Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Heart Secret Santa

The following was published as the NH Runner Column in the New Hampshire Union Leader on 12/28/2010.


One of my most practical and personal Christmas gifts this year came from a total stranger.

The arrival of a nondescript package at my office last week didn't mean much at first. But when I looked closer at the address label, a hand-written label without my company name or title and with a return address of Oregon, I became a little more curious.

It had arrived. "It" was a delivery from my Secret Santa.

What made this Secret Santa special was that it was truly a secret. In fact, I may never know who sent me the gift.

I eagerly opened the package, interested to see what someone I've never met would have picked out for me.

Inside I found a personalized poem that mentioned all sorts of things about me - my running and biking, my specific training goals, my involvement in Team In Training. It read in part:

After 2,500 miles and lots of rides and races

I thought your feet might be aching in many places

Instead of an ice bath, enjoy a warm herbal soak

Then pamper your feet with soft socks, like comfortable folk

Wrapped in festive tissue was cozy pair of socks, a bottle of Peppermint foot cream and a small black bag that was heavier than I expected. I examined the simple label: Endurasoak.

I've never used Endurasoak, and in fact, have never heard of it. It's a salt and mineral mixture to be mixed in a warm bath to help with muscle recovery.

It's a gift only a runner would like. And only a runner would give.

The Secret Santa gift was part of a light-hearted game set up by the folks at dailymile, an online community for athletes.

I joined dailymile on New Year's Eve last year, mostly as a way to have an easy way to track my training and miles. What I found during the past year, however, is more advice, camaraderie, support and motivation than I ever would have expected.

Dailymile, which was created by a New Hampshire native, is best described as a Facebook for athletes, a place that runners, cyclists and tri-athletes meet together in cyberspace to talk about their common interests. Like Facebook, each user has an individual page and builds a group of friends.

What separates dailymile from Facebook is that these "friends" are people that I probably won't ever meet, although I've had face-to-face encounters with a few of the local users and I regularly see dailymile meet-ups being organized around the country.

Seeing an endless stream of training sessions posted, from the one-mile walk on a treadmill to a grueling 20-mile run or a long ride on a bike, is motivating.

These friends don't think you're crazy when you get up to run on a snowy morning, and they offer unwavering encouragement when you set your goals. They've had those same I-want-to-quit conversations with themselves. They know the value of a little push and encouragement from a friend.

When I saw the posting for the dailymile Secret Santa, I hesitated. I mean, I've interacted with these people all year, but they were just virtual friends. Would a tangible gift and interaction offline cross the line into real-life?

My curiosity and need to be part of the group got the best of me and I signed up, using my work address. (After all, just because these people were supportive fellow runners, didn't mean it made sense to give out my home address online.)

A few days later, I received my match. I did a little research on the runner who would be the recipient of my gift. She was in training for her first marathon, lives in the Buffalo, N.Y. area and wore a tutu at a recent race. (For the Secret Santa reveal - click here.)

There are probably a thousand more creative gifts I could have gotten her, but I hope that the stainless steel water bottle emblazoned with "I (heart) running" made her smile when she got it in the mail.

As DMers received their gifts, pictures started getting posted. Running hats, energy gels, iTunes gift cards, flashing safety lights and runner-specific cookbooks were among the items picked out by the Secret Santas across the country. All of them, of course, immediately posted in picture form on the site.

The Secret Santa adventure added a new dimension to my lovefest with dailymile.

It made me realize that these people were just like me. They put in their miles, focused on their goals and had a ton of fun doing it. They did things that most of their real-life friends would never do.

I can't wait to spend another year training with them, learning from them and, hopefully next Christmas, shopping for something extra special for them.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Phase One: (Almost) Complete

It doesn't seem like it's possible that six weeks have passed since Coach Lauren presented me with the first phase of my Boston Marathon Training program.

But right on schedule I'll be wrapping up Phase One in the next few days - with a 5-miler tomorrow morning, a 13-miler with the Manchester team on Saturday and a 6-miler mini-reunion run in Portsmouth on Sunday.

The goal of this first phase was simple: build base mileage before getting into the "real" training.

Mission accomplished.

