My family recently relocated from Kokomo, Indiana, where I was a full-time children’s minister, to Guntersville, Alabama, my wife Jennifer’s hometown. We actually really loved the city of Kokomo and our church, but something was always missing there. We had no family around, like not even close to around, as it was a 500 mile drive to see either my family in Collierville, TN or Jennifer’s family in Northern Alabama. With 3 young kids (ages 3, 4 and 6 right now), we made a decision to make raising our children around loving family a priority, so we left our church and our life in Kokomo behind last month. Read more about the difficult decision to move here…
Like I said, we loved Kokomo, and two of the main things besides our church that we really loved there were the YMCA where we had a family membership and the Club Kokomo Roadrunners, the local runners club that we just joined a few months ago. I have been running again for almost 2 years now (read more about my journey from obesity to healthy), and Jennifer started running for the 1st time about 6 months ago. She started working out at the Y a few months before that with her best friend Stephanie in Kokomo, and they both had made some great friends that did the same group fitness classes together (TRX, Body Pump, Tabata, etc.). I also worked out at the Y, as it allowed me to run on nice treadmills all throughout the brutally cold, icy winter this past year as I was training for the Carmel Marathon.
The runners club was great in Kokomo, and I had started running in many of the Wednesday night 5K (and mile) fun runs. I was starting to make some friends there, and it was helping my training for shorter distances, as running with a group really helps me to push myself to my maximum ability. I also ran several “official” club races, including a 10-mile hills race, a 4-mile race and a few 5K races. All of these were helping me to be a better runner, and it was nice to be around others who love running as much as me.
Jennifer and I knew that losing the Kokomo Y and the Club Kokomo Roadrunners would make it difficult for us to maintain the same level of fitness (and continue to improve our fitness), so this has been one of the hard parts of our move to Alabama. Jennifer immediately joined a ladies running group here in Guntersville, so that has helped her maintain a steady workout routine. For me, it really became clear during the moving process how easy it would be for me to lose the fitness I have worked so hard to attain. Because we were so busy packing up our house in Indiana, I cut back my running mileage pretty significantly toward the end of May, and June was even worse. Because of the move and a beach vacation to Gulf Shores, AL, I let my running slack even more in June, only running 105 miles, my lowest mileage month in a year.
I also let my healthy eating slip in May and June, and I really went crazy with junk food during vacation. In just a matter of a few weeks, I gained 20 lbs! I had some new pairs of khaki shorts that I bought right before this, and I got so fat so quick that I popped the button off one of my new pairs of shorts! When I ran the Carmel Marathon in April, I was about 165 lbs, and I was pushing 185 by the end of vacation. Obviously I had to get my priorities in order again, and fast!
WHERE TO GO FROM THERE?
We moved into our new house on Friday, June 19, and after a 10 day total break from running, I started rebuilding my fitness on Monday, June 22. For the 1st week I counted calories and ran everyday. I quickly lost about 12 lbs over just a couple weeks, but I am still struggling to lose another 8-10 lbs to get my weight back to where I want it.
Not only did I gain weight, but the move to a new climate has made running extremely difficult for me the last few weeks. The 3 H’s of running in Northern Alabama have been in full effect: heat, humidity and hills. The weight gain, the extreme running conditions and the cutback in mileage all created a perfect(ly bad) storm for my running, and this has caused me to experience something new. For the 1st time in the last 2 years, I have not been getting faster. I have actually been getting slower, much slower. I ran a 5K on June 3 in 20:21, not a PR, but a very solid time for me. Three weeks later I about died running a 5K in 22:45. I got so accustomed to getting faster every month for the last 2 years that I’ve been in shock to see my times get drastically slower, so quickly.
Less than 3 months ago I ran a whole marathon at 8:40/mile pace, and lately many of my short 3-5 mile runs are slower than this pace. It has all been very discouraging, and much like my family life, my running life is at a crossroads. I could take the discouraging setbacks and quit, or at least stop caring, or I could bounce back.
LIFE’S A DANCE YOU LEARN AS YOU GO
If you are like me (you’re probably not) and often find inspiration from old country songs (you probably don’t), then you should check out “Life’s a Dance” by John Michael Montgomery. Here’s the chorus:
Life’s a dance, you learn as you go.
Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.
Don’t worry ’bout what you don’t know,
life’s a dance, you learn as you go.
The longer I live the more I believe
You do have to give if you wanna receive.
There’s a time to listen, a time to talk.
And you might have to crawl even after you walk.
Had sure things blow up in my face,
Seen the longshot win the race.
Been knocked down by the slammin’ door.
Picked myself up and came back for more.
This may seem a bit cheesy, but the words have been echoing in my head the last 3 weeks. My personal life and my running life are both in a time of uncertainty. Personally, we knew it was time to move back to the South and live near family again, but for me, I have taken a break from my ministry career to be a stay-at-home dad, which has been a crazy adventure so far (read more about this experience). How God will use me now and in the future is still very uncertain, but I am just rolling with it because I know He is in control. This song and my life in general take me back to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV):
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
There are things I do not know, and I am in a season where everything is changing. With my running, I have had to take a step back and look at things in a new light. When running in the 95º afternoon heat in Alabama makes every single mile difficult, the thought of running another marathon seems literally impossible. Despite running 2 marathons in the last year (read about my 1st marathon), maybe I am at a time where I should take a break from marathons and just focus on shorter distances and general fitness. Or perhaps I am just putting too much pressure on myself to get faster and faster and faster. Maybe I am at a time where I should just enjoy the ride of it all and not worry about PR’s for awhile. Despite all the uncertainty in my running life right now, there is 1 thing that is still very clear: I love to run. I really, seriously love to run. All the reasons I started running again 2 years ago are the same reasons I love running today.
