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. says

    I LOVE running! I think subconciously it’s my brain’s way of getting back at the evil gym teachers I had in high school, or maybe those mean boys that made fun of the fat kid. Seriously, it’s an addiction.

    I ran my first half-marathon last December without really training for it (3:00:30), so speed isn’t really my thing and that was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life (yes, I’d even put it above childbirth). But sooooooo worth it.

    Now I’m more casual about it, for the health benefits and for relaxation. I used to run in the evenings but it’s still 108 degrees at 10pm here in Texas so now I try to sneak it in the morning. I feel so much better about myself and it’s a great way to kick start the day.

    Now if only I could convince a certain tall, lanky, good-looking hubby of mine to join me then it could be slightly better, I suppose.

    But maybe not.

  2. skeeter says

    Like you, I enjoy a very random running style. One of my favorite things is to join a friend for a run and see where their path/pace takes me. But the best thing about this hobby is that I don’t need anyone or anything except my running shoes to do it…super simple! Looking forward to a Color Run next month :)

  3. Kristen H says

    Hey John – thanks for sharing! I’m still a relatively new runner, but finished my first (and potentially ONLY!) half last November in Savannah. I started running to lose weight – and hated every.freaking.minute. After a year, I’ve come to a point where I miss my runs. I try to get out or on the treadmill 3 days a week or so. This summer heatwave has been a killer for me though!

    I got a dog in January, and she adores running. She knows when I get my running shoes out, and starts bouncing around and doing spinning jumps in the air! Our runs have been short for now, to get her used to being on a leash. When I go with her, I leave all my gadgets at home. I really look forward to that – no tunes, no runkeeper telling me pace or distance. Just me and my furball. She is sooo happy when we run – all I need anymore. :)

    • says

      I was always athletic in high school and never really disliked running, but I didn’t come to LOVE it until I got my two dogs. They are both german shorthaired pointers (the dogs of boundless energy) and I was at the end of my rope with them until we started trail running. We happily run 4 miles a day and I am in training for my first half marathon (Surftown in Westerly, RI) coming up in one month!

      Aside from the obvious health benefits (lower heart rate, higher “good” cholesterol), I’ve found that I’m sleeping better, have more consistent energy through out the day, and am just a more relaxed person. I haven’t lost a single pound in the 5 months I’ve been running, but I still feel amazing because I know my body is getting stronger

  4. Christina P (NS) says

    Thanks for the post John, it’s interesting to hear about you guys outside of the house!
    I am (was) also a runner, I started running for fitness, then did some 10k’s, a 1/2 marathon and really caught the competitive running bug but I figured the only way I was going to ever get to the marathon goal was to attach my self to something that would forve me to do it so I joined a ‘training team’ through which I raised money for the Arthritis Society and got to meet a fun group to train for a specific race with.
    I am a lover of all things Disney, I even got to work there for one of the best years of my life – so what better race than the Disney Marathon!
    But no, no – I didn’t just sign up for the marathon, I figured “Go Big or Go Home” and checked the box for the Goofy – a 1/2 marathon on Saturday and the full on Sunday!
    I trained my a$$ off, just in the hopes of surviving and in the end I did – no personal best race times but I did finish and can always say that I did!
    Unfortunately along with my medals I brought home a serious case of runners knee that won’t allow me to go for much longer than about 20min nowadays but it was a fun period of my life that I can look back on and say I was a competitive runner!
    Keep it up, you’ll make it to those 42kms someday! Just remember – the hardest step is the first one out the door!

  5. says

    To the “Don’t Push Yourself” tip, I would add “(But Also Do).” When you’re just getting into running and it feel like absolute death, I agree that you shouldn’t put any speed/distance pressure on yourself, but as that gets more comfortable — and it will, I promise! — you can push the pace with no more effort than the slow, painful first miles. I love that running feels just as hard as it did when I started running but now I’m way faster. And trust me, if I could do it, pretty much anyone can!

    (Btw, John, I love half marathons — I’ve probably done 8-10 of them — but the one marathon I ran was one of the two worst experiences of my life [the other was having my wisdom teeth removed]. Just say no!)

  6. says

    I used the couch to 5K program to start running. I can now run 5K without thinking about it, which is amazing since I am the least athletic person out there. I was the one in high school who was ecstatic when I found out phys. ed. was optional.

    I haven’t reached the “I love running!” stage yet (It still takes me about 43 minutes to run 5K) but I’m staying at it.

    I found a quote yesterday, “Whether it is a 14 minute mile or a 7 minute mile, it is still a mile.” That’s my new mantra.

