Monday, December 31, 2012

Mental Fog

We've all read plenty of articles like this one that exemplify how running can improve mood and even provide a kind of cure for chronic depression. But I've been put in a situation this weekend where my mood has been just...awful. Even when I'm able to think about something besides my grief, my mind feels like it's in some kind of fog. Nothing seems sharp and vital. Everything is dull. And when I finally went out for a run today, it was dull, too, and felt so unimportant and irksome. And while there were many contributing factors - aren't there always? - I had to wonder: does mood affect the quality of the run?

I did some searching on Google, but couldn't come up with an answer. So, completely based on my own experiences, I'm putting forth a hypothesis. I'd love to hear what you think.

Run Quality
Angry or Anxious
I know when I’m feeling angry or jittery, my runs tend to be faster-paced, farther distances, and generally stronger. Maybe because my mind is somewhere else, or because all that extra energy is looking for a way out, the miles fly by.
Happy or Fine
Generally Good/Normal
Most of my runs occur when I’m in a fine, balanced mood, and in general my runs are good. So I have to see a correlation there.
Sad or Upset
For some reason I don’t understand, running when I’m sad doesn’t have the same effect as running when I’m angry. Instead of taking my mind off the issue, it almost magnifies it. Thinking about the problem doesn't make the miles fly by; it instead feels like lead is being poured into every muscle fiber in my body. Being alone with my thoughts is too much mental junk for me when those thoughts are sad, and my runs suffer for it.

Basically what I've found is that if I'm fighting the urge to crawl back into bed, put my head under a pillow, and bawl/sleep in a regular cycle, then I'm not going to be able to complete a run up to the standards I've set. I need to start being more aware of these moods and adjusting my training accordingly. But somehow I always forget that trying to run away my pain, especially when the pain is acute and new and fresh, almost always leads to further disappointment.

I'm glad I went for my run today, but I would feel a lot better about it if I had been honest with where my head was. Instead of trying for 10 miles at midday, I should have set out to do 4. Then I would have reached my goal and felt alright. I need to be more me-focused at this point in my training, because as I'm battling burnout anyway, even the smallest setbacks feel like mountains that need conquering. Right now I'm not even feeling motivated to do my Half in late January. I'm just...fried.

I need a nap.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review

I'm not even sure how to begin this entry. 2012 has been a year of tremendous growth, a year wherein I proved to myself over and over that I can truly call myself a runner. I think if I were to sum up the year in a single thought, that would be it. I have officially abandoned the phrase "I run" and adopted the title of "runner", and this part of my identity has become a bigger part of my life than I could have imagined.

This is the year I found myself thinking about my next run while in the middle of a run, the year I would replay runs and races in my head during the day, the year I lusted after quality gear instead of settling for what was inexpensive and convenient. This was the year that running changed from a hobby to a lifestyle.

To start this entry right, let's talk about my 2012 New Year's resolutions.

My computer background for all of 2012.
 1. Run a race monthly? I met that goal head-on. During the summer, when races were scarce, this meant running the FMTC 2-mile fun runs; they're bib-free, but there's a timer at the end, so they had to count. The only month I didn't race was December, and given the holiday season and dearth of races, I'm not counting that as a loss, either.

2. Run a 10k. I ran two this year! One in October and one in November. The Race for F.I.S.H was the best racing experience I've had. Not only did it challenge me because it was my first long-distance race (besides the first Half, which doesn't count), but also because I destroyed my time goal and the race was beautiful and painless. I seriously love this distance, and even though the Turkey Trot in November was painful and slow - being only four days post-Half and all - I'm glad I had a chance to try this distance out a couple times.

3. Keep blogging...well, obviously that worked. And the blog served its purpose: it kept me motivated to run. The blog actually did more than I thought; besides keeping me accountable for my resolutions, it helped to spread my love of running to others.

