Running is a solitary endeavor, which may be part of the reason it’s so appealing to me.  I’ve never liked team sports or group projects in school.  I don’t like to rely on people and deal with their bullshit.  I’m an introvert, which simply means that I gain energy and “recharge” by being by myself. Writing is another solitary pursuit that I’ve dabbled in over the years.  It’s no wonder that running and writing are (slowly) becoming my healthy escapes.

Why does our culture devalue solitude?  A little solitude isn’t going to hurt you :)  Even on a day like today when a blizzard is forcing many people in the tri-state area to stay indoors, most people feel trapped.  It’s understandable and I’m sure that cabin fever will hit at some point.  But wouldn’t it be better if we just accepted that it’s a day of hibernation?!  Read a book, watch a dvd, listen to music, play in the snow, daydream, get lost in your thoughts or do whatever you feel like…solitude is good for you!

Solitude is not the same as loneliness.  It’s amazing how so many people confuse these two concepts.  Enjoying solitude doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or want to be alone all the time.  It’s just that I prefer being with one person or a small group of friends rather than going to a big party.  It means that I don’t care for small talk and schmoozing.  Anyone-introvert or extrovert-can get lonely and shouldn’t spend every moment alone.  However, anyone can also benefit from some alone time.  Introverts just need solitude a little more than extroverts.  Most importantly, contemplative people are more likely to become writers, artists, healers, visionaries…so it’s time we got a little respect :)

Running is a process of carving out a little solitude with each training session.  Even though I know this, I’m still struggling with incorporating running on a very regular basis in my life.  My lazy/procrastinating side usually wins out whenever an excuse presents itself.  What I have to remember is that although getting myself to the treadmill/trail is usually a pain, after a certain amount of time the endorphins will kick in.  Then the benefits of solitude arise.  Sometimes it’s the same with writing.  Staring at a blank page is daunting.  Training myself to run and write on a regular basis is the cure.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the process of training for a marathon will be difficult.  I’m still struggling to get to four miles…hopefully will reach 26 by the end of the year.  I’ve always assumed that training and racing will be arduous tasks, that will hopefully be well worth it when I achieve my goals.  Nothing meaningful ever comes easily in life…right?  Perhaps the cliché isn’t as true as we’re led to believe.

I recently read an article where the author bemoaned the fact that his readers wouldn’t support a charity, despite how simple and painless (and free) it would be to help out.  It was a good point-why wouldn’t people take a few minutes out of their lives to help out a worthy cause?  Maybe it was too easy?  Perhaps giving to a charity means more when you’re actually out there volunteering your time and energy and effort…or money.  On the other hand, why do we only value things that are difficult?  Is this high regard for struggle and difficulty a result of our Puritanical roots?  It’s interesting that suffering is so revered…even years into the new millennium.

In terms of running, statistics show that less than one percent of the population actually completes a marathon.  Is it an achievement purely because it’s difficult?  I’ll let my faithful readers know someday…I’d love to forever brag that I ran a marathon :)  However, not every moment of training has to be a struggle.  There’s the runner’s high…getting stronger physically and mentally…the stress relief…the physical joy of movement…the escape from the people and things that can drive you crazy…and so on.  If the journey to the finish line was only about pain and struggle, I wouldn’t do it, and I doubt that others would either.

Yes there are real joys of running…which don’t always motivate me to run when I’m feeling too lazy or tired.  And I’m sure the races (that I’ve yet to run) will be mainly struggle and difficulty.  Running is a metaphor for life, changing with the seasons…sometimes there will be pain and heartache, other times will be easy and carefree…and many times will be a combination of both.  We should be grateful for the experiences and relationships and runs that are easy…they are just as important as the struggles.

The new year means it’s time for our annual rite of passage of making resolutions.  No matter what your ethnicity or religion, you probably will be participating in our nation’s top annual secular ritual.  After the excess of the holidays, it certainly makes sense to reflect upon what you’ve experienced and learned over the past year, and resolve to improve yourself.  This is a very noble tradition.  So why do most of us fail so miserably year after year?

