Monday, November 29, 2010

Running Solo...and Insecure

Boulder is such a running town that our local paper, the Camera, has a regular running columnist, Mike Sandrock. Mike is also a library patron, so I've struck up an acquaintance with him. I'm still too shy to tell him that I'm trying for Boston (this is a guy who has run with Ryan Hall, whereas I am a librarian who once saw Ryan Hall at Pei Wei Asian Grill). But I do sometimes share my weekend mileage with him.

In one such conversation, when I was ramping up for the Boulder Half, I told Mike I had run 14 miles that weekend.

"Wow," he said (he always pretends to be impressed because he's nice). Then, "Who did you run with?"

When I told him no one, he looked really surprised.

This got me thinking about why I run alone, when so many others run with partners or girlfriends or groups. Much of it has to do with timing. The best opportunity for me to get my runs in usually comes at around 5 a.m. That's too early for most groups, and with the exception of my friend Christine, whom I meet once a week for a crack-of-dawn climb up Mt. Sanitas or a spinning class, also too early for most individuals.

But there are other reasons too.

1. Because (total honesty) I still feel like a poser when it comes to running. There's still a big insecure part of me that believes real runners are the ones who win races and/or age groups or at least finish close to the top of their races or age groups on a regular basis. Since I am not one of those people, I prefer to keep the spotlight of even one witness's eyes off my running (which is why putting this blog out there was a very big deal to me).

2. Because if I feel tired or unmotivated on a particular run, or speedier and more inspired, I don't have to worry about how that will affect a partner who won't have planned on either a too-slow or too-fast pace. I want to run as my own body and mind dictate that day.

3. Because as a mom and as a person who works daily with the public, I relish time alone. When I run, I can listen to the music I want instead of that mix CD we got at the last 4-year-old birthday party. Or I can listen to nothing but the woods around me or the passing cars. I don't have to talk, be polite, pretend I'm happy about fixing the copy machine, or answer questions having to do with how downloadable books work or don't work on someone's iPad. I don't even have to think if I don't care to.

Don't get me wrong. I *love* working out with other people in other contexts. My Mondays with Christine always refresh me for the day ahead. My Tues/Thurs bootcamp class is full of inspiring women, including a 75-year-old who can hold a plank way longer than the rest of us can. And running with others can be great when good company, not pace, is the point. In 2004, my husband and I had a blast running Bay to Breakers in San Francisco. It was fun running with Kathy in the trail half-marathon two weeks ago. Time goes quickly when you have someone to talk and joke with on the way.

But having someone else depend on or expect anything from my running in any way is anxiety-inducing for me. Case in point: last July I was on a team with two other women from the library in a 5K corporate challenge race. They both ran sub-24 minutes. I ran 26 minutes and change. Our team would have won the women's division if it hadn't been for me. My teammates were really nice--they seemed genuinely excited about being second. I put a good face on (I think), but in reality I was deeply disappointed and demoralized. When I'm on a team, I want to contribute, not be dead weight.

I don't know if this attitude will be a plus or a minus in my Boston effort. On the one hand, no one can do the work to help me qualify but me, so perhaps it's good that I prefer the lone wolf approach. But on the other hand, I know there's a defensiveness about it that won't serve me well. I know I need advice and support. And I know I need to be willing to accept failure, public failure, and bounce back from it without bitterness.

Which brings me to the holiday weekend's race report. I ran the Turley's Turkey Trot 5K last Thursday less as a race and more as a fun way to get the day's scheduled tempo miles in (and burn some calories before the afternoon meal). It was right across the street from our condo complex at CU's Potts Field, so I just walked over there and started my warm-up mile. My chip time was 26:01; my official time was 26:16. Though I stuck to my planned pace and didn't push it, I was still disappointed that I didn't go faster. I hope that time isn't what I will see in this weekend's Colder Bolder.

