Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Good Balance: Solo vs. Buddy Workouts

I few months ago, when I was still laid up and hadn't been cleared to run, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted my fitness journey to look once I came back. I knew I wanted to focus more on my own fitness goals and also have the freedom to do whatever workout or run struck my fancy whenever the whim hit. I wanted the freedom to make my own schedule again.

But, I'm a coward and was scared to give voice to this because a major part of having more independence in fitness meant letting Elizabeth down. She has been such an amazing support through this entire process, and she's my bff. I felt terrible telling her that I wanted to be able to focus on what I want and what my body wants. I felt bad telling her that I didn't want to run every run with her.

Of course, Elizabeth is amazing and knows me way too well. Back in January, before my first run back, she texted me this:
Apparently I am incredibly transparent and she reads me like a book.
And I legit almost started crying because why is she so good to me?!

Later that month, we went to the gym and I told her that I had done a lot of thinking and wanted to be able to work out together two or three times a week, but that I also needed to have days when I could workout alone. She was really receptive to this (of course!) and we kind of discussed what that might look like. That's why my runs lately have been a nice mixture of alone/with Matt/with Elizabeth. It's been perfect.

Solo runs give me a chance to focus on my body and how things are going, get some alone-time, listen to music, and do whatever I want. They are incredibly important to me, and I appreciate them more than ever now.

Running with Matt offers a lot of the same, because we rarely talk during runs or even run side-by-side, but it also gives me a nice support system when I'm feeling uncertain or self-conscious. Plus, we're both so busy lately that running together gives us some good couple-time.
Matt's photography skills (and his willingness to be my own personal paparazzi) are an added bonus to running with him.
Running with Elizabeth gives us both some much-needed socialization during the week as well as motivation and accountability. I don't ever want to give that up completely; I just needed to cut back.

I started coaching track and field in February, but once my schedule clears up a bit, this is what workouts will probably look like:
I hope to be back to running 3-4 times a week by mid-April.
I know this schedule will remain flexible - none of these plans are set in stone - and I told Elizabeth I'd help her get out the door to run on her own on days I don't go with her to help her stay motivated.

This whole thing had been a big source of stress for me because I overthink everything and didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but now that I know I'll have plenty of alone time mixed in with buddy-time, I feel so much better. Already I've seen that my workouts have really benefited from having the freedom to do my own thing, and now I feel much more comfortable telling Elizabeth or Matt that I want to run alone.

I am looking forward to every workout these days; everything feels new and exciting again. I hope this excitement lasts, and when it inevitable begins to fade, I hope the memory of a year of nothing and how awful that felt helps give me a kick in the pants!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Answering "Why?"

Then (why I started)

I think most women will relate to this. The feeling of inadequacy when you see your body and see what it can do versus what you wish it could do. The feeling of knowing, logically, that you are enough, you are more than your body, and your body is perfectly good, and yet constantly battling yourself to somehow be different.

The feeling of straddling two different realities, one in which you're confident and comfortable in who you are, and the other in which your flaws seem insurmountable.

The moment I decided to pick up running, I was fighting this battle in my head. I was 22 and in graduate school, earning my Masters of Education. I had never felt more confident or more lost. Every day was shrouded in contradictions.

Being "old" on a college campus is daunting. You are surrounded by 18-year-olds who are so much more fit, fashionable, and fiery than you were at 18. How do they keep their hair so shiny? How do they make jeans and a t-shirt look so chic? I was there, a student myself, and so I belonged...and yet, there was a huge divide that made me self-conscious and defensive.
A picture of my cohort and our professors at the end of our program.
Look, ten years on, I know how ridiculous all this sounds. But bear with me.

On campus, I saw young women running effortlessly along shadow-dappled sidewalks and I thought: If I could run outside, I would be more like them.

And so I started. It was not easy. It was partially for the wrong reasons I've already explained and partially for the right ones: health, stress-relief, a need to challenge myself. In the end, those reasons were mine, and that's what matters. They are what drove me to take on something I thought I could never do...and if I did it, that I could never do well, or enjoy doing.

And yet, there I was. Learning to run.
Snapshots of 2009
The Transformation (why I kept going)

When did running go from something that I was trying to use to become someone else to something I needed in my life in order to be myself?

