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In her first book, popular runner blogger Amanda Brooks lays out the path to finding greater fulfillment in running for those who consider themselves “middle of the pack runners” — they’re not trying to win Boston (or even qualify for Boston); they just want to get strong and stay injury-free so they can continue to enjoy running.
Run to the Finish is not your typical running book. While it is filled with useful strategic training advice throughout, at its core, it is about embracing your place in the middle of the pack with humor and learning to love the run you’ve got without comparing yourself to other runners. Mixing practical advice like understanding the discomfort vs. pain, the mental side of running, and movements to treat the most common injuries with more playful elements such as “Favorite hilarious marathon signs” and “Weird Thoughts We all Have at the Start Line,” Brooks is the down-to-earth, inspiring guide for everyone who wants to be happier with their run.
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This book is not for the elite runners. It’s for me and for you and for the 98 percent of us in the middle of the pack to know that it’s just fine to be the best runner you can be while juggling work, family, friends, and still enjoying that delicious slice of pizza every Friday night.
This book is for the runners who often shy away from calling themselves a runner. This book is for the runners who love the sport, but who have more to learn. This book is for the runners who aren’t in it for the podium, but instead for the feeling of satisfaction from a mile well run.
It’s not about dissuading you from dreaming big or setting goals for that sparkly new personal record feeling. Here, we’re learning that we’re more alike than we are different and why our very middle of the pack running makes us so spectacular and doesn’t excuse us from learning how to train smarter.
“Forward is a pace” is the very simple motto that helped me push myself just a tad farther each day as I returned to running after an unexpected knee surgery in 2017. The previous seventeen years of building my identity as a runner needed to be reshaped, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, as I plan to continue this journey for many more decades.
Instead of lamenting where I wasn’t, those four little words reminded me that every step was a success. It gave me the opportunity to embrace being a beginner once again, where my only real goal was finding a way forward each day and celebrating with fresh eyes those milestones I’d forgotten over the years. A mile was still spectacular and the day I squeaked my way back to a sub-two-hour half marathon felt just as momentous as many faster races in the past.
Forward is a pace and with that mental shift we can encourage ourselves to run to the finish of every big hairy scary goal from a 5K to a marathon to life.
A QUICK INTRODUCTION
I feel that now is a good time to tell you a few important things about myself. In case we haven’t met yet or you haven’t stumbled across RunToTheFinish.com while Googling a running question, that’s me, Amanda Brooks.
First and possibly most important, that knee surgery was the result of a very good afternoon spent at a trampoline park.* It was not the result of being a runner. Whew, I’m glad we cleared that up right now and I’ll talk more about our knees later in the book so we can put that long-standing myth behind us for good.
People who meet me often assume I’ve been a runner all my life and that, based on my ridiculous 33-inch inseam, these legs are fast. So, let’s start there. Starting at age five, I played sports from softball to volleyball to swim team, but running was punishment. You know, the “you’re late to practice so go run laps” kind of thing that made you dread every single step and swear you’d never run again.
I vividly remember a few volleyball afternoons of grabbing my knee and dramatically limping to the sideline to get out of running. That’s embarrassing now, especially when I consider the months where I pretended not to have knee pain to keep running, but a teen I was just proud of my acting skills (being an actress was my fallback plan to being a writer).
Now, for the fast part. While fast is relative, generally my motto is, I run far, not fast. Although I have scrambled onto a few podiums, even after eight marathons and 21,000 miles running, I’m not yet a Boston Qualifier, I’m not an-easy-run-at-a-seven-minute-pace runner, and I’m not a went-out-for-a-short-20-miler-over-lunch runner. Which is why I feel qualified to discuss life in the middle of the pack. I may have done thousands of hours of research and coaching, but my miles are largely spent in the company of most other runners who are also on the largest part of the bell curve.
Next up, there tends to be a common assumption that I’m a perfectionist. I was, after all, a straight-A student and even graduated magna cum laude from the University of Missouri. Honestly, school was easy for me and I just did the required work. Which is to say that had it been hard, I would have tried and put forth effort, but I’m not the person who would have belabored every detail to go from a B to an A (though I am the person who will always have a project done a week early).
