Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Measuring Distance

How do most people measure the distance they run outside?

This is a new problem for me. I spent most of my early months running on my treadmill, and even once I started running outside, most of my workouts were measured in time, not distance. Now only my weekday runs are specific amounts of time; on the weekends I'm supposed to run a specific number of miles.

I do have a pedometer but it's not working for me. It's nothing too fancy, but you can enter the length of your stride in order to make the measurements more accurate. The problem is if I measure a walking stride, then it's not accurate when I run, and if I measure a running stride, it won't be accurate for my warm-up and walking breaks. And there is no way to toggle between the two.

My budget is very tight right now so I can't go out and buy some nifty new gadget (though I may put one on my birthday or Christmas wish list!). In the meantime, I don't know whether to stick to my treadmill to make sure I'm running the right distance, or run outside and just hope that I'm maintaining close to my indoor pace, and run what would be the right amount of time to cover the distance.

Or is there another inexpensive solution I'm just missing? I don't have access to a track (that I know of), and there is a nearby park with a path in it that I frequently run on...the loop is just under a mile, but there is a short detour around the end of the block so it's probably a little more than a mile now. I suppose I could just pretend it's a mile even...or is that just dumb?

If you run outside, please let me know how you measure your distance, and share any relevant tips! Thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Take Two

One thing I learned from my years of actual horseback riding is the sooner you get back on the horse, the better. The longer you wait, the more time there is for fear to creep in, and fear can be crippling.

I successfully "got right back on the horse" of running in general, and have stuck to my training, but the "horse" of racing has yet to be remounted.

A part of me would like to wait a long, long time before attempting to run another 5K. It would be nice to have run 3.1 miles so many times that I could do it in my sleep, such that there would be no question about whether I could finish without walking. At the same time, I know that if I wait too long, the head games will start all over again and I'll have a big wall of fear standing between me and running a complete race. I need to get back on this horse as soon as I can.

To that end, today I registered for the Semper Fi Fund 5K which will be held two weeks from tomorrow. It benefits a worthy charity, and a dear friend who will be visiting from out-of-town is going to run it with me.

The one drawback of this race is that I will be attending a wedding rehearsal and dinner the night before, and thus may not get to bed too early. I pretty much never get a full night's sleep anyway, and though I'm sure I would perform better with more sleep than I currently get, at least my body is accustomed to exercise while tired.

I promise not to freak out this time if I don't manage to run the whole race. Completing the distance without walking is still my goal, but to be honest, I'm no longer that confident that I can do it. I'm going into it this time accepting that I might fall short of my goal. The difference this time is that any failure will be a physical one, not a mental one. If I take a walk break, it will be because I literally HAVE to, not because I'm giving up when things get tough. And you can bet I'll start running again and finish STRONG no matter what happens!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Food as Fuel

On my family outing to Costco this past weekend, I sampled two flavors of Clif bars for the first time. They were quite tasty and I considered buying a box, but decided to wait until I figure out whether I really need them.

So once again I turn to my personal panel of experts, all of my wonderful friends and readers who are runners or active in some other way! Do you eat energy bars? If so, how often and when? Do you eat them before every workout, or just the longest or most strenuous ones? Or do you eat them after you work out?

If you don't eat energy bars, do you eat anything at all before you work out? I currently do not. I drag myself out of bed around 5:45am, or sometime soon after...or something after that. :) There is really no time to eat and I'm usually not hungry yet anyway. I just take a few sips from my water bottle as I'm warming up, and then I'm on my way. I eat breakfast soon after I come home.

Sometimes I start to feel really hungry in the middle of my swims, but I don't usually notice hunger during my runs. Soon I will be running for longer stretches though, and I'm wondering whether I ought to eat a little something to help boost my energy. As always, any and all tips are welcome!

In case you are wondering, my training is back on track and going well. Some runs have been difficult, but I'm hanging in there and building my endurance. I will attempt three miles this weekend...wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back on the Damned Horse

The very first advice I got after announcing my failure was from my good friend Jimmy, who said "Stand up, brush yourself off, and get back on the damned horse." What seemed impossible in the immediate aftermath has become reality over the past few days. I've done some standing and some brushing (and a lot of thinking, OVER-thinking, and looping back around to rational thinking), and this morning I got back on the horse.

It was just a leisurely 25-minute jog, but it was a start. I've backtracked on my training a little bit. There had been quite a few weeks of overlap between my 5K training program and my 10K training program, but I backed up about a month on the 10K training, to repeat some really manageable runs and rebuild my confidence. I never expected to be ready to run the whole 10K on Oct. 31st anyway, so it should work out just fine.

