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.

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

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Danger: New Bike

Written by Ann Brennan

New BikeEvery Christmas Blaise gives me books. He gives me autobiographies and some fiction but mostly he gives me adventure books. In the beginning these books came without warnings. But it didn’t take long for him to learn this was a bad plan. Almost every book after that first year came with a caveat, “Don’t try this at home.” You see, I have a problem with visions of grandeur. I read about an adventure and immediately want to strike out on my own adventure.

Yesterday, Blaise let his guard slip. Yesterday, I came home to a brand new bike in my front hall. No special occasion. He just bought it to surprise me. And he succeeded. This was the most awesome surprise he could have possibly given me.

My new bike is a fitness bike by Trek. Blaise bought it because my last hybrid was a gift from my father-in-law 22 years ago and has outlived its original life expectancy by at least 5 years. These days I find myself borrowing my daughter’s bike anytime I want to ride trails instead of road. My new bike (Zane named her Black Betty) is meant for adventures with the kids. Something not quite as fast as my tri bike but still pretty sporty.

The problem is that after taking it for my first real ride this morning, a 22-mile ride along our local rails-to-trails path, visions of grandeur struck again. I came home ready to take on all sorts of new adventures. Yes, I can ride with the kids. We can take some rides along the B&A Trail, probably head out and do the airport loop, take it into DC and ride along the Mall or Mount Vernon and ride one of my favorite trails. But, wait, there’s more. There always is with me, right?

Blaise and I could take it to the Mount Vernon Trail, ride the 20+ miles to Theodore Roosevelt Island, lock up the bikes and run the trails on the island and then ride back to Mount Vernon. Or we could take it to Pittsburgh, have one of the kids drop us off and then head back to DC along the Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal. Or we could take it on the train to New York City and ride all along the different paths in Manhattan and Brooklyn, or we could…

I could go on and on and on and, of course, as I write this and want to say it is a cautionary tale about new bikes and where they might lead you, I find myself instead wondering what you think. Where should I take my new bike. What trails should I venture out on? What cities have paths between them? Where would you go?

Running Through Our Family

Written by Ann Brennan

Fat ShamingI am not a morning person. I hate getting out of my nice warm bed even for coffee. But I really hate the idea of crawling out of my nice comfy bed to go outside and become a puddle of sweat. There are no two ways about it. I just hate morning runs. Except, suddenly, I don’t. Suddenly, I am excited about the prospect of waking up each morning to run. I still hate starting my morning as a puddle. But I love that my oldest son is running with me these days.

I meet him down stairs. We pull together a couple of waters and head out the door for an easy 3-6 miles through our neighborhoods and I love it. I seldom look back on any run in my life and think, boy did I regret that. But these runs I actually look forward to. The opportunity to talk to my son about his life, about his job and and school, about my job and both of our plans for the future is a true gift.

But today as I thought about this I realized that running has been a gift for us as a family for as long as we have been a family. My husband and I started running together shortly after we got married. We ran through the streets of Charlotte, coming to realize we could be athletes if we chose to be. When our children came along we took turns pushing the jog stroller. As they grew we took them with us on short runs. Running with Meg made me a writer. I may have never started this blog or written anything else had I not run that first 5-miler with her, afterwards writing, Raising a Runner. And now, our youngest son has joined in the mix, running his first 5k this spring and running with our Kids Run Too program at the store.

Each of these experiences has lead to a family of runners, opportunities to run together or to cheer for each other at events throughout the year. I am not a morning person, but I am a family person. I believe in the power of running, the power of family and the most of all the power of running as a family.

The Power of Running

Written by Ann Brennan

the power of runningI started working at Fleet Feet a little over a month ago. I knew I would have fun because, well, it’s a running store and who among us doesn’t love being in a running store. And I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I thought it would inspire my writing as well. I knew I would meet people who were just starting on their running journey. I would meet people who had already started seeing real health results from their running and I would meet people who were taking on challenges they had only dreamed of in the past. But I had no idea that the national campaign for Fleet Feet stores across the nation would coincide with my biggest beliefs on running.