By the time Sunday rolls around, I will have logged 165 or so miles during base training - including three 30+ mile weeks (and one weekend off for a quick trip to Puerto Rico for my little brother's wedding).

I had a 100-mile month in November - 103 miles, to be exact, my highest mileage month ever - and am well on my way to another 100-mile month for December. I haven't hit a triple-digit running month since February - the one and only other time I did so.

As I reflect back on the Phase One, I realize that putting the miles in has been (not surprisingly) both challenging and rewarding.

It's fun to keep hitting new targets. Setting that bar higher and higher keeps me motivated.

I reached weekly mileage highs almost every week and have watched my monthly totals climb. This morning's run put me over 800 running miles for the year, and last week I passed the 2,500 mile mark for my run/bike total. (Blew that 2,010 in 2010 challenge out of the water!)

Of course, those kind of "mile"stones (pun totally intended) don't come easily.

Fitting runs in during one of my busiest work seasons has been challenging. The schedule has forced me to set the alarm early and brave the cold and dark.

Adapting to the cold and dark has meant some "firsts" for me: running with a headlamp, donning my new balaclava (love it!) and layering up my tights and wind pants.

I think I've run in every combination of running clothes and accessories during the past six weeks - shorts and tanks to gloves and hats, and everything in between.

I've run in a ridiculous cold, windy downpour. I've run on a treadmill. (I actually preferred the downpour to the monotony of the treadmill.)

I've run by myself. I've run with teammates. I've even run a 10-miler with TC - his longest run yet.

I've become better at being self-sufficient, running some of my longest, unsupported runs yet. I adjusted my running routes to loop back for water and fuel. A few times, I sucked it up and ran with that annoyingly heavy, uncomfortable fuel belt sloshing around my waist.

I've had runs where I feel great and I feel like I can do anything. I've had runs where I seriously question why the heck I'm doing any of this.

Yep, I've come a long way already - 165 miles, literally, but much farther figuratively. But I know I'm just beginning.

Bring on Phase Two!

**REMEMBER, I'm running the
Boston Marathon to help save lives!
**

Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Becoming One Of "Them"

I had one of those shoe-on-the-other-foot moments this week.

A busy Santa Fund season had me working into the evening and I was eager to get home. I pulled out of our building parking lot and onto the access street. I approached the intersection with the main road, where I would take a right turn to head home.

It’s an intersection I know well. I travel it in both directions every day, several times a day.

I looked to my left and saw no headlights cutting through the darkness. I glanced quickly – too quickly – to my right and pulled out.

As I made the turn, I saw a flash, a tiny beam of bright white light. It was a headlamp, similar to the one I wear on my predawn runs.

Then, I made eye contact with the runner.

He shook his head and waved his arms slightly with annoyance – the exact move I’d done countless times when inattentive drivers have nearly run over me at intersections.

For me, encountering a car waiting to make a right turn is one of the most unpredictable situations I have out on the road. I’ve learned to never bet on the driver seeing me. Instead, I usually come to a complete stop, sometimes close enough to the car to reach out and touch it, even when I technically have the right of way.

Having the right of way might help me in a courtroom after I get hit, but in the moment, I know that I’m no match for a vehicle. Legally having the “right of way” won’t save me from broken bones, bruises or long-term injuries. Or worse.

So I stop and I wait. I try to make eye contact with the driver. I wait for them to wave me on. More often than not, I’m convinced they don’t see me at all. No eye contact. No wave. They just make their right turn - with me still standing at arm’s length.

Sometimes, they see me after-the-fact. I can see the look of shock of their faces when they see me standing there after they’ve made their turn.

“They,” in the paragraph above could easily be replaced with “I” in my encounter the other night.

I could blame it on the fact that the visibility at the intersection is less than ideal. From the runner’s standpoint, the shoulder is practically non-existant and the busy traffic forces runners to the very side of the road, close to a guardrail. From the other direction, a telephone pole is positioned just perfectly to block a driver’s view.

I could come up with a list of excuses. But the fact is that I just wasn’t paying attention.

It was late. I was tired. I just wanted to get home.

The moment I saw the beam of light from the headlamp, I cringed. I tried to make an “I’m sorry” face and give an apology wave, even though I know runners can’t really see drivers inside their cars at night.

