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. Stacia Reagan says

    I LOVE this departure from the normal posts (although I am dying to see the deck!).

    What’s your favorite part about running? Running is “me” time. I have more than a full-time job, 2 kids and lots of house projects. Running is my clear-the-head-relax-time. How do you keep yourself motivated? I gotta have music most of the time. This ‘Pin’ Is totally me:
    Any particular personal best or success stories you wanna share? I am just now getting into 5K and 10K’s. I actually starting running 5 years ago on a New Year’s “dare” of sorts. Not being a runner – at all – a coworker suggested we train for a marathon. That day, January 1st, we started by running for 90 sec., then walking 90 sec. over the course of a week we made it up to running a complete mile. 5 months later I ran my first race (ever!) – a Marathon. No shocker that it took me 5 hours, but I did it.

    5 years after my first 90 second long “run” I am the Captain of an Ultra Team ( team will also compete in a Triathlon the day after this relay ends. Are we fast? Nope. Speed isn’t our “thing” – distance is our “thing.”

    I think your non-plan plan is perfect. Do it because you love it and it’s fun. When you start over-thinking it and it stops being fun, you will stop doing it. So keep with what you love, at the pace you love, at the distances you love, and take all advice with a grain of salt.

  2. says

    Good songs there John!! I really enjoy running to listen to the music too and see my beautiful town of Frederick. I did two half marathons like 4 years ago and then I got a new ACL, so I haven’t pushed myself to run more than 6 miles since then. Of course over the past year I developed a weird ankle tendon issue from a certain pair of shoes and then a weird back spasm from a certain sports bra. Basically my body is trying to revolt from me going running but I just love being outside with my favorite music SO MUCH I won’t ever stop. :D

  3. Jill Palmer says


    You are reminding me how much I love running and have been needing to sign up for a race. I am the same way, I need to have some sort of race in my future to get my slacker self to go out for a run.

    BTW-do a marathon! I did two a couple of years ago and I am itching to do a third. I highly reccomend the Marine Corps marthon in DC. Fun, pretty and mostly flat.

    Have a good weekend!


  4. says

    I’m a want to be runner. I have a goal of running a 5k before I’m 30. A lot of people say it’s not much and I should be able to do it easily but the fact is I can’t. Not only do I not have the physical stamina but 5k is a big deal after four ankle reconstructions, and I was told I wouldn’t ever be able to run. After getting a decent time doing a few miles one afternoon, while training for my 5k, my ankles gave out on me and I could barely walk for a few days (thought I had somehow punctured my heel with my screw – which is entirely possible). It turns out my body doesn’t mind running on trails, but hates pavement.

    As it turns out, I mentally prefer the trails too. It helps me get away from all the pavement and development I surround myself in everyday when I work. I like running through the woods and open fields, and my knees and ankles don’t hurt as much from it.

    So my goal now is to run a 5k trail run, and hopefully someday the 10k huge Beach To Beacon up here – but that’s fully pavement so we’ll see how my knees and ankles hold up. I have about one year and 2 months to do the 5k though!

  5. kate says

    you could totally do a marathon!!! my husband and i are both runners, and he actually popped the question while we were on a run in central park — he had the ring in the little pocket where you can keep your keys and a Gu!). we trained for two marathons together and it was such a fun experience. if you can set aside the time for the long runs (and you only need a few 16-20 milers) you can absolutely finish. omg do it!

  6. Alison says

    I love this!! I’ve run on and off since I was training for field hockey in high school, but never really stuck with it just for the running until this past year. At new year’s I finally said out loud that I want to do a half-marathon some day, and just started running to lift my mood and get in shape. My guilty pleasure is that I love to run for the dvd-tv-time it gets me. My son is just a bit younger than Clara (turned 2 in July) and I’m a stay-at-home mom, so my running time is indoors, on the treadmill, watching dvds on my laptop while Isaiah naps. I can’t tell you how many times an exciting episode of West Wing kept me going an extra 10 minutes – so I LOVE hearing about how you run for the music. I totally run for the tv:)

    Now that I’m pregnant with our 2nd, I’ve had to take a break from running – my loosening joints just couldn’t handle the impact – but I’m looking forward to getting back to it after this one is born!


  7. Koliti says

    John, your approach to running is awesome – tuning into what motivates you and what you enjoy. Also listening to your body is key.

    During lunch one day, a co-worker was telling us about her marathon run and how she “usually pees blood after running a marathon”. We (all of us RNs) were astounded and said to her (she’s an RN,too), “Do you REALLY think that’s a good thing??!!!”

    Please continue to listen to your body & enjoy the run.
    Heck, I think that DRIVING 26+ miles in a car is a lot :)

  8. says

    You should try hashing (not anything to do with hash/weed). I’m sure there’s a Kennel in your area. It’s the Hash House Harriers – it’s a rowdy group of runners who are more social. Typically running once a week. It follows the ideas of the hounds and hare. A leader “hare” sets out about 10 minutes before the rest of the runners “hounds” and lays a chalk trail through streets, woods, etc. The hounds don’t know where the trail will lead so they run from mark to mark, sometimes false trails and dead ends until they find true trail. It’s a good time! It’s world wide so you can find kennels every where you go and once a year there are big gatherings throughout the world that attract hundreds or more. The most popular is the DC red dress run with about 500-600 red dress clad runnings streaming through the city. Wikipedia has a full page all about it with links to YouTube videos.

