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.


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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.


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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.

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

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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.


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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 http://runrunlive.com/ 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?

On the Books

Written by Ann Brennan

On The Books

Dog Days 8k

“So, what do you have on the books for the year?” This is a question I have heard at least once a day since I started working at Spark Running. In the beginning there was an easy answer. “I am running the Marine Corps Marathon.” But the truth is, in my heart of hearts I knew I had not trained properly for that race. I went into the training season unprepared and between that, a new job and an injury my training was sporadic at best. But, truth be told, I haven’t trained well for anything since the Beach to Battleship Ironman.

If you have read this blog over the past two years, you know why. If you haven’t here’s the short version. First there was the post race blues. Then we discovered our daughter was struggling with a very serious depression. And finally, after months of not sleeping and barely eating, I ended up on the psych ward. To say it has been a tough couple of years is an understatement.

But, there really is no end in sight for our struggles. We continue to deal with depression and its aftermath every day. I can either keep using it as an excuse or I can learn to work around it. I am choosing to work around it.

So, I have signed up for some races and because I am tired of not being smart about my training I have decided to sign up with a series that will allow me to build my base before jumping into any real distances.

The Annapolis Strider’s Race Series includes 8 races, starting with a 5k in February and building to a metric marathon October. I have done this series several times and love the build. But I also love the fact that there is always a race to look forward to and that each of these races brings me in touch with people from our club.

Over the past few years our lives have revolved around hospitals and doctors appointments. There has been little time for friendship or camaraderie. The series brings these gifts back into my life.

Now when people come in and ask what’s next on my list, I have an answer I am proud of. I am training for the Annapolis Strider’s Series. I am building a base and moving towards bigger goals. At the end of the year I will do a marathon but this time I will be going into it with months of training and racing under my belt. This year I am preparing. This year I will make my comeback.

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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Embrace The Suck

Written by Ann Brennan

Embrace the suckMy husband makes running look easy. If you are one of the few people up at the ungodly hour that he runs and happen to catch a glimpse of him gliding by your house you might assume that running comes naturally to this fast, skinny runner. But you would be wrong. He works at it and he works hard. He comes home after his run hobbling around, avoiding the stairs and grunting a little every time he sits down or has to stand back up. I tell you this not to spill secrets but to reassure you. Running, whether you are running slow or fast is hard. It sometimes just plain sucks. But I am here to tell you to embrace the suck.

I tell you this because having taken the job at Spark Running, I am faced every day with people who say to me, I hate running. I know you love it but I just find it difficult. This always takes me aback because I do not enjoy most of my runs. And even though I try to explain that I feel the exact same way, most people do not believe me. After all, I am Ann from Ann’s Running Commentary. I write about running every day. I must love it, right?

I will not deny that there are days when I do love it. Yesterday at the Revolution Run in Annapolis, running with friends who I have known for only a few years and some who I have known most of my adult life, I loved running. I loved being with people who would get up on New Year’s Day just to get in their run with friends. I even loved that at some point during that run I felt a bit of a high. But that was the exception. Most runs are hard. Most runs are work. And to be honest, it is the difficulty of the act that makes me do it.

How many rewards have you won in life without work? How many benefits have come to you because you did nothing? I would venture to say, not many. If I running were easy, it would not be rewarding. There would probably not be benefits. I know that by running, by breaking a sweat and getting my heart pumping that I am earning a healthier body and mind. I know that by dealing with the suck I am gaining something that I can take into other areas of my life.

I do not love running. At least I don’t love every run. But I do love the suck. I do love knowing that I will push myself out that door even when it is going to be difficult because I love knowing that I am tough enough to do that. And I believe that everybody who reads this blog, everybody who walks in Spark Running, everybody who thinks about lacing up a pair of running shoes is just that tough.

Today, I challenge you to embrace the suck.

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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Progress in the New Year

Written by Ann Brennan

IMG_1941I cannot even begin to tell you how bitter I was a year ago on this day. Everyone in our lives, family and friends alike, wanted a reset for our family and in their eyes, the New Year should have marked that reset. Unfortunately, this was easier to believe in if you were on the outside looking in. From the inside, from my position as the mom in this family, I knew better.

