Thursday, January 29, 2009

That Which We Persist in Doing Becomes Easier

That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do. Not that the nature of the thing itself has changed but our power to do it is increased. **Ralph Waldo Emerson**

Our Saturday long run was a mixed bag this week. I got a flu shot on Friday so I was worried that it would slow me down, and my running buddy was a few days away from her final divorce hearing so she was pretty stressed out. Fortunately the weather was good. When my buddy called me that morning to double check our time and meeting place, she remarked that it was uncanny how the weather can be horrible all week, but as soon as it is time for our long run, the clouds part, the sun comes out, and the thermometer shoots up 15 degrees! That is a bit of an exaggeration, but we have been very fortunate for the three long runs we have done together.
We ran the flight line again, opting to start along the water where the wind is ferocious. Although it was the best decision in the long run, it made it really tough to get the ball rolling. The run itself was pretty uninspiring. The planes weren’t taking off, and my Garmin was ticking off miles that were so slow we could have walked them faster. One of our miles took us more than 14 minutes, and the rest were pretty darn close.
Since we were going to be running for well over an hour, we decided to take water and power gels. Gels have sure improved in the last couple of years, the vanilla and caramel that we had on hand were a nice diversion when we hit the hour mark. We plodded on after our treat and finally finished 7 miles after 1 hour and 34 minutes.
After stopping at the restrooms and downing ½ liter water bottles, my running buddy started dialing the phone. She had three people she couldn’t wait to call to tell them she had run 7 miles. Each time she put it on speaker and I heard all their surprise, praise and encouragement. She was absolutely beaming with the biggest smile I had seen on her in quite a while. It really reminded me why we were out there, to lift our spirits, take us away from the stresses in our lives, and have an hour and a half of uninterrupted girl talk.
It is amazing to me how each run has not seemed longer than the last. By the end of our first 5 mile run, we felt just as good and just as tired as we did at the end of our 7 mile run. Frankly, I think the first time I ran 3 miles as a beginning runner was much harder. I hope this means that we are adding miles sensibly and that the 13 miles of race day will be equally comfortable; I guess we will find out…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I shall not die of a cold...

"I shall not die of a cold, I shall die of having lived." **Willa Cather**

Today's run finished week 6 of my training plan. Wow! I can't believe it has been 6 weeks already! It was the coldest run I have done since Germany. The temp was in the teens and I had been waiting for a while for the inevitable phone call from my running buddy to say she wasn't going to run. Today was supposed to be a 5K race, but since there weren't any in the area I had decided to just run my own 5K and try to maintain a 10 minute per mile (mpm) pace. One of my long term goals is to be able to run 10 minute miles comfortably, with my heart rate down in the 150's to 140's. I have a long way to go....
I finally decided it wasn't going to get any warmer outside. The flurries had stopped and the sun was peeking out so I put on a wool knit cap, my wind proof jacket, a turtle neck, a tech shirt, gloves, and running tights under running pants, then headed out the door. The first mile was REALLY hard. I was cold, stiff, and grumpy. I decided not to take my MP3 player because I wanted to be focused and maintain my 10 mpm pace, but I was a little too focused. My Garmin was supposed to be showing me little competing stick figures (virtual partner) to indicate if I was meeting my time goal, but I hadn't entirely figured it out so all I was seeing was how far I had left to run and what my pace was. I kept hearing the little voice in my head saying, "You will never maintain this pace, this is too hard, it is too cold, turn around and go HOME!"
The second mile was better. I was warming up, settling into a nice pace, breathing well (three steps in, three steps out), and feeling good. My mind was wandering a bit so I wasn't looking at my Garmin every few seconds, and the mile was over faster than the last.
The third mile started pretty good. Only one mile left at race pace, I was on the return route and I was actually getting hot! The wool hat that was so great at the beginning of the run was getting a little too warm. I was really beginning to sweat, but the front of my thighs, finger tips, and face were numb with cold. As I passed the familiar landmarks on my way home, the little voice had changed to, "You can do this, you can run all 3 miles at this pace, you can meet your goal, you are almost there!"
With a half mile left to go, I had had it with the wool hat and decided I didn't care if my ears froze and fell off, I had to ditch the hat. I pulled it off and felt the cool air blow through my sweaty hair. It felt wonderful, almost like a gulp of fresh water. The good feelings didn't last long though. I started having to work harder to keep my pace and my breathing stepped up to two steps in, two steps out. The dialogue in my head was something like, "Okay, there is the flag, I'll look at my Garmin when I get to the white mail box. My ears are freezing, wonder if they will fall off, in two, out two, in two, out two, in-in out-out in-in out-out I-am in-sane I-am in-sane in-in out-out in-in out-out I'm-a lun-atic I'm-a lun-atic in-in out-out, .3 left to go, in-in out-out, not looking until the next turn, in-in out-out in-in out-out..." until I finally heard the beep saying I was done, YAY!!
I wish I had been a little closer on reckoning my turn-around because the last few minutes of walking home were REALLY COLD!!!
So, I'm half way through my official training plan, although I do plan to extend it a bit. I'm beginning to feel like I can do this, but I know I have some very long runs ahead of me first. The best part is I have driven my RA back. It is not bothering me, the fatigue is not plaguing me, and there is no lingering pain in my joints. Tomorrow is shot day and I don't feel like the drugs have worn off from last time. It is such a sweet feeling! Maybe that is why I can run in the cold, because there are worse things than cold that could be holding me back and I know cold can be beaten with a hot shower. Cold holds no challenge.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Call of Icarus

