Monday, April 18, 2011

I Can Finally Do a Snot Rocket and Other Running Tales!

I have not written in a while but luckily with the marathon approaching it is not for lack of training.  Today was the 115th Boston Marathon, the long term (possibly unattainable) goal I strive for.  I didn't go this year but it was still very exciting to watch on TV especially since I got to watch the runners in the lead at each mile.  It was amazing to see how quickly that lead can be lost because of one hill or a leg cramp.  The determination on their faces while running at roughly thirteen miles per hour with someone equally as fast just at their heels was an inspiration.  I know that I will most likely (I don't want to say a definite never) NEVER run at those speeds but I definitely have the drive to at least run the bare minimum speed for 26.2 miles to qualify. I do keep flip-flopping, especially since there has been a change in the qualifying times, between giving up and persevering to qualify. Currently I am in the "I will do this before I am 30!" state of mind. Since 30 is 3 years away I am focusing on my more short term goals.

The San Diego marathon is 6 weeks away! Unlike last year, I am actually training for this so I am very optimistic that I will set a marathon PR and get one step closer to pounding the pavement of the Boston Marathon route!  I started working with a running coach and team on March 19th and the motivation of working with people who are dedicated to running and having fun doing it has pushed me further than I would ever go on my own.  Since it has been two months since I last wrote, I will only share notable runs and anything significant I took from my running.

One thing notable that I took from my running over the past few months is that I actually like running without music a lot more than with.  This is after I have invested in a new Ipod, music for the Ipod, creating playlists for the Ipod depending on my mood, etc.  I am sure I will have use for this outside of running, but I did specifically by the nano geared towards runners instead of the Ipod touch which now I would much rather have!  Up until very recently I felt like I absolutely NEEDED my music.  Over the past few runs I have noticed that I can focus a lot more if I don't have constant beats pounding in my ears.  In actuality the music oftentimes hindered my running because I was constantly adjusting the volume or switching songs.  My runs, now sans ear buds, have been a lot more reflective and focused.  I bought a new toy that helps me gauge exactly where I am with my running  speed-wise and mileage-wise.  When I am really trying to focus on my run and trying to reach a goal or keep pace I use the Garmin Forerunner which is now the most amazing piece of technology I own!  At the end of runs I find myself looking at it every hundredth of a mile, but otherwise it holds me accountable to my workload and tracks it for future reference.

Stripped of my Ipod and armed with my Forerunner I have been hitting the pavement longer and harder than I have ever done on my own outside of a race.  Obviously with a few half marathons and one full under my belt I have met this mileage before, but I have never done it with out the excitement of the race environment to fire up my endorphins and fuel my performance.  My most notable at this point is my 12 miler a week ago (Sunday) at Castle Island.  I had skipped my team meeting on Saturday because I wasn't feeling well (I truly was stuffed up but it was also a good excuse that allowed me to continue a more lazy Saturday with good company).  Skipping the run on Saturday meant that I had to do a 12 miler on my own without the cheers of the coach and team to push me.  Luckily, I convinced a friend to join me who shockingly held up for 8.4 miles with me and really helped get me through it!  I started off rather slowly in the 11:00 minute mile range because I was a little wary that I wouldn't finish the full 12 and I also wanted my running partner to continue longer than his purported 3 miles!  The first two miles were pretty much hell!  I was seriously ready to quit or only continue to 6 or 7 miles! The good thing, though, is that usually once I make it halfway I find no reason not to finish.  This has become one of my mantras while running an out and back route in my town. "Just make it halfway."  I know once I am there I will want to turn back and get home faster!

