Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

All About Attitude

"There are times in life
when you gotta crawl,
Lose your grip, trip and fall
When you can't lean on no one else,
That's when you find yourself"
--Mountains, Lonestar

As a non-practicing Catholic who usually finds services boring and generally not applicable to my daily life, I just so happened to move next door to a Catholic church last year. Even with my parents being out-of-town (they usually drag me with them), I felt way too guilty not to attend Mass on the highest holy day... I mean, it's right next door. I don't even have to drive there. So, I woke up Easter morning and trudged over to St. Pius to get my Our Father in, chew up my host, and split. I got a lot of what I did expect out of the service--a packed roomful of families with little girls in pretty dresses, lots of pointless standing, sitting, kneeling and out-of-tune singing, and lots of bible readings that I've heard a thousand times but never once understood. But I also got one thing I didn't expect: a homily that was interesting, applicable and rather moving.

The priest told a story about a man who recently wrote a book about his experiences in a war camp in Nazi Germany. When asked how he survived the atrocities, he replied that when you are completely at the mercy of others, the one thing you still have control over is your attitude. While most of us are fortunate enough not to have to face the pain and suffering that the German author did--or that Jesus did, as the priest compared--we all have problems. But how we face those problems, and how we rise above those obstacles in life, is what defines who we are.

Last week was the most difficult week I've had in terms of training. I was in excruciating pain for most of the week with a pulled muscle in my lower back. I was uncertain that I'd be able to run the 18-miler scheduled for last Saturday. I walked for an hour on Wednesday and on Thursday despite the pain, and kept alternating between ice packs and heat. I hardly slept all week, and when Friday night came, I was a nervous wreck. What if I got 5 miles in and started to have pain? Or 9 miles in and had to walk the whole way back, hurting and feeling defeated? What if this doesn't go away and I can't run the race all my training will be for nothing? I tossed and turned all night worrying about it.

Saturday morning came and despite still being in considerable pain, I decided that I needed to take a distinctly different attitude. I can do this, I thought. I warmed up with a few minutes on the treadmill, and stretched a bit on the yoga ball before heading out to meet the group. A said a little prayer, and off I went.

I started off with the 11-minute pace group, thinking that I would just take it slow and easy until I figured out if I was going to have any pain or not. But at about 2 miles in, I felt good and broke away from the group to run at my normal pace (about 10:30). I continued to feel good until about mile 14, when the expected fatigue and soreness set in. When asked how I was feeling, I remarked to Coach Joe that ironically the only thing that wasn't hurting me was the pulled muscle.

Completing this run was a huge victory for me. I haven't been so proud of myself since the day I crossed the finish line last May. Distance running is much more about mental toughness than it is physical strength, and Saturday I really proved that to myself. My attitude is what made me even attempt to go out there and try it, when many people wouldn't have. For that, I am so proud... I haven't yet completed the marathon, but I now feel like I've already won.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Looking At Gift Horses In The Mouth

"I've had a bad day,
I'm gonna laugh about it
And I'll be fine, I'm gonna be all right
I'm hanging on today
And nothing's gonna stop me anyway"
-Hanging On, Cheyenne Kimball

Dear body: Can we please stop screwing around here and just start working properly so that we can, like, run a marathon and stuff?

When the Running Spot gave each of the training group members an ice pack as one of our "perks" this season, I didn't think I'd be getting much use out of it. In fact, I kind of laughed when I got it, thinking that it's a horrible "gift" to give a bunch of runners who could potentially injure themselves. What are they trying to do, jinx us? Anyway, I popped it in the freezer and didn't give it another thought. Unfortunately, I had to get it out of the freezer a few weeks ago when I suffered a minor calf strain in Zumba class two days before my 16-mile run. Icing the calf helped a lot, and along with some rest and wrapping it in an ace bandage, it didn't bother me at all during the run.

