Racing vs. Running – I Was Shoved

Written by Ann Brennan

Originally published in June 2011, republished because it was on my mind during a run today. I often need reminders of just what it takes to meet the goals I have set for myself.

On Friday afternoon, Coach Jeff emailed me and asked if we could talk about Sunday’s 10k. I rolled my eyes, hung my head, and thought two things, “What could he possibly have to say about this race.” Jeff and Blaise (my fast husband) confer by phone before races. They talk splits and strategy.

But Jeff seldom asks me to talk. He is the ultimate “man of few words.” So, when he asks to talk, there must be a reason.

Unfortunately, because Jeff is a man of so few words he always gets straight to the point and on Friday the point was a little unpleasant.

“Ann,” he said with only the slightest pause, “you are the great underachiever.”

He went on to say that he does not think I try in races, that I am afraid of failing so I don’t give it my all, that I am capable of more than I give.

I wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t. I knew he was right. I have written here about the mental games I have played with myself for various reasons over the past couple of years but when it comes down to it, Jeff is right.

While I tell people that they probably can run faster than they believe is possible, I do not practice what I preach. I have stopped racing as fast as I know that I can.

Three years ago I was racing. In every race I was giving it my all and I discovered that I really could run faster than I had given myself credit for. That year I set PRs in every race I ran. Then injury and illness struck over and over again and I began to revert back to my old way of thinking. I stopped trying.

So, on Friday afternoon as I sat on the front porch listening to Jeff call me the great underachiever I could not argue. I knew he was right.

“I want you to race. Push yourself on Sunday,” he told me, “I want you to run a 9 minute pace.”

Calculating that out, it meant I had to run the race in 55:55.

Just minutes before I called Jeff I had been content with the idea that I would come in in under an hour. I would have been happy with that. Instead, I was now looking at knocking over 4 minutes off that time and I was looking at doing it the morning after my in-laws 50th Wedding Anniversary party. But I didn’t argue. I couldn’t argue, because this was (excuse my language here but it is the only term I can think of at the moment) “shit or get off the pot” time.

Suddenly that is exactly what it felt like. Here I am working with not one but two coaches. With Jeff coaching my running, swimming and biking and Dan at helping me with my strength, mobility and flexibility it does seem like the time to either race or give up on it all together.

So, I raced. Using the dynamic warm up I had just learned last week with Dan, the plan that Jeff had laid out for me Friday afternoon and my husband who was prepared to help me push through the last mile, I raced my 10k.

I should say I did not race gracefully. I did not race smart. But I raced. I took off too fast and suffered for it later in the race, but I raced the entire time. I didn’t slack off. I stayed focused and I raced.

The truth is that Jeff had pissed me off a little bit and that 55:55 no longer seemed like a challenge. Instead it seemed like an insult. Of course I could run 55:55. Of course I could run better than a 9 minute pace.

I had been fine with the idea of running a 60 minute 10k before Jeff called me the great underachiever but that 55:55 lit a fire and there was no way I was going to be satisfied with that time now.

So, Sunday morning as I raced the Dawson’s Father’s Day 10k, I pushed and I ran. I gave it my all, coming across the finish line two minutes faster than Jeff had suggested, in 53:54.

Looking back on that phone call I have a couple of questions. First I wonder how Jeff felt before the words left his mouth. I am not the easiest person to talk to. Truth be told, I am pretty controlling. I like to be in charge and seldom give up control easily. And while I am guessing it is difficult to approach anybody with a statement like “you are the great underachiever,” I would think it might be even harder to approach me.

Second, I wonder whether he knew. Did he know that I needed to be pushed and underestimated? Did he know that I needed to be shoved rather than guided?

Make Fitness a Priority

We are all too busy to fit fitness into our schedules, so how do some people manage to do it anyway?

What’s Next?

Written by Ann Brennan

So, what’s next? Now that I have met my goal and completed my first Ironman, I keep hearing this question. Usually, it is coming from inside my own head but occasionally someone else, a reader or a member of my local running club will ask, “What’s next?”

The truth is I have, over twenty years, developed a habit of knowing what is next before I even make it to the start line of a race. This serves two purposes. First it keeps me from getting too nervous about any given race. Second, it keeps the post-event blues from setting in.

This time, because I was nursing a knee injury in the weeks leading up to my “A” race, I started thinking about it even earlier and planning even more seriously. But only for the short-term.

It never fails to amaze me how “out of shape” I feel when I get closer to my “A” race. This time it came as even more of a shock but, it shouldn’t have.

Yes, I can run, bike and swim and yes, I have been doing all three of these things like a crazy woman for months. But as my training progressed I found myself dropping all of my strength and core workouts. I always do really.

Strength and core is the easy thing to drop as the training becomes more intense. It is time consuming and it is easier to justify skipping a strength workout than an endurance workout when swimming, biking and running is all you can think about.