4. This goal was a bit skewed. Because the Rock 'n Roll Half was non-existent in November (it was a February race) it was impossible to meet this one. That said, I did run a Half in November, just one of a different name, and I think that definitely counts. I ran the entire thing without stopping, had a great time, experienced very little pain, met my pace goal down to the second, and set a new PR by 40 minutes. Talk about success!

With that all summed up, let's look at some other high points of 2012. Here are my stats from the beginning of this blog up to now:

January 2012
December 2012
Total mileage on Nike+
676 (448.19 in 2012)
Total mileage on DailyMile
651 (469 in 2012)

While the two websites have some discrepancies (mostly because I can input runs manually on DM and often shaved off some distance if I thought my Nike+ wasn't accurate), I've put in well over 400 miles this year. That's unheard of for me! Those starting miles in the January 2012 column include all my running since I began...2009 through the end of 2011. What an insane difference!
Finishing the Fast & the Furriest in 9:31
This year, I ran my first solo race and came in under 30 minutes for the first time in what felt like...forever. The Fast and the Furriest proved to me that I could be motivated to run races independently, set my own pace, and run faster than I thought I could. In fact, this whole year saw my pace improving for the most part, but I think this was the first real example of it in a race.

This was also the year M began running races with me. K was on maternity leave, and M saw me run the Fast and the Furriest and told me, "I should've run that with you." Next thing you know, he's running 5, 8, and 10ks with me!

African Aid 5k...first race with M!
I ran a total of 11 races this year: seven 5ks, one 8k, two 10ks, and one Half. It was so cool to have a totally full race schedule some months, to be constantly training and meeting goals, to collect bib after bib. I loved that about this year!

This year I made two huge changes to my running schedule. The first was that finally, after trying and failing all summer, I became a morning runner. While I can still enjoy an evening run once in awhile, my schedule consists almost entirely of running well before the sun comes up. This change was another thing that made me feel like a real runner - if you're willing to wake up at 4:10am to fit in a real workout before heading to work, that gives you hardcore points! I actually have to admit that I enjoy morning runs more than evening runs. They make my nights way less stressful and give me energy for the day. My students can tell the mornings I've skipped a run because I'm moody and sluggish. Morning runs have had a surprisingly positive impact on my life.

Sanibel Race for first 10k
 The second change was that I finally began fitting long runs into my training. Whereas before I'd hardly run more than 3.5 miles at a time, this year my daily runs were 4-milers and my weekend runs ranged from 6 to 13 miles. Breaking through that barrier did something for me mentally. I'd forgotten how daunting 4-milers could be, and now I can run a 5-miler without any extra preparation, and can run 6+ miles if I keep my pace at a more comfortable level.

Over all, I'd say this was a very successful year. I'm struggling with some burnout and ITBS pain right now, but I know it will pass. I stuck to my resolutions and made great strides. I set a few new PRs, ran more than 4 miles on a solo run, and tried out all different distances. I'm by no means where I want to be for the rest of my running career, but I consider this my first official year as a runner. I have a long way to go; this year has created a strong foundation for next year...and the next...and so forth.
Biggest goal of the year - met!

Finally, onto my 2013 resolutions. I'm still tweaking them to be where I want them exactly, but I'm playing with the idea of a new time-goal for my 5ks, monthly distance goals, and a long-run goal above and beyond what I've run yet...I may be interested in doing a full marathon in 2014, and I want to see what I'm capable of.

The official resolutions for 2013 will have to wait for another entry. For now, I'm basking in this little space of time where 2012 resolutions are finalized and 2013 has yet to begin.

Have a happy and safe New Year!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Some Levity

As I was scrolling through my twitter feed this afternoon (ah, the joys of winter break, when all grading is finished and report card comments are entered!), I came across a link from Runner's World that promised great laughs.

How could I resist?
The links within were all from Remy's World; they are author Mark Remy's list of his favorite posts from the past year. (If you've never checked out Remy's World, I highly recommend it.)

