When I first started running, I also started a new reading habit. I knew that the hundreds of diet and exercise books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble would contain hundreds of ideas on what to eat, do, think, say, pursue, sacrifice, and why their way is the only way (just ignore the books on either side that contradict). So instead I started with autobiographies by women who had experienced weight loss and seemed honest about the trials and tribulations involved. After four or five books in that genre, I started on books by wanna-be runners and have been sticking with that group ever since. I love reading about the journeys of others and their suggestions about how others might running along with them. Some of the books are about Olympic hopefuls, but most are by or about regular people who just want to challenge themselves in new ways. I’ve collected a pretty decent library now with over 15 books in a precarious stack in my bedroom and a few dozen magazines covering one chair in the living room.
Most of these books include details about the physical and mental elements of running. The physical side includes training methods, healthy diets, injury prevention, and clothing recommendations. But in my opinion, the mental element is far more important than what type of shoes I wear. The battles with internal voices can absolutely make or break a run. One recommendation I’ve come across many times is to develop a mantra; a phrase to repeat when that hill seems never-ending or you find yourself at the back of the pack or the clouds above just burst with the waters of Lake Michigan. I read through a variety of suggestions in magazines and online before developing my own over two years ago at a hilly August race in Vancouver, WA: My Race. My Pace. My Win. The phrase came up in response to the bad words I had been verbally coming out of my mouth because of a very large hill (somehow that course was all up hill; still don’t know how that evil magic happened on such a sunny day). As male and female runners passed me on either side, I needed the reminder that it didn’t matter how fast they went or how long it took me. All that mattered was winning against myself. As long as my feet kept moving forward, I was going to win.
Last Saturday, I ran in the Hop-Hop Half Marathon, and discovered that it was time for a new mantra. On the course I was running at 11 minute-miles (which was super for me) and feeling confident about keeping on pace until the finish. I was enjoying the run, kept gazing to the beautiful river beside me, and didn’t really care who I passed or who passed me. I played around with words and options in my mind, trying to again find a short phrase that could be spoken as a running prayer when times got tough (like a few miles later when those Lake Michigan gallons poured down). Near mile 8 I found the right words: Run Smart. Run Strong. Run Well.
- Run Smart – Listen to the needs of your body, rather than only the expert recommendations of books. If my leg begins to hurt, only I know how much farther it can go. I decide best what breakfast should be on race morning and how much training I can complete in advance based on the rest of my life. No one else can decide those steps leading up to the Starting Line.
- Run Strong – With the Boston Marathon just two days from my run, I was absolutely thinking of the courage of those runners who were flocking to Boston to challenge their physical limits and defy the fears caused by last year’s bombing. The courage of those strangers inspires me at every run to do more and train better so I can one day run with them. After last week’s event I went online to discover that I will have to decrease my marathon time by two hours to qualify, and while that seems rather daunting, I truly believe that I can be part of that crowd one day.
- Run Well – I kept debating the second word of this phrase during the race as I considered the meaning behind it. It was inspired by the final episode of Boy Meets World when Mr. Feeny tells our main three characters to go out into the world and “Do good.” When Topanga asks if he means to “Do well”, he responds confirming that he means they should “Do good.” For me in that race, Run Well meant to smile at the walker I was passed during those final miles in, men and women who still had an hour or more to go. Run Well also means to find ways to give back to others through this exercise turned habit turned lifestyle. This week I’ll meet my Running Buddy from Girls on the Run and in a few weeks I get to walk alongside a dear friend in a half-marathon. Run Well is more than just playing nice in the sandbox; its making an intentional choice to care for those runners and wanna-be runners around you through words and actions.
So those are the words I’m working to develop and embrace, words that in many ways are a mission statement for my running identity. They provide vision for what my next event could be and should be. And they remind me that this part of my life allows me to “Do good”.