Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Familiar Grooves

My first go round with marathon training was somewhat successful -- insofar as it got me to the finish line in a reasonable amount of time, and I felt reasonably healthy throughout. Joining forces with an experienced training partner for my 2nd and 3rd marathons allowed me to realize just how much energy I wasted the first time around, a byproduct of inexperience and fear (and if I am honest with myself obstinance).

This week I got to thinking about what started me on this path, what happened to get me barely making it down the block to completing three marathons, numerous other races, and planning for more, what did it? The reasons I started running stemmed from anxiety, its one of the only ways I've found to truly quiet my mind, to burn off the nervousness, and also to work through and release problems and challenges. Having a goal to train for makes the consistency easier, it allows for days of camaraderie and celebration, a sense of accomplishment.

In my new found life as a runner, training falls into familiar grooves. I found the discipline of marathon training has made a permanent mark on my psyche. I find I still have a lingering fear that I'm not doing enough, and it's hard to combat. With the half upcoming I realized that I didn't have a training plan in place, and because I haven't been running distance I am feeling a bit untethered. I revert right into my grooves.

Yet, I don't need 40+ mile weeks to run a half marathon well. Now is the time to jump out of the grooves, take a deep breath, and have faith in my summer base training and speed work. Routines are important, miles are important, but as a good friend reminded me last night, so is running my own race and running healthy. Life is so much better when you listen to more than one record, so I'm jumping the track and hitting many different grooves, familiar and foreign.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Surrender. What does it mean? Giving up when we know that we have been beaten. Giving ourselves over to a power greater than ourselves. Letting down our defenses, our walls, and our prejudices. Raising a white flag, saving our own lives.

Surrender. It need not mean defeat, but rather the end of a practice that no longer works. Giving up on battles that do little but waste time, energy, and resources.

When my quad was torn in the course of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I reached a place in my running where the best option was surrender. I stopped and gave myself over to a power greater than myself, physical therapy. The way I had been running no longer worked, I needed to strengthen the weak parts of myself and in so doing pave the way to stronger running, and lessened injury risk.

Perseverance is a trait shared by almost every distance runner, marathoner. Tenacity and perseverance get us to the end of 26.2 miles, they get us through weeks of arduous training, The power to overcome physical and mental challenges, the knowledge of ones personal power is one of the sweetest lessons learned in training. The other side of the coin to perseverance is surrender. Yin and yang.

There’s a certain type of strength in surrender, maturity, self-knowledge. I find as I move farther down the road from novice and beginner that I now know my own body better, I have a better grip on my limits and in this I grow in humility.

I have often taken pride in my fierce independence, my grit, my determination and these traits have taken me far in my running life – but not until recently did I discover that softness, openness, and letting go of control are just as important.

Surrender, letting go, and listening to my own body and those who have come before me, emulating rather than competing. Knowing myself. Injury brought these gifts, and for this I am grateful.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The off season. Often greeted with bittersweet joy, fatigue, and the perpetual question, what do I do now? Before I took up running, I didn't have such defined seasons in my life (besides the seasons provided to me through the natural world). I have never, until now, had an on season of intense training to offset.

Last year I emerged from the marathon relatively physically unscathed. I returned to running about a week after the race, albeit at a reduced level. I set my sights on the Rachel Carson challenge and enjoyed hiking and communing with nature, as well as doing the steps at the Cathedral of Learning. It was active enough and different enough that it mitigated the post race let down. A nice place to land.

This time around, my quad injury has me sidelined and in physical therapy. I'm grateful for it, and know that what I learn will ultimately make me a stronger and better runner. Still, this presents me with another mental challenge, this time to come to terms with who I am, outside of running. To come face to face with that which I put on pause, soothed, avoided through all those miles. The set schedule. The predictable and comforting rhythm of exertion and rest. The tired joy of working towards a goal.

