Monday, September 15, 2014

You can't have your cake and eat it too

Hi friends!

I've missed you!

(Really. I have.)

But before we dive into any tearful reuiniting or uncomfortably long hugs, bear with me for a brief moment.  It will all make sense in the end.  I promise.

Picture this:

It's your birthday.  You've just eaten a fabulous dinner with the most important family and friends you can think of.  The ones you care the most about and the ones that care the most about you.  They are all there.  You sit at the head of the table and they are stretched down the sides where you can see each and every one of them.  You can look into their eyes.

Dinner has just finished.  It was amazing.  You are full of joy, laughter, and food.  So much food.  You are stuffed and overflowing.  You are unbotton-your-top-button and unzip-the-zipper full.  You are wish-I-was-wearing-pregnancy-pants full.

Suddenly voices hush.  Lights start to dim.  And coming from the other end of the room, you see the flickering of candles approaching you.  As the candles get closer, you see that they are delicately perched atop a deliciously beautiful cake.  Your absolute favorite kind of cake (yellow cake with vanilla icing for me, but I'm weird like that).  As the cake makes it's way toward your end of the table, you see the scrumptiously thick and voluptuous sugary flowers artfully crafted in icing (or you notice the wonderful lack of icing, if that's more your thing...).

The cake is placed in front of you and the world's most enthusiastically tuneless and tone-deaf chorus of "Happy Birthday" is sung.  Internally, you push aside your overly stuffed tummy to make room for the air that must fill your lungs in order make those flickering candles lose their flame.   When your lungs have emptied, the are candles finally out, and your belly has returned to it's large and rotund position, you look up to see them all staring at you.

The handle of a serving knife is shoved in your palm and small stack of plates are placed on the table.  Forks are passed around.  It strikes in an instant that, full bellies be damned, they expect to eat this cake.  They expect you to eat some of this cake.  And you want to.  You really want to eat some of this cake.  Because it looks delicious.  It looks perfect.  It looks like a lot of effort was put into this cake.  Your friends and family are invested in this cake.

So you want to eat it.  But not now.  Tomorrow.  When your balloon of a stomach has deflated to its normal size.  Tomorrow this cake will be unbelievable.  But not now.

Slowly, you slice the cake under their watchful eyes.  You pass each piece around the table until everyone has a slice.  They watch you as you cut your own piece ("Not that small!"  "Cut yourself a real piece!"  "It's your birthday!").

Then there you are.  No one eats a bite.  They wait for you to take the first bite.  They watch you.  They expect you to eat this cake.

So you do.  Somehow, somewhere deep inside, you find a place to shove this cake (was that a pop?  Did your stomach just explode?).  You force the entire piece down.  They smile and they are happy.  You are happy because they are happy.

But this cake...this cake that could have been so amazing, is begging to crawl back up out of your stomach.  It could have been the best cake you had ever eaten, but you had to force it down.  And all joy and pleasure was lost.  No matter how happy your friends and family are, you regret eating that cake.  You wish you hadn't done it.

Now back to reality.

I realize that this little scenario may be a remarkably over-exaggerated way of describing why I haven't been around here in the past few months, but I'm a writer and that's what we do.

In the past 6 months, as my blog posts started to dwindle and disappear into nothing, it had a lot to do with that piece of cake.  For over two years of writing this Doggedly Running thing, everything was great.  Then something in my gut told me I was feeling done for a while.  But for 6 months after that, I forced it.  All of a sudden it felt like everything I wrote was crappy and I was embarrassed to hit the "publish" button.

But I also kind of felt like I had to write something.  So I kept on trying.

Until one day, as I was trying to recap the Seattle Rock N Roll half marathon back in June, I realized it felt like crap and I never finished it or hit the "publish" button (the half-finished post still sits in my list of posts when I log in with a big huge DRAFT in front of it).  And then when I ran the Eugene Marathon at the end of July, I didn't even try to write about it.  That familiar old urge to write just wasn't there.

But now, for some reason, I'm feeling the writerly urge return.

So today, I'm just writing to say hi and I miss you.

Maybe I'll be back again soon.
The girls say hi.  They miss you too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Running-Esteem

I've spent the vast majority of the short life I've lived on earth ashamed of who I am.  Or, let me rephrase: I spent the vast majority of these years ashamed of who I thought I was.

No, that still doesn't sound right...

I spent the first five sixths of my 30 years in this life being disappointed in myself for not being who I thought I should be.

I wasn't as short as all the other girls.  My hair wasn't straight.  My boobs weren't big enough and my feet weren't small enough.  My stomach wasn't flat enough and my skin wasn't flawless enough.  I wasn't outgoing enough.  I wasn't interesting enough.  I wasn't as comfortable talking to boys as all my other friends.

I spent the entirety of my teens and early twenties wanting to be an ideal version of myself that had absolutely no connection to who I actually was as a person.  Who knows where the image of this ideal version came from, but I honestly didn't think people would ever really like me until I became that person.  I was insecure and I was unhappy.  And I hated myself for that too.  I wouldn't look in the mirror and I spent my evenings filling diary after diary with all the things I hated about myself and all the things I thought I should be.

Let's just say that my self-esteem wasn't quite the best.

But somewhere between the ages of 24 and 26, events, emotions, and locations collided enough for me to finally realize that I was a person worth knowing.  I was interesting.  I was nice.  People liked being friends with me.  I could be funny.  When I talked, people actually listened.  And suddenly, as I realized that other people thought I was worth knowing and being around, I began to acknowledge who I was to myself as well.

