Thursday, April 22, 2010

Runnin' On Empty

You can have people tell you something a million times. But until you actually experience it, it might not mean much to you. I guess that just proves that some lessons are best learned the hard way.

Case in point - my Tuesday night run.

I was anxious to get back on the streets after taking a full week (and one day) - gasp! - away from running, too busy with packing and moving details to find the time. Plus, my body felt a bit worn out - sore in places I don't usually feel - from hauling boxes and other heavy-lifting that had consumed the past week.

Tuesday was a perfect night - warm enough for shorts, but just breezy and cool enough for a long-sleeved tech shirt. My ideal running weather.

Despite only moving roughly two miles from my old place, the new starting point forced me to completely re-think my routes. I didn't have my "usuals" - my go-to 4-miler or 6-miler. Or the 8-miler for when I wanted a longer run.

Luckily, I'm pretty familiar with the city, so I was able to mentally plan where I wanted to go from my new digs - about six miles (at least I thought it was about six miles) around familiar streets that I've run with my team or as part of marathon training.

I was feeling ambitious - perhaps mixed with a twinge of guilt for taking so many consecutive days off - so I included the Webster Street Hill. Yes, the same one I semi-complain about for being part of our weekly team runs. (Internally, I know it makes me a better runner and is tremendous training, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still really hard.)

My run started less-than-perfect. My shins were aching for the first couple of miles, something I hadn't really experienced before. I stopped and stretched a bit and felt good enough to continue on. I chalked this new pain up to my many days off, lack of pre-run stretching and maybe a touch of running too fast. (I didn't know where the mile "markers" were, so I really had a hard time gauging how fast I was running.)

Two miles in, I loosened up and felt great. I even tackled the Webster Street hill with less effort than usual. (I almost wrote "effortlessly" but that would surely be an exaggeration!) I returned home energized and happy to have gotten in a good evening run. Another six miles on the books.

I posted my run to Daily Mile, noting that I felt good. And it was great to back.

Then it happened.

It started with the slight feeling of weakness and queasiness. My mind immediately focused on hydration. I knew I hadn't had much to drink during the day (only one large bottle of water) and had nothing before or during my run. I grabbed a bottle of orange Powerade Zero from the fridge and started sipping.

Minutes later, I decided to jump in the shower to clean up for dinner. By the end of my shower, my stomach was doing flip-flops and, at times, tightened and cramped.

I actually sat down briefly in the shower, hoping it would pass. It didn't. Once showered, I dressed in flannel pajama pants and a hooded sweatshirt. I was freezing - even though it surely wasn't cold. At all.

Not wanting to submit to this ill feeling (and partially wanting to pull my weight around the new place), I told TC I'd help him make dinner. That plan didn't last long. Just a few minutes in, I told him he'd have to take over while I made an emergency trip to the bathroom. Not to get too specific (trust me, I'm leaving out most of the details), I eventually vomited - nothing but liquid. Orange Powerade, to be exact. (Hmm, I wonder if I'll have to cross that off my grocery list in the future?)

I felt slightly better, but not great. I curled up in the fetal position on the couch, waiting for the feeling to pass. I knew I needed to eat something.

I'd had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a bagel with cream cheese for lunch. My hydration for the day consisted of a cup of coffee and the aforementioned large bottle of water. My post-work run was planned before dinner, so there was a good chance my tank was simply empty.

I managed to eat a small bowl of chili - yes, let's go for chili when I'm not feeling well! - and it helped. Although I wasn't back to my normal self, I felt better. At least the nausea and weakness seemed to subside a bit.

I've been told about the importance of fueling and nutrition, but I had never experienced the fall-out of not doing so - at least not to this extreme. I've been lucky to avoid the consequences of not properly fueling, especially given my tendency to skip meals entirely. Not to worry, I'm working on that - and working on planning healthy smaller meals or pre-run snacks.

The whole experience, while somewhat unpleasant, was a good reminder that food isn't just for enjoying. It's also fuel - and just as important as the right running shoes, a well-planned route or any of the other steps I take to help me achieve my running goals.

The next morning - when I was feeling much better - I mapped my run online and discovered I'd done 7.18 miles at a 9:10 pace - a strong run for me.

But apparently a little too much on an empty tank.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marathon Monday

There's something utterly inspiring, and humbling about being on the sidelines of the Boston Marathon.

Perhaps that's why, with every trip, I get a little closer to joining the race.

Mentally, at least.

