Goals and an Unplanned Rest Day

I really needed to get a run in today since I’m way behind on mileage for the week, but I’ve not been particularly looking forward to it, and I turned on my computer intending to find a good podcast to keep me company on my miles (I’ve been looking forward to checking out the James Randi Educational Foundation’s new podcast), but that was over an hour ago, and I haven’t even opened iTunes, although I have caught up on all the posts over at Dinner: A Love Story, and now I think I’m hungry, and it’s getting late, and apparently today is well on its way to being an unplanned rest day.  So be it.  Instead of running, I’m going to write about running.  As you do in this internet age.  No problem, I’ll just plan on 5 miles for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll be all set.

It did make me think, though, of a Lifehacker post I read this morning that reports on research that suggests that telling people your goals and intentions actually makes you less likely to meet them.  According to the post, “Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.”  So, saying I’m planning to make up my weekly mileage in the last days of the week might backfire on me. Writing a blog about my plans to be as fast at 29 as I was at 16 might help cause me to never get there.  They say “If you do tell a friend [about your goals], make sure not to say it as a satisfaction (“I’ve joined a gym and bought running shoes. I’m going to do it!”), but as dissatisfaction (“I want to lose 20 pounds, so kick my ass if I don’t, OK?”).”

In running to race, though, I feel like it’s possible to do both simultaneously.  Saying “I’m totally going to run a 22-minute 5K!” is both an affirmation (in that I will do it, and it will be awesome) and an expression of discontent (in that, if it’s still my goal time, I haven’t hit it yet).

My 20 miles-a-week really aren’t my goal.  My race time is.  On days like today, I think I get too bogged down in thinking of my mileage and that day’s run as the goal.  I need to remember that they’re only tools to get me where I want to be: the finish line in 22.  I’m on my way (just not tonight).

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If I Didn’t Know

Saturday’s run was never going to be anything other than a slog.  I woke up feeling drained from a particularly intense week at work, exhausted and dehydrated from a late night out (playing board games, ‘cuz I’m bad ass like that) and facing a mini-heat wave.  But, I was way behind in mileage for the week, and Saturday was the last chance I had to get a run in, so off I went.

I was right; it was not a fun run.  It wasn’t miserable, I wasn’t in pain or anything, but there was no flow to it, and I was just constantly aware that I was running.  And I found myself thinking about a Radiolab episode about Diane Van Deren.  Diane is an ultra-runner whose running career took off after she had a piece of her brain removed to treat seizures.  The surgery cured her seizures, but it also left her with severe short-term memory loss.  She has a memory span of mere minutes.  This means that, as she’s running for hours and days on end, she doesn’t remember the accumulation of miles that preceded.  While debilitating memory loss poses its own problems, it actually gives her an advantage when it comes to the mental games of running.

It’s an interesting question; how tired would I be if I didn’t know how tired I should be.  If, in this moment, I didn’t have the weight of the previous miles, and I couldn’t see the miles I still had ahead of me?  As I ran, I tried to focus on my body, on how it was feeling for that stride, that moment of impact.  I could feel myself being more present in the run, and my mopey-ness would fall away for a bit.

It still wasn’t an easy run.  I was tired and dehydrated and hot.  My mind would drift away to my watch and the miles, and I would have to re-focus on my body.

In the end, it worked better than I had expected.  I was just hoping to get through my run without stopping.  But, once I got home, I realized I’d held an 8 minute pace for 5 miles, a full 40 seconds faster than my pace the previous week.  Making progress.

Get Outside, Meet People

I do most of my running around Lake Merritt.  It’s a nice little loop, it’s just outside my door, I like not having to wait for stop lights, and I can totally zone out watching the ducks dive for seaweed.

