprise. I did not expect to like the book. Even after I started it, it took me a while to get into it. The format threw me off. Written completely in letters, during World War II, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is ultimately a love story. I am not a big fan of love stories. Surely this most be the only real love story I will ever love.

So imagine my surprise, when I picked up The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, another book that turns out to be a love story, and once again I fell head over heels in love. Unlike The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I loved The Storied Life of AJ Fikry from the very first word. I spent the first 100 pages of the book making a list of everybody I wanted to share this book with. I spent the next 100 wondering why I had not started a list of all of the books mentioned in this book. As I mentioned before, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a love story. In some ways it is a love story in the conventional, boy meets girl way but, it is more than that. It is a story of father daughter love, of the love between friends, the love a community finds in its bookstore and ultimately the love of reading. By far, this is my favorite book this summer.

But the title to this post is not really misleading. I love books. I read constantly and I love recommendations for new books so I thought I would return the favor and tell you a little bit about some of the books I have read this so far this summer.

Summer Reading List

1. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry - In case you missed it, this is the one book I have read this summer that I want to share with everybody. If you have a love affair with reading, you will love this book, the construction, the characters, the love stories.
2. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole – I read this one based on a recommendation of a friend. She knew I had loved the Potato Peel Pie Society and suggested this one because it follows the same format. It is also written in letters. I enjoyed the read. It is a great book to carry with you on vacation because it is light reading. Again it is like finding a box of old letters. I found myself forgetting to put the book down because I just had to read one more letter. But in some ways it is cliche. It is not a book that will take your breath away. It is certainly not one that makes you turn back to the beginning and start again, but it was light and fun and best of all a sweet story.
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce My children hate this book. They haven’t read it but they are so sick of me talking about it. Harold Fry may be one of my all time favorite fictional characters. The book follows Harold out his front door at the very bottom of England and through every step of his unlikely journey to the very top of England on a quest to save a friend he wronged twenty years before. The book is far less of a story than a journey through Harold’s growth as a human being. As a runner I loved this book because I could relate to the places our minds go when we truly let go on a run. Earlier I talked about wanting to go back and read two books from the very beginning. I will go back and read this one again but not right away. It is emotionally draining. It is difficult to watch Harold walk through the pain of his past in order to find contentment again. But it is definitely worth reading again.
4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr I say that I love books but the truth is I am a hard sell. I read voraciously, which means I have read enough books to be wary of recommendations. This book was recommended to me by my Kindle. I seldom read a book that is recommended this way. I am not convinced that it is not just a sales ploy. But once in a while the recommendations will at least get me as far as the review page. For this book that was all it took. The reviews for this book were almost with without exception positive. This story follows two young people through the very end of WWII. A blind Parisian girl and a young orphaned German soldier. Only blocks apart throughout the book, facing bombings by the Allied Forces, both young people are in fear for their lives. The story is full of tension and excitement but, again, this is a story of characters. Obviously the two main characters but more importantly for me the supporting characters, the people who made these young people the people they are, make this story. It is a longer read than the other books on my summer list but well worth the time.
5. Remember Me Like This: A Novel by Bret Anthony Johnston I hate giving bad reviews but this book is an example of why I don’t usually take recommendations from my Kindle. Once again though this book received great reader reviews so I took the leap. Unfortunately, unless you really love books and can find something positive in almost any book, this is not the book for you. The premise is interesting. It is about what happens after a child who has gone missing comes home. The problem is the story was a good idea but somewhere along the way the author loses the plot and heads in a completely cliche direction. Still, if you love books for the development of characters this is a great book. If you can think of it less as a story and more of a study in people, it is interesting and worth the read. Can you tell I am iffy on this one? Would I call people out of the blue to recommend this book? No. But, if it were sitting on my table and a friend spotted it, would I warn them off? Probably not. The characters deserve to be introduced. They were created out of a great idea. The fact that the idea doesn’t get off the ground doesn’t make them any less intriguing. So, sure, if you have the time, and can get it at the library, give it a read. Let me know what you think.

As I write this I am without a next book. I sit here wondering whether Gabrielle Zevin’s other novels are as lovingly written as The Storied Life as AJ Fikry or should I quit while I am ahead? But I am a reader so I cannot go without a book. What are you reading? What do you recommend? And have you ever finished a book and started all over again right away?