Two years ago, I watched live television coverage of marathoners crossing the finish line. I remember being so moved and impressed. I had just finished my first half marathon a few months earlier. I couldn't imagine doubling that distance.

Yet, somehow I think the seed was planted.

The following year, that seed sprouted a little more when TC and I took a day off from work and watched the marathon in person.

I remember trying to take in as much as possible - the excitement of the crowd when the elite runners made the turn, the complete elation (or grimaces of pain and heartache) on the looks of runners faces as they made the final turn, the costumes, the signs - far too many sights and sounds to recap and describe.

I came away from the 2009 Boston Marathon thoroughly inspired and ready to tackle my own 26.2 in Manchester.

I never really thought about whether I'd want to run another marathon after finishing Manchester in the fall. Part of me wanted to file a marathon in the "checked off" pile of life's goals. Another, probably bigger, part of me is almost afraid to do another, mostly because my Manchester experience was so positive - with friends and family at points along the route, my training buddy running every step of the way and TC acting as my cycling Sherpa to take care of anything I needed. Part of me knows I can't duplicate that experience.

Then there's the part of me that can't stay away.

There's something impressive about watching a marathon - whether you've done one for not - and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to stand on the sidelines of the world's biggest and most prestigious 26.2.

However, this year's marathon weekend fell on what may have been one of the busiest for me and TC. We officially moved into our new place (which I love, by the way) on Saturday, so along with the usual packing and loading that goes along with that, TC had ambitious (yet apparently achievable) plans to completely unpack and organize the new place.

I took Friday and Monday off from work to give me some extra time to deal with moving must-do's. Inside, however, I thought of Monday as my carrot - a reward waiting for me at the end of a busy weekend. If we got "enough" done, we'd "let" ourselves go to the Boston Marathon.

Things were looking hopeful when, just 24 hours after we loaded the moving truck, we didn't have a single box left to unpack. Everything had a place, and to some it may have looked like we had been in the apartment for months.

We still had a short to-do list - things like hook up the DVD player, hang a cabinet in the bathroom and minor tasks like that, stuff that could generally wait a few hours until we returned home from the city.

The weather forecast was perfect for the marathon, a far cry from the raw, rainy weather we'd had over the weekend. TC and I made plans to get to our "usual" spectating spot (if you can have a "usual" after just one visit) - precisely at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, the last turn runners would take in their 26.2-mile journey.

Now Boston Marathon veterans (at least when it came to being on the sidelines), TC and I casually made our way via the subway to a stop near the Finish Line. We grabbed a bite to eat, then found a spot amid the 500,000 other spectators on the sidelines. (The 500,000 figure is not an exaggeration.)

We expectantly glanced down the road waiting for the elite runners to make the turn. We saw the motorcade pull off and the lead vehicles - a pick-up filled with photographers and a truck with the giant digital timer affixed to its roof.

A wave of cheers came from the crowd, which seemed to lurch forward as the runners whizzed by. First the elite women (they got an early start), then the elite men. Their athleticism was impressive and almost seemed un-human. They ran with what looked to be little effort, pulling in paces faster than I could run at a full-on sprint - even if someone where chasing me with a knife. And they had just done that for 26 miles.

Then, we saw what I like to call the "fast but real" runners - not the ones that are going to win the marathon, but ones that are still amazingly fast and fit. Then, the "like me" runners - the ones that came every age, shape and size, each one running for a different reason.

Some were smiling. Others were struggling. Some rallied the crowd as they rounded the turn. The people on the sidelines happily obliged - ringing cowbells, whistling, cheering and calling runners by name.

It was less than a half-mile to the Finish Line from that point. They had already made it. I've been told, appropriately, that a marathon is just the celebration and culmination of the months of hard work that leads up to the race. The hard part - the early mornings, aches and pains, long miles - is mostly over.

I couldn't help but recall the feeling I had when I crossed the Finish Line last fall. It was an indescribable sense of accomplishment and pride. It was probably - actually, undoubtedly - the most self-empowering feeling I can imagine.

After all, I had done it. Although I'm not sure I could have become a marathoner without the support of my friends, family and loved ones, it really came down to whether I wanted to train, whether I wanted to spend three months of Saturday mornings hitting the pavement for double-digit runs, whether I wanted to hurt and ache and chafe and sweat - whether I wanted to cross the finish line. No one else could get me there.

As I stood there at the last turn of the Boston Marathon route earlier today (the pic above is my view of the race - after wiggling and pushing my way to the front of the crowd), I couldn't help but want to be part of it.