Well... I had to get the ice pack out of the freezer again last night. This time, it's my lower back. A couple of different factors are to blame here: First, I've been hitting the gym hard the past few weeks, and on Monday I just increased the amount of weight I have on the bar for deadlifts, deadrows, etc. On Tuesday (before my group run) I took an abs class and not only did we do some exercises that were really taxing on the lower back (planks, obliques side-crunches, etc.), but by the time we started running, my legs were a little shaky. So, at about a 1/2 mile in, I hit a rut in the street, and while I didn't hurt myself during the little stumble, it was just enough to majorly tweak out my back. I was hoping the pain would work itself out, but by mile 2 I was still hurting. As I stopped to stretch and debate about whether or not to go on, I saw Coach Joe. I told him what happened and told him I thought I could run the mile back to the store, and he agreed I should just go ahead and cut the run short, so that's what I did.

So, the Running Spot ice pack came back out of the freezer last night and after a really uncomfortable night of sleep last night, I'm icing it again today whilst sitting in my cubicle. I've tweaked this same spot in my lower back several times before, and I know that it takes about 2-3 days to fully recover. However the timing isn't so great, due to the 18-miler I'm scheduled to do on Saturday. My hope is that a few days of rest (and ice) will make me good as new for the big run.

Stupid Running Spot and your stupid "perks" ... if they give us crutches next year, I'm going to run the other way!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Keep Me Where The Light Is

"Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
and feel it now..."
-Babylon, David Gray

I feel sorry for people who don't get to feel the world the way I do. Sometimes running for me isn't just exercise, it's an experience. There's an indescribable beauty in being 4 miles into a 16-mile run watching the sun coming up over the horizon, casting its golden rays all along the bend in the Ohio River. On my iPod, John Mayer's "Gravity" plays, and I get to my favorite part: "Just keep me where the light is." As I plod along Riverside Drive, the reflected sunlight dances as it hits the waves on the river and at that moment I realize there's no place else I'd rather be.

I've been telling people that I am running a marathon again for two reasons: 1.) to get attention and 2.) to have a legitimate reason to whine. Joking aside, the moments like I experienced on Saturday's 16-mile run are really why it never crossed my mind not to run the marathon again this year. There are definitely times where I miss not going out on Friday nights, and times where I'd really like to go home from work at night and relax instead of going to the gym for 2 hours, but those sacrifices are more than worth it when I can bask in the sunlight on a Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, the 16 miles this week weren't all spent gazing over the horizon. It was a tough run--more mentally than physically. As veteran runners of the Pig know, the most grueling part of the race is the last 4 miles down Eastern Avenue. The route is flat, but seeing the city in the distance and watching as it never seems to get any closer, is quite an obstacle (especially if you're hittng the dreaded wall somewhere around mile 20-22). For the run last Saturday, the coaches at the Running Spot had us going all the way up Eastern, through Mt. Lookout, then all the way back down Eastern. Their reasoning for doing this (other than sheer torture) was to help get us past the mental obstacle so that on race day, we can focus on the physical, i.e., why don't my legs want to move anymore?

I got through the 16-miler with no problem, and am looking forward to the down-week this week and doing the Heart Mini on Sunday. I'm hoping for better weather this year-- it was cold, rainy and all together yucky last year. I'm also finally going to start joining the Running Spot group on Tuesday evenings as well, now that the time has changed and we no longer would be running in the dark (which I refuse to do). Looking ahead to April, there should only be 2 more up weeks: an 18-miler and a 20-miler. Now that the weather is becoming more agreeable, and I'm getting stronger and more comfortable with the hills and the distance, I'm really starting to look forward to and visulize race day. 40 more days...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No Turning Back Now

"And no matter how you feel
It's what you do that matters
This is your moment to be strong
Today's your day, it's on!"
-It's On, Superchick

As of today, I'm officially signed up. According to the Flying Pig Marathon website, in 53 Days,12Hrs, 53 Mins, and 20 Secs from now, I'll be at the starting line again.

