Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For the Love of the Run

My birthday may be in the summer and Christmas is in the winter, but my favorite time of year is the fall.

As I a child, a new school year begun each September, and there were new colored pencils, Halloween costumes, jumping in piles of leaves, carving pumpkins and trips to the apple orchard. In high school, there were swim meets, homecoming dances and parades, and back to school shopping. Later in college, there was football Saturdays in Ann Arbor. And every year, there were cool breezes, colorful trees, sweatshirts and jackets, chicken noodle soup, apples, zucchini bread, and the return of favorite television shows. It only gets sweeter in the city, with fashion week, a welcome lull in tourism, the cooling of the subway stations, and marathon season.

Training for this marathon has brought a whole new perspective on New York, and it has made me love this city even more. There are so many things you see when you are up and about the city at 6 am or when you dare to venture away from the avenues where you live and eat and work and play.

Despite what you might believe, anyone really can run a marathon. I know you don’t believe that right now, so instead of convincing you that you can, I’m just going to bribe you, brag a little, and basically get all sentimental about all the great things that running for long distances can bring to your life.

Cupcakes, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, chocolate. Whatever food you turn to when you are celebrating or depressed, you can now eat without the worry of gaining weight. Yesterday, I had a giant cookie the size of my head. I literally had to use two hands to eat it. Do I feel guilty about it? Nope? Do I have to skip lunch to compensate for those calories? Nope. I already ran that cookie off this morning.

Sunsets and sunrises. Chances are that you will need to squeeze your runs in early in the morning before everyone is awake or at the end of day, and this means you will witness almost daily sunrises and sunsets. Trust me on this: you will never get sick of a sunrise.

Salt. You know how your doctors are always saying that you need to cut out the salt because it causes heart attacks and high blood pressure? Well, when you sweat profusely for four hours, you lose so much salt that you become in danger of either severe cramping or dehydration. Bring on the potato chips, french fries, and bacon!

Maybe it’s because I’m from the Great Lake State, but something about being by water just makes me happy. A lot of great running spots are along the shore, and there is something about the ability to see miles into the distance which helps to clear my head and focus on the future. Plus those cool breezes don’t hurt either.

Eating healthy. I know I already mentioned that you can eat whatever you want, but unless you have the stomach of a rat, you probably won’t be able to eat everything you want all the time. Not if you want to run after eating all that food. Even what I eat the night before a run matters significantly. And so I’ve learned to pick filling, tasty and healthy options before any run over 5 miles. It’s an amazing gift for me to finally understand that a cheeseburger can barely fuel me through a fiver, but whole wheat pasta and vegetables plus a salad with walnuts, blue cheese and apricots can carry me though seventeen.

Dessert for breakfast. Because after rough workouts, your bodies needs calories – and fast – to start repairing and rebuilding muscles, and the best way to refuel is with liquid meals. This morning, I had a strawberry, banana, and vanilla soymilk smoothie with some extra protein powder thrown in.

Discovery and exploration. You might have lived in the same town for twenty years, but when you start running for a marathon, you can’t just run the same three mile loop seven times to get a twenty-miler in. This year, I have run across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and George Washington bridges. I’ve been through Riverside Park, Battery Park, and Central Park . I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, run through the South Street Seaport, past the Intrepid Ship, through Columbia University’s campus and pretty much everywhere else in between.

Muscles. I have known about my biceps, quads, calves and a few other muscles well before I started running, but now that I’ve started running I’ve become aware of a whole new set of muscles. Plus all the old muscles I already knew about have become stronger and more ripped than I ever thought possible. Thankfully, running is a lady’s sport and it doesn’t impart big, bulky muscles – just small, hard ones.

Music. Rock, reggae, rap, classical, electronic, indie, emo, alternative, classic rock, country, Motown – whatever it is that moves you to shake your hips, or clap your hands or bop your head, will move you to run, faster, harder and longer than you ever thought possible. And for this, I love my music a million times more. It has become my running buddy, coach and personal cheerleader. I look forward to my long runs, when I always download a few new songs for motivation. Fuel to my fire, if you will.

Sweet dreams. Running exhausts me. Not in the, I’m-so-tired-all-day-that-I-can’t-do-anything way, but in the way that I am asleep minutes after my head hits the pillows. The quality of sleep is deeper and more fulfilling too. When I wake up in the morning, I feel rested and ready for a full day. A good night of sleep is like a weekend getaway, but a month’s worth of good sleep? Like the serenity of a yogi.

Lose yourself. I started running to lose weight, and over twenty pounds were lost. I haven’t missed them since. No matter what your shape, running will make your body look better. It might be better muscle tone in a few troublesome spots, or it might be inches melting off your body. When I set out to lose weight by running, the goal of losing weight became secondary to completing my half marathon. I was no longer obsessing over every bite of food, or worrying about getting in a minimum number of fat burning sessions per week. Everything became about the run, and in turn, I finally was able to lose the weight.

There are many days when I can barely drag myself out of bed to do my morning run. When the only thing that keeps me going is that fact that I’ve already run three miles away from my apartment, and I have no other way to get back home except to run. More than once, I’ve had to stop on the side of the road and have a little cry because the day’s run is so frustrating that I doubt my ability to complete a marathon.

But then there are the days when running is effortless and exhilarating, when my stores of energy seem endless and my strength is downright inhuman. It’s the moments when I’ve run clear across the airport with a huge piece of luggage in my arms and I am startled to realize that I’m not even slightly out of breath. Quite simply, it’s the feeling that anything might be possible and that is the beauty of running a marathon. Because if a slow-poke like myself can do it, who can't?
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