The Boston Marathon seed planted in my mind two years ago became a sprout last year. Will it go into full bloom this year?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Get That Head In The Game, Girl!

I totally, completely and universally believe that negativity breeds negativity.

Think about it. If you surround yourself with people who complain, whine and focus on the bad things in a situation - or even worse, seek out to find the bad things in a situation - you're likely to get wrapped up in the negativity.

It. Brings. You. Down.

For the most part, I try to surround myself with "glass half full" people, the kind that kind find the humor in difficult situations, look on the bright side and generally brush off the not-so-fun stuff that happens.

I hope that people I know consider me to be one of those people. Mostly, I think, I am.

But every now and then, I find myself caught in that downward spiral of negativity. I don't like that negativity breeds negativity, but I can't stand it when it becomes a downright inbreeding situation - meaning, I'm the one perpetuating my own negativity.

I had some time to think about this phenomenon - and experience it first-hand - a few weeks ago during a solo ride on my bike. (Yes, I'm just getting around to finally posting about it now.)

I had planned for a 23-mile ride around a loop that I'd done twice before. (I seriously need to get over my fear of getting lost on the bike and branch out to do some exploring of new routes.)

It was a beautiful day and I wanted to take advantage of it. (I also know I need to keep at the cycling miles if there's anyway I expect to complete this duathlon - not to mention a Century Ride later this summer.)

I hopped on my bike and off I went.

About, oh, a tenth of a mile into my ride (perhaps even less) I encountered a car accident. Luckily I missed it by a few minutes, but the aftermath still forced me to deal with cars parked and stopped in every direction, drivers most certainly not paying attention, the narrowest "lane" for me to maneuver through, debris in the road.

Just generally stressful stuff for a new rider. For me, anyway.

Keep in mind, it's still early in the season and I'm a newbie rider. It's well documented that I'm not overly comfortable on my bike. The slightest challenges, changes of plans and little roadblocks can throw me off - even just mentally.

I successfully made it around the accident scene and pedaled onward - directly into a headwind. Uphill. Sigh. I'll just make it to the turn a few miles up and be rid of the wind.

I made the turn and continued to feel the oppressive headwind. How was that even possible? I kept going, noticing every annoying cracked piece of road, grain of sand and smallest holes along the path.

Drivers seemed too close, my bike seemed more wobbly than usual - was that a flat tire? - and my shorts and gloves didn't seem to fit right.

My shifting seemed "off" - either too late or two early - and it seemed as if I'd completely forgotten how to ride a bike. I struggled up the inclines (they weren't even hills) and wondered how in the world I'd make it the rest of the way. At this rate, I'd probably have a clipped-to-my-pedals mishap and end up hitting the ground.

I glanced at my odometer. I'd gone a whopping 6.2 miles.

At that moment - 10K into the ride - it was like a light went on. All of the negative thoughts in my head were feeding off each other, creating new little worries and self-doubt. I rallied my mental "you can do this" troops.

The troops (yes, sometimes I think that there's an inner army of cheerleaders I need to call upon sometimes) came to the rescue. They're less like cheerleaders than they are like drill instructors. I need them sometimes. They give me a few slaps in the face and kicks in the butt.

Get your head in the game, girl. You can do this.

If running those crazy distances and taking on seemingly impossible challenges has taught me anything, it's that sometimes things just come down to attitude and mental fortitude. Often times, actually. After all, with the right conditioning and training, our bodies will do anything our minds tell us to, right?

I decided to mentally break up the rest of the ride into three parts. At each mark, I'd evaluate the last leg and decide whether to keep going or whether to take any of the shortcut options I had along the route.

I hit the 12-mile mark seemingly quickly, still struggling more than I probably should have - but a far cry from the downward spiral of negativity that had been sucking me in during the first 6.2 miles.

I rode passed the turn for the first shortcut. I was in the ride for at least another six miles.

I chugged steadily up some decent hills, only thinking of them as daunting for a fleeting second at the bottom. Before I knew it, I was at the top of one hill. Then another. Then another.

I was almost surprised when I looked down and saw the 18-mile mark on my odometer. How did those miles fly by so fast?

I passed the point of the second shortcut without giving any thought to turning.

The last stretch was admittedly the hardest, not only because of the up-and-down terrain, but also because I was beginning to get "tired legs" after nearly 20 miles of riding.

While that last stretch was most difficult, it was a whole different kind of hard - drastically unlike the kind that my mind had created in first 6.2 miles.

