Back at it and trying not to hate it

If you follow along at all, you now I haven’t exactly been crushing it as a runner for a while. 2019 ended with a knee injury and 2020 … well, you know.

I’m not here to bitch about how shitty running has been for me. I won’t bore you with another bitch-fest.

No, that’s not the point of today’s post. The last time I sat down and wrote for this blog (about a month ago, whoops), I said I wanted to have fun running. That post didn’t change anything and running was a struggle for the rest of 2020. It was such a struggle that I allowed myself to take an entire week off . Seven days, zero miles.

When I finally suited up for some mileage again on Jan. 1, I cut myself a ton of slack. I walked as much as a ran, and I just tried to enjoy 35 minutes outside. And I have continued that trend for the first two weeks of the year.

I’m basically starting over. Well, not quite starting over (when I started running I had a hard time running for a minute at a time). What I am doing is starting super slow. That first run, I did 3 minutes of jogging followed by 2 minutes of walking. I bumped 3 minutes to 5 minutes the following week, and the last two days those 5 minutes have turned into a mile. I’m still breaking for those 2 minute walks and I start and end each day with 5 minutes of walking.

I don’t need the walk breaks. I could run 3 or 4 or whatever miles without stopping to walk, but right now the only thing I care about is not hating myself when I am out trying to get a little exercise. Walking allows me to get my breathing under control (which isn’t easy with my asthma and wearing a mask) and has limited the ache in my knees and my ankle.

At some point I will mostly ditch the walk breaks and actually start training again, but with no races on the schedule for the foreseeable future, thanks to the pandemic, why would I bother to put pressure on myself. If I want to throw in my headphones and listen to an audiobook while enjoying my time outside, why not? If I want to randomly stop and walk or check out some of the headstones in the cemetery, stop and walk. As long as I’m outside and being active, and not hating myself, well that’s good enough.

I do miss hard training and I do miss racing, but I those things haven’t felt good for a long time. That is my own fault for putting too much pressure on myself, for not taking care of my body, for not getting enough sleep and eating like crap. Those things can wait. For now, I just want to get some exercise and not totally hate it.

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Looking forward to having fun

Last December, I was hesitant to set any running goals for myself because I didn’t know how my knee would respond after flaring up during the Chicago Marathon in October.

Well, we all know how 2020 turned out and I’m actually grateful I did not set any goals. I already feel bad about letting my fitness go to shit while being stuck at home because of the pandemic, imagine how shitty I would feel if I had set goals and then wasn’t able to accomplish them either because a race was canceled or I just got lazy when all of my routines were shattered by stay-at-home and work-from-home orders.

I’m in the middle of a nine-day vacation and I hoped that having some time off from work would spark a turn around in motivation. In fact, it hasn’t changed a thing. I’m just spending my time sitting at my desk watching TV instead of working. I’m walking to the kitchen even more often for snacks. I’m struggling to talk myself to go for a run, putting it off until later in the day because I don’t have to work, and then not going at all. Running isn’t any fun because stuff hurts (my left ankle right now, to be specific), I’ve lost all my fitness, and I have nothing to train for.

I’ve also had plenty of time to think about whether or not I want to set any goals for 2021. The new year starts in just over two weeks and while I don’t like to wait around for the new year to my ass in gear, it is a good time to pause and reset. It’s a good time to set some new goals.

In 2017 I deal with the same type of knee problems as I dealing with at the end of last year. I set one simple goal in December 2017, “JUST FUCKING RUN.” I spoke of that goal again last December and I guess I have to say I accomplished it both times. I have been able to run for much of this year, and I’ve had some good moments, it just hasn’t always felt great and hasn’t been a lot of fun.

So maybe that should be my goal, simply to have fun. Last summer, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, running was fun. Earlier this year, when I was done with rehab and getting back to training again, running was fun. I want to have that kind of fun again. I want to drop these 25 pounds I have gained since the Chicago Marathon and be able to go run for an hour just because it is Thursday. I want to build back the strength I gained last summer and do speed sessions on Wednesday night that last for an hour and a half. I went to run 50-60 miles a week. I want to get fit. I want to be motivated to get out the door, to my physical therapy, to eat the right food.

Yeah, that’s a goal I can get down with.

