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Running does weird things...

I ran 8 miles last night. Normally, that's not worth blogging about. But it is when--without injury--it was the first time you'd gone over 6 miles in nearly a year.

Usually, I take a month off after a marathon with very little exercise. So we're talking November for a fall race. And, by then, the holidays are here. And it's dark and cold. So it turns into a winter hibernation with me ready to climb back on the horse come February or March.

This season, my one and only commitment was a triathlon in June so I needed to hit the pool early and often. And I've been in love with cycling lately so that my time in running shoes was very minimal--even for a minimalist like me--getting in only a few 10k before race day. Mostly just to work on getting my speed faster than my default marathon pace. Which was silly considering I raced on an 80 degree day with no shade after swimming a mile and biking in the hot sun first.

I know better now. That's the nature of endurance sports is you never know what you--personally--need to work on until you know what you need to work on. Experience works better than theory. It took me 5 times to figure out my marathon nutrition. Once I did, I knocked 10 minutes off my PR.

So here I am yesterday...feeling a little bummed after canceling my hotel reservation and with the volunteer coordinator for Ironman Wisconsin. Where does that leave me? All week I've been throwing around ideas in my to convince Kelly that we should pack up the kids and drive to Louisville next August so I can do my Ironman there? It's been one of those soul-searching periods for me asking why I do this. What do I want out of it? What keeps me getting out of bed to do 5am workouts?

It's a good reason to go for a run. Unlike swimming or biking, running clears your head. There's less to pay attention to and it's easier to get "in the zone." I really was surprised at how much run fitness was still there. 8 miles was super easy from an endurance point of view. Maybe a little tough on legs not used to pounding the pavement. But all-in-all, I think I was probably only 30-60 seconds off my marathon pace so I was pleased.

I found myself thinking back to previous seasons I'd been doing this on a regular basis. Several run workouts a week giving me time to pick the names for my children. Trying to imagine life with a son or daughter. Meditating on personal transformations that I've undergone since taking up running again. Really it all started with just wanting to finish a marathon.

Last night I was suddenly back to the volunteer shift for the Chicago marathon 2 years ago. I came home and Kelly went into labor. It was scary and such an ordeal yet here Leda is today running around the playground. Throwing herself down the slide. Dumping sand all over her head. Telling me she spilled her cereal on the carpet. Asking me for a snuggle.

I was deep in thought about a mile from home when coming down the sidewalk in the opposite direction was a face I recognized but couldn't place. A mom pushing a City Mini double stroller and two kids about Leda's age talking about doggies ahead. Half a block later, I realized it was the family who had been in the bed next to us in the NICU! Weird timing. I mailed her this morning and we may make plans to get together soon. She described her daughter as "sassy." Must have been something in the water with sassy daughters in the NICU that day.

I haven't been on the bike yet this week but I'm not that bothered. I'm trying to refocus myself back to running a little bit. We've ended our gym membership so the pool is out for awhile. (I wasn't using the rest of the facility anyway. Might as well get a lap pass next year at our public pool and use Lake Michigan to practice open water.) The bike will eventually go in the trainer permanently over the winter, but my intention is to run outside unless the weather is truly awful.

No matter what I decide to do next season for races, I'm going to come into the spring ready to start a training plan and get the most out of it. No need to ramp up. I know what I need to work on...I may love the bike, but my swimming and running are the fundamentals. Cycling is like a dessert for me, don't over-indulge and neglect a balanced diet.

But mostly, the "step back" I've taken this summer with nothing on my schedule has allowed me to do some mental evaluation. I've always said I wanted this to be a lifestyle so that I didn't burn out and hate it. Or find myself constantly injured. The opposite is true, actually. On my 8 miles last night I found myself refreshed. And missing racing in a healthier way. Having a race goal on the calendar makes me a healthier, better person in so many ways.

I'm a little excited to go watch the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday then. I appreciate and admire my fellow athletes in some entirely new ways. And this down time is allowing me to see the sport in all its glory without the emotional pressures of thinking race prep or transition logistics. My eventual Ironman goal is much the same...what got me wanting to tackle such a crazy event in the first place was being outside it and looking in. Of course, having a little experience under your belt makes you understand the difficulty and hard work even more.

It's not just "hard" to spend several hours pushing your body to swim, bike, run. These folks are doing it with kids, careers, struggling to pay race fees, keep sponsors happy, not over-train, get their long swim/ride/run in with a busy schedule.