Road Runner

Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.
– Steve Prefontaine

Because of all the house stuff, I never did tell you about the five 5ks I ran in April.  I’m really glad I challenged myself that way.  Here’s how the weekly Friday 5ks went:

April 6: 45:00 – I was so psyched when I finished – I told David the over/under was 46 minutes, and I beat it!

April 13: 46:10 – not as good as week one, but I had just as much fun!

April 20: 47:44 – it was hot, I was sick, and I was trying to save my energy for another 5k two days later (more on that in a bit), so I walked a LOT.

April 27: 48:41 – I don’t remember what happened this week, but I clearly walked nearly the whole thing.

The course was flat and the same each week.  It ran all through my neighborhood, which meant David could come cheer me on each time.  I loved seeing his smiling face as I crossed the finish line.

A LOT of people finished ahead  of me.  In fact, every week, about 5 to 7 minutes and less than 1/2-mile in for me, the leaders would come running past me in the opposite direction on their way to mile marker 2.  All kinds of people beat me: 10-year-olds.  People way thinner than me.  People way older than me.  Bigger people.  Tiny ladies pushing double jogging strollers.  A golden retriever and her human.  Guys in wheelchairs.

But, I finished ahead of all kinds of people, too – older, younger, thinner, heavier, a bloodhound and his human, moms walking behind strollers.  No guys in wheelchairs, though; they were all super-speedy.

So here’s what I learned over the course of 4 races:

  • Running is for everyone.
  • No one but me cares what I look like when I’m running.
  • Runners love to cheer each other on – I can’t tell you how many people waited at the finish long after they were done just so those of us in the back of the pack would have a cheering section.
  • You can’t look at someone and tell just by weight or body type whether they’re an athlete or how fit they are.

My fifth race was actually the fourth in the month.  The George Washington Parkway Classic. Karen and I did this race two years ago, but it didn’t turn out the way we hoped.  I had been forbidden by my doctor and physical therapist to run, and Karen’s planned running training program did not go as planned, so we agreed to walk it.  The whole time, I was champing at the bit to run, and about halfway through, I said, “Screw it,” and took off.  Not fast, of course, because I’m a pokey runner by nature, but still.  So we both finished, but overall, it was a disappointing experience.

So this year, when I started Couch to 5k on January 1, I set my sights on this race again, and Karen agreed to tackle it with me.  I finished C25k in March and signed up for the weekly races in April to keep myself running until this race.  Race day dawned dreary and rainy, just as it had two years ago.  We headed to the starting line full of nerves.  At the horn, we turned up our iPods and away we went.

My plan had been to run 10/walk 2, since I hadn’t managed to run all of any of my previous three races.  But 10 minutes came and I felt great, so I kept running.  When I hit the one-mile marker 4 minutes later, I knew two things: I was on pace for a personal best time, and I would be able to run the whole thing.

At mile 2, I checked my watch and realized I’d slowed my pace a bit, and I worried my PR was slipping away.  I told myself, “Just don’t stop, just keep going.”  Around the 3-mile mark, a course volunteer hollered, “Five more blocks!”  I checked my watch and knew it was going to be close.  Those were the longest five blocks of my life.  I counted them down in my head as I ran them: “Four-and-a-half blocks . . . four blocks to go . . . three-and-a-half . . .” checking my watch every few seconds.

Because I’m terrible and judging distance and how long it takes to traverse that distance, I thought I was out of luck, that 44:56 (my time in my first 5k in Boston) would come and go before I crossed the finish line, but I kept chugging along.  My face was red, I was breathing hard, my legs were burning, but I kept willing myself to go faster and not quit.  Finally, about 100 feet from the finish line, I looked at my watch and knew I was going to do it. People lined both sides of the street leading to the finish line and they were all cheering.  The red seconds on the official clock were ticking by.  There’s video of me about 50 feet from the finish – I put my head down, put my hands on my head, and shook my head in disbelief, and when I looked up and crossed the finish – tears.

I did it.  44:07.  I beat my best-ever time by49 seconds.  I had no idea when I started the race that a PR was even possible, but once I realized it was, I fought so hard to hold on to it.