Anyway, as I was scrolling through, I came across a post that felt like it was made for me. And by "made for me", I mean "made for any runner who has ever run in a race. Ever." How many of us have finished a race and immediately begun to whine about the old man threw a 'bow at the water station, or the jogging stroller that kept bumping runners off the sidewalk? Remy has put together an awesome Running Violation Ticket we can use on these lawless runners, and just reading it and know I'm not alone in my frustration has brightened my day.

Click for original post.

I especially love that my biggest pet peeve is the first on the list: stopping in front of other runners sans warning is an infraction worth a $20 fine. My favorite, though, is the one that carries the heftiest price tag because, while you may not see it often, it's just so ridiculous when you do. Click the photo for a larger version and enjoy a few minutes of laughter on this Friday afternoon.

These violations occur most often at big races that attract a slew of non-serious runners: Turkey Trots, Komen races, and the like.

I'm tempted to print multiple copies of this and hand them out mid-race to those who can't seem to get a handle on basic race etiquette. Can you imagine? I'm in tears just thinking about it.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Very Merry Christmas

This Christmas, I received all a runner-girl could ask for.

As my family is entirely Jewish, Christmas is all about the in-laws. We spent the holidays catching up with a lot of family, including my brother-in-law, who flew in from LA for the first time since moving there almost 6 months ago. Needless to say, the days were packed. And, like it does every break, my immune system decided it was time to be on vacation. I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday fighting a mild but irritating cold - I felt fine except for non-stop sneezing. However, my symptoms let up enough Monday for me to enjoy the day.

Shopping is calling my name!
We spent Christmas Eve at M's mom's, where I received my first excellent running gifts. She and her sister generously gave me two fully-loaded cards to Fit2Run. I've been coveting a long-sleeved running jacket, compression socks, and a couple new tops. There's no Fit2Run local to where M and I live, so I'd like to spend everything on the cards before we go home.

My next running gift was one I gave myself.

I had plotted and planned to have a run Christmas morning, and despite being up late Christmas Eve (and having early plans Christmas day), I successfully peeled myself out of bed in time to go. I'd set my goal at 5 miles. I hadn't had a long-run in two weekends, and it was important to me to have some solid mileage. Christmas (holidays in general, for slightly asocial people like myself) can be overwhelming, and I knew I'd need some alone-time and peace - some time to be with my thoughts.

M and I always stay at my parents' house when we're in town, and their neighborhood never ceases to fuel my urge to run. It's simply made for running. It's well-lit, full of twists and turns, hills if you want them, and multiple routes to choose from. No matter the route you take, it's sure to be gorgeous - wide sidewalks curve between grassy golf course hills and beautiful homes, around lakes and trees. There's sure to be wildlife. As someone who likes to run on pavement but tires of busy roads, this is a little piece of running heaven.

Still, I was a little wary. I had run 2.95 miles with M on Sunday and had had to walk a bit because I'd overheated and was having so much trouble breathing. Also, I'd never run five miles totally alone, and I was worried I'd be strapped for time and wouldn't be able to do the full route. But M was fast asleep and I had promised myself this run, so off I went.

This is one I want to remember the feeling of.
It was 55 degrees and the sun was just beginning to burn the fog off the lakes. Frost dotted the golf course. The run was immediately refreshing and soul-lifting, and I started off a little faster than I meant to.

As I neared the exit of my parents' street onto the main road, I passed two deer grazing in a field; as I turned the corner, I startled a third deer who was not even a foot from me. The tone for the run was immediately set: I was alone in the chill morning with nature surrounding me.

There's something so wonderful about running when no one else is out. The world appears in a different light. It's like there's a secret life beneath the world we see daily; before we think to step outside, the world is already alive. It doesn't wait for us. I felt invigorated and peaceful all at once.

Anyway, the run was totally successful. I felt alive and free with every step. I only passed one other runner quite early on, but I did pass some walkers (mostly elderly couples with dogs). Doves swooped along the sidewalks; sand hill cranes and white egrets searched for their breakfast in the dewy grass.

The little squiggle is a runner!
I kept my pace fast, moving myself forward into the morning. I not only ran the full 5 miles, diligently beating down any mental voice that told me to cut the run short, but I also ran pain-free. All-in-all, it was a Good run.