In order to make changes and improve one’s self, people have to be willing to be strong.  But we want it to be easy.  Let’s say you are one of the thousands of people who resolve to lose weight.  There are tons of books out there that promise how easy it will be, how you can eat anything and somehow still lose weight.  I can write a book called “The Stuff Your Face and Never Exercise Diet” and I bet it well sell like hotcakes :)

We’re not stupid, we just don’t want to face the truth.  If it was really so easy to lose weight, quit drinking, stop smoking, get out of debt, end a toxic relationship or whatever your problem is…wouldn’t you have made the change already if it was easy?  If it was simply about having willpower, wouldn’t you be free of the problem by now?

Change is not easy.  We have to be willing to look inside ourselves, to figure out all the why’s.  Few people have the courage to be introspective in a society that promises a shallow quick-fix.  Sooner or later many of us screw up our resolutions.  We blame ourselves-another societal legacy of our Puritanical culture.  Then we fall back into old patterns and habits..until next year’s resolution time.

It’s the start of a new decade, so let’s try something new.  Make a resolution, but expect it to be difficult at first.  Think about the underlying reasons.  What do you get out of continuing the “bad” habit?  Expect to make mistakes and have setbacks.  No human being is perfect.  Each time we err, let’s resolve to try again, without waiting another year.  Eventually our new ways of thinking will become habits, and it will finally become easier.

I will run a 5K..a half-marathon..and eventually a marathon.  But I won’t expect it to be an easy feat!

Thinking is usually a good thing of course.  I would certainly never advocate succumbing to stupidity.  To think or not to think while running is a different story.  Is running a good time to mull over problems?  Is it a meditative time to clear your head?  And does the equation change when you are racing?

I don’t know what most runners feel about this.  I’m not yet sure what the best stance on this is for me either.  I tend to think a lot.  Overthink, overanalyze.  In this early stage of my running experience, I’m noticing that running is a relief from thinking.  I get out of my head and into the experience.  Especially now that I’m trying to increase my speed and distance, I focus on that.  Occasionally an unrelated-to-running thought creeps in, but I can push it away if I want.  If I had known that training could clear my mind, I would have done this years ago :)

Besides focusing on the mechanics of running better, I also concentrate on the music I’m listening to.  I love music in general and can’t imagine running without the headphones on.  Listening to the lyrics may be a form of thinking, or a distraction.  Either way, it’s one of the best ways to lose yourself..in the best way.  Not sure how wise or common this is during a race though.  But how could I someday survive a marathon without music??

Most likely those who think or brainstorm or solve problems while running end up clearing their minds too.  The endorphins kick in for everyone eventually.  And maybe my experience may change as my training evolves.  Either way, I’m amazed to discover that running is my meditation.  After a draining day at work, running clears all the crap away!  How’s that for a slogan on a bumper sticker or t-shirt?! :)

Just have to remember my slogan for the countless times when I’m feeling too lazy to get on the treadmill…

Some people pledge to complete a goal and immediately dive into the eye of the hurricane.  They are energized by the rush and intensity of what they want to achieve.  I’m not one of those people.  I ponder and analyze and doubt.  I explore all the options in my head before I take action.  I take baby steps..and sometimes two steps forward, and one step back.

As I look back at my “training journal” I’m a little disappointed at how little training has actually been going on.  When I started my running and writing adventure one month ago, I was extremely motivated.  The running was actually relatively easy at first, perhaps spurred on by pure adrenaline.  I’m still motivated, but the rose-colored glasses are slipping off.  Training is no joke.  I have to make a real commitment to my goal.  Two or three times a week is not enough.  Being tired or not feeling like it are lame excuses..that I’ve been using a lot of the time.  It’s ultimately a childish way of thinking.  If I want to seriously train, I have to grow up.