The struggle continues

Just when I thought running couldn’t be any more of a struggle in 2020, a few health issues cropped up and dealt me another set back.

When the year started I was still rehabbing my knee after running the Chicago Marathon. My knee was in pretty good shape when the pandemic hit and trashed my habits and my motivation (running just didn’t seem all that important).

My asthma and allergies, which have been an issue all year, really flared up in October. I constantly had a sore throat and breathing while running, especially while wearing a mask, was difficult and made me want to stay home.

Then, I got a skin infection (cellulitis) that was not only tremendously painful, it also made me quite sick. I’m about to share too much information, you’ve been warned. A boil on my chest became infected and swelled to size of a half a tennis ball. It was red, painful and hot to the touch. It also made me sick. By the time I finally went to the doctor, I had a fever, the chills and felt like I was going to puke. Describe those symptoms, along with the fact that I constantly have a sore throat, to the doctor’s office and have fun getting an appointment. I had to go to a different office and I felt like I was in a science fiction story when I did see the doctor, who was wearing a full hazmat suit.

To top all of this off, the antibiotics I took to clear up the infection had some gnarly side effects, namely monster headaches and (again, TMI warning) diarrhea. For two weeks I either had severe pain and a fever, or a headache and the shits. My mileage was already down, then I spent five days sleeping and sitting in an office chair. Running was the last thing I wanted to do.

Fortunately, I’m on the mend. The infection has cleared up and I have been off the antibiotics for almost two weeks. I also was given another prescription for my asthma/allergies (on top of a daily inhaler and a rescue inhaler). I’ve been on Singulair for about a week and a half, and it already seems to be helping.

With all of those issues hopefully behind me, I am now back to searching for motivation. I haven’t been especially motivated to run and I have been even less motivated to stretch, do strength work and generally take care of myself. I’ve lost a ton of fitness and something hurts every time I run.

But I’m giving myself some grace. This year has been a challenge. A pandemic has changed life as we know it and I haven’t exactly been the picture of health. I’ve been sick and I’ve been injured. Not every year is going to be a huge success, and with all these obstacles in my way, I understand this year was bound to be anything but.

I’m hopeful that at some point running will be fun again. I’m hopeful that at some point I’ll be motivated enough to start taking my health more seriously, not only for the sake of running, but for the sake of my overall well being. I’m already being treated for high blood pressure and it isn’t exactly where we want it to be right now. With a history of heart disease in my family, that is not something to mess around with.

I’m not waiting around for 2021 to change my ways, I’m just searching for a spark of motivation. Because I just want running to be fun again.

Maine Marathon Virtual 5K

Wreck Everyone and Leave. Or something like that.

I have spent the better part of 2020 searching for wins. I have not always worked as hard as I would like to seek out those wins, but at a time when I am stuck at home and the world outside feels like it is falling apart, any little victory makes things feel a little more normal (and 2020 has been anything but “normal”).

Last Sunday morning I had a pretty big win. I wasn’t expecting much when I left the house to run the Maine Marathon Virtual 5K. My training had been OK, but I also slacked off quite a bit. I wasn’t feeling great when I woke up and I was fighting myself over where to run this “time trial” and what to wear, until I actually pressed start on my Garmin and took off.

I fought through those moments of self doubt, those questions of “why even bother to do this,” to run a decent 5K. My time of 22:58 is more than a minute slower than my personal best, but is in the top 15 of all the 5Ks I have ever run. And at a time when I have felt bored with running, when running more often than not hurts, and when it is hard to get motivated to do the work because there are so many other stresses wearing me down, it was definitely a win to break 23 minutes.

Sunday’s effort was the first time I had “raced” a 5K since March when I did the Perryman’s Pub Virtual 5K. I was working my way back into running and training after my knees begged for mercy at Chicago when I ran that 5K (which was also in the very early stages of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders). The 23:51 I ran wasn’t great, but it felt good considering a month earlier I was still throwing in walk breaks to most of my runs.

When I left the house to run the Maine Marathon Virtual 5K, I told myself I’d be happy with a repeat performance. My workouts were all geared toward running 7:45ish pace and that pace felt like pretty hard work. All my intervals at that pace felt doable, but then I ran a mile at what I thought was 5K pace in the midst of a run, and 7:41 felt super hard. Like, all-out-mile-pace hard.