Slowly, I let go of all of the preconceived notions of who I thought I should be, and started to get to know myself as I was.  And, turns out, I kinda liked that person.  I began to shed my layers of insecurity and bolster my self-esteem with newer, stronger layers of skin.  I couldn't grow those new layers of skin until I let go of the old ones.  From those new layers, I've grown into the person I'm proud to be today--and I couldn't have done that unless I let go of the image of myself that I thought I should be and accepted the person I actually was.

I realize that this story isn't unique.  I'm not the only one who has faced the tortures of low self-esteem and the discovery of oneself.  But we needed to get through all that understand what I'm currently experiencing in my running.  It's time to switch gears from self-esteem and begin talking about what I'm now going to term my "Running-Esteem."

Running-esteem could be defined as the belief in yourself and your capabilities as a runner.  We all have our own levels of running-esteem, which affect the way we see ourselves as runners.

When I started running in 2008, I didn't consider myself a runner.  I didn't care about my running-esteem because I didn't view myself as a runner.  After my first half marathon in 2009 and even my first marathon in 2010, I still didn't really see myself as a "real runner" and therefore had no expectations for myself as a runner.  But after my second marathon in 2011, I started to develop an image of myself as a runner.  Which also meant that I started to develop an image of the runner that I thought I should be.

When I ran my third marathon in 2012, I PR'd by 10 minutes, but I wasn't really happy with that race.  Because in my head, I thought I should have run faster.  I let loose a little in my 4th marathon because it was part of the Goofy Challenge in 2013, and I gave myself a brief reprieve from the expectations of what I thought I should be as a runner and just had fun.

But then came marathon number 5 that happened just about a year ago.  Let's call marathon number 5 the late teens of my marathon career.  I had an ideal image of who I thought I should be as a runner.  I should be faster.  I should be stronger.  I should feel better.  I should...I should...I should...

Because I had this image of who I thought I should be, which in reality I wasn't, my running-esteem plummeted.  Running wasn't fun anymore.  It was the constant torture of trying to push yourself to be someone you aren't.  And we all know that you can't will yourself into being anyone apart from yourself--not really.  We can all guess how marathon number five turned out.  Crushed hopes, frustration, and anger.  And then anger at myself for feeling that way.  Let the spiral of a plummeting running-esteem commence.

For about a year and a half, I've been stuck in that spiral of trying to be the runner I thought I should be and then getting more and more disappointed as I struggled through endless uncomfortable, painful, and unpleasant runs.

But now, two and a half weeks into my very short Eugene marathon training plan, I find that I'm crawling out of my low running-esteem hole.  And it is one simple, major difference that has allowed me to finally raise my running-esteem:

I've finally realized that I am who I am as a runner.

If there was only one important thing that I took away from my Lydiard coaches training and my conversations with Coach Shelby since then (there isn't just one important thing, but I do think this is the most important), it's that I must be true to myself and who I am as a runner.  My body is capable of doing exactly what it is telling me it can handle.  Pushing it and pushing it to the extreme in an effort to be the runner it think I should be only works against me.

For the last 2+ weeks, I've been doing nothing but listen to my body.  I changed the display on my Garmin to show only time--no paces, no mileage, nothing else.  All I get to see is how long I've been running.  The rest I gauge completely based on who I am right now as a runner.  I listen to my breath.  I feel my legs and my lungs.  I take stock of my energy level.  And those factors are the only ones I pay attention to as I run every day.

I've accepted the runner I am right now and have shed the insecurities that resulted from constantly trying to be the runner I thought I should be.  I finish every run now feeling good and happy.  Not exhausted, frustrated, and angry at the numbers on my watch that just won't seem to register the way that I want them to.

I've felt better about my running in the last 2 weeks than I have in much too long of a time.  I've left the early twenties of my running career and have entered the mid-twenties.  I've taken the first step necessary in growing into the runner that I may one day be.  I've learned to love the runner that I am right now.

My running-esteem is right back where it should be.  And I'm ready to keep building on that strength.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How Lydiard training made me feel great again

Today was a great day.  For so many reasons.  It was one of those days where everything seems to mesh in the right time, in the right way to make you feel wonderful.

I had a great day at work.  Even though it was 80+ degrees in Seattle today (way outside the normal Seattle comfortable non-complaining range of 40-70 degrees), which makes first graders cranky and somehow motivates them to do everything possible to annoy their classmates, I still had a great day at work.  It's the time of year when I look back at where these little guys started in September and clearly see how amazingly far they've come.  Even as they're squabbling over who's touching who on the carpet and who cut who in line, I felt like I had the big picture in my head all day.  They've come so far.

I've also been getting a lot of positive feedback from coworkers, my principal, and even district-level employees in the past couple days.  My love for problem-solving based math instruction has somehow trickled its way through my district, and now I'm getting emails left and right from teachers and district leaders who want to come and watch me teach.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I've put a lot of work into becoming the teacher I am today, and it feels absolutely amazing to have my name being tossed around the district as an expert at what I do, after less than a year in this district.  And while the recognition alone is exciting, it's even more exciting that I get to help other teachers learn to teach this way.  A few people have expressed how surprised they were that I was so willing to open my door to let people into my classroom, but for me that is the most exciting part.  Helping spread the love for an instructional technique for teaching math that I believe truly works is something I'm MORE than willing to do.

