Running in the dark

On Tuesday evenings I run with my Team in Training group around Green Lake and at this time of the year it’s still getting dark pretty early.  For tonight’s practice, we ran on the “inner” loop which has no path lighting. This means we run in the dark. I have a small headlamp, but it mostly just allows me to see the time on my watch and maybe 1 foot down the trail. And my eyesight is only good for staying on the path (generally) and not falling on my face (most of the time), but otherwise I have to rely on my other senses to keep my bearings. Because of my pace (faster than walking, slower than running – I call it “slogging”) I am quickly by myself for all but the very beginning and end of the runs. Despite being a ridiculously social person, I enjoy having my running time to myself. When you run in the pitch dark, you are truly alone with your thoughts. Mostly I focus on my breath and tell myself to relax into the run. Somehow, when it’s just me and my breathing and the darkness, relaxing comes easier. Tonight I ran a negative split (meaning the second half of the run was faster than the first). Running a negative split is about holding back and starting out slow to warm up, and then easing into a more steady pace for the finish. I will confess that I have never been very good at negative splits. It’s not that I start out too fast, it’s more that I start slow, warm up slow, and then finish off slow – I’m usually all about the even split. For whatever reason, tonight, running in almost complete darkness, I was able to focus solely on my running and finally achieve the elusive negative split.

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Party’s over, now the work begins

Now that the glow of the Team in Training kick-off party is over, and I’ve gotten my first practice out of the way, it’s down to simply doing the work. Probably because I am such a social creature, I look forward to the group practices and I pretty faithfully attend every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning practice session. It’s all the runs I have to do on my own that are trickier. I am actually the queen of procrastination and come up with any number of reasons that it makes more sense to delay my practice to lunchtime, then after work, and oh, maybe let’s just skip today (I only have to run 5 days a week and I take every loophole I can in regards to making that math work out).  Before TNT, when I was training for half-marathons on my own, I told myself every weekend that I would do my long runs on Saturdays. Near as I can tell, that never happened. I always, 100% of the time, delayed until Sunday. And here was my typical Sunday thought process – I can’t run in the morning because I just had breakfast; oh now I’m hungry and I can’t do a long run on an empty stomach, so now I have to have lunch.  I’ll just watch this movie first then I’ll go… I would delay and dilly-dally until it was literally as late as I could get away with leaving and still finish my run before dark (and I pushed that so far that I often returned to the trail-head in deep dusk). It’s almost a miracle that I was actually able to complete my training and run in two half-marathons. I suppose it’s a testament to my stubborn nature.

The structure TNT provides is a huge help, but my procrastinating ways are still in full force on those days I am left to my own devices.  I had coffee with a friend at a nearby coffee shop this morning and as I was walking home the inner dialogue started. It was almost lunchtime, so maybe I should have lunch first (never mind the huge, late breakfast I had that morning). I stopped myself and decided to go home and simply change into my running gear, then I could weigh my options. Of course, once I put on my running shoes and leggings, I just sucked it up and got out on the trail. Now lest you think I have turned over a whole new leaf, while on my run I started debating with myself about whether or not I should do a run on Monday (here’s where that 5 day math comes into play).

No one held a gun to my head and forced me to keep signing up for these races. And I love the races – the excitement of the day, the sense of accomplishment. But that’s five months down the road. There really isn’t anything all that exciting about doing a 30 min easy recovery run on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything all that painful about it either. So why do I procrastinate almost to the point of absurdity?

I went to the source of all wisdom and knowledge…the internet. A search of “why do people procrastinate” turns up a bunch of pscyhology-based content that describes people who are afraid of success, unable to make decisions, or are uninspired by their goals. Well, I was pretty clear on my decision to sign up for the race in the first place, and running a half-marathon is in fact a very inspiring goal for me. I supposed I could buy fear of success if this weren’t my 4th half-marathon. I am already quite confident in my ability to succeed. I found another series of links for ‘Temporal discounting.’ This is a concept where our brains are warped by believing short-term rewards are more valuable than medium-term rewards. (In other words, I’m going to be happier by watching a movie now than I will by running 13.1 miles in 5 months  – which requires I run 3 miles today). That may be closer to my situation, but considering I always feel so much better when I do go for that run (i.e., it provides a short-term reward), the internet may just be a bunch of bunk.

