marathon, racing, running, training

Moving on: speed focus ends and marathon-training begins

Moving on: the good fun speed work and short race period is coming to an end and it’s time to ramp up the miles.

So, here’s the deal: following the White Rock Dallas Marathon I took a couple weeks very easy. Then I got the flu. Kept running. Got the flu — the for real flu and was in bed for a week. Things got off to a rough start, but sometime in January, I began my training for the May 5 Vancouver Marathon (which also is my spring break and summer vacation rolled into one).

Form Follows Fitness 5k
Form Follows Fitness 5k

I started off, to put it simply, by training for a 5k and training for a 10k.

Until recently, I could not break 20 minutes in a 5k, early in the season I ran a 19:32 on a net downhill course. Two weeks ago I ran a 19:17 at the Form Follows Fitness 5k, which ended with a crazy uphill stretch. This, by the way, was a fun February race through downtown that ended at the aesthetically pleasing Woodall bridge park.

Trinity bridge opened for the Trinity Levee 10k.
Trinity bridge opened for the Trinity Levee 10k.

Last season’s 10k PR, under this same type of training was a satisfying 41:49. Last weekend at the Trinity Levee 10k, my official time was 40:45. Either the course was a bit long or I did a bad job of running tangents, because by my Garmin, my slowest mile was 6:30 and all except one was 6:24-6:26.  Anyway, I plan to run another 10k in a couple of weeks to see if I can break 40, which is the goal.

Early on in this training, end of January, I ran a 1:29:04 at the 3M half marathon. Next month I hope to, and feel that with good weather I can, break 1:28 in the half.

I registered yesterday for the Fairview half marathon.

Here’s what my training looked like leading up to the 5 and 10ks:

Monday: Track — 12x400s or 12×800 or 6×1600, something like that. These are always very tough. Sometimes I don’t sleep Sundays just thinking about how much they hurt.  Like 5:50-minute miles or 82-second 400s. Often I could not hit the prescribed pace, but I tried my damnedest.

Tuesday-Wednesday: 1 hour at 156 heart rate (7:20-8:20 minute mile)

Thursday: speed play — 6 x 6 minutes at a 6:15 pace or something similar

Friday-Sat: 1 hour at 156 heart rate

Sunday: 1 hour at 138 heart rate, a very easy recovery run

No off days.

As I get closer to marathon day, the training will look more like this:

Monday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate in the am/repeat at night

Tuesday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/rest or repeat at night

Wednesday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at goal marathon pace (7:00-7:15), 15-minute cool down or a longer speed workout such as 3×12 minutes at a 6:10 pace

Thursday-Friday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/ repeat at night or rest

Saturday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at goal marathon pace, 15 minute cool down

Sunday: 1-hour run at 138 heart rate/ repeat at night or rest

Note: the longest run I do all season is 2 hours I wrote a separate post to explain that.

My goal for the Vancouver Marathon is something like 3:10.

marathon, training

Marathon training: no traditional long run

The longest run I do all season is 2 hours. Very unconventional for marathon training. Last season many of my running buds were very concerned by my lack of 20-mile runs. But I totally trust The Coach who says that traditional long runs are unnecessary and possibly even counterproductive.

(My coach, Eric Rivas, who bases training in his extensive schooling and work in science and exercise physiology, ran the notoriously hot and hilly Big D marathon in 2:46 with no long runs over 15 miles).

Basically, this idea that we need to run 20 came from elites peaking long runs at about two hours, he says. For them, two hours is 20 miles. My training is rooted in the the study, Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome — for a little light reading, here it is. Hans was endocrinologist studying the hormonal response to stress, but the same principals are applied to exercise physiology, Eric says.

Essentially – the idea is simply to stress the body until it reaches fatigue and then the body adapts to the stress.

The 20-22 miler — especially that long run three weeks before the big race — has indeed become a ritual for marathon runners. So relied on is it that it probably provides psychological benefit, but that’s the extent of it. Physically, according to this theory, spreading the stress out across the bulk of training is the better way to adapt (get faster at long distances).

