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Why do I go running when the air quality is code red?
Physical and mental health keeps the pace in Washington, D.C.
This is the first year I’ve celebrated Global Running Day because I’ve never heard of it before. I picked a challenging year to start because the air quality is code red and the meteorologists warned us to avoid strenuous activities outdoors because of the smoke from Canada.
I was alarmed to be told that I can’t go for my regular run, so I ran 3.5 miles to prove to myself that no one can take away the outside. I ran a little slower than usual. The sky is white in Washington, D.C. which is not normal. When I ran yesterday, I thought it was just weird, hazy summer weather, even though it’s not humid.
I run to slow my racing thoughts
Now that I know it’s smoke, the only way to really see it was to look at the highest place in the city, which is the National Cathedral. As you can see in this photo below that I took from the middle of Arlington Bridge during my run, it looks like the Cathedral is in fog, but it’s actually a sunny day.
When I mention running, people always ask if I'm training for a marathon. I run between 3.5 and six miles, no more and no less. I aim to run outside every day. My so-called rest days are when my schedule doesn’t allow for it. I’ve never run fewer than three times a week.
People also ask if I’m training for a race. I’ve never understood the concept of driving someplace to pay money to run and then drive back. I just walk out my front door and go. When I travel, I run to see new cities.
I run year-round and just change gear for the weather. I’m particular about my shoes and gear and rarely change. (If you’re interested, I can write you more about what I wear, what I use and how I choose new running shoes. The photo below of my current pair of Asics Gel Nimbus from the great Pacers. I always wear Currex insoles.*)
For the past year, I’ve been doing a mobility warm-up before I run (this one from Joe Holder.) I stretch just for a few minutes while I cool down afterward and continue to stretch through the day.
How I started
I have been running in Washington since I came here for college (Georgetown.) I played field sports through high school, so I needed to find a new athletic activity outside. Running around D.C. was an easy transition.
I don’t know if I would have stuck to running if I didn’t have the National Mall to keep my attention. I’m grateful to live here every single time I run past the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol, and the Washington Monument. I look over to the White House, the Jefferson Memorial and the World War 2 Memorial as I navigate the tourists walking on those awful scooters. I also love running along the Potomac River to get wider view of the sky and the city, even if it’s smoke-filled.
Why I run
I run for my physical and mental health equally.
Running is my primary way of reducing anxiety. I run to slow my racing thoughts. I feel like the pounding steps decrease the adrenaline in my veins. I’ve tried walking, but I just can’t get my heart rate up fast enough to calm down on the other end.
I think most clearly when I’m running. I have come up with most ideas for topics for this Substack during a run. I had the idea to write this today while running because the other topics I’ve been working on this week are heavy and complex.
I came up with the last line of my book while running. Just that one time, I stopped to put the sentences in my phone so I wouldn't forget them during the last miles. They are:
I generally don’t call myself “pro-gun.” I chose to describe myself as “pro-Second Amendment.
A gun is just a tool. The fight is for freedom.
I run to stay physically fit and healthy. As you know from my writing during the pandemic, I rarely get sick. I think that is from running. I keep my weight steady from counting calories, and I don’t eat more when I run.
Running has kept my resting heart rate at 59 bpm. I’m competitive about that because it’s low for a woman. Since we’ve had heart rate monitors, I’ve run with one in order to know when to push myself. I currently use the Apple watch. I try to keep my heart rate from 155 bpm to 175 bpm, depending on hills, heat and humidity.
Like almost everyone, I’ve had injuries over the years -- bad knee, hamstring tear, back tendons sprained. I’m miserable when I can’t run at all and work hard in physical therapy to get back to it. I’ve never found a good substitute for stress release than running.
How hard I run
I don’t pay attention to uphill and downhill times and just track at the average pace during the run. I used to have an average pace of about 9:30 to 10-minute miles, but I’ve gotten faster in recent years because I mostly stopped going to the gym after it closed during the pandemic. Now I run an average pace of 8:55 to 9:15 minutes no matter the distance.
However I recently joined a running club for the first time, and it has made me run much faster. I ran a 5K with them and my average pace was 8:37 because I tried to keep up with the faster group. I wasn’t tired or sore, so I know that I could do better on my own.
One of the members is an amateur photographer. We ran around Arlington Memorial Cemetary on Memorial Day. He took the picture at the top of this story. Since I run alone and not in races, this is the only photo evidence of the years I’ve been pacing through D.C.
This newsletter was obviously a change of pace. I think about running every day but never thought to write about it. If this interests you and you’d like to read more about health and fitness topics, let me know in the comments. I opened them up to all subscribers, here:
*I used to wear custom orthotics but discovered Currex insoles are much better for running. I have been buying and wearing them for three years. I wear the Run Pro high arch. I rave about them so much on social media that the company gave me a promo code to share for 10% off: MILLER10. I am not getting paid to advertise or sponsor. I just highly recommend them.
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