Even at this early phase, I can already see that when I slack off on training, the next time I run is tougher.  This happened when one week I only ran once.  I have some great excuses-it was the week of Thanksgiving after all :)  But the excuses won’t matter when I’m trying to finish a race.  Even though I’m trying to instill some self-discipline, I have to be careful not to be so tough on myself.  The drill sergeant attitude might work for some people, but not for me.  At the risk of sounding too new agey, I need to practice more self-compassion and less self-flagellation.  Where’s the right balance between pushing myself and taking it easy?  I’m learning through trial and error.  Maybe I won’t succeed, maybe I will.  I’m beginning to see how training for a marathon is really a metaphor for living life.  And it’s just the tip of the iceberg so far.

I’ve studied enough psychology to know that change only happens when you accept yourself.  I’m an introspective thinker who needs to take baby steps.  So what?  Our world would be a lot better if more people took the time to think before they take action :)  I will set small goals…push myself..make mistakes..forgive myself..and keep running.

Time really is flying.  I can’t believe it’s already December, and winter is officially only 3 weeks away!  Maybe I picked the wrong time to start training for a marathon.  I really don’t want to run in the cold, snow, and ice.  Ok so the conditions aren’t that dire yet in Jersey, and in fact there have been some good weather days here lately.  But that won’t last long.  Soon the weather will be miserable.

I could easily use that as an excuse not to run.  The critical voice inside can have a field day with that one.  Don’t worry-I’m not hearing voices :)  But it would be so easy to rationalize.  “Real runners” train outside, and wouldn’t think twice about giving up running for any reason.  They can probably experience the elusive runner’s high wherever, whenever.  They’re most likely bored by treadmills and indoor tracks.

Taking a step back, I remind myself that I’m still a beginner.  It’s ok to dread the cold, and not be ready yet to rough it outside.  If I have to run all winter on a treadmill, so be it.  As long as I’m training, that’s all that matters.  Winter can be my “treadmill season.”  In fact, maybe that’s a perfect way for a beginner to build up a foundation.  I can still focus on increasing my miles and speed indoors.  Nobody’s judging me, except myself.  Running is running, whatever the setting.

Hopefully someday after running 10 miles I’ll experience the magical runner’s high.  Maybe I’ll look back at my beginning days and laugh at how weak I once was.  What will it take to join the exclusive “real runners” club?!  Will finishing a 5K suffice?  Going a step further with the 10K?  Or is it only the marathon that separates the athletes from the whiners? :)

So treadmill season begins for this future athlete…

So I’ve started running, albeit very slowly.  After three weeks I’ve made it up to three miles..without walking.  However, it takes me about 45 minutes to complete those three miles.  At this rate, it’ll take me way over 6 hours to run a marathon!  And that’s not even counting the walking breaks that I know I’ll be taking.  Yes I intend to run/walk the marathon.  It still counts :)  So umm yeah there’s a lot of room for improvement.

I’m running blindly now.  I need some kind of philosophy to guide my way.  There’s a lot of advice out there about training but some of it is contradictory.  And most of it seems aimed at elite athletes who want to race their way to the top.  I obviously will never be one of those expert runners who are trying to win races.  My race is about the journey, not just the destination.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter to me how long it takes to complete the marathon, just the fact that I (hopefully) can cross that finish line in one piece.

It seems like the traditionalists endorse a training regimen of 4-6 weekly runs, totaling 30 to 60 miles.  I can’t even imagine that!  Then there’s the “less-is-more” approach.  I like the sound of that!  That appears to be 3 runs a week, and 2 cross-training workouts during the same week.  It’s sad when the “easy” approach is significantly more exercise than I’m doing now.  If/when I exercise 3 times during a given week, I consider that great :)

There’s also the “run-walk-run” method which sounds intriguing.  Supposedly, starting to walk before your muscles get tired allows the muscles to recover instantly, and manages the fatigue more efficiently.  Incorporating walk breaks into a long run just intuitively seems like a good idea.  Especially during the marathon.  But I don’t think I’ll walk during the 5K though.  I know I can run that distance without stopping, although I have to work on increasing my speed.  So maybe this method isn’t right for me either.