It wasn't the kind that made me wonder whether I'd make it to the end. It was the kind that helped me realize how much I can do, the kind that I knew would make me proud when I reached the end of my route, and the kind that made me want to do more.

As much as it's important to have supporters, friends and loved ones cheering you on, sometimes having your inner troops believing in you is just as essential.

Those troops helped me rally and get my head back into the game. I didn't even care when, about a quarter-mile from my house, a couple of immature and heckling teenagers yelled at me and threw a crumpled paper bag at me.

Some day they'll learn. And if they don't, then they're the ones missing out on the good things in life.

Photo credit:

Monday, April 5, 2010

211 Doughnuts and Counting...

As you've probably guessed, I like tracking things. Tracking isn't just about being accountable - although, yes, I feel guilty when I see too many X's on the training chart. Tracking is also about seeing what you've accomplished.

I like seeing the miles add up and, hopefully, the paces get faster. I find writing things down - whether on my old-fashioned chart on my fridge or on a higher-tech interactive training log like Daily Mile - to be motivating and helpful.

To date, I've logged 460 miles of running and biking since January. Thanks to the stats page on Daily Mile, I know that translates to roughly:
  • 211 doughnuts
  • .02 times around the world
  • 24.71 gallons of gas saved
  • 839 televisions powered
  • 55 hours of training
  • ... or 11 pounds burned
Wait, did I read that right? My 2010 workouts have burned a total of 11 pounds? Impressive, I guess. But also a bit disheartening since I most certainly have not lost 11 pounds.

I dropped a few pounds in the beginning - but really slumped off in my focus and in my weight tracking recently. I'm hovering now somewhere around my starting point - generally speaking, not where I wanted to be at the start of the spring training season.

Simple math would tell me to just cut out some calories and I'd drop those pounds. Have I really increased my caloric intake enough to maintain 11 pounds instead of shedding them?

Think about it. In essence, I've eaten the equivalent of 211 doughnuts.

Ultimately, it's basic math. Eat more calories than you burn and you'll gain weight. Burn more than you eat, you'll lose.

It's simple math that's not-so-simple.

I suppose this means I should focus a bit more on food - and not in a hyper-sensitive way that has me counting every gram of sugar or carb that passes through my lips. (Ah, the never-ending battle for balance - the quest to balance a view of food-as-fuel-only with the role that food plays in the lifestyle I enjoy.)

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday focused around this topic - the need for balance. We both have friends who are fanatic about counting calories, fat grams or not eating at all. We have friends that restrict themselves so much that they forget how to enjoy life. And enjoy eating.

I should note that, generally speaking, I eat good-for-you foods. I like fresh foods - and hardly ever eat fried stuff, canned or frozen foods, greasy burgers or other things I see as part of people's regular diet.

Even when eating out, TC and I tend to gravitate toward sushi and Indian restaurants, rather than fast food or chain establishments. We eat pizza with whole wheat crust and crave dinners consisting solely of farm-stand finds. It's not uncommon for us to just share an entree or a couple of appetizers as a meal.

And none of that feels restricting. It's just our preference.

I like eating. I like food. I like my glass(es) of wine with dinner. I like going out to eat - not only because it's a chance to experience dishes I wouldn't have at home, but because of the social aspect. I love the sounds of a restaurant - the overall murmur of patrons engaged in conversation, interrupted at times by loud, spontaneous laughter. People just enjoying life.

I eat out more than the typical person, I'd say, which is partly a function of my job and partly a function of the hectic lifestyle TC and I lead these days. Between work and our various activities, like running and cycling, sometimes it's a struggle to eat dinner any earlier than 9 p.m. We've been the ones closing down a restaurant more times than I can count.

Perhaps some of this will change when we live together - less than two short weeks away! - since we won't have to decide at whose place we're going to eat, discuss who has what for food in the fridge or spend time shuttling back and forth picking up dogs, packing overnight bags and making that same 5.5-mile commute.

More likely, though, our lifestyle won't change much. I think we'll enjoy more at-home dinners, but we certainly both like food too much to cut out our favorite eateries. And even our made-at-home dinners are not typical. We often remark that our every day, spur-of-the-moment creations would likely serve as someone else's special occasion meals.

And I like it that way.

So where does this leave me when it comes to food? Will that 11-pound stat - or whatever the next reminder is - ever stop bugging me?

Logically, I know I should cut down on calories. (I don't really feel the urge to increase my activity much more than I do now, except for the longer and more intense bike rides I see on the not-so-flat horizon.)