And then, after this great day at work, as the kids went flying (yes, I'm pretty sure they flew) out the door, one thought popped into my head: "Today I get to run."  It wasn't "today I need to run," or "today I have to run."  It was "today I GET to run."  It wasn't a feeling of dread or discomfort that accompanied this thought.  This thought made me happy.  Today, I wanted to run.  And, my god, that was a great feeling.  It's been a really long time since I've felt that feeling.

And then, after I went on my 60 minute run--the fourth (FOURTH!!) run in the past week, which also means the fourth run since October, that has been pain free--all I wanted to do was come home and tell you all about my day.  I felt that old familiar urge to write.  Which is another feeling I haven't had in a really long time.

The reason that I was so excited for today's run, and the reason that today's run felt so good was because I spent this past weekend being trained as a Lydiard Foundation certified running coach.
Lydiard Foundation
Check out their website here for more info.
I spent 2.5 days learning more about running than I have in my 6 year career as a runner.  This training was incredible.  While there is no way I could even touch on all of the things I learned over the weekend, there were a couple ideas that stood out for me, which I think will be really important as I start tackling my Eugene Marathon training (which started today!).  Here are my biggest take-aways from the weekend:

1)  Listen to your body.  The most important thing you can do for yourself as a runner is listen to what your body is telling you.  If your body is telling you that it's tired, it probably is.  If your body is telling you that your speed work is a little too much, you should probably cut back a little.  And if your body is telling you that it feels great, it's important to acknowledge that too.  I've spent the last few months preaching about how I need to listen to my body, slow down, and pay attention to what it's telling me, but I haven't really been listening.  I've still had this "pace" in my head, this idea that if I'm not pushing it or my watch isn't registering certain numbers then I'm not being successful as a runner.  And I had a certain amount of shame attached to that.  Today when I ran, I felt free from those all of the pressures.  I had forgotten what that kind of freedom felt like.

2)  Every runner is different.  What works for me may not work for everyone.  And what works for my running friends may not work for me.  This ties directly into the point above--we all need to listen to our bodies and tailor the training that we're doing to fit what our own body needs and what it's telling us.  It's important to figure out what works for each runner.  I found this to be incredibly similar to the how important it is for me as a teacher to figure out how each of my individual first graders learn best.  In fact, I made quite a few connections between teaching and running this weekend and then today happened to stumble upon not just one but two completely unrelated articles about teaching that compared the trials we face as teachers to running.  The way I adjust my teaching to fit the needs of each of my students, I must adjust my running to fit my own needs.  And when I start coaching again, I'll begin to adjust our training plan to fit the needs of each of those runners.

3)  Forget speed.  This one isn't new.  I know that when I'm training for a marathon I shouldn't be running fast on my long run or easy run days.  I shouldn't be worried about pushing my body to hit a certain speed or certain number of miles.  I've always known that.  The difference now is that I know why.  I'm the type of person who needs to know why.  Now I know that when I'm building my base, running my long slow runs, I need to be running slow in order to build up my aerobic endurance.  As soon as I start speeding up, hitting the threshold of my anaerobic system, I am no longer building endurance.  I have pushed myself into training a completely different system, defeating the purpose of the long run.  Right now, my body can only go as fast as it will go.  As I continue running and building endurance, followed by more specific hill and strength workouts, speed will come.  I can't force it.  And if I try to, I will only end up making myself slower.

4)  Recovery is everything.  Again, this ties into paying attention to your body.  If your body isn't recovered from the track intervals you did two days ago, don't go out and do track intervals again.  The are easily identifiable signs of recovery that you can track.  If you push your body to do more when it isn't recovered and ready, again you are working against yourself.  Instead of getting stronger and stronger, you'll depress the systems in your body further and further until running becomes something you simply don't want to do anymore.  I know this to be true, because I realized that that is exactly what I've been feeling for the last year and a half.  My body has been fighting for a long time to fully recover from the stress I've put it under, and I haven't let it.  Which is why running has been so miserable for me for so long.

5)  Your mind is as important as your body.  It is so important to feel good about yourself.  It is so important to end every run feeling happy and satisfied and proud.  Because if you don't, why would you go back and do it again the next day?  What possible reason could you have for going out there and doing this thing again that makes you feel miserable and horrible about yourself?  If you don't feel good on a run, slow down.  Say you are in the middle of a track workout, feeling spent but great, but the schedule says you have one more set to go.  Don't do the last set.  You know that your body can't handle it, and if you push it then you will end the workout feeling tired, miserable, and angry that you struggled through the last set.  If you don't do that set, you'll leave the track feeling good.  You'll want to come back again next week and see if you can make it through that last set.  Because next week, you probably will.  A positive attitude is everything, and if you find the negative attitude creeping in a little too often, it's time to take a few recovery days to get your mind and your body back together.  

6)  This training season isn't everything.  Each training season builds on the next.  As I build my aerobic base for Eugene, I'm also building a base for my next marathon.  As I go through the training pyramid, reaching my peak on race day, my next training season will have the foundation of this training season.  My next training season, I will get faster.  Which means that if I don't hit all my goals this season, it's ok.  Next season I'll be even better.  Because the great thing about Lydiard is that it's designed to help you improve with each training cycle, regardless of your age or fitness level.  It's designed to help you break through those barriers that either you or the world around you have imposed upon you.  Before this weekend, a Boston Qualifying race seemed like an unreachable goal for me until I hit a much older age group and the time demands lowered.  But now, I can see BQing as an attainable goal for myself in the next couple years.  It's not going to happen in Eugene.  It probably won't even happen in the next marathon.  But as I keep training, building season upon season, I think I'll be able to get there.  Suddenly a BQ doesn't seem like a pipe dream anymore because I'm making goals that are more than 3 months away from today.  I'm making goals that go past my current training season.