I couldn’t believe I had become one of “those” drivers, the ones I’m constantly complaining about because of their lack of attentiveness and consideration of those running on the roads.

More than anything, I should know better.

I’d like to think I take the time to look more carefully - in both directions, no matter which way I’m turning – and keep an eye out for my fellow runners.

But at that moment I realized how easy it is not to look for us. It’s easy to take a quick glance for any obvious oncoming traffic and miss someone on two feet.

It also made me realize how invisible runners become in the darkness of winter.

That runner had a headlamp on, but nothing else was reflective, at least not reflective enough for me to notice, and he was covered from head to toe in black and navy blue clothing.

It’s not unlike what I wear on my morning runs, although I have been known to add a reflective vest and flashing light at times. I sometimes think that I must look a little strange, lit up like a Christmas tree, to passing drivers, especially since the majority of my morning route is on the sidewalk.

This week’s near-miss incident reminds me that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous we may look when it comes to safety.

Since then, all of my predawn runs have included a reflective vest, and I’m sure to give a look in the direction of oncoming cars at intersections to give them a flash of my headlamp beam.

To that runner, I thank you for reminding me of the importance of being as visible as possible when running in darkness. And, I thank you for giving me a wake-up call as a driver and reminding me to take a few extra seconds to really look for you.

Most importantly, I’m sorry.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dream On!

I was among my running friends, the usual crowd of TNT runners, mostly the fall team that just completed the Maine Marathon.

We were running laps around a gigantic track. Not just a kinda big one, I mean can't-put-into-words huge track. Standing one one of the straight-aways, I couldn't even see the other side.

Mostly, we ran together, like we usually do. Our run was filled with the regular chit-chat. We kept going and going and going.

And going.


Coach Lauren magically seemed to appear to keep us going and motivated - and to remind us that we were doing a 24-hour run. That's right, running for 24-hours non-stop.

The funny thing was, we weren't overly concerned about it. We counted the hours, rather than miles. We didn't have any aches or pains. We didn't get tired. We just ran.

At one point, I took a break to meet TC and his parents for dinner. Somehow, Coach Lauren magically appeared again.

So it was back to the track for me. After all, I had a 24-hour run to complete.

Luckily, it was all a dream...

Yes, that was my actual dream from last night. It really makes me smile and even laugh out loud a bit.

What's it mean? It's pretty obvious that running and training - and even TNT and Coach Lauren - are definitely on my mind. Trying to balance that with other personal, family and work obligations will be a challenge.

Lauren's plan (the real-life Boston Marathon training plan, not that 24-hour run) has me running five days a week and strength training on two days. If I stick to the schedule, I get one day off.

Not surprisingly, I find myself trying to fit in the training runs amid all of the other obligations - and even sleep!

So far, so good. Believe it not, I'm actually getting to like getting up and running before work - even in the dark and cold. (Please don't tell anyone.)

I just wrapped up my highest mileage month - ever - at 103 miles of running in November. The past two weeks, I've had around 30 miles a week. And I feel great about it.

Perhaps I just have to convince my subconscious now?

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thinking Ahead (Already)

Happy New Year!

I'm skipping right past Thanksgiving and Christmas-related posts, working a little ahead of schedule and ready to write my goals-for-the-next-year post.

I prefer not to call these resolutions. It seems to me that people who make resolutions think about them for a few weeks or even a few months at the beginning of the year, then they fall back into their old habits.

Having something that pushes me through the whole year works better for me.

It's probably not surprising that I've been starting to think of my goals for next year. Luckily, most of my goals I set for this year have been checked off - some readjusted a few times to raise the bar just a little bit higher.

Yesterday, on the ride to TC's family's Thanksgiving get-together, was the first time I'd spoken aloud about my plans for next year. Until then, they'd just been ideas in my head.

Today, the #dailymilemission directly asked: What are your 2011 goals?

Having just had the conversation less than 24 hours earlier, I didn't have to give it much thought.

I like to think that my annual goals push me just a little bit, but aren't so outlandish that I'm setting myself up for failure. I also try to vary my goals enough that I'll be focused on various aspects of my training and fitness - distance, time and events.

