I Can Tri

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Image courtesy of Triathlon Gifts & Merchandise

On Saturday I am participating in the Gator Bait sprint tri.  My training log for this race has been posted on my fridge since early March. I included in my plan vacation time, other days I knew I’d need off. I included races I intended to run between then and now, extra weeks of training to focus on running.

Usually by now, the week going into a race, I’m a bit anxious. My mind is completely focused on the race. I’m visualizing the entire morning—from waking up before the alarm to getting ready, getting there, fidgeting at the start line, going the distance, and crossing the finish line with the hope of setting a PR.  I’ve checked my gear a million times. Put on my lucky necklace.

This time, however, it’s different.  I feel relaxed, at peace.  Although the race is certainly on my mind and I’m preparing, I’m not obsessing as usual.

I race and train for several reasons:

  1. It feels good.
  2. I’m a better writer when I run.
  3. Training promotes self-discipline.
  4. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
  5. My confidence increases when I push myself to do things I think I cannot do.
  6. If I can reach an unreachable goal here, in this area of my life, why can’t I do it anywhere?

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the training more than the races I’ve entered.  I get a supreme satisfaction when my training log progresses from empty to full, when there’s the least bit of improvement in my running, biking, or swimming.  I even enjoy it when I stop eating cookies and my body gradually changes.

Training is transformative.  Race day is not the culmination of training; it is the by-product.  It’s a goal I shoot for, but not the end in itself.  It’s one step on the road to becoming something more, something better; one more reminder of capability, as well as potential.  It’s a measure of ability in the moment.

If we are lucky, there will be another race.

Going into this race, I already know what’s next for me.  Two races–bigger races.  Two goals I have never been able to meet before.  One I have been too afraid to try.

That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the moment on race day tomorrow.  On the contrary, I think I am finally in a place where I can enjoy the race itself.

My training plan didn’t pan out as I expected.  I took a lot of time away from training to recover from illness, a car accident I am still feeling.  During this forced hiatus, I was surprised to find how often I’ve taken for granted my body, my ability to do the things I love.

So I’m approaching Saturday’s race with a new excitement, a peaceful satisfaction.  The joy I feel in doing this tri—not having been able to do anything for weeks—is that I can.

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Good-Bye No-Plan Plan, Hello (Torture) Structure

Posted on March 15, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

no plan b

After three weeks of aimlessness, I have an official training plan.

Last Sunday I created a 3+ month training schedule and registered for the races I had already selected, one per month:

  • March 23 – 10k
  • April 6 – 10k
  • May 18 – 10K
  • June 22 – Sprint tri

What a relief.  Sort of.

I kicked off my plan with a day of rest.  I needed time to process the whole thing, for starters.  Plus it was a Sunday, already late in the afternoon by the time I sat down to figure things out.  It was also the first day of Daylight Savings Time, which I still am not adjusted to, and the day after my birthday, a late night to say the least. I actually slept until almost 10 am.  A record, I think.

Even though I’m excited to have a plan again, it’s been a tough week of adjustment.  I’ve had a hard time waking up at 5ish after three weeks of sleeping until 6 or 7, and an even harder time with daily motivation.

However, I figured out a long time ago that I’m the kind of person who needs the structure of a training plan not only to keep me on the right health track but also to keep me on-task in life.  I am so much more productive in all other areas of my life when I can roll out of bed and run.

One more week, and I’ll be fine.  It will feel less like torture and more like it should feel—fun.

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The Blank Page

Posted on February 8, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

blank calendar

The page is almost full.  Next Sunday–in 9 days–I will be in Austin well before the sun comes up, running a half marathon, the first I have been able to run since February 2010.  At the end of the day, my last box will be checked.

When I posted my training plan on the side of my refrigerator just before Thanksgiving, the whiteness of the blank boxes and the progression of long-run miles daunted me. For a couple of weeks, I doubted I could actually do it.  Run a half marathon, geez.  What was I thinking? I hadn’t run that far in so long I found it hard to have faith in my ability to do it again.

Not only was the page too white, but there were lots of things that might get in the way of fulfilling my plan. Christmas, New Years, vacation, business trip, work. I had to remind myself that the holidays in particular were why I chose to run this particular half marathon at this particular time, why I chose to start training the week after Thanksgiving.  I chose.