I learned so much this weekend about how to be a good coach, how to training for many different races, and how to design a training program for people of all abilities.  But I also learned a lot about myself as a runner.  The Lydiard training theory seems to have laid a lens over my entire running career, making every improvement and every defeat so clear.  I can see why things worked when they worked and why I crashed and burned in the last year and a half.  I can see why I loved running so much in the first 4 years, and why the last stretch has been so incredibly difficult, dissatisfying, and frustrating.  Now that I know the theory and the science behind it, it's amazing how clear it all is.

And maybe sometime soon I'll explain to you why my running career has taken the twists and turns it has over the years.  Maybe sometime soon I'll sit here and analyze it all for you, in the hopes that by thinking through my own mistakes and successes in a logical way, it can help you as much as it helps me.  But today is not that day.  

Because today was a great day.  Today, I officially started training for the Eugene Marathon.  Today, I had a really great, pain free run, and I don't care what my pace was.  Today I got a few solid confidence boosters at work.  Today, half my class brought me flowers because it's my district it's Teacher Appreciate Week.  Today, I realized how much I've taught all those little guys.  Today, I woke up feeling good.  And I will go to bed feeling good too.

I hope you can find a way to make that happen for yourself, too.  If not, just think...tomorrow will be a great day and everything will be ok.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's all too loud

I had a thought today as I was walking Lucy and Penny on our 15 minute post-work walk route.  This was the thought that got stuck in my head on repeat: Life has been too loud lately.  And I mean that literally.  My life right now just seems to have too much noise in it.  From the traffic I can hear outside my open living room windows to the bass on my neighbor's music system that I hear far too loudly through my walls to the incessant non-stop talking of first graders in the springtime, it just seems like I haven't had a quiet moment in months.

I'm hyper aware of noises right now, which doesn't help.  Although Penny has adjusted by leaps and bounds to a life that includes much more outdoor time than I think she was used to (no more shakes on walks!  Unless it's raining of course--although that's getting better too!), the month or two I spent avoiding busy streets, buses, and anything close to Aurora Ave upped my sensitivity to all that noise.  While Penny has adjusted, I can't seem to get away from it anymore.

When I moved to Seattle from New York, I was amazed at how quiet Seattle was.  No sirens blaring at all hours, no cracked-out bums screaming on the street at 3 in the morning.  The silence here kept me awake at night.  But now I've recalibrated, and the noise has become grating again.
My girls.  Fantastically well-adjusted to the great outdoors.
So as I thought about the run I was about to go on--the run that I had thought about all day--I decided to do something daringly different.  I decided NOT to take my headphones.  This frightened me slightly because my headphones have always been my distraction on my solo runs.  They're my lifeline when I'm in pain.  My music is my source of emotion when the emotion I'm actually feeling isn't one I really want to face.  My audiobooks take my mind away from the movement of my feet and the steady rhythm of my breath.  Going for a run without these crutches pushed me out of my comfort zone.  But I was desperate for quiet, and the thought of throwing more sound directly into my ear canals had me cringing.  So I waved goodbye to my comfort zone.

There was another reason why this greatly anticipated run had me feeling slightly out of my comfort zone too.  I haven't run in 2 weeks (except for a run with the dogs at the animal shelter last Monday, but that doesn't count).  I took a self-imposed, potentially knee-healing two week break after my Team in Training coaching season officially came to an end.  Today was the day that I was officially allowing myself back into the running game.  Today was the day I would see if it was all worth it.

Once I returned from my walk with the girls, I strapped on my Garmin, laced up my running shoes, left my headphones in their drawer, and sat my phone on the table for a rest.  Then I stepped out the door with my fingers crossed behind my back.

After strolling for two blocks giving my Garmin the annoyed "comeonalready!" face, it connected to its satellites and we were off.  Let me lay out for you the thought process of what happened in the next mile:

"Yay, no knee pain!"
"Don't celebrate so soon, it's only the first couple blocks."
"Tighten your abs, push your hips forward."
"Use those glutes!  Run with your butt!"
"Man, those cars are loud."
"Oh, that was a pretty little bird chirp.  I wouldn't have heard that with headphones on."
"What is the name of that bird I hear so loudly from outside the zoo all the time?  Why can't I ever remember it's name?"
"Shoot, I think I forgot to make those copies for tomorrow."
"Glutes! Abs!"
"How's the knee?  Hmm, still feeling good I think.  At least it feels about the same as the other one right now."
"I need to remember to ask for more snacks from the parents at school tomorrow."
"What was it those two first graders were arguing about today?  Ugh, I need to talk to them in the morning."
"Push your hips forward!  Engage those glutes!"
"Could I be running on a louder street?  I don't think I could."
"The Sounders game on Saturday was fun."
"I wonder when the next one is I'm going to.  I should check my phone when I get home."
"OH MY GOD I'M RUNNING A MARATHON IN 12 WEEKS!"
"I wonder where I'm meeting my friend for dinner tomorrow night."
"This hill feels great, I feel like I'm flying."
"Stupid cyclist, get off the sidewalk.  There's a bike lane right there! Literally, RIGHT THERE!"
"Abs! Glutes!"
"Check in with the knee.  Yep, still feeling good."
"Sometimes I feel sad."
"But I'm not sad right now, what do I have to be sad about?"
"Oooh! Kids playing soccer games!  Scan the crowds, look for those first graders!"
"I wonder how far I'll make it today.  My breathing feels good."
"How fast am I going? NO! Don't look at your watch, idiot.  Just run how you feel."
"Tighten your butt!  What are your abs doing?"
"When will I ever find a boy who actually likes me?"
"The tag in the back of this shirt brushes the strap of my sports bra really loudly.  How have I never noticed that before?"
"I'm getting tired already."
"POSITIVE THOUGHTS ONLY! You're doing great.  This feels great."
"What am I going to write about in the blog tonight?  I hope I get inspired, it's been forever since I have."
"Is that...oh no, it just looked like her."
"Glutes!!  Abs!!"
"Those cars are SO LOUD."
"What should I make for dinner tonight?"