For years I have written about the power of running. In August Fleet Feet Sports is kicking off a campaign called the Power of Running. As I sat watching the latest webinar on this program I wanted to get up out of my seat and cheer. This is what I have talked about for years. The power of running for good; the power of running for fun; the power of running with others; and the power of running to inspire.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that when one door closed in my life (the closing of Spark Running), this is the door that opened. I believe I have found a place that matches my love for running ounce for ounce. And it does it in a way that starts small, with the first customer that walks through the door every day and ends big, with a corporate backing that truly believes in the power of running to change lives.

If you have followed along with my journey in the past few years you know that running has taken a smaller role in my life. I have been focused on my family, our mental health and our mission to help bring depression out of the darkness. But running has not been pushed off the table and in the past several months it has once again changed the way I live my life.

The power of running for me right now comes from the power of running together. Whether it is with my Wednesday morning Moms Run Club or the rest of the week when I am up by 5am to run with my wonderful 21 year old son, I am motivated to run more every day because of these runs. Running with my group or with my son I feel the need to be up, whether I want to run that morning or not. I feel the need to work harder so I don’t slow them down. And to stay active on the other days in order to make my group days even better.

The power of running never fails to amaze me. More amazing still is how much my running life has flowed into my regular life and vice versa. Suddenly the power of running has become the power of living as a runner. After two years of struggling I find myself loving every minute of this running life again.

Suicide Prevention Walk

Written by Ann Brennan

Suicide PreventionOne week from today, 19 year old daughter and I will begin our 24-hour Walk for Suicide Prevention. This journey began for us shortly after Megan was released from the hospital in April of 2013. Meg had been hospitalized for suicidal ideation and although we were clearly beside ourselves with fear for her future, we decided as a family not to allow her depression to be a point of shame for her. Had she been hospitalized for cancer or a heart defect or any other other medical condition, there would have been no shame, and we wanted to make it clear to her there was no shame in her depression.

Within days of her release, she and I started fundraising for our first Overnight Walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We raised almost $5000 between us and we went on to walk 16 miles with a few thousand people through downtown Washington, DC.

The following year, even as we struggled with our own depression, we became advocates of bringing depression out of the darkness, stopping the stigma. We talked and wrote about our struggles so that others might feel more free to speak up and ask for help. We wanted people to see that depression is not a weakness, that we understood that asking for help was hard but that when you did ask for help there were people out there willing to lend a hand. We wanted to make depression and suicide part of the conversation.

Through this advocacy, we decided it was time to step up our game. Last year, with no real training under our belts we took on our first 24-Hour walk. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done, covering 42 miles along the Allegheny Passage. We walked through the night and raised over $2500 in the process.

This year we set a bigger goal, $10,000. We are less than a week away and we still have $4990 left to raise, but we are not giving up. We are asking everybody we know to dig deep. Empty your penny jars, shake out your winter coats, or write us a big ol’ check to help us meet this goal.

Since February, Meg and I have walked close to 500 miles in training for this walk. We have spoken to people about depression every chance we have gotten and we will continue to do so. And next week as we take on this crazy walk of ours we will cover close to 60 miles, thanks to the training we have put in. We know we can make a difference.

Please help us to do this. Help us meet our goal of $10,000. Every penny counts.

The Problem With Shame

Written by Ann Brennan

I feel like I have lived half my life living in shame. Shame that my mom, who was supposed to love me, chose to beat me instead, shame over not being as good in school as the next guy, and over course, the shame I felt over not being good enough for my children, shame of falling into depression and shame of not being able to pull myself out of that depression on my own.

I can look back on all of those times now and realize how useless that shame was. And worse how paralyzing it is. But even with that knowledge I find it hard to step out of the shame when it begins to descend on me. Ridiculously, I have been struggling with a new shame lately. Shame of my weight. Shame of my body.

Fat Shaming

Last month Zane ran his first 5K. I was so proud of him. I loved every minute of that race. But the next day my friend sent me a photo of me and my two sons at the starting line. Since that day I have walked around paralyzed to move forward in my struggle with weight. Seeing myself in that photo, realizing that not only am I truly overweight but on some level I am completely ashamed of it, ashamed enough to pull my youngest in front of me to block my body, was a blow to my self esteem.