I knew from past experience how closely aligned race training is with project planning. Life planning. You set a goal and a date, break it down into its parts, plant the tasks on a calendar, and check off each task as it’s complete, recording your rate of success. Focusing on the small chunks, one week at a time at most, one day at a time for certain, is what determines success. We only live one day at a time. It’s our responsibility to focus on the moment, perform to the best of our ability, because the moment is all we are guaranteed.

But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking at my plan with a different eye. When I glance at it from across the kitchen, I no longer see an intimidating white page. My plan has almost reached fruition.  The boxes contain times and distances where I followed the plan, or diagonal lines where I didn’t.  I am no longer afraid of this page. Rather, I am proud. I have come so far, and there is visual proof to remind me.

training plan

When I look at my plan, penciled, erased, circled, used, I get excited.  Not only am I so close to reaching my goal, which is thrilling in itself, but I have had the joy (and pain) of reaching a goal every day.  I see the results on paper, certainly, but also in the mirror. I am not the same person who started this plan on November 26.  And I will be a different person again when I cross that finish line on February 17.

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Taking Time

Posted on October 12, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I don’t have time.

Can’t fit it into my schedule, don’t know how it will get done, it simply won’t happen, there is just not enough time.

If I could plant and grow a pumpkin seed for every time I heard time as an excuse for not exercising, the Great Pumpkin would be rising from its patch nearly every night.

But I don’t buy it. We all have time.  The same amount, every day.  What we choose to do with it is up to us.  We base our choices on our priorities, those people, principles, or things that mean the most to us.

When I’ve led a priorities exercise in workshops, I’ve found that two things are often glaringly missing from people’s lists:  their health and their God.  Even if they tell you in conversation that their health and their spirituality are two of the most important things in their lives, when pressed to list priorities, neither make the list.

Why not? I ask.

No time.

One reason for this may be the way people view time. They take time to do the things they want or need to do.  They take time, for instance, to attend a meeting. But while there, they’re not actually present in the meeting.  They’re busy checking email or texting or making notes about a dozen unrelated things.

They are subtracting time from their day, eliminating tasks one by one.

Maybe instead of taking time, people can learn to give it.  To add something worthwhile to their day, their sense of well-being. To their actual, physical well-being.   We seem to put emphasis—more of ourselves—into the things we give, so why not give something, a gift, to ourselves? Why not time?

There is always enough time.  What are you going to do with yours?

I’m going to run.

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The Worm of Doubt

Posted on September 21, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This morning we lost Jingle Ball in a freak incident.

My dogs and I were trying to get back into our usual routine:  Wake up, pour coffee, sit on floor, throw Jingle Ball across the almost-empty dining room, through the kitchen and against the far wall.  Sip coffee while one of the dogs runs back with the ball, the other following.

Jingle Ball is not exactly aptly named. It is my dogs’ first ball, turning 11 years old this month.  It’s more like a half moon than a ball, the once bright green rubber faded mostly to a dingy brown, its surface dented and scratched.  The jingle bell for which it’s named disappeared years ago.  Still, my dogs love it; it’s the first and often only toy they choose from their overflowing box any time they want to play.

This morning it disappeared into a hole underneath a cupboard.  Not a visible hole, but a hole I didn’t even know existed.  Part of the design where two cupboards meet in a corner.  You can’t even see it until you’re lying flat on your back staring above the molding along the floor. I threw the ball straight and hard, but rather than going straight, it bounced sideways on its jagged half moon edge and disappeared through the phantom hole.

It took a few moments to comprehend what happened.  Once I understood, I panicked.  How were we going to get a ball out of a space whose entry I could barely get my arm through?  We had to get it. So I shoved my arm through the hole up to the elbow, twisted and turned it in an attempt to feel around.  When that didn’t work I opened drawers and closets to find whatever tool might help.  A wire hanger. Salad tongs.

Fruitless. After 40 minutes of trying, I was overcome with despair and I sat on the floor and cried.

Despair has pervaded my life over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been penetrated by that insidious worm of doubt that bores holes through the good in life and renders it unstable.

I can’t really say what initiated it, but I can see its effect.  I’ve stopped writing.  Have taken to lying in bed most mornings staring at the ceiling, willing myself to get up.  Wondering what my purpose truly is and if what I am doing really makes a dent in the world.

This week, I even stopped running.

I should have seen that coming. Writing and running are so alike. The principles that apply to one apply to the other.