I think the truth is that the time in between the kick-off and the finish line is work. It’s not painful or unbearable work and it’s a choice I’ve made for myself, but these weekly training runs are just something that needs to be done. Fundamentally, I know if I don’t do the work I won’t make it to the finish line and that is not an acceptable outcome for me. I ran today. I may or may not run tomorrow, but rest assured I will run five times between now and next Sunday.


Small goal for a big girl

I am ardent admirer of my friend Siri’s blog, Minus 40 by 40. She has set a goal to lose 40 pounds by the time she turns 40. And she’s holding herself accountable by publicly sharing the journey and tracking her weight loss. She hasn’t been perfect, but she’s following a sensible plan (Weight Watchers) and she set a goal for herself that is challenging yet realistic and that will put her at a healthy weight. She’s doing all those things that contribute to success, and she’s lost 9.8 pounds so far.  I am both impressed and honestly a little jealous.

I’d like to say this post was a similar announcement that I set some BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for myself and we could all watch me transform my life, but sorry to say that is not what’s happening here. I am known for being determined and driven and in former days I even lost 50 pounds following Weight Watchers. However, I am also equally adept at denying and outright ignoring what is right in front of me, and I can rationalize with the best of them. I have set goals for myself and found untold ways to excuse myself from actually fulfilling them. I know about myself that I have to be really REALLY bought in for the big goals to work, and it is easy for me to be depressed and discouraged by setting a goal that is out of reach and therefore giving it up altogether. I need something that is both motivating and real for me where I am in my life right now.

In my daily perusing of the blogosphere on my iPad (hat tip to Steve Jobs, iRIP), I stumbled across something pointing people to register as bone marrow donors. I clicked through and started looking at the medical requirements. I half-hoped that I would be disqualified and guess what, I do not meet the weight criteria to register. I’m officially too fat to be a bone marrow donor. Ouch. I’m not over by much, just about 6 pounds. I sat there and stared at the screen. I will be brutally honest and say I am not totally sure I wanted to sign up for to be a donor, but it’s so much different when you are choosing (or rationalizing why you should or shouldn’t) and having that choice taken away from you. Because of how I have let myself go, this path is closed off to me. I don’t like that feeling – it frankly pisses me off and makes me mad at myself. But I stopped short of hari-kiri and decided that it seems very do-able that I could lose 6 pounds and keep it off in order to qualify. So, here in black and white, is my little goal: I will register as a bone marrow donor before the end of the year. It fits in with my desire to do BETTER (instead of try to be perfect), and maybe I’ll even help someone else along the way (and for a cause I am passionate about – ending Leukemia and Lymphoma), but without requiring that I dive head first into something I know in my heart I’m not ready for yet.  It’s the opposite of a BHAG. I’m calling it a SAG, a small-ass goal. (And yes, I appreciate the double-meaning…)

How will I do it? The classic way – consume less calories than I burn. Which means more mindful eating, healthier eating, and moving more. No drastic dietary or lifestyle changes, but I can walk home from work one more day a week, and drop the desserts one more day a week, or eat one more serving of vegetables a week. I stepped on the scale last Monday (yep, faced that number, and yep, it sucked) and will do a weekly weigh-in, no more, no less, to see how I do. Once I have dropped 6 pounds and kept it off for 3 weeks, I will register and share the news online.

Why such a small goal? Because sometimes growing up, being a “big girl,” means being honest with yourself about your own limitations. It’s a small goal and it fits my current limitations, but is also one that sets me up to succeed, which I hope will lead me to seek other wins and down a healthier path. I think it was best said in that 80’s classic, Better Off Dead, “I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you.”


