The Power of Consistency

Written by Ann Brennan

ConsistencyThe power of consistency never fails to amaze me. When I started running umpteen years ago, it was sporadic. It took me a long time to realize the difference between a good season of racing and a bad season of racing was in the consistency. It wasn’t until I trained for Beach to Battleship back in 2012 that it really clicked. Working on a day to day basis to get in each and every workout, made me stronger and more confident than I have ever been. And still, I have floundered since that season. I saw the results, coming in two and a half hours faster than I expected, and yet I have never gotten back to that same consistency in my training.

Until now. Interestingly, I would have told you that the difference between the fall of 2012 and the seasons that followed was that there was a lifelong goal on the line. And that’s probably true to some degree. Having that goal, knowing that I didn’t want to have another DNF like I had in 2004, I worked harder. I refused to skip a workout unless ordered to by Coach. I put in a consist effort across the board, whether it was swimming, biking or running. But, that doesn’t explain what is happening now.

When Zane suggested we continue a streak, hell, when he suggested we start a streak, I was in from the first moment. We biked one day, then the next, then the next and so on. Maybe it is as simple as that. I don’t worry about tomorrow. I get in today’s workout. I get it in because I have to. If I don’t the streak dies.

But more than that it has become a habit. Working out today, ensures I will workout tomorrow because it is what I do know. It is what Zane and I do together.

Still, there is more to it than habit. There is more to it even than consistency in working out. Consistency seems to build consistency. Or maybe consistency builds habit and habit builds more habit. What I have found that there is more to working out consistently than getting in the workout. It seeps over into other areas of my life. I have become more efficient at work, at keeping my house, at managing our budget. I have become more consistent throughout my life without any extra effort.

There is a power to consistency that goes beyond what I ever expect. Tomorrow will be day 52 of our biking streak but if I pick the rest of my life apart I see consistency there as well. It is day 52 of getting up and getting dressed in something other than workout clothes. It is day 52 of sitting at the computer and responding to emails. It is day 52 of playing with the dogs even when I am too tired to go outside and run them around the yard. Consistency built in one area of my life has changed the rest of it. That is the power of consistency. And in turn, that is the power of sport.

5 Things I Learned From My Son

Written by Ann Brennan

5 things I learned from my sonForty-five days ago, my 9-year-old son, Zane and I started a cycling streak. We did not go for that first ride with a streak in mind but within minutes of starting that first ride, a light went on inside my son and our lives changed in an amazing way.

For 6 months I have been struggling with a back injury due to two fractures in my lower back. I have not been able to run, but more than that I have been in constant pain and limited in my everyday life. If you know me you know this is more than just a struggle. It is excruciating. I have been a runner for 23 years. On the occasions when I could not run I have always had something to fall back on, swimming, biking or walking. But this injury has been different. This injury has completely limited my life in so many ways. So when we went out for our first ride I wasn’t sure. Could I do it? Would it cause me more pain? Would it limit me event further? Truth be told, the reason I invited Zane along that day was because I knew he would hold me back, keep me from pushing myself and causing further damage.

And he did. We rode at his pace and it was good. It was fun. But the best part was not that I was riding with minimal pain again, it was watching this light go on inside of Zane. He loved that ride. He loved learning how to pass others on the trail, he loved learning the jargon of cyclists and he loved racing through the park with his mom. By the time we got home I was so excited I barely made it in the door before I told my husband we had to go get Zane a new bike, one he could ride every day.

Since that day we have ridden come hell or high water. We have ridden as little as a mile on a day we were busy from before dawn until almost midnight and as much as 40 miles. We have ridden in the rain and the heat. We have ridden miles before school and more after. Our bikes have become a huge part of us. Yesterday, while Zane was at school I decided to get in an extra ride. I am now able to ride with very little pain and have started enjoying pushing myself a little more. As I rode, I started thinking about how much I have learned in the past 45 days.

5 Things I Learned From My Son –

1. You have to start somewhere – When we started we rode 8 miles around the local park. We didn’t do it exceptionally fast but we got those miles in. Slowly we have gone longer and gotten faster. But for someone who has completed centuries and an Ironman, someone who has ridden 1000’s of miles that first ride seemed like cheating. Did it really count as a ride? Yes. Because before that day I was doing very little in the way of exercising. I was in too much pain, I claimed. The truth is I was too afraid of making the pain worse. And Zane was all new to cycling. He had ridden the half miles to school and back but not much more than that. But we started and starting is the important part of any exercise routine. This morning Zane told me he has ridden a almost 400 miles since we started but it all started with one ride.

2. Miles beget miles – I don’t know that this is true for everybody but I am motivated by numbers. The more miles we put in, the more I log on Daily Mile, the more I want to put in. Each week I find myself pushing further and trying to do more. Success begets success and miles beget miles.

3. Passion is contagious – Zane lit up with passion on that first ride. Before we got home at the end of the ride he had already decided we should ride every day for as long as we could. He started talking about riding across the country. Doing 100 milers. I completely caught that passion and we have passed it back and forth for the past 45 days. There are days he doesn’t feel like going but I am so passionate about our streak that he comes along and vice versa, days when I would rather sit on the deck with a cup of coffee but his passion pushes me out the door. And it isn’t just us. We have started a Monday night ride for families and they are getting the bug. He has a friend at school who joined us this week and has asked if he can come every Monday. Passion is definitely contagious.

4. Competitiveness runs in the family – Zane has never loved sports. His least favorite subject in school is P.E., but on the bike he is just like me. He wants to push further, go faster and of course, pass that rider that is up ahead. Just like me he is selectively competitive and biking brings out that spirit like nothing else ever has.

5. I still miss running – I love biking. I love that it makes me feel strong again. I love the feel of the wind on my face. I love being able to go further and see more than I could on a run. I love the time I spend with Zane on the bike. But, I still miss running. Every time we pass a runner, my heart hurts a little. Every time I notice I am getting faster I think of how great it would be to do another tri and put this work to the test. I always said if something happened and I had to stop running I would be satisfied with riding and in some ways I am. I am so happy riding is here for me but I don’t know that I will ever stop missing running.

When I found out I was pregnant with Zane, my mother-in-law told me he would keep me young. I have definitely seen that. But with this streak he is doing more than that. He is keeping me fit, he is keeping me healthy, and most of all, he is keeping me happy.

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.