In my world, perfect is a tremendous waste of mental energy because someone is always going to find ways you could have done it better. This isn’t to say that I settle for less than my best or I’m okay with mediocrity. But it is to say that I believe good solid hard work is enough to allow you to enjoy the ride with a whole lot less stress, and that’s a lifestyle I can stand behind happily. Which means if you see a misplaced comma, I hope you’ll focus on the bigger message and not the error.
Finally, you need to know that I’m a student of running. I’ve written over two thousand highly researched articles on running; I devour every running book that comes out; I pick the brains of every coach, sports medicine doctor, or physical therapist that I come in contact with, to help ensure that I’m always sharing the best information. I love this sport deep down to my core and my greatest wish is for us all to run healthy and happy for as many years as possible.
In other words, I hope we can run to the finish together.
YOU ARE A RUNNER
The majority of us fall squarely in the middle of the pack.
We don’t make the news or viral videos.
We don’t get special accolades.
We don’t leave others in awe.
It’s time to celebrate our averageness. Did you know you can exhibit manliness, graciousness, awkwardness, cheerfulness, or even weakness, but averageness is simply not a word? As though being in the middle leaves you unnoticed and undervalued? Why don’t we celebrate those in the middle? After all, we’re the majority.
We’re squarely in the middle.
Only, we aren’t truly forgotten. We’re the biggest part of the running population and it’s time to embrace the way that it makes you more alike than different from your running peers. It’s time to let go of feeling like you need to run a certain pace to be recognized. It’s time to be free of the worries about what others think when you choose not to run a marathon. It’s our time to run because we choose to.
Who’s really judging your runs? That inner voice whispering it’s too hard for you? The horrific timed mile of childhood that made you feel ashamed of moving too slow? The softball coach who mocked your awkward stride as you grew?
Or is the judge you? When you look at runners you admire with their postrace PR (personal record) glow and huge grins biting into their most recent race medal, à la an Olympian, how does it make you feel? Do you despair at the gap between the current numbers on your Garmin and how you’d like to run?
That inner voice questioning your goals might tag along for the entirety of your life or, with some grace and luck, running might be the tool to help you leave it behind. In fact, while logging those miles, you might begin to see it’s popping up as a defense mechanism. A bad one, mind you, but perhaps that voice is an attempt to protect you—from rejection, from failure, from disappointment.
When your inner Simon Cowell begins to rear his ugly head again, it’s time to redirect. Running is a mental sport and this is the moment when you choose to become a stronger runner even if that means never subtracting a single second from your race time. It’s the moment when you realize showing up, trying, enjoying the run, laughing with friends… all of that matters just as much as the clock ever will.
As Epicurus so profoundly said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Too many of us are unhappy with our running. If you want to run, run. And let this book be your guide to the tactics that will make you a better runner, a stronger runner, and an injury-free runner who is motivated by the joy and not the fear.*
Step one in our You Are a Runner Program is to accept that you have some mental programming that needs reworking. Although the words might be unique to you, it’s a part of running that everyone from the first finisher to the last must learn to battle.
I’m not sure how Margie got her name, but likely after a solid long run of muttering, “You will not win, asshat,” I decided my inner critic should have a name. Also, realizing that people might assume I was on a phone call with my wireless ear buds if I said “Margie” instead of “asshat,” made it seem like another brilliant idea birthed while on the run.
Margie sounds like someone I shouldn’t take all that seriously, which is exactly what I wanted. She’s large Marge from Pee-wee’s Playhouse or perhaps the newer version, that I may or may not watch on a certain Real Housewives show while on the treadmill, with platinum blond pigtails and sequins.
We’ve all got an inner Margie. I’d love to say Margie is there to protect you, but Margie is there to protect your ego. And her way of doing that is by replaying all the bad runs, the crappy coaches, and the experiences that have ever told you that you aren’t an athlete.