Food report: Pumpkin pie was consumed, but I'm hanging on. It's been hard. I did do the "half your plate is veggies" thing at Thanksgiving dinner, but Thanksgiving Day was also Dan's birthday. Dan is a guy who, most of the year, eats exactly the way all of us should: he eats slowly and stops before he's full, he avoids sweets and eating out and he genuinely prefers healthy food to unhealthy. But on his birthday, he asks every year for one of those trans-fat-laden grocery store white cakes with the grout-thick white icing, and feasts on it for a week. So I've had that thing in my house since Friday. I've managed to mostly avoid it by eating a lot of sugar-free popsicles. But I'm glad he finished it off last night, easing the sweets pressure....until the kids' birthday on Dec.'s always something with me and food.....

On tap this week: my second meeting with Martha the nutritionist and of course the Colder Bolder 5K on Saturday. I'm hoping the little funk I'm in will end once I realize, as I always do a day or so after a fun holiday weekend, that getting back to the routine really isn't so horrible. And unlike the Turkey Trot, my race this weekend will be run on two full days of rest preceded by two days of easy workouts. Don't fail me, training!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur

The Colder Bolder, the 5K race I am hoping to run well in two weeks, has a clever pitch. They place runners in heats based on their finishing times at last May's Bolder Boulder 10K, setting up the tantalizing presumption that anyone in the heat can cross the finish line first, because we all finished the longer race around the same time. "You can win this race!" the postcard they send you proclaims.

I had a great 10-mile run on Saturday. My average pace was 9:13, with an 8:24 for the last (downhill) mile. The last 2.5 miles were on campus at the University of Colorado on the Colder Bolder course, which starts downhill, features a couple of steep-ish climbs in miles one and two, and then, for the last mile, reverts to downhill and finally flat. I felt so good at the end of this run that I started to wonder, "Could I, who have never won a running event outright in my life, actually do that in this race? Could I walk away with one of the coveted Snowman trophies?"

Ah, runner's high and the daydreaming it spawns!

History, alas, suggests that despite the marketing I am not going to win. My heat is for 54:00-55:59 Bolder finishers. I looked at the top three Colder Bolder finishing times for that heat for the last four years, and in each case the winning runner has finished under 22 minutes. Looking at the top three times, I do think, should I have a very good day (as in sub-24 minutes), I might crack the top three. But as I said, it would have to be a *very* good day. (I actually looked at the finishing times for all of the heats and found that the winners were consistently much faster than their BB times predict. Maybe they run the BB with their elementary school kid or their aging parent? Such sandbagging!)

So given that the glorious victory is just a fantasy, what will my strategy in the race be? Well, the last 5K I ran where I was happy with my time was the Flat Out 5K in May, which I ran in 25:22, an 8:14 pace. So I plan to try to equal that pace on the first mile of this one, beat it on the second and really smoke it on the last mile. I'd love to see a number with a 7 in front of it for that last one. An average pace of 8 minutes a mile would give me a 24:51. So that's what I'm making my goal. And I recognize that, though it would represent progress for me, it won't be a top three finish.

Maybe next year.... :^)

Meanwhile, just in time for Thanksgiving, I'm going to be working more on my eating. The Nancy Clark guide for marathoners arrived yesterday, so I'll make it my evening reading this week. My biggest problem is clearly planning. When I plan, I do well. When I don't, disaster ensues. This happened yesterday, when I failed to plan for my lunch at work (I work Sundays), and found myself en route with only ten minutes to spare before my noon start time and no lunch to eat ahead of three hours on the reference desk. I got to work and snarfed down one of those horrible noodle cups from the vending machine and a peanut butter cookie someone brought in--and that was my decidedly non-marathoner lunch. Gotta do better than that.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, and my family's plan to hit a local restaurant buffet for the big meal, I'm hoping to put one of my nutritionist, Martha's, concrete pieces of advice into practice: fill half of my plate with veggies and fruits, one quarter with protein and the other quarter with "good" carbs like brown rice or sweet potatoes. I will try (but can't promise) not to go back for seconds. And I will run the Turkey Trot 5K or its equivalent that morning before the pumpkin pie makes its tempting appearance.

