The power of little moments when you're training

Plus: 25 stunning September half marathons you'll love

“The next day as we toured the city as a family, I thought about the power of a single positive choice, how it is the first step in the story we want to create, the outcome we desire. I thought about how every decision builds and expands and accumulates. And yet it comes back to the micro-decisions we make in any given moment, when we can go in one direction or the other.” — Deena Kastor

If you’re not familiar with the legendary Deena Kastor, she’s an Olympic bronze medalist who also holds (or has held) American records in several different race distances, from the marathon to the 5K.

The words above come from the closing paragraph on the last page of her recent book, “Let Your Mind Run,” when she describes her feelings the day after finishing 7th in the 2015 Chicago Marathon (which she’d won a decade earlier).

This week, as I’ve been reading and re-reading parts of the book — which I plan to dig deeper into this Friday in our weekly essay for subscribers — it occurs to me that even though the now 45-year-old Kastor runs on a much bigger stage than most of us do, what she has to say can help even a weekend jogger get better.

I think that’s because of the self-awareness she reveals. In the book, Kastor describes herself as a bit of an awkward kid — “my parents were worried I spent too much time in my head, and sports were a logical solution” — who tried lots of things before she found running.

When she was 8, her dad coached her team in softball, which she found so boring that she “passed the time in the outfield making dandelion necklaces for my teammates.” After that, her parents put her in youth track and cross country, figuring you couldn’t go wrong with a sport that seemed “fail-proof” thanks to no tryouts to make the team, and no cuts once you were on it.

Right out of the gate, Kastor showed big promise as a runner, winning local races in her hometown of Agoura Hills, Calif. As she kept winning, she would go on to compete in cross-country races around the U.S., and later at the college level for the University of Arkansas.

It was when she decided to turn pro that everything changed. That’s because when she was young, she pushed herself to run as hard as possible — her running was entirely physical.

Competing at the highest levels, however, showed Kastor she hadn’t paid much attention to the mental side of her running. She developed doubts about her own potential, which led her to take a closer look at the way she thought:

“I’d always considered myself a happy, mostly cheerful person, but when I started paying attention to my thoughts, I was surprised to find there was a lot of negativity in my head.”

Relying solely on her body to get her through the miles, Kastor found, wasn’t enough. She needed to develop the mental and emotional resilience that would see her through the toughest parts of a race.

It would be silly for me to say I can relate to the things Kastor has experienced, but I relate to the feelings she felt.

This past weekend, I got out for my first run in a couple of weeks after a stomach bug kept me in bed the weekend before. I felt great when I started, but it was just after mid-day and the sun was beating down, while the trail where I run along the Chattahoochee River was steamy from the rain that fell earlier that morning.

Around the time I was finishing my third mile, I just conked out. My mind said “stop.” So I did.

There was a time when I didn’t, though, even when things were a lot tougher. Years aog, I ran a triathlon I hadn’t trained for, but a friend convinced me I could do. (I was in my mid-20s and thought I could do anything!)

Well, when you do a triathlon — this one was a one-mile swim, followed by a 15-mile bike ride and a 5-mile run — the first thing you do is the swim.

Now, I wasn’t much of a swimmer. This became abundantly clear when I found myself, about a third of the way through the swim, completely exhausted out in the water. I had to stop and hang on to the kayak of one of the race observers until I could catch my breath enough to keep going.

That’s the key thing, though — I kept going. In fact, I kept going long enough to finish the swim, finish the bike ride, and finish the run. (About half a mile before I crossed the finish line, one of the volunteers said to me, “you’re the one we’ve all been waiting for!”)

Quitting back then never occurred to me, even though it was probably the most physically difficult thing I’ve ever done. When I think about it now, I wonder if I’ve lost something that I had back then. Do I quit too soon now, when things start getting tough?

Perhaps. But it’s helpful — and comforting — to know that even people like Deena Kastor, people who’ve competed at the pinnacle of our sport, experience doubts too. That they’re flesh and blood, human just like me.

And so maybe what they do isn’t so out of reach for the rest of us. I don’t mean winning Olympic medals necessarily — rather, that we can all do things we don’t think we can.

That’s what I think she’s trying to tell us. What do you think?

Your friend,

— Terrell

Thank You, Again & Again

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25 Stunning September Half Marathons You’ll Love

Scenic half marathons in some of the most beautiful places in the U.S., from California to Michigan to Virginia to Wisconsin, with many more here.

Hurricane Half Marathon

Set for a mid-September run among the stunningly gorgeous canyon country of southern Utah, within a few hours’ drive of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, the Hurricane Half Marathon follows a route that circles Sand Hollow Reservoir in the 20,000-acre Sand Hollow State Park.

Known for its gorgeous golf courses that wind around the red rock mesas surrounding the resort, Sand Hollow offers some of the most visually striking vistas anywhere in the Southwest, and you’ll get to take it all in at this race.