Since that day I have thought about this photo over and over again. I have looked at it and cursed myself for being here. Cursed myself for letting myself fall so deep into this hole. And yes, I know what I would say to someone else in the same position. Take it one bite at a time, the weight will come off. You are more than the number on the scale. Think of how other people see you, not your weight but you. You are kind. You are generous. You are creative. And you give back to so many people in so many ways.

I know that’s what I would say and I try to say it to myself but I am paralyzed by this shame. Embarrassed to be in this position after a year of really struggling to pull myself out of it. So many things are going right in my life right now. Our walk is coming up in just three weeks. Meg and I are opening so many people’s eyes to the struggle with depression. Megan has graduated high school and though she has not won the battle with depression she is doing so much better than before. Life is good, but I am fat. And fat is all that I can see.

I would love to wrap this up with a solution but I don’t know if there is one. Truthfully I am just hopeful that putting it down on paper will be cathartic. I am hopeful that going back and reading this will push me through the shame and into loving myself for all of the other things that I am. And as always I am hoping that by writing this, other people will see they are not alone in their struggle. Hell, maybe I will realize I am not alone. Who knows. Let’s see what happens.

Running Maintenance

Written by Ann Brennan

Running MaintenanceIn October 2012 I completed Beach to Battleship Ironman. I had the most incredible performance of my life, with everything going even better than planned. I had hoped for a 15 hour finish and came in under 13:30. Since that race I have spoken to a lot of triathletes about how I did it.

I tend to focus on the training. I did train a lot. When I started the training cycle I told Coach Jeff that I wanted to train like a professional. I wanted to be so prepared that it wasn’t simply about crossing the finish line but crossing it with the best time I possibly could. And yes, there is not a doubt in my mind that the training was a huge part of my success that day.

But there was another element I haven’t talked about a lot. I also took care of myself better than I ever had before. I slept enough, ate well and most importantly, listened to warning signs of any injuries. I took time off when needed. And this is the part that turns people off, I stretched, I foam rolled and I went for massages. I did these things because I wanted to be the healthiest triathlete I could be. Just like my car needs regular oil changes, my body needed regular maintenance.

This week another runner told me that she has a similar goal for Marine Corps Marathon this year. She wanted to know my biggest piece of advice. She told me she planned on adding tons of speed work, strength training and come cross training as well. When I told her that my biggest piece of advice was that she foam roll before and after every workout, I saw the look on her face. She was deflated. She didn’t have time for that. She wanted something else. She was willing to work hard but taking the time to take care of herself was just too much.

I found myself judging her, because the truth is, when I look back I know that it was this key element that made B2B so perfect for me. I went in healthy because I took the time to foam roll, stretch and get massages. I made it to that race because I took time to take care of myself. I wanted to judge her for not being willing to do the same. Then I realized it has been months since I took care of myself. I have been willing to put in the miles, whether running, walking, biking or swimming. I have added workouts and strength training. And I am constantly pushing myself to do more but the more is in taking care of myself. The more is in maintaining the machine that I want to push over the finish line again and again this year.

I loved Ironman day. I love that everything was perfect. I love the work that went into it. But what I need to love is the maintenance that went into it. Racing really is as much about maintenance as it is about training. It has to be.

How do you maintain your running machine?

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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Time For a Change

Written by Ann Brennan

change aheadI have a contradictory personality. I love to go into a day without a plan and call an audible that has us traveling two states over for an unplanned amusement park visit. I love to sign up for an entire series of races when I have barely been training. I even enjoy throwing in a surprise marathon with barely 7 miles under my belt in months. But I also find comfort in routine. I eat the same thing for lunch every single day, an apple with a spoonful of peanut butter. I rotate the same three t-shirts as night shirts. And I have had the same pre-race routine for the past ten years. The truth is I don’t like change much unless I am in charge. If there is going to be change I need to be the one that does the changing. So, last month when I discovered that Spark Running Store was closing, I was thrown for a loop.

