All posts by Elyse Paxton

“You have to want it more than you’re afraid of it.”

chaseyourdreams

When I crossed the finish line of the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon, my nearly two decades old running dream came true. I never believed I could run 26.2 miles. It had always been an elusive, far off, “Well, maybe one day it could happen” kind of dream. Marathon runners were always big, mythical heroes to me. I never imagined I would be able to join the elite group of runners who make up less than one percent of the population.

Until I did.

And now I have an ever bigger dream. One that scares the sh*t out of me. But I hope, if I work really, really hard, I can do it. I want to run a 50K. I even chose which one: the Chicago Lakefront 50/50. Since I’m taking 2016 off from a full, I would run it in October 2017.

When I signed up for the Twin Cities Marathon, I was scared. I had no idea if I could actually run a marathon. My new running goal scares the crap out of me, too. Sometimes I think, “Elyse, this is beyond crazy. Are you really up for this? I mean, really?” But I also think dreaming big means you should be a little scared–or hell, a whole lot scared.

We’ll see what happens between now and October 2017, but I hope by officially announcing my big, scary goal, it will help me not give up on it.

“Happiness is running with a friend.”

Maple Grove 5K

Two weekends ago, I ran my first race since the Chicago Marathon. Two girlfriends and I ran the Maple Grove 5K, and the experience reminded me of why I enjoy the atmosphere of racing so much. 

The morning was cold–low 30s–with a biting wind. When I pulled into the Maple Grove High School parking lot and saw runners crossing the street to enter the stadium for the start, I blinked back tears. Participating in my first race since Chicago was emotional for me. I smiled seeing the 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on cars and the runners milling around waiting for the start.

The half marathon started a few minutes before the 5K, and as the runners and pace groups circled the track and made their way out of the stadium, a part of me wished I was with them. But I was happy to be running with my friends, and though none of us had especially trained for the event (it was really more like, “Oh, crap! I forgot we signed up for that 5K a few months ago!“), we were excited to spend the morning together.

The race was small, but the volunteers were still amazing. They braved the cold and bone chilling wind to hand out water and cheer us on. Thank you so much, wonderful volunteers!

We talked and caught up as we ran, and the miles flew by. Before we knew it, we were entering the stadium again and heading toward the finish line. Afterwards, we picked up a few snacks and our finisher shirts before heading out for a hot cup of coffee.  

When I got home, I placed my medal beside my others on display in our workout room. Whether a marathon or a 5K, each medal is special to me, because running is special to me.

I’m happy my return to racing was with two friends who made the experience so fun. It was just what I needed to ignite my passion for training again and get me excited for my half in Chicago this fall.

“Volunteering is a work of heart.”

Aid-station-800x449

Last fall, I volunteered at the Twin Cities Marathon and loved it. Having run the race the year before, I wanted to give back to the marathon that made my dream come true. But I also wanted to experience being on the other side of the course as a volunteer. During the 2014 race, I was so thankful for the many selfless volunteers that cheered me on and supported me with a cup of water, encouraging words, or a warm blanket at the finish. They were angels along the course, making each step a little less painful.

For the 2015 race, I chose to volunteer at the finish line handing out heat blankets. It was so much fun to see the elite runners finish. They are so incredibly fast! But my favorite part was being at the finish and the first person to give my friend a huge hug when he qualified for Boston in an amazing time of 3:09.

By the end of the day, my feet were sore from standing all day (perhaps not a wise idea in retrospect, considering I had to run Chicago the following weekend!), and my voice was hoarse from congratulating thousands of runners, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Seeing the looks of pride and happiness on runners’ faces was so special. Some finished in high spirits with huge smiles, the tears silently falling. Others finished exhausted beyond all reason, stumbling out of the finish area. But each runner had accomplished a feat that less than 1 percent of the population can say they have done, and my heart burst with pride for them.

It was an honor to congratulate and wrap a blanket around thousands of the 8,545 marathon finishers that day, and I was reminded all over again of just how special it is to be a runner.

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

Runners

Meb Keflezighi tweeted this photo Monday during the Boston Marathon, and it brought me to tears. Two runners, sacrificing their own finish time to help a stranger, perfectly exemplifies the depth of selflessness and character that so many runners possess.

Running is often a solitary sport. Goals are individual. The pressure to perform well rests solely on one’s own shoulders.

Until you run a marathon, that is.  

During a marathon, you are one of many hundreds or thousands of runners striving to gut out 26.2 miles in an attempt to cross a single line that records your painfully heroic effort to become a marathoner. The race is a personal struggle of will over reason, and yet, you are never alone.