Yes, I said “athlete.” I’m not sure why runners refuse to accept that they’re athletes, but you are. Athletes show up to training day after day. You show up for your runs day after day. Athletes plan their workouts and find a way to make it all happen. You juggle life around training with miraculous dexterity. Athletes spend time taking care of their body. You spend time foam rolling, stretching, and I’m sure, getting monthly massages, right?
When she begins reminding me that each time I pick up the pace, I begin huffing like a longtime smoker or that I might injure myself, I can give her a little side eye and pretend she doesn’t know squat. Which in fact is true, but there’s something important that happens when we’re willing to bring our fears to the light. We can face them to truly see whether they’re valid or simply a ghost story we’ve let take on too much reality.
What Margie neglects to include in her angry diatribe about your shortcomings, is all the work you’ve done since that painstaking timed mile to get stronger, healthier, and mentally tougher. It might sound a little crazy—you’re a runner, so you get crazy—but you need to start having regular conversations with her.
Talking to yourself isn’t that weird. We have all walked into a room and said to no one, “What was I looking for?” This time, you’re simply having a conversation with your subconscious. Right now, Margie is running the show because you try to ignore her or you let her win by accepting her words as truth, rather than as a story.
For example, a typical run with Margie:
Margie: You can’t hold this pace, what are you trying to do?
You: Gahh, you’re right, I’m going to burn out before I can finish.
Margie: That’s because you just aren’t a fast runner.
You may be thinking, “Well, Margie is right,” and already replaying her words, “I need to accept the fact that I’m just not going to get faster,” and I’m here to say, “Hogwash.” Margie doesn’t know what you’re capable of achieving; she’s not there to pump you up; rather, to pump the breaks and keep you in a nice, safe place. You, however, have graduated to adulting and are fully capable of protecting yourself and replacing the toilet paper roll.
Taking control of your thoughts results in a conversation more like this:
Margie: Why are you trying to push so hard? You’re never going to win the race anyway.
You: Thank you for the input. I’m enjoying seeing what I can do.
Margie: But you’re going to get hurt.
You: Again, thank you for the concern, but I’ve trained for this.
Morgan Freeman: And she would then continue to run for another three miles with a smile.
Notice, I’m not trying to get you to Secret yourself out of this by envisioning a gold medal performance. Instead, we’re acknowledging our fear and then continuing on with the run because we love doing this, and why shouldn’t we spend our time enjoying the miles, rather than fretting about the numbers on a watch?
Once you’ve acknowledged the thoughts, it’s time to start reciting your mantra and shut her down entirely. Your brain works incredibly fast processing the approaching car, the barking dog, and of course the pace on that watch. It doesn’t have time for you to also recognize the subconscious beliefs Margie is not so subtly shouting: “This is too hard for me,” “I’m probably tired after a week of long work hours,” and “Maybe this was all a bad idea.”
Which means it’s your job to give your subconscious new programming. Better thoughts mean better runs. Better runs means sticking to it a lot longer. Sticking to it longer means getting the results you’ve been chasing.
One of the fastest ways to start reprogramming is to select a mantra that resonates with you. Each time you repeat it, your brain and body respond. The more you use it, the more it becomes so ingrained that you’ll start thinking it by default, which gives Margie less opportunity to voice her unwanted opinions.
My personal favorite: Stronger and stronger with every mile. Imagine the feeling that puts into your legs and the smile on your face, as you begin repeating in your mind over and over that you actually feel better the farther you go. Your body will respond to these thoughts just as easily as the thoughts that it’s too hard and you need to stop.
If distance isn’t your goal, then start testing out other ideas:
• It feels good when my legs run faster.
• My breathing is light and easy.
• Every step brings me closer to my goal.
• I feel alive.
• Light, quick, and free.
• I eat hills for breakfast. (Of course, they’re hard; why not embrace it!)
Elite runner Amy Hastings has a great one, which helped her win a number of championships by staying focused on the positive: I breathe in strength. I breathe out weakness. Kara Goucher wrote an entire book around her mantra of Strong and how the process of defining a new mantra for each big running goal helped her to remain focused. Take advantage of their access to sports psychologists who have proven how valuable this is, and do it yourself for free.
