Did You Keep Running in 2020?
I did plenty of running in 2020. You just couldn't see me.
While I didn't stop running – in fact, I think I ran more mileage last year than any other year – I did disappear from social media. It was almost 17 months, I believe. And I realized after very recently starting to put up some Instagram posts again, that if you're gone from social media, the world assumes you no longer exist.
I don't know of a single person who could say 2020 didn't happen to them. If anyone tries that line with me, it's proof they are liars. It knocked the wind out of the plans of the toughest of the tough. Some found a way to use the challenge to refine their coal to diamonds. Others went through the pressure cooker and need a bit of tlc from the rest of us.
Although most of us didn't get to do the things we planned, almost everyone I know did a lot of things that weren't on the agenda. I probably achieved more last year than any other year in decades. Yet there were still those phases where it felt like if it wasn't on the original 2020 to-do list, it didn't count.
A year of getting really busy, yet not feeling like anything got done.
Oh, who else was amused at the irony that the sudden disappearance of toilet paper from the planet coincided with a time when people who didn't cook suddenly had make their own meals?
No normal people evaded the wrath of 2020. We had our share.
Our daughter was a senior last year. Like thousands of other Seniors, there was no prom, no celebrations, no goodbye to friends and “Graduation” was casually referred to by her classmates as “Certificate Pickup”. Many didn't bother to show up and opted to have theirs mailed to them.
My parents didn't get to visit as planned. We only get to see them every few years. We are still waiting.
And we lost our beloved Milo the Labrador to a sudden and unexpected bacterial infection. He was the goofy, happy furry friend who featured as an adored star on my Instagram feed. He was bouncing around as his usual silly self and two days later he was gone. Of all the things that happened last year, that was the most devastating for all of us. He left a big void in our lives and we still feel it daily.
Still, compared to so many, we came out of the awful year looking pretty good. For a start, we didn't lose any family members, or our home.
I slowed my world down. And filled it up.
It was also a record year for learning new skills for me. That wasn't the intention; it started out as a way of trying to keep my head away from the news and all the chaos and negativity.
I learned to grow things and planted my first garden. My husband bought me a woodburning tool and I learned how to play with that. I restocked my paper supply and got into making cards and other crafts, dabbled with some painting and I mastered a slew of new recipes.
I started sending mail. Real mail. Like the things you put in your mailbox that actually go to someone else; literally person to person connection. I'm older so it's not like it's a completely foreign concept to me, but there is something about sitting down and handwriting letters and cards to people. The greatest gift was realizing how much they appreciate it.
My parents and many older relatives were completely locked down in isolation. Getting phone calls and handwritten cards every week means so much to them. Especially in a lonely, isolated world of texts and emails, unable to leave their homes. I decided to continue with this. People are more important than chores and my priorities took a major shift in the last year.
Suddenly so many of those must-do things I used to stress about seem very unimportant.
But What about the RUNNING?
The weirdest thing! So, I stopped posting on social media. When I posted again this month after the lengthy hiatus, so many people said how glad they were to see that I was running again. Assumption is a funny thing in today's world. If there ain't pics, it didn't happen. Only now it's true, for real. The truth is, I never stopped running. I just stopped talking about it.
I really was running in 2020!
I unplugged from electronics in November of 2019 simply because I had so much on my plate and couldn't keep up with anything that wasn't essential. Once I removed all the social media apps from my phone and logged out of my accounts it was amazing how much extra time I had. In fact, it was a kind of scary wake-up call. We live in an era where everyone is suffering from stress and struggling to fit things into a day. Instead of sending out general updates to all and sundry in one quick post, I enjoyed phone calls with close friends. In fact, a couple were not that close – but we are now. The personal connection has healing and uplifting properties, from my experience. It all feels impossible to cram people into a busy day. Until it isn't.
February Marathon was a No Show
My flights, hotel and registration were all set for the RNR Marathon in New Orleans in February last year. Five days before the race I was cleaning the driveway with the pressure washer and clipped the top of my bare foot. Yeah, I know, I'm always bare foot. You can say whatever you like. The short story: you could see the bone from the second metatarsal. Are you still sorry there are no photos? Thought not.
Obviously I couldn't get a shoe on and if you've been to New Orleans and seen the state of the roads, you'll know that a barefoot marathon on that course is not ideal. Let's just say this was my most idle taper week for a race I wasn't going to run! I'm not sure what side of the disappointment was greater – missing the race or missing my annual visit.
I swear I have nothing against my left foot. In 2018 I did something stupid while kickboxing and broke two of the metatarsals. Same foot got hit by the jet of water. I take care of it now!