Castle Island is in South Boston and has a sugar-bowl loop of about two and a half miles. I get fairly bored running around and around the same loop so I usually continue down the road past the beaches.  This is what I did for my 12 miler.  I did the sugar bowl once, then ran down the road and back around to the sugar-bowl which brought me to 7 miles.  The downfall of this run was that I was planning to rely on the water fountains lined up along  the road, but unbeknown to me the city does not turn these on until May 1st!  This was motivation enough to keep running to my car to get my water!  When I had first started the run I said out loud to my newfound running buddy (:)) that I would be fine with stopping at 7 miles.  Once I had made it this far, however it was only 5 miles to my goal!  I was also motivated by the fact that he had gone 4 miles longer than he had gone in a while, so if he could make it that far I could surely make the full 12.  After a much need guzzle of water at my car I continued on solo around the sugar bowl, starting out a bit quicker at an 8 minute pace.  We had managed to speed our pace up to about 9-9.5 minute pace for miles 5-7 and I wanted to get the final 5 over with!  As I ran around once the plan was for my friend to walk around and once I caught up with him (also the bearer of my water!) we would finish the run together.  It became clear very quickly as my thirst level increased that neither of us is very good at algebraic distance problems!  I had run around a lap and a half of the sugar bowl and with 1.4 miles left I worried that I'd never get a sip of water!  I contemplated running the route backwards to hopefully meet him, but luckily I didn't follow this instinct and my friend had the idea to stop and wait for me at one point!  Water never tastes so good as when you feel like with out the tiniest drop you might just drop dead!  This is a slight exaggerations since it had only been 3.6 miles since my last sip, but I was still very thirsty!  I gulped my water down and managed to finish the last 1.4 miles watching the watch pretty much every 30 seconds!  I finished this run in 2:13 which I am pretty happy with considering I started out pretty slow.  I would also like to note I was on about four hours of sleep the night before and only four hours of sleep the night before that!  I had babysat late Saturday night after popping dayquil pills back and then woke up early to volunteer at a 10 mile trail race (at which I snuck in a little run from my first to my second post...extra credit!) Althought this run was slow,  it was what I needed to know I can do longer runs without being in a race!  The total time was pretty slow but it was more about getting the distance under my feet and I know the second half was minutes per mile quicker.

This weekend with my running team, my coach wanted me to run 10 miles hard.  The route was through Easton/ Stoughton to a sheep pasture and back to our meeting spot which was about 4.7 miles.  I told myself I had to get through this route twice and then just a tiny bit past our meeting point and back to make ten miles.  I was supposed to go as fast as possible without puking, so I took this mission on (almost) full force.  By putting it into perspective as only having to do the route two times I was able to breakdown the run into smaller battles instead of one big battle of ten miles.  By the time I got to the pasture my coach was there with water and encouragement and he was back at the home base with more of the same upon my return.  Knowing that I had to run 4 bouts of 2.5 miles at which I would be rewarded with refreshment and a "Go Lauren!" really put the fire under my feet.  He was not at the pasture by my second visit but this only encouraged me to get back to "home" faster, or as fast as my tired legs would carry me!  Along the way I ran past teammates running along the same route at their speed and distances and they were very supportive and helped to keep me moving through the pain of tired legs and blistered feet!  Towards the end of my run I felt that I hadn't actually given it my all and the precipice of puking was a little bit further off, but as I have experienced before I tend to be cautious that I won't make it to the end so I am a little conservative.  I have to realize that this is all mental.  This is why I say I went out almost full force.  I need to get the fear of not being able to keep pace out of my head.  I know I can't cardiovascularly hold an 8 minute pace at this point for 10 miles because otherwise Boston would be a closer shot, but I could probably push myself a little harder than I did on Saturday which was roughly a 9.6 minute mile. Knowing how I felt after the run and during, I know that I can push harder in my training runs, especially on the shorter runs.  This means I am getting out of that comfortable 10 minute mile pace. Now, I don't want to let myself run under that except for recovery runs when my legs feel horrible with every step like they did after my 3 miler on Sunday!

With each training run I learn a little bit more about my limits in running, but also about myself and how I let my mind take over and stop me from hitting things head on.  In running and in life I need to forget about "what if I don't make it" and just have the confidence to know I have the power to do so.  Instead of holding back how I feel or holding back on what I want to do, I need to move "full speed ahead" and reach the end result by putting my all into it.  Caution is necessary sometimes, but most times it is a hindrance to an otherwise obtainable goal.

