Another Bite of the Elephant

Written by Ann Brennan

Another bite of the elephantJust over a month ago, I decided to sign up for my first 70.3 since completing Beach to Battleship Ironman in 2013. Registering was a big deal for me, not because of the money, not because I haven’t trained in a while, but because when I signed up I also committed to training the way I did for Ironman. I committed to train to do my absolute best.

I have run plenty of races that I did not care about over the years. But having trained for Beach to Battleship with the thought of not just finishing but doing the absolute best I could, I learned so much about myself. After struggling for two years with my personal depression and Meg’s battle as well, that kind of commitment. The commitment to get every workout in. The commitment to focus on one workout at a time. The commitment to eat that elephant one bite at a time. The commitment to take one more bite of that elephant. That commitment, that commitment was scary.

But I did it and I called Coach Jeff right away to tell him I wanted to not just run the race but PR there. Hats off to Jeff in this situation. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t ask if I was sure. He simply said, “Okay then, let’s do it.”

That day I got my first workout in. A run. The next day I biked and then I swam. Each day with the exception of taking 5 days off due to a crappy chest cold, I have gotten my planned workouts in and I feel great. I feel strong. I feel so different from the woman who stood at this computer afraid to hit the “register” button. I feel ready to tackle an endurance event again.

It is a crazy feeling. Feeling myself move from scared to confident. Finding myself feeling like an athlete again. But the craziest part is not just the mental side but the physical. I haven’t just become stronger mentally. I have become faster and stronger physically through the mental toughness. In just a month, I have cut 1:45 off my mile pace, not because I have worked hard enough for that to happen but because I told myself I was faster and my body responded. I have lifted more, I have run harder and farther than I have done in a long time. All of it because I reminded myself that I could.

I know that as the creator of a blog about the mental side of running this should not surprise me but it does. I am thrilled to see what I have accomplished in a month but I am simply amazed that so much of it came from a change in attitude.

I signed up for my race early so I could build a base. I signed up early so I could become an athlete again. I have over five months to meet the goal of PRing at the Patriot 70.3 and today I am not scared. Today I am excited. I have no doubt I can get there. I have no doubt I am strong enough to get myself there and across that finish line. I know I can. I believe I can. And that’s the biggest hurdle jumped.

Long Walks & Laughs

-Written by Ann Brennan

What we learned In January Meg and I started training for our 24-hour Walk Out of the Darkness. Although training is not a new concept for either of us, training for a walk is. Last year we did two walks, each less than two hours before tackling the big walk in July. This year we decided to change that. We started with a four hour walk and have built up to this weekend’s 10-hour walk.

Every week we find ourselves discounting our efforts. “Oh, it’s just a walk. We don’t need Glide. It’s just a walk, we don’t need to bring Gatorade.” But each week we are reminded just how hard distances are, whether you are running a 5-minute mile or walking a 20-minute mile. Every week we have to remind ourselves to take these walks seriously.

Part of that is that we look forward to each week’s long walk. We look forward to them because they never fail to be fun. We laugh more than complain. We joke about everything from being crazy to do this in the first place (afterall wasn’t this plan hatched on a psyche ward?) to skunk farts. Yes, you read that right, skunk farts. We seldom go quiet, even in our 10-hour walk this weekend we laughed and talked from beginning to end. Sleep deprived, blistered feet and wind burned and still we found ourselves loving every step of this crazy long walk.

But still, it is work. It takes effort and it takes a mental toughness that we get not just from within but from each other. And we are learning that that is the key. That is the secret not just
in these walks but in our quest for mental health as well. We have to lean on each other to get through.

And that extends beyond our walk. It extends beyond Meg and me. It extends to the community as a whole. We have to lean on each other if we are going to make it through the rigors of depression. We have to open up and talk about the pain and sometimes laugh at the situation just to make it easier to bear. We can make it through. We can make it through these crazy long walks, and we can all make it through the darkness of depression, if we depend on each other.