This endless stream of nonsense continued until I hit about mile two.  And then it hit me.  In fact, it punched me in the face.  And my mind, as it always does, went back to The Oatmeal who so eloquently said:
"And the buzzing road of the world is nothing compared to the noise inside my head. I'm an introspective person, and sometimes I think too much, about my job and about my life.  I feed an army of pointless, bantering demons."
YES.  This is where all that godawful noise has been coming from.  This is why I can't get away from it.  It's not the stupid cars or my headphones or my annoying neighbor.  It's the noise in my head that's so loud (that train of unconnected thoughts above plus all the more personal demons I omitted from publishing on the internet).  The Oatmeal, of course, explains how he quiets his demons:
"But when I run, the world grows quiet.  Demons are forgotten.  Krakens are slain.  And Blerches are silenced."
You know the Blerch.  The fat little cherub on your shoulder that urges you
to lounge on the couch and eat, eat, eat some more.
This used to be true for me.  There was once a time when running could silence all those demons for me.  Or at least provide the silence necessary for me to work against them and silence them myself.  But I haven't been running much lately.  And when I have, it all sounds pretty much like the random selection above, plus or minus a few things.

So for the second half of my run, I focused on silencing the demons and the krakens and the Blerches.  Generally, I focused on not feeling.  Just not feeling anything.  Until I realized that sometimes I run because it makes me feel.  Because there are certain feelings that I'm not very good at allowing myself to feel and when I run, I feel things like pain and discomfort and struggle--all those difficult feelings I like to ignore in my personal, non-work, non-running life.  And I realized that that is the exact opposite of what the Oatmeal likes about running.

And then I told myself to shut up again.

Just SHUT UP.

But I guess I'm not very good at that.  Because after struggling through a 4.5 mile run, trying not to feel anything and apparently feeling everything instead (except a pain in my knee--didn't feel that!!), I decided to come home and blog about it.  To delve even deeper into the noises in my head.

Which has all led me to the final big realization of the day.  It isn't running that keeps my voices quiet.  And it isn't writing that quiets them either (I have, in fact, been writing a ton lately despite the silence on the blog and while I'm happy with what's been spewing out, I wouldn't say it has promoted sanity).  It's this strange combination of the two that quiets the demons, krakens, and Blerches in my head.  This odd imbalanced equation where running plus writing equals sanity.
These two also, counter-intuitively, make my life just a little more sane.
With the amount of running and writing in my life both increasing on the near horizon, I'm growing hopeful that this "not-exactly-me" feeling I've had about myself the past few months will slowly disappear and the real me will return again.

But that's something I'll worry about later.  For now, after a good run and a solid stint of writing, I feel the world around me growing silent for the first time in way too long.

I'm going to go enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap: What I saw

I've been going back and forth for a few days about writing this post, because there's something about it that just doesn't feel quite right.  How do you recap a race that you didn't technically run?  And how do you document the events of a day that had very little to do with yourself.  And how do you tell a story that is comprised of one story after another that isn't yours to tell?  But I decided to write anyways, because I think I've found a way.

Just under two years ago, I wrote a detailed two part race recap after my 4th marathon with Team in Training in San Diego (see part 1 here if you're interested).  The main point of the entire recap, which I reiterated several times throughout both parts was: "it's not about me."  As I sat through our chapter's pre-race meeting, I listened to coach Nadine, who's father had lost his long battle with blood cancer not even two weeks before the race, I realized it wasn't about me.  As a mentor cheering a couple thousand race participants to their inspiration dinner, I realized it wasn't about me.  As I decorated my "rockstar" fundraiser race shirt, I realized that it wasn't about me.  And then in the race itself, as the tough, "bite me" miles presented themselves, I remembered that it wasn't about me and plowed through.  Finally, as I crossed the finish line clocking a 10 minute PR, I rejoiced because it wasn't about me.

But this past weekend, the Whidbey Island Half and Full Marathon was even less about me than that seemingly long ago weekend in San Diego.  Because this past weekend, I wasn't a mentor or a captain or even a participant anymore.  This weekend, I was a coach.  And I had one job: help everyone else get themselves across that finish line in any way I could.  The miles I put on my legs on Sunday weren't my miles.  They were miles for all my teammates out there running the race.  They were miles for all the survivors we run in honor of or those no longer with us we run in memory of.
These people.
Because they weren't my miles, I can't tell this story like all my other recaps. Sunday's story isn't my story to tell.  I'll leave personal recaps of events and emotions to those who deserve to tell them--those who raised the money and ran the race.  All I did was hope that somehow, somewhere along the way I could help someone in some way push themselves forward in the race.