What am I thankful for this year? My and my children's (so far, fingers crossed) good health. My running, which even when not fast makes me feel so good. My wonderful family, who all make me laugh, especially my awesome husband. The roof over my head, the paycheck in my pocket, the beautiful place I live (purple mountain majesty!) and the people who inspire me.

Just two more hard workouts in the 5K plan, and then things start easing up ahead of the race. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Food Post

I'm lucky that at the moment I have no dysfunctional relationships with people (unless you count the odd library patron here and there). I love my parents, siblings and in-laws. My husband is my best friend. I have lots of friends, including a fellow twin mom who gets up at 5:30 a.m. once every week to hike or spin with me, and a college roommate with whom I can pick it right back up where we left off even though we're thousands of miles apart now. I like my co-workers. I go to a great church.

But there is one dysfunctional relationship in my life. It's been there since puberty, with ups and downs. That is my relationship with food and, by extension, my own body. Somewhere along the line, I started to eat for more than just the ordinary pleasure of satisfying a biological and social need. I eat too fast. I eat too much. Food is my first thought when I become bored, anxious or celebratory. I crave sweets. I have trouble limiting eating to set, planned times of day.

The result? I have never been lean, and I haven't liked my body since I was ten years old.

Now before the protective watchers of body image chastise me, I will say that I know I am not fat. I have running to thank for that. Living sedentary is good for at least another 20 pounds on me, as I found out when my time in the Peace Corps ended with five weeks of limbo at a hotel in China where the only things to do were eat and watch pirated DVDs and wonder in a depressed fashion if the Russians were going to renew our visas (they did not). When I came home from that experience, I weighed somewhere around 150 pounds, the most I've ever weighed in my non-pregnant life. Starting to run again is what got me back to normal.

But my normal isn't good enough for Boston. A classic pear shape, I still carry too much fat in too many places (more places since I entered my late thirties and had my kids). I remember visiting a New York City gynecologist, who weighed me at the beginning of the appointment and, with raised eyebrows, asked "Where do you put it all?" and then once the clothes came off, said, "Oh, you have heavy hips and thighs." When I first met my husband's ultimate frisbee friends, one of them told me how great it was that Dan had chosen a "normal-sized girlfriend" this time (his prior girlfriend was a size 2 or so, with the kind of colt-like legs I have always envied; I did not take being "normal-sized" in this context as a compliment and remember trying not to sound sour when I thanked her).

At five feet six-and-a-half inches and around 137 pounds, I'm still carrying 10 pounds of baby weight and have an out-of-control sweet tooth. When I ran NYC five years ago, I hovered between 125 and 130 pounds. To qualify for Boston, it's safe to say I need to be 10 pounds below that.

This is the scariest part of my Boston quest for me. When it comes to food, I'm like St. Augustine: "Lord, help me to be good...but not yet." My hope is that it's possible not to entirely give up the occasional piece of pumpkin pie, the odd ice cream cone, pieces here and there of good French bread and still get to the weight I need to be. But my fear is that that is not possible, not for me, and that I will have to cut out all of that stuff entirely, because I can't have just a little--I'm an all or nuthin' kinda gal when it comes to food indulgences.

This morning, I met with Martha, a dietician working with the Boulder Rec Centers where I get a free membership thanks to my job at the library. I was armed with a three-day food diary (full of indulgences) and stats about my cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (all good). I had also told her in advance about my Boston goal.

I was with her for more than an hour. She was upbeat, recommending two books by Nancy Clark (her general sports nutrition book and her food guide for marathoners). I will definitely get these through the library and, if they are working for me, will buy them. Martha also said that I don't need to diet given the amount that I exercise, but she feels that small tweaks amounting to 250 calories less a day will help me gradually get my weight down. Such tweaks, she thought, could include less guacamole when I get a Chipotle burrito; higher fiber cereals at breakfast (Wheat Chex and Cheerios don't have enough fiber; I was surprised!); and a smaller sized latte. She also wants me to have a little protein with every meal and snack. I'm also going to practice better meal planning, especially for my lunches and snacks at work and dinners.