It sneaks up on you, this worm of self-doubt. Others don’t really know it’s there. To them, you appear a shiny apple on the outside. But they can’t see what’s eating you.  Often, neither can you.  It wasn’t until my boyfriend called one morning that I really noticed how much it affected me, and that I had stopped running.  When he asked how my run was I told him it wasn’t, I had decided to lie in bed instead. Couldn’t think of a good enough reason to get out.  He was silent for a moment and said, But isn’t that why you run? To give you purpose and make everything clear?

Today I attended a volunteer fair at a local university.   I smiled and chatted and took down lots of names.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Jingle Ball, stuck there in a dark corner I hadn’t even known existed.  I worried that I wouldn’t get it out. That my dogs would be sad.  That it would be stuck in a deep, dark hole, just out of reach, forever.

A woman at the fair asked how Girls on the Run started, and I launched into the organization’s history.  I told her about the founder, Molly Barker—how even though she had done extraordinary things with her life she struggled with self-doubt, but one day while out running something clicked.  She saw with great clarity the relationship between running and self-confidence and Girls on the Run was born.

Midway through, I teared up.  I suddenly saw where I was:  Stuck in a hole I had no idea existed.

I left the fair a little early and came straight home, determined to find Jingle Ball, not for my dogs but for me.  I lay flat on my back on the floor, grabbed a pair of salad tongs, and stuck my arm in the hole as far as it would go.  I closed my eyes and felt around the space, leading my hand not by sight but by faith.  After nearly half an hour and a bruised and scratched arm, I found Jingle Ball, guided it safely to the entry, and gently eased it out of the hole.

My dogs and I danced around the kitchen in celebration, their half moon, jagged-edged, dirty, pock-marked ball returned.  Their ball, my hope.

Tomorrow I will cover the hole with duct tape.  And then I will run.

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When Running Isn’t Enough

Posted on September 14, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Running is the only thing I have to look forward to right now.

That’s what a friend of mine told me over coffee this week.

If I can make it out the door, she said, and run the 3 or 5 or 7 miles on my plan, I know I can do anything.  It gives me strength.  Purpose.

I nodded intently over the heart-shaped foam skimming the top of my cappuccino.  Yes, I reassured her, I understand.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been there. If I can just get out of bed and lace up my shoes.  If I can only make it to that Stop sign.  At least I will know that I can set a goal and reach it.  I’ll know that if I can do this, I can do anything.

It’s that feeling of accomplishment and strength that keeps many runners motivated.  Reaching the point of self-motivation—the muscle memory (body and brain) of the calm and happiness that lies on the sweaty and alert side of the run—takes time to cultivate.  Even though I’ve been there for a number of years, I still have those stretches of life where I need motivation from without.  I need someone else’s words to help me find my strength and purpose.

Often, for me, that person is Henry Thoreau.  I won’t go into all the reasons why; this isn’t a blog on literature or botany or limnology or natural history.  It’s a blog on running.  And more.  But I thought I’d share with you a couple of Thoreau’s quotes that have helped move me when running wasn’t enough.

 

Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.   Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. (“The Dispersion of Seeds,” Faith in a Seed)


 

Jan. 5. P. M. A man receives only what he is ready to receive, whether physically or intellectually or morally, as animals conceive at certain seasons their kind only. We hear and apprehend only what we already half know. If there is something which does not concern me, which is out of my line, which by experience or by genius my attention is not drawn to, however novel and remarkable it may be, if it is spoken, we hear it not, if it is written, we read it not, or if we read it, it does not detain us. Every man thus tracks himself through life, in all his hearing and reading and observation and traveling. His observations make a chain. The phenomenon or fact that cannot in any wise be linked with the rest which he has observed, he does not observe. By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot receive now.  (Journal 13, December 1859 – July 1860)

 

Strange passages to find comfort in, I know.  Nevertheless, I do.  Are there certain authors or quotes that get you motivated?

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The Wonder Wall: or, I wonder why I hit that wall

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There you are one early morning, in the pool swimming laps, on your bike cruising down country roads, or out for a long run through the backstreets. You had a plan, you set your distance, knew your route and were off. But half way through your workout, your arms stopped rotating like a windmill, your legs resembled the rubber chicken sitting on the corner of your desk, and your body slumped into something you liken to the compost pile in your backyard.

It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall.

This can be dismaying, to say the least, especially when you thought you were doing fine and felt like you were in great shape to be out there rolling.

What causes us to hit the wall and what can we do to prevent hitting it?  It seems to me there are three important factors athletes—yes, even amateur athletes like most of us—need to consider before we hit the dawn running.

