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This Is My Brain On A 20-Mile Run

Michelle has a lot of time to think while on her 20-mile training runs.

When you start a marathon training cycle, the 20-mile runs seem so daunting and so, well, looooooong. But then you do a 15-miler, and a 17-miler, and you think 'what's a few more miles?' I've actually found myself thinking, at the 5-mile point - 'hey - only 15 more miles to go!'

That's where I am now, with my first two 20-milers under my belt. The first one was amazing - one of the greatest 20-mile runs I've ever had. The second one, run this past Saturday, wasn't quite as spectacular, but it was definitely overall one of the good ones.

It did not start out very auspiciously, though. The temperature was around 11 degrees when I left my house, and with two pairs of gloves on, I thought I'd be fine. I was wrong.

About 3/4 of a mile away from my house, I had to turn around and head back - my hands were so cold they actually hurt and there was no way I was going to make it another 19.25 miles without better gloves. I barely made it the .75 miles back to my house! 

I grabbed what I think of as my space-man gloves - huge, thick, fleece, Thinsulate-lined ones that remind me of the gloves that are part of a spacesuit - and stayed inside just long enough to regain feeling in my digits.

The spaceman gloves did the trick. It was a little awkward carrying my handheld water bottle with them on, but my hands were warm, so I made it work - and my fingers were so much happier.

This was a solo run for me - our schedule last weekend just didn't allow me to meet up with friends - but I wasn't dreading it. I've done plenty of solo 20-milers, so I know what it's like, and my brain does a very good job of entertaining me.

I had my phone, so could have listened to music, but opted not to. I really have turned into an anti-music runner, and the few occasions where I do turn it on while running, I usually only want to hear a couple of songs, and then it starts to annoy me. So strange, from the person who used to spend hours crafting the perfect playlists for races and training runs.

But not this time. This one was just me, the squeak of my shoes in the snow, and the sloshing of the ice that was forming in my water bottle as I ran (it was that cold). And that was ok.

As the miles ticked by, I thought about so many things. I thought about Boston, of course. And I thought about Gansett, as I was running along parts of the course as I meandered through town; and as I ate my Gu, which was nearly frozen solid because it was so ridiculously cold, I thought an awful lot about how I cannot WAIT for spring.

And of course I thought about the boys. I often think about Gabe when I run. I think about all the boys - the hilarious things they do, and how amazing it is that they can alternate from being so crazy and rough and wild to being sweet and innocent and cuddly.

But because we do face a lot of challenges wtih Gabe's ADHD, my thoughts frequently turn to that while I'm out there on the road alone, because that is prime thinking time.

I ponder different solutions we can use at home and at school to help him thrive. I think back to situations that didn't go well, and how I can handle them better the next time. I wonder how he sees me, and how he'll remember his childhood. Will he think I was just a nag, constantly pestering him about what he had to do?  Or will he remember that for all the pestering, there was also a lot of praise and encouragement and hugs and smiles and lots and lots of fun stuff?  I'm sure he'll remember a bit of both, but hopefully more of the latter.

I sometimes think of our situation with him as a constant struggle, but I've been trying to reframe it and think of it more as a work in progress. Trying to be more positive overall. Trying to be less reactive - because he is nothing if not an absolute pro at getting a reaction from me. To say he knows how to push my buttons is a gross understatement.

And I will freely admit that I often overreact. I lose my patience, I get frustrated, I get angry, and more than I like, I yell. It's so easy to tell myself I'm not going to lose it the next time, but then the next time rolls around, and it's EXACTLY like the last time, and the last 100,000 times, and oh my god, we do this every single day and why on EARTH can you not just come upstairs and get ready for school without me having to stand here and supervise every single step of the process??????  Sigh.

But I am making progress, and doing a better job of reminding myself that even though I feel like I should be able to leave him to do those things on his own, the reality is that most of the time, I can't. And accepting that is one of the most important things I've done. It takes the fight out of the situation, which makes everything much more harmonious.

Our mornings are far from blissful (but honestly, if anyone with three small children tells you their mornings are blissful, they're lying), and we still have plenty of mad dashes that are still sometimes punctuated with yelling and frustration, but the conflict is short-lived, and I've also gotten better at removing myself for a minute (taking a time-out, something Carmine has been known to suggest I do), so that I can return calmer and more patient and ready to turn the situation around.

It's a work in progress for sure. And one that will continue to evolve and change and keep me guessing. And one that I'll continue to ponder as I run many more miles in preparation for April 15.

All that thoughtful reflection you have time for when you're running for nearly 3 hours not only gives you better perspective on situations that can be really tricky or challenging when you're faced with them in the moment. As a bonus, it also serves as a great distraction from the fact that you're exhausted, your knees hurt, your feet hurt, everything hurts, and you're hungry and you just want to be home.

Running has taught me so much, but how to persevere has been one of the most valuable lessons. During those last 2 miles of Saturday's run - most of which were slightly uphill - I dug deep to find the energy to keep my feet moving. And it was buried deep inside, but it was there, and I finished with a feeling of tremendous accomplishment.

I got a little boost, too, from a Facebook message that popped up on my phone while I was stopped for a fuel/water/bathroom break on the way back home. I had posted that I was heading out for a 20-miler in 11-degree temps, and a friend commented that "Those are the runs that make you the runner and person you are." So true, and so what I needed to hear at that moment. So if you're reading this, Caroline - thank you!

I'm in the process of training for my 4th marathon, so I've done a lot of 20-milers now, but when it's done, I still spend the rest of the day thinking to myself "oh my god - I can't believe I ran 20 miles this morning."  Whether it goes well or not, it's an incredible athletic achievement, and one to take pride in - more so if it's only one of five times you'll do it over the course of a 4-month training cycle. 

And in running, just as in life, if it's not one of the great ones, you'll have the chance to do it again,  and hopefully make it better the next time.

Two down, three to go. Ten weeks 'til Boston.

For more from Michelle, check out Me and the Boys, her blog, and her Facebook page - For the Love of Running

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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