Homerun

Hello! It’s been awhile since my last post, and some things in my life have changed…

About a month ago I moved back to my hometown of Houston, Texas. It was a decision spurred by economic and emotional reasons. The former was easy- it’s much cheaper to live here than Los Angeles (many places are). The second reason, well, it’s complicated. After graduating from USC, I stayed in LA for one primary reason- a relationship. After that relationship ended in divorce, I tried to make the city work for a number of years, not wanting to leave my friends and community there, not to mention the weather! In the end, I found myself becoming disenchanted with my life there despite the positive aspects. I arrived at the idea to move back to Houston after doing some soul-searching and considering a few options. Towards the end summer I visited Houston, nailed down a place to live there, and packed up my place in LA. For the first time in a really long time I felt very solid about a major life decision, so off I went and here I am.

 

There is a saying that goes something like “When the pain of staying the same becomes more than the pain of change, we change.” I’ve found this to be attributed to more than one author, so lets just leave it that I didn’t come up with it for now. I’ve slowly realized that the most uncomfortable part of change is that limbo of between the idea of change and change itself. Post-change has never been as bad as my idea of what might follow. One of my reasons to move was to have less of my means go to a high cost of living, so I could travel more without draining my bank account. I loved running around Scotland, but its not sustainable if I’m throwing money into an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Even with many upsides to moving back to Houston, such as being close to lifelong friends and of course, family, in addition to the budgeting aspect, I still felt this hesitancy to move. Specifically, I felt like I was “giving up” on something, and in effect, wasting all the time I had spent in LA since separating from my ex-husband. A simplification of the idea that kept me from moving is “If I do leave, then I will have been a failure (at living in LA)”. The logic is a little maddening, now that I think about it- if it was possible my time in Southern California was wasted unless some unnamed and un-promised reward for it happened, why would I stay another minute? When I realized this, I had the energy to make haste and dive into the change before I could scarcely believe I was doing it.

 

The above has everything and nothing to do with running. As everything- I’ve realized that my passions for running and traveling are closely linked, when I go somewhere new, I look for how to make it runnable, and when my running gets stale, I run somewhere new. This can be on a large scale- such as my trip to Scotland, but it can also happen locally. For now I’ve just been excited to get to know running in Houston as it is now.

 

I spent my entire childhood in this city, so I learned to run here. I got into distance running towards the end of high school, before mapmyrun.com and the like existed. Using a Keymap (remember those?), ruler, and graph paper, I charted out routes in my neighborhood of various mileages and stuck them in order of distance them all on a poster board, hung in my room. Memorial, the suburban neighborhood where I grew up, was great for running. You could run for miles without having to deal with traffic lights, drivers were respectful of pedestrians, and the sidewalks were dependable. When I wasn’t training with my cross-country or track team, I also loved to drive to a nearby jogging trail, in Memorial Park, to do the three-mile gravel covered loop there. This was before I got into trail running, though I realize now that for the most part, our meets were actually trail runs. Of course, I think I didn’t associate running in the woods as “fun” back then because it happened mostly at meets, and in high school I did not associate maxing out physically as an enjoyable experience. Looking back, I do recall a time I found I liked trail running before arriving in Southern California- towards the end of our junior season our coach took the team to some local trails to do a moderate workout – the Ho Chi Minh trails (also in Memorial Park). They are some winding single track through the woods that were mostly used by bikers. I remember it being fun, and a new experience of being able to enjoy the surroundings instead of focusing on who was in front of and behind me.

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Part of the Buffalo Bayou Hike & Bike Trail

When I started thinking about this entry, I wanted to write a comical diatribe at the various reasons Houston streets make a poor running environment. My new neighborhood in Houston is classifiably dangerous for street running, no doubt. I came within 4 feet of being hit by a car recently and it was neither an isolated or unavoidable encounter. Sidewalks are magic here- they just disappear into thin air! That being true, as I looked at my list of complaints I grew bored reading my own comments- it turns out at least in this case, whining is whining no matter how you dress it up. I deleted all of it. Instead, here’s the silver lining I had already arrived at- I’m going to get to know more of the natural, off the beaten path areas that I ignored when I was younger. I’m looking forward to searching out new trails in the Greater Houston area and just outside it. I bought a book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Houston, which is more than enough to work with. At a glance, the largest net elevation change I will be hovers around 300 feet, which is lovely. That’s what it took to reach the end of my street in Southern California. I love running trails when they’re flat- not because they’re less physically demanding, but because I often find they are in really enchanting environments, and usually a bit more winding. If there’s no view “at the top”, then it has got to be the whole way, it would seem! In any case, near or far, I’m going to get my running adventures underway again.

New Attitude

A few years ago, I thought my edge had all but disappeared when it came to running, but after some moderate successes in community races, I started dreaming of developing as a competitive runner. After high school, my running had been either for fun or fitness, but I became hooked on being fast again. I started trying to win, but would become agitated by being passed by faster runners- the nerve of them! The manner in which this perceived competition manifested with my running became toxic to my growth as an athlete. I’m genetically blessed with faster than average leg turnover, it’s as simple as that, but I introduced only as much work as I felt like each race.