That being said, in 2011, I will:

Log 3,000 miles in a combination of running and cycling.
Last year's goal challenged me to run/bike 2,010 miles in 2010. I'd never really tracked my mileage for an entire year, so I didn't know what to expect. I surprised myself when I hit that mark relatively early, during my September vacation to the Napa Valley.


My increased efforts on cycling certainly helped this venture - it's easy to knock out consecutive 100-mile weeks during the summer riding season. I want to make sure that I don't take the "easy" way out - if logging 3,000 mile can be considered easy - so I will add a qualifier that the 3,000 miles be made up of 1,000 miles of running and 2,000 miles of cycling.


Run the Boston Marathon and raise $4,000 (or more!) for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Team In Training.
That was a relatively obvious to add to the list, since I've already signed the paperwork and started training and fundraising.


Still, I didn't want to diminish that this is most certainly a "goal" that needs to be included for 2011. The thought of running another marathon is still a little daunting - and doing so while raising more than $4,000 give me stomach flip-flops.

I'll be happy to check this one off early in the year - April, 18, 2011, to be exact.


Complete a Century Ride.
This is the only carry-over from this year's list of goals. (*sigh*) Truth be told, I probably could have squeezed a 100-miler in somewhere during the late summer or fall, but just didn't. I don't have any excuses or reasons, it just didn't make it to the top of the priority list.


That will change in 2011. A century ride's going on the calendar, just as soon as I decide which one to do.


Run a sub-9 pace for a 10K (or longer) race.
Despite the fact that I continue to get stronger and faster, I've only run one race at a sub-nine minute miles - my very first 5K three years ago. Honestly, I have no idea how that happened.


More recently, I ran 9-minute-miles when I broke the 2-hour barrier in my first half-marathon of the year last February and my more recent half-marathon and relay paces range somewhere from 9:10-9:20, so I'm pretty confident that I can eek out a sub-nine early on in the year.

I included this goal on the list because I want to be sure to continue speed efforts, in addition to the distance training that will naturally come with marathon training.


There you have it, my plan for 2011.

Or at least a rough draft. Writing out my goals makes me wonder if I can push myself just a little bit more. Perhaps 3,300 miles - which would mean a coast-to-coast distance? Or perhaps I can manage a race at an 8:45 pace? Or 8:30's?

Who know what I can do.

The nice thing about goal is that they're a starting point - at least that's how I think of them. Goals give me something to focus on up ahead, then when I reach it, I can look a little farther down the road.

But all this is about next year. I've still got six more weeks or so of this year.

And, more immediately, I still have 18 miles to run in the next five days to make my goal of having a 100-mile running month in November.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Important Than Going Fast

My training for the Boston Marathon officially kicks off next weekend.

That’s right, I’m one of the lucky ones who got a spot for the April race. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t get it by running a qualifying time. I was selected for one of 140 spots on the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training team.

I got the call confirming my spot a few weeks ago. I had suspected that if I was chosen I’d feel excited and nervous. What I didn’t expect was to feel guilty.

On Oct. 18, registration day for the 2011 Boston Marathon, thousands and thousands of qualified runners flooded the Boston Athletic Association website to grab their spot in the 115th running of the race.


A race that took weeks and sometimes months to fill in previous years was full in eight short hours. The result was that many qualified runners were shut out.


My heart ached for those runners. I've watched and followed the training and progress of "virtual" and real friends' quest to finally achieve a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I smiled with them when they made it; I genuinely felt bad for them when they didn't.


On registration day, I felt nothing but pure confusion when I found out how many didn't get in before the race filled up. All of the training hours, the pain, the early morning runs, the sweat and focus - all done in hopes of being in the pack on April 18, 2011 - suddenly meant nothing.

At that time, my application for TNT’s Boston Marathon team had been submitted for almost a month. The day after the registration fiasco, I emailed my TNT contact to ask a simple question: If I gave up my spot, assuming I got one, could it go to a qualified runner?

The answer was quick and simple - and quite logical, if I actually let my head (instead of my heart) do the thinking. Any qualified runner who wanted to join the team would have to go through the same application process and take on the same fundraising challenge.


If I got chosen, they reminded me, it was because I earned that spot. I put in the volunteer hours, the training time and the fundraising help.

