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!