Running on Parkways: 6 Ways I Rethought My Runs This Weekend

If I weren’t already contemplating this whole idea of rethinking your run when I wrote and posted Friday’s blog, then it certainly resonated as I made my way through this weekend and Monday’s run. In a lot of ways, I even found myself re-energized, with a new motivation fueling me every step of the way.

Rethink your run.

If you didn’t catch the write-up, here’s the takeaway.

In a lot of ways, I think I’ve allowed myself to fall into a trap; to let myself really believe that it’s okay to run without truly ever caring about improving my performance so that I really started to believe it. Sometimes, that’s fine. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a lot to be said for consistency — it’s the mainstay of any healthful and manageable routine.

But what I’ve come to realize is this: Without ever trying something new – without incorporating some novel element into the same old song and dance — you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of, mentally or physically. 

That’s why over the last handful of days, for one workout, for one hour, for 10 minutes, for a minute, whatever, I challenged you to go out and rethink your run.

Well, did you?

I did — in a few ways, in fact. Here’s what I learned about myself over the course of 3 runs (6 miles on Friday, 4 on Sunday and 5 on Monday) and a “rest” day (other than the fact that running in non-running shorts is not ideal; looks like it’s time to do laundry!).

1. My inability to run in unfamiliar environments is all in my head.

Some of my worst runs happen to be while traveling, and I hadn’t quite figured out why until this weekend, when, after committing to rethink my runs, I began to tell myself that it was all in my head.

(Side bar: Check out the views while driving down from the car.)

Of course, there are environmental elements at play when I travel too. For example, whenever I’m in Washington D.C., I run with Noah. When running with Noah, I start off at a faster pace. When I start off at a faster pace, I have difficulty maintaining a steady and fluid breath during the first half mile. And when that happens, I screw myself for the rest of the run.

Noah and I took a run during the late afternoon on Friday, and from the start, I made it clear that I’d be setting the pace. By doing so, I staved off both exhaustion and frustration, making me a lot more pleasant for the rest of the run.

That turned out to be in both of our best interests, since we got horribly lost in the D.C. suburbs and wound up running from pavement to dirt trails to the grass dividing a parkway.

2. Breaking the rules is fun, especially when it means running on a parkway.

Confession: I’m a bit of a rule follower. I hand in my homework on time, I go the speed limit, I don’t trespass. But when faced with two options — to add an extra undefined number of miles after already running your intended distance or to cut back home by taking the grassy, overgrown divider of a parkway — well, you can guess what Noah and I chose to do (upon his insistence).

I really, really disliked this for the mile and a half or so that we had to do it, not only because I was convinced that a cop was going to pick us up and call us idiots but because cars were whizzing by us at 50-plus miles an hour.

And then, there was that little part of me that found the entire ordeal wildly exciting. The fact that it was uncharted territory; the fact that we were covering grounds meant for wheeled vehicles; the fact that I was obviously picking my feet up more quickly than usual to get to the parkway’s end before said imaginary police car got the chance to turn on their lights.

***This is also the part where I should deter you from ever running on a sidewalk-less street, path, etc. Don’t do it. It’s unsafe. 

3. Sometimes, it really is okay to run without music.

I always run with music, and often to the same rotation of songs and electronic sets over and over and over again. I love that I know which part of which song is going to pop on as I’m entering Central Park and what beat to expect as I’m flying (or plodding, depending on the morning) down 5th Avenue.

Consistency. During my morning runs, it’s really all I need.

Of my 2 weekend runs, neither included a pair of headphones or dubby backdrop. Instead, Noah and I hit the pavement (and dirt, and wood, and grass) sans any tipe of external entertainment, relying only on the birds, trees, wind, little kids, and a bit of mindless chatter here and there to get us from one mile to the next.

I have to say, whereas I typically dislike music-less runs, I actually quite enjoyed these. Why? Who knows. And to be honest, come Monday morning, I was back out on Manhattan’s streets with headphones in my ears. For 2 solid runs though, I rethought the purpose of that minor accessory, and learned that, without the music, I was in fact able to shift my concentration to other aspects — like stride, posture, and my breath.

I was running harder and more concentrated than I typically ever would, and as a result, was especially worn out afterward. Lesson No. 5973: Harder runs make post-run snacks taste so much more delicious.

4. Hills suck more when you psyche yourself out.

Another reason I tend to hate my Bethesda-bound runs? Hills. While Central Park’s hills are certainly no joke, I at least have about a mile or 2 before I have to tackle them, whereas, when running near Washington D.C., I’m faced with massive inclines from the moment I step out the door.

Instead of dreading them before even considering going for a run, I decided that, this time, I wouldn’t psyche myself out. I’d consider them simply part of the scenic landscape, and I’d trot my way up them whether I wanted to or not.

Another part of not psyching myself out goes back to Number 1. By starting off slow and maintaining the consistency of my breath from the start, I avoided any opportunity to freak out and have an asthma attack later on, whether or not there was a hill involved.