So when I finished the first mile on Sunday in 7:29, I was surprised and nervous. Surprised because I ran 7:29 and it didn’t feel like I was sprinting. Nervous because I was sure I was going to blow up.

I said “fuck it” though and decided to just keep going at this effort. If I blew up, so what, I was close enough to home to walk or jog back.

The thing is, I didn’t blow up. I started to hurt quite a bit in the second mile, my legs getting heavy and my breathing getting labored, but I fought it off and ran 7:25. With 1.1 to go, I decided to just go for it. I knew once I turned back onto Ludlow Street, I knew I had a little downhill to carry me for a bit. I ignored my watched and pushed. Then I turned down Jeanne Street for the final stretch. That last quarter of a mile was a fight. I felt like I was stomping the ground as opposed to the slight fall forward, quickly get my feet off the ground form I try to run with. I heard my watch beep as I ticked past mile 3 (7:20), then stared at it while sprinting (if you could call what I was doing at that point sprinting) until it finally hit 3.1.

That time trial, virtual race, whatever you want to call it was a win. A win I badly needed. I’ve taken it pretty easy in the week since, but will start to ramp up again soon as I prepare to run a few more 5K time trial/virtual races in Novemeber. I’ll do that training with the knowledge that even though I feel like a slug, I can still run a decent (for me) 5K and if I work a harder, I know I’m capable of much more.

In a year where the world feels like a dumpster fire, I’ll take all the wins I can get.

Looking for the good

Trainers. Flats. Fall foliage.

The last time I have posted on this blog, I was beating myself up a little bit for putting in a half-assed effort because I was feeling it. My knees (specifically my right knee) were starting to hurt and my hip was achy.

It has been a few weeks since that post, and there is good news and bad news.

The good news is, my hip and my knees feel OK. I’m not running super-high mileage, but I am getting in decent mileage five days a week, including two sessions with some sort of 5K-specific speed work built in.

The bad news is, my half-assed effort hasn’t really improved. I’m doing physical therapy sometimes. I’m stretching after ever run, but I never roll. I spend a lot of time in my room, sitting on my ass watching baseball, trying to read, or scrolling social media between trips to the kitchen for a handful of Ruffles potato chips.

I am not here to beat myself up. I done that enough to know it accomplishes absolutely nothing. It’s just that if I am going to have a blog, I should update it from time to time, if for no other reason than to have some deeper thoughts in writing that I can look back on than I put down in my training log (which reminds me, I need to jot a few notes about today’s workout in my log). The update, like I said is a little good and a little bad.

I wish I was working harder, but finding the motivation has been a struggle. I know I said I was going to try to follow the wisdom “mood follows action,” and I have, but I’m still struggling with my routines, and struggling to make things habit.

I can, however, look on the bright side. Today is a good example. This morning I packed a bag and drove to the Mountain Division Trail in Windham for my mid-week speed sessions. Today’s the plan was to run up and down the ladder 1-minute to 5-minute intervals, shooting for 7:45-8:02 per mile pace. In the middle of my first 3-minute interval, I started to doubt my ability to finish this working. Toward the end of the first 4-minute interval I decided to quit. During my 1-minute recovery after that interval I decided to at least give the 5-minute interval a shot. Two and a half minutes into that interval, I had a pretty good idea I would actually finish the workout. Sixteen minutes later, I had finished the workout, hitting all of my paces, and I didn’t feel destroyed.

Those paces are a long way from where I was the last time I raced a 5K, when I averaged 6:52 per mile and missed my 5K PR by 11 seconds at the Mother’s Day 5K a year and a half ago. That could be deflating, but I spent the first few months of the year getting my knees healthy enough to run, spent the first part of the pandemic trying to stay on a training plan for no race, then basically gave up and just jogged every day. I only started doing faster stuff again five weeks ago, and I’m not really taking it all that serious, if I’m being completely honest. Getting through today’s workout was a confidence builder, if nothing else.

I have a long way to go and a lot of work to do if I want to ever approach the kind of 5K speed I had on that day back in May 2019. And I do want to have that type of speed again. I know I won’t have it when I run a 5K time trial on Oct. 12 as part of the Maine Marathon’s virtual event. I won’t have that kind of speed when I run two more time trials – or virtual races or whatever we are calling these things we are doing during the pandemic – but I’ve enjoyed getting out and doing some speed sessions lately, and right now, that is plenty.

