Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nightmares and Mental Toughness

With marathon training beginning in one week, I experienced my first marathon stress dream last night.  Buckle up for a crazy recap of an even crazier dream.  The dream race began at 10:00 (totally normal, right?!), and I absurdly decided to run the half marathon, which had an earlier start time, as a warm-up for the full.  I had a bit of downtime between the end of the half and the start of the full, but I never stopped my watch.  Therefore, when I finally started my 26.2, the numbers on my watch were totally meaningless.  Yet somehow that didn't seem overly stressful to my dream self.  I ended up stopping by my house several times during the race (though it is, of course, nowhere near the course), lollygagging about looking for another shirt and different socks.  I considered taking a shower, too, but fortunately, had the presence of mind to jump back into the race instead.  Though the dream seemed to last forever, I woke up before crossing the finish line, which only made things all the more frustrating.

The dream left me feeling defeated.  Why did I lack such focus during the race?  Why did I make such terrible decisions on race day?  And I couldn't even stay on the course throughout the race?!  Is my psyche trying to tell me that I can't do this?

With memories of the faux race still in my head, I laced up for a rare daylight run.  The weather was picture-perfect with sunny blue skies.  Despite the lovely the weather, however, I couldn't get out of my head and escape the defeated feeling of the dream.  The entire run felt like a mental battle, and I was tempted to call it a day after just two miles.  But I refused to accept defeat.  I forced myself to finish the distance I had planned, and I even managed to squeak out negative splits.

It was definitely a day for building mental toughness.  I know I will hit low points such as this again during training and most likely on race day, too.  Because I battled through this run, however, I will be better equipped to handle those future lows.  My psyche is wrong: I CAN do it!  And I will.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful Things

Before this all-too-short season of thankfulness closes and we launch headlong into the season of excessive consumerism, I wanted to take a chance to remind myself of all the reasons I have to be thankful.  I need to remind myself that joy is a choice, and gratitude is a lifestyle.  Especially now, when events in our community are unstable and uncertain, I want to ground myself in the tangible reminders that life is good.

These little faces provide infinite reasons to be grateful.
In no particular order, I am thankful for:
  • my body that powers me through long runs and hill workouts as well as the daily grind of motherhood.
  • my husband, who appreciates what I do for our family and reminds me to laugh.
  • my kids, who teach me the full range of human emotion.  From rapturous joy to unending frustration, they show me that life is meant to be lived to its fullest.
  • my friends, both those in real life and those BAMRs I only know virtually through Strava.  They keep me honest, motivated, and accountable.
  • the delay brew feature on my coffee pot.  The promise of coffee keeps my feet moving on cold, early morning winter runs.
  • running and blogging.  Both provide outlets for me to relieve stress and enable me to focus on myself for just a little bit.
Just a few of the friends and family who help pull me through the daily grind of life.

 What are your tangible reminders that life is good?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Five Miles for Ferguson

As the entire world knows, my beloved hometown is wrought with tension, anger, and unrest today.  I understand the anguish over a lost human life.  I understand the desire for justice.  I understand the frustration with inequality.  But I don't understand violence, hatred, and vandalism.  Peaceful protests take a stand and push for change; violence simply creates more violence.

With all of these thoughts weighing heavily on my heart, I woke up this morning and prepared for a solo run.  I scanned news headlines and #ferguson on Twitter to learn that cooler heads had not prevailed during the (too few) hours that my head was on the pillow.  I laced up and headed towards the door with apprehension and unease.  What would I hear when I opened it?  Would I see smoke on the horizon?  My neighborhood is 15 miles from the Ferguson rioters and 5 from the Shaw demonstrations.  Rationally, I knew there was no chaos in my immediate vicinity, but I couldn't help feeling queasy as I set out.

