How a Dog and a Story Made Me Like Running

Dog balloon Miss Jazz
Miss Jazzy the Husky

I hated running.

I’ve never been good at it, I dreaded any time it showed up in a workout. And, to be honest, I tended to skip those workouts.

Really . . . I HATED running. I can’t stress that enough, I barely tolerated it occasionally.

Life Changes, whether You Want It or Not

Jazz and Buddy wrestling
They look vicious, but it was obvious they were playing.

About six months after Jazz was adopted by my mother-in-law, my wife and I got Buddy, a mini Australian shepherd. We were terrified when they first met, because Jazz was so much bigger. But from the start, they played like littermates and had a bond we can’t explain.

Then we inherited #MissJazzyTheHusky. Jazz moved in to our lives and we made room. But if you’ve been around huskies, you know they aren’t afraid to sass you if you aren’t fulfilling their needs. If we didn’t let her be active enough, she let us know. There was one evening where she basically overrode the TV with her adorable, skull-vibrating sounds.

We noticed on days she was active, she was calmer in the evening. So . . . running. Really?!

MissJazzyTheHusky and Buddy - best friends
Friends since puppy-hood. Don’t let their calmness lull you into a false sense of security.

Reasons Pile Up

In addition to the fact Jazz needed to be worn out, I needed to improve my fitness level. But I dreaded running.

In one of the fitness groups I participate in, I heard people talking about Zombies, Run! as something enjoyable to listen to while running.

Gamify Your Fitness

Zombies, Run! initial mission list
You have to start somewhere.

By the time I finished the trial period, I was hooked on the story of a small community(Abel Township) trying to survive the Zombie apocalypse. Not only was the story compelling, there was enough gamification to keep me going to build my own virtual city.

I love the fact that Zombies, Run! allows you to exercise and track your distances in a couple different ways. When you have access to trails, roads, and open spaces to run, the GPS on your phone can track your speed and distance. Or you can set a constant pace if you are using treadmills, exercise bikes, or other stationary machines. You can also set your stride length and let it calculate distances based on step counts.

Real World Community and Introspection

And the community is really cool, too. Some people use the app while they are riding their bikes, walking, or doing many other activities.

Over time, running taught me a lot about myself. When I am really struggling, I came to appreciate the simplicity of the challenge: just keep going. Running doesn’t require a bunch of special gear, just a decent pair of shoes and a leash for Jazz.

I reached a point where the hardest challenge of running is deciding to go do it. And now that challenge is fading.

But running is hard. It forces you keep pushing when your brain is telling you to give up. It allows you to learn the difference between when your body is really done and when it’s just uncomfortable.

My New Attitude

Now I am thankful for running. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and through the loss of my job, running has become a place that is both peaceful and brings me peace that carries into times I’m not running.

Especially on days when stress and worry rise up like a pair of bullies, the challenge and focus of running seems to drain the power of stress and worry. At the same time, I feel like I am more able to recognize the lies that stress and worry try to use to drive me into panic and apathy.

There are still times it’s hard to lace up my shoes and head out the door, but I know it’s not just for me. Jazz is waiting. I gotta go hit the trails, and save Abel Township.

Raise the gates! (If you want to know, you have to play.)

My total statistics from Zombies, Run!
Not bad . . .

The Price of Exuberance

Or: How My Ego Broke My Body

Yes, I’m trying to stand up straight. No, that’s not normal.

I Know Better

A few days ago, I made a distinct error in judgment. I got excited during a workout and did more than I should have. I’m human, I was having fun, and I should have skipped that last set.

To set the stage, I’ve been running regularly for over a year, in which time I’ve lost over 20 pounds and dropped to approximately 20% body fat. My body feels better than it has in a long time, and I was ready to re-introduce barbell work.

Wednesday of last week, I chose to skip my 4+ mile run and do a functional strength workout incorporating deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and jump rope. And it was glorious. Not that I set any personal bests or  did anything remarkable other than I did string together more double-unders than I expected to accomplish.

I ran on Thursday. It was a good run, and provided the things I’ve come to need from runs: the requirement to focus on the mental  challenge of running on uneven ground and the mental exhaustion that allows the negative voices in my brain to fall asleep for a while.

At Least . . . I Should Know Better

And then Friday happened. Olympic lifts are highly technical movements, and I understand the dangers of doing too much too soon. My planned workout was to do 5 sets of 5 reps of clean & jerks at 65 pounds. I felt this weight was light enough I would be able to just focus on my form and would be able to easily finish the workout without problems.

My body started sending me hints my plan was unreasonable sometime near the beginning of the third round. The muscles were more tired than I expected, but nowhere near failure.

By the end of the fourth round, my body told me it was tired, and I remember thinking, “I should be happy with this. Just put the weights away and call it a day.” But my ego and brain swindled me into thinking, “It’ll be fine. Don’t just give up because you’re a little tired. The first four sets were fine…you’ll be fine.”

So I put on one of my “pump up” songs, rested a little longer, let the music get my adrenaline start flowing, stepped up to the barbell . . . I’m not sure if I pulled too hard from the ground or caught the bar too far forward, but I dumped the bar and knew something wasn’t right.

Face Challenges with Optimism

post-lift selfie July 3, 2020
The pain hasn’t really set in yet . . . but it was there.

I instantly recognized the feeling and knew my back was in trouble. My optimism made me think it wouldn’t be too bad. But it took 4 days before I recovered enough to stand in front of the mirror to take the picture at the top of this post. It’s not as obvious in this photo, but I spent most of the weekend with my left shoulder about 3 inches lower than my right.

This is the formula for many workout injuries I’ve heard: excitement to resume being active, overconfidence in your own ability, and pushing through the signals your body sends.

Did I Screw Up?

If I had been working with a personal trainer, they would have accepted too much responsibility for this injury. Since I was on my own, reacquainting myself with movements I’ve done before, no one can take any of the responsibility from me.

It’s my fault I injured myself. I let my ego be too strong. And the price I paid was high: I’m closing in on 5 days and I can barely walk a half mile without discomfort.

When you get excited to face a challenge, remember: your brain and your ego can write checks your body can’t cash. In a state of exuberance, our judgment gets clouded and we need to be more careful about the decisions we make.

Sometimes the hardest thing is stopping. Whether it’s one more jump, one more singletrack, or one more mile running. Don’t take yourself out of the game. That price is hard to pay.

#DoHardStuffLiveBetter