We went into the New Year in the midst of a shit storm (sorry to be so blunt) and I knew that there would be no relief for us for some time. I had no idea just how difficult things would get. I had no idea that three weeks after the New Year I would be an emotional puddle stuck in North Carolina alone and wanting more than anything else for the pain to end, wanting with all my heart to just die.

I look back on this time last year and even now, with the distance of time, I can feel the weight that was bearing down on us as a family and on me as a parent. I can see the cloud that was not just dark but so thick we could not see through it. But, I can also see that point in the year when the cloud began to lift and although we could move forward only an inch at a time, we could move forward.

Last night, as 2014 came to a close, our family once again sat around the dinner table, saying “our gratefuls.” Mine came to me without any effort. I am grateful for progress. In 2014, the year I dreaded, the year in which I hoped to die, our family made progress. But it was not just our family. For me it was even more personal. I made progress. I gained the emotional strength I had been accustomed to before I fell apart in the summer of 2013 and ended up on the psych ward.

I no longer fear the depression that pushed me down into the pits of hell. Instead, I look back at that time and admire the distance I have travelled.

So, this year, as we looked forward to the New Year, I did not dread it. I did not cringe at the idea that this year would be better than last, because this year I really do believe in progress. I do not believe in reading the future. I do not know what is in store for us but I believe in progress. I believe there is more happiness than misery in store for us this year. I believe that I will continue to gain emotional strength. That I will continue to catch glimpses of pure joy and that there is at the very least a chance of grabbing hold of that joy and riding it through 2015.

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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How Many Runners Do You See?

Every day Caitlin at Spark Running and I talk about the importance of wearing reflective gear while running or walking outside at night. Then I go home every night and drive through my neighborhood to find that less than ten percent of the runners I come across are wearing reflective gear. Runners tell me that its geeky to wear reflective. They say they wear light or colorful clothing and that’s enough.

I am here to tell you that it is not. Please watch this video. How many runners do you see?

Please run safe. Please wear reflective gear and as a bonus, carry a small light, either Knuckle Lights or something you can tuck into your waistband.

Run Off Holiday Stress

Written by Ann Brennan

Holiday StressWe are still two weeks out from Thanksgiving and yet I have already read six articles or posts about holiday weight gain. Yes, I agree holiday weight gain exists. I struggle every year to stay true to my nutrition and exercise goals. But the weight gain is not the only reason to be vigilant. Holiday stress is an even bigger culprit for most of us. So this year I say forget holiday weight gain. Instead focus on relieving holiday stress.

If you do not currently have your workouts penciled into your calendar, do that now. Plan your daily workouts throughout the holiday season to avoid the ever present danger of skipping said workout in order to fit in one more chore.

Unless you have a race planned for December or January, do not make these workouts stressful. Do not aim for times that put undue pressure on yourself. Do not set unreachable goals. And no matter what, do not use these runs to organize your to-do lists. Instead use these workouts to release the stress that builds up on a daily basis throughout the season.

Whether you currently run with a partner or not, consider adding company to your run. This is a great time of year to gather with people you enjoy spending time with because we know that much of the season will mean gathering with people you can only handle seeing once a year.

Watch what you eat. Uh oh, this seems like I have fallen back into the avoid weight gain topic. Not quite. Watch what you eat and avoid foods that make you feel too full, sluggish or just plain unhappy. Having kept a food journal for months I have found a definite correlation between the foods that I eat and my mood. For me the main culprit is sugar. Yours may be fat or protein or food dye.

Sleep, rest, put your feet up or watch some football. The fastest way to find yourself in stress city is to find yourself short on sleep. If you find you cannot get the recommended 8 hours at night, try to power nap, whether in the car before heading into get those last minute gifts or at home before all the in-laws make their way to your house.

Running is a huge gift. Make it your holiday gift to yourself this year by using it to reduce the almost unavoidable stress of the holidays.

What steps do you take to relieve stress during the holiday season?