My idea of vacation typically involves a relaxing tropical locale, complete with an umbrella-adorned cocktail. But my most recent “vacation” was really a whirlwind weekend that involved running 20 miles in 24 hours; eating a sophisticated diet of peanut butter, bananas, and Powerbar gels; sleeping in a less-than-spacious 15-passenger van; and rising to a ripe body odor wake-up call.
No, I'm not crazy. I'm just a runner.
And last weekend I competed in the relay race through New Hampshire known as Reach the Beach, a 200-plus-mile road race starting in the New Hampshire mountains, spreading out through the beautiful countryside, and eventually finishing at Hampton Beach. Approximately 300 teams of 12 arguably insane/masochistic runners compete, with each team dividing into two vans to complete 36 separate legs, or three per runner.
Team Big Booty Ho greeted me (the newest member) with open arms and a contagious can-do spirit. The team was a group of mid-20 and 30-year old professionalsa mix of former athletes, road runners, and even those who preferred not to run and trained only two months of the year for that particular race.
While there were times during my three legs that I wanted to stop, lie down in the middle of the road, and scream “mercy” with my last panting breaths, I came away from this “vacation” relaxed, rejuvenated, and wanting more. But even if you dont have the time or endurance to trek through New Hampshire, there are a few quick ways you can take a vacation from your dull workout routine and embrace a new challenge.
Never underestimate the value of a team. I havent been part of a team since I played high school basketball, and I forgot how much easier it is to push your body to the limit when you know you have people counting on you. If I even thought about walking, Id have to answer to 11 teammates, screaming out the window of our van. On the flip side, my team would also schedule stops during my long runs to pull off on the side of the road, play music, cheer me on, and encourage me to chase a group of particularly obnoxious caped runners. I couldnt help but lift my legs and push through whatever pain I was feeling. When one of our teammates was injured and couldnt compete his last leg, there were a number of runners who didnt hesitate to volunteer to add an extra run, sacrificing heavy legs for the satisfaction of completing what we started.
Being strong mentally is just as important as being in shape. When I saw my legs were 3.88, 8.25, and then 8.5 miles, I wanted to wave a white flag then and there. I wasnt sure my body could take 20 miles in 24 hours, so I tried to focus on the task at hand. Convincing myself I was, in fact, strong enough made these runs completely doable. I would tell myself, Just go slow, take in the scenery, and enjoy yourself. In moments of desperation, Id break down and hum a little Lady Gaga, but keeping my focus on enjoying the moment allowed me to finish strong, still making my goal of eight-minute miles.
Get inspired. One of my legs was a night run at 11 p.m., and I had a pit in my stomach just thinking about running eight-plus miles in the dark sans iPod (iPods were deemed illegal by the race committee). However, once I started running in the pitch black, with only a headlamp to illuminate the path, the lakes, rolling hills, and blanket of stars surrounding me were infinitely more inspiring than my "Move Your Booty" playlist. Since then, Ive been taking runs without my iPod, and you wouldnt believe the great thinking I get done in just 45 minutes.
Give your routine a kick start. Prior to Reach the Beach, I was in the ultimate workout rut. My weekly routine consisted of five uninspiring calorie-burning sessions: three runs coupled with spinning classes or cross-training sessions. However, after pushing my body to the limits (thank you, huge hill at mile 7 of my last run) and feeling a well-deserved soreness for two days post-race, I realized that I have to challenge myself to see any results. For those of you stuck in a fitness rut, try taking on a challenge to jump-start your fitness, whether its a new class, a road race, or even a great hike.
So with equal parts enthusiasm and dread, I'm ready to make this run an annual "vacation." Reach the Beach 2010 better bring it!