Importantly, not running the long run is by no means an easy way out, because I am adding those miles to every other day of the week. During the peak weeks of marathon training that’s about 80-90 miles a week. Before I do a “long run” of 90-120 minutes, I have 75+ miles on my legs so I am simulating a 20-miler with far less concentrated trauma to my muscles.

Here’s a bigger-picture post about this May 5 marathon training season.


Boston, Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, training, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

For Dallas runners, circling White Rock Lake is a rite of passage

This is part of a full-feature story in the March Advocate magazine about the many wonders of East Dallas’ White Rock Lake:

Full circle

Completing the full circumference of White Rock Lake trail, on foot, is a rite of passage


 What a wonderful White Rock Lake world

Dave Dozier Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Drive to the end of Winstead, a winding road west of White Rock Lake, any Saturday morning at about 5:30 and Dave Dozier will flag you down. He assumes you are there to join him for a run. On a dewy winter morning he dons a black tracksuit with reflective stripes and he invites early morning guests, runners and walkers, jovial folks he calls friends, into his home of 50 years — cozy quarters whose décor includes display cases full of medals from White Rock, St. George and Boston marathons, to name a few, hundreds, dating back as far as the 1970s, and collages containing magazine clippings and racing bibs.

An inconspicuous manila folder contains what we came for: certificates for completing, on foot, a full 9.2-mile loop of White Rock Lake.

In his early running days, Dozier says, running all the way around White Rock Lake was something only the most serious runners did.

“Once you ran the loop,” he says, “you were somebody.”

In the 1970s a gang of diehard runners including White Rock Marathon founder Tal Morrison challenged Dave to run all the way around, rather than the couple-mile out-and-back jaunts they had seen him performing at the lake. When he eventually took them up on it, the guys gave him a certificate of completion. It is a tradition Dozier continued, mostly under the radar, long after Morrison and the other old timers stopped running. Recently a local fitness magazine publicized the practice and Dozier got an unprecedented amount of takers. But he doesn’t give these certificates away to just anyone. “You really have to do it. I have to see you. I will run with you,” he says. “And you can’t have done it before.” The certificates are reserved for those running the loop and the distance for the first time ever.

And while the certificate is a neat token of achievement, it really isn’t about the paper. It’s about the camaraderie as runners gather at the starting point. Those who meet at Dozier’s place vary in pace — taking anywhere from 70 minutes to three hours to circle the pond. The wee moments before the jog are for catching up and laughing while Dozier tells everyone to “shut up. My wife is asleep.”

Voices fill the erstwhile silent neighborhood with stories of marathons past. Dozier’s friend Julie Stauble recalls a time Dozier stumbled at the finish line, knocking out his front teeth. Dozier teases the group’s fastest runner, a psychiatrist named Joe Gaspari who is preoccupied with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. “He’s always looking at that watch. Doesn’t he know we are here to have fun?”

It’s about the other lake goers. When Dozier ran the first of his 9,000-some lake loops, he says, there were about eight guys regularly running the lake. On a Saturday morning these days, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand. “I stop and talk a lot. I know everyone out there,” Dozier says.

It’s about the commitment and motivation one feels after hitting that 9.2-mile milestone, says Stauble, who ran a marathon after meeting Dozier and joining his informal running group. She says it changed her life.

“A lot of lives have changed out here,” Dozier says. “And we’ve had people that didn’t fit in in the world, fit in with us.”

It’s about the sense of completion. The circle represents wholeness, unity and infinite possibility, right? But Dozier scoffs at all that philosophical stuff. “It’s just fun. I love this. Running is my way of life.”

If you are interested in meeting Dozier for a run around the lake and, if you make it, a certificate,

inspiration, racing, running, training

After a marathon, a period of low motivation

The White Rock Dallas Marathon was pretty much a bust, but my training really paid off when, a week later, I finally met my longtime goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k (with a 19:32 at Jog’r Egg Nog’r). A couple weeks later I ran a 10k in 40:52 followed by a 1:29:04 at the 3M Half in Austin (a perfect race had it not been for the last two miles of brutal hills — what’s with the f-ing hills, Austin). And that was my last great running day.

This is how we count laps at the track, old school-like.
This is how we count laps at the track, old school-like.