Monument Half Marathon

Get ready for a run through a gorgeous, rocky landscape that’s home to historic stretches of the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail at the Platte Valley Companies Monument Half Marathon, which unfolds through the 3,000-acre Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Known for its namesake bluff that towers some 800 feet over the North Platte River below, this national monument commemorates the area used by fur traders and expedition parties going all the way back to the early 1800s, where they served as a guide to travelers approaching the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon

A gorgeous early September run through the Blue Ridge Mountains that straddle the Tennessee-North Carolina border awaits runners at this race, which makes a very gradual climb near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park just outside Knoxville.

You’ll get a feel for what the park is like just outside its gates, as you’ll cross the finish line less than two miles from the park entrance on the Tennessee side, and will get to see the surrounding “smoky” mountains throughout the race.

Race to the Center Half Marathon

You’ll take in views of the Kansas prairie as you run unpaved country roads all the way from the center of the small town of Lebanon to the geographic center of the United States at the Race to the Center Half Marathon, set for the last weekend in September. 

And if you want, you can run, walk or even ride your bike on this USATF-certified route.

In Case You Missed It

What Are Tempo Runs & Why Should I Do Them?

Why do many professional athletes and coaches call it the “bread and butter” of training? Can anyone from new runners to veteran runners benefit from them?

No, Running Isn’t Always the Best Therapy

“When my boyfriend broke up with me unexpectedly in the spring of 2016, I needed to do something drastic to deal with my emotions. So I signed up to run the New Jersey Marathon a week before the race in an attempt to qualify for Boston. I believed that the validation of a BQ would help me feel better about the whole ordeal, and maybe even help him realize what he was giving up. But instead of feeling amazing, I crossed the finish line with more than 10 minutes to spare, only to feel emptier and lonelier than ever before, enlightened by a depressing realization: Running—fast or slow — wouldn’t make anyone love me.”

— There’s been a lot of buzz lately around Runner’s World editor Scott Douglas’s latest book “Running Is My Therapy,” which was also excerpted in the magazine last year (it also was one of its most popular articles ever online). This piece, also from Runner’s World, brings a welcome bath of realism to some of the inflated claims that have been made around running’s healing powers in recent years. That isn’t to say that running doesn’t help millions of people with their mental health; rather, that it’s misleading to say that running alone can do that. Great read.

When We Eat, Or Don’t Eat, May Be Critical For Our Health

“We’ve inhabited this planet for thousands of years, and while many things have changed, there has always been one constant: Every single day the sun rises and at night it falls,” said Dr. Satchin Panda. “We’re designed to have 24-hour rhythms in our physiology and metabolism. These rhythms exist because, just like our brains need to go to sleep each night to repair, reset and rejuvenate, every organ needs to have down time to repair and reset as well.”

— This story in the New York Times confirms what we all probably know but are loathe to admit: that we need to curtail our eating to the hours when our bodies are designed for it (evolutionarily speaking). One thing I found especially interesting was that we should plan the size of our meals so that we eat breakfast “like a king,” lunch “like a prince” and dinner “like a pauper.” Worth your time.

Men, Here’s What Women Want You to Know About Running at Night

“Rachel Colonna, 22, mentions spending money on an Uber to go the distance of one train stop ‘just because it’s late, and it’s dangerous.’ Ali Barzyk, 21, rearranges her schedule just to fit in a mandatory workout ‘in a closed space that is safe.’ And Gabriella Torres, 21, is constantly on a swivel, ‘always scanning my perimeter to see who’s around and to see, should I need help, who can be there.’”

— Really eye-opening piece in the Chicago Tribune about an effort by a wellness publication called aSweatLife to recruit men into a class that educates women on ways to empower them to work out safely at night, and to get men involved in the conversation so they can learn to become part of the solution. One notable statistic: a 2016 survey by Runner’s World found that 43 percent of women reported some level of harrassment while running, compared to just 4 percent of men.

Bananas (Maybe) Are Better than Sports Drinks for Post-race Recovery

“There’s no question that sports drinks work, but when you look at bananas, the sugar profile is almost the same. But bananas also have other nutrients — vitamin C and [vitamin] B6 and fiber and these unique metabolites — that you don’t get with a sports drink.”

— It probably won’t surprise you that fresh, whole fruits are better for you than a sugary sports drink that comes in an aluminum can or a plastic bottle. But this study highlighted by the U.K. edition of Runner’s World takes a deeper dive to show how nutrients in bananas help reduce inflammation after exercise. Yet “another reason to enjoy this yellow superfood,” the article adds.

Race Discounts, This Week Only

These aren’t exclusive to us, but I came across them today and couldn’t wait to pass them on because they expire Thursday! Special “Christmas in July” discounts for these races near Tampa, Fla.

Save $10 off any of these races when you sign up with the discount code “CHRISTMAS10”:

Or, get $30 off the Fort de Soto Triple Crown (which includes the 15K, Halloween Halfathon and Shamrock Halfathon listed above) with the discount code “CHRISTMAS30”: