Learning NOT to Run

Today's training run was supposed to be nine miles.

I woke up a little later than planned, ate a quick breakfast and got running suit-ed up. Compression socks, Halo headband, GPS watch, spandex and plenty of neon made me look like the real deal (or something). With my water bottle, iPod, and some mid-run fuel in hand, I headed over to a nearby state park to begin my workout.

My plan was to take it easy - I wanted to set an 11:30 minute/mile pace. This week, I've been running faster than that but, due to some pain and tightness in my left leg, I knew the only chance of getting through would be to take it slow and easy.

My first mile was right on pace but I could feel my leg tightening during my walk interval. As I started my second run interval, I noticed that my left glute was starting to feel off. Near the end of the nine-minute cycle, I alternated between walking and running several times. All the while, arguing with myself about whether I was fighting through some mental block or if there was a physical problem that needed to be addressed.

Maybe running would help with the pain and tightness. At least, that's what one part of me was saying. The other part was reminding me that the problem's a couple of weeks old, getting progressively worse, and a few days off now could help me heal and reach my goal of finishing my first half marathon in five weeks and my longer term goal of running/being active for the rest of my life.

At the end of my second mile, I reached a bench. Frustrated and ready to cry, I sat down. When I stood up, I started walking back the way I'd come.

Every time I passed someone running or biking, I wished I had a sign that said, "I'm injured, not a crazy, geared-out walker! Please don't judge me."

It was so stinkin' hard to decide to cut that run short. I've run nine miles before. There are still five weeks before the half marathon. I'm in fine shape to get it done and will probably be in better shape if I don't push too hard on a verging-on-injured leg. But... still... I wanted those five miles that I missed. I wanted to get it done in a good time. I wanted to make it to 80 miles this month.

Eight months ago, the hard thing would have been pushing through those nine miles (or, let's be honest, pushing through one mile). Today, the hardest part was listening to my body and NOT running. Who'd have ever thought that would be so difficult?

Strength, Speed, and Stamina

Several friends and I have a small Facebook group, called Friends Who Run. It's a place where we can celebrate our triumphs, moan about our aching glutes, avoid annoying other facebook friends with our intense interest in running and racing, and connect about other parts of our lives at the same time.
This morning, I posted this to the group:

This thought hit me when I was in my car, going someplace I can't remember. I thought, "I would run even if I didn't need to lose weight. I run because I love to run." It's impossible to exaggerate how incredible and completely unbelievable this realization feels.

Back in my DC days, I had the determination to climb on the elliptical every day after work for eight months straight but there never came a time when I thought, "I LOVE this! I don't care how many calories I'm burning!" Not a chance. I spent more time on that machine only because I knew there was a direct correlation to weight loss/maintenance. And I got through the time only by distracting myself with music, TV shows, and celebrity gossip magazines (which I don't even like).

In high school, I went through an aerobics video phase. I sweated to the oldies and worked out with Kathy Lee Gifford and did a Latin dance/aerobics hybrid like the clutzy white girl I am. There was never a moment that I just loved these activities; they were always a gateway to weight loss, a hot body and, hopefully, a boyfriend - the crowning achievement of any high school experience (amiright?!).

But, this running thing, I love it, because it gets me out the door, connects me with friends (new and old), gives me goals to reach for, makes me feel like a rock star, energizes my mind so I can think more clearly, and exhausts my body so I sleep like a baby. AND these bits of amazing only represent a portion of the awesome that has come into my life since I started running.

When I'm out on the road, I think about pushing myself to run my fastest mile ever or keeping a consistent pace over many miles or getting up a hill without any walk breaks. When I got my Garmin Forerunner 10 and one of the display options was "calories burned," it didn't even occur to me that I'd want to know that information while running. I want to know how far and how fast. Immolating calories is a terrific bonus of the run but not my primary or secondary or even tertiary reason for squeezing into my spandex and lacing up my Brooks. (Yes, that sentence was partly an excuse to use the word "tertiary." Deal with it.)

Don't get me wrong - I still think about losing weight, since I have 30-40 pounds yet to go, but it's not a thought that plagues me. I'm doing something that makes me feel alive. And, BONUS, that thing will help me achieve lots of other goals, including, but not limited to, losing the extra weight I carry, literally and figuratively.

Official Race Recap: Georgetown Ten-Miler Edition

I ran nine miles last week. This week I ran (almost) ten.

Back in November, when I had been running for barely three months, my friend, Katie, asked if I'd be interested in running this ten mile race in March. Having a tendency, once I've discovered something I enjoy, to go at it whole hog, I said, "I'll do it if you do it."

Well, we did it... today.

Georgetown is only about 35 miles from where I live and the race didn't start until 9:30, so I was able to sleep until 6:45, have a leisurely breakfast, and still make it to the race with 45 minutes to spare. I grabbed my bib and got into what seemed like a reasonable port-a-john line. I guess it would have been more reasonable had there been more than one toilet and people weren't taking their sweet time... Anyway, half an hour later, with only about five minutes to spare until the start, I got my chance to pee. When I came out 20-30 seconds later, several people shouted, "That was fast! Fastest pee-er ever!" It was a victory. I knew I wouldn't win the actual race but I got cheered by a crowd, anyway.