After 3M, I got the flu. I spent a solid 20 hours in bed the first day. I missed an entire week of work. For four days, I didn’t run. Both of the aforementioned had been previously unfathomable.

When I resumed life, I was tired. For days, the sound of the alarm clock triggered a Tourette-syndrome-esque response from me — a series of F bombs and winey “I don’t want tos.” A couple weeks later I am still tired. I think it is part physical, part psychological. It doesn’t help that I have been slightly overwhelmed at the office, my husband has been out of his mind trying to open a restaurant, my kids may or may not be alright, and improvements to my running (which usually is the source of that elusive motivation) are temporarily nil, resulting in a sense of pointless wheel-spinning on my part.

I am still working with the coach and building up to train for the May 5 Vancouver Marathon. From shared and personal experiences, I know in my brain (keep telling yourself this, CHB) that this is a temporary phase undoubtedly preceding a period of hard-core ambition.

I am in a speed-training phase, so Mondays and Thursdays I do track intervals and speed play/fartlek-type workouts, respectively.

The past three Mondays I have failed to meet the prescribed times for the intervals, which impacts my psyche deeply. This morning, I felt ready to rock, only to be hit with stupid gale-force winds at the track.

Supposed to hit 2:42 800s. Didn't really come close. I blame this partly on the wind and partly on my slump.
Supposed to hit 2:42 800s. Didn’t really come close. I blame this partly on the wind and partly on my slump.

And even my base runs, done by time and heart rate, have been suffering. Getting up each morning has become increasingly hard and I find myself skipping warm ups and stretches because I stay in bed too long—not good. I am in a slump. But I am ready to climb out now. First, I need to get mentally right.


When I first started working at the Advocate magazine, I was assigned charge of two magazines for which I was supposed to write some 20-25 stories every month. I was also required to post four blog posts on our daily news blogs each weekday, plus a bunch of other sh*t. I was set up for failure, I kept thinking. I panicked and cried in the bathroom almost on a daily basis. Finally, when I had a talk with the publisher, I realized they really didn’t expect me to do all the work by the deadline . It was a reach-for-the-stars sort of scenario. They piled on the work to see what I could handle. And, you know, because they didn’t witness the crying and car tantrums, the management generally was impressed with the workload I was able to handle. I eventually got promoted to managing editor and recently to publisher and now I oversee new reporters and editors. The high expectations made me better and stronger than I thought I could be.

Running imitates career. Recently, I was supposed to complete six mile repeats at 5:40 each. I didn’t even come close. I was mad.

In hindsight, however, I realize I ran, that day, six sub-6-minute mile repeats. For the first time ever. So, I don’t have to be breaking records every day, but — kind of like it advises in this Running Times piece on negative and positive self talk — I have to mine the positive. Even the very worst runs and races, I get or learn something.

Another trick I plan to use to boost the adrenaline: racing. Whether the results are good or bad, racing gets me hyped.

I’m doing the Dallas Center For Architecture Form Follows Fitness 5k. The following week I’ll do the Trinity Levee 10k — this is a race I have really come to love/hate. The course has improved since the race’s inception, but it never fails to be exceedingly windy at this event. Then the Longview Half, March 16. Maybe another half marathon in April in Dallas.

marathon, racing, running, training, White Rock Marathon

Dallas Marathon training: final phase

I planned to post regularly about my enhanced training program. Once I go over the regimen, you’ll understand why — considering I also have to earn a living, pay some attention to my children and occasionally see a movie — I haven’t had much extra time for recreational bloggin’.

When I last wrote, I was only about three or four weeks into training and I was doing a lot of speed work and preparing to race a 5k. The 5k, on Labor Day, sucked. I started out fast, at about a 6:10 pace, and because it was very hot and I was over exerting, I blew up on the last mile, winding up with a time in the low 20s. It was a personal best, but only by a few seconds and far from the hoped-for finishing time of 19:30-ish. Disappointed, but I was still encouraged by the progress I had experienced in training, so I hired the coach for the remainder of marathon training season.