Okay, so panic is setting in a little bit. Two things are making me feel this way: 1.) The training program with Meters & Miles last year was much further along with mileage at this point than the training program that I'm following this year with the Ronckers program and 2.) I'm still 10 pounds over my pre-marathon weight last year. A friend put it into perspective for me this weekend when she said, "That's like carrying a bowling ball." While I don't have any intention of hauling excess weight for 26.2 miles, on the other hand I can't seem to stop myself from eating lots and lots of ice cream. It doesn't help that I moved within 2 miles of a Cold Stone store and I have a little card they punch each time I go in, and I'm oh-so-close to earning a free ice cream. Yep, I'm in a frequent ice cream-eater's club. This is NOT good.

Panic aside, I know this month's workout schedule should make it fairly easy to shed pounds (regardless of how many bowls, er, uh...pints of ice cream I eat), so I'm starting to worry a little bit less about that. And I am trying to keep in mind that the lack of mileage to this point is probably actually a good thing. Last year I did my 20-mile run a full month before the race since the schedule allowed for the more advanced runners in our group to do TWO 20-milers. While I ended up having a good race, the lull between the peak of training and race day made me feel really antsy. So, this year's schedule should actually be a vast improvement on my nerves once it comes down to the final few weeks of workouts. Still, when I hear about other runners well into the high teens in mileage already, it makes me feel like the frightened little kid in grade school who just realized she forgot to do her homework last night.

Last week was a down week, so I got a little bit of time to recover from the ghastly 13-miler from the week before and refocus. With a much more positive attitude, I was able to get in some very good workouts last week. For our Saturday group run, the Ronckers group did the Strides of March 10K. One of our coaches, Rod, told me it might be a fun goal to see if I can beat my Thanksgiving Day race time. Although I really am not too focused on time, getting faster is a good gauge that my level of fitness is improving. I was able to improve my time from Turkey Day by nearly a whole minute, which definitely gave me a little boost of confidence.

Furthermore, I did 3 workouts Saturday: We did a warm-up run of nearly a mile to get over to the start line from Newport, then I ran a mile cool-down afterward, to put me at just about 8 miles for the day. Then I did a Pilates class afterward and an hour-long walk later that afternoon. On Sunday morning, I did the O'Bryon's 5K race and had one of my best 5K times ever. So, with all of that, I'm feeling a lot more prepared for the race, fitness-wise. This week is an "up" week, so my improved fitness level will come in handy as we tackle 15 miles. And what do I think about all of this? I say: "Bring it on!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Being Extraordinary

"If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine."
-Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple

I've always been someone for whom ordinary isn't good enough. When I was in my teens and 20s, I had a lot of things in my life that made me stand out in the crowd. My little successes--from my academic and athletic achievements in high school and college to landing a good job (then losing that job and landing a better one)--were important at the time, but it wasn't long into my mid-twenties that I realized my greatest victories in life were being won at a flip-cup table.

By 30, I still had a lot of things about me that I was proud of accomplishing. I had a job that I was good at and was well-compensated for showing up to every day. But no one hangs a medal around your neck for fixing the server or creating a fine-looking product spec sheet. I was good at my job, I had great friends and a wonderful family, but I didn't have anything that made me extraordinary.

And then one day, for whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to be extraordinary again. So, here I am, 110 pounds lighter than what I used to be, and 2 months into training for my second full marathon. And it feels great.

However, being extraordinary comes with a price. I've found that I need to stay focused and positive in order to believe in myself enough to conquer 26.2 miles again. The training is grueling at times, and when I most need it lately, some of the people upon whom I thought I could rely to make this process easier aren't doing so. I'm sure no one means to make it harder on me, but nevertheless they have.

I had my first mental breakdown of the training season during last Saturday's run. The run was absolutely brutal--the route covered 13 miles of 5 different snow-covered bridges and several daunting hills, including the much-feared Glibert Avenue hill up into Eden Park. I came to a point during the run where I knew I had it in me physically to complete the run, but I was just so down on myself that mentally I couldn't push through it and ended up walking some of it. This was the first time in a long time that I felt defeated. (And not at all extraordinary.)