I feel good about my recovery time. I ended up taking off only as many days as I'd originally planned to take. Considering how badly this whole experience threw me for a loop, I'm proud of how quickly I've been able to fight my way back. I wish I could have orchestrated a similar rebound during the stupid race, but better late than never. As always, I have to thank all of you for your support! It's amazing to see that so many people care. And several of you really got what I was going through in my head...I thank you most of all for helping me see that I'm not completely crazy, just mostly crazy. ;-)

Now I can answer the question "where do I go from here?" The answer is "FORWARD." And despite how I closed out an earlier entry, I do hope you will come along for the ride. I've decided to "Cowboy Up" at the suggestion of my friend Maria (thanks for that, by the way...it made me smile!), and I'll be registering soon for another 5K. Details on that will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Head Games

Well I've spent all day up inside my head, sorting through the junk that is there and have come to the conclusion that what I really need is to stay OUT of my head. :)

Before I share the other insights I discovered today, I'd like to take a minute to thank everyone for your support! I've received a variety of feedback (mostly on Facebook) over the past few days, and I'm taking it all to heart. Some of you I will try to respond to individually, but in case I take a long time to do that, I wanted to make sure all of you know how much I appreciate your concern! You could easily roll your eyes at my silliness and just go on with your lives, so the fact that you've taken the time to respond to me is touching, and is absolutely appreciated!

Today I managed to move on past the idea of failure. My darling husband, who is my biggest fan, conceded the point that I did in fact fail at this race. Regardless of what anyone else thought my goals should have been, my stated goal was always to complete my first 5K without walking, and I failed to do that. However, I in turn conceded the point that one failure, however huge it felt at the moment, does not make me a failure in general. You win some; you lose some. I lost this one but I might still earn a winning record before the season of my life is done.

Once I removed the "big fat failure" label from my head, I spent the better part of the day ruminating on quitting. I'm not a failure, but I absolutely am a quitter. I've earned that label on more than one occasion, and like I mentioned yesterday, this is a tendency I've been struggling with all along. Quitting is a gross betrayal of self, and it's hard to cope with the aftermath because the enemy at whom my anger is directed...is me. There was no outside force responsible, not even a vague one like chance or bad luck. Quitting is always a choice.

What's killing me most in retrospect is not that I initially slowed to a walk, but that once I quit, I embraced that status wholeheartedly and refused to try to start running again. I think part of the problem was that I've focused completely on preventing that urge to stop in the first place, and never bothered to develop mental strategies for getting started again after a stop. Maybe what I need is to accept that the tendency to want to quit will always be with me, and just work harder at starting again, and maybe decrease the amount of time between the stops and starts. If I can do that, then I'm never really quitting - I'm just taking breaks!

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” --Lance Armstrong

I found this quote today and it really spoke to me. I think I will classify what I've been going through the past few days as mental "pain," but what happened Saturday will not ultimately be quitting because it will NOT last forever. I have to run again. I've invested too much time, energy, and money into it just to stop now. I've got expensive shoes with a lot of wear left in them. I've got a 10K in October for which I've already paid. You could say I'm "pot committed" at this point, and I have no choice but to go all in.

So I'll be taking one more mental health and physical rest day, and then Wednesday morning I will rise before dawn, lace up my Asics, slip in my earbuds, and hit the road. I'm a little apprehensive because everything feels different now that I'm operating so far outside of my original plan. I might still be stuck all up in my head and will psyche myself out of a decent run. Even so, the road will still be there on Friday.

I'd like to close on a lighter note...some more thoughts from Lance Armstrong that I found particularly poignant today:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anatomy of a Failure

9/11/2010 Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K
Official time: 43:07 (ran a little over 2 miles, walked the final mile)

I feel like I owe it to all of you to explain what went wrong yesterday, even though I don't fully understand it myself.

I can pinpoint a few decisions I made that may have contributed to my miserable experience and thus my failure, but there's no way of knowing for certain if the outcome would have been different had I made better choices.

Here are my key mistakes:
1. I did not wear sunglasses. It didn't even occur to me that I might need them until I noticed some other runners wearing them but at that point it was too late.
2. I did not carry water with me. I assumed there would be 2 or 3 water stations along the course, but there was only 1 and that turned out not to be enough. Though I hydrated well before the race, once it started I was immediately parched and that bothered me immensely.
3. I decided at the last minute not to take my ipod. I foolishly allowed myself to be swayed by friends who suggested that I "take in the sounds of the race" even though I knew it wasn't smart to make any major changes like that the day of the race. You don't wear new shoes or new clothes on race day, and you really shouldn't suddenly stop running with music when you have trained with music all along. I was not mentally prepared to push through rough spots without the aid of music, and I really should have known better than to make that change at the last minute.

The race started out fine but then immediately I started to feel incredibly nervous. It probably took a good half mile for the butterflies in my stomach to settle. Meanwhile I did manage to find a comfortable pace pretty easily and finished the first mile just about 30 seconds faster than my usual pace. I already felt awful by the first mile marker though, and couldn't believe there were still more than 2 miles to go. Then I reached the water station, and my small drink was so refreshing! I felt briefly re-energized but it didn't last long because I was quickly parched again.