I can’t imagine the suffering the injured or exhausted runner above must have been feeling, but I can imagine the kindness of two fellow runners. That’s the beauty of the marathon–you are surrounded by people willing to sacrifice their own finish time to help you reach yours. That’s what we runners do for each other, after all–we lift each other up.

This photo makes me so proud to be a runner. What a beautiful example of human compassion and the incredible depth of a runner’s heart.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Corgi

To add some variety to my exercise routine, I decided to give High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) a shot. The first workout I did was only 20 minutes, so I figured it would be a fairly easy introduction to this type of activity. I was wrong. Way wrong. 

During the actual 20 minutes of the workout, I felt like I had COPD. Afterward, I was sore in places I didn’t even know you could be sore in. It took me three days to feel human again. 

This is all slightly mortifying because: 1) I was once again reminded that I am so far out of shape I may as well be orbiting another planet; 2) Clearly, 20 minutes of a HIIT workout is way harder than 20 minutes of moderate running; and 3) This high intensity interval stuff has the power to reduce me to creaking around like a 95yearold woman for 72 hours.

I did the same workout a week later, and astonishingly, I was only mildly sore the following day. In fact, I even went for a run. Progress? Let’s hope so

If you’re interested in trying the same torture session workout, here’s what I did:

Three rounds; 45 seconds work; 15 seconds rest

Push ups

Squats

Butt kicks

Tricep dips

Side lunges

*1 minute rest after each round

There’s also a 30 minute beginner version that adds a couple more exercises. Um… I think I‘m going to have to work my way up to that one.

“When you have nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire.”

Running

We all know the Chicago Marathon was not my finest performance, but after several months to reflect on the race, I learned some important lessons. My friend, Melissa, an accomplished marathoner and ultrarunner, was especially influential in helping me realize the marathon can be a demanding, unforgiving beast, and sometimes your biggest failure teaches you more than your biggest success.

Here are some of the most valuable things I learned from Chicago:

1. You can do everything right and still have a bad race. I had trained hard. I had gutted out long runs in the heat and humidity. I had iced religiously. I had taken rest days seriously. And yet, on race day, there are so many variables–the weather, how you feel that morning, how you slept the night before, if an old injury flares up. You can do everything perfect up to the start of the race and still not perform well. It’s not what we want to happen. It’s 100 times better if a bad run happens during training. But it can (and, at some point, likely will) happen during a race, and that’s just how life unfolds at times.

2. Sometimes your best is all you can give–and that is enough. I certainly did not feel I gave my best during the marathon. It took me several weeks to realize I had, even if that meant only putting one foot in front of the other. During the race, my best felt like my worst. But I learned that your best is all you can give during any given moment–and that is enough, no matter how it compares to your best during a different moment.

3. A bad race hurts, but a DNF hurts more. There were many times I wanted to quit. I felt sick, I was in a lot of pain, and I was too hot. But since I didn’t have an acute injury or was dry heaving on the side of the course, I knew I had to keep going, or I would regret it later. I’m glad I didn’t quit, because a DNF would have hurt a hell of a lot more than finishing the race.

4. You have to let go. I have a really hard time letting things go. No wonder it took me three long months to get over Chicago. But to move on, to fall in love with running again, I knew I had to. The bitterness burned for so long that I lost the desire to do the one thing I loved most. I knew I could never fully heal until I let it go. There will always be another race, another opportunity, another chance.

5. When you have nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire. This is one of my favorite quotes. Chicago taught me that the human spirit is so much stronger than our physical body. It keeps fighting, even when everything else in you screams to stop. I dug deep that day, deeper than I ever have before, and somehow kept going.

So, to my dear friend, Melissa, thank you for helping me heal. Every runner should have a person like you in his or her life.

 

“It’s just a hill. Get over it.”

untitled

I almost spit out my coffee laughing when I saw the above photo. Mostly because it perfectly sums up my run yesterday. Good grief. I am out of shape. I don’t even know how I managed to run 26.2 miles nearly six months ago. Wait, maybe because it was six freaking months ago. It never fails to amaze me just how quickly you get out of shape and just how hard it is to get back in shape.

I love the running paths by our house, but I swear they are 90% hills. Or maybe it just feels that way because I’m already huffing and puffing halfway up the first one. Also, my run only lasted two miles before I felt like I’d been steamrolled by a Mack truck. I’ll go ahead and file that little fact under my “Well-I-used-to-be-a-marathoner” and “Holy-crap-why-is-it-so-hard-to-breathe?” running experiences lately. 

Hills: 1. Elyse: 0.

At least my sore muscles are a reminder that I am, in fact, working to get back in shape. While it’s demoralizing to realize running such a short distance can kick my ass, I also realize my ass has been sitting on the couch the past few months.

So for now, I‘ve decided to embrace the soreness and fatigue as signs that I’m on the right path to becoming the runner I used to be. I know I’ll get thereone pesky hill at a time.  