At the top of the stairs, I was greeted by Katie, her husband, Vince, and two of her friends, Ken and Juvy. Vince was there to cheer. The rest of us were there to get our run on. Because it was a trail race, they started us in waves of 100. I was in the second wave; the others were in later ones, so we didn't run together. The entire field was fewer than 600 runners - nice and small.

Anyway, I was feeling good for my first five miles. The sun was out but it was at my back. My pace was consistent and almost exactly what I was expecting. I got to the turnaround, ate some GU Chomps to recharge my battery as I headed back toward the start, followed a curve in the trail, and was hit full in the face by the sun. Urg! I've gotten so used to running in cold, wet, snowy even, that the sun and warmth wiped me right out. My mile times went from consistent and at goal to consistently slower.

I stuck with my 9:1 walk/run plan the entire way out. On the way back, I felt like I needed several extra walk breaks. One of the things that kept me going was knowing that I would pass the single solitary water station near mile marker 2.5. I was daydreaming about that water and kept moving because I wanted it so badly. As I approached the water station, I saw them hand a cup to the runner 10 or 20 yards in front of me and then noticed that there was no table, there were no full cups. All that was left was a strewn mess of cups and two guys cleaning up. The guy in front of me had gotten the last of the water. So discouraging!

I kept going, knowing that, only a week before, I'd run nine miles with no water. (Thinking back, though, I realize that run was at a cooler temperature, under overcast skies.) Anyway, I slogged through the next two miles knowing that there had to be water at the end. Knowing that I'd already gotten through 7.5 miles and definitely had it in me to finish up.

I got to the end - 9.6 miles and about 2 hours (UPDATE - official time: 1:56:18) after I started. My Garmin didn't agree with the organizer's measurement of the course. In fact, it disagreed by nearly half a mile. I'd like to believe that my watch is cutting out distance, that I'm really going further and faster than I think, but it doesn't seem like the discrepancy would be that big.

There was water at the end. I quickly guzzled 24 ounces of it and grabbed a bottle for Katie. Ken, Vince, and I waited near the finish to spot Katie and Juvy, both of whom were not far behind me. As they approached the finish, we cheered them through. Then we picked up our t-shirts and medals (my first!) and stretched a bit.

All in all, I was pleased with my effort. I was a bit disappointed in parts of the race but I'm trying to think of it as a learning experience instead of beating myself up as I am prone to do.

Lessons learned from this race:
  1. Since I'm like a fish that needs an endless supply of water, I need to find the best way to carry my own, especially in smaller races.
  2. I need to get some prescription sunglasses or start wearing a hat/visor during races that might involve sun in the face. Also, sunscreen.
  3. I already knew I was a hot runner. That seems to be doubly true in hot weather (duh...), so I need to wear fewer clothes or layers that can be peeled back as the race goes on.
It was so cool that the race was in Georgetown because, afterward, we got our pick of amazing restaurants for lunch. We chose Thunder Burger and Bar, which I would heartily recommend to anyone who gets to that area.

I would not recommend the commute from DC to Baltimore on 295, however. Apparently, everyone in DC wants to go to Baltimore on Saturday afternoon, especially when I have to pee.

Seven weeks until my half marathon in Rochester with the lovely Rebecca.

I Ran Nine Miles Today

Who does that?

According to some of my friends, only crazy people.

According to my recent experience, the answer is actually a lot more people than I expected. There are a lot of people in the world that I know, who regularly spend hours at a time putting in laps at the track, loping around their neighborhoods, or bounding down wooded paths.

There's amazing variety among runners.

Some can finish a marathon in less than three hours and do it again the next week. Others are over the moon when they finish a single mile without a walk break.

Some enjoy all the fancy gear and revel in discussions of heart rate monitors and paces and race strategies. Others just like to lace up their shoes and go.

Some lose themselves in music, pumping the jams through headphones guaranteed not to fall out. Others forgo this extra boost and listen to the birds and the wind and the sound of their own feet hitting the pavement or the trail.

Some live for their next race and spend many happy hours researching the next running vacation destination. Others go solo all the time, not interested in the adrenaline rush created by a crowd and a starting gun.

Some look for the next new training method or diet or supplement to boost mileage and speed. Others are content with the pace and miles they put in.

For some, running provides much needed alone time. For others, it is a great way to socialize and make new friends.

Despite all this variety, I've learned something very important about people who run. After we get out there, no matter how well or badly the run seemed to go, whether we brought along a pile of gadgets or left them all at home, if we set a personal record or ran more slowly than expected, we almost always feel like rock stars. Just like I do right now after NINE MILES!

Also, we feel hungry. Very very hungry.