And that’s why I run.  Because I love setting a challenging goal for myself and then trying to reach it.  I do not like the act of running itself, but it turns out that I love to race.  And to race, you have to train. Otherwise, you don’t get to feel the way I did that morning.

What’s Next?

She loved the big, proud bodies of the women in the choir, and how they could swing, and how planted on the earth they seemed, with no apology for taking up so much space.  It was as if they assumed they were beautiful, and only needed to decide what color to dress the beauty in.
– from Blue Shoe, by Anne LaMott

Another week, another failure of . . . willpower? Determination? Giveafuck?  I don’t know.  But once again, when I weigh in tomorrow, I’m going to show a gain.  I hate this.  I hate myself like this.  And yet, given the choice between, say, chocolate or an apple for a snack, or going to the gym or coming home and screwing around on the internet, I nearly always choose chocolate and the internet.  I’m so tired of being tired of this.

I don’t know how to start making better choices.  I don’t know how to commit to something, for real, long term.  I mean, just DO it, is the short answer, but how?  I can string together days, even a week or two of good habits, but somehow I always get off track.

I think I need to have something to work for, besides just losing weight.  For example, I realized once Couch to 5k training ended weeks before the 5k, which isn’t until the 22nd of this month, that if I didn’t have something to keep me going, I would just quit running altogether.  So I signed up for a local series of 5k Fridays – a 5k each Friday evening in April!  That’s kept me running at least twice a week (though I haven’t done anything else).  I did the first one this past week and finished in 45:00 exactly.  For me, that’s amazing – my mile splits were 14:29, more than a minute faster than anything I did in training!

Once April’s over, though, I don’t have anything to work for.  I don’t think I’m interested in running longer distances – it’s all I can do to stave off boredom in a 5k.  I could maybe do a 10k, but that’s not what’s next for me, I’ve decided.  I think what I’m going to work towards is a sprint triathlon.  I first read about this mysterious thing on Big Life, Little Blog, and it planted a seed. I didn’t even know there was such a thing – I thought all triathlons were those crazy Ironman ones, where you swim 2.5 miles, ride 112 miles, and then your insane ass runs a marathon.  That would probably kill me.  But a sprint tri?  This one, in particular?  I can totally do that.

I can already swim 300 yards, bike 12 miles, and run a 5k.  The challenge for me will be doing those things in succession and in anything resembling a decent time.  Practically speaking, the biggest hurdle for me will be finding a pool and getting there regularly to train.  I love swimming, so much, and I’m excited to get back in the water.

So, I’m telling you here: I’m doing this.  I need to do some more research and figure out a training program, which I will post here, for accountability purposes.  Come September 17th, I’ll be able to call myself a triathlete!

Give Me a Break

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
– Theodore Roosevelt

Hey – did you know there’s no prize for running the whole thing?  There isn’t.

This is what occurred to me Monday night as I was ending my run.  I wasn’t able to run the whole thing – I stopped twice for brief walking/stretching breaks, but managed 3 good runs of 8-10 minutes each over the 28 minutes.  I was lamenting that I’d had to take those breaks, feeling like I’d failed, again, after Saturday’s run.  And as I was doing my cool down walk, it hit me - there’s no prize for running the whole thing.

That’s a pressure I put on myself since I started Couch to 5k.  It was also a point of pride, since, until Saturday, I always had run the whole thing, even when the number of minutes of continuous running jumped from 5 to 8 and then to 20 and 25.  And certainly the goal of the program is for you to be able to run for the amount of time assigned each week – that’s why it felt like failure to me on Saturday and on Monday -but the program is a guideline.

There’s no prize for running the whole thing.  There’s not even a prize for running that 5k I’m signed up for next month.  The point is to do my best and to not stop trying.  The reason I started running again was because I wanted to feel strong, I wanted to try to love it, I wanted to run 5ks for fun.  When I measure myself against those goals, I’m in good shape.  I don’t love running the whole time I’m doing it, but there are definite moments, and I do love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I finish a run.  I do feel stronger – that I can and have run for 25 minutes at a clip (not fast, mind you, but still) when just 8 weeks ago 3 minutes seemed daunting is proof enough of that.  I’m excited for the 5k next month – Karen’s going to run with me (we’ve “run” it before, but we were both near the back of the pack – we’re going to do better this time!) – and I’m on the lookout for more.