A Runner’s Journey

I started following Matt Brewer through our little “Idiots Runner’s Club late last year. So when I read that he had completed his first marathon I was happy for him. A couple of days later, he posted this passage on our club page and I went from happy to thrilled. What an amazing journey he has been on. What incredible lessons he has learned. I seldom ask people to guest write here but as soon as I read this I knew Matt’s story needed a wider audience. From learning, at 24 years old that he had a tumor that might kill him, to dealing with a debilitating depression, Matt has come so far. Matt’s story is a story of hope. No matter how dark things look today, there is always tomorrow and we never know what that will hold in store. I hope that you find his story as inspiring as I did.

Written by Matt Brewer

“You’ll be dead by the time you’re 32 years old,” a doctor told me as he was looking over my blood work results in 2007. “That is, unless we can remove the tumor lodged between your heart and spinal cord.” At the time, I had just gotten married at the ripe age of 24 I was looking forward to what the future held in store. A routine yearly physical revealed something that I would have never imagined. “How could I have a tumor?” I was overweight and had higher blood pressure and fully expected the doctor to tell me how this would lead to obesity, increased high blood pressure, and possibly heart disease but none of that came up.

“Matt, you have a very high amount of Calcium in your blood, worse yet it is being leached from your bones. It’s a wonder you haven’t literally fallen apart.” Paraphrased, of course as it was still so surreal and I knew he must have confused me for someone else and I couldn’t have something like that wrong with me at 24 years old. We took more tests and x-rays. Over the course of about 5 months I had so much blood work and tests run I began to feel like a guinea pig in a lab. It was all true. First, the team of docs thought thyroid, or rather parathyroid, in my neck. “Nope, normal size and shape, we’re baffled,” I remember the pair of specialists saying. More tests and I’m getting more and more frustrated that all these specialists with their fancy degrees can’t find out what is leaching calcium from my bones into my blood. Finally, the doctors saw a golf ball size mass in my chest. The culprit was found and now the question was how to get it out as it sat right behind my heart and in front of my spine. “Would I be paralyzed?” “What about my heart?” Long story short, the surgeons removed the tumor. Although, my heart stopped beating for a bit I was revived and stitched up. After the surgery one of the 2 surgeons came in and said my sternum felt like a wet sponge and the could have probably cut through it with a butter knife. He went on to say if I was involved in a car wreck I would have been immediately killed due to the fragility of my bones.

Post op, I look down and see huge tubes coming out of my chest and a 9-inch scar from where my chest was literally cut in half. I jokingly told my wife and family that all the ladies would find these scars hot…haha. I spent the remaining 4 days in the hospital. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t use the bathroom by myself, felt completely dependent. As my chest began to heal and the staples held me together I regained some of my strength and could, at the very most, walk around by myself.
My life almost ended at age 24. Up to that point I felt invincible. I never had a broken bone, surprisingly due to how fragile my bones were, and no major surgery. After something as life changing as this occurs things are put into perspective and you realize how you’re just as human as anyone else and at the blink of an eye you could be gone.

Fast forward a bit. My chest scar is healed nicely and I’m able to lift more than 5 pounds. Although physically I am getting better, mentally I am a wreck. The next few years I battled with depression and anxiety. I just assumed it was some sort of PTSD from my surgery and the trauma that I went through. I think partially it was but I think a lot of it was due to what I’ve done with my life or rather what I haven’t done with my life. Here I have been given a second shot at life and I haven’t done anything with it. I love my wife and in January 2009 we welcomed our first child, my little girl Zoe. I couldn’t have been happier at the time but again my depression deepened.
I worked for nearly 3 years as a psychiatric tech, imagine that. I worked there proudly until one day at work I snapped and had a panic attack and was sent to the ER. My co-workers thought I was faking it but little did they know or I know that that day would have me fighting for my life all over again. The next several months I’m stuck in bed, weak, depressed, and scared I am losing my mind. I was losing my mind. I couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t do anything. Sadly, I had to quit the hospital and had some backlash from them not understanding what was happening. You’d think working in inpatient psych that people would care and understand more than anyone else. Not true. I loved my job and helping the sick, that’s the truth.

I finally found a medical doctor who took the time to listen to me and was eventually put on some medication that helped. After several months of some lifestyle changes, medication, and putting my trust in faith I finally started feeling human again. It is so completely normal to be abnormal. Don’t hide it.