We're going to attack my cravings and sweet tooth issue at our next meeting, on Dec. 7 (after the Colder Bolder). For now, she thinks I should try the out-of-sight out-of-mind strategy with things like my kids' Halloween candy. I will do my best!

Changing my diet, I know, will be hard and slow. But it's important. It's a sub-goal that has a finish line and a ticket to Logan Airport attached to it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Light Turbulence: Sick Kid, Sore Feet and Eating Issues

On Saturday morning, as planned, I ran a slow half-marathon, the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon. Slow meant slow: 2:31:08, a half-hour slower than I ran the Boulder Half last month. But there was no disappointment this time, because I did it on purpose. The course, though I wouldn't really call it backcountry (more like undeveloped suburbia), was super hilly the entire way, and featured about four miles of rugged single-track. I ran it with my friend Kathy, and we took walk breaks every four minutes for the first half, slowing down even more during the second half and especially in the single-track portion, when the rocks and scree started to get to her bum knee. She sent me off during the last two miles, and thanks to all the walking, I was able to clock an 8:27 for the last one. I felt great. It was exactly what I wanted in the day's training run: proof that I could still tackle the distance, and no soreness (with one caveat to that, which I'll get to below).

I am a big believer in walk breaks. This isn't to say that I am a believer that I could qualify for Boston while taking them (though Jeff Galloway and others do believe that). What I believe about them is that, once this goal is accomplished, walk breaks will be my way of ensuring that I can continue to enjoy beautiful long runs like Saturday's for the rest of my life. If it's the experience, and not your time, that you care about, I wholeheartedly recommend walking during your runs. You will be both fit and happy, and you will rarely be sore.

Saturday's race almost didn't happen. The day before, my daughter Ruthie got sick to her stomach. We weren't sure if she had caught a bug, eaten something bad or just gotten herself worked up. I was prepared to bag my race plan, and even called Kathy to say I might not be coming down. Fortunately, Ruth recovered enough by the time Dan got home from work that it was clear I would be able to go. But the uncertainty, I realized, was something I need to get used to.

Something I'm also getting used to (and this is the soreness caveat mentioned above) is a pain in my right foot. Since having my kids, I've had a mild-ish bunion on that foot, and a vague soreness on the ball between the second and third toes. During my training for the Boulder Half, the soreness got worse. And after my 10-miler a week ago and again after yesterday's race, it was the worst ever. It felt like I was stepping on a marble. I've decided to see a podiatrist about it (and the bunion--might as well cover it all while I'm spending the money!). My fear is that I will be told to stop running for a while. Cross your fingers that this doesn't happen! I am one grumpy person when I can't run.

The other thing coming up this week is that I have an appointment with a nutritionist on Tuesday. I have told her that weight loss for running faster is my goal, and I will dutifully bring in a food diary with three days worth of my inconsistent meals and snacks recorded. I have paid for three further meetings with her, so I'm hoping that being held accountable for my eating habits will help me (finally) change them. I hope she won't be one of those kind folks in the medical and health fields who praises my "normal" weight and pegs me as a closet anorexic for wanting to shed some of it. I am not and never have been even close to anorexic. I really like eating. It's just that I need to channel my liking for good food into a healthier relationship with it that supports my body image and my running. Stay tuned for more on this after the appointment.

P.S. Congrats to my cousin Zach, who ran a 1:44:11 in a half-marathon in Riverside, CA. That's 7:57 per mile! Another source of hope: I share part of his gene pool.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mountain Standard Time

On Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m. became 5:30 a.m. This made it easier for me to wake up for my 10-miler....and harder to sneak out.

Now that cooler weather is here and I'm training for a 5K instead of something longer, I don't always have to get up this early for my long runs. But since I ran Sunday instead of Saturday this weekend, and I take my kids to church on Sunday, I had to get it done before that. So it was briefly back to the crack-of-dawn alarm. The crack of dawn, though, wasn't as early as it had been the prior weekend. And that meant a possible encounter in the dark house...with one of my kids.