I am in a state of transition, transitioning not only to a post-race off season but in terms of my life as whole. Running and training serves as a healthy crutch, but there comes a time when you have to walk on your own two feet, and that time is now. I've made a lot of changes in the past years, changes that may not be so apparent on the surface, that I have only revealed and discussed with a few. I'm not sure I can articulate it so well here -- but I can feel it, and I feel now that I am facing the real me without a filter, without a buffer and it's ecstatic, scary, elating, sometimes boring but always, always, worth it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pittsburgh Marathon the Second Time Around

It's taken me a week to get around to writing about this year's marathon -- a week where my energies where devoted to absorbing the race, resting, and recovering.

I showed up at the starting line full of enthusiasm, energy, and a touch of fear. I worried about what might go wrong, even though I arrived there with 16 weeks of solid training under my belt and the experience of 2 previous marathons. Fighting shape. I ambitiously affixed the 3:40 pace group number to the back of my shirt -- a lofty goal, sure but I figured there was nothing to be lost by stating my intention. Thankfully the port-a-potties were well placed this year, and I managed to make 2 pit stops with minimal waiting before the race start. I found Jess and an assortment of other friends before the race, which calmed me as much as I was able to be calmed. With a few minutes until the start, Jess and I lined up with the 3:40ers, and wished each other luck.

The start went smoothly, we didn't have to dodge many mis-lined-up runners and we were able to establish a groove early on. The moment I crossed the start line all of the pent up anxiety started to melt away into the effort of the race itself. At mile 2 the rain started, which was a welcome respite from the heavy heat and humidity. Cooled considerably, if a bit soggy, we circled back through the Strip and into my North Side stomping grounds -- the fans were amazing coming out in the rain, seeing Karen, then Sandra (+ family!!!) and then the Harper-Blackwell family gave me quite a boost. At this point Jess and I were keeping a decent pace, right around our goal pace of 8:24. I felt like it was a bit challenging but do-able.

The rain continued and so did we, over the picturesque West End bridge and down onto Carson Street, the big windup to the one and only major hill. Jess and I psyched each other up and approached the hill positively. Tackling the hill was one of the highlights of the race for me, in no small measure due to the excellent Jock Jams and cheerleaders, blasting 'Woomp, There It Is' and 'Push It'. Simply perfect. Coasting into Oakland I spotted Mike, champion cheer-er and relished the feeling of the 1/2 way point.

The good feelings didn't last long as I approached the bend at Craig street fatigue began to set in. I watched as the pace group gained on me, and felt simply like I couldn't keep up. I felt it, big time. By the time we reached Shadyside I felt like I was seriously dragging -- I did the best I could but it was at this point when I knew somatically that 3:40 was not going to happen. I made sure to drink lots of fluids, took some Gu and just hung on. Another boost came around mile 17, with a party of the bestcheerersever, Ehrrin (with foam finger AND pom poms!), Barbara, Logan, and Lisa -- I was feeling so drained at this point I was unable to enjoy it much but it really, really helped. Around this time I started to feel some serious nausea set in, the like of which I had only experienced at the end of 5k races. I slowed down enough to feel comfortable and Jess pulled ahead. Staying in the race was the only thing on my mind at that point and I just kept going. I just kept going.

Around mile 21 I was beginning to get a second wind, feeling better if not great when I heard the announcement that all runners where to stop running due to an emergency. I spotted an ambulance and figured there was a major medical emergency of some sort, so I slowed to a walk (stopping outright would not have been a good idea at this point!). Without much information I wasn't sure what to do -- so after about a minute or so I picked up running again (turns out it was due to a bomb threat, but I didn't find that out until later). Coming into Bloomfield I really felt my energy pick up and I picked up my pace as much as I could reasonably -- the fans are fantastic in Bloomfield, especially the dancing nuns, a runner around me remarked that you really don't see that every day, and I'd have to agree with him.

Running down Liberty hurt a lot less then in 2009, which I attribute to my slowed pace in the middle miles and my overall greater fitness level. The downhill was, dare I say it, a treat. Hitting that final mile I gave it all I got, pulling in at 3:57:52 -- 11 seconds faster than last year.