If you have been following along, you know that I have been at Spark Running since September. I started working at the store as a way to get out of the house after 16 years as a stay at home and work at home mom and still stay active in the running scene. And I loved working there. I loved helping people find the right shoe for them. I loved talking about race nutrition and encouraging people to lace up their shoes and get out there. When I found out the store was closing I was gutted. What now? Would I have to get a “real job?” Would I go back to blogging and social media for Ann’s Running Commentary? Would I expand on the editing job I did with Chris Russell for his Marathon BQ? I was almost paralyzed with indecision.

Luckily, that didn’t last long because the owner of our local Fleet Feet was willing to take on a relative newby in the shoe fitting business. And better yet, he’s decided to let me put my social media experience to work. This week I start a brand new chapter of my life. I will be working at Fleet Feet Severna Park helping people just like I did at Spark Running but I will be tweeting, posting on Facebook and Instagram and working many of our social events for both the Severna Park store and the Annapolis Store. Suddenly life had gotten a whole lot busier. But it has gotten a whole lot more fun as well.

If you want to follow my progress follow Fleet Feet on Twitter or Facebook

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.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook

Getting You Mind Right

Written by Ann Brennan

Getting Your mind RightBack in January I made the decision to get serious about my training again. It was time to work towards a goal and put everything into it. Since then, without as much effort as I would have expected, I have gotten in almost every workout and I have given each of them the focus they needed. After almost two years of struggling with my training, what changed? That is simple. I got my mind right.

Whether you want to run a marathon, qualify for Boston, go back to college or find a spouse, the first step in meeting any big goal is in getting your mind right. You have to have your head fully in the game, you have to be completely, whole-heartedly committed to that end goal. So, how do you do it?

1. Breath – For me, almost everything starts with breathing. I have to literally take a deep breath and calm my body down enough to even begin to set a goal. If I were into yoga I would probably know this as centering myself. I use this to open up my body and mind to ideas bigger than myself. It is so easy to stop breathing, close off our souls and set limits on our abilities without ever thinking about it. By breathing and relaxing my body I can begin to let go of those limitation.

2. Be nice to yourself – Too often when we set these limits subconsciously it is because we don’t believe in ourselves. For me this time there was a voice telling me that I had slid to far, I had gained too much weight and the Ironman finish in 2012 was too long ago for me to suck off of. I had taken everything from that race that I could. I couldn’t count on the lessons learned there to get me through. Then I stopped. I reminded myself just how hard I had worked for that. I reminded myself that it was not easy from the first run of training until the last step of the race but I had done it. And if I had done that I could stage a successful comeback. So I let go of the negative and I started being nice to myself. I started congratulating myself on getting out of bed in the morning, on registering for my first 70.3 in more than two years and being ready to tackle something new.

3. Be honest – What do you really want? What are your real motivations? If you want to qualify for Boston so that your husband will be proud of you, if you want a spouse so your mom will stop bugging you about it, or if you are thinking about going back to school because it isn’t as scary as letting everything go and taking that three month walking adventure across the country, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. If you are doing it because you can’t think of anything you want more, then you are on the right track. A goal, a big goal, cannot be for somebody else. Not if it is going to be successful. It has to be for you. It has to be what you want.

4. Get a plan – Wanting to run Boston is a great goal but without a training plan you will not get there. Research your goal and figure out how you are going to get there. Set it up like a road map. What will it take to get from here to there. You know what they say about eating that elephant, right? You eat it one bite at a time. That is how you will meet your goal and take that next big step.

5. Take action – And finally, take action. Hire a coach, tell your friends about your plan, send in those applications for college, ask friends to set you up if you are looking for a spouse. But whatever you do, take action, move forward and begin your journey.

I am a true believer in training properly for an event. I believe in working hard towards a goal but I am also a true believer in the power of the mind to make or break us. If we don’t get our mind right, if we don’t take the time to get mentally into the game, meeting any goal whether for an endurance event or a life event is exponentially more difficult than it is with the right mindset.

What steps do you take to get your mind right? How important do you think it is to be in the right mental frame of mind when tackling a big goal?