But, as I was approaching the race this year I realized what I mistake I had made. I could feel my lack of muscle and strength and I began to plan a two-month period after the race in which this and speed work is all I would focus on.

So the race is done and that period has started. With three sessions under my belt this week, I am ready to think about what’s next for the long term.

What do I want to do now?

Well let’s go back to the last mile of the Beach to Battleship Ironman and let me make a little confession before we move on.

In that last mile, when I had to resort to walking because I could walk faster than I could run. When I kept chanting, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done, this is the hardest thing I have ever done, this is the hardest thing I have ever done…” over and over again, another thought entered my head.

Suddenly, as clear as day, I could see the final scene of Rocky. The two boxers holding onto each other because letting go would mean falling over and Apollo Creed saying, “There ain’t gonna be no rematch.” And suddenly I had a new chant.

“There ain’t going to be no rematch.”

And that’s exactly what I said to my husband as he hugged me at the finish line.

“There ain’t going to be no rematch. “

But now, having analyzed the race, having come to the realization that I didn’t do half bad for a short little mom of three, I am planning 2013 and guess what? There is going to be a rematch.

I haven’t made the final decision on where but I do know how. This time, I won’t drop the strength and core halfway through training. This time I will go into the last twenty weeks of training more fit than I did last year. And this time I will have a more aggressive goal. This time I will push myself and challenge myself and see just how much my little body can give.

So, what’s next? I guess we’ll call it a rematch.

Why Veteran Runners Lie

Veteran runners might not be telling you the whole truth when it comes to running. In today’s video I lay it all on the line.

Where in the World

This morning my friend sent me Zooma’s latest promotion, a contest in which participants guess where the next Zooma Race will land.  As I watched it and tried to guess. I thought about the dozens of places I have visited for races – From London to Austria to Annapolis to San Diego.  Running in these locations gave each of the locations a special place in my heart.  San Diego is not just a beautiful city but a city in which I ran the inaugural Rock ‘n Roll Marathon.  In Charlottesville is one of my son’s all-time favorite cities but for me it marked the second marathon I had run in the eight months since my youngest child was born.  There is something special about a destination race.  Something that makes the race special but also something that makes the city itself stand out.

So today, just for fun, I thought I would share Zooma’s contest with you.  Watch the video, enter to win but do my readers a favor and tell me what your favorite destination race was and while you are at it  where  your dream destination would be.


Experience and Wisdom

It is official. I am beginning, just beginning to get older. I am sure I will never be old but there are signs that have crept up on me. A wrinkle here, a brain-fart there and most recently, I realized I have to think about how old I am when asked.

That’s a big one, right? Most of my life I remember looking forward to birthdays. I have never had a fear of getting older. I totally buy into the philosophy that getting older beats the alternative. And even as I sit here thinking about getting older I am okay with it. Heck, I am even happy about it.

Suddenly all of that “older and wiser” talk makes sense to me. Suddenly, I don’t feel quite as foolish as I did just a few years okay. It has taken forty plus years but I finally seem to be learning from my mistakes and that’s what wiser really means, right?

I have noticed this most in my running life. Instead of the impatience I felt when things went wrong in the past, I am finding it easier to cope. I can accept the bad days because after having had a lot of bad days and even more good days I am experienced enough to know that things change. Bad days, even a string of them, don’t mean much. They are just what I am going through now, the bad runs will end and good ones will take there place.

But that goes the other way as well. I know that good days don’t mean much either. Just because I ran ten miles easy yesterday, just because I felt great after that marathon or that century ride, doesn’t mean that the next one will be good. So, while I have learned to accept the bad days, I have learned to appreciate the good ones.

One of the best bits of wisdom I have picked up over the years is a realization that I don’t know everything. Hell, I am not sure that I know anything. The minute I think I have the answer a new answer is plopped down in front of me. The wisdom comes in realizing this and going with the flow.

So many of the things I truly believed when I was a new runner are different now. Heel striking is bad has become forefoot running is good. Lots of cushion is good has become less cushion is good. Take water but not food has become take water and fuel. Many of the things will continue to be truths through another generation. Many of them won’t. What I have taken from it all is that it is okay. I have to take the advice and the truths that work for me and leave the others, but only for today because tomorrow my truths may change again. It is a fluid world and it is in moving with the world that we gain experience.

Experience comes with age and if that is the trade off, it is okay with me. The lessons I have learned over twenty years of running help me on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I still make mistakes. I still forget to use Body Glide the first time back in shorts each year. I still head out without enough water and suffer for it afterwards. But all of that is okay, because more important than the physical tips I have tucked away over the years are the mental tricks I can now deploy.

The wisdom I have gained through the mistakes that I have made is worth a few wrinkles here and a couple of gray hairs there. Besides the fact, as my children are sure to tell you, even though I am growing older, I will never grow up. I will always be the little girl running through the woods enjoying the moment.