Chased Up The No Show with a DNF
A couple of weeks after the pressure washer incident, my foot was suitably healed that I could run on it again. I spotted an ad for a trail ultra a few hours away the following weekend and signed up, rather impulsively. It was a cold morning at the start line. Temperatures hovered around 40F. The forecast also warned of clear sunny skies and mid 70's by lunch time, so I had to put my layering skills to the test.
I'm not used to packing a ton of stuff like this. I like to head out for my runs with as little on me as possible. I'm thankful for drop bags!
It was a beautiful day and the company was great. Everyone was so chilled out and social and as my experience with my few trail races taught me, the aid station volunteers were one of the highlights of the event. The course wasn't too technical, aside from a few miles of sugar sand. Because it was a multiple loop race, that meant a repeat of this section. The first round wasn't too bad. I think it rained a day or so before and it was reasonably compact. Aside from where the runners ahead of me scuffed it up. Still not as bad as I expected.
Somewhere around Mile 40 I hit the sand for a second round. And the last! It was hot, the sand was dry and loose and countless pairs of feet crossed over and scuffed it around over the hours since the race started. I rolled my ankle. Yes, it was the left foot again!
So Close, Yet So Far
I was determined to push through and hobble it out, stumbling several times. Runners were few and far between. Not a soul in sight. Some fresh bear tracks; but no people.
I convinced myself I could make a few more miles. Just keep moving. My watch indicated a 40 minute per mile pace. In other words, I could barely stand on it and attempted to hop on my good foot. That proved a tricky thing on the soft, uneven sand. At 46 miles, watching my ankle and calf nearing double its usual size, I waved my white flag. I could literally no longer move forward and I put in my call for help (rescue!).
Strangely, I was absolutely thrilled with my race experience. I realized that I have it in me to complete 50 miles. Aside from the swollen ankle and calf, I really didn't feel bad at all. It was also a distance record for me, adding 11 miles to my previous longest run.
I met some wonderful people and learned more than I imagined about strategies and generally how these races work. One of the biggest take-aways, and I'm not sure it's something I want or need to change, was how much time I spend at aid stations. I could tell the people who knew the drill. They went in, got what they needed and moved along. I took my time and enjoyed the conversation with volunteers and anyone else who happened to be around. If I ever worry about time cut-offs, this is one place I know that I ‘waste' a bunch of time. In the absence of cut off times, I view it as an investment. It's why I sign up for races.
It was a great training long run for my March marathons. I had one trail and one road marathon, a week apart and a couple of 50K's in April and May.
Then The Earth Stood Still
And so the year of races came to an abrupt halt. I got the cancellation notice a week out from the road marathon. The trail race was set to go ahead the following week, so I just carried on training. A few days out from that race, all permits were revoked and they gave us an option to defer or hold off for a reschedule. I held my registration.
I don't need to explain the rest. The same happened for everyone. No races.
In Florida, we had the first two weeks, somewhere in mid-March with everyone (almost) at home. It was kind of creepy and surreal running with no traffic in sight. It's an eerie feeling when the sun is up and there's not a car or human. Even weekend mornings aren't like this at sunrise.
The plus side in the first couple of weeks was getting to run in the middle of roads worthy of a death wish even getting close to the verge on a normal day. I enjoyed sharing my space with the ducks and birds.
The Virtual Stuff
I don't do virtual races. While I completely see why so many people love them, they just don't check any of my boxes.
I run alone. Every day, six days a week. Why in the world would I pay to run the same old thing? I love my medals. But not THAT much!
Then the race organizer for the trail marathon that was postponed set up a virtual race. Only this one let you pick a challenge that you completed over a number of weeks. I really wanted to support them and felt bad that they made so much effort (and they really do for all their races) so I signed up. With a daily task, and a finite period of time so it didn't feel endless, it turned out a very effective way to keep me running.
These guys are pretty cool. They allowed so much flexibility to do more, if you so desired. There was nothing stopping you running additional miles and logging them. They didn't count for anything in the race itself, but many participants took this option. Including me. Somehow it created a sense of community by participating. It gave me a purpose of sorts.
There was a sense of accountability as I uploaded my daily miles. I was happy.
Then it ended. The medal and shirt arrived. So did the discouragement. And a sense of lost purpose.
It felt like a waste of half a year of continuous long runs and high mileage, every time working towards the ‘next race' and none of them were happening. I took a week off and toyed with the idea of using running as a supplemental cardio workout and focusing on some muscle gain. Long distance and building muscle are a tough pair to mix. One of them always has to give and in the circumstances, this was a good time to take a break from continuous training in running and shift my focus for a season.
It was time to dust off the weights, hang the TRX and haul out the resistance bands.