So instead of a traditional recap, I've decided that I'm just going to tell you about what I saw as I was out on that race course for 5+ hours.  Here's what I saw:

Strength.  Of all kinds.  Those who raced on Sunday chose to not only run a half or full marathon, but to run one of the hilliest marathons I've seen.  I saw the physical strength acquired throughout a 6 month long training season filled with more hills than I'd care to count.  I saw strong legs and strong bodies.  I also saw strong hearts and strong minds and strong souls.  Because it takes way more than just strong legs to make it through a marathon.

Determination.  As I worked the marathon course from about miles 23 to the finish, I saw more determination than I've ever seen in a day.  By the final hours of the marathon, the temperature was hot and the sun was out, which made the hills seem higher.  But the determination I saw to conquer those hills and cross the finish line was unstoppable.

Perseverance. Perseverance is my favorite world lately.  Whether I'm talking to my first graders or the athletes I coach, perseverance is one of those qualities that will get you a hell of a lot further than you ever thought in life.  Perseverance is the amazing ability to keep going when the going is tough.  To keep trying even when it seems like trying will get you nowhere.  It is the ability to stick with it and not give up, even when everything else is telling you to stop.  On Sunday, I saw perseverance in the eyes of each and every person I ran with.

Grit.  Grit is becoming a new buzz word in the education world lately.  Education researchers have lately decided that it is the biggest predictor of success and the most important personality trait present in self-motivated learners.  One thing that people have kind of failed to do when it comes to this new buzz word is define it.  No one can quite figure what grit is or exactly how one goes about acquiring it.  Here's what I have to say to all those researchers and writers of education lingo: go watch a marathon.  A marathon will show you the definition of true grit.  From what I can tell, grit is the perfect combination of determination and perseverance.  Kind of like Captain Planet.  Individually, determination and perseverance are great.  But with their powers combined...you become a marathoner.

Kindness. Writing this just after the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, I feel that I need to mention this one.  On marathon day, you see an endless river of kindness, which reminds you that people are inherently good.  You see kindness that is exuded by race volunteers and organizers, families and friends, random spectators, and racers both on and off the course.  Kindness in the form of an enthusiastic cheer, an outstretched hand holding a water cup, and an embrace on the other side of the finish line.  Kindness in the form of a high five, a kick in the butt to keep you going, and a ride back to the hotel when you're done.  Kindness in the form of a smile.  There are so many smiles on race day.  They stretch for 26.2 miles and beyond.

After the race, and throughout my first season as a coach for TNT, I kept getting the same question: "Do you like coaching?"  Of course my answer to this is, predictably, yes.  But Sunday solidified exactly why I like coaching so much.  I realized that being a coach is like being able to cross the finish line over and over and over again.  Even though I never crossed the finish line on Sunday, with every participant from our Team that I got to watch cross the finish line, I felt just a little bit like I was too.  Because their success was my success.  Because each person I got the honor to coach rubbed a little of their strength, determination, perseverance, grit, and kindness off on me.

As me and my fellow coaches followed the last participant to the finish on Sunday, I felt what I always feel when I race is over.  I felt happy and sad and so full of emotion that it tried to spill out of my eyes.  But as a coach, all these feelings seem magnified because I knew, as I stopped my watch to signal the end of the day, that none of this was about me.  I simply had the honor of being a part of it and the pleasure of sharing in the triumph.  And after a day like that, you can't help but smile.

Congrats to everyone who crossed that finish line in Whidbey Island this weekend.  You are truly amazing.

GO TEAM!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seekers of the Why

I go through phases of keeping current with the news.  Sometimes I have weeks or months at a time when I religiously read the paper--or at least the headlines--every morning.  I listen to NPR in the car every day, before and after work (when they're not in the middle of a pledge drive, which happens to be this week).  I feel proud of myself for being an informed, concerned citizen.  I wave my "I have informed opinions!" banner proudly.

But after a few months, I usually start to realize that keeping up with the news is incredibly depressing.  It's also frustrating because you have to hear about things like Washington State senators giving themselves a $30 a day pay raise (per diem when they're in session) when they haven't managed to fit voter-approved Cost of Living Adjustments for teachers into the budget in the last 6 years.  When I start to get overly frustrated or overly sad, I'll fold up my "I have informed opinions!" banner and put it on the shelf.  And I'll take a break from the news for a while.  Typically until I start feeling ridiculously uninformed again.

Right now, I'm in an upswing.  I read the newspaper for at least 10 minutes as I wolf down my breakfast/coffee each morning.  I'm listening to NPR (even with the Spring Pledge Drive giving me a massive guilt trip).  I'm keeping up to date on my countless podcasts as I walk the dogs and run.

But I'm starting to notice something.  There's been a lot of tragedy in the news lately.  I don't know if it seems like a lot because of current swing of my news-following pendulum or if it's actually because there's a lot of tragedy in the news right now.  However, in the past week or two alone, the paper has been filled with updates on the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight 370, the crash of the KOMO News helicopter, and the catastrophe of the Oso landslide, to name a few.