Some day, maybe mood will follow action and I will be fired up to do all the necessary work to run a fast 5K. I decided recently that at some point in the near future, probably sometime in the spring of next year, I would like to be in the kind of shape to make a run at setting a 5K PR. That thing is more than five years old and I proved to myself last year that if I am actually willing to do the work, I am capable of running that fast again.

Some day I will be motivated enough to truly get after it. Maybe today was a start.

Half-ass effort, half-ass results

Not sure why I’m making that face, today’s workout was fairly all right.

On Sunday morning I had a flashback to Chicago. Not because I was crushing a long run or taking part in a race, and certainly not because I was in a sea of people chasing goals or screaming for friends who were chasing goals.

I was all by myself, jogging up Walton Street in Portland, 6 1/2 miles into my run, a mile from my apartment, which is exactly where I was heading. And I had a flashback to the marathon because my knee started to hurt, just like it did 13 miles into the Chicago Marathon. It hurt the rest of the run and has been a little bit achy in the three days since.

I was quite a bit discouraged jogging that final mile home, and even more so in the immediate aftermath. I sat on the floor in my bedroom, half-assing my stretching routine and sulking a little bit.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out exactly why my knee was hurting. I figured it out when I was half-assing my stretching routine. All that half-assing is why my knee started to hurt Sunday. It is why my hip has been sore for most of the last month and a half. It’s why I’ve been complaining so much about running not being any fun.

Give a half-assed effort and get a half-assed result.

I’m OK. I’m just whining a little bit. I have 10 miles in my log so far this week, including a decent little ladder speed workout this morning. Both knees and my right hip are a little cranky, but, especially my knees, it’s all just enough to be annoying.

And the solution to those annoyances is pretty simple: Proper warmup, stretch, roll, actually do my physical therapy on a regular basis. I’m 46 and a little bit broken, the days of rolling out of bed and getting in miles are over (they have been for quite a while, actually). Leaving the house and running, then walking back in the house after run a sitting down to scroll social media or watch TV is going to cut it.

So, if I’m doing this right, I will post this blog, clear out some space in my room, and go through my physical therapy routine while watching the second half of the Celtics game. Running has been a little bit more fun the last week or so, I’d like to keep that momentum going and not hate every step because my knee hurts or my hip hurts because I’m a lazy turd.

In other words, if I want to enjoy this, I have to stop half-assing it.

Just get started

Getting away from the distractions and just getting to work.

“Mood follows action.”
– Rich Roll

I plugged my hard drive into my computer this weekend and was scrolling through a folder full of running related photos. I flipped through photo after photo from last summer, when I was neck deep into training for the Chicago Marathon. I was a little dinged up at times, but I was as fit as I have been in years and I was motivated to put in the work.

If you have followed this blog at all, you know that I haven’t been motivated this summer. August of 2020 was nothing like August 2019. The numbers say plenty.

• In August 2019, while still working my way back from a strained hip flexor, I ran 171 miles. In August 2020, I ran 100.

• In August 2019, I weighed 165 pounds. In August 2020, I weighed 182. *

* I know the number on the scale isn’t the most important one, but I know from experience that I feel better, both as an athlete and in general, at 165 than I do at 182.

• In August 2019, my longest run was 15 miles. In August 2020, my longest run was 7.5 miles.

I could go deeper, but I don’t have to. The point here isn’t to beat myself, to tell myself how much I suck. What I’m trying to do is remind myself that I can work hard. I haven’t really felt up to it lately, whether that is because I’m worn down by stress or my body is feeling a little beat up or my asthma is on blast (new meds and eliminating some potential food irritants are helping). I just haven’t felt like much of a runner lately.

And I keep searching for motivation to do the work. That is why I was looking through the old photos this weekend, I was trying to remember what it was like to run high (for me) mileage and do hard (for me) workouts. I was trying to get motivated to get back to doing that type of work.

Then it dawned on me: Instead of searching for motivation, instead of waiting for a kick in the ass, how about just giving it a shot. Instead of searching through those old photos to remember the person I was, and feel bad that I am not that person anymore, I should put on my running shoes and get in some miles, or unroll my yoga mat and work on mobility. Instead of waiting for a social media post or a book or a YouTube video to strike me just the right way and motivate me to chase some big, audacious goal, do some physical therapy. Instead of scrolling through Strava bust out a couple pushups.