I’m about to nerd out for a minute here, so if you don’t care about the details of this training program, you might enjoy another of my posts more. The one about my depressing last marathon, or my death defying puke-fest 50k (not an official race name), for example.

Following the 5k, I began training by heart rate. I have a few different training zones, based on the rudimentary V02 max test we ran when I first started with him (see craigslist coach post for details): 140 bpm is my easy, recovery pace; 158 is my daily, hour-long steady runs; 166 is my marathon pace; 177 is threshold. Note: gadgets, heart rate monitoring, data taking are things I am not fond of, but I said I would try anything for a season, so I got a watch, yada, yada, and eventually figured out how to use it.

It was worth the hassle, because this is where I really began to feel some progress.

I started doing daily runs at about a 158 heart rate. At the beginning of the month that was an 8:20 minute mile. By the end it was a 7:30 (the weather began cooling from hellishly hot to warm and humid during this phase, so that has a little to do with the pace improvement too). During that phase, I ran about an hour at a 158 heart rate every day except Mondays, when I did some sort of interval training and threshold pace, and Thursdays, when I did a long, 90-minute tempo run at a 166 heart rate, which on good days was around a 7:10 pace.

At the end of this phase I raced a 10k. Here I felt like a new person. For the 1st time ever, I raced while watching my heart rate. And for the first time ever, I ran the second half of the race faster than the first. My overall pace was a 6:44 and my last mile was 6:30 — this wasn’t a personal best by a whole lot, but it was the easiest PB I have ever had. I felt so strong and in-control the entire race. I also took home 1st overall female. Those who were there at the Great Taco Run 5k, 10k and 10 mile, and who know that all of the the faster women were running the 10-mile, not the 10k that day, shut up. First place: Taco Run 10k.

Invigorated by the 10k PB, I launched into the real marathon training. During this phase I increase mileage. When Coach sent me the schedule for the week following the 10k, my head started spinning. It had more than 80 miles on it.  I’ve never been able to do more than 60 miles a week without getting hurt, so I was worried. Also I was concerned about how this schedule was going to impact my life.

I partied enough for a lifetime from the age of 16-28, so my current social life essentially is running. My daughter says I’m a geek and I’m all: aren’t geeks cool now? Look at Nate Silver: Badass Geek. By the way, if you’ve read this far, you are a nerd too. But this extreme requires me to neglect even my running friends. Unless your are on a lets forum — where only p***ys run less than 100 miles a week — running 12-13 hours a week can seem pretty unbalanced. But at least this is simple. I don’t have to try to figure out what I am I doing wrong or worry over what I should do next. Just follow the schedule. I love that.

My schedule for the next several weeks would look something like this:

Monday: 15 min warm up; 6 times 6 minutes at 177 heart rate with 1 min static rest in between; 15 min cool down or 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Tuesday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Wednesday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Thursday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at 158 heart rate, 15 minute cool down

Friday: 1 hour run at 140 heart rate

Saturday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Sunday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

And this is just a hobby.

A few things I learned while doing this: It’s more convenient than I thought it would be. I run for an hour before the rest of my household wakes up. I find another hour to run anytime between lunch and 8 p.m. Working in 1 hour in the evening is easier than sneaking away for 2 hours.

I am not hurt and most of the miles are enjoyable. The majority of my runs are done at an extremely pleasurable pace. I have taken time to explore my neighborhood and observe my surroundings, gotten to know the regulars at the Richland College track (a guy who runs in jeans, a wise old Morgan Freeman-esque walker, a trio of Asian women who insist on walking side-by-side-by-side and not letting me pass); I’ve run the dirt roads of Todos Santos, Mexico where I went on a long-weekend vacation, the streets near my kid’s volleyball practice or near my office — I just keep my running gear with me and find a way to work it in. And, because I am breaking the runs into short periods, I haven’t experienced any of the pain that in the past has accompanied high mileage. (I also see a sports chiropractor about once a month for treatment to problem areas such as my knee and foot).

I did feel generally sore a lot at first, though. Some mornings as I embarked on my run, my legs felt as if they were at mile 20 of a marathon. I guess that is the point in some respects.

