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.