649.6 miles in 86 hours since September 1st until now. Since September, these neon blue and bright orange Asics have traveled up and down the hills of Temecula, fought for the distance of my first half marathon in Long Beach, pounded the washboard trail to a second place women’s finish in a local 5K, bounced along as I fought for PRs in my training, and have forever become part of the longest and most important journey I will ever take toward full knowledge of myself. Never has a pair of shoes been more significant to me. After a last 5 mile run in them today (and it was beyond time), I am retiring them.

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It is an emotional retirement, moreso than when I retired my first official pair of running shoes, and the what-the-heck-was-I-thinking-running-in-old-shoes pair I first had when I began. I have done more mileage in them than I should have, because I just couldn’t quite part with them yet. Those 86 hours we spent together continued to forge me  in ways I both expected and did not expect: I am even hungrier for reaching my potential now than I was when I first laced them up for their inaugural seven miler.

Eighty-six hours of making my health a priority, so that I can give authentically of myself to others

Eighty-six hours of struggle, bravery, strength, overcoming of pain/frustration, determination

Eighty-six hours of training and disciplining the mind

Eighty-six hours of time to think, to breathe in the glorious sky, to feel like the wind

Eighty-six hours of chasing my freedom and the mirth of being alive

Eighty-six hours of changing seasons

Eighty-six hours of fighting for, and achieving, personal records

Eighty-six hours of generating self-worth

Eighty-six hours of converting stress into patience and mellowness

Eighty-six hours of building confidence

Eighty-six hours of racing to the other side of fear and cultivating true peace

Eighty-six hours of melting fat (my GPS app reports a burn of over 62,000 calories during those 86 hours) and building muscle

Eighty-six hours of enlarging my lungs and strengthening my heart

Eighty-six hours of exploring my city

Eighty-six hours of my favorite music

Eighty-six hours seeing the sunrise (or, on the weekends, the early morning sun)

And eighty-six hours of living fully in the present. My favorite day to run is Sunday, because I am one of the only runners on the road, and the world has a sense of solitariness about it. I often play Roxy Music’s “More Than This” on my long Sunday runs:

I could feel at the time

There was no way of knowing

Fallen leaves in the night

Who can say where they’re blowing

As free as the wind 

And hopefully learning….

More than this, there is nothing

More than this, tell me one thing

More than this, there is nothing

This is our time, right here. We have to leave it all here before we take our final exit. We have to be everything we’re going to be. We have to fight to achieve everything we hope to achieve. The beauty is in being present. Sometimes when I am running, the colors of the world around me fill me with awe, and chills go through my entire body that we are all here, now, able to experience this life. Or I feel my body wake up right as the sun bursts up into our sky. My ragged breath up the toughest hill reminds me of our delicate,  yet hearty, biology, the result of millions of years of adaptations. I am reminded every single day I run—through the sublime and beautiful, through weakness and strength, through pain and endorphins—how glorious we are, how abundant the world, how much more living there is left to do. I feel both my limitlessness and the limited nature of time and flesh. To run, for me, is to cultivate a profound thankfulness for getting to be alive at all and for the time I have left to explore and to keep learning and gaining knowledge.

Those shoes up in that first picture are a symbol of all of that understanding, for me.

Here are my new shoes:

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They take their first trot tomorrow morning, exactly (to the day) 1 year and 8 months since I became a runner. Same style as my blue ones, but I deliberately chose a new color. I had the choice to choose the blue ones again, and boy, was that a moment in the store! Should I? Shouldn’t I? In the end, I chose to keep the blue ones special, not to hang on to the past, and to acknowledge that I was going to be moving on to my next phase in these shoes.

I am now coached fully by my husband. He took a step back for a few weeks in January, letting me go rogue with the Spartan. But from here on out, no more rogue. I see how many gains I can make under his coaching and how I do not reach my goals as quickly when I am training myself. Like I said, I am just getting hungrier for finding my best. He has me cross-training with intervals on the bike a few days a week, in addition to my five runs, and occasionally he sends me to the track. I also weight train and walk with our kiddos. Our bike intervals are 20 seconds of anaerobic sprint with a 10 second rest in between, repeated for several minutes. But as I told him, though, I don’t care what I have to do…I will do it. However early I have to get up, however much I have to feel lactic acid at the track, whatever the distance, the pace…I will do it.

