The Run Around

After a few running-related post mentions (like this, this and this), I’ve gotten a bunch of requests to write a more in-depth post about my hobby – so I’m veering off home topics just for today (like we’ve done with hair-cuttingEminem, nursing, and Clara’s birth story to name a few other times). But don’t worry, I’ll be back with more deck progress on Monday (it’s actually starting to really LOOK LIKE A DECK – you have no idea how exciting that is to us). As for the subject of running, I’ve hesitated to tackle this subject a few times, because although I call myself a “runner” and it’s a hobby I’ve enjoyed for over a decade, I’m certainly no expert. I don’t subscribe to any strict running lifestyle or rigorous routine. But I do run races (usually 10Ks, although I’ve done one half marathon). And I enjoy my Runner’s World subscription (despite Sherry’s jokes that it’s the same articles each month about stretching and running shoes just slightly repackaged).

How I Got Started: I got the running bug my second year of college (2002) after a couple of failed attempts to get into it before that (I never made it past the track team “interest meeting” in high school). It didn’t stick until my roommates (one was already a runner, the other was a newbie like me) welcomed me on their nightly 20-minute jogs one unseasonably warm January. What was different about this attempt? I think because for once the act of running took a backseat to other things like socializing with my friends and enjoying the great outdoors. Shortly after that, another friend convinced me to sign up for a 10K she was doing later that spring – oh the things college guys do for college women. That was Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k, a race I’ve now done every year since (2012 being my 11th consecutive time). I threw up at the end of that first one, but apparently not enough to turn me off to the whole running thing. Though that girl and I never worked out, fortunately I snagged myself another one…

Why I Run: Let’s start with the usual suspects. I enjoy the fitness benefits of it (mainly it makes me feel better about occasionally eating junk food) and it’s a great stress reliever. I like the self-competitiveness of it – trying to better a race time or run a longer distance. But I actually like it most for the music. Weird, I know. But the main way I kept myself motivated to run through college was so that I could listen to a CD I just bought (remember the Discman?). To this day I geek out making special playlists for each race, crafting it to be just about as long as I think I’ll be running – interspersing slow songs as reminders to pace myself and strategically putting fast beats towards the end to help me keep from fizzling out. I did once get a sarcastic “har-har” from Sherry when I explained that MJ’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” belonged at the beginning of my playlist because that’s when, duh, I’m starting something.

I also like to run for the exploration of it all. My dad (who is 67 and faster than me) likes to run the same loop so he can gauge his pace against familiar landmarks. I, on the other hand, prefer to try out new routes and take random turns just to see where it will take me and what scenery I’ll encounter (one of the reasons Runner’s World’s Rave Runs photos often serve as my laptop’s wallpaper). I love getting “lost” on trails so that I can subconsciously add miles finding my way back. Or weaving through city blocks downtown to check out some of Richmond’s coolest homes. Basically, doing circles around a track is my nightmare. Unless I’ve made a good playlist for it, of course.

My Training Schedule: I’d love to share a running routine with you guys, but I don’t have one. I used to aim for 3 days a week, but now 8-10 times a month is a good month. Part of the reason I sign up for races is to guarantee at least one run in my future – and hopefully a few in advance to make sure my body remembers how to put one foot in front of the other. My most disciplined year was back in 2007, when I really pushed myself to get a good time in the Monument 10k. My 10+ mile training runs paid off with my fastest 10K time yet (and still) at 46:23. It also gave me the confidence to run my first (and only) half marathon two weeks later. That earned me a 1:52:27 time and a case of runner’s knee that has haunted me ever since.

My Goals: I have secret aspirations of doing a marathon sometime in my lifetime, but despite the physical therapy I did after the injury in 2007 – my knee still starts to complain once I get close to double-digit mileage. Sherry also reminds me that some of my first words after completing the half marathon were “Don’t ever let me do a marathon. I can’t imagine having to do this run twice in a row.” But that was five years ago, so I’m thinking of trying to tackle another half sometime soon to see if it leaves me with the same impression.

