Sunday, November 17, 2019

Weekly Sweats: My Running Backstory

I did something this weekend that to the best of my memory I haven't done since 2011: back to back 6 mile runs.  That put me on memory lane and the path to telling my running backstory.

I'm linking up with the Weekly Run Down, please head over to Kim and Deborah to check it out.

Before we visit the past, let's take a quick look at my 21 miles of running this week

Monday: a bit tired from running on both weekend days but hit 3 treadmill miles with a vengeance ==> 1 mile warm up, the rest alternating 1 minute hard/1 minute recover.  Weights at lunch

Tuesday: 3 easy treadmill miles.  It was our first big snowstorm of the year, which made leaving the house impossible.  Someone was very happy to about the snow and the bonus lunchtime walk that she got that day.
Quick funny story from that night: there was a patch of black ice at the end of our street.  Stepdog pranced right over it, setting my husband up to take a fall.  Stepson #1 followed and also took a spill on the ice.  So what did I do after watching the two of them go down on what was clearly black ice?  If you guessed that I followed their exact footsteps and took the exact same spill, you are correct.

Wednesday: no running, weights at lunch

Thursday: I had a tight schedule and struggled with how to fit a run in, should I get up earlier than normal?  Run at lunch?  And then I remembered that I'm not training for a half anymore, I don't have to run.  Rest day it was!

Friday: 3 easy treadmill miles, weights at lunch

Saturday: 6 miles outside.  It was pretty cold but sunny, so I gambled that the streets would be clear.  And they were apart from the bridge pictured at the top.

Sunday: eh, by rights it should be a rest day...but just like last week, it's a little warmer and a little sunnier so I went for it with another six miler.  There will be plenty of weekend days this winter when I won't be able to go out, so I was driven to make the most of it.  And as I clicked through the miles I remembered a time ago when I always ran back to back days on weekends, always the same distance, which brings me to...

My Running Backstory 
(yes we're in TL;DR territory here for sure!)
1980's (grade school): I was a spectacularly unathletic child. Every once in a while we had to run a mile for PE class, which was 4 loops of our school campus.  I developed a gift for hiding behind an outbuilding in the first loop and coming back in to the run on the 4th loop.

mid 1990's-2009: once PE was out of my life, I started working out and liked it a whole lot.  Cardio was my jam, particularly incline treadmill walking.  In my prime I could walk 4.7 MPH at a 5% incline for 4 miles...I don't think you can go any faster without running.  Every once in a while I would try to run, but hello it was hard.  Getting on a machine and going on autopilot was just so much easier and was getting me the results that I wanted.

P.S. at one point in my early 30's I stopped working out entirely for a few months just to see what it felt made me feel old and achy so I got right back to the gym and never looked back.

2009: hey Great Recession!  I was underemployed that year and cut out all optional spending, including my gym membership.  In retrospect the extra $30 a month would not have broken me but those were dark times and I did what I felt I had to do.  I hiked endlessly that summer but no matter how far I walked or how difficult the trail, I just wasn't getting the cardio buzz that I craved or doing anything for my fitness.  I realized that there was only one way to get the intensity I needed for free and that was running.

The distance between my house to the nearest busy street was one mile.  On the day of my first run, I decided that no matter what I would run the mile without stopping.  Then I would turn around and come back home, and I would take as many walk breaks as I wanted on the return mile.  And...I didn't hate it and felt great afterwards.  I kept doing my two miles out and back, and my walk breaks in the 2nd mile kept getting shorter.  I kept running until December when the roads got a good buildup on ice on them and it was just too cold.

2010: the recession ended for me just before Christmas 2009, but I held off on going back to the gym.  It was a rough winter but finally in March the ice went away and I went back to my 2 milers and it was like returning to heaven.  One day I brought a stopwatch with me and started timing my runs.  They were always 24-26 minutes.  I started trying to run faster.  And then I started adding extra side streets to my runs to extend the distance.

When winter came, I splurged on the gym's 100 day winter pass for $100 and man did I get my money's worth.  I hit up the gym 4 times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  The gym had a running track with 5 laps to the mile, which motivated me to think more in terms of just running another lap on top of my planned mileage.  Soon my runs were up to 4 miles (sheesh it would never have occurred to me back then to run different distances or different intensities).  But I also played it conservative and took a week off running every month in favor of treadmill incline walks.