This week on Monday, under his direction, I was able to achieve a 10K at a 7:15 pace, followed the next day by the conquering of a HUGE goal I have had for months. He told me to run 8, having planted it in my head the day before that with a 10K at that pace, I should be able to achieve 8 in an hour or less…which has been a goal for some time. I think he knew when he assigned it that I would absolutely go for it come hell or high-water . He didn’t tell me to aim for an hour or less, but he knew that left to my own devices, I would push extra hard to achieve it that day. He’s got me figured out. On Tuesday, I finally ran 8 miles in 59:31. This included several miles of elevation, stoplights (I don’t have a watch, just a GPS app on my phone, so I never stop time), and two unleashed dogs that chased me across a street. So it was a MAJOR win for me. It is making that 15K race I have in a few weeks look fairly promising, if all goes well.

He had me do a 4-miler yesterday, and a 5-miler today. Tomorrow will be an easy three, Saturday is rest, and Sunday he wants 10. What is funny is that each night when I get my assignment, I have predicted exactly what he is going to say, but left to my own coaching I have a tendency to over-train.

The 8 miles in 59:31 was an over-the-moon morning for me. One of the aspects I love most about running is that it is a sport that completely rewards hard, consistent, and disciplined work and that it has absolutely nothing to do with what other runners are running. It is all about competing with just myself, and I am my own best competitor because I am tough with myself every time. Each personal record/achievement in the past few months has reconnected me with the psychological necessity of goal-setting and attacking those goals. I knew this in high school, and very well, but I guess I grew a bit too content or complacent. I will never forget again that my self-worth (for me) derives completely from challenging myself to become better in all areas of my life. If I am not challenging myself to work my hardest and best, I am not fully me.

Bill found a entry from Facebook that I wrote on June 14, 2012. I was a couple of weeks into my calorie counting life change, and had just completed my first run:

Just ran 1.2 miles in 13:30. Slow and hard, but done. First run/jog I’ve taken in a decade. Very inspired by my dad who recently became a runner. 

Reading that tonight again after being a runner now for one year and eight months, I actually teared up. My pace back then was 11:15 per mile. I remember what a struggle that first run/jog was. I remember how hard it was to breathe. How heavy my legs felt. How impossible it felt to move my extra 60 pounds.

It’s been a long journey.

For the first year of my running, I carried nothing with me. I did not have a smart phone, or any apps, or a watch, or anything like that. I wish I had all of that data now… I have my records starting from June 29, 2013, which is the first run I took after I got my iPhone.

Most of the rest of this post is going to be numbers, just playing fair with you. As a runner I find these numbers fascinating as I look back on my progress, and Bill is the consummate husband because he loves them, too, and every morning listens tirelessly to my splits. Runner talk: the talk of love. Right, honey? I am nothing if not productively obsessed with my running performances, and fortunately I married someone who is equally stoked about numbers, particularly when it comes to anything having to do with track and field/running.

If anything, these numbers show how powerful hard work can be, and  how powerful it is never to give up on yourself. Progress will come if you give your best and push.

July 13, 2013 to August 13, 2013: I ran 117.4 miles that month. It took 17 hours and 33 minutes. My average pace was a 9 minute mile.

August 13, 2013 to September 13, 2013: I ran 122.2 miles in 17 hours and 46 minutes. My average pace was an 8:42 mile.

September 13, 2013 to October 13, 2013: I ran 122.9 miles in 16 hours and 43 minutes. My average pace was an 8:12 mile.

October 13, 2013 to November 13, 2013: I ran 127.0 miles in 17 hours and 10 minutes. My average pace was a 7:54 mile. Finally broke 8:00 m/mi this month!

November 13, 2013 to December 13, 2013: I ran 124.7 miles in 16 hours and 27 minutes. My average pace was a 7:54 mile. No progress in the training pace.

December 13, 2013 to January 13, 2014: I ran 140.6 miles in 18 hours and 10 minutes. My average pace was a 7:48 mile.

January 13, 2014 to February 13, 2014: I ran 117.7 miles in 14 hours and 55 minutes. My training pace was a 7:36 mile.

We’ll see how the rest of this month plays out, but my pace lately has been consistently above a 7:30 in training. My body has certainly grown stronger and better at this sport, but my mind is much more trained, too, at this point. I know a good pace for a run starts in Mile 1. If I wait for my kick at the end, or think too much about the endgame early on, I will be held back. It is this weird (and really cool) duality of being aware of the end of the run and what time I am hoping for (like an hour for 8) but telling the mind to be fully present in the mile I happen to be on and how my body feels striding along. The biggest challenge with running is not psyching out, but giving your best when you can give it with each step.

So goodnight, blue shoes with orange laces. You have changed me. I have changed myself in you. I am partly scared to let you go, not for superstitious reasons, but because it means I am going forward and am not sure what I will find in this new phase of really attacking my sport methodically. I am excited, but nervous, too. The adrenaline is surging. Guess I need my run tomorrow!