Simply by choosing to run, you’ve already set yourself apart from the masses. That being the case, I want to talk a little more about this idea of how we see ourselves and how we define our running in the middle of the pack. Because even the greatest mantra can’t work its magic if you’re holding on to outdated ideas.
BUT I’M NOT A REAL RUNNER
Let’s deal with “real runner” syndrome right now. It’s an epidemic currently afflicting 1 in every 4 runners, based on my unscientific poll of one hundred runners. Kidding; I clearly polled 32.2 runners.
This is one of the most common discussions I have with new and even longtime runners who hold an outdated idea of themselves. I know you think it’s easy for me, with seventeen-plus years of running, to say we’re all real runners, but the truth is that I had to get there the same way as you, by adjusting my mind-set one footstep at a time.
For me, it all started with a hill. Just one superlong foreboding hill that made me believe I was a walker who occasionally sped up to what looked like a run.* After months of making the same loop from my college apartment, over and over, I decided just to run a little way up the hill. Not the whole way; that sounded insane. I could quit at any time, I mean I wasn’t a real runner, so it didn’t matter if I stopped. I was just a girl who sometimes ran, but mostly walked.
This isn’t a story of triumph. I absolutely quit halfway up that mile-long incline. But I also had a grin I couldn’t contain because my endorphins were starting to help me realize, “Hey, I made it halfway.” Me, the not a real runner.
In fact, I was only attempting to run up that hill because some friends were going to do the 2002 Nashville Rock n Roll Half Marathon. A road trip sounded fun. Bonding with friends sounded cool. Running was an afterthought.
The run-walk method became my initial strategy as a college student, simply because that’s what I could do. I had no actual training plan and didn’t understand the concept of the Galloway method (see Chapter 6), so I ran until I was too tired to keep running and then I walked. Nonetheless, my twenty-year-old body handled it like a champ and I built up to a 10-mile-long run before race day.
But I was never a runner. You know those lithe, speedy-looking people who make running appear effortless, interesting, and well… fun.* I just knew that a “real runner” would never walk on race day and I wasn’t sure how I could possibly do 13.1 miles without walking. Although that became a driving goal that would push me on many runs.
I finished that first race in 2:17 with burning legs and lungs, and a brain that was thoroughly trashed from not having a lick of fuel or hydration. While I was collecting my banana, I turned to catch the elite marathon runners starting to come through. Brain explosion; they’d run twice as far in the same time!
Obviously, I wore my medal everywhere the next day, but I still kept the whole thing pretty low key because I didn’t yet fully understand the magnitude of the choices I’d just made. Racing wasn’t what hooked me on running, and even 21,000 miles later, it’s not what defines me as a runner. But soon after, something happened to switch my mind-set on the whole concept of being a real runner.
HOW TO FEEL LIKE A REAL RUNNER
For me, the defining moment had nothing to do with pace or even a race, and everything to do with a why. I wasn’t running because it was required by a coach for being late or even as an excuse to road trip with friends. I was running solely because I wanted to. I was choosing the hard thing for no other reason than I could.
The truth is, the day you take your first step toward running, voluntarily or not, you are in fact a runner. But that’s not the same thing as feeling like a runner. Something magic happens when you accept the label. Runner. Athlete. Rock star.
If you aren’t there yet, it’s time to embrace the long-practiced art of faking it ’til you make it. I mean, imagine what you’d do differently if you were a real runner and not just someone who jogs for fun or needs walk breaks. By acting as if you’re already a real runner, you will start to shift your patterns just a bit.
Might you warm up before runs?
Spend time on the wonderfully painful foam roller?
Think more about your postrun nutrition?
Buy the shoe that fits your foot and not the shoe size you’ve always been?
Show up to a group run because you know it will push you?
Sign up to work with a coach because you want to stay injury-free and progress?
Walk into a running store with confidence?