I traced a familiar route, and the emotions I'd been quashing came bubbling up to the surface:  Anger over the senseless violence.  Heartbreak for the businesses and residents of Ferguson.  Disappointment that our city couldn't maintain peaceful protests while in the international spotlight.  Uncertainty about how I would explain to my children why their school is closed today.  Guilt that I could spend an hour running alone through a beautiful neighborhood while just a few miles away families don't have that luxury.  Further guilt that I can tell my children that this is a grown-up problem and they are safe while my counterparts in Ferguson cannot do the same; for too many children, the violence and hatred is an unavoidable reality.  Overwhelming grief and sadness that no one wins in this situation.  We all lose.

At the end of my run, I desperately wanted to witness a beautiful sunrise,
as a promise that darkness does not last forever, that hope springs from defeat.
 Instead, I found this cloudy sky whose gloom matched that of my heart.
I pounded through the miles, letting my thoughts wander and tears flow.  I forced myself to use the time to process so I could answer my kids' questions and survive this emotionally exhausting day.  At the end of the run, I had not resolved any of my questions nor had I reconciled my thoughts and feelings.  But I was five miles stronger, five miles more balanced, five miles closer to accepting that I will never understand the complexity of humankind.  It's not much, but it's a start.

This shirt was a must today: because I decompressed on the run,
I can handle (almost) whatever this day throws at me.

We - the collective we - have many more miles to log before we can settle the unrest and heal the hurt.  I pray that we can find peace in our city and muster energy to rebuild the massive destruction of our hearts, businesses, and communities.  If you're the praying sort, please pray for peace in St. Louis and throughout our nation.  If not, carry Ferguson in your heart; offer your miles for those who cannot safely log their own today.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

By the Numbers

Running is rife with numbers, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to glance through a few of mine infographic style:

What are some of your favorite running numbers?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Maintenance Mode

I'm 93% sure that I've settled on using an 18-week plan for my spring marathon, which means I have about two weeks before my training cycle begins.  Though the lack of structure is refreshing, I'm not totally sure what to do with the downtime at the moment.  Part of me wants to cut back a bit and enjoy a few weeks of extra sleep, more chocolate, and zero push-ups.  But then I feel guilty, worrying that I'll lose my fitness, and I certainly don't want to start marathon training in a deficit.  So I waffle.  I have a few lazy, eat-all-the-food days and then switch back to moderation and my typical workout plans.

This weekend's unseasonable snowfall, which did nothing to improve my motivation.
I've been a bit surprised by my unevenness during this period.  I've never trained for more than two races per year, so much of my time is spent in between training plans.  I'm disciplined and can remain committed to my fitness regime even without an immediate goal on the horizon.  So what's different right now?!

I think it's the sheer magnitude of 26.2.  I know I can follow the plan and do the prescribed workouts.  I know I'm dedicated and determined.  I know I will give my full effort and do the best that I can in training and on race day.  But there's plenty that I don't know.  I don't know if I can rack up the mileage and remain injury-free.  I don't know if the rest of life's worries will sidetrack me from my training.  I don't know how I will handle the mental and physical low in the late miles of the race.  I don't know what it will feel like to keep pushing past the point of exhaustion.

But even in my moments of dwelling on the "don't knows", I'm really just antsy to begin the challenge.  The road will be long and full of unknowns, but the reward will be worth the trials.  I can't wait to change all of those "don't knows" into "knows".  Come on, December 8th!!  I'm ready for you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Welcome back, winter!

It appears that we've skipped late fall here in St. Louis and headed straight for winter.  Temperatures plummeted last week with overnight lows in the low 20s.  Welcome back, winter, and your accompanying layers (and layers and layers) required for us early morning runners.

As I started dressing for Friday's 23* run, I forgot how long it takes to don all the requisite winter apparel.  I pulled on my wool socks, fleece-lined tights, two shirts, and a vest.  I checked the time as I dug in the pile for my gloves, hat, balaclava, and reflective wear: 4:55, or exactly the time I should be outside meeting Emily.  I threw the last pieces on quickly and vowed to set my alarm earlier next time.  An extra two minutes should do it...

Bundled to the hilt to stay warm on these frosty mornings.