How did that transformation happen?

I think it was a race.

When I first started running, I didn't know road races existed. I just thought people ran for exercise and races were reserved for organized school sports and the Olympics. So when a colleague of mine who had run in high school and knew more on the subject than I did recommended we sign up for a local running club (those existed?!) and a 5k (a real one?!) I was intrigued and immediately interested.

(Okay, wait. My first race was actually a 5k put on by a local church to raise money for relief after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But that "race" wasn't really open to the public and was untimed and low-stress. I ran it without training; I ran it like I'd run any other run. It doesn't seem to count these days. Plus, I wore cut-off sweat shorts and the race t-shirt. Sometimes I even forget I ever ran it. So, I'm not counting it as my first but here are some blurry 2010-camera-phone pictures to prove it happened.)
So. The first time I realized you could sign up for a true, timed, real race, I was nervous but excited. It was a Komen Race for the Cure 5k. We ran it together. Crossing the finish line was like nothing I had ever imagined. The race gave my running meaning. It gave me a goal.

I was immediately addicted. I searched for local 5ks and ran every one I could.
Finishing my first solo race (5k) - 2012.
The purpose of rehashing this is to get to the point of this post. My why changed from body-focused to self-focused. My whole mindset changed when I started racing. Running stopped being about forcing my body into a certain shape and became about challenging my limits and chasing a mental high that left me feeling accomplished and powerful.

It was the first time in my life I could remember ever feeling that way.

Now (why I run)

I don't need races to keep myself motivated these days, or to feel accomplished. In the ten years since I started running, I've found the drive within myself and races are just icing. That means my why has changed again.

Now, why do you run? feels like a question with an impossible answer. How do I explain the effects running has had on me, the changes it has wrought, the confidence it has built?

How do I explain that it has become a part of my identity? That without it, my perception of the world and my understanding of strength, resilience, determination, and self-realization would be completely different?

How do you put into words the simple but all-encompassing joy that comes with doing what you love? Doing what makes you whole?
I don't know if all runners feel this way, but I have to imagine they wouldn't keep at it if their joy weren't similar to my own.

I may not have even truly ever known why I continued if it hadn't been for this year off. Maybe it would have just seemed like something I do - I just do. But now I have seen how much it has impacted me and changed me, and I know what I am without it.

And I know I am better for it.

So...Why do I run?

Because I am simply not myself when I don't.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Squats Are Paying Off

I started the squat challenge on February 18. I took some before photos (although really I took them a few days in) but I don't want to post them until I have "afters", and that won't be until March 19. I'm just about halfway through, and I am noting some changes.

The changes aren't physical, mostly. I mean, when I squat, I notice that my quads have some more definition. When I engage the muscles, there are actual muscles there to see.

But the main differences are in how I'm feeling. The squats aren't nearly as difficult as they were at first. I can easily do 50 in a row instead of sticking to sets of 25. I could probably do all 100 at once if I wanted to, but I'm enjoying doing sets of them at work with my colleagues.

Also, my runs have been fantastic. It may just be the normal road to recovery, but I'm surprised by how quickly I've been able to progress.
I've been expecting to run set intervals averaging ~10:45 for awhile before I saw much improvement in pace or stamina. I assumed I might get a couple runs in where I extend the first interval to about 5 minutes before wanting a break...But then I ran Monday night. And I just decided to trust my body.

What did my body give me? Three miles in under 30 minutes. The first two miles under 20 minutes. Two 30-second walk breaks at each mile mark; and I took those breaks because I felt I should, not because I felt I needed to.
My legs felt freaking awesome on that run. Strong. Powerful. Capable.

I truly believe this strength and flexibility is partly due to the squats. It may have been the cool weather. It may have been that I've been back to running for about eight weeks now and my body is remembering what it used to do. But really, I think a lot of it is the squats.