Why Endurance Events? Why not..??

The training season is coming to a close. We’re in the tapering phase where we rest and heal our bodies in preparation for the big day. On June 25 I will walk 13.1 miles in Seattle’s Rock N Roll Half Marathon. I haven’t posted much this season and I knew going into the training that walking a half marathon would be a far different experience than running my first ever marathon. For starters, I have already completed a couple of half marathons, including the Seattle Rock N Roll Half back in 09, so I pretty much know what to expect. And last year was so monumental for me in accomplishing one of my lifetime goals, that this season has been a much quieter, calmer experience.

Many runners experience post-marathon blues after they complete their first (or fastest or Boston or…) marathon. I did not have this experience after my marathon – mostly I was filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude and the enduring knowledge that we are all capable of fulfilling any goal we set our hearts and minds to. However, I will confess to feeling a little melancholy as I approach this year’s event.  I guess it’s a little like climbing Mt. Rainier after having summitted Mr. Everest.  Maybe it is because the anticipation is gone. The fear that you don’t know the outcome mixed with the excitement that you are really doing it is not present.  You still have to train and work for it because nobody wakes up one morning and says I think I’ll stroll up to the summit of Mt. Rainier today, but it’s just not the same. Honestly, I feel a little ambivalent and even a little jealous as I watch my teammates fill with excitement over their first time at “the show.” Oh, it’s not stick my leg out and trip them jealousy. It’s more wistful and nostalgic and it brings back memories of when I was in their shoes.

So, why did I come back? I have proven to myself twice now that I can train for and successfully run a half marathon on my own. I don’t need Team in Training to complete this event and, frankly, I don’t need to prove to myself that I can do this at all. I could have stayed home and had a pleasant spring sleeping in on Saturday mornings. On the other hand, I can’t imagine myself not being here, not being part of this group. For one thing, there is still that pesky blood cancer that insidiously takes the lives of young people far too soon (and I include my 41 years young friend Gil in that group). Training with a purpose, training as a way to do something more than just 13.1 or 26.2 miles, is one way I can leave a positive ‘footprint’ in this world. Secondly, training in a group, with people cheering and supporting you, is far more rewarding than training alone – even if the act of running or walking is ultimately a personal one.

But that doesn’t really answer the question of why do endurance events. I’m not sure I actually know the answer. For whatever reason, they are simply in my blood. Or maybe I have a bit of George Mallory’s “because it was there” sensibilities. I have 2 weeks to go before completing this year’s event and I’m already asking myself what I think I might like to do next.  I just finished reading Marshall Ulrich’s Running on Empty (thanks Mark Maraia for the recommendation), which lead me to watch Running the Sahara on Netflix, about 3 men who run across the Sahara desert. Brian left the room mid-way through because it was too hard for him to watch how these men abused their bodies, but I could not peel my eyes away. I have zero desire to run 2 marathons a day for 111 days in a row (in the desert no less), but do I walk another marathon? Maybe next year I could run the half? Dare I even consider walking an ultra event?  There are no definitive plans at this point and I promised Brian the summer for the two of us to be active together, but come this fall I am sure I will get that unexplainable itch, tie up my laces, and go out on the trail again, chasing the next mountain – big or small.


Is Team in Training ruining marathons?

Photo courtesy of Larry Johnson

Here we go again with yet another article talking about how all us average marathoners are ruining the sport for the ‘real’ runners.  I was intrigued by this NPR article written by Asma Khalid, Marathons, Once Special, Are Now Crowded because it features an athlete, Rachel Couchenour, training for her first marathon with Team in Training:

After a sorority sister was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Couchenour decided to join the charity running group Team in Training. The organization raises money for leukemia and lymphoma research.

The article goes on to describe how Team in Training has had a hand in the growth of marathons:

“These training programs are the pipeline for this growth,” says Ryan Lamppa of the research group Running USA.