I love the freshness of the crisp, cold air, and I'm weirdly excited over the return of winter runs.  My paces are faster in the cold weather, and running in frigid temps is inherently badass ;)  But there is one significant downside to winter running (besides the extra time it takes to get dressed): laundry!  So.much.laundry.  As a family of five, I'm accustomed to the incredible beast which is the laundry pile at our house.  Adding the winter running layers, however, tips the balance from massive undertaking to insurmountable burden.

Just a portion of the laundry generated by Saturday's long run.

Admittedly, a little extra laundry is a small price to pay for the many ways in which running improves my life.  But if laundry gnomes mysteriously invaded my basement and tackled the pile, I wouldn't complain!

How do you feel about winter running?  What's your go-to piece of winter running gear?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Achy, Breaky Glutes

I've noticed a little bit of twinginess (that's a word, right?) in my right knee since my half marathon last month.  A slight bark when I've been sitting in one position for too long.  A whisper for the first mile of a run.  A whimper when climbing stairs.  I was sure that it was just overuse from the recent training cycle, so I increased my foam rolling and stretching regimens but otherwise just ignored it.  Good things always happen when you ignore warning signs, right?

My dear foam roller and Stick.
While good and loyal friends, they can't solve all problems.

On Monday, I finally admitted that it wasn't getting any better.  With marathon training dawning in less than a month, the last thing I need right now is an injury.  I reluctantly consulted Dr. Google and was surprised to see that my symptoms matched up with those of runner's knee.  But that often stems from weak glutes, I told myself.  How could I have weak glutes?!  I'm a squatting machine!

Or rather, I was a squatting machine.  You know, five or so months ago...  It turns out, all that glute strength disappears when you fall off the squatting bandwagon.  Who knew?

My ego bruised, I set out to do some clamshells, fire hydrants, and side-lying leg lifts to rebuild my former glute strength.  And was I ever humbled!  By the end of my "easy" sets of 15 on each side, my glutes were burning.  Clearly, my glute strength these days leaves much to be desired.  On the up side, my right knee has been silent since last night.  Two days of renewed commitment to glute strengthening, and my knee is happier than it's been in a month.  Now my achy glutes, on the other hand, are another story...

Do you ever suffer from denial regarding your body's strengths - and weaknesses?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Seeking Balance and Setting Boundaries

This morning's run was everything I needed it to be.  The air was a crisp 35* as I set out, which felt clean and refreshing.  Real cold weather is just now returning to St. Louis, so this was one of my first truly cold runs, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  [Talk to me again in February, and I'm sure I'll have a different opinion of cold weather runs.  But for today, I'll take it ;) ]

Since it is Sunday, I had the luxury of sleeping in (until 6:15) and running in the daylight!  I nearly forgot how nice it is to run under sunlight rather than streetlights.  On our usual morning runs, the sun doesn't rise until after I've run, showered, and fixed my kids' school lunches.  But today, with the sun shining and the brisk air all around me, I felt lighthearted, without a care in the world.

I intended to use the run as a chance to run down my long to-do list for the week.  To make mental notes about the phone calls and e-mails I need to send.  To organize the minutiae of the busy days ahead.  I accomplished none of those tasks, and surprisingly, I'm okay with that.

One of my favorite trees every fall.
Its leaves hit every shade of fall splendor and never fail to amaze me.

In my new-found life as a SAHM and volunteer, I've found it difficult to outline my boundaries, determining where my obligations to the organizations I serve begin and end.  I'm still finding my way, and since I don't have a clue what I'm doing, I've donated the bulk of my time, energy, and attention to my volunteer work.  When I worked a paying job, I had set hours, I clocked in and out, and though I did some work from home, the bulk of my work happened at my desk in the office.  Now that I'm staying home and volunteering for church and school, my hours are anything but standard and the work happens wherever and whenever it can, which lately seems to be everywhere all the time.  I've logged countless hours organizing communications and formulating strategic plans for them while my own house has suffered from disorganization.  And that isn't going to work for me.

