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...