Then the email Came in and Everything Changed
I was sitting on the couch with a beer, feeling excited about my new challenge. I loved how I felt when I was focused primarily on strength and building lean muscle. The shift in focus was a welcome distraction from what I perceived I was missing with the uncertainty of if, when, how and what races would take place any time soon.
While scrolling through some old strength workouts on my phone, an email banner popped up. I ignore these when I'm doing something, unless it's important. The sender got my attention. It was the same guys who put on the previous virtual race/challenge – the one I completed a couple of weeks prior. And now they had a new one.
I don't need the distraction of a virtual race. In fact, it was the last thing I needed if I had to focus on my new strength program. But I'm nosy and I had to read it.
This time they upped the stakes. Similar to the last one, you got to pick your challenge level. The ‘heaviest' category was 157 miles. You had six weeks to do it. I closed the email and went back to my strength stuff. If I wanted to, I could complete that challenge in two weeks. I mean, if I really committed to it.
Nope. Stay focused. We are doing strength.
A little while later, still browsing through the equipment I had to get out, my husband casually asked me if I was limited to the numbers they set out on the challenge or if I could set my own goal.
“I don't know. I guess you can do whatever you like. There's no credit for more, but I suppose if you want to you can make it into whatever you like. Why?”
“Just wondered,” he replied and carried on watching his show on TV.
Can you smell the smoke from the burning cogs in my head? I pretended to ignore the casual remark, but I couldn't. What if I shoot for 100 miles a week? For six weeks? And what if I don't tell anyone what my goal is?
The Best Stupid Idea Is Born
Someone said something to me once that stuck.
If you know the outcome of the challenge when you start, is it really a challenge?
I had to set a goal where there was a significant risk of failure. I'm more about the journey than the destination. There's not a right or wrong way to approach this. For me it shifted. Until about 10 years ago I was totally about the goal and much of the journey was in inconvenient chore. Don't get me wrong – I wouldn't set a goal if I didn't want it. And it has to be hard to keep me focused. Mileage like this is more than I ever ran for one week, let alone six. And life has a way of stopping you from finishing stuff you shouldn't do. Also, there was always the strength stuff to fall back on and a part of me was torn about letting it slide. I kind of wanted something different.
Besides, who doesn't want to hit up the asphalt for something like this in the middle of June in Florida?
I signed up. Anyone else get that “What have I done?” feeling as soon as the confirmation email comes in? Me neither. The delayed reaction normally hits me when I have my first tough run and wonder what I was thinking committing to something I can't do!
Did it happen to me or did it happen for me?
Both, really. Mostly, it happened because of me – my decision to try something uncomfortable. The strange thing about trying something new is it's always so uncomfortable when you start. It doesn't take long to become your comfort zone. We are usually comfortable with anything familiar.
Something to think about…
I learned a LOT during that challenge. All of it was valuable I also learned that it wasn't as hard as I thought, yet some days were more difficult than I imagined. I loved it and hated it, depending on the day. There were phases where I just wanted it to end and others that left me wishing it wouldn't. Most days I loved it.
The biggest struggle wasn't physiological. It was breaking the old thought processes and ‘rules of running' embedded in me.
My body changed, my eating habits evolved, sleep cycles changed. Suddenly 10 pm was a late night and a 6 am alarm counted as a lie-in. Most importantly though, I had a sense of self-imposed purpose for every single day.
Because the experience is so specific to running and this is more of a relaxed catch-up, I have a separate blog post on the details of the process and effects. You can find it HERE.
Or, if you are simply curious about what I did during my social silence, this post pretty much sums it up. I completed the challenge.
So, What Next?
Nearing the end of my crazy 100's of miles challenge, there was a worry in the back of my mind about how to maintain my motivation. You know what it's like at the end of a high, right? Big crash. It was inevitable if I didn't find something to plug the inevitable void that would follow.
The solution? Another challenge.
I wanted something differently structured, but loving my long runs, I kind of wanted to hang onto the endurance I built up. So I signed up for something else. This wasn't daily running. At least, you didn't have to run daily. I liked the idea of a day off here and there.
I chose an eight week virtual race that consisted of a 100 mile race (which you could break up into five runs – I think it was five), a 50 mile distance, broken into a maximum of three runs, a marathon and a half marathon (the last two were single runs and you had to complete each of those in one continuous run).
I hated it. And by October, I didn't like running anymore.
What Went Wrong? It Should Have Been so Easy
Sometimes the key points aren't in the headlines. They're in the details.
First of all, I used pure logic to evaluate a situation that also had strong emotional and social elements.
This was my logic:
- After six weeks of daily long distance runs and a hefty mileage, the structure of the challenge did not feel daunting at all.