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Coach Jeff Says It Best – Prostate Cancer

Written by Ann Brennan

A couple of weeks ago I announced that I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon for the 7th time. This time though I will be running for a cause. I will be running for Zero Prostate Cancer Endurance. Over the past two weeks I have tried to explain why I am doing this. I have told you about Coach Jeff who was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. I have told you how this cause is important to me because I have a husband, a dad, a father-in-law and two sons who may some day face this same disease. I have tried to explain that men do not talk about prostate cancer in the same way women didn’t talk about breast cancer in the 1950s. But I do not think I have done the cause justice.

Today I found this video and realized that the best way to get the point across is to introduce you to Coach Jeff and let him explain what he is doing and why. This man, this friend and coach, this father and son waited too long. He did not have the proper screening even after he developed symptoms and now he knows there is nothing more that can be done. Still, he is fighting. He is fighting for every other man. He is fighting for my husband, sons, dad and father in law. He is bringing this cause out of the shadows and helping men to talk about it. Please watch.


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Please consider making a small donation in the name of a man you love. Donate for your husband, your son or your dad. Donate for someone you want to get the proper screening. Donate to help us raise our voices and make prostate cancer as prominent as breast cancer. Donate here.

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Runners Make a Difference

Written by Ann Brennan

I have been writing at Ann’s Running Commentary for five years. During most of that time I have made it a policy not to use the blog as a means to fundraise. Last year I changed that policy. Suddenly I had a very personal reason to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Still, I did not think of this blog or my running life as an opportunity to give back. Then, unfortunately. I had a year of experiences that knocked me down over and over again and I could not find a way to get back up. Getting back up for myself was not enough. I needed something more.

I made a decision to give back. To make running about someone else and hope that that would pull me out of the hole I was in.

This year, with my daughter, Megan, I raised money once again for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention by walking for 24-hours. Last weekend, I volunteered for the Ocean City Games to raise awareness about Traumatic Brain Injuries and I recently announced that I am running the Marine Corps Marathon this year for Zero Prostate Cancer Endurance. But will it make a difference? Can runners really make a difference in the bigger world?

Yesterday, I spoke with David over at NordicTrack and it turns out they have done the research. They know just how much of a difference runners have made. Check out this great graphic showing just how much charity runners have raised and what that means to their lives. If it peaks your interest, check out the list at the bottom and join in the cause. Start running for a bigger purpose. Help runners make a difference.

Make a Difference

“Infographic courtesy of NordicTrack – Maker of the World’s Best Treadmills

One Good Thing

Written by Ann Brennan

One Good ThingYesterday I wrote about a lesson I learned in Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass. Today, as I ran I continued listening to this book and spent a good portion of the run shaking my head. The truth is I hate self-help books. I find them to be patronizing. I think they often aim for the lowest common denominator and I believe that most of the advice in these books is simple common sense. But, as I ran, still shaking my head, I realized I have gotten something from this book. I learned to remember even in the worst situations there is always something good. Does that mean all the time spent listening to this book is time well spent? Well, yes, yes it does.

This is a lesson I learned long ago. Whether it is a failed relationship, a book you did not enjoy or a run that did not go to plan, there is always at least one good thing to be taken from the experience. Maybe in that failed relationship you found your all time favorite restaurant or were introduced to a new set of friends or discovered that you really are too good to be wasting your time on a loser like that guy. In that book that you hated maybe you didn’t come away having learned a big life lesson but maybe you learned something about a time in history you hadn’t known about before. Maybe you are now able to rule out an entire genre of books for future visits to the library. Or maybe you discovered one new word you had never used before but know you will be adding to your vocabulary from now on.

And on that run?

Well that is what this is all about, isn’t it. Today I have a thousand items on my to do list. I did not have the time to get a run in but I also know that I don’t have the time in the calendar to skip runs leading up to my two fall marathons. So…I went out and got it in. It was hot and humid. It was miserable and I spent a good portion of the time bitching in my head about the book I was listening to and dreading all of the chores that would follow the run. But, I got it in. I covered the miles and better yet, I completed ten hill repeats. I have not done hill repeats in years. I had forgotten how hard they were but I had also forgotten how much fun they were and how even with the first one I am always aware of how strong they will make me. Today I took away a sense of purpose. I did not love my run but I love having completed it.

Although my rule is that there should always be one good thing. I have found that looking for that one thing almost always leads to others. So, Jen Sincero and her life lessons might make me crazy for a good portion of the book, but she also hits the nail on the head several times throughout the book. I might dread my run but once I have done it I walk away knowing I have completed yet another step on the way to the marathon. I have begun to get stronger through my training. I learned that I can do something even when I am dreading it.

Life is not always fun. Running is not always fun. But, if we can take one good thing from the experience, isn’t it worth continuing down this path?

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