Ultimately I want to keep running fun. Right now I get a lot of joy from it – whether from music, scenery, a cheering race crowd, a good conversation with a running buddy or just pushing myself that extra mile. So if I never introduce a training regime of speed drills and hill workouts to my calendar, I’d die plenty happy. Just give me my running shoes, my iPod (with the Nike+ app), and perhaps Clara in her jogging stroller and I’ll be one content runner. Well, and I’d love to have Sherry join me too, but the bad ankle she developed from being one of the fastest girls on her track/cross country team as a teen won’t let her do much more than a fast walk without a swollen grapefruit-looking-ankle to show for it.

If I Had To Offer Some Advice: So now that I’ve firmly establish I don’t have the most conventional or regimented outlook on running, I can’t expect you to give much weight to my advice. BUT, just in case someone out there is looking to start running (or just do it more regularly), here’s what I would offer up as a few things to try:

  • Figure out what about running makes you happy and plan around that. Is it socializing? Then find a friend to run with. Is it being alone with your thoughts? Find some peaceful, uncrowded trails to lose yourself on. Is it the competition? Sign up for races. Not everyone has to enjoy running for the same reasons, so don’t be shy about embracing yours.
  • Don’t push yourself. For most people, any running is better for you than none at all. If you can’t go a mile without taking a walk break, don’t beat yourself up over it. Be proud of the distance you did run and savor the moments you’re walking (I still enjoy a good walk break – notice the red spots on the map above). Who cares if you can’t run a 5K / 10K / half-marathon / marathon / whatever is your unattainable distance? If you spend too much energy lamenting what you can’t do, you won’t put it into relishing what you can.
  • Find a race that you can look forward to. I love organized races – whether they’re 5Ks, 10Ks, whatever. They’re pretty much my favorite thing about being a runner. Not only is the energy of the crowd (both of other runners and the people cheering from the sidelines) a great boost, but I also find they’re great motivators to lace up on my own in preparation. So find a race that speaks to you for some reason – the course looks especially fun, it promises great music, it benefits a great cause, or maybe they throw colored cornstarch at you? – and sign up for it. If you don’t know where to find a race, try a local running shop, sporting goods store, or even a local gym for more info. They usually have flyers up.

Okay, now here’s the part where all you other runners (hardcore or casual like me) can raise your virtual hand and tell me a little bit about your running-self. What’s your favorite part about running? How do you keep yourself motivated? Any particular personal best or success stories you wanna share?


  1. Jill says

    At the risk of sounding a little like a quack…you might want to look into finding a matrix repatterning practitioner. They put muscles back in place, and it’s insane the level of improvement that people experience after even the first appointment. Injuries that seem like they might never go away turn out to be totally treatable. Just a thought :)
    (And I agree with Sherry about Runner’s World, but it’s still a fun magazine to read!)

  2. says

    As a fellow Wahoo alum, did John ever run the Charlottesville 10-miler?
    Also, I was the same way, after the 10-miler, I was proud of myself, but realized that I probably could not do a marathon.

  3. says

    john – you should add aqualung by jethro tull (you may be too young to know that song!) to your playlist…i guarantee you will run fast while listening to that song..have fun

  4. says

    I have been running since I was 4. My parents both did marathons and it was just something you did. The most common misconception of marathon runners is that there fast, well thats wrong. I did my first marathon in 2003, just 3 years after my first knee surgery in 2000. I had another knee surgery in 2008 and just shy of a year i was back at it again. The last couple years with the barefoot running trend I tried it. It was painful for the first couple months, but I didn’t have knee pain which was a first EVER. I ran my first full marathon in my bare foot shoes (I use the vibrams) and I didn’t have any injury unlike the previous 6 marathons with toenails and muscles. I just started getting into triathlons, but I agree running for fun is the best way to go.