Instead of waiting for my mood to improve, for my urge to do the work to magically show up, I’ve decided to just get started. Yeah, I put a few time trials on my schedule (5Ks on Oct. 12 and Nov. 8, 4-miler on Thanksgiving morning) and yes, I’m having a training plan written for me, but I’m mostly just going to get started. Rich Roll says, “mood follows action,” so instead of waiting for the right mood, I’m going to try to create it.

I’ve been waiting for motivation long enough. It’s time to go out and create it.

2020: A bad record on repeat

This year has felt like a bit of a broken record when it comes to running. I’ll get into a decent little groove, then the needle will hit a scratch and the record skips, and I’ll fall into a rut. 

My last groove was in July when I ran at least a 5K for 32 straight days. In the 24 days that followed that streak, I have fallen into a rut. I ended the streak with a little bit of hip pain and a little bit of knee pain. My knee pain cleared up pretty quickly, but my hip/adductor is still a little cranky. 

To make matters worse, allergies have flared my asthma and made breathing pretty difficult when I run (and in life in general). That is also a reoccurring theme in 2020. It flared in March when the coronavirus pandemic shut the world down, it flared in June and July, then it really flared again really badly in earlier this month. 

The moral of the story is, 2020 hasn’t been a good year for running. This might be, actually, the worst running year I have had … I don’t know, maybe ever. I’ve had years with more injuries and years with lower mileage totals. I’ve had years where I was slower and years when I was in worse shape. 

But I don’t know if I can remember a year in the 9 1/2 years that I’ve been running when I’ve accomplished less and when I’ve progressed less. I started the year on an upswing, making my way back after a bout with runner’s knee following the Chicago Marathon, but I lost some momentum in May. I got into a good groove in June, running some pretty good Wednesday workouts, then it got hot and I didn’t want to run that much. I started my streak in July, but then I got sore and was just running. Now, I’m not feeling great because of my hip and my asthma, and running really feels like a chore. 

This blog probably sounds like a broken record, too. And not a good one. This is not like listening to “RTJ 4” on repeat, it’s more like listening to “Cool as Ice” on repeat (high school was lame AF). That’s life and that’s running right now: A broken record.

Will I snap out of this funk for good or at least for more than a couple of weeks? I don’t know. Maybe, if I get my asthma under control (I have my yearly physical Wednesday, hopefully we can really start to address this) and I can get my hip/adductor to stop being a nuisance (I did last summer, no reason I can’t do it now with a little hard work). 

I’d like to think something will spark me, something will change and I’ll slide into a groove. I was hoping signing up for a virtual 5K, knowing I’d basically be time trailing, would get my going, but my asthma doesn’t give a shit about a virtual 5K (or a real one for that matter). 

Years are just things to fill out a calendar, they don’t really mean anything, but those calendars help set goals and measure accomplishments. My calendar is pretty freakin’ empty right now. There is still a little more than four months left to the year. Maybe I’ll get my shit together and start doing the work to become the runner I want to be, or at least the runner I was last year. Maybe I won’t. 

Maybe this year is just a broken record. 

Not feeling it

IMG_0890Maybe streaking wasn’t such a good idea.

I’m sitting in bed on Sunday morning, watching TV and tapping away on my laptop, when I feel like I should be out getting some miles in. The more I sit here, though, the more I remember how bad running has felt this week and I think maybe I’ll just skip it.

Last Saturday, I took my first rest day after 32 days of running at least a 5K every day. I was grateful for the streak, that it kept me getting out the door and getting in miles, that I proved to myself I could stick with a routine and accomplish a goal.

However by the end of the streak, I was starting to feel a little bit beat up. Looking back at my log, my left knee was starting to bother me two weeks ago and my right hip has been cranky for a week or so.

I’m honestly a little discouraged because I just want to run and train, and feel good while doing it.

If I’m being REALLY honest though, I’m feeling this way because I got lazy and didn’t take care of myself. It’s not really because I went on a run streak that my knee is sore and my hip is barking, it is because I went on a run streak AND I didn’t do anything else. I stopped doing my physical therapy. I didn’t properly stretch or roll after my run. I spent too much time sitting in bed watching TV or in my office chair at the dining room table while working from home.

