Well, October has come and gone and November is a done deal; and here we are with a very mild December half way in the bag. I have to say that I feel really spoiled with such a mild winter underway — it’s made transitioning into pseudo maintenance runs and gradual long run building a breeze.  We’ve really only had a couple of really cold days — and by really cold I mean ten degree runs that are cold enough to begin freezing your snot.

I can’t imagine what my state of mind would be if we were in a full-on normal Minnesota winter with four to six inches of snow on the ground and ten degree days as the norm. As it is right now, my mind works tirelessly to convince me this is a really dumb idea: running in winter, getting up at 5am during the week to run, and finishing my run long before the sun even thinks about breeching the horizon.  But I’m fortunate to have a few different people that I can run with and are there as some sort of accountability system for me; and it’s an odd balance, too (to me anyway). I run my normal 3-4 mile runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a friend of mine who prefers a slower pace with 3:1 intervals, a Saturday six-mile group run with that same pace in mind, and then on Sundays break out of that mold and go for longer straight run distances with another friend of mine — and he tends to push my pace a little bit to stretch me and help me grow.  And that’s good for me.

Today’s the second week in a row that I ran a ten-miler, and next week I’ll push it up to eleven miles for two weeks, and then up to twelve, and so on. I’ve noticed that my pace has improved, too. My distance running pace is now down to the low twelves, averaging about 12:10-12:20 minute-miles and my shorter runs I average about 10:30s which is a dramatic improvement to earlier this summer when my short runs averaged 12:30-13:00 minute miles. I have to say that I’m pretty satisfied with that level of improvement.

I’m improving, that’s for certain, and I’ve lost considerable weight over the course of the year, too.  I’ve managed to drop down 45 pounds and have begun to plateau around 180ish but still have some room for more loss to get me out of the “overweight” category and down to a healthy BMI range. And to help break that barrier, I’ve begun to do core exercises like planks, situps, and that sort of thing in addition to about 45 minutes on the stationary bike for a little cross training. I need to work on my core more so that I’ve got more strength in that area for those really long runs so I can maintain better posture and keep my run solid.

But while I’ve been improving physically, I still wrestle with the mental game that’s involved in running — and what runner doesn’t wrestle mentally when you’re running beyond four or five miles? And with such a dreary-looking landscape, overcast skies, and the general blah of the season — I’m not a big holiday kind of guy — I feel like my mind has more things to work on while on these long runs. Not only am I processing all of the various body parts that are protesting the increased mileage, I’m processing things about my departure from religion to atheism/agnosticism and all the struggles that come with that, and then all the trappings of being a middle-aged man thinking about what I really should be doing with the “back 40” of my life.

Lots of mental game to work on, that’s for certain, and no shortage of miles to do so. But I suppose it’s kind of like running — you probably improve with time on your feet and gradually increasing the mileage and slowly build up your ability to deal with more stuff.

Game on.