    • Kari says

      I absolutely second the VFF’s/minimalist shoe running. No IT band pain, no foot/heel pain. I’m faster and I have better form, which has all sorts of other benefits. My feet even went from a size 9 (post 3 babies) back to an 8. Wouldn’t go back for the world.

    • says

      I love my Vibrams, also! Just had a baby 10 months ago and my shoe size went up over a size. Just getting back into things, so I am hoping to reap the benefits of decreased shoe size soon!

      I have been treated by a podiatrist for chronic foot pain and it has diminished significantly since switching over to the ‘barefoot’ shoes (which just seems like an oxymoron). I’m sure they aren’t for everyone, but I would recommend giving them a try to anyone suffering from foot pain!

    • says

      I have to jump in here and say that minimalist shoe running and a forefoot strike have made all the difference for me. I’ve tried getting into running several times in my life and have never had much success sticking with it. Now that I am using the pose technique and a minimalist shoe, I’m running 5 miles several times a week. Hopefully I’ll be tackling a 10k soon and then the half marathon later this year or early next year. :)

    • says

      I’m totally hopping on this bandwagon. No, I didn’t get the VFF’s due to the actual bandwagon that is going on. I have a bunion which is causing major tendon problems in my left foot to the tune of I could hardly walk for a week after my half marathon this year. I’m trying to avoid surgery and in doing research these were recommended. While things don’t feel 100% I can run and not be in pain the rest of the day, where in my regular sneakers I would do 2 miles and be out of commish. So, I’ve been back in the saddle and just did a succesful 4 miler with my beloved VFF’s! WOO! As for why I love to run and what keeps me motivated? It’s being in shape, feeling accomplished, and loving the time to myself (usually) that keeps me running. Motivation wise, the best thing I have found and what I tell everyone about not burning out is to run to how you feel. If you’re not in it, turn around and go back. Don’t kick yourself for doing a short run. Likewise if you’re really feeling it, go for the longer. I don’t go into my runs with the mentality that I have to hit a certain mark usually, and that makes all the difference.

  5. rebekah says

    I think most everyone college girl has done something similar for a college boy. I did the 10k trail run without really knowing what a trail run was on minimal training (i.e. max training run was about 2 miles…).
    I think the not pushing yourself too hard it great advice, I tend to get really into it and then get injured/burned out. My one half marathon experience from 2005 has left me emotionally scarred, even if the knee, back, and ankle injuries are mostly healed.

    • verucaamish says

      I’ve done 1 marathon (Marine Corps WOO!) and three half marathons. I second the not pushing yourself. I tried to do a marathon in my 20s (I’m 40 now) and got tendonitis and got sidelined for six weeks. When I started running again “competitively” (my 10ks are in the 55 minute range and my halfs are in the 2 hours and 10 minute), I made a promise that I would never run 2 days in a row. I’ve been running injury free for three years now and had a great marathon (finish at a sustainable pace of 12 minute/mile pace).

  6. Jenelle Ricci @ Del Mar Designs says

    I love your half marathon story. Mine is basically identical. I ran a 10K a little over a month before my first (and only) half marathon and scored my best time to date. I then attempted the half marathon and like yourself, developed runners knee and now wear a patella strap every time I run a long distance, if you don’t have one yet.. it really makes a difference! It was in the plan to do a full marathon about 3.5 months after the half marathon. Needless to say that did not happen. I am still toying with the idea of doing a full one day, however, I think I may just start with a half again and see how it goes!

  7. Karen F says

    Such a timely post for me, and thanks for the info/interesting read. I’m a total newbie to running – I only started “running” (if you can even call it that) maybe a month or 2 ago – I always hated running for running’s sake (plus, I tore my ACL in college and my left knee has never been the same since the surgery) , and I don’t even know what motivated me to try it again, but I’m actually enjoying it! I started the couch to 5k program/app, and so far I love it (I use it in conjunction with the nike + app, since they have different features). The program is really doable. Except I haven’t gotten close to actually doing the 5k distance! So that’s my goal. Hoping to do a race this fall. Would love to do a color run after seeing your post about it, but I checked and there are none nearby. After my next week of the program (the halfway point), I intend to reward myself with purchasing real running sneakers!
    So I have no feedback to add, but will be reading everyone else’s comments for motivation!