That turned out to seriously be to my advantage on Friday’s run especially, because when lost, you hardly have the ability to foresee the terrain before you. In other words, we faced many hills before finding our way back home — but unlike most of my previous D.C. runs, they hardly affected me at all.

5. I am faster, stronger, and harder working than I give myself credit for.

When you spend 6 years running at a consistently sluggish pace, you tend to forget that there’s always the possibility of enhancing your performance. And for a while, I genuinely thought that I was destined to be slow for the rest of my running career which, mind you, I do hope goes well into my 100’s.

Then I read Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run. In it, he writes that, according to research, individuals who start running at age 19 actually get faster, peaking at the somewhat surprising age of 27 (I’m 25, and already my knees feel creaky and tired), and then gradually get slower. Once you’ve peaked, however, it can be decades until you’ve slowed down to the speed you were able to hit at 19, about the same time you were knocking back Natty Lights on some porch in Ann Arbor. (Just me? Anyway.)

I’m not saying I’m fast or strong. What I’m saying is that I may be — actually, it’s very likely that I am — faster and stronger than I give myself credit for, that is, if I am willing to work hard for it. That very tentative “if” is still very much up in the air. I’m not not willing though, which is a huge mental shift since last year.

6. There are days when you will not run. It is not the end of the world.

I barely even want to talk about Saturday, when I woke up after having drank what I thought was 2 vodka-based drinks, but according to the pourer of those beverages (ahem, Noah), was something closer to 100. Aside from putting a few eggs on the stove and shooing the cat from my water glass, I was more or less worthless until about 2 in the afternoon, at which point I finally got out of bed, got dressed, took another 2 aspirin, and got myself out the door — in civilian clothing, not running gear.

I knew there was no chance I’d be running on Saturday, because by the time I felt OK enough to not fall over, it was 5:00, and all I wanted was to eat some dinner and go to bed. Fortunately, I kept it relatively healthy for the bulk of the day, snacking on over-easy eggs in the morning, a salad with romaine, avocado and artichoke hearts for lunch, and hitting up Granville Moore’s for a dinner of mussels, grilled shrimp, and a bucket of the best French fries ever.

By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, after passing out particularly early on Saturday night, both Noah and I were raring to go, lacing up our sneakers for a relatively speedy 4 miles and 21 pushups (30 for Noah) before hopping in the car and heading back to New York for Father’s Day. Monday’s was an equally lovely run, this time solo and through Central Park, which was a crisp 59 degrees and sunny. Perfection.

So there you have it — the 6 ways in which I was able to change my mindset in the same way I encouraged all of you. Will it stick? Who knows! That’s not the point; the goal is to simply return to this idea every now and then — that a run isn’t a run isn’t a run — and to then remember that we’re more versatile than our brains let on.

Be creative!

How did you rethink your run?


7 thoughts on “Running on Parkways: 6 Ways I Rethought My Runs This Weekend

  1. This is, as always awesome. And rethinking the 10 mile run for Saturday? Was freaking awesome. It was a “run of gratitude.” We kept thanking all of the cops who were making sure we were hit by crazy Baltimore drivers, and I would laugh and say “Let’s eat these hills for breakfast,” and all sorts of insane things like that made is more fun. (Not easier, but more fun.) Thank you for the challenge!

    (And your runs sounded awesome!)

  2. I actually re-thought my run last night by actually running after work. I’ve become so locked in to doing all of my runs in the morning that if I miss it for some reason, I think that I have to wait for the next day. Yesterday, it occured to me that I could actually run after work and I really enjoyed it!

    Enjoyed reading the six things you’ve learned. It’s funny because while I have tried to run with music in the past, I feel like it takes away from the “purity” of the run, if that makes sense. I like to stay in touch with my footsteps, my breathing and the things going on around me and I feel like music shuts it out. I totally get why people do run with music, it’s just something I can’t do myself.

    I really love hills (you kind of have to in Georgia if you run) and wanted to suggest that some hill repeat workouts might get you thinking differently about them. I really like the feeling of being at the bottom of a hill, dropping my pace into low gear, churning my arms and charging up a long hill.

    • I’ve been increasingly liking the whole hill thing, but there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve. I can tell that my body is getting stronger but, not that hills should ever be easy, if done on the wrong day, it can really take a toll on you mentally and physically!

      I think that the music thing has something to do with New York. I’ve run in the suburbs, both on Long Island and in Bethesda, before without music and quite enjoyed it. In Manhattan, the music actually drowns out the cars and trucks though because, in reality, you’re probably not going to hear your foot steps anyway. As for the park, it’s up in the air once I’m there. Sometimes I enjoy the music, other times I shut it off, but most of the time I just turn it down lower.

      Ah, the night run. It’s so hard, because I LOVE morning runs. But you’re right; every now and then, when you do get a night run in, you notice how awesome they are and how wonderful it is to run when it’s not completely light out. Then again, every time I tell myself I’m going to incorporate more evening runs into my routine, it simply doesn’t fit! Maybe one day.

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