None of these are Earth-shattering choices, but they are subtle shifts in your mentality about how you treat your runs and your body.
In fact, maybe as a real runner, you’d still have some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad runs. I sure do! But, instead of scolding yourself and using it to prove your nonrunner thought process, you’d see what there was to learn from that run. Have you been increasing your mileage or working out more, so your body needs time to adapt? Have you been up late all week building a magnificent papier-mâché volcano? Have you been eating the M&M’s off your co-worker’s desk instead of taking time for lunch?
What I want you to know is that feeling like a real runner won’t happen the day you hit a certain pace or complete a specific distance. Those are goals to get you started and that might motivate you to show up on days when you’d rather sleep in. But the glorious moment that you decide you are a runner is like watching the sky turn a brilliant orange over the horizon as the sun peeks out to warm your face.
Every run takes on a new meaning and becomes an opportunity to change your life in remarkable ways.
Now that I have waxed poetic about my love for this sport, though, yes, it took me a good couple of years to own that title myself, let’s get to the concrete action plan:
1. Put on your shoes.
2. Go for a run; the pace doesn’t matter.
3. Celebrate every little victory from a new distance to less walk breaks to no pain.
4. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Today, right now, you have been dubbed a real runner and henceforth you shall be known as Fleetfoot. Okay, I see it would be weird to have thousands of readers using the same name, so let’s just go with last names, plus the most recent animal you passed on a run. Nice to meet you; I’m Brooks Coyote.
You have now joined a club, virtual or real, that accepts you because you take action whether you’re stick thin, carrying some baby weight, speedy like the Road Runner, or waddling like Daffy Duck. You are far more alike than different and every time you choose to show up, you inspire someone else just like you to do the same.
STANDARD NOT-A-REAL-RUNNER ISSUES
I know we’re all special and therefore our personal reasons for feeling like not a real runner, probably mean it’s true, right? Here are a few of the most common e-mails I receive:
WHAT IF I RUN ON THE TREADMILL?
Ah yes, what is often referred to as the dreadmill has many runners believing that their choice to use it, instead of being hard-core about the weather, the dark, the fact that they don’t want to push a triple jogging stroller, makes them less of a runner.
No, no, my friend. This is faulty logic. Many extremely fast and accomplished runners use the treadmill. It’s a fantastic tool for staying safe, for varying your terrain when it’s not readily available, and yes, the softer surface often helps many runners keep going longer.*
WHAT IF I NEED TO WALK?
Walk your heart out. I wish more runners had the benefit of a few hard-core trails in their life, when suddenly they realize that walking isn’t a negative, it’s a conservation of energy to ensure they can finish the distance. Ultrarunners use walking to their benefit, as a way to finish races faster because they didn’t overexert themselves forcing a run on the steep uphills.
Of course, walking is technically a different action than running, but using walk breaks to extend your distance or to recover from hard intervals is just smart training.
WHAT IF I CAN’T BEAT OPRAH?
I’m always amused when people tell me their only goal for a first marathon is to beat Oprah Winfrey’s time.
It’s not like we’re talking about sixty-year-old Oprah who prefers to spend her days in the garden. She was quite fit at that point, age forty in 1994, and completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:29. That’s a darn fine first marathon time. Mine was 4:17, so I guess I win the beat Oprah prize. Do I get a shirt? And is it wicking?
Oprah herself accidentally started this trend by saying, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.” That simple statement inspired many of her followers to begin running and then slowly morphed into a different mind-set: “I just want to beat Oprah’s time.”
Finishing a marathon puts you in very elite company (less than 1% of the population). Being surrounded by runners, we often think it’s not such a big deal, but the majority of people have never and will never run 26.2. Your first marathon should be about enjoying the experience, embracing the insane milestones, and realizing just what you’re capable of achieving.
- "Refreshing and practical, Run to the Finish is equal parts wise training advice on every imaginable topic and a call to be grateful for and to celebrate the best and worst of our runs."—Mina Samuels, author of Run Like a Girl 365 Days a Year
- On Sale
- Mar 3, 2020
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Go