  9. says

    Me- I run to stay sane from teaching middle schoolers. :-)
    There’s nothing (for me) quite like a day or afternoon in the woods, running on trails, surrounded by beauty, the sounds, and all that nature encompasses.

    I used to run regularly at Leesylvania State Park, but then we moved. I have not attempted to run in Utah…yet. The Wasatch Mountain trail heads are 1.5 miles from our place- walking distance if we’d like, but the parking lots are sooo nice! :-)

    I’ve hiked a bit here, and love it! You hike for 5 minutes and have a view of the entire “valley” (at 4400 feet or something…).

    My husband, on the other hand, is a freak of running nature (said with love!). The man qualified for Boston on a TRAINING run. Yes, the Niagara Falls Marathon just happened to be on a 20-miler weekend run, so what was 6 more miles? Oh, and qualify for Boston at the same time? Sure!

    Ever since his accident (more on it here- highly inspiring… and tear-jerking)

    he’s had to readapt to a “new” body. One that includes 9 inches of titanium that holds his right ankle on (with pretty screws, too)!

    He’s still planning to qualify for Boston again, and I believe it’s possible. His dreams of qualifying for Kona (IM World Championships) are there, but the focus on writing/grad school is taking a higher priority.

    The man runs/cycles 5x week minimum and gets in open water swims in the reservoirs (a perk of living in UT where in VA most open water swims are in private lakes..) about once a week.

    He’s taken to running trails with me. Slowing down and enjoying helps him, and I’ll walk while he does track repeats (except when it’s 98 degrees).


  10. Kari says

    My parents were both runners (until arthritis sidelined them both) and my sister was a runner. I have always insisted I wouldn’t even run even if chased.

    Yet here I am, four weeks into the Couch-to-5K program that everyone’s been talking about for years. And I signed up for a 5K at the end of September.

    A friend convinced me to try, since, as she pointed out–there is no other exercise you can do that has you back at home in half an hour. Going to the gym or to a class or a pool all require a much larger time commitment–travel and locker rooms and blahblahblah. But running? You can get three miles in and be back with your kids and feel accomplished in thirty minutes. (Or if you’re me, you can get two miles in)

    I still wouldn’t say I am a runner. And I’m still waiting for that mythical runner’s high that my dad insists I’ll get. Each time I go out with the new routine on C25K, I’m pretty sure that *this* will be the time when I can’t make it through the running segments–but so far I’ve made it each time. Not fast, but that’s not my goal–just jogging is. I’m almost half-way through the training, with the goal of being able to jog–slowly–for 30 minutes.

    If I can run that 5K in september without walking, that’ll be the longest I’ve ever ever run in my life ever.

  11. heather s says

    GO FOR THE MARATHON!!! i’ve done two, with five years in between, which was long enough to convince me to do the second one ;) the first one was the shamrock in virginia beach, the second was richmond. i would recommend shamrock for it’s flatness. richmond was hilly and much harder, but i still managed to shave a few minutes off my time! good luck! it’s quite a feeling of accomplishment!

  12. Lesley says

    I started the C25K program last Spring after vowing I would never be able to to get hooked on running, but I really enjoyed it.

    I downloaded the PodRunner series that programs music at the right beat rate and intervals to go with the program so I didn’t have to keep time myself – I am a wanderer too and lose track of time.

    I made it to 3K by the time the heat of the summer set in and I had to take too many days off and just didn’t get back. When this summer cools off, I intend to get started again.

  13. kristen b says

    I just started running with a free 0-5K app this week! I don’t have a desire to actually enter a race (yet), but I wanted to do something to get some exercise. I’ve never run before in my life. I decided over the weekend and started it on Tuesday. Luckily, I already had a nice pair of running shoes (from a great local store that does a gait assessment and everything) for an ill-fated bootcamp class attempt. Watching the Olympics for a week and seeing all the athletes with their sporty physiques might have also been a contributing factor. I really love the way it paces you with walking and running in intervals and taking a day (or 2) off in between so you don’t over-exert yourself. It’s so manageable and I’ve barely been sore. I love it and I’ve only done 2 ‘runs’! I highly recommend this approach for beginners. I already noticed a difference in stamina between the first time I did it and the second. I’m sticking close to home and enjoying seeing more of my neighborhood-another pleasant bonus. I’m going to try that Nike+ app. Thanks for the timely post and the extra boost of motivation.

  14. says

    Great post!

    My husband (who I emailed you guys about a few months ago) played music for your run at this past Monument Ave 10K. He was at the Mulberry St crossing and it was such an awesome experience.

    He’ll be rocking the Patrick Henry Half at the end of this month, then a few more races in VA Beach in October. Great hobby!

  15. Barbara Ann says

    You should try the “Zombies, Run!” app!

    I just downloaded it, as well as the accompanying Runner’s Guide which provides the whole backstory to your role as Runner 5 in the zombie-infested world.

    As you run, your “mission” is played out in between tracks on your playlist, and you have to collect items (ie. ammo, food, medical supplies) to bring back to your home base. When zombie hoards approach you’re given a warning and you have to speed up by at least 20% to outrun them! Currently there are enough missions for at least 40 runs. I’m so excited to try it!

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