After the run, we made our way to M's dad's for breakfast and gifts. My final running gift was from M, who had a specialty 13.1 decal made for me. Not only can I now proudly display it on my car, but it's different than the ones I usually see. Like I mentioned in a post before, the sticker is about the running lifestyle; it's not about bragging, but about offering a secret handshake to other runners out there. I've dragged my feet about getting the sticker, but M getting it for me, and giving it to me on the morning of such an awesome run, really solidified something for me. One more check-mark in the column of things that makes me feel like I can call myself a runner. I belong to this club, for better or worse.
Opening gifts with M.
Besides these gifts - which made the runner in me ecstatic - I spent the holiday surrounded by devoted and loving family, good food, and the blessings of a full, happy life.

I hope those who celebrate had a wonderful holiday as well!


PS: I forgot to mention that even before Christmas, my sister sent me a monthly running calendar, complete with motivational photos, quotations, and (best of all) a running log! What more could a girl ask for?! 

I can't wait to post this in my classroom!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Weekly Report: Dec. 17-23

A pretty good week. Only about four weeks left until the next Half, and that means I need to start fitting some long runs in again. But visits from friends and traveling for the holidays has made training tough. Luckily my past three runs have been pain-free, so I'm happy to be seeing progress there.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Weekly Reports: Dec. 3 - Dec. 16

Dec. 3 - 9
 After a slow week, I brought my miles back up into the teens, then immediately took a week off. This was partially due to the end of the semester bogging me down with things, and partially due to a cold. But mostly, I was just lazy.

I've been feeling a real lack of motivation, and this is a dangerous thing. After all, my next Half is at the end of January. I haven't had a long run in a few weeks. I need to get back into it.

But a lot of my steam is gone, and the end of the running season is looming. I'm chugging along, but just barely.

This week my running has been better, but my knee has been killer. Today we did 4.5 miles and I was virtually pain-free because I kept a slower pace. This also had the effect of making the run a lot more enjoyable. So I guess for now I need to focus on enjoyment, not speed. That may mean that January's race sees a higher time. I wanted to hit 2:10, but if I can run the whole thing without injuries I'll take a slower pace.
Dec. 10 - 16

We don't have any races at all scheduled between now and the Half, so that ought to be interesting. For now, I'm happy to not have any races on the schedule. I'm at the precipice of burnout, and just need to stave it off until January 20. Then I can take a much needed break.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Truth About Effort

I read an article recently on social media and the effect it has on running. For the most part, I think facebook, twitter, this blog, and DailyMile keep me motivated and accountable for my training. But there's a weird phenomenon created by social media, and that's a false sense of knowledge of the inner workings of peoples' lives.

I read all kinds of articles that explain studies that show facebook depresses people because they never feel as popular as their friends. That looking at photos of parties/weddings/vacations of which we weren't a part causes us to feel our own lives are lacking. Of course, the studies also show that people only post photos of the good things in their lives, so what we see is completely incongruent with reality.

But this isn't just about being popular. Posting about workouts can be motivating to yourself and others, but it can also be misleading. I realized that recently as post-Thanksgiving guilt has friends seeking running tips. I've received multiple messages asking for tips/advice, and many of these friends seem to be under the impression that running is easy for me. They talk about seeing my runs on DailyMile, or the photos from my races, and they are both admiring and intimidated.

Both of these are silly reactions. Running is not easy for me. It never has been and never will be. Even my "easy" runs take effort. Even runs that go well and leave me feeling unstoppable are difficult. No matter the distance I'm running, a little more than halfway through I feel completely defeated and exhausted; it takes a lot of effort and self-talk to keep me going. If any factors are off, no amount of mental coaching can keep me going.

