Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I hate runners...

This post is a response to a FB link to article from Women’s Running Magazine advertised as “4 Reasons Why People Hate On Runners”. You can read it (or just the bullet points if you want) here:

I'll be honest and say that as a "runner" I hate on runners I don’t know and who don't know me because all I see in groups online from them is "I should have gone faster," "I need to go further," and (my personal favorite) "I haven't run in 10 years and just went out and did a marathon in 3 hours!" (The last one is admittedly an exaggeration, but not a big one and by no means fabricated.) I put myself as a runner in quotes because I am technically a run/walker. I consider myself a runner because I do run, but despite my efforts from the last year and some change I cannot actually run for very long and require a long walking period to catch my breath afterward. I discussed it with my family doctor last October and she gave me an inhaler and said "if it doesn't improve I'll send you to a pulmonologist." I used it for a while, then had some medical issues that precluded running and took a break, then worked back into it and am now worse off than when I stopped last year, even after the same amount of training time with more frequent training and use of the inhaler.

On a good day last year I could do a 5k in about 45 minutes; this year my best has been just under 49 minutes. The 45-minute 5k is an almost 15 minute per mile pace and I was miserable most of those 45 minutes. For every 5 minute interval after the first 5 minutes, I was running 3 minutes at 5.1 miles per hour and walking 2 minutes at 3.5 miles per hour. I can't imagine going faster or running longer intervals. I can't imagine maintaining that pace for a longer distance, especially not 26.2 miles (which would take me over 6.5 hours at that pace). That 45 minute 5k was done on a treadmill at 1% incline; I can't imagine doing it on pavement with hills, even on a “flat” course, though I did come close (47 minutes) once in November last year.

True, I could push myself through the discomfort, but between the irrational anxiety of never catching my breath again or potentially passing out from shortness of breath and the pain in my legs, it just doesn't seem feasible or healthy. Most runners say "it gets better." When? I have a runner friend who is not much different than me in age, weight, or story who has spent years trying to finish a half marathon in under 3.7 hours and is hoping this will be the year. She adjusts her training plan based on the previous years’ shortcomings and her body’s needs because prefabricated training plans don’t take her present and known (from experience) abilities into consideration. Even beginner plans typically increase run time per interval by one to two minutes and decrease walk time, but she knows from experience that she cannot do that. She extended her training plan from the beginner’s typical 12 weeks to 16 weeks of serious training after several weeks of not-so-serious training to accommodate her physical needs and schedule conflicts. She looked up the course 3 months in advance. She knew it would be hilly, but now knows exactly what hills to prepare for and does as much hill work as she can in the park where the race is to be held. She is planning on going in as prepared as she can figure, and I hope the best for her this year. I plan to be waiting at the finish line to get a sweaty hug regardless of whether it takes her 3 hours or 10. Good luck LH!

True, I should only compare myself against myself and not other runners, but when you hear over and over again how easy it is for other people you get to wondering "what's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Am I the 'normal' one or are they?" (The answer to that last question lies in the fact that "normal" is an idea and a setting on the washing machine, not a reality in human physiology.) I have to take into consideration that I wasn’t able to run for time or distance as a child for the same reasons I can’t run for time or distance today: I feel like I can’t breathe when I run. I can’t count the number of times I went into the locker room in my two semesters of regular high school PE in tears because I couldn’t do the mandatory mile in one class period. I can’t count the number of PE teachers who were just short of yelling in my face, telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough because I couldn’t run one full turn around a quarter mile track. Because of this I was elated the first time I jogged one quarter mile in one go in my entire life, which was just last year. I can’t count the number of times I was treated like dirt by my athletic neighbor or his overzealous dad because I couldn’t keep up with him. I also have to take into consideration that I have a personality disorder that causes me not to know who I am independent of what other people say and so I strive to be what other people expect - or more frequently what I think they expect without them actually saying it. So when runners actually say that their 12-minute mile is slow with an implied “for them,” I hear that as my 15-minute mile that was torture is not good enough and my current average of a 17-minute mile is a waste of time.

True, that is my problem not theirs, but I argue that by expressing your negativity you’re making it someone else’s problem. Maybe not mine, but someone else’s. Here’s how: you run a half marathon and come in second place, but instead of celebrating being faster than 99% of entrants you say “I could have come in first if…” You are also training one of your children to run and hoping to make it a lifelong sport for them. Now imagine that they heard you say “I could have done better…” By a developing mind that already idolizes you that is heard as “second place is not good enough; I must always come in first.” But maybe their physiology is second place at best. They have short legs or fatigue easily because of chronic anemia or whatever. So from that day on they think they are not good enough for you because they just can’t get first place. There are two ways I see this going in the average child: they cheat to get first place or they give up even trying. There is also the possibility for this to morph into a mental illness, but that’s not the angle I’m going for right now. All of that could have been prevented if you just said “I did a great job” and started establishing a strategy for first place based on your shortcomings while staying to cheer for the back of the pack runners like me who know their chance of placing in top three are about as good as winning the lottery, thus showing your child that it doesn’t matter when you cross the finish line, just that you trained and toed the starting line. That’s more than the majority of the world even attempts to do. I would love to say that the beginning of that scenario was entirely fabricated, but unfortunately it was inspired by real life.

So yes, I hate runners (myself included sometimes). Not because they’re arrogant or self-centered. Not because they only talk about running. Not because they’re jerks to other people, but because they’re so mean to themselves individually and as a collective. When they outwardly say “I could have done better” they also say to someone “my barely trying is better than your best effort.” It’s OK to say that when you’re at Olympic level, but have you noticed that Olympians don’t? (I’m looking at you, Meb, you class act.) They say “here’s what worked for me, what got me this far” or “I struggled (not failed) because…I’ll fix it and do better next time.” Not “I could have done better.” You see the difference? It lies entirely in learning from your shortcomings and moving forward, not dwelling on how you could have changed the past.

[You can stop here if you don’t know me and just came for the rant. Or continue. Whatever.]

I do not think my time trying to get back to a 45-minute 5k this year is wasted or regret missing out on training for 6 months and losing the momentum. I see that as a goal I once attained that I’m struggling to get back to and I see the struggle as a lesson. Where I was in my life last year was completely different than where I am now. Yes, I spend more time exercising now than I did last year and not seeing the same or especially a proportionate amount of change causes a lot of frustration, but I have completely different health issues. This time last year my mental illness was a constant battle but physically I was healthier. Now my body is struggling but my coping mechanisms have improved. I have far from given up on my goals. I’ve just shifted them a little. When I had to stop running at the end of last year the goals were to maintain the 45-minute 5k, eventually do a 30-minute 5k, and greater distances are for chumps. Even earlier this year I said greater distances are for chumps! It was actually more like “greater distances will take me too long” after I realized last year that a half marathon would take me 3.5 hours at that hellish 15-minute mile pace. Then I accidentally walked 10k one day this year and productively occupied more than 2 hours I would have otherwise spent watching TV and eating. My only regret was the sunburn caused by poor planning. As of today I will tell you that my goals are to get back to that 45-minute 5k when my body is ready, to run/walk a 10k with consistent intervals (preferably 1:2) throughout sometime during the month of September, and to see a pulmonologist about why breathing while running is so hard for me. It could be entirely psychological, but I won’t know until I try and I’m not willing to try until someone tells me it’s not physical. I have not given up nor do I plan on giving up. I plan on just going with the flow. And that 30-minute 5k is not totally off the table. It’s just filed under a bunch of other things.

Now go for a run and be kind to yourself.

Gentle hugs,


p.s. If you do figure out how to go back in time and fix mistakes, HMU.

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