I found Jess in the finish area and we stocked up on fluids, pretzels, and the very Pittsburgh smiley cookie. Walking slowly and soggily I found my best-dawg Paki and crew, who shepherded me to the car and warm and dry clothes.

Overall, I am happy with how I did in the race, I know I gave it absolutely everything I had. I had hopes that my performance would be better, but I also know that despite all the preparation in the world things don't always go as planned. I feel great, mentally -- partially because I hit the wall and made my way through it. Physically I am not faring as well, but I feel better with each day, and am getting my quad checked out this week. Now my only task is complete rest and recovery --- enjoying activities and friends I've neglected during my training. The second time around may not have been as sweet as the first but it was no less meaningful.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just Breathe

Breathing. A simple concept. One that happens naturally, without thought. Breathing keeps us alive. Nourishes the cells of our bodies, keeps us conscious. It's basic.

This week I am returning and reminding myself of the basics. Connecting to the simple processes of life, living in that single breath, in and out, living in and for the day, the hour, the minute.

One of the major reasons why I took up running was to deal with anxiety, and it's one of the major reasons I continue to run. Hours on the trail or the road clear my mind like nothing else. The moving meditation releases all the chatter, centers me, connects me to a higher source, evens me out. The taper, which is an important component of marathon training comes at a time when anxiety about the race is at its peak, this coupled with a sudden decrease in my anti-anxiety activity can have a profound mental and emotional impact.

I find myself focusing inward this time around, accepting how I am feeling. I find that when I get in touch with the actual feelings, it is not nearly as scary as I imagined, I'm not nearly as anxious. There's a certain beauty to this stillness, to the cultivated mental state of calm without exertion. I trust that I will be able to tap into the adrenaline, the nerves when the time is right. These days are teaching me that training has effected not only my physical body, but my mental core as well.

Breathing. In and out. This is where I dwell.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Significant Weight

It's taper time. Less then two weeks until marathon day and I wish I could say I was feeling great. The best I can do is ok for now, with the belief that come race day I will be near enough to 100% to run the race I have trained for.

I feel strong. I feel mentally and physically prepared. I have just received a reminder that I am in a human body and that human bodies fall prey to illness from time to time. I have been unusually healthful this whole season and now I feel as though someone sapped the strength out of me. It started with a general fatigue and blossomed into something greater. I spent most of Monday in bed, resting and tending to myself as best I could.

My approach now is to take things one day at a time. It's easy enough to getting psyched out in the 'what ifs' of race day. What if I get sicker? What if I fall and sprain something in the next two weeks (which I definitely felt on my run last night when I tripped over myself!)?

The truth is, I don't know. No one knows what will happen from one day to the next, what combination of factors will lead to the race of a lifetime or just getting through, or not making it at all. We prepare as best we can.

I am giving significant weight to this race. I have felt for a long time that I was incapable of achieving lofty goals, so for years I've shied away from striving. I'm not sure if it's a fear of failure or success (or some combo of both) that has kept me from trying to achieve, but it's held me back from life for far too long. When I started running it touched a place within in me, a place in my core that said 'I can', and I never looked back. I may not be the speediest, it may not always come easily, but no one can say that I lack focus or dedication. So this race has significant weight, and that weight feels nice, I can say without a doubt that I have the strength to carry it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Auto Pilot

It's here folks. The aptly named monster month of marathon training. The month which presents both the challenges of the longest run and the somehow equally as challenging taper. One of my major struggles this time around has been taking proper rest, not over-doing, and I'm sure that heading into the taper will prove no less of a struggle. I intend to savor the last weeks of intensity to their fullest, extracting the highest quality workouts I can muster.

I feel as though my training is on auto pilot at this point. Over the past three months I've had the luxury of a stable schedule which has allowed me to ease into a comfortable rhythm (even when the workouts themselves prove uncomfortable). Speed on Monday. Mid-length on Wednesday. Yoga and Tempo on Thursday. Long Run Saturday. Rinse, repeat.

