Calibration

When asked, I never call myself a runner. I mean, I do technically run and like a lot of other people who run, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the fresh air, the quiet, the feeling of accomplishment. I am not as crazy about the blisters, the obligatory side stitches, and the rarely sleeping in past sunrise. But I do it and have been doing it regularly for almost fifteen years. But runners are fast and, therefore, I am not a runner.

At first, my goals were humble:

  1. Don’t throw up.
  2. Don’t fall down.
  3. Finish the race. 

With several successful races (according to my goals above) and fifty less pounds under my belt, I became better friends with running. I still was not fast, but I was steady. And not having my thighs rub together was excellent incentive to continue. (Product endorsement alert: Body Glide is the best thing since sliced bread. The end.)

Other things that made me feel good about running:

  1. Having conversations with good friends about life’s major milestones like, “Do you think he’s the one?,” “OMG, I’m having twins!” and “Her cancer is still in remission.”
  2. Being awake when the rest of the world is asleep. The stars are brighter, the air is crisper, and the meditating begins.
  3.  Allowing myself to enjoy a guilt-free scoop of ice cream with my kids on the weekends. 

I was vaguely aware of my pace those first years, not really caring as long as I continued to stay upright and keep the skin on my knees.

Then, I got an iPhone. It wasn’t the phone so much as it was the running app that bore itself into my very soul. I became a little obsessed with feedback. There it was, in full-color graphs, for me to analyze. (As documented in previous posts, I am a total spreadsheet strumpet.) Initially, it helped my running game. I found myself wanting to beat my time from the run before. Motivation is surely a good thing, right? And I did get better. I was pushing myself to run harder, longer, and more often. Did I dare fancy myself a runner?

I noticed I was running alone more often. I became nervous about altering any single variable that might affect my finish time. This meant I also repeated the same routes and ran at the same time of day. When I plateaued a few months ago, I found myself getting a little distressed. Now that the thrill of shaving precious seconds off my 10K time was stalling, how would I stay motivated?! What else could I do?

A friend of mine suggested forced me to sign up for a military boot camp-style exercise class with her. I have done these in the past and really enjoyed them, so I welcomed the change to my rut. As expected, it was a good workout and calories were certainly burned, but I rediscovered something along the way that I had been missing for a while. Something intangible that comes along with camaraderie, teamwork, and goal setting that has nothing to do with pie charts or the voice of Lance Armstrong unexpectedly congratulating me through my headphones for a job well done. (The first time that happened, by the way, it scared the absolute bejeezes out of me.) I left the iPhone in my car. The most valuable feedback I got for six weeks was in the form of high fives, “Atta girls!”, and sweaty hugs. It was just what the Dr. (Scholl’s) ordered.

Me and Friendly Guy

The first session ended last week and some of us decided to go for a group run today. I ended up being on pace with a friendly guy and we chatted for the whole 45 minutes about “stuff”. We were winded, but not overly so. We took a wrong turn once or twice but laughed it off. We joined up with our fearless leader with a mile to go to the finish line. When we got back to the parking lot, we all looked down at our various tracking devices. Friendly Guy said something like, “That was a good 4 miles.” I re-checked my numbers and said, “I think we ran closer to 5.” Fearless Leader said, “Actually, I think it’s closer to 4.5.” Someone else asked me, “Have you ever calibrated your run?” At first it didn’t seem like anything earth shattering. What’s a few tenths of a mile? And then I realized that it meant quite a lot.

All those runs, all those times, were not accurate.

When I got back to my computer, I did some basic math (because I’m an English major) and discovered that for every mile I thought I was running, I was actually only running 0.93 miles. I wasn’t running sub-8 minute miles after all. Ever. When I glanced back over my log of runs this year, I felt kind of foolish. I was obsessed with beating a number that wasn’t even real. I was not, in fact, as fast as I thought. After I coddled my bruised ego for a few minutes, I thought, “Well let that be a big ol’ lesson to me.”

While running (for fun!) today, I felt fast. I felt satisfied and productive. I felt deserving of the leftover waffle bites on my daughter’s breakfast plate. And I felt good. It was clearly time for me to give myself a little grace, expand my narrowed perspective, and rediscover all the reasons running (and other things) make me feel good in the first place.

This runner just needed to be calibrated.

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