I almost forgot to add my most important development!! During my ten miler while I was on a stretch of road alone, I attempted to do the often so necessary runner's snot rocket!  For the past few months, while running I have had a constant running nose!  My only two options were to blow it onto my shirt or to suck it back, both of which I did and both of which were disgusting!  On Saturday I just decided to let loose and embrace all the gross skills acquired during running and attempted to preserve my shirt and my breathing by rocketing the...snot...out of my nose!  I had always feared it would just hit me in the face, but I was wrong and now I can breath clearly on my runs!  I can't believe I have been suffering and sniffling so long!  I have no qualms now and I really am excited about this newfound running skill...yes, it's a running skill!

I'll be hitting the pavement pretty hard this week with the inspiration I have from the elite Boston Marathon finishers and the luxury of school vacation preserving my energy!

"Run Happy!"- Brooks ;) 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comfort vs. Success

When I first started running, a good 7 years ago, it was something that I am not even sure you could actually call running.  I would look at the treadmills from the elliptical and think "I wish I could be like those people."  For some reason to me, using the elliptical or the bike was not as strong or fit as RUNNING on the treadmill.  I could do the elliptical for over an hour, stopping due to boredom or a life beyond exercising, but I just didn't think I could run.

I like a challenge, though.  My first race was a half marathon, no training and a long run of only 6 miles under my sneakers!  I hopped on the treadmill and set it to 5 miles per hour.  This is probably the slowest a person can run without calling it walking!  I would walk for 5 minutes then up the speed to 5mph and run for 5 minutes.  I gradually increased this so that I was just running.  At some point the speed went up, as well.  With in the next year I was running for an hour at 6.0 to 6.5mph after having done kickboxing or spinning or pilates or weight lifting (this is called unhealthy exercise obsession).

Fast forward to now.  I have run some 5ks, around 4 half marathons, and one marathon.  All of which I did not appropriately train for and all of which I could have done better in.  My first half marathon was my best time, around 2:19 and some seconds.  That was with a knee injury acting up around mile 4 and no traditional running training.  What could I do if I focused and trained?

On Monday, I was doing a quick run before a pilates class.  I had about 30 minutes.  I ran the first 10 minutes or so at about 6.2 mph or a little above a 10 minute pace.  I wasn't breathing heavy, my legs didn't hurt, I simply was not challenging myself.  I've always had this self-conscious thing where I don't want people to hear me breathing heavy.  I don't care if sweat is flinging off my pony tail all over the place, but I always associate heavy breathing, in myself only, to be a sign that I am not fit enough to be doing what I am doing.  I decided I would up the speed.  I reset the treadmill to create my own speed intervals.  I thought back to my friend's run the other day where she pushed herself to maintain 7.1mph for a full 6 miles all the while huffing and puffing.  I need to focus on where I want to go and not on what others around me are judging by my gate, my breathing rate, or my perspiration level.  I set up three different speed levels. Each interval lasted for 2 minutes which is set by the treadmill and can't be changed.  The first interval was 6.2 mph, followed by a 7.5 mph, and a quick recovery at 5 or 5.5 mph (I can't remember at this point).  If I want the Boston marathon to be a shoe-in I want to be able to run 26.2 miles consistently at 7.5 mph.  To just qualify by a nose I would have to consistently run each mile for 26.2 miles at 7.15mph.  While I was running my two minute intervals at 7.5mph I thought to myself, "Oh good Lord! I will never qualify for Boston!  I can't do this for 3 hours and 40 minutes!"  This kind of self-destruction then interrupts my breathing and makes it even more difficult to continue.  I then thought back to when I first started running and, even more motivational, to when I first started adding more speed.  On those days when I would run at 6.5mph for an hour I would finish the last few minutes faster.  I would do 20 seconds of increasing speed from 7.0 up to 9.0 mph and then go back down to my original speed decreasing by 0.5mph every 20 seconds.  I thought to myself as I was running, I could really only do less than a minute of higher speeds.  Sometimes I would go from 6.5mph to 7.0 for 30 seconds and 7.5 for 30 seconds then back down to 7.0mph and back to 6.5 mph all for 30 seconds just before the cooldown.  When I did my intervals on Monday, the two minutes was not killing me.  I could have done them longer.  When I realized this I was able to get over the thought that I will never make it to Boston.