YOU MIGHT HAVE TO CRAWL EVEN AFTER YOU WALK
I like the part of the song that says, “Been knocked down by the slammin’ door. Picked myself up and came back for more.” This is definitely true of my running situation right now as I try to get things back on track, but there is another line in the chorus that keeps hitting me:
“And you might have to crawl even after you walk.”
As my running paces have gotten drastically slower, I have been learning the last few weeks to embrace the slow.
EMBRACING THE SLOW
Coincidentally over the last 7 weeks while I have been struggling with all these changes and setbacks, the entire distance running world has been watching closely as Scott Jurek, possibly the greatest ultra-marathoner in history, has been on his own personal journey to conquer the entire 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail in record time. Along with thousands of others, I have been checking updates on his Facebook daily to see how he is coming along. His quest to set the record for the FKT or “Fastest Known Time” has been inspiring to say the least, and as he has kept moving forward with his goal despite injuries to his knee and his quads (and a stomach bug), there were times along the way that he probably had to move forward so slowly and so painfully that he felt like he was crawling. When he had to hike far into the night, sometimes going all night, just to catch up lost ground on his record-setting journey, he must have been tested beyond what he ever expected. This is a man who holds the American record for miles run in 24 hours at a staggering 165.7 miles. He had to pull multiple all-night runs during the last week to break the FKT Appalachian Trail record set by only 3 hours. He broke the record Sunday afternoon shortly before I left to go run in the heat, and it really has inspired me to keep moving forward with my own running goals despite a few struggles I have had lately. One key theme throughout Scott Jurek’s 46+ day run along the AT is that he had to embrace the slow. He had to run the fine line between running slow enough to not tear up his body over that kind of distance and fast enough to break the record. He had to run very slow, but fast.
Who held the record before Scott Jurek? Jennifer Pharr Davis held the previous record. Who is she you might ask? She is an accomplished hiker, trail guide, author and business owner, but she has nowhere near the acclaim of legendary Scott Jurek. It shows the immense difficulty of this task that the greatest ultra-runner in history struggled to beat Davis’ record by only 3 hours. For Jennifer Davis (who has the same name as my wife), I have major respect and admiration. During her record-breaking run of he AT in 2011, she had bad shin splints that could have ended her attempt at the record, but she said this: “I decided I was going to walk until I could no longer crawl or stumble down the trail.” She just kept moving forward, sometimes at snail pace, sometimes even literally crawling.
As I have been trying to put my running difficulties into perspective, stories like these have inspired me. Sometimes you just have to keep going, even if “you might have to crawl even after you walk.” So I have now decided to take that approach to my running for awhile. I have thrown time and pace out the window and just focused on moving forward one mile at a time. This means I run slower than I like, and it means I walk way more miles than I normally walk. As a distance runner I generally reserved walking for a cool-down after a hard workout, but lately I have been incorporating walking into my workout. I have found that I can run hard in the heat for maybe 2-3 miles before I feel like I’m going to have a heat stroke, but if I then walk a mile or two, it’s like my body resets. My heart rate and body temperature come down, and my legs feel refreshed. Suddenly I can run a few more miles.
RUN – WALK – RUN
Last night is the perfect example. I ran a 5K workout of quarter mile intervals and felt beat, so I was going to walk a mile and then go home. It was just going to be a short workout day, and that was fine. During my walk I got on the phone with my dad for awhile, and I ended up walking 4 miles. I had just done over 7 miles running and walking, but because the long walk reset my body, I felt good to run another 5K workout, bringing my total miles for the day to over 10. I was tired yesterday, and there is no way I would have run 10 miles the way I felt. By splitting it up and walking 4 of the miles, I got in a nice longer workout without the intensity and pain of running 10 miles in the heat. I am finding that workouts like this are rebuilding my endurance without tearing up my body. They aren’t making me faster, but they are helping me to go longer again. A few days ago I was able to run a half-marathon for the 1st time in about 7 weeks, and while I ran the whole way without walking, it was at a very slow pace for me. I finished right at 2 hours, and just a couple months ago I would have done that same run in the low-mid 1:40’s or faster. However, 4 weeks ago I would not have been able to finish the run at all because my body was really struggling. Just as the tortoise wins the race, I have slowly but surely been rebuilding my endurance by keeping it simple and getting back to the basics.
As of last night I have run for 22 days in a row, totaling 163 miles. I have run more miles in 3 weeks than I ran in any of the 3 preceding 3 months. I have done this despite the insane heat, despite the humidity that makes me feel like I am breathing through a mask, despite the hills that my legs are not used to, despite the weight gain. These have been 163 slow miles, probably a couple dozen of them walking, but 7.4 miles/day is not bad at all. As my endurance is rebuilding, my confidence is also rebuilding. When I am marathon training, there will be a few weeks where I average between 10-15 miles per workout. If I can do 7.4 miles/workout in these conditions, 10+ miles/day no longer sounds completely out of reach if I keep slowly building back up my mileage. A break in the heat would help too.
*On a side note, while I averaged just over 50 miles/week the last 3 weeks, Scott Jurek averaged about 50 miles/day for over 46 straight days on his way to breaking the Appalachian Trail Speed Record for Fastest Known Time. Talk about incredible endurance and will-power!
If I can keep it up and get my endurance back where it needs to be, my next goal race is the St. Jude Memphis Marathon on December 5, 2015. That is nearly 5 months away, and while 26.2 miles still feels like an eternity right now, I keep reminding myself that slow, steady increases over the next few months can still have me in great marathon shape by then. Plus, after running high mileage in 90º-100º temps all summer, running high mileage in the fall and winter temperatures should hopefully feel like a breeze!