Susan Gladin: Charting a new running adventure

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 08:42 PM

Gifts come in different kinds of packaging and this one didn’t come in a box, but in bytes. The delivered present was the culmination of a few weeks of encouragement and cajoling.

“You can do it!” “This is the next step!” And, “If you’re ever going to do it, this is the one - it is all women, it is flat and it won’t be hot.”

With those words, and many more, our younger daughter, Amanda, convinced me to sign up for the “Run Like a Diva” Half-Marathon at the end of April.

I had considered doing a half one other time, but abandoned it because, to be honest, I have always hated running. Though I’ve run fairly consistently for many years, my time out on my feet has been sporadic, half-hearted, and without any improvement whatsoever. Speed is not in my vocabulary. Shuffle is.

The gift I mentioned a few paragraphs back was a color-coded training chart that Amanda whipped up for me one night and delivered via Gmail.

It listed every week from January 21 to race-day, April 28.

“How many days a week do you want to run?” Amanda had asked me.

“Three,” I replied, though an honest answer would have been “none.”

So the chart plots out three runs a week plus supplemental workouts such as cycling, swimming, and weightlifting. There is a blank column for me to list reality of the week, which often falls far short of the plan.

But the secondary gift that emerged from all of this is a discovery - that I like long-distance running.

I look forward to the long runs (I am up to nine miles now) and still dread the short ones. On the long runs, I stop thinking about running and just run. I don’t worry about speed, but focus on covering the distance. I enjoy the new territory I discover.

Last week, I crossed the county line. On familiar turf, I see things that I never noticed before, like the old log barn behind Underwood’s store. Often the fastest part of my run comes near the end.

The nasty weather has made it hard to stick to the plan, and one week Amanda and I admitted that neither of us had run.

Though we both prefer solitary runs, we ran together that weekend on the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). We were well matched until the very end, when she kicked into a gear that I didn’t have.

“Why ‘speed work’ at all?” Amanda asks in notes at the end of her chart. “…because it’s another way of making yourself mentally stronger.”

I’ll need mental strength, apparently, to slog through to the end of 13.1 miles. But that day on the ATT we covered more than half of the race distance, and I began to realize that I could, and probably would, do this thing. This weekend I’ll log a 10 or 11 mile run. Is 13 that much further?

Last week, as I crossed into Durham County, I remembered Amanda’s chart and the fact that I hadn’t logged my runs in a couple of weeks.

Tonight I pulled it up and as I filled in the blanks discovered that I am mostly on track. That makes it easier to commit to the next four weeks and the distances they will demand.

The lesson here is to accept these somewhat unwelcome gifts that push us into uncomfortable territory. I signed up for the 13.1 miles by giving myself permission to drop back to the 5k if I wanted/needed to. Now my sights are set on the longer distance, and I am discovering things about myself that I didn’t know.

Race Day promises a party atmosphere with a lot of on-course support and spiffy medals, shirts, food, and booze to congratulate us when we finish. I don’t care about all that. I’ll want to get back to the hotel room, locate Amanda’s chart on my computer, and write “Finished” in the final block on the last line.

Then I’ll need a new chart.


Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. E-mail her at or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.