I feel like there's not much more to say -- I feel pleasantly unconflicted, healthy, and strong. I feel focused and prepared. I approach this time as I did my entire training - with dedication, an open heart, a wonderful partner, and the guidance of an expert. A recipe not only for a successful race but a well lived life in general. With these tools even the monster month is manageable.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Just a Short Run

Over the past few weeks, sapphic runner land has been a pretty fatiguing and tiring place. The buildup of miles in the long runs, longer mid week runs in addition to some pretty intense speed workouts left me with little left to give. Dog tired (e-dawg tired, heh). These lows are a part of marathon training and even though I logically know they happen, they somehow always take me by surprise. Why is my temper suddenly short? The crankiness dialed up to the highest degree? It's not hard to figure out they whys with a quick glance at the training log.

So, according to our illustrious (and quite wise) training plan, we cut our mileage, I skipped my speed workout and took a few days off of work to just relax. It worked.

Saturday I approached Just a Short Run, a half-marathon and my last competitive event before the Pittsburgh Marathon with renewed energy. Last year we skipped this event, focusing on getting in a longer run. This year my goal was to run the best possible race a could, with an emphasis on the best, quality mileage I could achieve.

The day was chilly, clear, and bright -- wonderful weather for a run. I approached the starting line with my usual amount of excitement and anxiety -- happy for pace groups that ensured a smooth start. Bobbing and weaving my way to decent pace is not my idea of a good time. I started strong, enjoying a part of North Park I'd never run in previously, keeping my effort level high without over exerting myself. I settled in somewhere between the 1:40 and 1:50 pace groups, taking care to maintain my pace, drink water and to relax and enjoy as much as possible. I pushed myself, but never so much that I had to slow down and finished the race in 1:43:19, a personal record.

The race gave me a jolt of confidence and concrete marker that all my hard work over these weeks really is paying off. I am not one to micro-manage my speed and miles (though I do track them in a general way) -- so I was pleasantly surprised but what I was able to do. I felt a window of possibility open, the possiblity of making my highest marathon goal. I left the race with a sense of what could be -- and race day I will bring everything I have, and it just so happens that my everything could be enough to qualify for Boston. Until then, it's back to the grind with a little more confidence in every stride.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I feel as though the past few weeks have been a struggle, through fatigue, changes to routine -- I felt like the whole world was out enjoying the weather change and I was stuck in my 'hard times' mentality. Sure, outside the birds are chirping, the sun is glinting off Lake Elizabeth, all the snow has melted and folks are walking around with smiles on their faces, but I am sooooooooooo tired those smiles just seem to mock me.

Ever so slowly, following a return to normal nights sleep I noticed a bit of a change. Walking to work without all those layers, well that certainly felt nice. A longer stretch of daylight, the way the warmth of the sun eases my muscles, the familiar smells of earth, rain, and new growth. Slowly I felt a smile start to creep onto my face, naturally extending from the joy of a new beginning. Things began to feel more manageable. Last nights thunderstorm lulled me into a deep sleep, easing my tiredness and putting me right with world around me instead of at odds.

Just as the Winter comes after the Fall, Spring arrives after a long, cold, difficult winter. Every year. Despite my efforts to resist its easy charms, Spring is here. I'm not sure what it says about me that I hold to the difficult, almost treasure it - perhaps it's an underdog mentality nurtured by my surroundings. Pittsburgh is an underdog city if there ever was one, and as the youngest sibling I always feel a sense of living in someone else's shadow. The coming change of seasons is a good reminder that I don't always have to fight to win. The sunshine comes just the same as the cold, no matter how bleak things look, how fatigued we get, how much effort we put forth the halcyon days return eventually. I remind myself to enjoy it all, embrace the easy and relaxing fortify myself with the knowledge that rebirth and new growth will always happen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness

T-minus 6 weeks and counting until the marathon -- these are the hardest weeks mentally and physically. I realize at times that marathon training skews my perspective. I'm so used to running long, running hard, running lots of miles that at the end of the week I wonder why I'm so tired, so worn out. And tired and worn out I am. The time change threw off my sleep schedule just enough that it's been difficult to get the extra sleep my body requires, leaving me fairly cranky. So much so that I'm having a difficult time feeling happy about the Spring -- as much as I love sun, warmth, light, I feel more downtrodden then I did during the height of the winter.