You Know You’re a Runner If

You know you’re a runner if  –


  • you have more running clothes than regular clothes in your laundry pile.
  • you’ve lost a toenail. And you tell people, “It’s not that bad.”
  • you have a drawer full of medals and other race souvenirs that you’re not sure what to do with.
  • you go into Starbucks more often to use the bathroom than to actually buy coffee.
  • you no longer make fun of fanny packs because your running belt looks very similar (although cooler) to one.
  • you have a line in your budget for “race entry fees/race travel”.
  • you’ve used an old race T-shirt to wash your car, dust furniture, or clean something else.
  • your treadmill has more miles on it than your car. has pages upon pages of these. But if you are like me it took months, maybe even years before you would describe yourself as a runner.  In the beginning, I went for a jog, a shuffle or a fast walk.  I was not really a runner.


Eventually though, after months, I began to admit that what I was doing was running.


But I wasn’t a runner, not really. In my head running only two or three times a week did not make me a runner. It was still years before I would begin referring to myself as a runner.


But this weekend I started to realize that running and fitness has become such a part of my life that it is hard to separate from the rest.


We had a crazy busy weekend – graduation and graduation lunch on Friday, graduation party on Saturday and a New Cadet West Point Picnic on Sunday.  Although I did take Friday off, on Saturday and Sunday I was up by five and out the door for my workouts.  I knew that I would not make it through the day better if I did not get them in.


It is funny how this happened, the transition my running life has taken.  In the beginning I ran to lose weight.  Over the years my reasons have fluctuated from weight control, to overall health to mental health and back again.  But what running has really become is a part of my life.


The t-shirts joke, “Run, Sleep, Eat, Repeat.”  But when you become a runner, when it finally becomes a part of you, it is no longer a joke.  For me, the running, biking and swimming have become almost as much a part of my life as eating, sleeping and breathing.  It is what I do.  It is what keeps me healthy.  It is what keeps me sane.  And in the end it is what keeps my life moving forward in the most positive ways possible.

Connecting with Women Through Zooma

When my first two children were one and three respectively, my husband decided to go to law school. To make it work, I quit my job to become a full time mom. Because my husband was working days, going to school at night and studying whenever he was not trying to catch up on sleep, this meant I spent a good deal of the time living the life of a single parent.

Luckily I had running to keep me sane. Even while we were planning out the changes that were about to occur in our lives I decided to run my first marathon. My friends and family discouraged me.

“Don’t you have enough on your plate,” they would ask.

I did have enough on my plate and yes, training for a marathon meant I would be taking hours out of my day that I might not be able to afford, but I had learned something from watching other stay-at-home moms. I had learned that the happiest of them took care of themselves as well as taking care of their children. For some women this meant girl’s nights out, shopping with friends once a week or monthly spa treatments.

By contrast, the moms who were the most harried were the ones who devoted every waking hour to their children and their husbands and by extension, neither their kids nor their husbands were the happiest people in the neighborhood.

By watching other moms, I realized that if I wanted my family to be a happy one, I needed to do something for myself each and every day and running a marathon would insure that I did just that.

Over the next several years I continued to run marathons, even inspiring my husband to run his first marathon before he finished law school, and we were happy. The kids had a mom who was not pulling her hair out, my husband had a wife who was accomplishing something that he had not imagined he could do. And even on the hard days, when both kids were at that worse, I knew I could survive those years because I had run a marathon.

When Zooma approached me about being a community connector for their Annapolis race, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought back on that time in my life and remembered what training for that race had done for me. As a woman’s race that has a woman’s weekend atmosphere to it, Zooma may be the race that keeps another young mom sane and happy. I am happy to be part of a race that while not just for moms is targeted to women. I am proud to be part of a race that offers a little pampering for women who might not otherwise pamper themselves.

Zooma will be only my second women’s race but I look forward to the opportunity to meet other women in the training leading up to the race and on race weekend. I look forward to running side by side with women who have found the same peace in running that I have. And I look forward to hearing how their lives and their families’ lives have been changed because they decided to make taking care of themselves a priority.

Zooma is graciously offering a discount for readers of Ann’s Running Commentary. To register and receive your discount visit Zooma Annapolis and enter the discount code: ANNCON2

Focusing on the Goal

I dutifully stayed up last night waiting for the ball to drop but knowing that I would start the year off with the Annual New Year’s Resolution Run at City Dock in Annapolis, I was just as dutifully in bed five minutes later.

As I dropped off to sleep my mind did not race. I did not reflect on the year that was and I did not think about the year that lay ahead. I slept worry-free for the first time in weeks.

Unfortunately, I made up for it upon waking. The moment the alarm sounded something inside clicked and I suddenly remembered, this is the year I run my first Ironman.

