No Days Off

A Month of Running and a Letter to my 17 Year Old Self.

By Gale Straub, She Explores

Sponsored by Tracksmith Running

I, like many, have a complicated relationship with running. When I decided to do the #nodaysoff challenge through Tracksmith, I knew I could complete it, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. I ran every day for the month of February – through slush and mud, rain and snow. The coldest day was five degrees and the warmest was at least sixty.

At first, I was nervous. Prone to tight calves and arch pain, I worried that running every day was the opposite of moderation. I thought about the last days I really felt like a runner: back in my teens. In high school, I ran without listening to my body. As a result of over training and pushing through pain, I exacerbated a stress fracture junior year to the point where I ran the same exact mile time meet after meet. I struggled to find balance.

So I was surprised by how overwhelmingly positive my February was. I learned more about Tracksmith’s No Days Off campaign and found that it was all about moderation and pushing yourself when you’re ready. I ran to build a foundation, but I didn’t track mileage or time myself. All I had to do was step outside and run.

I ended up feeling like this month was as much for me as for my younger self. So, I wrote her a letter:

To 17 Year Old Gale –

It’s okay that everything hurts.

Heading up the hill at Derryfield Park, I know your legs weren’t that tired when you stopped today. I remember the instant relief you felt as you turned around and walked back to the starting line, waves of runners elbowing past, all effort. I see your coach’s disbelief and the quick shrug of your shoulders. You cheer on your team mates and watch them complete the state meet. It’s the last cross country race you’ll ever run in and you didn’t finish.

At Derryfield Park
At Derryfield Park

Twelve years has worn a lot away, but I know you drove home alone and the rain poured so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up. You’re in your room now and the door is closed, but behind the wheel you cried until you sobbed. Two miles from home, you gripped the wheel so tight that you let go and hit it. You hate that you cared so much and you gave up anyway.

One of the best and worst parts about getting older is that you gain perspective. I’m writing like you know this already, because I think you do. We’re every age we’ve ever been.

I haven’t forgotten how you keep yourself at a distance. You carry a pencil so you can erase your thoughts. I know you use your index finger to write cursive confessions in the air – your most intimate, invisible self. You think of how the room could fill up with words.

I guess I’m writing to tell you that I was a runner once and I understand. I get the pressure you put on yourself today. I know that you can’t shake the feeling that nothing (everything) matters. It’s okay that you’re exhausted and sad and ridiculously hard on yourself. I want you to know that you’ll have better runs.

Younger Me - L & R
Younger Me – L & R
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I just spent the month of February running every day – 29 days straight and I thought of you each time I laced up my shoes and when I layered up for the cold winter air. I thought of you when I paralleled the Amoskeag River, taking deep breaths and experimenting with pace. A few days I only ran a mile. Some days I jogged even though I could have gone faster. I saved my legs for the next day.

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Most of all, I had fun and I want you to know that. I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t beat myself up and I didn’t dread a run all day before I took it. If I stopped and walked, it didn’t mean I was giving up because I was still moving forward.

And so are you.

You know how you feel when you drive back roads in New Hampshire? All the potential you see in a foundation found buried in the woods? How deteriorated stone walls scream of the past? All that simple beauty will stay with you because you’ll never stop seeing it.

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Some tips for every day running:

  1. Stretch, stretch, stretch
  2. Roll out your muscles – I use a stick and a foam roller.
  3. Cross Train – I need a push to do core and body weight exercises, but just 20 minutes of intervals like pushups, planks, and lunges go a long way.
  4. Dress for the weather. On the coldest days, I wore a micro puffer with my soft shell. The shell blocked the wind and I was a little too warm with the puffer.
  5. Download podcasts. They’ll both pass the time and give you something to look forward to.
  6. Appreciate your surroundings. See the run as an opportunity to get fresh air and notice the landscape.
  7. Stay present. While podcasts are great, make sure you sometimes run without earbuds. Use the time to check in with yourself – it can feel like meditation.
  8. Don’t run too far or too fast unless you’ve built up a foundation. It’s OK to run a half mile one day – it means you’ll be better prepared to run again tomorrow.
  9. Use common sense. If you get injured or really sick, don’t run! Those aren’t excuses, they’re reasons to take a break.

I’m wearing Tracksmith gear in the photos above. You can find their full line through the website, linked here.

Note: While this is a sponsored post, the writing is unbiased and based on the real experiences of the author.

Photos by Gale Straub & Jon Gaffney