After all that you’d think I’d be some fit and trim athlete because you know lying in bed for months gives you that lean and trim look. Well, no, apparently that isn’t the case. I was heavier than ever and my blood pressure not any better. Amber had a gym membership and so we started going. I felt so out of place and envied all the people and how good they looked. It doesn’t help one’s psyche going to the gym the first time. Slowly we began working out. I was immediately drawn to the treadmill. I don’t know why, maybe because I figured running burned more calories or maybe because I didn’t understand what in the world the other machines were supposed to do but the treadmill and I became good friends.

On the nicer days I would skip the gym and find a local trail where I could wog(walking/joking sort of) and be alone and not have the stares from the people in the gym. You know the type of people in the gym that stare at their biceps all day? Yea, those people. I couldn’t run a mile at once. I felt winded just walking a mile.

Something clicked. I suck at running but I love the feeling! I started loving the feeling of being alone and pushing myself. No distractions, no expectations, just myself and the trails. I wasn’t fast. I didn’t care. I just enjoyed running.

Months and months went by and the weight started falling off. At my heaviest I weighed 280 lbs. If I was good at football I’d probably be a good fit at 6’5, 280 lbs. After some time of running and eating somewhat better my weight dropped to 210 and I got faster and my heart didn’t feel like it was going to explode anymore.

The past 2 years I’ve been running. I love it. My wife and kids like it and thankfully are supportive of it. I spend as much time as I can with them but on days when I am by myself and free I run. I started out running 14 minute miles at best and now through being diligent and monitoring my heart rate and pushing myself not to the point of injury I am able to run a lot faster and for long periods of time.

So what does this all have to do with anything? Well, to me everything. I am 31 years old and last Sunday, March 1st I completed my first Marathon. That is 26.2 miles to the people that think a 5k is a marathon. I completed it in 4:21. Considering a knee injury and the weather I am very happy with this time. Was it all rainbows and fireworks at the end? No, it wasn’t. It was a surreal experience and a really fun and enjoyable experience. I didn’t get overly emotional at the finish nor did I immediately start calling myself a “Marathoner.” I still don’t really feel like it was a major accomplishment but considering the last 10 years of my life and going from my deathbed to running a marathon and next month a 50K ultra marathon I couldn’t be happier. That doesn’t make much sense I suppose but I am so thankful to be able to run, some people can’t, and I am so thankful for good health and an awesome family. I consider all the Idiots in the Idiots Running Club my family too. I joined the dumb club shortly after I started running and without the encouragement of everyone I wouldn’t have accomplished what I have and what I plan to in the future. Remember to always be humble, passionate, and give back and set a good example for all people especially newbie runners.

Commitment To The Race

Written by Ann Brennan

In 2013, I spent four months being completely selfish. I was pursuing a goal to complete the Beach to Battleship Ironman. The commitment I put into that race paid off with a finish time far surpassing my goal time. Soon after that race our lives fell apart and I have spent the past two years pulling our family out of a very dark place. My focus on my fitness was quite honestly non-existent. In the past six months I have played at getting back into race shape but each time I found myself, due to a lack of commitment, falling off the wagon.

Then Chris Russell from RunRunLive asked me to edit MarathonBQ, his training guide for those who are serious about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In his book Chris writes about the importance of base fitness and although on some level I know how important it is I realized that I had no real base left over. Over the past six months, each time I have tried to get back in shape, I have jumped right into the distances, pushing myself harder than I should have.

Now, after two months of proper base building I am feeling stronger. The base building is not complete but I can feel my fitness coming back enough to start planning a racing season and more importantly I have recommitted myself. I am getting my workouts in, eating the elephant one bite at a time, and moving forward one step at a time.

People talk a lot about will power. I am afraid that more often than not, will power is the wrong thing to rely on. Commitment seems to be the answer. Are you truly committed to your goal? Are you committed to getting from point A to point B? Or have you set a goal that matters to others but not yourself? I have been guilty of that in the past. I have said I wanted to run Boston because so many people wanted me to run Boston. This year though, I am recommitting. I am committing to running a faster marathon and PRing at my half Ironman this fall. I am committed to getting the races in the Annapolis Striders’ Championship Series in. I am committing to focusing on my fitness and coming back from the dark place I found myself in these past two years.

What are you committed to this year?

What’s In Your Wallet

Written by Ann Brennan

What's In Your Wallet?The last two years have been a long, strange ride. I went from Ironman strong to couch potato weak. I went from Ironman committed to having to force myself to get even a couple of workouts a week. And yes, I know there was a very good excuse. I understand that letting go of my training life was what I needed during that time. But life is hitting a nice flat spot. The down times, the tough times are coming few and farther between and over the past two months I have been able to train in a way that is truly base building. And thanks to the years of marathon training my body knows where we are heading and can still get me there. That experience, that knowledge, that’s what’s in my wallet.

Last year when Meg and I walked out 24-hour Walk for Suicide Prevention, we did not train. We survived but we knew that if we were to do it again we would have to train the next time. Last month we started training. We started with 4 hours of continuous walking and have built up to seven hours. Walking with Meg definitely makes seven hours on my feet less daunting. Together we may be the goofiest people in the state.

Unfortunately this weekend Meg had a game at the only time we could fit seven hours in. Being slightly older than Meg I did not feel like I could skip the workout. I would just have to gut it out without here. As I prepared for the walk, the forecast came in, 5-8 inches of snow. Nope. I know my friends in Boston will find me wimpy for this but NOPE, not gonna do it. Instead, I went inside. Seven hours on the treadmill.

I did it. I got it in and managed to eek out a marathon in the process. Twenty-six point two miles in seven hours on the treadmill. That’s what’s in my wallet. Not because I am a badass. Not because I am one tough mama. But because after I completed my first hour I did the math and realized that although outside I had planned 22 miles, inside I had to walk faster and that fast meant I could come very close to completing a marathon. And finally, knowing that I could do 26.2 miles meant not just feeling like I should but knowing I would. That’s what’s in my wallet. The knowledge that I can, the ability to do it and the will to get it done.

I have often said that the marathon is a gift. It is an incredible experience. But beyond that it is a gift in the courage, confidence and abilities that it gives us.

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Your Best Shot

Written by Ann Brennan

This post is meant for new runners who have come across my blog in hopes of some encouragement to get started, but I would like to ask the veteran runners who frequent Ann’s Running Commentary to please read this post and leave your best tips for sticking with the running life. Or better yet, share your story. How did you start? What speed bumps did you hit along the way? And how did you overcome them?

Beginning runningI have learned so much since I started working at Spark Running in September. I have learned about shoes, socks and running clothes. But mostly I have learned about runners.

So many of us refuse to admit we are runners. I hear, “I am not really a runner,” “I don’t run as much as most people,” and “I am just starting out but I am not sure its going to stick.” I am not big on any of these statements but the one that makes me want to shake the runner standing in front of me is, “I think I am going to start running but I don’t want to buy running shoes until I am really sure I am going to stick with it.” I say this not to give anybody a hard time but because I am such a believer in the mental side of running. I know, without a doubt, that if we run, we are runners. I know that none of us give ourselves the credit we deserve. And finally, I know that if we want to run, if we want it to stick, all we need to do is believe that we can run, believe that it will stick. In other words, if we give this running thing our best shot, it will happen.

So how do we give it our best shot?

1. Plan – I am a huge believer in planning. Not just setting a goal of running a 5k but finding a training plan to get you there. You can find running plans through magazines, books, or even coaches. I work with Coach Jeff at PRSFit. He’s extremely reasonable and loves working with the beginners.
2. Shop – Yep, I said it. Go buy those running shoes. Get fitted in a specialty running store. A lot of people come into our store nervous that that they will look foolish. I think that people believe running stores are only for marathoners or elite runners. They don’t understand that our favorite customers are the newbies. We love to offer advice, fit you for your shoes and most importantly encourage you in your journey. Our second favorite customer is that same customer who comes back four months later to buy their second pair of shoes and tell us all about their new running passion.
3. Work your plan – You found the plan, you bought the shoes, now it is time to put one foot in front of the other. Add your plan to your daily calendar. Make your workouts just another part of your day. And then get it done.
4.Believe – And we have worked our way back around to believing. Believing you can do it, visualizing yourself coming across the finish line of your first race is more powerful than you can imagine. Just as important as what you think, is what you say. If you use doubting language, you will eventually begin to believe it. The same goes for positive language. You can do this. I have no doubt, so now it is time to start doubting yourself.