This too shall pass. We are cutting down are mileage this week to give our bodies a much needed respite, something I have found difficult to do in past training. Tonight I plan on taking a very easy run and then going to yoga. Rest and recovery is an important part of the process. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So, if I seem a bit ornery, short, edgy it's nothing personal, it's the fatigue. March, truly the crankiest month (at least with an early May marathon!). Be well my friends.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joys of the Dark

Changes of season are always tough for me, particularly in the turning colder months -- even in the Spring, though it takes me a while to adjust. It takes me a few days (or in the case of winter a few weeks) to relax and adapt to my surroundings. The pure, simple joys of Spring hurry the process -- warm temperatures, clear blue skies, and the smell of knew growth all around me make it hard to stay grumpy. Self reflection and self reliance give way to a communion with the environment, movement towards extroversion.

Late winter brings about a confusion of temperature, and likewise makes it difficult to dress just right. Yesterdays run began in sunny warmth giving way to a frosty night when the sun went down. I wore a t-shirt and capris which proved just barely sufficient for the conditions. I began last nights run not with a sense of excitement and adventure but a sense of 'when will this be over'. I spent the first miles feeling uncomfortable, just a little too cold, the camelbak fitting just a little off, traffic just a little bit too heavy for me to get in the zone. Some runs are like this. Despite my love of the sport sometimes I find myself just muddling through. Luckily with the setting of the sun I found my motivation rising. In the calm of the darkness I found the kernel of pleasure in my movement through the landscape. My eyes adjusted. Occasionally a car or another runner would pass, but for the most part I felt it was just me and the trees.

Not sure what it says about me that I sometimes prefer the cold and dark to the light and the sun. Sometimes I just feel like a renegade, deriving pleasure from going against the grain. There's a certain beauty in the darkness, in stillness, in the inner reaches of the self -- it's subtle, internal. And yes, I love the obvious pleasure of the sunny day, with a slight breeze, trails filled with happy runners and walkers. I love the sun, but I find myself treasuring the dark in a way I never thought I would. I welcome Spring and longer days, with a nod to the loss of the pleasures of darkness.

Monday, March 8, 2010

dashing through the...sun

For the past month I meant to get around to writing a blog specifically about running during this years epic snow storm. I even went as far to come up with the title 'dashing through the snow' and did mental outlines at various points. Turns out it was not to be, and I find myself writing now that things have thawed out, despite the chill of late winter the sun is shining and melting the remaining snow piles down to dirty city streams and crunchy ice layers.

I am entering the second phase of marathon training and things are going well. I managed to run as best I could during the month of February, and counted myself lucky that I live just a few blocks from my gym -- at points I felt like I was working out more than I would have without the snow fall. Jess and I ran the annual Spring Thaw, and I saw an improvement in my time from last year which I was pleased about, but I was short of the pace I need to qualify for Boston this year. It made me realize that though the goal of qualifing is a good one, and it helps me amp up and stay on track there is the possibility that it will not happen this race. It threw me for a loop, but this is all part of the training process, all part of setting an ambitious goal. I have made peace with the fact that though I am still striving to achieve a 3:40 marathon I will be ok if I fall short. 3:40 is a stars align type of a goal, more realistically I seek to improve my time from last years marathon and truth be told finishing another marathon, despite any adverse circumstances will be something to celebrate.