    • Kristen H says

      Karen – sometimes I feel more like a ‘wogger’ than a runner, but I’m still faster than the dude on the couch! ;)

    • Abra says

      I had knee surgery too, and when I started running 4 months ago I had a lot of knee pain. I bought myself a real pair of running shoes (I pronate a little) and it has made all the difference for me. Much less knee pain.

    • says

      I’m in the same boat! I was always athletic (played soccer and lacrosse in high school) but HATED running. After 2 kids in 2 years, I decided it was time to find something I could do while toting around both little ones, and running was it. I ran my first 5k in April (finished in 42:00, which was under my goal of 45) after doing just a week of the couch to 5k program, and just started the program over again 2 weeks ago to prepare for a 5k in September. New goal is to run the whole thing and finish in 30 minutes!

  8. Michelle says

    Thanks for the post, John! I sometimes have to drag myself to run, but once I get out there and do it, it’s such a motivator for future runs:-D And I totally love your playlist idea–I’ll have to try that. I do love me some Britney, Eminem, Maroon 5, Etc ;-)

  9. says

    I loved this post! I just started running in March, and I run about 3 miles 5 days a week (so 15 miles a week). Pretty amazing considering I used to beg my mom to let me stay home when we had to run the mile every year during gym, haha. Who knew ten years after high school that I’d be in my best shape? Not me! :)

    And I totally agree about the music. Stomping on each beat kept me really motivated in the beginning! Some songs that I’ve been digging lately on my playlist: “Aha!” by Pentatonix, “Bang Bang” by K’naan (ft. Adam Levine), and “Scream” by Usher. Happy running, everyone!

    • says

      Hey, Pentatonix! Awesome.

      I’m another newbie – I started running two weeks ago, though it’s more like “the slowest jog ever”, interspersed with “running like a bear’s after me” because I get ambitious for half a block. I haven’t used music yet, but clearly that needs to be my next change!

  10. Lindsey says

    Yay! Like you, John, I like to run, but hate speed work, farklets, reps, blah blah blah… I just want to run, and hopefully get faster through frequency, not hard work. (And so far, simply continuing to lose weight, running more and reminding myself that I can actually run faster is working).

    Of course, right now it’s August in south Louisiana and I hate running outside. I can only manage about 3 miles on the treadmill before I have to get away, but I can’t wait until it gets a little cooler and I can head out to start training for my SECOND half marathon in December.

    Question — why do you run in cotton? Moving to performance wear was the best decision I made after I started running.

    • says

      That green shirt I’m wearing in the race crowd pic is a running shirt. I definitely love it. For the color run I used an old short that I wouldn’t mind getting dirty.


    • Emily says

      Ugh – all my “performance” gear stinks! It never seems to release the sweat smell, no matter how much I wash it. For me, I wear running shorts, and a cotton shirt. I sweat something fearce, but don’t feel much difference between the quick dry and the cotton. Plus, the “Performance” clothes COST A FORTUNE!

      To each their own!

    • Elizabeth says

      Have you tried washing them with white vinegar in the wash? I do that with lots of things…mostly doggy smelling things, but also my workout gear.

    • Marie says

      Emily- I use about 1/2 cup of white vinegar per load when I wash my workout gear– takes the smell right out (also great for sweaty clothes worn while gardening, stinky towels, etc). Also, check out Target, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, Ross, and so on for discounted tech gear. My favorite running capris were on clearance for 10 bucks at TJ Maxx, and I wear them for hiking, yoga, running, and biking. $10 well spent!