In nine months and 19 days I will toe the line with 1500 triathletes from around the world and head into jellyfish invested waters to begin a 140.6 mile journey that will end between 11 and 16 hours later. As suddenly as this thought entered my mind, my heart began to race and the worry took over.

Last year I covered 3673 miles beginning with the Resolution Run on New Years Day. Of those miles 883 miles were spent running, 2671 were spent cycling, 68 were spent swimming in pools, lakes and rivers, and 26 miles were spent walking with my children and dogs. I completed the 1 Mile Bay Swim Challenge, a century ride with my friend Corey Davis, a half marathon and 8 additional Annapolis Strider’s events, an Olympic Distance triathlon and a full distance Aqua Velo. All of which were done in preparation for the Patriot Half Ironman.

Did you catch that last part? The part that makes my heart pound? All of those miles, all of those races were in preparation for a race that was half the distance I am preparing for this year.

But with age I am growing wiser. After years of being the worrier, I have finally come to accept that worrying doesn’t solve the problem.

So before I stepped out of the bed, I let go of the worry and latched on to the theme of the year – focus. This year, more than ever before, is about focus. This year I focus on the training, the diet, and the strategy that will get me to that line. This year I focus on the goal and let go of the worry. This year, I become an Ironman.

Advice For the New Runner

Every couple of months I get an email or telephone call from a friend, a different one each time, asking me to please help motivate their spouse, friend, neighbor or sometimes just themselves. By the time they call, the motivation is usually not needed. The person they are calling about is almost always motivated but usually lacks the confidence to jump into a routine. For the next week I usually spend several days emailing back and forth with the newbie, answering questions about shoes, nutrition, running programs, and ways to stay motivated.

I am not a coach. I am not an expert. So, why do these people call me for help? Well, let me be completely honest with you. When they first started calling almost ten years ago, I believed they were calling because they had told there spouse or friend, “Hey, if Chubby Ann can do it, then so can you.” I haven’t been Chubby Ann for a while, so I feel confident enough now to say, they call me because I am one of the most committed exercisers they know. I have been a runner for 18 years and I love it. But beyond the love, it is how I identify myself, and it is how others think of me. I am their running and fitness friend.

I received another of these calls this morning. A friend is considering completing his first marathon but doesn’t know how to get started. We had been emailing back and forth, with me saying many of the same things I have said for years, when suddenly it hit me – Maybe I should write these things down for people who don’t call but are interested in getting fit, running their first 5k, 10k or even marathon. So, here goes. Everything I think a newbie to fitness and running should know to get started.

1. Shoes and Clothes – Buy your self a good pair of proper running shoes from a real running specialty store. Have them fitted for you so you know you are getting the right ones for your size and your goal. Running in your old tennis shoes or even a pair of running shoes that you bought ten years ago, is the fastest way to sabotage a new fitness routine. Clothes? The same thing. Make sure you get technical gear that looks and feels good, not the three sizes too big t-shirt that you got for free when ordering Christmas presents for the kids three years ago. By purchasing these things, you not only make sure you don’t chafe and blister before your new sport becomes a habit, you also make a financial commitment to the idea of getting fit.

2. The first mile is always the hardest – It literally takes our bodies a full mile to warm up to the optimum temperature for exercise. People say to me all the time, “I can’t run a mile.” My answer is, “But you could run two.” If you get yourself past that first mile (walk it if you need to), then you can be a real distance runner. Even after eighteen years I always take the first mile slowly. I let my body reach its optimum temperature and then I speed up.

3. Get a goal – Not a “I want to wear my skinny jeans” kind of goal. That goal will be met easier if you have a race or walk in your calendar, one you have actually signed up for. Make it something that is doable but is a little bit outside of your comfort zone. If you have never run more than five miles, qualifying for the Boston Marathon might be a little tough, but running a half marathon three months from now is completely doable – if you have a plan.

4. Get a plan – There are running programs everywhere. Running clubs often have different groups competing in different events throughout the year. Join one of these and make friends while you get fit. If you can’t do this, then go to and look up training programs. Once you have the plan, make it a priority. Schedule the runs, based on your program, and stick to them.

5. Have fun – This is the one most easily forgotten tip. If you are not having fun while you are running, you will probably not keep doing it. Having fun while running is easier than you might think. The trick is to remember that fun is part of the goal. Look for things you enjoy. Listen to music, dance wildly at stop lights, sing out loud, run through the woods, jump over puddles. Run, like Phoebe on Friends, like you are a kid again. Whatever it takes to make it fun, do it. You will not regret it.

I am sure there are other tips and hints but these are the first ones I always give. If you are an experienced runner and have additional tips, add them in the comments section. If you are a new runner and have questions, ask them there too. I am not an expert but after running for so many years, I have probably come across the answer somewhere and if I haven’t, I have lots of running friends who are always willing to help a new runner.

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