“A runner must run with dreams in her heart.”

USA, Illinois, Chicago, Chicago Marathon passing through downtown

BREAKING NEWS: I registered for a fall race! Considering I have unfinished business with Chicago, it seems fitting I signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon on September 25. Since I’m on my self-mandated break from a full in 2016, I decided to take it “easy” and do a half. But I also want redemption on the streets of Chicago–and that’s my goal for this race.

Also filed under the “exciting news” category: I ran this week (woohoo!). My best friend slash running therapist was right–the time finally came when I knew I was ready to run again. I only ran a mile, which seems incredibly pathetic, but I figured one mile was better than zero miles. (And, let’s be honest, I’m ridiculously out of shape after my winter running sabbatical.) The good news is that, at the halfway point, I found I didn’t want to turn around. I was just so happy to be running again.

Chicago, you and I have a date on Sunday, September 25, so get ready. I’m not finished with you yet.

“Sometimes the best runs come on days you didn’t feel like running.”

timing your run 580

I have a confession. I have not been running lately. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about running. And talking about running. And writing about running. But not a whole lot of actual, real running. This has caused some mild feelings of panic and some not so mild feelings of guilt. I should be running. Running is what I do. It’s my thing. I love running. I should be doing the thing I love doing.

But, crap, I’m not. And I don’t know why.

I‘ve tried to make myself want to run. I bought a new pair of running shoes. I found some cool High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts to try. I researched potential half marathons to run this summer or fall. I keep telling myself, “Okay, this is the week I’m going to start running again.” Except everything I‘ve tried to do hasn’t worked.

F@%$. What is wrong with me?

My best friend (also a runner) said I may be subconsciously burned out. That 1) I‘m coming off two big training years, so my nagging feelings of guilt probably stem from thinking I should be training out of habit and 2) a part of me obviously really loves running while another part of me is temporarily sick of it (I feel guilty even writing that).

The thing is, I think my friend may be right. After all, she has a degree from an Ivy League school, so she’s a pretty smart cookie. But aside from her book smarts, she’s also extremely pragmatic and intuitive. She told me that, after running two marathons in two years while attending graduate school full time and working full time, by body may still be recovering. (Her actual words were “YOUR BODY IS DESPERATE TO CHILL OUT.“) Sure, I took on a lot the past couple of years, but had I really trashed myself mentally, emotionally, and physically to the point where I can’t even muster the enthusiasm to lace up my running shoes?

Maybe. So… what to do? 

Well, I think my first step is to accept that it’s okay to not want to run right now. And that does not mean I’m betraying the sport or that I still don’t have a deep passion for it. But taking a break still scares me, because what if my joy for running never comes back? When I confided this fear to my friend, she replied, “Oh, it will, don’t worry about that at all. It’s in your blood.”

I told you she’s a smart cookie.

“A half marathon is just a 5K race with a 10 mile warm up.”

Funny

My first (and, so far, only) half marathon did not exactly go how I envisioned it going in my head. In an attempt to get back in shape after an extended running hiatus, I signed up for the 2013 Minneapolis Half Marathon. I even managed to pressure my non-runner husband into doing it with me. The furthest I had run before was 10 miles… about 10 years earlier. But I stuck to a pretty consistent training program and aimed for a 2:10 finish time.

To say the race did not go well is an understatement. I quickly realized my Nike+ running app was about .2 miles off, so I had mistakenly believed I was running a lot faster during training than I actually was. That was a huge mental setback for me, but I stayed with the 10 minute/mile pace group for the first nine miles. Then things started to implode. My ankles were suddenly on fire. My legs felt like thousand pound weights. The hills felt like scaling Everest. When I slowed to a walk, the incredibly kind pacer patted me on the back and asked if I was okay. I said I was pretty sure I was dying and that I would catch up. I plodded along alone, silently cursing my Nike+ app, which had given me such false confidence. 

By the time I struggled up the last hill at mile 12, I hated races, running, inclines of any kind, and all the ridiculously happy spectators fortunate enough to be at a complete standstill. I crossed the finish line, swearing I would never do a full. Dream or no dream, only crazy people ran twice that distance. 

On the bright side, my hockey playing, I-hate-running-because-it-kills-my knees husband finished his first half marathon that day as well, and I was so proud of him. (Although after the race, the medical tent became his base camp. After running through a “pop” in his knee, he spent the rest of the day sandwiched in between ice packs.)

Eventually, the pain of the race faded, and within a few months, I decided to sign up for the Twin Cities Marathon. I had officially joined the “crazy” runners. I was determined to train better and harder and chase my 26.2.

Oh, and I also upgraded to a Garmin.