My son, Will, is one of those children who hate to miss anything. If Dan and I are talking about something he doesn't understand, he'll ask "what?" and "why?" questions until he's satisfied (or until we temporarily fool him into thinking he's satisfied). In the morning when he wakes up, he flings his bedroom door open like Henry the 8th shoving aside the heavy wooden portals of the palace, as if to announce, "Here I am! What have you been doing without me?" (Usually nothing, as we are usually in bed.)

So when I get up early to run, I creep around like a cat burglar in my own house, fearful of waking him (and therefore my husband, and probably our daughter, Ruthie, too--Ruthie's like her mother; she likes her sleep). And since the clock switch meant my running hour was closer to Will's natural wake-up time of the past months, it meant more of a chance that his active, rousing little mind would put two and two together should he hear any noises in the hall.

The mud room, through which door I exit, is literally right across a narrow creaky hall from Will's room. So I get dressed in our bathroom, eat my banana and drink my water in there too, and only when I'm ready for the final step (shoes, iPod, exit) do I slide down the hall in socked feet with the lights out, avoiding the creaky places, easing the mudroom door knob down, easing the door open, easing the knob back up--and only then allowing myself to turn on the light.

The light makes me nervous even with the door closed. I heard somewhere that the human eye can sense a mere one photon of light. Dan, who is a physicist, tells me this isn't true. But there's a lot more than one photon coming under the mudroom door crack, and if any eyeball can sense them and their meaning, it's Will's. And if Will catches me in the act of departing, as he's done twice now, it means delays and more work for his sleepy dad (who is *not* a morning person like the rest of us!).

So once I'm in there, I wriggle into my shoes and anything else I haven't put on in the bathroom (gloves? hat?), taking care not to stand in front of the dryer--the floor is *very* creaky in that spot. Then I carefully, slowly, nervously open the door to the garage and close it quickly. Only then am I free to really contemplate the run ahead.

Happily, Sunday morning brought no appearance from Will (though Dan told me he emerged about ten minutes after I left--whew!), and the run after the sneaking was gorgeous. The sun was pinking the clouds as I started, and as I scaled Baseline Hill, it turned the still-colorful autumn leaves a mixture of gold and burgundy. A chilly breeze blew. All of my senses were tingling. I felt grateful for this, as it will probably be my last early morning run for a while.

My plan for the next year has solidified now to the point that I can share it. My design right now is to train for all of my races using the FIRST program, designed by exercise scientists at Furman University and billed as especially good for people who have a lot of other things going on in their lives but want to run faster. My race plan goes like this (getting less and less specific as I go out in time):

December 4--my next target race, the Colder Bolder 5K; I am deviating from the FIRST program only in that I'm keeping my weekend run at 10 miles or longer instead of reducing to seven or eight mile weekends, so as not lose my half-marathon endurance. Next weekend I will do a half-marathon trail race in Highlands Ranch, and I plan to do it slowly, taking walk breaks a la Galloway. I also plan to do a Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving (if I can get a sitter, as Dan will be picking his mom and stepdad up at the airport), but I won't run that fast either. I'll try to save my speed (such as it is!) for Dec. 4.

March 27--the Boulder Spring Half-Marathon. My goal? To beat two hours, hopefully blast through it. Looking at the FIRST speed workouts and tempo runs is scary, but at least it won't be hot training for it. I *hate* hot weather.

Interlude: run the Bolder Boulder 10K with my dad, who hasn't run it before. In fact, I don't think he's done an organized road race. I think he'll be hooked once he's done it, and running with him again will be SO FUN. I won't worry about my time in the least.

June--an as-yet un-chosen marathon, with sub-4 hours as my goal. Hopefully wherever it is, it won't be hot.

October 1--my first (probably not last) attempt to qualify for Boston, hopefully at the St. George Marathon, if I can get in (yes, there's a lottery for that one!). It's got lots of downhill portions, and it's not horribly far from here.