Some of my tempo runs have been very encouraging. One morning for example, when it was especially chilly, I found my 158 heart rate producing 7-minute miles and under. It is pretty cool, with heart rate training, that I can quantify improvements. It makes each run kind-a like a little game.

So far, this sh*t is working! The high mileage phase resulted, last weekend, in a personal best by more than five minutes in the half marathon. Yes, I ran a 1:29:32 at the hilly-ish Dallas Running Club Half Marathon, good for 2nd in my age group and a top-ten female finish in a big race. Again, the best part about the whole thing was that until the very last mile, I didn’t feel fatigued at all. The photos of me at mile 10 (thanks Jose Vega) are amazing — I have a freaking huge  smile on my face. Certainly not the face of the familiar me who isn’t racing if I’m not miserable halfway through. I just settled in behind (most of the way) the 1:30 pace group led by Nick Polito and Ethan Neyman (also pictured below) and had fun.

Now I am on to the last stretch of training before the White Rock Marathon — Dallas Marathon, I know.

I am still doing the 2-time a day easy runs with 2 two-hour-ish high-intensity runs a week. A month out from the marathon, my longest run has been 15 miles, which is a little nerve wracking, considering the rest of my marathoning friends have done multiple 18-20 milers, but I said I’d trust this trainer and I have seen good results so far, so I am going to see this through. I am maxing out at over 90 miles a week, so the endurance should be there when I need it.

Other things to consider with the high mileage. Nutrition: I have started protein supplements and I simply have to remember to eat. I have lost about 5 pounds while almost-literally eating nonstop throughout the day. Hell, yes. It is like a dream come true. Sadly when I am running 40-60 miles a week, this is not the case. I still have to watch my calorie intake lest I gain weight. But with 80-90 miles a week, I can eat anything and everything I want. This makes this final phase of marathon training my unequivocal favorite.

Hydration: I have to constantly force down liquids. I don’t go anywhere — in the car, to work, to bed — without a bottle beside me, and not like in the old lush-y days. I usually have powerade zero, crystal light or some other no-calorie flavored water junk, because I usually dislike drinking water. I tend to get very bad headaches and they can be triggered by a hard run, among other things. Sometimes I can’t stop them, but I think proper hydration helps fend them off a bit.

Sleep: Possibly the biggest challenge. One huge help is that my daughter doesn’t have to be at school until 8:45 a.m., so my runs generally can start at either 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. as opposed to 4 a.m. as they had to when the kids had morning practices at 7:30.  So that means I must make a valiant attempt to go to sleep by 11, which is tough for a night writer, Colbert-show watcher, obsessive novel-reader like me. Every Saturday, God willing, I take a nap. Precious nap. (Except today, when I am instead writing. I was too stressed to relax because i promised myself I was going to document this and the season is briskly passing and I haven’t really been doing that) I know, based on readings, I should be getting 8 hours a night, at least, but I figure 6-7 with the occasional nappy time is going to have to suffice until I become ridiculously wealthy and quit my job at the Advocate (which, hell, I probably wouldn’t do even if I were wealthy. It’s not as if I went into community journalism because of the high salary).

OK, now I can go nap. Night night.


My new running coach is definitely not a psycho killer

Two weeks ago, I drove out to Prosper, TX and met a guy I found on Craigslist.

Stories that include the last seven words of that sentence usually take a dark turn. But so far, this relationship is going well.

Here’s the deal: the guy is a PH.D student in exercise physiology and a researcher at a thermoregulatory lab at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Presbyterian Hospital who advertised personal coaching on Craigslist for $45 a month.

I had nothing to lose (well, except maybe my life if he turned out to be a serial killer the night I met with him at a rural high school track) for trying.

OK, this begs some questions, I know, like Why were you surfing Craigslist in the first place?

It was right after El Scorcho 50k, at which I had a painful if amusing experience, while I was recovering and not running (read: slowly slipping into the madness that awaits my still self) that I started thinking about my past few marathon experiences and getting glum.

Let’s consider New York City 2010: I worked my ass off. I amped my training to 60 and 70 mile weeks. I spent hours every week in Bikram yoga classes. I ran specific speed drills and tempo runs that conventional wisdom said would produce a 3 hour 20 minute marathon. I didn’t start out too fast. I did everything right and ran a 3:33.