The lake isn’t exactly my own little private paradise, though.  There are always other runners, joggers and walkers, people with dogs and strollers, occasional bikers, even kids on bikes.  Time a run poorly on a Saturday and people heading to and from the farmer’s market flood the north-east tip of the lake (plus, half the run smells like rotisserie chicken and sugar waffles, which just makes me distracted and hungry).  I get little bursts of speed work sometimes when I sprint to pass someone before on-coming traffic gets in the way, but once in a while the timing doesn’t work out and I have to walk a few steps before I can get around slower moving people.

I say all of this not to complain about the other people at Lake Merritt.  After all, it’s not a dedicated running path, and they have just as much right to be there as I do.  Oakland is a densely populated urban environment, and sometimes you just have to deal with other people.  As long as it’s not dangerous or illegal, the fact that something irritates or annoys me isn’t really a reason for anyone else to not do it.

I do take exception, however, to people who insist on walking five abreast across the sidewalk and refusing to yield any ground while making eye contact, forcing me to run in the street with my back to traffic to get by them.  I mean, Christ, what was that about?  Visions of shoulder-checking flashed in my head, but, frankly, they were all bigger than me, and they outnumbered me and looked like they would have been thrilled to kick my ass (though it occurs to me now I probably could have outrun them!).   What the crap was that about, ladies?

See Jane Run 5K 6/3/12

Sunday’s See Jane Run 5k was a strange, strange race for me.  In many ways, it was a guidebook on What Not to Do in Preparation for a Race,and my time was a little disappointing, but I’ve been on such a high since the race, and I’m weirdly happy with it.

My last run before the race was a quick couple of miles on Friday night.  I felt great!  Yay, I start thinking, this race will be awesome!  Except that I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep Friday night.  Or Saturday night.  I would start to drift off, then RACE would pop into my head, and I would be wide awake again.  Boo.  Not only was I not sleeping well, but I was so excited about the race I spent all of Saturday pacing and bouncing and shaking my hands out and just generally spending ungodly amounts of energy being nervous.

So Sunday morning I was heading into the race on about six hours sleep the previous two nights. I got up two and a half hours before race time, and decided that was enough time that I should eat a little something.  I don’t generally eat before my morning runs since I head out the door immediately after I get up, and I was worried that the couple of hours I had between waking and racing would be long enough for me to start to feel hungry.  I had a small bowl of Grape-Nuts, figuring it would at least keep my tummy from rumbling.

My husband and I took the bus to the start line, and once we hopped off about two blocks from the start, I got a huge adrenaline dump.  My heart was racing, I was sweating already, I felt sick and my legs started to shake.  I did a quick warm-up jog and some stretching, dumped my sweats with my husband, and tried to get to the start.

I was unprepared for how many people were at the start line (it’s a small field, but the start is narrow), and how early they would line up.  There were no pace markers along the crowd, so I ended up playing the “How fast does she look” game, which isn’t exactly a science.  Since I wasn’t sure how well I would race, I knew I didn’t want to be right on the line, but I was unhappy with how far back I ended up being when the race started.  After weaving and pushing as far as I could, when the leaders took off (I’d say “when the gun went off”, except I never heard any starting commands, just saw everyone start moving), I was standing next to three women in full face makeup.  In a race.  I mean, there’s nothing about wearing a full face of make up to a race that would necessarily keep someone from running well, it’s just that I’ve never known anyone who did.

I ended up spending the first half mile running on the outside of the pack trying to pass enough people to get with a group at my pace.  The volunteers kept yelling for everyone to get inside the cones, but I ended up dodging around the outside a couple of times to pass people.  My legs felt like some strange mixture of shaky, numb and dead, but my lungs felt fine and I was just chugging along.  All was going well enough, though, and by the turn around, I was on pace for a time in the mid-23s.  I’d hit a group of women who were holding a steady pace that felt good, and I was starting to think of the finish.

Then, in the last half mile, those Grape-Nuts I ate to settle my stomach decided instead to kick my ass.  I could feel my stomach start to churn and clench, and I thought, “There is no way that my first time puking in a race is going to be today”.  Except, of course, that it was.  It wasn’t horrible, and I managed to get to the side of the course and not puke on the nice looking woman in front of me, but still.  Puked in the race.  Bah.