Couldn't even bring myself to 20 minutes
Today's run is a good example. I meant to go three or four miles at 7am, but I didn't get going until 8:15. It was still cool out, especially in the shade, but was warming up quickly in the sun. K had a race this morning that I wasn't feeling up for, so I was running alone for the first time in months. Because M had my car for an early-morning paddle-boarding adventure, and because it was late, I decided to just run from home, taking a well-worn path that is a constant mental battle because it bores me. All this week M has had a nasty cold, and it has finally rubbed off on me, so my breathing has been off and my head has been tight with congestion. Basically, I had a bunch of factors working against me, and three miles quickly became 1.8. Every step of this short, rather pathetic run was difficult. (On the bright side, my groin and knee felt fine!)

Considering this is our first week back after taking two weeks off, 14 miles for the week isn't bad (and I'm still going to try for a longer run tomorrow in much cooler weather), and my pace on this short, sad little run is perfectly good to me. I'm not letting this run get me down. But the point stands: running isn't effortless.

I think people new to running don't give themselves a chance to get better when the running itself doesn't get "easier"; if they don't start out at 8-minute miles and the ability to run for 30 minutes straight, they feel like they've failed. But running is about slowly building up and improving at your own rate. Friends may look at my running and see that - when in the midst of training - I'm hitting 20+ miles a week, but viewing those miles altogether is a lot different than running them one by one. A final weekly report shows the miles, but doesn't show the strain, sweat, and pain that goes into them.

What I'm trying to get at is that we all start somewhere, and we all have our off days. Running isn't about getting to a point where it's easy. Most runners, when they start to feel it's too easy, set a higher, more difficult goal to meet. Easy isn't what makes it worth it. I don't want people to think training is easy for me. It's a struggle. I have to force myself into it. I'm always glad I've gone once I'm done with a run, but I don't do this because it's effortless. Anything worth doing is going to be hard.

We shouldn't fear effort. We should embrace it. Running isn't easy; I do it anyway. I don't consider myself a good runner, a strong runner, or a fast runner, and I don't really want other people to think of me that way, either. I'm not proud of being "good"; there's less to be proud of if you don't have to work for it, in a way. I'm proud that, despite how hard running is for me, I do it anyway.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Health Benefits

I have been studiously avoiding the scale for the last few months. Running has changed my body, but I can't trust the mirror and the longer I go without weighing in, the more nervous I get about what the numbers might read. It's a very freeing feeling, to not really care to keep tabs, but sometimes I look at the scale with fear. What if I stepped on? Would I have gained? Would it confirm the worries that stress and holiday eating have led to uncontrollable weight-gain? Better to avoid it and just go by how I feel and how my pants fit, which are pretty consistent measurements that keep me happy and relaxed.

Today, however, I had a wellness checkup. Our insurance company does these optional checkups, and people whose health rates well receive a discount on insurance costs. I was interested to see where I'd fall after all this training, months without seeing a doctor, and some time off and rich-food indulgence.

I won't break down BMI, waist size, etc, because it's silly to dwell on those factors. However, the true health indicators - blood pressure and fat percentage - were surprisingly good. My blood pressure is 102/60, and my fat percentage is at the low-end of the "athletic" measurement. Basically, no matter what the scale reads or what I think I see in the mirror, I can see the benefits of running. My body, at its core, is healthy.

And as the years tick by, I know these benefits will continue to accumulate. I don't take any kind of progress photos, I don't really monitor my physical body very much, and sometimes I worry I should be more careful if I want to look good in a bikini. But then results come in on the things that are important, the things that matter, and I'm reminded that health is about so much more than how we look.

I am very pleased with myself today; I'm healthier than I ever was in high school or college, and my self-worth is more wrapped up in knowing I'm strong and healthy than in how I look. Thank you, running, for once again shedding light on what really matters.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Weekly Report: Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

After taking time off, the little voice in my head telling me I'd be starting from scratch was getting annoying. It was nice to get in a weekend run that was farther than I planned to go, and faster, too. This week, we're back to routine. Maybe not up to the 20s yet, but I'm planning on hitting mileage in the teens.

Next race to train for? Not sure...but the next long race is the NDN Half in late January.