Now, don’t get me wrong — 3:33 in New York with its bridges and crowds is all good. I was happy. I had fun. But deep down there was the nagging feeling that, even having tried my damnedest, I failed, and by 13 minutes, to meet my goal. That feeling eats at you and can continue to plague you if you are not able to redeem yourself.

(Let me stress: it’s not the time itself that plagues me, but the inability to reach a goal despite my best efforts. Had it been a video game I poured my time and effort into, I might have turned into the female version of King of Kong guys.)

And season after season, through no lack of effort, I have been unable to make my body do what I want it to do. I’ve suffered some injury setbacks, but I was healthy at El Scorcho, which offered an unpleasant reminder of what failure despite training well feels like. I dread going through it again. So I started obsessing. I bought some more running books and read all kinds of stuff online, much that I had already read. I came across a name I hadn’t heard before. Coach Hadd. I whispered, “yes” when I read part of his bio.

Unwilling to believe that despite being full of piss and vinegar, logging as much as 100 miles per week of training, and having enough grit and determination to stop a locomotive he would never race faster than the average Joe, Hadd quit work, closed his home, and put himself through grad school. He was on a mission to find out why. Graduating totally broke, owning only a pair of running shoes and a motorcycle, Hadd knew why he was destined to never make a single podium, but he didn’t like it. Hadd could not stand to see someone doing something badly – yet with all his heart – and not want to do something to help. Past the point of doing something for himself, he became a teacher.

The first thing Hadd would do with his runners is gain intel regarding their shorter distance times — mile, 5k, 15k, half marathon — and if shorter distances didn’t relate properly to longer distances based on equivalence tables (McMillian calculator-type charts), then, he determined, something was wrong with the runner’s training.

This struck a chord with me because my marathon time of 3:30 doesn’t relate with my 5k time of 20:37 or my 15k time of 1:04, for example.

So, that’s it! I am going to contact this Coach Hadd and see if he can help me. Problem: he’s dead. So I started looking up running coaches and there are surprisingly few available. And the personal coaches who are around are too expensive for a recreational runner to justify. So I turned to Craigslist, where you never know what you might find, and cheap.

The answer to the next obvious question is, No I did not die when I went out to meet the Craigslist Coach at a remote high school track.

And in fact, we are really making strides (sorry for that) and I am very excited about the weeks and months ahead. Even if it doesn’t work out, marathon-time wise, I feel as if I am giving myself a new challenge, and that keeps me entertained.

Coach Rivas’ first questions to me after I emailed him and outlined my goals were something like this: what is your 5k PR? 10k? Half marathon? I filled him in and he told me I could get much faster at the marathon distance.

I asked him if he’d ever heard of Coach Hadd and he said he has studied him closely and uses his methods. Oh yeah. Match made in heaven.

He told me to get a GPS watch with a heart rate monitor.

I met him for a five-minute time trial at a track near where he lives in Prosper. He looked at my maximum heart rate and the distance I covered over the five minutes and, within 48 hours, wrote me a prescription for my first month.

It consists of two days of speed or interval training per week plus daily runs of 60 minutes at a medium pace and one day of slow pace, wearing heart rate monitor at all times. No days off. I just completed the first week. Here’s the whole unedited version of this  month’s workouts. I will keep myself and anyone who cares (you know you are among the nerdiest of running nerds, right?) posted regarding progress:

Continue reading

inspiration, marathon, running, training

Writing is like running

When I have a story idea, a good story idea about someone who has done something remarkable, I want badly to tell the story well. I long to make my readers feel what I feel — the admiration, the inspiration I feel when I speak to my subject.

For hours and even days after conducting interviews with the remarkable someone and his acquaintances, I linger. I think about how to convey this person’s story but I doubt myself.

It is beyond me, getting these profound ideas into words that will make you appreciate it the way you must appreciate it. And when I fail to adequately relay this subject’s achievements — in the way that thoroughly impresses the reader — I will have failed this subject. He deserves so much better, I think.

