Running in Place


I write this post from Wisconsin. However, I was not supposed to be in Wisconsin this weekend. In what is turning out to be an unfortunate annual event, I once again missed out on running in the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon.

Let me take you back a couple of years. After completing a half marathon in Chicago in the fall of 2015, I was feeling pretty good about myself. My family had overcome an overconfident Uber driver to navigate the closed streets and arrive to greet me at the finish line. I knocked 11 minutes off my time from a previous half that I ran the year before. I had completed several other races during the year and was well on my goal of completing one race every month from February through November. So, in my post-race euphoria I resolved to run more half marathons. Hell, I could travel the country running them. I found a website for people who complete a half marathon in every state. Yes! I can do that. I might not finish until I’m 70, but I could do that. I started preparing for my next races. I scoured the internet for “best of” lists for half marathons. So many from which to choose.

Run the Bluegrass calls itself America’s Prettiest Half Marathon. I can’t tell if you it is or not. I don’t doubt that it’s pretty. I’ve been to Lexington, KY. The countryside is gorgeous. This race starts and finishes in the area around Keeneland, a mecca for horse racing. So, after some exhaustive research, I decide that Run the Bluegrass would be my next half marathon and my chance to knock state number three (after WI and IL) off the list. I paid the fee and signed up, made reservations at one of the event’s swanky hotels, and planned to make a weekend of it with my family. My wife is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, so she relished the idea of a visit back to her old haunts.

Just as I had with my other half marathons, I went about creating a 12 week plan of escalating distances and consistent running. I start with running short distances 5 days a week. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was my increment day, so I started at 3 miles and eventually wound up at 12 miles two weeks before the event. Then tapered down the last week. This had worked out really well for me in the past, but this time was going to be different. My previous races had taken place in August and September, meaning that my training would occur in the summer. Run the Bluegrass is held on the first Saturday of April, so 12 weeks out puts me at starting the training in mid-January. This is not ideal for me. Sure, many people run in the winter, and there is a very active community of runners and bikers here in Madison who lobby to keep the bike trails plowed in the winter. But, I find it very difficult to get motivated to run when there is snow on the ground. We’re members at the local YMCA, so I can certainly use the treadmills there. But, oh man, it’s almost impossible to run more than a couple of miles at a time on the “dreadmill”. So, this put me in a pickle. I could suck it up and run outside or be more comfortable inside, but bored out of my mind.

I decided I would run on the treadmill every day except for my long runs on Saturdays. Seemed like a good plan and I added this information into my training plan. Meanwhile, mid-January 2016 was a good time to start the training again. I had my last run of 2015 on Thanksgiving Day and decided to give myself a couple of months off to let my body recover. Specifically, I was worried about my foot. In May, I started to experience some of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. I would wake up in the morning in a lot of pain, but it would subside as the day went on. I continued to run, and noticed that I never experienced any pain while running, but during the rests, it would flare up.

By the fall of 2015, my heel was giving me constant pain. Indeed, the only time I felt relief was while running. After a visit to the doctor, I was given some stretches and told to rest it as much as possible. I thought a couple of months off from running would take care of it.

But by mid-January, I was still not ready to run without experiencing later discomfort. Utilizing a long established routine referred to as procrastination, I convinced myself that I did not need the full 12 weeks to train. 12 weeks became 10 weeks, which soon became 8 weeks. At one point, I redesigned my schedule down to a 6 week plan. It wasn’t the case that I was not running at all. One or two times a week I would get out and run, but I could not bring myself to the full five days a week. Finally, with 3 weeks before the race, I called it off. My registration fee would be lost but I could cancel the hotel room and everything else.

In the week leading up to the race, I received very exciting updates from the race organizers. So tempting to just give it a go. I mean, I can trudge through 13 miles, right? I even had recruited a friend to run with me. She had a smaller trip to make, but I was still feeling really guilty for encouraging her to sign up and then bailing on our fun event.

Included in one of those race emails was an offer for a reduced price for the 2017 run if I signed up now. Only $55! Hell yeah I can do that! I have 52 weeks to get ready for the race. What could derail this promising development?

Less than three months after signing up for the race a second time, I found out that I was losing my job. Convinced that I would be employed soon, I did not think this was a big deal. Oh, silly thought. The job search was much harder and more competitive than I had realized. As the calendar turned to 2017, I started to get nervous about whether we would be able to afford to take a family trip to Lexington. At the same time, we found out that my wife had won an all expenses paid trip for two to Jamaica that would take place just two weeks before the race. It was looking increasingly difficult to make it work for all of us. I decided I would make the trip myself and try to stay with friends or relatives to keep costs down.

I’m not a natural runner. I know people say that anybody can run and I share that sentiment. I try to convince my wife all the time that anyone can run. She doesn’t believe me. But, when I say I’m not a natural runner I mean that I had to work hard to get myself into a habit of running. I really did not run much when I was a teenager (except for an hilarious episode when I went out for cross country as a high school freshman, and my buddy and I hid under a bridge while the rest of the team passed over us, splashed some water on our bodies to simulate sweat, finished up the race, and quit the team the next day). I did not get into distance running again until I was almost 40. So, motivation is always an issue for me. In the last few weeks my training waned to almost nothing. Under the circumstances, I made the same decision as last year. I would skip out on the Run the Bluegrass again.

I feel defeated for now. But, I’m resisting signing up for the event for next year. I need to get back into a routine and then I can think about signing up again. It looks like my 50 state strategy is pushing back a couple of years. I can now look forward to finishing it when I am 72!

But that is for the future. Now that spring is here, I can get out and train in the open air. Without pressure. At least for today.

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