Friday, December 20, 2013

The Voices Are Back

They're baaaa--aaack!

You know, the voices we all have that constantly remind, scold and cajole us.

I don't know about the rest of you runners, but my running voices tend to be louder than a lot of my other ones, especially now that I am training for Boston.

And, they have been going crazy since Pennsylvania started experiencing in snow and ice.

Every time I'm out and about in my non-runner persona, the running voices still take over. 

"Be careful. Don't fall."

"Oh, can you only imagine what will happen if you hurt yourself now?"

"Don't think about falling.  It will only make you more likely to fall."

"Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle."


I'm not a person who tends to feel a lot of pressure, especially in running-related things.  After all, my philosophy is pretty much, "Hey, I'm not going to win this race so I might as well just do the best I can." 

But, being selected as a charity runner for Boston has changed that somewhat.  Now, much of what I do is focused on April 21, 2014.  (And, I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. It is what it is, right?)

A few weeks ago, my running partner became injured and I think that ramped things up a bit for me.  All of a sudden, I was conscious of all the people supporting me in so many ways to be able to run 26.2 miles in four more months.  And, the thought of "what happens if I get injured?" has been creeping into my thoughts over and over again.  And, then some.

 In the end, I know I'm doing all I can to stay healthy, raise the necessary funds and be ready to rock in Boston on Patriot's Day.  In fact, my running has never been better. (Oops...there go the voices.  "Don't write that.  You're going to jinx yourself."  "Be quiet. There are no such things as jinxes."  "Oh, now you've done it."  "(Scoffs.)  The sentence is staying in.") 

Each day, in addition to my running agenda, I also do a series of running-specific physical therapy and strength training exercises.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I got injured after my first marathon and I will do pretty much anything to avoid that again.  Plus, after my recent race in Steamtown, I felt every one of those 26.2 miles in my knees and hips.  When I researched how to make them stronger, guess what I found?  Yep, almost all the PT exercises I had been given a year before.

Although I'm not dieting per se, I am also conscious of what I've been eating and am down about 5-6 pounds with the goal of taking off another 10 before Boston.  Why?  Because 10 pounds translates into about 20 seconds faster per mile.  Oy vey.  It IS all about running, isn't it?

I still have a ways to go in training and fundraising, but I'm working on getting along with those voices and have them help rather than hinder me along the way. 

Can't wait until they say, "We knew you could."  ("Yes, and we will say that.  We know you will. See how benevolent we can be?")

So, good or bad, my voices and I will continue to train and talk with the goal of getting 'er done.  What about you?  What do the voices in your head tell you?

Catch you later at the back of the pack!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tale of Three Trainers

"Don't waste your money."

That was the reply someone posted in response to a special marathon/half marathon training Facebook special offered by my friend and personal trainer, Elizabeth.

What ensued was a lively discussion about whether or not runners should spend money on using a personal trainer when so many free programs and advice-giving running friends exist.
At first, I was taken aback by the response.  And, then, I realized it wasn't that long ago that I questioned the same thing.  After all, running is a pretty simple sport, right? Just takes one foot in front of the other for however long you want to go.   And, internet access offers a plethora of information in addition to sport-specific magazines like Runners' World (which, admittedly, makes my heart skip a beat every time it shows up in my mailbox.)

I first started running with the Couch 2 5K program and followed the plan religiously.  It worked.  I was able to run a 5K in the prescribed time and--in that short time--began to identify myself as a runner.

After I realized I did better with endurance than speed, I decided to try a half marathon.  During that time, I began my relationship with my first trainer, Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian who now championed the run-walk method.  I took his advice to heart and became a huge fan (and still am today!)  Using his prescribed methods, I successfully finished multiple half marathons and then decided to tackle my first marathon.
It was then that I met Hal, my second trainer.  Many marathoners run with the Hal Higdon plan and I found myself with another running hero.  Hal is a world-class runner who offers training plans and support for runners of all abilities.  It wasn't easy, but I followed his plan and, at the same time, joined a local running club where I met many other runners who could help me tweak my plan.

I finished that first marathon and even asked Elizabeth for some advice along the way.  At that point, I  took exercise classes with Elizabeth and admired her 7:30ish running pace (distance) but didn't think I needed to pay her as my trainer.  But, she was there for me during my first marathon when--at mile 17, I cramped and needed advice.  Not knowing where else to turn, I whipped out my phone and texted her to find out what I should do.  Luckily, she was available and helped me limp to a 5:25 finish.

Because I knew enough only to be dangerous to myself in that first marathon, I ended up injured, needing to see an orthopedist who prescribed orthotics and physical therapy. That began a six month recovery period that was like starting the Couch 2 5K program all over again.  I hated that it took me forever to return to my previous non-stellar running level.

Fast forward two years and I decided to tackle yet another marathon and looked to Hal once again.  By this time, I was a full-fledged, card carrying member of a Facebook club with a running problem and met many folks who ran faster, better and longer than me.  I loved (and still do) being able to run with others and talk about....well, running.  And, running. And, of course, running.

During my training, Hal and I were getting along quite well until I got to a long run of 16 miles when I felt some familiar pains.  At that point, I decided I would rather not run a marathon than get injured again and  so I asked Elizabeth for some advice.

She quickly diagnosed that I didn't have enough of a base and told me to back down in my long run and build up my base.  And, that's when my relationship with my third trainer was born.  Dagnabbit, if I was going to do this thing called a marathon yet again, I'd put my money on Elizabeth helping me through.

