Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Small Steps

The process of change, of strengthening and quickening is an interesting animal. Perhaps animal is the wrong word -- what I mean is that it's rarely a linear progression from point a to point b. You get out there, log the miles, tough out a hard speed workout and some days you still seem to be going backwards, and some days it feels completely effortless.

This past weekend I ran the Run for Roch, which was a challenging, hilly 5k in scenic Mt. Washington. I haven't been up to Mt. Washington in ages -- the view really is spectacular, and it was wonderful to start and end things overlooking the city. I pushed through all the hills, despite the feeling that I was going to puke after mile one, and almost stopping to walk on the daunting McArdle ascent and made it through ok. I came in at a respectable 24:04 -- which for me is a personal record.

Still, the progress I am making feels like it's moving at snails pace. Even though speed isn't strong suit I struggle with my internal brat who throws a fit that increasing my speed isn't easier -- even though it hasn't been long since I began this shift in focus. It helps to put thing in perspective, it helps to realize that we don't always have big, long gains, that their is no perfect end result, that sometimes frustration is as vital a part of the training process as success. If this was easy, it would be easy and not as worthwhile of a pursuit. So I will stay here, and continue my work even when it feels futile, even when there are a million things I'd rather be doing, when I feel like I'm moving backwards instead of forwards. I do it because the choice is between staying static or growing, and I choose growth, no matter how messy the process.

Monday, July 20, 2009


A couple of months ago, in an attempt to train up for the Rachel Carson challenge I started climbing the stairs in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. Apparently this is a popular activity for athletes of all strips, particularly in the winter months when Pittsburgh's weather ravages even the most hardy.

For those who aren't familiar the Cathedral of Learning is a gothic cathedral on Pitt's campus that houses classrooms, labs, and the like, 42 stories of fun:

Now, suffice to say the summer is not the most popular month for stair climbers, the building offers little ventilation and the conditions outside beg even the most sedentary to come out and play. Still, there is something that calls to be about the steps, the challenge of 36 flights, the sense of accomplishment when I get to the top, the sweat proliferation, perhaps a bit of pure insanity. Needless to say I, along with several like minded partners in crime, have made it a Wednesday night standing plan. While it's tough, and not the most convenient, I can feel myself getting stronger week after week.

Besides the physical, this workout has had an effect on my psyche as well, with elevators and stairs making almost nightly appearances in my dreams. I believe it's one of those situations where the act of ascending stairs connects me to a more ethereal form of ascension or growth. The practice of going up, step by step, until I reach the top and returning to the bottom just to ascend again serves as a moving meditation. Bringing myself to the Cathedral, week after week forges a connection between my body and spirit, the literal manifestation of bringing myself to a place of ascension.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer of Speed

Though I seldom sit still I am far from speedy. Constant motion is a part of my nature, blame it on being high strung, high metabolism, an unnatural zest for life --- whatever and no matter what I can attribute it to to it is there. It's one of the reasons running comes so naturally, as a way to channel this energy and exhaust myself to a comfortable resting point. I run relatively quickly for someone of my stature but I am by no means a sprinter. Not only am I not built for it in a physical sense, my mind and will have followed suit. I just don't like to run fast.

After a successful marathon and months upon months of training I took some time off. I still run and am running, but am far from logging 30+ mile weeks. Rest is a vital part of any training program and a necessary part of the cycle. Summer being the season of the 5k, I gravitated towards running these shorter races, not out of any propensity for running them but rather out of the desire to be among my 'people'. I love the excitement of race day or evening, the nerves, the first steps into the groove, the volunteers enthusiastically handing out paper cups of water, the last push at the end, the kitschy door prizes - it all makes it worth the torment of running short and fast.

For some reason pushing myself to my limit endurance wise is an entirely different animal then pushing myself to my limit speed wise, and I'm not sure why that is, it just is. Yet, I know that as in most pursuits, the practice you most avoid is often the one that you most need, that will push you to the next level. So this summer, I have decided to focus on my speed, with the goal of shaving a minute off of my 5k PR. It's been slow going (hah!) , or slow on the uptake, one of the reasons I am writing here in an attempt to keep myself honest. Here's to a speedy rest of the summer.