I completed the run with my head held high, but I know it wouldn't take much more to defeat me. So, moving forward, my plan is to train as hard mentally as I do physically. Which means that along with all the evenings at the gym, I'm going to choose to spend my time right now with the people in my life who are going to be positive influences on my training.

Also, I will try to blog more... it definitely helps me stay focused. :-)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Running the Pig: The Squeakel

"I look into the window of my mind,
Reflections of the fears I know I've left behind
I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I am on my way
Can't stop me now..."
-Proud, Heather Small

A lot of people run a marathon just to be able to say they've done it, they cross it off the bucket list, and move on with their lives. I'm apparently not one of those people.

I've never had a baby, but I would imagine that training for and completing a marathon is a similar experience. (I have a friend who HAS done both, and she says childbirth is easier, ha!) I think it's like having a baby because when you cross that finish line, you are so overwhelmed with joy and a sense of accomplishment that you forget the months of pain and sacrifice that went into making it happen. Then when you consider doing it again, you remember that pain and sacrifice, but decide that it's all worth it because of what you got out of the experience. And the fact is, I love the person that I become when I'm training. I'm focused, I'm disciplined, I'm determined. So for all of these reasons, I decided to run the Flying Pig again this year. Here's how it's been going so far:

The Running
I had several options for training groups this year since Meters & Miles closed last summer (frowny-face). While my old M&M pals formed their own group, I decided my training could benefit from joining the most organized group in town. We're two weeks into the program and I'm loving the Running Spot group. So far, they've offered a lot of support and great advice. I tweaked the schedule a little bit since I plan to run 5-6 days a week, and their schedule only calls for 4. I also switched around the mileage for different days to accommodate my cross-training. But, overall, it's a great training plan.

The Gym
I did a pretty good job throughout last summer in terms of keeping in shape since I was training for the Dayton half marathon in September. After the race, between moving and the holidays, I wasn't hitting the gym or the pavement as often and about 15 pounds found their way back on. One of the best things about deciding to run a marathon again is that I'm forced to hold myself accountable for slacking off these past few months. As I start training, I fully intend to be carrying at least 15 less pounds up Gilbert Avenue in May. So, that means hitting the gym.

I wanted to join a gym that is closer to my new home, so I signed up at Five Seasons in Crestview Hills, which is less than 2 miles away from my condo. While it was very convenient and a lot nicer than Fitworks, the group fitness classes just didn't do it for me. They didn't have the structure that the Fitworks classes have; it was almost as if the instructors were making up the moves as they went along. The music wasn't carefully synchronized with the exercises the way Fitworks classes are; the music was just kind of "on" in the background. And the Pilates class was coordinated to that dreadful ping-pingy Chinese music. Ugh. Boring and awful. So I broke up with Five Seasons after 11 days and went skulking back to Fitworks. They accepted me back with open arms (as long as I promised to never leave them again). They now feel confident in our relationship since I am contractually committed to them for at least the next 15 months. (Our relationship auto-renews after that.)

So, from now until April, I'm back to 3-4 classes per week at Fitworks: Mondays and/or Wednesdays Group Power (strength training) and Centergy (yoga/pilates), Tuesdays Abs, and on new favorite thing in the world... ZUMBA! I went to my first Zumba class last night and it was just awesome. For those who aren't in the know, Zumba is a latin dance-inspired aerobics class. I wasn't sure that lining up in the front row for my first class was such a smart move, but with my dance background, I picked up the moves quickly and enjoyed the class thoroughly. I love, love, love Zumba.

I know my schedule seems like a lot, and some may consider it "overtraining," but I ran a great race last year with the same schedule, so I'm not going to fix what isn't broken. My hope is to run a faster race than last year, but I'm not going to get too crazy. I'm not trying to win the thing. If I can run it 10-20 minutes faster, I'll be thrilled. If I can't, I'll still be happy I finished.

I am going to continue to blog my experience again this year, since it was really helpful to me to think out and write out my feelings during training last year. I also hope it will be a fun read for all of my runner and non-runner friends alike. Enjoy!