My friend and I had a great run on Saturday. We covered 6 miles around the flight line of Langley Air Force Base, on a gorgeous cool, sunny day, with fighter jets taking off over our heads. We kept our spirits up and our heart rates down and we pattered along the jogging trail, chatting about girls stuff and laughing. It was all picture perfect until we came to the last mile.
The last mile was at the east end of the flight line, along the Chesapeake Bay. The sky was clear, the gulls were calling, and the wind nearly blew us off our feet. As we trudged forward, leaning into the wind, we could no longer talk. The wind took our voices away, and trying to keep moving forward left us huffing and puffing. We were still laughing though; the absurdity of the two of us barely making headway with every ounce of effort we could muster nearly dissolved us into fits of exhausted giggles. Just as our Garmins chirped to signal the completion of our 6 mile run, we finally found ourselves back among the solid brick buildings the mercifully broke the wind and allowed us to take our conversation back up. We had about half a mile left to walk back to our cars, which allowed for a nice cool down.
My buddy didn't want to stop though. The thought of getting back to her car, which had a comfy seat, a water bottle, a heater, and could whisk her home to a hot shower, over rode her desire to stop running. I assured her that it was best to cool down with some walking, and to stop running while we still felt good because it would leave us more eager for next weeks long run, (this got me a sideways glance that said both, "yea, right," and "What are you, nuts?" with daggers thrown in.) I'm pretty sure my buddy is only running with me because she is too much of a sweet southern lady to say, "Bite me," when I call to say, meet me at fill-in-the-blank for a 6 mile run, but at the end of the run we are both glad we did it.
The importance of sticking to a training plan cannot be stressed enough. Sure, it would probably have turned out okay if we had gone ahead and run that last ½ mile, but since we had only run 5 miles the week before, the chances were far too good that those last few minutes would put one of us over the edge and cause an injury which would stall our training program for a week or two at best. An ancient Chinese proverb says, "Going too far, is as bad as falling short." Adding miles too quickly will lead to an injury; and an injury will ruin race day just as badly as not being prepared by enough miles under your belt.
It is not an easy thing for a new runner to hold back. We are so excited by our new ability! We want to run, and keep running. We want to yell how many miles we covered from the rooftops and we want that number to be grand. We want to run until we are utterly spent and then get up and do it again. Unfortunately, this leaves us in the position of Icarus, so thrilled with his ability to fly that he ignored the warnings and soared too close to the sun. If we don't listen to experienced runners, and control our progress, we will find ourselves too close to the sun and falling fast.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Burning Desire

When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.
**W. Clement Stone**

       I'm not big on the whole New Year's resolution thing. I keep the same goals until I meet them or decided it is no longer in my best interest to pursue them and I don't tie the formation of these goals to an arbitrary calendar mark. I prefer to let them follow the course of inspiration, determination, and success. My current fitness goals are not new or surprising: Get down to my goal weight, run my first half marathon, and finish a 10K in less than an hour.
      Some goals seem to be with me forever. I've met my goal weight a few times, but it usually doesn't last and I was raised to always eat and live with the goal of loosing 10 pounds. It is often the only thing standing between me and the candy display at the checkout counter, and without this never ending goal, I'd need to loose a lot more.
      My burning desire goals, the ones that keep me inspired, working, and focused, change often. I'm always learning something new, finding inspiration, and discovering new things that I never knew existed or I never thought were in the realm of possibility for me. Growing up, I was told marathons were for crazy people that ran until they peed blood, (my mother still tells me this regularly, including last week.) I'd never heard of half marathons, I guess it never occurred to me that there was anything between a 10K and a marathon. I knew about 10Ks because my dad ran a couple, but that was in the 70's or maybe 80's. However, once I started running and realizing it wasn't has hard as I thought, I discovered new goals. As distances got easier physically, they got easier mentally too and I caught the racing bug.
       I've never been good at doing things I couldn't be the best at. As kid I quit if it wasn't easy and natural, and I definitely quit anything I couldn't master quickly. Now I'm grown up, and although I still like to be first and best, I know I'll never win a race. I joined the game much too late and am not built for speed, but I have been totally blown away at how all runners are treated as winners, even when they finish last. This game of simply setting a new PR, only competing against myself, and having a whole new group of friends that will cheer me on through the ups and downs, is so amazing to me. If running were one of those sports where you are only really welcome if you have talent or look like you fit in, I'd have given up long ago. It is the overwhelming acceptance of the running community that impresses me most. It is the only sport where the hero of the day one day can be the guy running the Boston Marathon, (hi Bruce!), and the next day it the newbie that is excited to have run a few steps for the first time, (keep up the good fight Stanley, you are doing awesome!) I'm also amazed at how effortlessly running bridges the age, gender, race, and religion gaps. When you find a group of people at an office or party chatting about running, it will be the most diverse group in the room. You also discover quickly that everyone has their Achilles Heel, some injury, or other handicap that they have to overcome to keep running. I don't think I've found a runner yet that didn't have to keep an eye on some joint or muscle or chronic condition, so that it doesn't sneak up and bite them on the backside. Runners are not quitters though. Some are following the burning desire to run, others are following the burning desire to stay in shape, get in shape, meet fitness standards for work, or just spend time on the road alone. Whatever the reason, we have all found the same modus operandi to slake our thirst and fuel our burning desire.