The application for TNT’s Boston team was several pages long and required me to explain my volunteering and fundraising experience in detail. It asked me questions about my running - how often I run, what pace I run, what other distance events I've done.

The application also brought the focus back to the mission - the reason TNT exists - asking for any personal connections I have to blood cancers and the cause. Where would I find my motivation to raise money for them?

With the Boston Marathon suddenly full, discussion and criticism flew out from all directions: tighten the qualifying standards, increase the size of the field, get rid of charity runners.

The near-instant backlash against charity runners, which was rampant through online forums and social media outlets, surprised and saddened me.

While I understood the frustration with the process and the quick fill-up time, I was disheartened to hear my fellow runners diminishing a charity runner’s ability, willingness and “right” to be in the race.

It was particularly surprising because I’ve always found the running community, no matter what an individual’s ability, to be incredibly supportive and friendly.

Sure, charity runners may not run as fast as the rest of the Boston Marathon entrants, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of more dedicated runners out on the road.

The number of applicants far exceeds the number of spots allotted to charities for the Boston Marathon. Imagine, a line of people not only willing to commit to the training and the running the 26.2 miles, but also jump on board to raise thousands of dollars.

Since its inception 22 years ago, the Boston Marathon charity program – which designates a certain number of race slots in return for fundraising efforts – has brought in more than $100 million.

That’s $100 million to local charities that they wouldn’t have had without Boston Marathon charity runners. That’s $100 million worth of medical research, programs and other efforts that wouldn’t be possible without the Boston Marathon charity program.

My relatively small TNT Boston Marathon team, at roughly 140 people, has pledged to raise $1 million. If we succeed, we’ll be the first TNT Boston Marathon team to do it. We’re off to a good start. Our training hasn’t officially started and we’ve already topped the $65,000 mark.

The money, of course, goes to support research for leukemia and other blood cancers. It will cover not only the research - the intangible goal of finding a cure or better treatments in the future - it will also provide services to affected families right now.

The
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provides assistance to families trying to navigate insurance issues, helps with co-pays, offers a myriad of support options for patients and caregivers and provides a whole host of educational programs and materials.

I'm excited and proud to know my Boston team - and its $1 million - will be part of this. My $4,000 doesn't seem like much, but together our team will make a difference.

And that’s more important, to me anyway, than running fast.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Million Dollar Miles

The Team in Training Boston Marathon team doesn't kick-off for another two weeks. But we've already raised $38,000.

I was impressed when I received that news in a team e-mail earlier this week. What impressed me more, however, was the overall team goal.

Our team, about 140 of us, is challenged with raising $1 million. If we do it - and we will, right? - we will be the first TNT Boston Marathon team to do it. I've been told a team came painfully close a few years ago when they reached $990,000.

I haven't yet met any of my Boston teammates. Unfortunately work obligations and my brother's out-of-the-country wedding force me (or will force me) to miss the team social, first team clinic and the kick-off run.

Even though I don't know any of the 140 people I'll be running with during my long training runs, I can already tell that they'll be as motivated and positive as everyone else I've met whose been associated with TNT.

The leaderboard report in last week's team email that listed the team's top five fundraisers to date was impressive - totals in the thousands two weeks before the program even starts.

The team leader is already over $5,000 - more than my entire fundraising goal - and I've been told he's pledged to raise $26,200 by the time we reach the starting line in April.

On Saturday, I attended in a TNT alumni run in Manchester where I had the chance to meet up with teammates from the fall team and run with a few people in the midst of training and fundraising for their first TNT event.

The support, the laughs, the smiles all reminded me of why I do this. When you have a fun, supportive team helping you achieve your running goals, you become energized and more enthusiastic about the prospect of asking for money.

The money, of course, goes to support research for leukemia and other blood cancers. One of the things I particuarly like about the fundraising aspect is that the money I raise during my Boston adventure will provide direct support for families dealing with blood cancers.

It will cover not only the research - the intangible goal of finding a cure or better treatments in the future - it will also provide services to affected families right now.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provides assistance to families trying to navigate insurance issues, helps with co-pays, offers a myriad of support options - for patients and caregivers - and a whole list of educational programs and materials.