Is less really more?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)

Imagine two mountains separated by a body of water.  Crossing to the other side requires scaling down your own mountain, rowing past thunderous waves, and finally climbing up to the top of your dream mountain.  You want to live amongst the brave and strong people who pioneered the route.  But it’s a hell of a lot easier to stay on the mountain where you were born, envying (and judging) the others across the water.  What makes you think you could ever live amongst them?  It’s not too late to quit.  Or is it?

I was surprised by the amount of people who commented on the first step of my journey, online and in person.  Family, friends, and acquaintances were all supportive.  Which I really appreciate!  But interestingly enough, many people’s responses fell along these lines:  “That’s great but are you really gonna run an actual marathon?” Or “As long as you keep writing, it’s ok if you don’t actually run a marathon.”  And my favorite “Why would you want to torture yourself?” :)

I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt, and an easy out in case it doesn’t work out.  Seriously I might fail, and then I’ll need some support to deal with it.  I might “only” run a half-marathon-which would still be a major accomplishment for me.  The truth is I can’t picture myself actually running and racing for over 26 miles.  And when the stresses of life hit, as they always do for everyone, I’ll have an easy excuse to hide behind.  So if I can’t imagine myself crossing that elusive finish line, how can I expect anyone else to believe it?

The few runners that I know give me hope.  I got some practical advice from them, and now I know who to annoy with all the questions that will come up during the journey. :)  But most importantly, it’s really inspiring to have real people who have run marathons believe in you.  They say things like “You’ll feel so amazing when you accomplish your goal.”  Or “You can definitely do it.”  And my new favorite “With proper training, the running isn’t the hard part.  Becoming mentally strong enough to handle it is.”  That’s a tough pill to swallow!  If I visualize myself training, does that count as a workout? :)

Whether it’s running or writing, my challenge will be disciplining myself to consistently put in the time and effort to reach my goals.  Mental toughness has got to be earned the hard way apparently.  But I’m starting to believe that I can get to the mountain on the other side.

My name is Marina and I am a couch potato.  Who wants to run a marathon one year from now…maybe even sooner.  This seems as likely to happen as becoming president.  I’m lazy.  There’s nothing I like better after a hard day at work than just zoning out to a good tv show and takeout food.  I don’t have the willpower to drag myself to the gym or track on days like that.  Who would want to subject themselves to running for 26.2 miles?  Is dreaming of running a marathon the first sign of craziness?

Back in high school, I envied the kids on the track team.  They seemed so dedicated, so athletic, so much cooler than the dumb jocks who played football or baseball.  So unlike me.  I was not athletic in any way.  I’m a very slow runner.  I hated gym.  It was a torture device invented by former popular kids to harass straight-A students.  That dumb class pulled down my GPA.  I envied the teenagers I read about in faraway states who were not forced to take gym all four years.

I briefly thought of trying out for track, but instinctively knew that I was not ready for that kind of commitment to anything.  I have no self-discipline.  When I tell myself that I’ll do something, I usually give up way too soon.  Tried yoga a few times, enjoyed it, but could not commit myself to the daily practice that was recommended.  Read tons of self-help books, but couldn’t seem to force myself to practice the skills I read about.  Got into some form of exercise for a few weeks at most, then promptly gave up whenever some kind of stress popped up.  Quit diets whenever a strong craving hit.  Wanted to write a book or blog but couldn’t get past a few pages.  Yep I have absolutely no discipline.  Will I give up on marathon training before I even sign up for a 5K?

So the ambitious part of me decided to kill two birds with one stone–train for a marathon and write on a consistent basis–by writing a blog about training for a marathon.  Maybe if I put my goals “out there” I’ll actually follow them!  Even if my biggest motivation initially is writing every week for the handful of friends and family that I hope will read this.  I can give up and disappoint myself again…but I can’t let other people down.  Hopefully I’ll actually become intrinsically motivated by running.  It’s supposed to be one of the best ways to exercise, clear your head, process energy, challenge yourself…and become fit and athletic.

But first I have to get off the couch!

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