“They can take that new runner from unfit to finish a marathon in 3 to 6 months,” he says. “They opened up the sport to mainstream America.”

So far, so good. Team in Training is a great organization that takes people from zero to 26.2 miles and at the same time raises money to fight blood cancer. The article also talks about how more and more people are qualifying for the Boston Marathon as a result of these efforts, but it loses me when it gets to this comment about the dilution of the sport:

And while the folks who host the Boston Marathon are also happy that more people are running, they worry that as mainstream American joins the race, amateurs will dilute Boston’s prestige — especially if the fastest runners are locked out because they miss the sign-up.

The Boston Marathon requires athletes to run qualifying times which are no small feat to accomplish. If I wanted to qualify, I would have to run a qualifying event in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Given that it took me just over 7  hours to finish the last marathon I ran, I don’t think anyone in Boston has to worry about me ruining their race.

As I understand it, the article is saying that too many people are qualifying for this prestige event. In other words, groups like Team in Training are training their runners too well?  They make them such fast runners that they are taking up all the slots at the Boston Marathon? If you actually qualify for the event, how does that make you unworthy to share the route with other “real”  runners?

I understand that the Boston Marathon is a prestige event and I am in awe of the very few people I know who have qualified. And I am more than okay with events that have entry requirements. There are plenty of fun events for the athletes at my end of the spectrum. And to be sure the organizers of this event have a capacity problem on their hands and I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that, but can we at least agree that if you can meet the requirements to participate, that you should have just as much opportunity to be there as anyone else. If that is not acceptable, then change the requirements, but don’t blame the people who did what you asked.


The world would be a better place if more people said “Thank You!”

I have been struggling with my fund raising this season. Last year I blew my own goal out of the water without barely trying. I raised so much that I now have a full wardrobe of TNT branded attire – sweatshirt, fleece pullover, back-pack, and was even able to upgrade to the hotel option. This year, not so much…  I am stuck at about 60% of my much smaller goal and recently had to fork over a credit card number in case I can’t raise the rest. Ouch. I was pouting and feeling sorry for myself and wondering why it had to be so hard. I guess I kind of forgot that it’s not actually supposed to be easy. I have been having such a delightful time walking instead of running that I sort of assumed it would all be fun and games.  In my quest to bond with other walkers, I even posted a comment on a discussion board about being a non-traditional (er, uh, heavier) athlete. Much to my surprise, I got this in reply from a fellow named Steve:

*Just want to say a big THANK YOU to Lyda for her work with TNT. I’m a leukemia survivor and a failure at TNT fundraising. I think asking people for money is harder than doing the distance. Lyda you did both!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!*

I was blown away as I hadn’t said anything in my post about fund raising, but it was exactly the message I needed at that moment.  I asked Steve if he would be willing to share his story and below is his email to me in it’s entirety. Steve and I have never met, but his words have touched my heart and inspired me to raise the bar on my fund raising efforts.

If you have been meaning to donate, but just haven’t gotten around to it, or if you have been trying to decide if supporting a half-marathon walker is where you really want to ear mark your donation dollars this year, or if you just haven’t been moved to give, read Steve’s story below and please consider making a donation in his honor.  Maybe $52 dollars for the age he was when he was diagnosed, or $6 for the years since the diagnosis, or $35 for the years he’s been a pilot. Any amount is welcome and every bit counts. And if your budget simply doesn’t allow for a donation, your emotional support is every bit as important to me and for that I say “Thank  You!”

Lyda,
I was very touched and moved by your wanting me to be an honoree but I'm
just a guy who was lucky/blessed/gifted (from others hard work) to
survive a bad disease.

