Two Weeks to PR

Posted on February 1, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Athlete Running Through Finish Line

I did it.  I finished my 10 mile run last Sunday 4:30 faster than my 10 mile run the week before.  Not only am I completely thrilled with the fact that I beat myself, but I am now confident that I will PR at the Austin half in two weeks.

The last time I ran the Austin half, in 2010, I PRed.  My goal was to finish in under 2 hours.  I finished in 2:01:50-something.  I know.  I’ve been trying to block out the disappointment ever since. At least I’ve succeeded in kind of forgetting the tenth of a second part.

This time, I’m sure I can do it.  Running has never felt so good, and I’ve never trained better. This time, there are two major differences.

My attitude.

I didn’t take up running until my early 30s, and it has probably saved my life on more than one occasion. Training for a race–having a goal, a plan, a block of time every day to disappear into and call my own–has sustained me through marital problems and divorce, death, illness, and countless lows that in a previous life would probably have resulted in self-destructive activities.

Running became such an integral part of my identity that for a long time I approached it with a certain rigidity.  If I had a plan I’d follow it, come hell or high water.  But in the past couple of years, I have learned to let go of the plan.  This time around, my plan is tacked on my refrigerator, just as with any past race, but rather than stress about sticking exactly to it, I do what I can when I can. Give it my best, and leave the rest up to God. I’m finding that in running, just like in life, I get a much better outcome when I let go.

My strength.

It’s not that strength training never appealed to me, it’s that it never occurred to me. I was like most women I see at the gym even now:  My idea of a workout was strictly cardio.  Thanks to my sister, I have developed a love of strength training along with the understanding that if I want to run long and hard and fast, I need the musculature to support me.  A strong core holds the body upright and prevents hip, back, and knee injuries.  A strong upper body decreases tension on the spine when I’m slogging my shoulders and head along on those long runs.  And strong legs?  A no-brainer.  I want quads that look like braided bread not because I find them sexy, but because I need to make it up some pretty steep hills.  The stronger I get, the faster I get, and the more I enjoy running.

I’m not worried that I’ve jinxed myself by stating publicly that I believe I will PR in Austin.  Even if I don’t (but I will), I know I will be proud of my run and the fact that I’m there, giving it the best I’ve got.  Isn’t that what life’s all about?

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The Art of Swimming, or how Ben Franklin helps me train

Posted on May 18, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Any time I think of Ben Franklin—and yes, oddly, I think of him a lot—it’s never as a swimmer.  Yet there I was in the pool this week working on my stroke when who should I think of but Franklin.

Franklin has been one of my heroes, I suppose you could say, since I first read his Autobiography in high school.  (I know. I was an odd kid.) What appealed to me about Franklin then appealed to me throughout college and well into now.  Franklin was all about self-improvement.  He was a planner, a list-maker, an organizer of days and details, who believed that hard work, patience, and discipline lead to progress.

He went so far as to devise a character development project—The Art of Virtue—in the hope of attaining “moral perfection.”  To this end, he listed 13 virtues or qualities of character he felt most important, with an explanation or precept beneath each one.  He made a chart listing the 13 virtues down the side and the 7 days of the week across the top.  Each week, he focused on one virtue.

He carried his chart with him everywhere he went, and each time he failed to live up to that week’s precept, he’d make a mark on the chart.  The fewer the marks on the chart, the closer he came to meeting his idea of moral perfection.  The next week, he’d focus on the next virtue, and then the next, until he worked his way through all 13.  Then he’d start over again.

He kept his chart for 50 years.  He never quite reached moral perfection (I highly doubt he ever thought he would), but he became a better man by marking himself through life.

So why was I thinking about moral perfection while swimming this week?  I wasn’t.  I was thinking about my elbows.  Was I lifting them high enough out of the water?  Were they coming up in the shape of a pyramid?  Or maybe a chicken wing wrapped tightly to the body strapped on a rotisserie, turning maybe 75°, but not quite all the way around, just enough to twist my body up and around to take a deep breath of air?  (I know.  I am an odd adult too.  Sometimes I get hungry while I swim.  Usually, I think of oranges.  This time, it was rotisserie chicken.)

My elbows.  That was my focus, just for this week.  Last week it was my kick.  Next week it will be something else.  Each time I get in the pool I try to practice proper form, but I realized this week that I focus on only one thing.  Enter Franklin.

I won’t go so far as to make a list of 13 swimming components I need to improve, but I have one in my mind.  In all other endeavors I have undertaken that involve self-improvement, I have made a plan—created a list, kept a calendar, somehow marked my progress and lack thereof. I have done this, in part, to keep from being overwhelmed.  A project is always easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

Triathlon training is easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

I don’t have to master the art of swimming in just one week.  Not even in one month.  There are too many components to take into account, at least for me.  But if I focus on just one thing at a time—just one week at a time—I will at least get better.  And all I ask for is improvement.

So thank you, Ben, for once again reminding me that improvement comes in small measures, over the course of time.

I said that before this week, I had never thought about Franklin as a swimmer. Heck, I never thought of him as athletic at all.  Come to find out, he not only taught himself how to swim in a time when almost no one went swimming, but he invented fins.  He is, in fact, the only founding father to be in the Swimming Hall of Fame.  I wonder what his training log looked like.

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