From then on, I began to have ongoing discussions with her about how to train.  Where Hal would tell me to do speed work, Elizabeth asked me if I preferred track or hills.  In response, she prescribed a very specific set of hill work to do in addition to my other miles.  Whereas I had tweaked Hal's plan on my own when necessary due to my personal schedule, aches and pains, Elizabeth told me what I could change and what I couldn't if I wanted to be successful in my second full marathon.

I was also able to ask her about my game plan for other races.  For example, I thought it was a brilliant idea to run an eight-mile downhill course two weeks prior to my full and my running friends agreed.  After all, the course for my full was downhill, so what better conditions to finish off my taper?  Elizabeth's response?  "Do you want to finish or PR?"  Running downhill that close to the full would tire out my legs too much.

She was able to tell me if I could substitute back to back halves in a weekend instead of an 18-mile run. (Here again, my bets were wrong.  I'd have thought she'd say no way, but instead she told me that was fine. And, might I say, I credit that double-header with many of my later gains.)

I started to PR in all my races and, yes, even the second marathon for which I came in 35 minutes faster than the previous time--and, best of all, uninjured!  The first 20 miles were a breeze;  I actually ENJOYED running them.  I tanked a bit in the last 6 and came in about 15 minutes slower than I could have. According to Elizabeth, a) everyone tanks a bit in the last 6 and b) because of my step-back in training, I didn't have the base to finish as strongly as I would have liked.

The following day, I complained about achiness in my chest and Elizabeth's quick response?  "I saw the photos and by the end you were running hunched over.  You need to remember to keep your chest up and shoulders back."  I continue to be amazed and inspired by how much she innately knows.

I'm now headed into my third full marathon in Spring, having been selected as a charity runner for the 2014 Boston Marathon.  And, I have goals to cut off another 30 minutes.  Based on my training plan from Elizabeth, I have no doubts I can pull it off.

So, to me, a personal trainer is very much worth it.  I'm not a professional and never will be (although I joke about being an elite athlete in training as I follow Elizabeth's advice pretty much to a "T.") But, having someone who has tweaked my running form, given me solid advice to avoid injury and challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of is priceless.  In four short months, she transformed me from a lifelong back of the packer to someone who's now hanging in the middle of my shorter races.  At the Marine Corps Marathon 10K two weeks after my marathon, I finished in 1176th place.  Out of 4751 finishers.  Even though I'm mathematically challenged, I can figure out that's in the top 25% (and isn't age graded.)

And, since I now consider Elizabeth a good friend, I could surely ask for her advice for free.  But, I value her as a professional.  After all, she has certifications and ongoing training and oodles of practical experience in the field.  I wouldn't consider asking my attorney or doctor friends for more than bits of advice at a time.  So, why should I ask less of my professional personal trainer friend?

Even though I still admire Jeff and Hal, they won't be there for me in the clutch.  But I know who will be.

Catch you later at the back of the pack....or, more likely, the middle of it!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running for the Feel of It

Another day, another 10K.  Really seems to feel like 10K's are all I've been running recently, but that's OK. Except they keep getting colder!

 Today, I lined up for a Christmas Cash dash.  All was going well until I got to the start and my Garmin signaled "low battery."  "Well," I thought, "this has happened before, so it should last me through the race."

Then, the race director yelled, "Ready, Set, Go!" (yes, it was a small race) and we were off.  And, so was my Garmin.  As soon as I pressed "start," it went blank.

I haven't run a race without my Garmin for years. Training runs sometimes, but never a race.  And, one of the main reasons I like to use it is because it stops me from going out to fast and tanking later in the run. (Although, really, left to my own devices, I can find many a reason to tank later in the race with or without a Garmin.)

I tried to be positive and thought I would just run by feel.

That lasted for about a quarter mile when I started second guessing everything. Since I had been pacing with a gentleman next to me, I thought I'd ask him how fast we were going.

"No idea," he said. "But it feels slow today."  (Thanks, bud, for the confidence booster.)

"Well, what's your usual pace?" I asked.

"Depends," he said as he took off and left me in his dust.

About another quarter mile later, I was pacing with another younger female so I asked her.

Her response?  "I'm just trying to stay upright.  I have no clue."

What?  Was no one wearing a watch?  I resisted the impulse to take out my phone and longingly watch it as my feet pounded the pavement.

I realized how much attention I lavish on my Garmin during a race as I began to feel unusually restless.  I didn't even have music to distract me because it was an open course--meaning we dodged cars as we ran the course.  And, of course every time I had to get myself out from the trajectory of a car, my lack of a timing device came back to haunt me again.

My inner voice tormented me with a torrent of conflicting thoughts.  "I bet I'm running way off course, so that's going to add to my time.  If I knew my time. But I don't.  Because my Garmin died.  I think I'm running really well. As a matter of fact, maybe I'll PR.  Wouldn't it be funny if I just ran faster than ever?  Hmmph. Hardly. This is probably one of those times where you think you're running really well but you're probably slower than ever." And so on.

Luckily, around mile 2, the woman trying to stay upright told me she figured she was around a 10 minute pace.

That made me happy.  For about two minutes until those inner demon voices reminded me that "around 10 minutes" could mean just about anything.

Finally, I settled in even though the course was hilly and--because of that--my asthma kicked in a bit.  I didn't PR, but I still came in at an acceptable time. And, I learned that I'm a little bit neurotic about my Garmin.

Recently, a friend told me she never runs races with her Garmin because it puts too much pressure on her. Although I admire that perspective, I think mine keeps me pleasantly preoccupied and on task so I don't think I"ll go running for the feel of it again any time soon.

What about you?  Does the thought of running without your Garmin (or other timing device) cause you stress or nirvana?

Catch you later at the back of the pack (and you can bet I'll have a functioning watch.)