These are lessons that keep getting pounded into my head and one of these days I’ll actually learn them.

In the grand scheme of this, none of this is a big deal. If I want to take a few days off to reset and let things calm down, well there are no real races in my future, so why not rest? And, while running is important to me and I like to push myself toward accomplishing a goal, it’s just running. If I’m dinged up and it’s not fun, why bother? Take a few days to feel better and actually enjoy it.

I’m not mad that I went on that running streak, I mad that I wasn’t smarter while doing it. I’m annoyed that I’m not training, that I’m not out there crushing miles and hammering workouts.

That’s 2020, I guess. I was making really good progress in building back after Chicago and the knee problems that slowed me down until quarantine/stay-at-home/work-from-home happened. When my routines were shattered by the pandemic, and when the stress of the whole thing started to wear on me, that momentum was blown to bits. It’s an excuse to blame it on the pandemic, but that’s my reality. The gym closed and I had an excuse to skip physical therapy (the gym is open now, but I’m not comfortable going back yet. Don’t judge me). My training classes was put on hold and I no longer had a group to run with, to hold me accountable. My physical therapy appointments were canceled and I lost access to the professionals helping keep my healthy. I haven’t been productive during this time of quarantine and that has impacted my ability to enjoy training.

It’s OK, just a reminder to take care of myself. It happened last summer when I tweaked my hip flexor during marathon training and, with a little help, I got back on track and had one of the best training blocks of my life. The key is to remember what I did to stay healthy during that block and embrace it.

Because doing all of that hard work last summer was a lot of fun and the way I feel right now isn’t. If running isn’t any fun, then what’s the point.

Lessons learned during a streak

IMG_0866When I finally looked at my watch this morning, after ignoring it for a couple hours in my insomnia induced fog, my first through was that I needed to get a move on because it was already 8:30. If I waited much longer to run it was going to be super hot.

Then I remembered I was not running today.

After 32 consecutive days of running at least a 5K, I took a necessary rest day. I could have jogged a few miles today to keep my streak alive, but my goal was to run every day in July and I accomplished that. The small little aches in my hip and my knees would be much happier with a rest day, then my mind would be if I jogged for half an hour.

That’s right, I didn’t jinx it with my last post when I still had two days left to reach my goal. I ran a solid 6 1/2 miles on Thursday, then slogged my way through 3.2 miles for Day 32 on Friday. That last run was a slog. I was tired, my legs were heavy and feeling a little creaky. It was a good call to take a rest day today.

I am really happy I decided to try that streak. Finishing it gave me a sense of accomplishment that has been missing most of the year. I haven’t even run a virtual race since April, so to have something to push me out the door every day was something I am grateful for.

And I learned a few lessons along the way:

  1. I can run every day if I want to. I’ve always enjoyed my rest days and still feel like they are important, but if I am hoping to add on miles, or just want to  jog with a friend on what is supposed to be a rest day, I can handle the extra mileage.
  2. However, if I am going to streak, I can’t let it be the reason for bad habits. In the first two weeks of this streak, I was on a roll with physical therapy and stretching. Then it got super hot and I got super tired, and basically all I did was run. My hip and my knees did not appreciate that. If I want to run well and enjoy it, I need to do all the extra stuff.
  3. I like to do speed work and I like to train for races. When I started this streak, I kept doing speed work on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Eventually, I decided to finish my streak without feeling like total garbage, and without potentially injuring myself, and ditched the speed work. I thinking stopping the fast stuff was the right call, but I missed those Wednesday and Sunday workouts.
  4. It is OK to just do whatever and not be so married to a training plan. I usually do a better job of staying on track when I have a plan to follow while training for a race. During my streak I tried to stay on a plan to start but eventually allowed myself to do whatever I wanted. If I felt like going longer or faster on a certain day, I would. If I wanted to take it easy and head into the trails so I would push it, I would. If I didn’t really feel like running, I would get to 3.1 miles and if that was it, I would stop and walk home with my mission accomplished.

I’m not planning another streak anytime soon but I probably will give it another whirl at some point. And if I do, I will try to remember to re-read this blog and remember the lessons I learned in July.

And maybe I’ll pick a month that isn’t surface of the sun hot.