I'm excited and proud to know my Boston team - and its $1 million - will be part of this. My $4,000 doesn't seem like much, but together our team will make a difference - and make history.


**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to save lives!**
Please visit my fundraising page to support me and a good cause - and learn about the inspiration I find in a special little boy: www.pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pump You Up


I don't expect a gray sweatsuit in my future. And I probably won't develop a German accent. And it's unlikely that I'll be posing and flexing my muscles any time soon.

But I have recently ventured in to the world of strength training.

Maybe "ventured" isn't quite the right word. Maybe saying I've been led into the world of strength training is a little more accurate.

Coach Lauren, who has developed a training plan for my Boston Marathon adventure, is big on strength training - like a lot of top-notch runners and coaches I know.

Although I've heard about the benefits of strength training - perhaps most importantly, injury prevention - I've never really known how to get started. Plus, I almost hate to admit this, I fell into the trap of thinking that running miles was training; everything else was not.

The gym can be a scary, intimidating place - especially the weight area. No matter how much my gym touts that no one will "judge" me, I can't help but feel the eyes upon me as a fumble through my workout.

The weight area is dominated by guys - usually younger ones looking to bulk up or, I've always suspected, just look cool while moving from machine to machine flexing their muscles and watching themselves in the mirror. Definitely not my scene.

I didn't want to be like them or look like them. Bulging biceps? Not for me.

Maybe I just didn't know what I needed? Sure, I recall some basics from the complimentary gym overview I had when I first joined and a pseudo personal trainer my friend and I had in college. (We were actually more like a class project for students looking for a future in personal training.)

But none of my previous experiences seemed personal or specific to my training.

Things have changed.

Coach Lauren's training plan called for two days of strength training a week. When she emailed me the first six weeks of training, I could easily decipher the mileage charts and cross-training days.

The strength training list was another story. SL bench bridge. ISO hold. FFE reverse lunges. It looked like a foreign language.

I confessed my ignorance to Coach Lauren, who was supportive and not surprised that I couldn't follow the on-paper plan. We agreed to meet at the gym to demo the exercises and answer my questions.

We had to make some adjustments to adapt to the equipment available at my gym, but we eventually came up with a set of exercises - from lunges and squats to stretching to core work.

I felt uncoordinated and weak - two feelings that I'm pretty sure will subside as I become more comfortable with the exercises. At least I hope so.

What was notably different about this training was that it was personal. It didn't follow what other people in the gym were doing. In fact, I dont' recall seeing anyone in the gym doing the exercises on my list.

Surprisingly, it didn't bother me. I know I've been given a routine that's best for me and my training goals. I don't care what workouts other people were working on. If anything, I feel a little bit of pride knowing that I had been shown the "right" way to do my exercises.

I love that my strength training is runner-specific - and that Lauren took the time to explain why each of these moves will help my running, balance and strength. It all makes sense.

Yesterday was my first day flying solo on strength training. (Well, not entirely solo, as I brought TC along with me for his first-ever trip to a gym. Yes, ever.)

We completed the designated exercises and stretches - referring to the folded piece of paper, complete with hand-written notes and reminders, throughout our workout.

I didn't feel awkward or self-conscious. I felt great. For once, I didn't care that I hadn't added any miles to my training. I know that this will be just as important.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!
**
Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Knowing My Numbers

I'm not much of a math person, but I'm strangely drawn toward stats. So when the opportunity to find out in some quantifiable way how healthy I really am came around, I was more than curious.

After stopping by the Manchester City Marathon Expo last week, I cautiously stepped onto the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Health Bus. I didn't know quite what to expect.

A health screening done aboard a traveling bus? I was skeptical - and, admittedly, the slight germ-aphobe in me was a little freaked out.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in to a well-lit and clean bus, complete with a "waiting room" area and two private screening rooms. I filled out the necessary paperwork and was quickly called into one of the side rooms.


There, a friendly nurse quickly and efficiently ran the tests. It was a whirlwind procedure. She quickly secured the blood pressure cuff, hooked up to a laptop, to my right arm and started the blood screening on my left side.


A quick pin-prick to my finger and my blood was on a slide and into a digital reader before I knew it. I then hopped on the scale and the nurse measured by waist.