I had a complete change of heart last year during the Rose Bowl Half Marathon in Pasadena, California. I knew the course well, but the first five miles were hell- I felt shaky and unsure. I was running within a group of five or so women, probably mid-pack for that race, and we all took turns in the lead. I became irritated that they weren’t “letting” me keep the lead, when it occurred to me that if I wanted to get ahead, I might have to push harder, not wait for them to falter.

That day, I decided to push my preconceived limits. I set a goal of 20 seconds per mile faster, and to hold that for at least one mile. Soon the awkward feeling I had in the first five miles dissipated and I was flying- I could hold the pace, and go even faster. I glided past each new person within sight, seeing them as goals, not obstacles. I finished the race 4th in my age group, and I had dropped my half marathon down past 1:50, which was 7 minutes faster than my previous best. My race had nothing to do with the other runners, and everything to do with false beliefs I held about my ability and grit.

Less than a mile from the finish at the 2015 Rose Bowl Half Marathon. Happy lady, running at ease.
Less than a mile from the finish at the 2015 Rose Bowl Half Marathon. Happy lady, running at ease.

For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to challenge myself against some strong women in races. I was honored when a young lady asked to take a picture with me at a mile race. She placed second and myself third, and I began to sense that team spirit that I had loved so much about my high school cross-country team. I feel that the women I run against are friends, not foes- especially the fast ones! They pull me and I push them.

I was floored when this young lady asked for a picture together after our neck and neck race.
I was floored when this young lady asked for a picture together after our neck and neck race.

I’m going to keep with the tribe now as best I can. I know sometimes I will try to run harder or faster and fail, but I’ll learn more about myself in the process. I recently went running with a two friends, and they kept a pace that was faster than I could do that day. Instead of being annoyed that they were going faster, I was excited to be running behind them, because their hard work pulled me to be better.

Finding a familiar face in the crowd at the Nike Women's 2014 Half Marathon.
Finding a familiar face in the crowd at the Nike Women’s 2014 Half Marathon starting line!

Breaks and Breakthroughs

I had two knee surgeries my senior year of high school. Those surgeries were minor in comparison to other types done on that joint, and though I missed the competitive seasons senior year, I was able to pick up running again by graduation, without any memorable deficiencies or hindrances.

This recent ankle injury was more hard hitting. In high school, I was going to school, spending a lot of time with friends, and lived with my family, so being injured didn’t really do much in the way of removing me from life. These days I work for a running retailer. At least half of my socializing revolves around running. My work is physical in nature.  With the DNF, I got a break in another sense- I found out how much I relied on running to keep me involved with my life, and that I had some growing to do, some development of self.

I was sad in the days following my injury, but within two weeks I was suffering from diagnosed depression. The weight of not being able to run, work, and the challenge of not being able to do simple things to take care of myself got to me. I love to read, but it was hard on painkillers. I watched a lot of TV. Couple that with the fact that I was coming off of training for a marathon and used to almost daily rushes of dopamine. Physically and emotionally I became lethargic. My sister came to visit and found me in a sad state. The pain from the swelling was so intense that I would go to bed and wake up crying, I just couldn’t help it. Once she left, I dipped a little lower in my mental and emotional state before realizing I needed help.

I had to go to a really low point before I got help. If you think you are suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself, at least, it worked for me. Friends and professionals helped me to put everything in perspective and do what I could to get back to normal. I turned off the TV. I got off the painkillers and started reading again. I took interest in something new from my couch, America’s Gilded Age, and read two books on it. I read Dune for fun. I read Running Within, a book with spiritual guidance for runners, and started practicing positive affirmations while visualizing what I wanted from my runs once I got back. I highly recommend that book for anyone that has reached a plateau with physical training and is looking for another push.

After 5 weeks I was able to start physical therapy. It wasn’t anything special, I just got to move my ankle a bit, but it was something. I still wasn’t back to work, but I had developed a floor/chair regimen to work out my upper body and core for a little while each day. I stuck to everything on my PT plan religiously. As I was able to bear weight on my ankle, I made it to the gym. I swam and biked. Once I started running again, I came back almost at full speed. I owe this to not only the PT, but during my healing I progressively added higher intensity workouts that fit with the demands my ankle could handle. I was able to go back to work. I felt useful again, which did huge things for my mood. Eventually I was feeling happy again.

I ran a race almost four months to the day of my injury. It was a mile road race, and it would be my third year in a row competing in it. I ran it one second faster than I had the previous year- 6:34. I was floored. That feeling was good, but it was nothing compared to the one I got a few weeks later, when I was able to work a run club event, and jog next to a new runner who was trying out one of our events for the first time. She struggled with the same mental games I knew so well, but she did it. There is nothing like feeling like you can’t and then finding out you can. This event and similar ones that followed motivated me to begin pursuing my interest in personal training again.

“ShesTheRun” is an invention for sharing my running, travel, and life adventures in a way that keeps me motivated to do more for myself, and others. It is a by-product of my personal journey with truly missing running and the ensuing depression that followed. I can’t keep something unless I give it away. Equipped with this point of view, I hope I can create something for others to enjoy and be inspired by.

Thanks for reading,

Holly