As we headed over toward the Pentagon, I was utterly miserable and desperate to hit the second mile marker. I thought that once I got to where there was only about a mile left, I'd be able to push through and keep going. Not so, unfortunately. The route through the Pentagon parking lot was ever so slightly uphill, and the sun was directly in my eyes, so I had my head down staring at the ground, barely able to breathe and wanting with every step just to quit. I tried to tell myself that quitting was not an option, tried reminding myself of what I was capable of, tried reminding myself of what I was running for and what the event was all about. Nothing worked. I quit. I slowed to a walk and it was all over. I could have started running again once I caught my breath, but I didn't see the point. I had already failed and given up. Honestly, the only reason I walked all the way to the finish line was because I HAD to go back to the hotel where I had checked my bag. If I could have gone straight to my car and driven away instead, I probably would have.

I take no pride in just finishing the race. To me, I did not finish. From the very beginning, my goal has always been to run a 5K without walking. It's a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal when you put in as many months of training as I have. I even completed the distance on my treadmill last weekend, so I knew I was capable. I fell very very short of my only goal...I cannot classify that as anything other than failure. I'm not making any excuses, and I have no one to blame but myself. My body did not let me down...my mind did. Throughout this journey one of the biggest things I've been battling is my tendency to give up when the going gets tough. I thought I was overcoming it, but at the critical time, when it mattered the most, the going got tough and I gave up. I refuse to take any pride in that.

So now the question is "where do I go from here?" I honestly do not know. I'm left with nothing but negative feelings from my first race experience. The truth is, I wasn't having fun even before I quit. From the moment I got there, I felt very alone and out of place, like I didn't really belong. The start of the race was sort of exciting, but that feeling didn't last long at all. Perhaps I assumed too much when I expected to like the world of running races. Right now I have no desire to run another race. I actually have no desire to run at all just yet. I was supposed to take a couple of days off and resume training on Wednesday...we'll see if that actually happens. I'm not going to make some melodramatic statement about being done with running forever, because I just don't know right now. Maybe the negative feelings will fade. Maybe my goals will change. Maybe I'll fall back in love with running, but at this moment the romance is over.

I don't know where to go from here in the rest of my life either. It's not a good feeling to look deep down inside yourself and discover a quitter. My confidence has been obliterated and I'm questioning everything I do, every decision I make. We all dream of improving our lives, but maybe my dreams are pointless if I can't trust myself to persevere through challenges. It's easy for people to say encouraging words about how I have to just keep going now and blah blah blah. But I just don't know if I have any fight in me anymore. I worked so hard at this one thing, focused so much time and energy on it. When I ran out of energy to run, I think I ran out of energy to do anything at all. It might help to take a break from running and focus on other things for a while, but I kind of don't want to focus on anything. I wish it were possible to take a break from life, and just pick up where you left off when you're ready. Spoken like a true quitter, huh?

If you don't feel like following my journey anymore, I don't blame you. I probably wouldn't follow me either. I'm sorry I led you to believe I was someone tougher, stronger, better than I turned out to be. But thanks for believing in me just the same.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today's the Day!!

My outlook is definitely different today than it was yesterday. I didn't conquer my demons or silence the negative self-talk; I simply shifted the focus from ME ME ME to the reasons I chose this race on this day in that place.

The Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K is about something much larger than my little fitness journey, and if I keep that in mind, I should have all the motivation I need to push through and finish. If I stop running before the finish line, the terrorists win! Okay, that's a little melodramatic, but I do believe I will prevail today because of the deeper meaning behind the race. I've spent the morning reflecting on that tragic day 9 years ago - it's amazing how many details I still can recall - and now I'm ready to take the shock, fear, sadness, and anger and turn them all into triumph, albeit on a small scale.

Now it's time to stop reflecting and start getting pumped up! The weather in Arlington is currently 75 degrees and partly cloudy - beautiful! I need to make a final decision on attire (I wasn't able to buy a new shirt after all and was planning to go with my running tank, but this morning started thinking that maybe I should wear an American flag shirt....aaaahhh why is this so difficult? LOL) , do some light stretching, and then hop in the car for the long drive around the Beltway. I hope to post the results, along with some photos, tonight, or tomorrow night at the latest.

Thanks again for all of your support through the past several months! I hope I don't let any of you down today! :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cold Feet

Why did this have to happen today? I had a horrible run this morning, and it has destroyed my confidence for the race.

It wasn't even supposed to be difficult...I was just going to jog a slow 2 miles, no more, since the race is tomorrow evening and I didn't want to overdo it. Well, I had zero energy, and my legs felt like they weighed a ton, and there was no spring in my step, and I had this nagging ache deep in my right thigh the whole time...every minute was miserable. I finished the amount of time I wanted to run, but I know I didn't come anywhere near a full 2 miles. Most of the time, my pace was barely above a swift walk.