I am so excited every time I meet a new to running runner. Starting out on the running journey is lot like a first kiss. Even if you run for years, leave running and come back to it, you will never be a new runner again. You will never have that same excitement of running your first mile, the one that almost kills you, or running your first three miles and realizing it was easier than you expected. You only get one first kiss and you only get one beginning running start.

Good luck out there.

Two more quick running tips from my YouTube Channel.

If you do not see the video, try refreshing your screen.

Depression and Suicide – My Story

Written by Ann Brennan

Use this oneWhen you meet me in person, your first impression is most likely that I am the most overly enthusiastic person you have ever met. My husband, who does indeed love me, has a hard time with this side of my personality. It is not uncommon for him to quote Crush from Finding Nemo when I begin to get overly excited about something, “Cool the engines, Dude.” But I have not always been this way. Seventeen years ago, I battled depression and experienced suicidal thoughts. We both worried that that was a time I would not survive.

Not only did I survive it but today I lead a life I had never imagined for myself. I have an incredible family, a job I love and friends galore. I love my life. But there is a dark spot in our lives right now.

Today, I live in a community that is plagued by depression and suicide. In the past year alone we have lost five members of our community to suicide. I am confronted daily by parents whose children are suffering with clinical depression. We are in a crisis situation and as a parent I feel helpless. So today I am doing the only thing I know how to do. I am moving forward one step at a time. I am working towards change.

I am starting this journey by sharing my story in the video below, sharing some information I have learned about depression and suicide that I hope might help others and finally, by raising money for the Walk Out Of The Darkness in June of this year. I will be completing the 16-17 mile over night walk in memory of all of those members of our community who we have lost to this illness and I ask that my friends, family and readers please make a donation to this cause and share this post with family and friends so they might join us in this battle.

Depression is an illness. We donate to cancer, AIDS, Autism, heart disease and countless others. We talk about all of these illnesses but depression and mental illness remain in the dark. Let’s bring it out of the darkness. Let’s move forward into the light. Let’s make a difference.

If you cannot see the video, please try refreshing your screen.

How You Can Help

To make a donation to my Walk Out of the Darkness, please visit my fundraising page. Any amount, big or small helps. I am currently aiming for $1000 but the truth is I would love to raise a billion. I would love to stop depression cold.

Trust The Plan

Written by Ann Brennan

Be patient with me. I promise you haven’t fallen into Annie’s World of Knitting. This really is running related.

Trust the planWhen I saw this pattern on Ravelry, I fell in love. I knew it would be a challenge but the challenge is what attracts me to knitting. Creating something with just a ball of yarn and a couple of needles amazes me with each new project.

As I began this project I doubted my ability but approached it the same way I approach other challenges in my life, one bite at a time and after a few rows I found a rhythm. I began to feel confident that I could complete the pattern without problems. Then, about three quarters of the way through, the pattern made a shift and I spent three hours knitting, pulling out and reknitting the same row, over and over. The pattern had to be wrong. I looked online for an errata, anything that would help me salvage the project. Then I took a deep breath and decided to stop worrying and trust the pattern. Two rows later, I saw where it was going. I understood and knew I would make it.

Obviously, this is not a knitting blog. But it is a running blog about the mental side of running and the life lessons I have learned through running. So, maybe it’s time to explain how this knitting project relates to my running life.

This morning, after taking that breath, moving forward and realizing that I needed to trust, I had one of those aha moments. This time the lesson came from knitting but the truth is it can so clearly be applied to running. Lately, I have been on a comeback. I set goals, some challenging, others meant to get me through those challenges. But in the past couple of weeks I have been doubting myself. I have been doubting the plan.