- I had a solid routine and felt comfortable with it. And I could take a day off.
- A new challenge allowed me to keep up the endurance I built, while offering a fresh approach to it. In other words, fill the void before it became problematic.
- The swag was pretty sweet and the guys who put on this race are awesome.
Sounds sensible, doesn't it? Unfortunately I completely overlooked the real issues going on.
I've always enjoyed the training more than the race itself. The previous two challenges were basically daily training with accountability. There was a sense of daily responsibility and connection. I even took photos to submit and visited the event Facebook group to see what everyone else was doing.
And I missed that. Suddenly, these runs felt like races. Only I was alone.
I missed the daily check-ins and uploading my Garmin stats and taking some photos. That made me feel more connected in a world where (partly self imposed – at least on the social media side) I was completely detached.
You Know Yourself
Once I've built momentum, I quickly adapt to a routine and I like that. I feel secure in a routine. Most of us do. It also gives a feeling of some level of control. This was really just ten long runs, totally solo and over the space of eight weeks. There was no rhythm to it.
I'll be very clear here. None of these issues had anything to do with the virtual event itself, the organizers or any aspect on their side. It was put together well, communication was great, they sent out the medals and swag promptly and communicated thoroughly. They also responded almost immediately any time I had a question or needed clarification. If I did this with someone, the experience would have been very different for me.
I completed the challenge by attacking each run as a chore. The days in between, which made up the vast majority of the two months, were a blur. Some days I ran. Some days I didn't. When I did, it didn't matter how far I went, because I didn't care. Since the runs I had to do were mostly longer than my daily distance in the previous challenge, there was no incentive (and almost a sense of caution) not to over do it in between.
Structure went out the window. Any hope of ‘normal race environments' making a comeback before the end of the year vaporized. It got hard to just run for the love of running without getting irritated at the ‘wasted' training and false hopes for the first six months. I was kind of over it.
Exertion is Multi-Faceted
Change is an odd beast. Whether negative or positive, it only truly manifests its effects much further down the line. It's hard to believe I'm the only one who locked into the natural instinct to survive what last year threw at us by looking for ways to ‘be better' and ‘do better'. Both are valuable and arguably indispensable tools for survival in a crisis or trial.
The welcome distraction can also blindside you from some of the bigger voids; the ones you don't feel initially and by the time their impact grows, your head is locked into whatever your new adventure is. So they don't get addressed. Or even recognized.
I miss seeing people and engaging in person with them. In 2019 I did a lot more races than I usually do, traveled a lot, met up in person with many amazing people I ‘met' on social media or through other runners. That was a year when my social connections really expanded. I was working in a kickboxing gym so there were other trainers and coaches there and a constant stream of clients. Suddenly, that was all gone.
It's not easy and in many ways not possible to change everything that went against my wishes. However, I find some comfort in knowing what the hardest aspects are and were for me to deal with last year. That helps me not to blame running, recovery and other fitness related things for stuff that happened that I can't control.
Will I continue to Post on Instagram?
For now, yes. And I don't have any plans to disappear again. As far as other platforms go, like Twitter and Facebook, it's extremely unlikely. I decided to pick one thing and I chose the one where I enjoy the interaction most. My intention though is to put more posts up on this blog. It was one of my grieving points last year. I love writing here and the blog pretty much died for over two years because I managed to get my life so busy!
If you're looking for me on Instagram, it's a bit confusing as I have two accounts. The account that should logically go with this blog, @carefreerunner was created some time after I started posting on my @lee_beem account. Apparently moving things over was not an option and all my followers were already there. (I don't have many, but I love them!)
While I used to double post and cross post, right now I'm only managing one so if you want up to date pictures and stories, go with the @lee_beem one.
As for running, I don't imagine I'll stop that for as long as I can physically keep it up. I expect that is a long time from now.
I'm not getting rid of any of the wonderful things I added into my life last year. After completing my coaching certification last year, I'm working on the next one so my days have some forced structure, which is a good thing. Now I make time to spend in my little garden, taking some photos, painting and writing letters and whatever else I feel like doing.
My takeaway from 2020? There were so many time-sucks in my life that I thought were non-optional and really important. Whether they were taken without my consent or I ditched them voluntarily or out of sheer frustration, very few of them seem the slightest bit important now. When things are stripped down to the bare studs, you find the things that really matter; the ones that count. I got a harsh reminder that these gems are rarely the things you stress over when life is busy. They are usually those we take for granted and push aside because they'll always be there. Will they really?
Make time for yourself and the things and people you love.
No matter what is on the agenda for the day, go out there and be awesome today. It's your job!