  7. Laura D says

    Hey John, Cool running post. I saw this recently and have passed it along to people I know who run. It’s from The Onion and it’s pretty hilarious. Keep up the running and maybe you will do a marathon. As they say, if you can do 3 miles than you can do 26.2. It really is one of those great accomplishments but it’s definitely more fun to have run a marathon than the act of actually running one! In that respect it’s a lot like writing, which is something you guys know about too. The process isn’t always fun, but seeing the finished project completed is great. Here’s the link:,28995/?ref=auto

  8. says

    Interesting post! I enjoy finding out what bloggers’ other hobbies are. I am a runner, too. I’m kind of new to the sport. I ran in high school forcedly, in college casually, and now a bit more seriously – I ran my first half marathon in May and I’m doing my second this Sunday.

    Psst, Sherry – a Garmin might make a great gift for John!

    • says

      John has a fun GPS iPhone app that he loves (called Nike plus). He even hears cheers in his headphones when friends/fam “like” when he’s running on Facebook. It’s hilarious.


  9. Caity says

    Actually I just started running. I have run three 5ks so far and my last time was 41 minutes. I have been doing the couch to 5 k app on my phone. I don’t really enjoy running but I guess that’s because I am not a great runner yet. I will get there if I keep it up. I just realized after my last race that I should save my bibs. I love the picture of all of them together. This would be great to frame.

  10. Diane Taylor says

    Hi John – what a great post! I love your chronicles of how you got into running and what keeps you motivated. I was an avid runner in my 40s – mostly 10 and 12 k races. My previous employer Sallie Mae sponsored a 10k run every year in the spring in downtown DC. It was a nice flat course with unbelieveable views. I ran it for 10 years straight trying to beat my time every year. Then my knees started giving me trouble and that was the end for me. Now I power walk with my playlist guiding my pace. I also wear a walkfit vest to make it a bit more of a challenge. Maybe oneday I will get back into it one day…..thanks for sharing!!!


  11. Julie says

    My favorite line I ever hear when asked what was your time for a race was “I had a great time!”. It didn’t matter to them what time they got, all that mattered is that they were out doing something they enjoyed. That has stayed with me a long time. If only we all could focus on the enjoyment of the tasks vs how fast we went.

    But for you, nice job! Keep it up!

  12. Andrea says

    Are you starting out too fast? The map shows green at the beginning, and then it tapers off. Try starting off a bit slower and see if you can extend that green section for a bit longer.

    I’m training right now for the Bourbon Chase Relay Race in KY and the Marine Corp Marathon in Oct in DC. It will be my 3rd marathon, though my 4th attempt (Nashville this spring was just too hot so I downgraded to a half). I’m really hoping for a personal best since the weather will be nice and it’s less hilly than what I’m used to.

    My best advice when you want to train for a marathon is to train with a running group. That will give the motivation needed to get the runs in. I think that so many people are capable of running a marathon, as long as they put in the work 3-4 days a week for 16 weeks beforehand.

    Is your knee pain related to the IT Band (outter edge of the knee)? If so, foam rollers are essential. Mine was $12 at the runner’s store. You Tube has videos of how to use them. Keep with it! I loved hearing about your running experience.

    • says

      I think the green beginning was just a function of the route I took that time. It was downhill at the beginning and then got hillier and more intense!


  13. says

    I used to run track and play tennis in high school so yes those were my golden years and I can admit it. Long gone but not forgotten. I tried running again after having my kids but quickly realized those days are also behind me. Nowadays I power walk like a Seinfeld character all over my neighborhood and I find that it is just as fulfilling as when I was running relays and clearing hurdles and it keeps me lookin’ fancy. Oh! And by my senior year I developed some serious shin splints and I would get the “tingles” so bad all over my legs by the end of practice I would look like a meth addict from all the itching going on. Thanks for the memories John. :o)

    My best, Lynn

  14. mara says

    thanks john, I always feel guilty next to the totally motivated half marathon runners, but truth is: I only started half a year ago, I recently ran a 5k so that’s something.

    But then I got sick for two weeks and motivation left me. After reading your text I just signed up for a night run in 2 month, and it’s true: having a run in your future motivates to get in shape :) So thanks!

  15. Elizabeth says

    I am gradually learning to call myself a runner, even though I still walk more than I run. I agree that organized races are the BEST thing about running. I have walked most of mine, but they are still the ultimate motivator to get out there and keep training so that the race won’t be so painful!

    I just recently downloaded a run tracker app to my phone and now it is my favorite thing to see how far and how fast I just went.

    I never listen to music, I prefer to spend the time quietly pondering whatever may be going on in my life. And the combination of solitude and physical exercise is tonic for my mental health.

    I have done one full marathon (Los Angeles Marathon way back in 1999) and am signed up for another one at Disney this January…wish me luck!

    Here are photos of my medals…I may be a bit of a RunDisney freak. lol

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