In all, the screening took less than 10 minutes. Time well spent, if you ask me. I had a short wait while the results were being processed, during which time I had a pleasant chat with the staff on board the bus.


In a matter of minutes, the nurse handed me a personalized printout of my results. It was comprehensive and easy to read. My numbers appeared in one column, with the ideal numbers next to it - cholesterol, heart rate, blood glucose, all of the basics of a good health screening.


Anything outside the recommended range was listed in red, just like the teacher's pen that marked up errors on homework when I was younger.


And just like the times my teachers noted my mistakes, my eyes were drawn to the red. My blood pressure was slightly high and it seems as if I could stand to drop my BMI (body mass index) by a tenth of a percent.


Overall, nothing alarming. Seeing those numbers in red really just told me what I already knew. It probably wouldn't hurt to watch what I eat a little more carefully. And I should keep doing what I'm doing to keep my blood glucose, heart rate and cholesterol in check.


The printout, which also directed me to a personalized website with more information, showed me how I fared compared to other women my age and detailed what I could do to cut down my risk factors.


I consider myself to be healthy. I exercise consistently and lead, for the most part, a healthy lifestyle. I rarely get sick and hardly ever visit a doctor, except for the occasional routine check-up.


Mostly, I fall into a low-risk category when it comes to heart disease or blood pressure problems. To be perfectly honest, it was always just an assumption of mine.


I haven't had my numbers run in quite a while. Back then, everything came back a-okay - healthy heart rate, ideal cholesterol, low blood pressure.


That was five or so years go. Since then, I simply couldn't be bothered to go get retested. After all, my numbers were fine and I didn't seem to be in any imminent danger. If anything, I lead a healthier lifestyle than I did five years ago.


Plus, taking time out of my schedule for a doctor's appointment and paying for any portion not covered by insurance just wasn't a priority. Thinking like that can be dangerous, I know. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who does.


Earlier in the week, I attended the annual Go Red Luncheon presented by the American Heart Association. I listened to the personal stories shared by those who were unexpectedly affected by heart problems. No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them.


Having my health report card in front of me in black and white (and in some cases red), has already helped me take small steps to improving my health - a smaller dinner portion, perhaps, or forgoing a bit of salt on my food.


It's my hope and personal goal that I'll have a black-only report card when I go back next year so I can be as healthy inside and I am outside.


I know my numbers. Do you?

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v ...THANK YOU for your support!**


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Boston, Here I Come...

The waiting game has finally ended. I'm in.

On April 18, 2011, I'll be lining up at the starting line of the Boston Marathon, sporting my familiar purple Team In Training singlet.


As with all Boston charity running programs, there is an application process -- and more runners vying for the chance to run 26.2 miles and raise $3,500 than there are spots.

The application was several pages long and required me to explain my volunteering and fundraising experience in detail. It asked me questions about my running - how often I run, what pace I run, please list other distance events I've done.

The application also brought the focus back to the mission - the reason TNT exists - asking for any personal connections I have to blood cancers and the cause.

I submitted the application with little doubt that I'd be accepted. After all, I've dedicated countless hours to helping TNT runners.

As the days and weeks slowly ticked by, I began to question whether I'd make the team. What if there were a lot of people just like me out there?

Then came registration day - Oct. 18 - when thousands and thousands of qualified runners flooded the Boston Athletic Association website to grab their spot in the 115th running of the Boston Marathon.

A race that took weeks and sometimes years to fill in previous years was full in eight short hours. The result, of course, was the many qualified runners were shut out.

My heart ached for those runners. I've watched and followed the training and progress of "virtual" and real friends' quest to qualify. I smiled with them when they made it; I felt for them when they didn't.

And I felt nothing but pure confusion when I found out they didn't get in before the race filled up.

All of those hours, the pain, the early morning runs, the sweat and focus - all done in hopes of being in the pack on April 18, 2011 - suddenly meant nothing.

Not surprisingly, there was a near-instant backlash. Registration was promoted - hyped, really - heavily on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. The BAA, and the people who re-tweeted and shared the posts, created a sense of urgency.

Get in soon, because the race will fill up fast, they warned.