Nutrition

If your body was like Janet Jackson, it might sing you a song: What have you done for me lately?  (And if your mind is like mine, you get a song stuck in your head whose words you either don’t like or can’t remember, but you sing it to yourself anyway, making up different words to suit your situation. Like what did you eat for me lately?)

The question is a serious one. What did you fuel your body with before your workout?  Before, in my mind, is not only the 30 to 60 minutes before you head out the door, but the long stretch of hours that lead into your workout, the night before if you work out in the morning or the entire day if you work out in the afternoon or evening.

I work out first thing in the morning.  I always eat a small meal 30 minutes or so before my workout, but I am also cognizant of what I eat the night before.  If I am doing cardio in the morning, I make sure I eat complex carbs with dinner.  And if I’m hungry before I go to bed, I eat.  Your body needs the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, complex as well as simple, to function at its best. Don’t deny it what it needs.

Hydration

If you feel thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re dehydrated.  What do you do?  Drink, drink, drink!  Drink before you go to bed, drink before and after your workout. Drink always, all day long.

Notice I didn’t include the middle of your workout as a time to drink. That depends on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it.  I always have water with me when I bike, swim, and weight train. I drink frequently during all of these activities. But I don’t take water with me when I run unless I plan to be out there more than 60 minutes. I know there are some people who would say, so what? Take water anyway!  For me this is simply a personal preference. I don’t like holding things in my hands or feeling extra weight hanging on my hips when I run.

What do you drink?  Water. Lots of it.  Sports drinks are unnecessary for most people, unless you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time. If you’re training for a marathon or a triathlon, especially in summer in Texas, that’s a different story.  Kind of.  I prefer coconut water over sports drinks because sports drinks have a lot of sugar in them. Coconut water has none. It’s a great way to keep hydrated or to rehydrate.

Muscle fatigue

It could be that you hit a wall because your body is just plain tired.  Have you slept enough?  Have you over trained?  Does your body need rest for a few days? Should you stop what you’re doing at the moment, or should you push through?

That depends.

The way you get to know your own strength, to find out what you’re made of, and to improve your endurance is to push yourself beyond what you think are your limitations.  Sure, I can stop when my knees get wobbly or turn into lead pipes.  I may even have to stop. But at what point do I make this determination?

Ask Socrates. He’d probably say Know Thyself.  Part of training hard and pushing yourself to be better, stronger, faster than you were before (like the Six Million Dollar Man) is knowing your body well enough to understand what it’s trying to tell you and to respect it enough to listen. There’s a fine line between breaking through the wall and breaking your body.  The first is exhilarating. The second excruciating. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn to recognize our body’s queues through trial and error. When we err, it hurts.

Inevitably, at some point in training, you’ll hit a wall.  If you pay attention to your body, it will let you know why you hit it and what to do about it.  Listen to it.  Your body knows best. Almost like your mother.

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Gratitude. It’s what’s for breakfast.

Posted on August 31, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I don’t always jump out of bed with a happy smile on my face.  Some mornings I don’t even want to roll out and frown.   I have my share of days when I dread getting out of bed, and sometimes I even dread the thought of running.

But one of the things I love about running is the remarkable way it transforms my attitude, usually from cranky to grateful.  Most morning runs are like that.  My time outside results in more than the physical benefits I get from running.  Running shows me gratitude.

By the end of my run, I usually have a mental picture of all the things I am grateful for.  Some of them look like this:

G    od. For making me. Able.

R    obert, my boyfriend.

A    ll my family and friends.  Even the cranky ones.

T    oday, because it’s all I have for certain.

I     ce cream.

T    omorrow, because with it comes promise and hope.

U    rsa Minor.  Or pretty much any constellation.

D    ogs.  Mine:  Smaug and Queequeg.

E    ars to hear. Eyes to see.

Does running do the same thing for you? What are you grateful for?

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Anger Management, or how running could save the world

Posted on August 17, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts for a week or so.  Not physically—I’ve been doing a lot of strength training, circuits, and swimming—but mentally.  Emotionally. Spiritually. Whatever you want to call the blend of those other essences that make us who we are.  Something simply hasn’t been right.

I don’t like it when something isn’t right and I can’t identify it.  I feel it in my diaphragm, mostly, that space between the stomach and the heart, both of which are inevitably effected, like someone has been playing lawn darts in there and abandoned them where they stuck, and I’m left walking around dragging daggers behind me.