But I also refuse to fall back into my past when I restricted and cut back so much that it became the focus of my life. Events, eating out and even regular meals actually caused me more anxiety than I'd like to admit. What would I be able to eat? Would I gain a pound the next time I stepped on the scale?

I've considered consulting a nutritionist. Perhaps a personal trainer. Maybe even a few therapy sessions.

But am I going to pay for someone to tell me what I already know? I know what I should eat and what I shouldn't eat. It's just a matter of how much I want to change my lifestyle, my habits and, I guess, my body.

It's a matter of how much I'm "okay" with that 11-pound stat. Or
the dreadful and nearly embarrassing way my new tri shorts look on me?

Could I possibly be more worried about the way the shorts look and fit than the challenge of a duathlon? Uh-huh. I think I just stumbled upon a future post...

Photo Credit:


About Teamwork

Now that spring has officially sprung, I'm taking advantage of every minute of it. I officially passed the 460-mile mark in my 2,010 in 2010 Challenge - putting in 46.8 miles on the bike (in two separate rides) and 12 miles of running over the weekend.

Phew! My body's calling for rest day. And I think I'll listen.

All of those miles mean I have plenty of blog posts floating around in my head. I can let my mind wander to all sorts of places while on the road and have plenty of experiences to share. As soon as I have some time, I'll try to post them...

... for now, I'll share just a few random snip-its.


This is obviously an o
ld pic, based on the way we're bundled up before our run, but I wanted to share a pic of the current Team In Training team.

It was actually taken on our first day of practice - way back in February. (That's me in the ridiculously bright, Ronald McDonald colors!) This was back when we didn't know each other and most of them couldn't run more than a few miles.

Things sure do change in just seven short weeks. Now, the marathoners are running double-digit miles on a challenging course, and everyone is steps closer to their race day.

They're an awesome bunch - fun, hard-working and helpful.
Officially, I'm a "mentor" for the team. That means, I'm there to
help when I can, answer questions and just be there to support them.

But sometimes I honestly feel that they help me as much as I help them.

They help me stay focused and motivated - even when I don't want to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning. They help me stay grounded. They help the miles pass quickly with stories and jokes along the way.

The latest team run had us slated for 12 miles for the marathoners and 6 or so for the half-marathoners. Coach Geno has us running a tough course - with a significant part of it uphill. It's challenging - just ask my morning-after body - but it will undoubtedly prepare the team for any upcoming race they have.

Speaking of race preparation and overall good team things, I should mention the spectacular stretching clinic that one of our teammates (a massage therapist and yoga instructor) gave before Saturday's run.

She helped us stretch running-specific muscles in ways that most of us - based on the moans and groans from the group - had never experienced. She taught us how to do "planks" as a way to strengthen our core muscles. (Who know a minute could seem that long?!)

I hope to incorporate her tips and maneuvers into a routine to keep me limber and strong.

One of the things that sometimes gets lost during the height of TnT training is the mission. Sometimes we get so focused on the miles that we actually forget that the efforts of our training athletes are raising money for an important cause.

Kudos to Coach Geno and to the team for not letting the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society get brushed aside. Each week, teammates are welcome to share a dedication - a story about how they personally have been affected by cancer.

I was skeptical at first. Would anyone really want to share some of their most personal moments with a group of relative strangers?

The first dedication was given by Garry, a fellow mentor, who shared his story of overcoming cancer in college. He shared with us images and stories of children in the hospital, young people who were quarantined while going through treatments. Despite all of that, Garry said, they just wanted to "be kids" - to laugh and have fun and to forget about the hospital around them.

Last week, a touching dedication was given by Jenny - a hard-working, determined athlete on a quest to run her first marathon. At Kick Off, Jenny shared with us that she had lost her husband to cancer four years ago. (I don't know exactly how old she is, but I'd imagine that she's not much younger than I am.)

It's eye-opening to think about how someone's life could be that dramatically different than my own. And sometimes I wonder why I have been lucky enough to avoid some of the pain and heartache I've heard others talk about. Really, I have no idea what she went through during her husband's illness and death. I've been wondering if she'd open up to share a dedication for her husband.

When a team email popped up from Jenny, I was prepared to hear her story. What she shared, however, were the stories and photos of two children she met in the cancer center while her husband underwent treatment. Both children lost their battle with cancer.

It may seem that these dedications would bring us down. Instead, I think it helps us to cherish that we can run and train - even when we might not want to and even when it might seem really hard.

Sometimes we should run just because we can.

Thanks, Team.