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Alli Harvey: Back to racing, with a better sense of balance

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published April 26, 2017

At the end of 2015, I decided I would take a one-year hiatus from training for races.

I realize that's an absurd New Year's Resolution. I was basically resolving to let myself go. I knew I'd be less fit, less dedicated to exercise and probably less happy.

All of that turned out to be true, but I knew it was also important for me to learn to relax and learn some things about life while not training. And, over the course of last year, I did.

First of all, believe it or not, it turns out life doesn't need to revolve around a training schedule. The world continues turning and I continue being me — even without some race on the horizon. Secondly, there are more ways to be outside than training for a race. Backpacking is pretty cool; so is sitting on my back porch. Third, sometimes it's important to have blank space in life. "Boring" or otherwise unspoken-for moments spur creativity, such as inventing new, daring and sometimes spectacularly terrible dinners for my family.

Realizing all that was great. Really, it was. But now it's 2017, my hiatus is officially over and I am training for the Anchorage Mayor's Half Marathon on summer solstice.

Like anything else in life, the lesson here is moderation.

Fine being slow

Before moving on to why it's fun to be training again, anyone reading this should know that my desire to train doesn't come from somehow being superhuman.

I spend a very healthy, very American amount of time on my couch consuming the many wonderful distractions TV has to offer. I am not skinny like some of those cool surfer girls in outdoors clothing catalogs, and while I monitor how well my pants fit and how I am feeling, I really enjoy food and cocktails. I drink coffee. I've been a smoker. I don't do yoga because it's boring to me and I always think it's funny when my butt is up in the air. I don't actually race in races. I'm fine being slow.

So, I'm not in danger of floating away on a cloud of holier-than-thou tangents anytime soon. It's just that in addition to all of those other things, I really like training for races.

My love of races comes from the epiphany that even a person like me can plunk a goal out there on the calendar and concoct a plan to reach it. By steadily marking off benchmarks, ultimately I achieve something I never thought I could when I was younger.

It's a feeling I'm addicted to now. After achieving what felt like the ultimate training goal, an Ironman-distance triathlon in late 2015, I knew I needed to back off on training and pursue other things — simple things, like reading more. But to do it, I needed to create room. Otherwise, my calendar would continue to be blocked off by a training run here, recovery there. I needed to free up some brain and physical space.

I took a nice long break, and now I'm back. I'm a bit more chill — definitely no more Ironman-length triathlons anytime soon. But I'm remembering some things about what it's like to be back in training mode.

One sad thing is that my body is not magically in the shape it was. I know. Sucker punch of a surprise for me, too. I remember seeing a 5-mile run on the training calendar coming up and the little voice inside my head said, "Pffft, that's nothing! We've got this."

Turns out, about 3 miles in, it felt like the run should be over.

Impromptu rides and hikes

On the flip side, my training plan means outdoor time and exercise is baked in with the rest of my life.

I like knowing that I have a baseline amount of outdoor activity every week, and that additional time outside is a bonus. This is in contrast to the past year, when I learned something most people are familiar with — spontaneity. Now, I can still have my impromptu bike rides and hikes, but the foundation for my weekly dose of outdoor time is composed of running.

I appreciate this, because it's reliable, it's fun and is also a key part of my health insurance. When I don't get outside enough, I sometimes get sick. I also get sad. A regular dose of fresh air and endorphins help me stay positive.

Unfortunately, my toenails are reminding me what it's like to be back in training mode. Suffice to say, after a certain number of miles my toenails hurt … until they suddenly don't and go completely numb. Sorry, little guys. You're a casualty of my hobby.

Hands down, though, the part of training I love most is the time I invest in myself. Running creates time to think whatever thoughts I want. You know that old Sudafed commercial, where a woman's head becomes a balloon and detaches from her body (supposedly only Sudafed can bring it back)? My brain is like that balloon when I'm running (but not in a painful sinus-infection way). My thoughts, and sometimes it feels like my entire self, loom just above me. I take in the miles and hour(s) of free time to focus on one very simple activity and let the rest of my brain work itself out. I almost always finish in a better mood than when I started, partly because of the achievement but also because I've had that time all for myself.

If you're considering signing up for a footrace this summer, there are distances for all runners, and there are races practically every weekend. Check out the full listing online at the Alaska Runners Calendar.

Alli Harvey is a Palmer-based freelance writer who works in Anchorage.

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