Watching the Olympics brought up a lot of 'what if I don't make it' feelings for me, seeing atheletes at the top of their sport, with so much riding on this one competition falling short -- well it made me feel scared about my own chances of achieving my goal / dream. Perspective. It's hard to keep sometimes, and a balancing act of pushing myself, motivating myself and resting and letting go. I do care about the result. If I didn't care about the result, the goal wouldn't motivate me, but at certain point, with all the motivation that the goal provides it's imperative to let go and let God. Running gives me joy and pleasure (and yes, pain too), it focuses me, provides me with an outlet as well as a link to a higher state of being. The goal is important but less so for a single moment of achievement then the way it enriches the journey.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Fine Balance

It's an all to familiar feeling the ache of a quad muscle, the days later reminder of too much, too fast, too steep. This weekend's long run featured a punishing hill which I knew would be a challenge, somehow when you are are out doing a run anything seems possible. It's not until the next day when over-doing-it comes home to roost.

I often feel this way after a race so the feeling is not foreign to me but during training it's a signal of doing too much. Over extending during training taxes the body and makes it harder to hit the next week's workouts. I strive to do just enough to increase my fitness without crossing the line to wearing myself out. The balancing act is one of the hardest things about marathon training. Still, I do the best that I can with a moving target the shifting terrain, my fitness level, even chemical differences in my body from day to day.

So, I took a complete rest day yesterday and plan to a short recovery run this evening. I usually do speed work on Monday but have decided to hold off until my muscles feel 100%. As with other aspects of life intensity must be interspersed with relaxation or burnout follows. I am listening to my body and healing so that I can run another day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Inflow and Outflow

I am not sure how much I've chronicled this on the blog, but I have taken up hooping. Much like when I started to run it's an activity that just feels right to me, a discovery of a passion that has been untapped for a long, long time. I used to spend hours twirling the hoop around my waist when I was a kid, loving it's rhythm, the circularity of it all, the blend of concentration and mindlessness.

In hooping, around the waist there is a way that feels more comfortable, a favored direction which is the inflow and a more awkward direction which is outflow. Cultivating both is important in hooping -- to achieve balance and strength.

I like the concept of inflow and outflow, as it expands to include many things from the concrete breathing in and out to the broader theory of an essential self and a shadow self. Inflow feels right and natural and it's a satisfying place to rest, while outflow feels different, precarious, it takes more concentration, more exaggerated movements, more risks.

In terms of running, keeping this idea in mind helps me with balance. Believe it or not it is more difficult for my to reign in my distance and/or speed then to expand on it, it's hard for me to take it easy. I feel my prospects of success overall are demonstrated on each run, so I tend to go for the gusto and find myself sorely disappointed when I don't measure up -- this is one of the psychological issues I hope to ease this go round. Inflow and outflow, surrendering to ease and embracing challenge, this will help me to maintain balance in my journey to the finish line and beyond.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Last night over some seriously delicious takeout from Piccolo Forno (pizza with a fresh egg in the middle, yes please) my running partner and I plotted out our training for the Pittsburgh marathon. It made me realize just how easy I've been taking it, and that's a good thing because I believe this training will take a good portion of what I have physically and mentally. Well rested and healthy I have more resources to draw from.

Keeping in mind that we never follow a training plan 100% it is stil quitel daunting. I have been running about 4 times a week, no serious distance, and doing cross training another two days a week. I had it in my mind that marathon training entailed just a simple amp up of a long weekend run, perhaps a bit of speed. I hadn't considered that what I consider 'long' now is 8 miles, not the significant two hour run slated for next weekend.

I know this is not an easy endeavor, after all this will be my 3rd marathon, so I'm a bit past the novice phase when it comes to training. Still, I feel as though I blocked out how difficult it would be, vaguely remembering long run fatigue and sore muscles and little else.

I am anxious and a bit scared, and I plan to use that energy to propel myself forward. Work it out week by week, run by run, mile by mile. Tackling the plan one day at a time, and playing close attention to the signals my body sends, making sure to balance my efforts with good quality rest and nourishment. I'm ready to do this, shaky as I may feel, next week starts the journey.