But Coach Jeff Kline says it best, “Work the plan, trust the plan.” And he’s right. I might not see how I will make it to the end. Right now, the shorter, slower runs I am doing do not seem to be pushing me forward but I have to stop, take a breath and move forward. I have to trust that today’s work will lead to tomorrow’s success.

I love life lessons learned through challenges. Obviously, there is the bonus of finding the positives in a given situation but the best part is realizing how many times we have to apply these same strategies. Whether we are in the middle of a training cycle, working on a knitting project, studying for a test, or working on our marriage, there will always come that moment of doubt. Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? Should we just scrap this and start over in a new direction? But if we take a minute and trust the plan that we set in place in the beginning, more often than not, everything will work out.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

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I Am Capable

Written by Ann Brennan

I am capableAfter completing Beach to Battleship in 2012, I wrote Icing On The Cake. In that post I spoke a little about the fact that race day was wonderful but it was all of the training that went into that race that really mattered to me.

Two and a half years later and that is even more true. Of course I remember that feeling of coming out of the water, seeing my time, realizing I was over 20 minutes faster than I had expected and grinning from ear to ear. I remember coming out of T2 and shouting at my husband, “Best day ever!” And I remember sitting at the finish line being amazed as I watched others who looked younger and more fit than I cross after me. But what I really remember is all of the days leading up to that race.

If you cannot see the video, please try refreshing your screen.

I remember the will it took to get out there for my long run on Sunday morning after spending 5 hours in the saddle and an hour on my feet the day before. I remember coming home from one of my rides with (sorry to be indelicate) runner’s trots and having my daughter force me out the door for my run anyway. Her response was, “What will you do if this happens on race day? Quit?” And I remember falling asleep while foam rolling and another time as I was stirring the soup I had prepared for dinner.

I remember these things fondly because I know that if I did that once I can do it again. If I pushed myself to those limits then, I can push myself to accomplish my list of goals now.

Running and triathlon contain so many life lessons. But I believe that the biggest lesson we learn by pushing ourselves in these endeavors is that we are capable. We are capable of so much more than most people believe. We can accomplish amazing feats by simply deciding to do them.

The Beach to Battleship Iron-distance triathlon will always be a memory I cherish. But more than that, it serves as a rung on the ladder of my upward moving life. If I can accomplish what I accomplished during that season and on that day, I can accomplish anything.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

For more inspiration and motivation to lace up your shoes and get out there subscribe to my podcast.

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Handle With Care

Written by Ann Brennan

handle with careWhen I tell people about Ann’s Running Commentary I tell them it is a blog that is meant to motivate and inspire people to lace up their shoes and get out the door. It is not a site where they will find a lot of “how to” running advice. But there are exceptions to that rule. Today I am here to offer some very important advice. Your body is what gets you through the miles. You body is what gets you across the finish line. Handle with care.

Since starting my new job I have noticed a disturbing attribute of runners. We want to put in the miles and run the races. But we do not want to do what it takes to take care of our body throughout the training process.

Runners proudly tell me that they don’t stretch, they avoid the physical therapist, they know they should work on their core but they just don’t have the time and worst of all they run injured.

I can complain about these statements because at some point in time I have been guilty of all of these statements. I have skipped stretching, avoided the physical therapy the doctor prescribed and I have run a marathon with a fractured tibia.

But in 2012, when I ran my Ironman I took a different approach. I decided to take care of what refers to as my machine. I decided to stretch at the beginning and end of every workout. I used the foam roller before and after every workout and I had massages once every two weeks in the weeks leading up to the race. I took care of my body because I was asking a lot of it.

Unfortunately, having done that I know how much work it can be. I know that it takes a lot of time and we honest to God do not always have the time.

But taking care of your body does not have to be as extreme as what I did for Beach to Battleship. Five minutes of stretching before and after every workout can mean the difference between an injury-free season and 6 weeks in a boot.

This year I am committing to taking care of my machine. It may mean small steps but every step counts. And yes it is easy for me these days because I work in a running store and have the tools I need at hand but you can do it too.

What are you doing to take care of your machine? What changes can you make to make it through 2015 injury-free?