I fret and bite my nails over these thoughts. I pick at my skin and pull out my hair over these thoughts. I stare out windows and the weight of my weakness exhausts me, before I even begin to write.

Finally I start typing. I hate every goddamn word. I delete and write, erase and rewrite. I delete so much that the “delete” key on my computer falls off. Then after minutes or hours of struggle, I pluck out a sentence that satisfies. Then a second. These first two sentences give me confidence and I fall into a rhythm of writing sentences. Once I have a page full of words on the screen, I still write bad sentences, but they don’t torture me, because before them stands good, proud sentences — proof that I am capable of good, proud sentences.

I easily recognize and banish bad sentences that pop up, correcting my form and finishing strong. That is, when things go perfectly.

Except sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the rhythm never ensues, or it is interrupted by the awareness that there was a hole in my planning. A question I forgot to ask a source or an angle I overlooked until it was too late. Then I have to go back. Sometimes I have to rework everything. Sometimes, under deadline, I don’t have time to make things better and I publish an unsatisfactory story. Incomplete. Inadequate. Or worst of worst: “Good Enough”.

A good-enough story is not too bad to scrap altogether, but when presented to an audience it hangs its head in indignity, knowing it could have done better.

Rather than the rush of success, I feel gut-churning defeat.  No one besides me might even realize the piece didn’t live up to its potential, but it eats away at my ego and I cringe when I look at that story on its page.

But when it all goes perfectly — when I plan properly and the words, after the inevitable early torture, flow easily and I finish strong and the critics say, “Bravo”, then I feel the high. There is a unique happiness that accompanies success preceded by pain and accompanied by the very real risk that the misery and hard work will not pay off and that failure is an entirely likely option. Only those of us who can endure being intensely uncomfortable for long periods of time will ever know this particular happiness.

That said, I might need not tell an endurance runner how writing and running are similar.

How painful can be those first steps of a training run? How shattering to attempt and fail a particular feat or be left behind in a race or to pull a hamstring and miss several weeks of practice while our competitors run on? How devastating when at mile 18 of a marathon I realize I must have missed something in my preparations and I fall out of rhythm, never to return to the goal pace? The Finishing Time stares me in the face, mocking me, until a new one takes its place. And in the case of the marathon, the next might be months or a year away.

I work painstakingly at my running. I sacrifice comfort, sleep, late-night concerts and greasy foods and heavy drinks. I run when it’s 100 degrees, when it’s snowing, when mosquitos are swarming and when my muscles are hurting or when I want nothing more than to watch TV for a couple of hours and when I race I want the tireless effort to shine proud in my performance. I want observers to say, “She must have worked hard to pull off that kind of race.”  Only more often than not, they see my struggle, my red face at the finish and might, if asked, say, “She probably didn’t practice hard enough.”

I would rather blow a race entirely than be mediocre. The gamble of going out hard in a race entices me. Sure I could start out conservatively and gradually progress and run a good-enough race. But it’s only if I give everything I have and try to hold on do I stand the chance of having spectacular — spectacular being relative — results.  A spectacular race gives me confidence like a good opening sentence gives me confidence. But a string of poor performances churns my stomach and steals my strength. Yet I risk misery and shame — which the odds seem to favor in my experience — for that opportunity to be spectacular.

Truth be told, with both the writing and the running, the observers don’t care all that much. They read a story and say, “That’s interesting,” or “That’s dumb,” and move on. They might hear me say I ran a 3 hour 30 minute marathon and think “That’s good,” or “That’s slow,” never knowing that I am devastated because I wanted a 3 hour 25 minute finish.

I am on no Olympic stage or Pulitzer shortlist.

In this life I am a writer and a runner primarily for myself. That doesn’t change the value of my efforts. It doesn’t change the euphoria felt when the gamble and the work pays off and the results meet or exceed the hope. It doesn’t change the devastation of failure.

If I met success with every essay or with every run, well, it would become common and thus would lose its intensity. For that reason I say, bring on the failure. Bring on the defeat. Bring on the misery and the vast discomfort. I embrace it because it readies my psyche to celebrate, sometimes, in a way only those who willingly and gratefully endure these things can know.