After that I started to feel a little sorry for myself, and trudged more than kicked to the finish line in 24:37.

I’ve not totally sure why I feel so happy looking back on a race with a meh time in which I threw up.  But I am super thrilled with this weekend.  I love racing, and mostly I’m just glad to be back out there.

Still I’ve learned a few lessons for my next race (the 5k at the San Francisco Marathon on July 29):

1) Calm the fuck down.  I think this will mostly take care of itself.  I’ve gotten a race under my belt, and I think the inexperience nerves will go away.

2) Eat less substantial meals before a race.  I think my original though, that two and a half hours is too long to go without eating for me, was correct, but in the future, maybe I’ll just stick with a banana.

3) Have a little more confidence in my abilities, and get closer to the start line at the beginning.  I spent way too much time dodging around people who I already suspected were slower than I am even before the race began.  The hassle of weaving through so many people is greater than the embarrassment I might feel fading after an overly ambitious start.

So that’s it.  I’m back.  In 24:37.  Feels good.

Race Report a Day Early!

I just realized that if I’m keeping my collegiate records a separate category from my upcoming race times, whatever I run tomorrow will be a pr! Score!

Picked up my bib yesterday for Sunday’s race.  So excited.  I think this will be my first chip timed race.  Welcome to the 21st century, me!

Expectations and Ambitions

What I say out loud: “I don’t really know what my race times will look like, but I know I won’t ever run as fast as I did in college again.”

What I think: “I wonder if I could beat my college times if I train hard enough.”

When I started thinking about running and racing again, my mind almost instantly started thinking about how fast I’d like to run.  It was a silly conversation to have with myself, given that I hadn’t even bothered to dig my running shoes out of the back of the closet yet, but I can’t imagine running without some sort of time goal in mind.  I settled on a sub-23 since that would have been a comfortably average time for during my high school cross-country days.  Nothing spectacular, but not a bad race either.  I’d probably get a “Good job” from my coaches, along with the usual warning to try a little harder in practice next week (every coach that I ever had always, always said I should have been racing faster than I was).  The time wasn’t overly ambitious, but gave me a little more focus than”we’ll see how this goes.”  It would be crazy to try to pick up where I left off, but maybe I could go back to the beginning.

My husband, however, thinks I should totally disregard any previous times, even for use as a guideline (I feel it pertinent to mention that he is not a runner).  It’s not just, he says, that I should put those times in a separate category from my times now, but that they shouldn’t influence at all my understanding of my own ability.

I get where he’s coming from, I do.  I first ran almost 15 years ago.  Since then I’ve picked up age, asthma, a desk job, ten solid pounds of hips and ass, a love of beer and the accumulated effects of years of a sedentary lifestyle.  I don’t really know that almost-30-year-old me is anywhere near the same league as 16-year-old-me.

But, still, that ambition to be faster is there.  And here’s the thing that I’m really banking on: I’m way tougher now than I was as a teenager.  Remember how I said all my coaches always told me I should be racing better than I was?  I was a whiny runner.  I hated speed work, and consistently slacked on any track work longer than a 300.  I was scared of pushing too hard in races, and always finished with way too much in the tank.  I rarely did any of my assigned “on your own” training runs.  I was a total running slacker.

Now, as a job-having, bill-paying adult, I’m still prone to fits of laziness and certainly not perfect in my discipline and dedication.  But I am a lot more focused and a lot more driven.  I understand more acutely that ability can only go so far, and how much benefit hard work brings.  And I’m hoping that mental vigor, and the speed sessions and training runs that go along with it, will make up for anything I’ve lost in the last few years.

It’ll be a while coming though.  I don’t think my first race (in a week, yikes!) is going to get me my 22.  But, I’ve got to start somewhere, I can only get faster from there.  For now, my old pr is off the table as a goal, but I’m still holding the card, just in case.