Just look at today's headline:
"Enormity of loss" is a hard thing to wake up to.  25 people found dead, 90
still missing after 5 days.  It's hard to be positive about the prospects of
what the news will be for the days to come.
Take a close look at those red subheadings though.  To the left, an expression of just how horrible this incident really is.  To the right, a speculation.

The speculation...that's what really bothers me about it all.  I might stick with the news on a regular basis, despite the sadness of each tragedy, if it weren't for the speculation.

Every morning as I open the paper and watch lives turned into death toll tallies, I read as news reporters speculate on one never-ending question: "Why?"

I don't blame them for asking the question.  Asking "Why?" seems to be something innate in us as humans.  With discovery of each new tragedy, the immediate focus of our minds always becomes "Why?" Why did the Tsarnaev brothers bomb the Boston Marathon?  Why did Adam Lanza choose an elementary school as the target of his shooting spree?  Why did flight 370 disappear?  Why did the chopper go down?  Why did the landslide happen?

I am not exempt from all of this questioning.  I want to know why.

I even seek the "Why?" in more personal and even often trivial aspects of my life.  Why couldn't I hit my sub-4:00 marathon last year?  Why am I injured?  Why did I knowingly decide to consume so much dairy in the last 2 days, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable multiple-bathroom-stop run today?  Why am I 30 and alone (see previous question)?

And after adopting Penny, guess what the most common question I get is.  If you guessed "Why?," I am not giving you a gold star.  Because it was way too obvious. "Why?"  "Why was Penny the one?" "Why was she at the shelter?"
"Why would someone give up this adorable little destroyer
of well-made beds?"
We are all Seekers of the Why.  It is undeniably in our nature, despite the fact that finding out way will never change the outcome.  I don't know why Penny was there.  I don't know why every couple months I decide that I don't care if my body hates dairy.  I don't really know why the Seattle RNR Marathon sucked for me last year.  I don't know why the plane disappeared, and I don't know why people kill other people on purpose.

And if I did know the answers to all these why questions, it won't change what happened.  I will still have a painful knee.  Penny will still be my dog.  There will still be a classroom full of first graders, including their teacher, that lost their lives way too soon.  There will still be 90 people missing 5 days after a massive landslide.  There will still be 239 people that disappeared over an ocean somewhere.

Yet we still ask "Why?".  We search for answers, often in vain.  But I see one main division in the our world of Seekers of the Why.  I may be missing something here, because I have done absolutely zero research on this besides searching through my own thoughts, so I claim no expertise.  But as I see it, Seekers of the Why fit into two groups: Seekers of the Why for Blame and Seekers of the Why for Change.

Let me explain more fully:

Seekers of the Why for Blame are looking to pin fault.  They want retribution.  They want punishment.  They may even want revenge.  This is not a bad thing.  Consequences should be sought for horrid actions and neglect of responsibilities (safety, supervision, etc).  But sometimes I feel as though Seekers of the Why for Blame are going too far.

This is what bothers me about the right-hand subheading of today's paper.  Landslides happen.  Maybe they logged a little too close.  Maybe warnings to residents of their unsafe habitat were ignored.  But I don't think that anyone can be blamed for this.  We live on a changing, shifting planet.  Blame who you want, but when it comes down to it Mother Nature will always have the final say.

It's the speculation that drives me nuts.  There was an article last week about the pilot of the KOMO news helicopter.  According to the reporter, he worked 2 jobs.  He could have been over-exhausted.  Are we so desperate to find blame that we are willing to speculate without fact even before the dead have been mourned?

Seekers of the Why for Change are looking for something different.  They are looking to learn something from the mess we've gotten ourselves into.  Why did Adam Lanza and the Tsarnaev brothers carry so much hate?  Why was there a neighborhood so close to an unsteady cliff prone to landslides?

Seekers of the Why for Change may believe in consequences for the guilty, but they also believe that is not enough.  We need to know why the guilty became guilty so that it doesn't happen again.  Place blame where it is necessary, but until we know why those at fault walked the broken path they walked, we are doomed to repeat their errors.

I think that both factions of Seekers of the Why exist because we are human.  We are faulty and error-prone and imperfect.  We need both kinds of Seekers and cannot have one without the other.  But in the news, I've noticed a trend of reporting in only one category.

And I guess my question is:

"Why?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How getting faster spoiled running for me

Somebody posted this article on Facebook the other day about how being a "slow" runner is really all in your head.  The writer made a lot of really good points.  For example:

1)  "While thinking you’re slow may seem harmless, every time you preface a statement with the phrase, 'I know I am slow, but …' you condition your mind to believe that you can never be fast."

and:

2) "The feeling you get after a new PR, the satisfaction from a tough workout well done, and the disappointment from a bad performance all feel the same no matter how fast you are."

and of course this:

3)  "Unless you’re Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah or Galen Rupp, chances are there is always going to be someone faster than you. Fast is relative."

then she drove it all home with this:

4)  "...speed is merely a state of mind."

None of the points in the article are earth-shattering revelations for me.  They are things that I've told myself time and time again as I realize that I am giving myself a mental beat down for "going slow" on runs.  They are things I've tried to convince myself of over and over in the past year.  But I still have yet to truly believe them.

And to be honest, in the realm of my running world, I'm not slow.  It was just three years ago that I was amazed by my ability to complete runs with average paces under 10 mins/mile.  But now, not all that much further down the road, I find that I feel a quiet inner disappointment every time I finish a weekday run that clocks in at an average pace slower than an 8:40.