In addition to the $100 gym membership, I had one additional running expense that year.  It wasn't shoes, because whatever sneakers I'd had for years were serving me just fine.  It was socks because the increased mileage was giving me blisters like crazy.  I shelled out something crazy like $30 for 3 pairs of Dry Max socks.  I've never had a blister since and let me tell you the socks last forever, I think I finally threw out the last of the O.G. pairs sometime last year and they're the only brand I've gotten since.

2011: the honeymoon year.  When my 100 day gym membership was over, I took my runs back outside, still 4 miles a pop with 2x the mile to the busy street and back.  My coworkers were abuzz with our local marathon's relay, and I wanted to join the team, and I knew that the marathon legs were about 6 miles each, so I got motivated to increase my distance up to 6 miles each run, which I built up to very gradually.  Running 6 miles 4 times a week was very comfortable, but I never felt the drive to try to run longer.  I got my first smartphone that year and used it to get All The Data from my runs.  I was still running at a 12 minute pace, but everyone said that it would just be a matter of time before I got faster (spoiler: still waiting).

I call this the honeymoon year because I was running all the time, feeling great, and started dropping weight like crazy.  I literally could not eat enough to fuel my running.  It's no coincidence that I started a food blog at that time and that so many of the early recipes were desserts.  The honeymoon came to an end that summer when I started a new job at a startup.  The late hours cut into my weekday runs and the inevitable inhouse meals that went along with late nights put my energy inbalance in the opposite direction. The job change also meant not being on my previous employer's marathon team, a dream that would stay in limbo for a few more years. 

2012: continued running inconsistently, ran my first 10k that year and absolutely hated it (in retrospect it was a very hard course, but my impression was that I'd paid $40 to run at the same pace that I could have run at home for free and it stuck out like a sore thumb that I was second from last).  Because working for a startup wasn't enough of a challenge, I started grad school.  I dragged myself to the gym late at night after class a few times a week, and could see my fitness evaporating away.

2013: took the winter off again and oh man it HURT when I started back up again.  I did Couch to 5k to get back up to speed.  I finally bit the bullet and started working out in the mornings before the work/school craziness that was now my life.  Time constraints kept me to 3 miles, still at my same ol' 12 minute pace, but I craved those runs so hard.  Also notable, I got my first pair of Big Deal Name Brand Running Shoes that year, selected based on the fact that I'd heard great things about the brand and found a deal online...this is not a recommended way to find running shoes, but they were wonderful and I used that same pair for years.  Then I kept buying shoes in that same brand and never found the same magic again.

2014: Bye bye grad school and hello getting to write the initials CPA after my name.  Now that I was out of pure survival mode, it was time to up my fitness game.  My work at the time was very strict about everyone being at their desks by 8:00AM, and I got on a routine of getting up in time to be at my gym when it opened at 5:30.  I did a two mile treadmill incline walk (not quite at the 4.7MPH of my youth) followed by a two mile run on the track.   Hitting the cardio so hard after a few years of  squeezing in a few workouts here and there was magic and again it dropped my weight like crazy.

2015: ran my first 5k.  After the awful 10k of 2012 I swore that I would never run another race again, but my future husband's relatives were running and it was close to home, so why not.  Before the race I told one of the older cousins that I hoped to finish in 36 minutes at my standard 12 minute pace.  I was shocked when I turned the finish line and saw 32:15 on the clock (lessons learned: it's a very flat course, and running races is a ton more fun when you do it with friends).

Now that I had the racing bug, I ran a 5k every month that summer, the best one being on July 4th with my future husband and stepsons (the kids did the one mile fun run).  We took our first family photo at the race.

That year my dream of running in our local marathon's relay came true.  My then employer was truly awful and the one perk of my brief time with them was that they paid for us to run the race.  Being on a real marathon course was exhilarating, especially since I only had to run 6 miles.  Not long after that I upgraded an crappy employer for a great one, and I cannot tell you how great my work life is now compared to how awful it was then but that's a story for another day.

The final notable of the year was getting a home treadmill.  I assumed that I would just go on incline walking 2 miles/running 2 miles and that switching from land running to treadmill running would be easy-peasy.  Nope!  I basically had to learn to run all over again for the treadmill.

2016: a down year.  It took me a long time to accept that there was just something different about running on the treadmill and I beat myself up for not being able to do the same old workouts.  I got my first running injury, a severe hip pain that didn't go away until I stopped running for two weeks.  After that I added a prerun routine to my workouts (leg swings, walking lunges, butt kicks, etc) and I haven't had anything that bad happen to me since.  Another change was that ramping up my running no longer worked to get my weight down (we're not talking a ton of lbs, just gaining 5 to 10 pounds in the summer/fall and then magically being able to lose them in the spring).  I deny that this has anything to do with being on the wrong side of 40, but at the same time it's one heck of a coincidence.

