by Sophie Speidel

 

Last week I managed to persuade a group of new running friends to try the “12 Days of Christmas” track workout, which Pam Smith posted on Facebook last year. It goes like this:

1st Day: 1 push-up
2nd  Day: 200 at 5k pace (then back to Day 1)
3rd Day: 3 deep breaths (then back to Day 2 and 1)
4th Day: 400 at half marathon pace (then back to Day 3,2,1)
5th day: 5 Burpees (then back to Days 4,3,2,1)
6th Day: 6 lunges (etc)
7th Day: 7 Jumping Jacks
8th Day: 800 at marathon pace
9th Day: 9 butt kicks
10th Day: 10 X 100s, alt easy/hard
11th Day: 11 high knees
12th Day: 1200 recovery
 
On paper, this looks like a fun, hard workout. In reality, it is REALLY hard, but it is incredibly fun with a group of friends cheering one another on. Last year I attempted it alone, and I managed to talk myself out of going back down the ladder after Day 10. (Wimpy, I know). So this year, I took advantage of the fact that I had recently joined #runcrozet, a group of runners who live about 15 minutes from me in the little mountain hamlet of Crozet, Virginia.
 
These runners are a mix of stay-at-home and working moms and dads who are training for road marathons and, in a few cases, trail ultras. On Wednesday mornings at 5:30, they do a standard track workout, so as Christmas approached, I threw out the “12 Days” idea, and was thrilled when six others agreed to join me. 
 
 

Bighorn 2016 finish line. Finished despite a nagging hamstring injury. My goal for 2017 is redemption. PC Rusty Speidel.

 
 
Up until that morning last week, I had not run a track workout since 2012. I had been doing all my quality training in the form of hilly tempo runs on gravel roads, hill repeats, and long runs in the mountains. For the most part, I had fairly good results with that system, and didn’t miss the track at all. However, the satisfaction and camaraderie that the 12 Days workout provided nudged me to jump into more #runcrozet track workouts in 2017 when my early morning meeting schedule allows. What’s “old” is new again for me!
 
This decision to be open to something new — in this case, adding a new twist to my training — reflects my running (and life) mantras for 2017: I have chosen the words “Open” and “Listen” to guide me this year. In 2016, my mantra was “Grateful”. In 2015, I chose “Fast and Light” and in 2014, it was “Fearless.” I am drawn to “Open” for a variety of reasons: I can use it as a verb (“I will be open to new adventures; I want to open up and be more vulnerable”, etc) as well as a noun (“Look for the opening”) and as an adjective (“an open door…”). 
 
 

Pacing Annie Stanley at the 2014 Grindstone 100. I love how totally focused and in sinc we were here at mile 80. PC: Sophie Speidel

 
 
 In my job as a school counselor (as well as my role as a mom, wife, friend, and sister), “Listen” is a powerful prompt. My colleagues and I were trained in “deep listening” skills last summer and I have also taught these skills to my students this year. The basic premise of deep listening is to NOT jump to problem-solving mode, but instead, when someone is sharing his/her thoughts or feelings with you, to listen for the feeling and reflect back what you hear.
Deep listening takes time, patience, and promotes connection and empathy, but only when the listener doesn’t try to solve the problem.
 
In my running life, I envision “Listen” as a valuable reminder to be pay attention to my body, to be mindful of my surroundings in nature, and to patiently accept the inevitable lessons that will no doubt be presented out on the trail. The challenge for me will be quiet, to listen deeply, without judgment, and not try to control or solve (unless I am in race mode and need to make changes fast!). 
 
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to put these mantras into practice. A trail runner friend asked to meet with me for a run. He wanted to apologize for past hurts and conflicts, and he specifically asked if we could “run side-by-side” so we could see one another and have eye contact (as opposed to typical trail running formation, one behind the other). It took courage for him to reach out to me, to own his part of the problem, and to be vulnerable, and I told him so.
 
 

My favorite photo of me atop McAfee’s Knob on the AT. Totally captures my mantras of “Open” and “Listen” for 2017. PC: Hallie Hegemier

 
 
For my part, I tried to listen deeply, to truly hear his side of things, without judgment…to open my heart, and to forgive. As a result, we have started the process of rebuilding a bridge, and a friendship. I was grateful to have had my deep listening skills to guide me, as too often in the past, when addressing conflict with others, I would find myself getting defensive or trying to problem solve, and not really hear the other person. 
 
Starting the new year with new goals, new races, and new adventures is an exciting feeling. I intend to be open to the possibilities that await: Can I run under seven hours at the Mt. Mitchell Challenge? Can I break 12 hours at the Bighorn 50? Can I balance training, work, and life commitments in healthy ways? Can I be a better wife, mother, and friend? I will need to listen carefully, and deeply, for these things to happen.
 
What mantras will guide you in the new year?