This is something I do a lot in life.  I think something will not work out and I allow the negative thoughts to basically make it so.  Whether it is in my personal endeavors or my personal relationships if I fear failure or ending I basically stop trying so it eventually does fail or end.  Part of my training to qualify for the Boston marathon is retraining my mind to not constantly beat myself up or think I cannot achieve something.  I finished that run thinking that if I increase the time I am running the faster speed minute by minute, just as I did when I first started running, I will eventually be as comfortable at that speed as I am at the ever-so leisurely pace of the 10 minute mile.

Next feat: Abandoning the treadmill to run in the cold, but I can't promise I will overcome that this winter!

Sabotaging Self-Sabotage

"Since it did, was it supposed to happen this way?"

I saw this quote on my fridge many years back.  It was written in brother's handwriting on one of those shopping list note pads, perhaps a note for a little existentialism to go along with the eggs and milk.  This quote, whether my brother is the author or not I don't know, has stuck with me since the first time I read it.  From time to time when I am in a very introspective state and have a moment to really think about where I am in my life, which let's face it is quite often, I think of this quote.  I am not exactly sure where I pictured myself being at 27 years old, but I know this is not it. That's where this quote comes in.  Whenever I am in my (I'll admit it) "poor me" frame of mind, I think of this quote.  Do I have control over where I am meant to be or is this where I am meant to be right now?  I do not want to completely give up control over my own fate, but at the same time I do believe that things happen for a reason, whatever that reason may be.

If I want to be honest with myself, which I don't, I actually do have control over my current circumstance. I do think I got to this point because of some things that were out of my control whether it was financial issues or lack of appropriate opportunity, but I remained in this situation probably by my own choice (I can only hope unintentionally). I certainly did not picture myself living in the same town I grew up in and working in a job far below my skill and education-level.  It is true that part of this fate I can control and I am working towards changing these circumstances drastically.  In my mind, my life is meant to be far more extravagant than it actually is.  I feel like I know different things that I want to be doing and picture myself living the life I want to be living, but everything being seemingly out of reach is just so exceedingly overwhelming that I then simply accept things for what they are.  This is called self-sabotage and I do this a lot!

As I said, there are so many things I see myself doing.  With everything out of place I want to focus on one of the most simple goals I have: to qualify for the Boston Marathon before I turn 30.  Of course, I do hope everything falls into place along with this goal and certainly before, but my problem has been that I don't break things down to find the solution step by step.  I dwell on how I am not in a place where I want to be and then day dream about where that place is that I should be.  Basically, I have been in a quarter-life crisis so long that I fear it may last into my mid-life crisis.  At least in a mid-life crisis I'd get myself a fancy car and a boob job, both of which I couldn't afford anytime in the present or near future. (I don't ever actually want a boob job, but I'd take a fancy car.)  I have decided that running and training to qualify for the most elite marathon will be the most simple goal I can achieve.  I do not mean simple in the fact that it won't be hard work.  It will probably be the most physically challenging thing I will ever do in my lifetime, unless I become an ultra-marathoner.  What I mean is that it lacks the materialism and finances needed by most of my other goals.  Wanting a better job requires finishing my masters and then searching for that perfect job that will supply me with satisfaction and also a pay check to afford living where I want to live, traveling where I want to go, and driving what I want to drive as well as to support  my severe shopping habit and expensive taste.  Running is pure and simple.  You need nothing but your body and a surface for which to pound your feet.  You don't even really need sneakers or clothes if that's your thing.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote:

"I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." 

His goal was to live simplistically and self-sufficiently.  As I find myself becoming consumed with materialistic goals that I cannot obtain, I too want to step away and focus on something more simple.  As mentioned above I am somewhat of a self-saboteur.  Too many times has doubt in myself stopped me from pursuing what I want or pushing myself to obtain what I want.  Could I be living in a nice apartment in the city?  Could I be working in a job that I truly enjoy, or at least don't loathe, and one that makes me actually feel successful?  The answer is most likely "yes".  By focusing my energy on obtaining a "simple" goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon I hope to become more focused and believe that I can reach goals that perhaps I once thought I couldn't.  Running will be my Walden Pond.

And so I run...