    • says

      i read an article (possibly from runner’s world online) that says not to dry your performance gear in the dryer, it sets the smell. i’ll have to try the white vinegar though in addition. i can’t stand to run in cotton (the only thing i’m not looking forward to about my color run), it just absorbs the sweat and gets heavy. i don’t like the feel of running in a heavy, wet shirt. i love my nike sports bras, shirts, and socks.

    • says

      Not sure if this is going to come up under the right set of comments, but make sure you’re not washing your workout gear with fabric softner. Ruins any anti-stink stuff the fabric has built into it.

    • Maya says

      Interesting about not putting perf. gear in the dryer… we don’t OWN a dryer (common here in Israel) and my gear doesn’t stink (after washing, that is). Never knew this could be bc of line drying!

    • Zoe says

      Emily- Buy one shirt that is Icebreaker brand and you will never work out in anything else. Yes, it is expensive. I swear to you they don’t smell. When I was living in New Zealand a friend who is an outdoor guide told me she had worn her shirt for a month in the wilderness and it didn’t smell. Since I was reluctant to smell her dirty shirt she paid me $20 (I can never turn down a bet) to prove her point. She was right! It smelt like fabric. Nothing else. I am very active and will never wear anything else but Merino products. ***Don’t put it Icebreaker in the dryer or you will end up with a shirt that would fit a toddler.

  11. Alyssa says

    Love this departure from the norm post!!! Share many of your sentiments re: running – did the 1/2 marathon thing a couple years ago, felt totally accomplished & so help everyone around me if I ever try a full! Would ya’ll be willing to share your playlist on Spotify?

  12. Meghan K says

    I’m not a big runner, but my parents are (their first date was a run!). From them, I’ve learned how important it is to take care of yourself – while you do need to challenge yourself to improve, you are doing yourself no favors by finishing a run on a fractured foot (my mom’s done this twice) or skipping pre and post-run stretches.

    Also, it’s personal – for years I never ran with music, because my parents insisted that it took away from the experience. Whoops! Now I put on a podcast and jog away.

  13. Alex says

    One of my favorite things about being a runner is that we have a pretty great sense of community. I loved reading this post because I love reading about and talking to other runners! And, yes, okay, the Runner’s World articles can be pretty similar from month to month, but couldn’t you say that about every magazine? I still look forward to getting and reading it every month! (Although, somewhat ironically, I read it on the elliptical…)

    For the runner’s knee, have you tried incorporating weights and foam rolling into your routine at all? I had my first case of runner’s knee several months ago, but I was able to kick it by taking several weeks off, becoming serious about foam rolling, and adding some leg strengthening into my weekly routine — weighted squats, lunges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, etc. You’ve probably already tried this, but just in case, I thought I’d pass it on. And I would definitely encourage you to look into a marathon; it’s such a great experience!

  14. says

    A couple of thoughts:

    – the Couch to 5K running program is fantastic for people getting started. I thought it was much harder to go from 0 to 3 miles than it was to go from 3 miles to 13 so it’s nice to have a structure to get started

    – the Garmin Forerunner GPS watch is fantastic for people like you (and me!) who like exploring while running, although Nike+ serves a similar purpose

    I admire your consistency and persistence in running. You’ve given me some thoughts to consider (especially thinking about why I want to run) as I plan to return to running soon.

    • says

      Oh, and shoes! My cheapskate husband even admits that being fitted for proper running shoes was one of the best things he’s ever done.

    • Maya says

      I completely agree with all these comments! (3x marathoner here and I still think getting to 3 miles was the hardest and most important part. Building a consistent base is the best way to avoid injury… I used to have knee pain when I ran but it never came back after I built up slowly from walking to running!)

  15. Meghan K says

    Forgot to add that I love jogging to the soundtrack of a musical. There’s a story to follow and they usually have a good variety of pacing. A little weird and dorky, but no one has to know I’m not listening to hip hop!

    • Allison says

      I’m not quite a jogger, but I do WALK to musicals! You’re so right about the pacing and stuff. Too funny!

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