As much as I mentally tell myself to listen to my body, to do what it tells me to, and to be happy with what I can do right now, in the not too far away corners of my mind, I am disappointed in myself.  And then I get ashamed of my disappointment.  Because, in reality, I know it's silly.  I'm still recovering from an injury.  I've been running much less than I usually do.  I can't expect myself to be hitting the same paces as I was a year ago while in the midst of two consecutive marathon training seasons.  But it seems like I just can't keep that nagging negativity out of my head.

So what do I do on runs?  I push myself.  I run fast.  I try to hit the paces I'm looking for.  As much as I preach about "listening to your body," I've been ignoring mine.  So how do I feel at the end of each run?  Exhausted, disappointed, frustrated...and then to top it all off: ashamed that I'm feeling all of those things.

How did I get this way?

When I first started running, "being fast" was not a goal, even in the farthest back, dustiest corners of my mind.  Back then, I ran because I had a crazy dog who needed to run more than my desire not to.  And I ran because I wanted to feel good about myself again.  Other reasons began to emerge after I learned to like running.  I ran because it became that wistfully quiet, enjoyable time of day that I'd look forward to each afternoon as I sent my first graders out the door.  I ran because it was the one time of day that I got to be alone with my thoughts.  I ran because it calmed me.  And it helped me make sense of the endless number of thoughts that traipse through my mind on a daily basis.

I ran because I enjoyed running.

But because I enjoyed running, over the course of a couple years, I started getting faster.  I went from a 2:16 first half marathon in 2009 to a 1:48 half last May.  I went from a 4:52 first marathon to a 4:18 a couple years later.  

I didn't try to get faster.  It just kind of happened.  Sometimes, after runs, I'd look down and my watch and realize that that run was way faster than it felt.  And then that "fast" pace would slowly become the norm.  Until I would look down again after a run one day, and find I'd accidentally gone faster again.  And the new fast would become the new norm.  And the cycle would repeat.  Over and over again.  Without really trying.  
Everything felt great.  I loved running and I kept getting faster.  Nothing could be better.

But then one day, I made a fateful decision.  I decided that I wanted to be faster.  I wasn't just going to let it happen anymore.  I was going to make it happen.

And that's where it all fell to pieces.  That's kinda where I fell to pieces.

After completing the Goofy Challenge last January, I was on a high.  I felt strong, and I felt fast.  So for my fifth marathon, I decided to set my first ever specific time goal.  I had had goals before (to finish, to PR, to have fun), but I had never set a specific time goal.  For marathon #5, I wanted to break 4 hours.

Four hours.  A very specific time.  With very specific paces.  And very specific numbers.  And I can get a little obsessive when it comes to numbers.

So when I put a number in my marathon goal, everything became about that number.  Runs became less about stress relief and enjoyment and more about clocking paces and being faster.  My favorite day of the week in marathon training (long run day!), became somewhat torturous as I pushed myself faster and further than I needed to go.  Running became less and less enjoyable with each passing week.

And the result of all that unhappy training?  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  Twenty three minutes slower than what I was hoping for, to be exact.

And then I pushed running to the side for a bit.  I tackled biking and swimming and my first half iron distance triathlon.  Then I walked a half marathon with my mom.  And then my knee started hurting and I faced months of slowly progressive recovery.

And now here I am.  Stuck in this hole of never feeling good enough, or more specifically, "fast" enough.

So not unexpectedly, as I stare down the oncoming road of Eugene Marathon training, I've been getting a little stressed out.  I thought I would be more physically and mentally ready by now.  The Eugene Marathon is supposed to be my huge comeback from the disaster that my last marathon was.  The Eugene Marathon is supposed to be my redemption.  It is supposed to be me finally achieving that sub-4 hour marathon.

But that's a lot of pressure.

So I've made a new decision.  I'm not going to do that to myself again.  I'm resetting my goals.  Instead, I'm going to aim for a PR.  I think that's reasonable enough.  A sub-4:18 seems much more achievable than a sub-4:00.  While I may always secretly wish for a 4 hour marathon, I'm not going to put pressure on myself to make it this one.

With that decision made, I already feel myself breathing a little easier.  I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders that I didn't really know was sitting there.  With my new "who cares about fast" frame of mind, I went for a run today.  I ran 4.5 miles and I tried my hardest not to look at my paces as I stuck to my 8:1 run/walk intervals (unfortunately I can't leave the watch behind because I'd be unable to keep track of the intervals).  If I felt like I had started breathing a little too hard and not enjoying the run, I slowed it down.  I went the pace that my body wants to go right now.

At the end of the run, the first thing I did (of course...) was check my pace.  9:12 min/mile.  I tried really really hard to be happy with this.  And I was.  But I still felt that internal pull of disappointment--because I'm not perfect and this change isn't going to happen overnight.  I realized that this is going to take some time.  I need to retrain my brain.  I've been feeding it these negative thoughts for a year, after all it had known was positivism for it's 4 years of prior running.  I need to start telling it positive things again.  Until it starts to believe it.

And as for the speed, here's my new theory: Right now, my body can do what it can do while still recovering from a bum knee and months of low-mileage running.  I'm going to let my body do what it can do and not push it.  I want to finish each run feeling good, not feeling as though I'd like to keel over and die and not run for at least a week.

If, after weeks or months of "feel good" running, my speed naturally returns to me, great.  If not, this is where I'm at.  And I'm going to try my absolute best to learn to be okay with that.