I consider myself one of those people who have been running her whole life: running around the neighborhood, joining in every sport available, I was the pipsqueak girl who always got the #1 jersey because I was the smallest. Being small and determined has its advantages since you tend to be underestimated.
I don't think I have the inherent muscle fiber makeup, nor VO2 max to be an elite athlete, but I think having practiced the running form for so long without injury is testament to having developed naturally good form. Now I'm pretty sure 90% of my youthful time outside in the Wisconsin was spent barefoot or in flip flops, besides wintertime of course. In fact, I recall my very first pair of running shoes were donated to me by a local running store owner who saw me slip-sliding around the church gymnasium floor on worn out hand me down sneakers.
When I started running track in 8th grade and throughout high school, I certainly did not get a cushy new pair of shoes every year like other teammates running distance. I ran the 100 yd and 300 yd hurdles in racing flats. The fastest 4 x 400 yd leg I recall running was 69 seconds most likely in 3rd position of the relay.
I tried running XC, but did not have the stamina, endurance or speed for it, considering I rarely ran more than 2 miles at a time. I never did get to race at my peak during senior year because I used a hurdling shoulder injury as my excuse to go out for the HS musical instead.
In 1992, my first year out of HS and not running for the first time in my life, I actually did put on 15 lbs as a freshman at UW Madison, mind you I now weighed 115 lbs and could actually give blood/plasma for the first time. My 2nd year I took a marathon training course through the Kinesiology dept, and started doing distance runs along the lake for fun and stress relief, and I loved it.
I surprised myself by medaling in my first road race ever, a 5k in 23:17 at age 19. I then ran my first 20 mile race the next year in 2:56 and finally found the time to train again during grad school (UW Institute for Environmental Studies) for my first full marathon at age 25 in 1999, which I completed in 4:04 (Disney).
I liked taking a year off of serious training to then go for another marathon in 2001 with a time of 3:55 (San Diego RNR), and then my last marathon was in 2003 with a time of 3:48 (Tucson). This time was 3 mins shy of qualifying for Boston, but by this time I had discovered yoga and was heavily into rock climbing every weekend with my newly wedded husband. I was working at a resort in Tucson as a systems analyst which even allowed time for us to start a shotokan karate club which he co-taught and I progressed from white to purple belt.
By 2005, my marathon running interest had waned, though I would still run on occasion with no issues, considering my overall fitness was the highest it had ever been. I did slow down once I started showing with baby #1 in 2005. We then moved to the bay area for his job, and baby #2 came along just 19 months later in 2007. Baby #3 arrived 14 months after that in 2008. All three babies came through with uncomplicated, drug-free natural births. Each time I started running again around 6 months post-partem, my lactating all but shut down, no surprise as my weight would go back from 135 to 110 lbs.
In 2009 with an almost 1 year old baby, I started running and racing again and surprised myself by placing in some of the smaller races. I discovered I could sign up for half marathons and with a very loose training schedule, still run them every other month, and feel great with little to no recovery period. This seemed to fit in well with my lifestyle and balancing my husbands workout schedule on his road bike.
Only now in 2010 is the competitive urge starting to tug at the back of my mind again. I'm entering 1-3 races a month. I ran 4 half marathons last year. I'm starting to place and bring my pace back down to the 8 and 7:30 min/miles I was running when I was 20. The more I hear and read about running ultras, and elite marathoners at age 37 running a 2:30 in the olympics, the more inspired I've become (even dabbling with the thought of triathalons).
As prep for a presentation given at Zombie Runner with olympian Magda Lewy-Boulet, I decided to put on the Vibram five fingers my sister gave me and see how it would feel to run a mile in them on the track after a couple laps of warm up. I had just run 6 miles each of the previous two days at a 7:18 and 7:30 pace without soreness, so I really didn't see how one mile at that pace would be a problem.
Well, the 12 step program to running barefoot or "minimal" handout that I received from runningquest.com came a day too late, as I realized I had skipped up to step/week 8 and foolishly ran a tempo 7:13 mile in them. My calves felt tight in the last lap, and the next day I was hobbling around with really sore calves. Granted, it feels like a good soreness, as if I did too many calf raises, not like I injured them. In fact, I'm excited that such a seemingly simple alteration of my running style for such a short distance can make such a big difference in muscle utilization.
I had just finished reading Born to Run and I had started to feel like my right plantar's was tight and inflamed after my last road race, so I didn't think it would hurt to try something that everyone seems to be talking about. I'm giving the legs a rest now so that I'll be able to run a good 6 mile race in few days. That will be 5 days post-Vibram fiasco.
Vibram, by the way, makes Chaco sandals, which I love and have been wearing continuously since 2003 when I'm not barefoot, or exercising in my running shoes. It's also interesting that I feel much less pain if I wear heels, or walk on my toes, or even jog and play tennis. I guess I'm engaging my plantars/achilles/calves/lower leg more when I do that and feeling the tautness does give a springy sensation to my stride. I would have thought all my time spent in climbing shoes would have built up those same areas, but then again I haven't been climbing regularly of late.
I plan to order ChiRunning and Running with the Whole Body to research this more. I would like to incorporate the mid-forefoot strides more during interval training to increase my strength and speed. I think I already have good posture so I won't mess with that except to be more aware of my stride length/turnover/body alignment. I'm hoping this might even help my husband who stopped running due to back pain and is now in the market for a pair of five fingers. It's expensive to experiment with these new minimal shoes, so that's the next step, as I don't see liking the feel of the five fingers on trails, not to mention my longer 2nd toe : )
Last but not least, as to the Why of why I run, I enjoy the free feeling of being a force of nature, creating my own wind, controlling my breath and heart-rate, relaxing into the meditative spell of being your own locomotion, feeling my muscles work, then settle into a natural pace that becomes almost effortless and peaceful. I can cover more ground and see more nature when I'm on a trail, and when I finish after an hour or so I feel energized, like I could start all over again, at least in my mind. So it's that mind-body connection that I only feel when I'm really exerting myself that can be euphoric. It's an intoxicating drug, those endorphins and adrenaline.
Now all that does not necessarily paint the same stage as what you have with a marathon. I think I ran marathons for the discipline they require to continue to train. It is somewhat contrived motivation to put yourself on a training schedule because you paid for a bib. Whereas my running now is more of my escape to take time for myself and I think that it will more naturally evolve into keeping up a continuous regimen of increased mileage and longer races, time permitting of course. Being a stay at home mom certainly has some advantages, in that I have less to juggle than if I were working with 3 young children. But if that changes, I know I will still need to make time for the endeavors that I call my own because it seems the more energy I put into my day, the more I get out of it.