So, when I had to walk only 5 minutes into tonight’s run – I think the weight circuit yesterday morning was the culprit, since my calves were screaming with pain, which rarely happens, and never like this – I didn’t let myself get down about it.  I just said, “Stretch it out and get back to it.”  And when I had to walk again 5 minutes later, I accepted that this was how tonight’s run was going to go.  “Just don’t quit,” I told myself.  “You can do it, just a minute more.”  “You’re doing your best.”

And that kindness I showed myself, for a person like me who beats up on herself regularly, is some kind of prize.

Road Block

Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.
– Plato

Yesterday, I set out to finally – after three weeks – complete Day 3 of Week 7 of the Couch to 5k training program that I began on January 1.  I had been completely each week, well, weekly, until week 7.  I ran Day 1, then went out of town and opted not to run while I was gone.  A week later, on a Wednesday, I ran Day 2, and it was rough, but I managed to run the whole thing.  I went to the doctor the next day because my hip had been acting up for about a month and I knew I had bursitis in my hip again (I had it in 2008 when I training for my first-ever 5k, too).  He gave me a shot of cortisone in my hip and forbid me from exercising until the following Monday.  No worries.

Well.  Sunday I decided to finally give up caffeine again.  Which I know I also said more than a year ago.  And then promptly didn’t do.  Ultimately, I was drinking at least one soda every day, and sometimes much more.  My migraines were back, and now caffeine wasn’t even working to make them go away – which is exactly what the doctor who ordered me to quit caffeine in 2008 in the first place told me would happen.  So I decided to do it again, for real this time.  I knew I was in for several days of withdrawal headaches, but I had no idea how bad they would be.  Starting Sunday afternoon (I last had caffeine Saturday at lunch time), I had a severe migraine every day this past week through Thursday.  By the time I left work Monday and Wednesday, my usual weekday running days, I was nearly incapacitated, and running was totally out of the question.  (The good news is, I’m 8 days caffeine-free; even at my worst moment this past week, I refused to give in.)

Yesterday, after a brief period of lacking motivation, I went out to finally complete Day 3 at around 2 in the afternoon.  Holy shit.  My legs were like lead, and I had to walk after only THREE minutes.  I walked for a minute, then ran again, telling myself I could walk again in 5 minutes.  I didn’t even make it that long.  I looked at my heart rate monitor and it was at 190!  No wonder I felt like I wanted to throw up.  I continued on this way, never running more than 5 minutes at a time because my heart rate got back up to 190.  At one point, I was sure I was going to have to give up and just limp home.  But I finally managed to get my breathing under control and ended up running probably very close to 75%.

I was so disappointed in myself, but, when I was walking home, I realized that, not only had I not run in 10 days, I also hadn’t eaten since 9:30 that morning, and all I’d had were some scrambled eggs and clementines.  No carbs for fuel.  Dummy.

Anyway, another thing I’ve realized lately is that since I started running, I’ve mostly neglected all other forms of exercise.  A few times I’ve done arm weights when I’ve come in from running, and two or three times, I swung by the gym for an elliptical session, and once I did Zumba.  But for the most part, running was it.  I’ve watched Lydia training for her half-marathon, and her progress pictures show that cross-training is really paying off for her.  I need to work weight training and other forms of exercise into my routine, too.  So, here’s my plan for this week:

Monday: Run – Week 8/Day 1

Tuesday: elliptical and weight circuit (upper and lower)

Wednesday: Run – Week 8/Day 2

Thursday: elliptical and weight circuit (upper and lower)

Friday: off (optional Zumba class)

Saturday: Run – Week 8/Day 3 and weight circuit (upper and lower)

Sunday: off

Does that look ok?  Should I split up the upper and lower body weight circuits?  I thought since there’s a day off in between that should be ok, but I’m open to suggestions.  I really wish I could swim; that is hands-down my favorite exercise.  I am going to look in to community pools and see what turns up.