With the race full, discussion and criticism flew out from all directions - tighten the qualifying standards, increase the size of the field, get rid of charity runners.

Wait, what?

Get rid of charity runners? Like me?

I admit I felt almost guilty that there was a chance I'd get into a race that so many qualified people - people who earned their spot there - did not. The day after the registration fiasco, I emailed my TNT contact to ask a simple question: If I gave up my spot, assuming I got one, could it go to a qualified runner?

The answer was quick and simple - and quite logical, if I actually let my head (instead of my heart) do the thinking. Any qualified runner who wanted to join the team would have to go through the same application process and take on the same fundraising challenge.

If I got chosen, they reminded me, it was because I earned that spot. I put in the volunteer hours, the training time and the fundraising help.

Not to mention, I was the one who was willing to not only commit to the training and the 26.2 miles, but I'd also be willing to commit to the money. (If I don't raise the the minimum of $3,250, my credit card gets charged for the balance - talk about commitment!)

Still, the thought of taking a spot in the race made me a bit uneasy.

Then I got the call. It was a voicemail message from TNT's local office congratulating me on my acceptance into the 2011 Boston Marathon program. I played the message again, aloud.

Wow, I was in. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm still feeling a bit guilty.

But I'm ready to go.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v ...THANK YOU for your support!**


Monday, November 1, 2010

WANTED: Mojo


Why do I do this? Why do I do this?

That question scrolled through my mind yesterday as I rounded my familiar six-and-a-half mile loop.


Why do I do this? Why do I do this?


I've used this blog of document many of the ideological, pie-in-the-sky reasons that I run. Running keeps me sane, it helps me be a better me, it keeps me healthy and helps me appreciate my physical abilities.

The list goes on and on.


But yesterday my question was much more basic. Why, exactly, do I run? Because, after all, I'm sure there are other outlets that would achieve those things I listed above. Right?

Why do I run?


Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever really thought about it before now. Running was something that just sorta happened. To help you understand where this most fundamental question was coming from yesterday, let me paint a picture for you.


The crisp fall air was blowing, and the leaves crackled beneath my feet. The sun was bright and the sky was blue. The leaves, unfortunately, were just a bit past peak. Otherwise, it would have been a quintessential fall New England day - the kind of day they make postcards out of.


It was cool enough that I didn't wear shorts (although I could have), but not as cold as to force me to bundle up in a jacket or gloves or a hat. My capri running pants and a long-sleeved shirt suited the day's weather just fine.


Simply, it was a near-perfect running day.


I should have be itching at the chance to get outside and run. That's right, I said should have. Truth is, I wasn't much in the running mood yesterday. But I knew I'd regret a decision not to run, so I laced up my sneakers and headed out. I needed the miles.

It used to be that I'd be excited at the possibility of running on a fall day - that tiny window us New Englanders have between the hot, humid days of summer and the long, harsh, dark winter runs.

Why wasn't I excited, I asked myself. Usually, once I step outside and get moving, I'm instantly reminded. Not yesterday. With each step, I continued to question why I was out there. No one was making me do it.


My running seemed harder than usual. I felt awkward and uncoordinated. It was like my body was fighting me. My arms moved strangely by my sides and I couldn't quite find a comfortable position for them.

That runner's high? No where in sight.

This wasn't the first run like this, either. It seems like the miles I've put in lately haven't come easily. Sure, I get them done, but they're just harder than usual.


No longer do I come back refreshed and energized. No longer am I feeling a rush of
I-can-do-anything.

I don't just mean mentally hard; they're actually physically harder than usual, too. At times yesterday, I struggled up the slightest hills and even, gasp, stopped for some walk breaks.
I even contemplated cutting the run shorts a few times.

It seems that I've entirely lost my mojo.

I posted a few thoughts on Dailymile following my run and the advice started - take a break, cross train, find a buddy, wait it out, find what motivates me, train for a race. All good advice from people who've probably experienced the same thing.

I know my less-than-enthusiastic attitude is only temporary. I know I'll find that spark again. I know I'll find something that will re-energize and focus me.

Until then, I'll keep running - because I'm pretty sure that mojo isn't going to come knocking on my door. I have to go out and find it.