Racing notables: I talked my new employer into sponsoring a running team for the marathon, but so many people were interested that the company ended up sponsoring 4 teams.  It was surreal to start the race in exactly the same place that I'd left off the year before.  Toward the end of the year I ran a half marathon on a relay team, and for the first time seriously tried to extend my running distance past 6 miles.  I just couldn't do it, my one 7 mile run ended up mostly walking for the 7th mile.

2017: nothing new to report, except that by now I'd figured out how to run on the treadmill so I didn't stop running in the winter.  I also started learning about running...I figured out what 8 x 400 and tempo and other weird running terms meant.  I started doing basic speedwork on the treadmill once a week.  Ran the 3rd leg of the marathon, a few 5ks and my 2nd 10k.  My 5k time got better, my 10k time was stagnant at 75 minutes and I came in 3rd from last.  I didn't run a lot, just 3 or 4 days a week, and was well under 20 miles a week.  Sometimes I would daydream about that time in 2011 when I regularly ran 24 miles a week and thought nothing of it.

2018: when spring came, I was in peak running form and took a shot at running more than 6 miles and found that the door was open.  By summer I was up to 8 milers and that fall I got into 10 and 12 mile territory.  By the end of the year I ran 5 days a week up to 30 miles a week, leaving my 2011 honeymoon days in the dust (minus the weight loss but also minus any weight gain so eh I'll take it).  I went from buying a new pair of shoes every few years whether I needed them or not to buying 4 pairs that year.

I started racing a heck of a lot more in 2018 and crushed the 10k, dropping my time from 75 to 68 minutes.  I ran the 4th leg of the marathon.  I realized that it was time to level up to the half marathon and signed up for one in May of 2019.  I wrote a post with every last thought about my 2018 running and plans for 2019

2019: I ran the final leg of the marathon and a billion other races and over a thousand miles year to date.  And let's leave the story there as it unfolds week by week.

Yikes that was long...thanks for reading!


  1. I also used to hide and try to skip out on gym class. Funny how things change huh!? Glad to read that you are feeling strong out there again. Have a great week

  2. I hope you all were ok after your wipeouts! Lots of ups and down and miles over the years! Thanks for sharing. If I shared my running stories, it would be a novel. 30 years of running...

  3. Thanks for sharing!!! I love learning how running has evolved for everyone. We all have a story to tell, and each is most unique ;-) You've made such great progress through your journey!! And I totally agree...treadmill running is very different than road running, at least it is for me. My body (well, and my mind LOL) cannot take the repetition...

  4. I remember being in high school and skipping part of my run. My friends and I would sometimes even go to one of our houses to hang out for a few minutes mid-run to hide and then go back to join the group. So funny how things change!

  5. Fun look back! LOL at hiding out to skip some laps. I call myself an adult-onset exerciser because I never enjoyed it until I was older. Well, I enjoyed playing soccer as a kid but not the running part! I took it up after law school and never looked back. Lovely snow - watch out for that ice!

  6. oops... on the ice! but isn't it funny how, if close enough and not really having it register in the brain that several people can go down like dominoes?

    I don't remember running in gym at all. But then again I finished HS in 1986 and I think most of my HS years are on blackout in my head! I tried running back in 2001 but just couldn't grasp it at all, then it was 2009 when I really gave it another shot, this time with my husband in tow (he wanted to support me). And I did a lot of things backwards really - my first race was 12KM and I didn't run a 5K race for a long time. My first half marathon was like your first 10K. I hated it and swore I'd never do that distance again. Ah, I could not have predicted all that happened since then!

  7. Yowza on the black ice! Hope you are all ok! Your running story was fun to read. I remember running in middle school and younger but not in high school...oh except for having to do the 50 yd dash Freshman it's coming back to me. Haha!

  8. Ugh black ice can be so dangerous! Hope you're ok. It's always fun to hear people's running stories and how things evolve over time.

  9. I for one enjoyed your racing backstory. I was you hiding in gym glass -- and look where we both are now
    Sorry about your fall, but love the pic of your dog with snow on its nose. Totally agree re: enjoying the weather while we can

  10. This was so much fun to read!!! It brought great memories of when I started running but I cannot remember every single thing. :-) I hope you are OK after that fall. I hope everyone is OK.