When this challenge is over, I think I'll keep it up anyway. Clearly, it's paying off.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Personal Victories: Redux

Friday night, after a long and exhausting week, I paused at 1.7 miles into our run. I asked what we wanted to do. Elizabeth told me: "You said 4. We're doing 4." And I said: "Okay." And we did.
Back in 2012, I wrote about the first time I successfully ran four miles. I had to go back and find that post because tonight was the first time I've done so since...Well, since the A1A half marathon last February. (I'm not exaggerating. I just went back to check. It's really been over a year.) This has always been a special distance to me. It became my everyday easy-run distance, but before I got there, it was my Everest.

Four miles was a huge deal for me the first time around, and re-reading my post reminded me of why. It was the first time I broke a mental barrier and saw what my body was capable of doing. It was the first time that I understood the fragility - the illusion - of limitations.

It was the first time I knew I could make real progress. This time around, four miles feels much the same. I am seeing progress. As I wrote then: "...I realized I really could go farther, and that there was no limit because my body is an amazing machine that will adapt, progress, adjust, and grow strong."

So, in honor of this new beginning, I bring you a post from six years and many lessons ago. My heart ached reading it. When I wrote it, I never thought I'd recapture this pure, simple joy, or the feeling of awe that went with it. I never experienced it even in marathon training.

But tonight, I felt it. And re-reading the post, I almost felt I would cry.

In the summer of 2011, after taking a long break from running, I hit a personal milestone. I began running 4-milers.

Four miles doesn’t seem like much. After all, I’d run a Half that January. What’s four miles? But there was something special in those runs. For whatever reason, K and I weren’t running together a lot that summer, although we were still updating each other frequently on our logged miles. I think it had something to do with my ITB injury post-Half. But I finally rejoined the running world, and was running about three miles every-other-day, and she upped her distance to four.

I wondered if I could do that. At the time, I was running a path that had gotten stale. I had a horrendous mental hang-up associated with this route, and no matter how many times I ran it, I couldn’t get well over two miles before I needed a break. The path was a straight out-and-back, from my driveway, up the street, out to the main road, turn around at the corner intersection and come back. The particular corner is a bit of a sharp turn, and there’s enough brush there to block your view of the main road if you don’t continue all the way to the curb or turn the corner completely.

One day, spurred on by K’s increased mileage, I turned the corner. Where we live, the sidewalk corners at big intersections are covered in yellow plastic, signifying a crosswalk and stoplight. Usually, I’d get a foot on that yellow mat, pivot, and turn around to go home. But there I was, faced with the corner, the stoplight, a turn, and I went forward. 

Down the road I continued, and as I ran, I felt a weight lift from my mind. Here was a new, unbeaten path. Here was freedom. Here was unchartered territory, a wide sidewalk that stretched for miles, all there for me to claim should I feel ready to claim it.

I hadn’t yet discovered mapping a run, driving to the starting point, and going from there, so I’d grown bored with my start-at-home-run-straight-out-run-straight-back existence. I didn’t really know I was bored, of course. All I knew was that the run seemed sluggish, boring, and weirdly difficult for such an easy distance/pace. But when I turned the corner and saw beyond the hedges all that wide open sidewalk, I knew I’d discovered something. The brain-shackles fell off and the lightbulb went on.

The first time I ran four miles, I had to walk. But soon I was running four miles under forty minutes, running even the last two-tenths that put me over my goal distance because I knew I could do it. Running 4.1 and 4.25 and onward.

Four miles doesn’t seem like a far run, but this was the first distance I had ever really run on my own, for fun. (Before I ran the Half, the farthest I had ever run was a 5k. That’s including “training”. Remember how I said I didn’t train for that?)  It was the first time I realized I really could go farther, and that there was no limit because my body is an amazing machine that will adapt, progress, adjust, and grow strong.

This fall, as K and I hit four miles for our training for the Half in November, the running is for a different purpose. We are actually sticking to a training plan. Our route takes us down the street where I originally added the distance, and I sometimes I can hardly believe that it used to be so difficult to take that one extra step onto a new road.

Looking forward to this weekend and our first official long run of training, I feel a little daunted. The first step to an increased distance is always humbling. But I know, thinking about the pride and awe I felt when I ran a 4-miler for the first time, that the struggle will be worth it, and in the end I’ll have faced and conquered yet another obstacle, another fear, and will have come out victorious.

Here's to more progress, more growth, and more broken barriers.