I’ve spent so much time in the gym these past two weeks that until this morning I haven’t been outside to run—just run and nothing more—for nearly 10 days.  So yesterday, I set out from my house before dawn, alone.  My favorite time and way to run.  I always say that, always remember it, know it in my head, but I believe I actually forget the real reason why I love it until I’m out there running.

When I set out alone in the wee hours, I dragged the darts behind me.  The heaviness made me angry. I didn’t realize this until I was about a mile and a half down the road, looked up from my reverie, and thought, how’d I get here already?  I felt my legs moving fast and my body standing stiff and tall and I recognized that it was the quickness of anger that moved me.

But angry at what? is what I wanted to know.  It’s been a good week—all seems right with the world, on the whole—and I couldn’t place the anger.  So I kept running, letting my anger and the darts propel me down my path, until an amazing thing happened.

Somewhere between miles 2 ½ and 3, the darts fell away and my anger dissipated.  Why?  Because somehow, simply in the act of running, I found an answer.  The issue that had twisted me all out of sorts had a name.  Anger wasn’t the real issue, it was a symptom, and I could suddenly identify what it was that had been bothering me.  I didn’t yet have a solution, but the issue finally had a name.

This, I was overjoyed to remember, not only in my head, but in every limb and organ in my body, is why I run.  Alone. Before dawn.

There is nothing more therapeutic than pounding the pavement, letting whatever it is that ails you have the space to actually ail.  By the end of my 5 mile run, I knew what the problem was and how to address it.  What a relief.

And what a reminder.  I need to run alone before dawn more often.  Simply to keep clear and balanced.

Now, if we could get the whole world running, imagine what kind of problems could be solved.

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What Would Barbie Do…in the Olympics?

Posted on August 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from Economic Times, India Times

I love the Olympics.  And although I root for the USA in every event they participate, I have to admit that what I watch for is not necessarily nationality, it’s ability.  The athletes who make any Olympic team are extraordinary. Watching them gives me goosebumps at the least, and sometimes brings me to tears.  The perfection and grace of movement in rowing, diving, sprinting, pole vaulting, gymnastics is simply stunning, particularly since the athletes make what they’re doing look so effortless. It’s easy to forget all the blood, sweat, and years, all the training and discipline and sacrifice that lead to this one event. It blows me away.

So when I heard comments about Gabby Douglas’s hair, I was, well, perplexed.  Here is a woman who won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event and is a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal—the first team gold for the U.S. since 1996—and people are talking about her hair?

It gets better.  Some people are actually calling some Olympic women athletes fat.  That’s right.  Olympic athletes—some of the fittest people on earth—fat.   It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re bodies are conditioned to support them in their chosen field.  It doesn’t seem to matter that many of them set or break records.  What makes the news is that some swimmer or sprinter doesn’t look as “fit” as in the last Olympics.  Or that another one is “carrying too much weight.”

And we wonder why so many girls have eating disorders or body image issues when even the fittest of us are scrutinized as if we were a side of Kobe beef.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but, sadly, I am not.  This Olympics marks the first time women are competing in every event, and from every country.  This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX in the U.S., the law that opened the door for women’s participation in sports where they did not have access before.  Undoubtedly, more women are competing at a higher caliber because of the opportunities afforded by this law, yet those discussions and those women are not what’s making the news.

Perhaps coincidentally, another story making the news this week has to do with Barbie, the 53-year-old who never ages.  Now, I played with Barbie as a kid.  She usually teamed up my brother’s GI Joes to battle the evil Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  But it never occurred to me to see her form as an aspiration. In my mind, that would have been like trying to force myself into the shape of a pine tree or something equally ridiculous. I just wasn’t made that way, and, alas, I lacked the Wonder Twins super powers.

Model Katie Halchishick decided to make a point this week.  She marked her body with dotted lines, the way a plastic surgeon marks bodies before rearranging them.  The lines correspond to what a Barbie doll would look like in real life.

Scary. Unnatural.  Those are only two words that come immediately to mind.

Yet the figure and hair and makeup of Barbie is what some people seem to want to see soaring over the vault or flying across the pool at the Olympics.  But with a body like that, what, exactly, could Barbie hope to do in any athletic event, much less at the Olympics?  Her thin little arms couldn’t support her on the uneven bars.  Her skinny little waist could never contain the strong core muscles to lift her body over the hurdles.  And that scrawny (scary) neck?  It doesn’t appear that it would hold her head up high enough to see the crowd.

When I see someone like sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross moving like the wind across the track, her muscular body rippling with the effects of all that training, and then hear someone ask, what’s up with her hair, I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream or cry.

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