So there it is: my agenda for the next year! Just reading it makes me feel good. Like all nerds, I enjoy homework.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I've Got Going for Me

On Saturday morning I ran 10 miles and felt great doing it. And I felt great later, too, though I really wanted a nap and didn't get one (see prior post with mention of small children and their effect on sleep). I wore my current favorite shirt, an orange one that has a picture of a snail and says, "Feeling a bit slow. Run anyway." Not that I want to feel or look slow, but I feel there's a humility in the sentiment that will serve me well when setbacks occur--and give me an added feeling of triumph when something goes unexpectedly well.

Which leads me to the topic of what I've got in my favor as I embark on this perilous quest. It looks paltry compared to the obstacles, but I'll take all the assets I can get.

First some practical matters:

--I'm starting off with decent endurance. Though I didn't run my half-marathon last month as fast as I wanted to, it ensured that I now see 10 miles as an easy long run, a springboard for building up to the longer and longer runs (20-miles plus) that will be necessary once I launch my marathon training. My intermediary goal, because I don't expect to qualify on my first try, will be to beat 4 hours (date as yet unchosen, but June 2011 is my initial thought).

--I am not afraid of speed training (puke-inducing laps on the track) or hills. Trucking up Baseline Hill toward Chautauqua park in Boulder--a steep hill that's nearly 3/4 of a mile long--is now a routine part of my Saturday, as is running the gritty Mesa Trail. Right now I am focusing on the 5K, training for the Colder Bolder on Dec. 4 and hoping to get my time in this speed contest back into the range it typically was before I got pregnant (anywhere between 23 and 24 minutes would put me over the moon, and anything under 25 minutes will be progress). I know hills and speedwork are key to this. Ultimately, a little more speed will also be important to my Boston effort.

--I train at altitude but will run my attempts to qualify at (or closer to) sea level. This doesn't make as big a difference as you might suspect, but hopefully, combined with the aforementioned hills and speedwork, my extra red blood cells will help me come race day(s).

--Knock on wood, I am not easily injured. One good thing about having been a teenage couch potato is that I am not saddled with muscles that have been twingy since 10th grade or tender spots where surgery was performed on my joints. I've spent exactly four nights in a hospital (not counting my own birth), and those were one for a premature labor scare and three following my C-section. Aside from that C-section, the only surgery I've been through was the insertion of tubes in my ears at age nine. It's true that, while I am in better aerobic shape now than I was at 18, I can tell my body isn't as springy and lithe as it once was. But (and please let me stay lucky this way!) the only real chronic pain I deal with is in my lower back, a hangover from pregnancy-weakened abs and carrying toddlers on my left hip. Running actually makes it feel better.

And now some psychological factors:

--Other people who bill themselves as average runners have done this. Check out this blog. Her best marathon time prior to embarking on her quest was 4:16:52, almost three minutes slower than mine. Her first few attempts failed. But she finished by blasting through her qualifying time with 12 or so minutes of cushion--inspiring! Granted, she hired a coach to help her along, something I patently can't afford, and her marathon efforts weren't interrupted by pregnancy. But her story gives me hope. (Her diet scares me a little, but as I've said, that's a whole post of its own some other time.)

--I have lots of support from my family and friends. My husband, Dan, is a runner, and he understands my obsession and gives good, realistic advice. Unlike me, he ran cross-country in high school, so he knows about race strategy and toughness. I know a lot of other runners, too, who will offer sympathy and advice.

--Boulder is a fantastic running town, with lots of races, specialty running stores and running groups like the one I joined in Houston all those years ago. There are trails, roads, and tracks at my disposal. The vibe is pro-runner and literally "pro" runner. You see a lot of sponsored athletes around here, amazing fit specimens; the gold medalist in the last Olympic Marathon lives in a nearby town. I try to let this be inspiring instead of intimidating.

So do those advantages outweigh the obstacles I described in the last post? I'm going to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the big four-oh, by which time we'll have the answer.