So I'm reclaiming some of my time for myself and my family.  I'm setting boundaries, and today's run served as a perfect example of that.  Instead of perfecting the agenda for Wednesday's PTA meeting, I got lost in a podcast.  I focused on my form and my breathing rather than volunteer lists and upcoming events.  Not preoccupied with other tasks, I marveled at the few trees still clinging to their fall foliage.  Just for fun, I challenged myself to run negative splits, a goal that seemed unreachable when I blew through a surprisingly speedy fourth mile.  But somehow I hung on and logged two even faster miles to finish a nice 10k with picture-perfect splits.

I finished the run feeling more balanced than I have in a couple months.  I plan to cling to my resolve to do good work as a volunteer without sacrificing the needs of my family or myself.  How do you balance all of the competing demands on your time?  Any tips for striking the right balance?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taking the Leap

I'm an extreme planner.  I like to think things through, analyze possible outcomes, weigh pros and cons.  Such endless considering and researching, however, can lead to a bit of indecision.  Just as I hemmed and hawed over choosing a training plan for our fall half marathon, I've been obsessing over carefully considering my options for a spring race.  Namely, I've been agonizing over the possibility of tackling 26.2 for the first time.

I've examined countless training schedules and loaded potential training plans and race dates into a Google calendar.  I've considered travel logistics and family commitments.  I've polled friends, both online and in real life.  I've read dozens of articles and blog posts trying to determine if I'm ready to make the leap.  And I've nearly driven myself insane.  But I've finally made my decision: I'm going to do it!  The GO! St. Louis marathon on April 12, 2015 will be my first 26.2 :)

Forever the cheapskate, I found an early bird discount for the race, and I pulled the trigger.  I originally hoped to run an out-of-town marathon, but the more I considered the logistics of travel, housing, kids, etc., a hometown race sounded much simpler.  There will be enough other sources of stress on race weekend; it will be nice to sleep in my own bed and eat my favorite homemade pizza the night before the race.

I think I've settled on using Hal Higdon's Novice 2 plan for this race, though I reserve the right to change my mind again (and again and again...) over the next few weeks.  Somehow the thought of training for and running a marathon is equally exhilarating and terrifying.  Looking at the long calendar of training runs seems a bit daunting, but at the same time, I'm excited to push myself to try something new and tackle a major challenge.  Assuming I go with that 18 week plan, training starts on December 8th!

Have you set any spring race goals?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saved by the Run

Since training for my October half ended, I've been a bit relaxed in my weekend runs.  I've gotten them in, but they've happened in the late afternoon rather than the early morning, which is beyond odd for me.  Because I'm not operating under the strict rigidity of a training plan, I'm less motivated to wake up in the early morning hours on a weekend.  But by mid-day, I'm jonesing for a run, needing the endorphins to keep me humming along through the demands of family life.

Yesterday, I planned to get up early because my husband was going to be gone at a day-long training session.  Knowing that underslept and over-sugared post-Halloween kids would test my patience, it would have been wise for me to crank out some miles before he left for the day.  But I'm not always wise.  My alarm sounded; I silenced it without moving an inch off my pillow.  And I regretted that decision for hours...

We survived our day, but we all probably would have been happier had I gone for my run that morning.  They were predictably excitable; I was inexcusably irritable; we were all tired.  By the time my husband got home, I was desperate for the solitude of a run.  "Go ahead with dinner if they get hungry," I told him as I bolted for the door.  "I hope to be gone for a while."

The setting sun on a beautiful fall afternoon.
A much-needed reminder that life is good.
I started out at an easy pace with no clear destination in mind.  Listening to my favorite podcast and breathing the fresh autumn air, I was relaxed and peaceful for the first time all day.  My legs felt strong from the outset, and I tried to push the pace each mile.  As I cruised through the surrounding neighborhoods - at an impressive speed considering that I was largely fueled by Halloween candy - I felt alive and free.  The little things that were stressful and overwhelming earlier in the day melted away until they became utterly meaningless.

Six miles later, I returned home feeling like a new person.  All the same stresses, frustrations, and imperfections were still waiting for me, but I could tackle them with renewed energy.  The run helped put everything back into perspective and remind me that life is good.  Not perfect but good.

Do your workouts ever help turn your day around?