This is not what I needed today. There are several things causing me frustration and stress in my life right now, and what I needed this morning was to have a great run and feel strong and powerful afterwards! Now I feel overwhelmed by life AND running. If I feel like this tomorrow evening, I don't know if I will be able to finish the race.

I understand that bad runs happen, but I'm feeling particularly upset that this one had to happen today of all days. Now instead of just relaxing and being excited for the race, I'm spending all my energy fighting off the negative self-talk that keeps ringing through my mind. Running my first race was already enough of a challenge. It didn't need to be made more difficult, and yet here I am.

Now what I'm trying to do is convince myself that running is just like theatre...a bad dress rehearsal leads to a fantastic opening night, right???? Please God, let it be so!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Advice for Race Day

Perhaps you've heard...my first 5K is this coming Saturday!!! I am equal parts excited and nervous, and I have a bunch of questions. Please share your insights!

Music: I always run with my ipod, and I'd thought about making a play list specifically to get me through the race. However, I've also found that when I run outside, I rely a lot less on the music to keep me going. Should I stick with what I've been doing all along, or leave the ipod at home and just take in all the sounds of the race as part of the experience?

Food: The race is at 6pm. What time should I eat beforehand, and what? Is it necessary to load up on carbs before a race this short? Is it better not to eat too much, so that nerves won't cause an upset stomach?

Packet Pick-Up: I don't anticipate being able to get down to Arlington any other time this week, so I'm just going to pick up my packet as soon as I get there on Saturday, probably about an hour before race time. Does that sound reasonable, or should I make an effort to get there even earlier?

Warm up: What is the best way to warm up before a race? I usually stretch a little and then walk five minutes before running...should I try to replicate that right before the start of the race? I just have no idea what to expect so I don't know what is feasible.

Is there anything else I'm missing, some detail I have overlooked? Please give me all the tips you normally give first-time racers!!! Thanks!!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mountains Out of Molehills

Do you ever assign to one part of your life way more importance than it deserves? I do this with my running. When I have a good run, I feel invincible, like anything is possible. When I have a bad run, I feel like a complete failure at life.

Luckily, I haven't had a truly bad run in a really long time. Even the more difficult ones have ended well, leaving me with a good feeling of success. Today's run was a lot like that, except that it felt so rough throughout that I was left feeling a little discouraged even though I pushed through and completed my time.

Logic would tell me to score this one as a win: I struggled, persevered, and achieved my goal. The fact that it was a tough win should make me feel more accomplished, not less. Instead, this morning's run left me discouraged and doubtful that I'll be able to complete my 10K on Halloween. (I still feel okay about the 5K, though not quite as confident.)

I'm frustrated with myself for the negativity. In my head I hear Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally: "I'm not saying it didn't mean anything. I'm just saying why does it have to mean everything?" Of course, he wasn't talking about running...:) Still, this is what I'm saying to myself because I know no good can come from blowing one difficult run out of proportion! One run, good or bad, isn't everything!!!

Are there things in your life that you place too much importance on? If so, what do you tell yourself to help keep it all in perspective? I fear this run may haunt me next time if I don't convince myself that it doesn't have to mean everything.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One Goal Down...

I don't mean to brag, but I can now run 30 straight minutes without walking, and without feeling like I'm about to die at the end!! Okay, so I'm still running at a pretty slow pace and have more time/distance to cover before I can complete a 5K, so if I am bragging, I really shouldn't be! :)

Still, the 30-minute run is a goal that has eluded me for many years now, and I feel pretty terrific for finally accomplishing it! I've even done it twice already, so the first time clearly wasn't just a fluke!

As amazing as I feel, there is no time to rest on my laurels, because I have so many larger goals still looming on the horizon. I still need to stretch my 2.5 miles into 3.1 and actually finish my first 5K race. Once that is complete, I will immediately begin training for my first 10K which I'll run on October 31st!

After that, I have a few other races in mind, plus my triathlon training for next year, so there is always something for which to prepare. I like having goal after goal ahead of me, because it motivates me to keep going and getting more fit and healthy. To anyone who struggles to stick with an exercise program, I highly recommend setting specific goals, such as completing races or improving performance - it's so much more fun than just trying to force yourself to spend "x" amount of time in the gym every day!

I want to take a moment to thank you, my readers and supporters. Your encouragement has helped to push me through the rough spots and I am so grateful! There have been a few times during difficult runs when I thought about quitting, but then realized how disappointed in me you all would be, and so I kept going. You have truly become part of my journey and I hope that I am making you proud! Please know that you will be in my thoughts throughout my first race in just A WEEK AND A HALF! I hope you will be thinking of me too. :)