I went into the hospital on Valentines weekend in '05.  I had Acute
Myelogenous Leukemia and was told I would have to have a bone marrow
transplant. AML has a 20-25% 5 year survivor rate  (I didn't find this
out till much later.)  but most people get it an an older age, I was
52.  My first question to the doctor was "How long till I get my life
back"?  He said 6 months but it was more like 8.   Being in the hospital
for a total of 93 days over 4 stays sucked as I'm an outdoor kind of
guy.  I had been walking 800-900 miles a year for 10 years after
quitting running.  (Running is hard work and walking is just putting one
foot in front of the other.)  I have been a pilot for over 35 years, for
20 years in hang gliders and for the last 20 sailplanes
(gliders/airplanes without engines). And I did a lot of outdoor/field
work with my job.  (I'm a tech in earthquake research)

I received a tremendous amount of support from my wife and son, father
and siblings, the doctors and nurses, co-workers, friends and strangers
and one of the biggest was the wonderful cells from my sister. These are
the people that did the hard work I just stayed in the hospital and got
taken care of.  No way was I going to let them down.  I have been very
lucky through all this, I kept my job and was able to work part time as
my strength came back, my insurance paid the (huge) bill, my sisters
cells work perfectly ( I was off the anti-rejection drugs in a few
months with just the right touch of graft vs host).  I remember the day
during recovery I walked to the corner, it was a big deal!

In '08 I got the idea for doing a half marathon but as I was already
doing 8-10 mile walks I thought that a marathon would be more of a
challenge.  So after 8 weeks of training I did San Diego Rock and Roll
in 6:10.  You know how that feels.  I signed up for TNT for the next
year but didn't like asking people for money so I came up short of the
needed amount.  I paid my way and did the marathon in 5:38.   Last year
I did it for the LLS "Make Cures Happen" and was able to get a few
hundred in donations.  I'm better in giving money than raising it.  I
also broke 5:30 with a 5:24 finish.  For me the hard part of training
was 14-16 mile walks so I never let myself get out of condition.  In
2010 I did 51 walks of half marathon distance or better.  I always feel
so good after a long walk.  But after weekends of 18, 18, 20 and 20 mile
walks training for Carlsbad I hurt my foot (planner fachitis- misspelled
I'm sure).  It's slowly getting better and I should be able to do the La
Jolla half on the 17th.  Then training starts for real for SD R&R in
early June.

Maybe more of my story than you wanted.

I just wanted to thank you as I try to do with others from TNT when I
get a chance.  Your raising funds for LLS helps real people (like me).
The world would be a better place if more people said "Thank You!".  So
once again THANK YOU!

Steve

Reasons why walking a half marathon is better than running a whole marathon

Don’t get me wrong, running a marathon changed my life forever and not much else is going to compare to that, but I have to say I am finding quite a few benefits to walking a half marathon this time around…

  • Your body is not in physical pain – this is a novelty that continues to surprise me, even 2 months into my training. I can walk for an hour or two and although I might be tired, I don’t have to take an ice bath just to get from sitting to standing and back again.
  • You can have a glass of wine (or two…) the night before your long training day without, well, any negative consequences. And, hey, I’m all about a training program that lets me have a glass of wine on Friday after work!
  • You can talk and walk at the same time. I know, I know, theoretically that’s supposed to be true when running too, but no one ran as slow as I did and I was too fast for the walkers, so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to…
  • No Energy Gel. Let’s face it, that stuff is disgusting. I learned to accept and adapt to it as it allowed me to go 26.2 miles, but I can’t say enough how excited I am to be functioning on Cliff Bars instead of Cliff Energy Gel (which, btw, I liked far better than Gu, not that that is saying much).
  • You’re not totally wiped out 100% of the time. The long training days actually energize me instead of totally ruining my energy for the next 2 or 3 days or all week.

The one thing that hasn’t changed from last year to this year is the young people suffering from Leukemia and Lymphoma. I’m still about $650 from my fund-raising goal and need your help in the fight to eradicate blood cancers. Please consider a $50 donation – if only 13 people gave that amount, I would have it!

Make a donation here.