Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I Like Running In The Winter And Dislike Your Incessant, Ninny Bitch Moaning Regarding The Cold

Is this even worth typing, given the soupy mess that currently surrounds the better part of Chicago? Dare I taunt the weather, risk bringing forth the next Arctic Blas(t)phemy to our wintered state?

While walking to lunch with some of my coworkers last week, the joy of running and races rose to the surface of conversation.
            
An aside, because I am really solid when it comes to tangents: I am incredibly stilted in my understanding of the populous of the working world, given my earlier career exploits surrounded by people who considered health/wellness/fitness (and the competitive notion) something of importance. Everyone is entitled to the lifestyle of their choosing or something as equally polite-sounding, but sedentary and sizable isn’t for me. I can’t comprehend walking down the hallway causing someone to be short of breath, yet I see this daily. Last week, office wellness statistics rated 64% of employees at my 90-person organization to be overweight, 33% of which were classified as obese. Eeeks. So it’s good to know that there are people in proximity who enjoy being active in the face of many whom equally don’t comprehend any sort of fitness or the actions such entail. For example, I was sent this visual tidbit earlier today as I enjoy getting out and walking around the Loop during lunch. Guh..faw?

I feel that someone dropped the ball by not forcibly including a Cathy comic with this visual.
And probably a bowl of candy.
Anyway. When someone mentioned distain of the cold weather and reliance on a treadmill during these winter months, I made the saddest of faces (go back and read some of my poorly written entries on why I don’t run on a treadmill from a few years ago). Then I went and ate a sandwich. 

Wait, no – that isn’t the point of this entry. And it wasn’t that good a sandwich to ruminate over.

I was asked why I enjoy cold, slick, icy, snowy running, and I surprised myself, shifting away from a near boilerplate response of “Midwestern, Character-Building, Mental Toughness, Its Always Colder Somewhere Else” babble. I still believe all that, to be fair. But I finally vocalized it in an oddly succinct manner, which I will now painfully drag out in the written form.

In the midst of a sub-zero six miler last Monday night, I was struck by the level of focus that running in the wintery cold requires. Can’t really put your head down and go, close out the excess of the world around you (which is exactly what my colleague said they enjoyed about headphones on the treadmill). Be it careless automotive efforts that you cannot control, planning how to launch over a sizable snow pile, keeping an eye out for impending slick spots of icy doom. Even knowledgeably layering, thinking about the direction of the wind or where snowplows have or haven’t yet appeared (looking at you, River Forest).


These runs in the colder elements are not thoughtless efforts.

I think for me, a presence of clarity arises from these jaunts that feels different than just a normal, feet on the pavement effort. I feel mentally alert and fresher afterwards, ripe with stupid things to tweet--and it comes as no surprise that there is a correlation betwix fitness and creativity

Briefly mentioned it in my overview of 2013, but I decided to run a half marathon at a state park whilst under the weather. At a bit past mile two, I was flustered and frustrated as I just felt unhappy that it wasn't going to be my day. So I stopped and gave myself about thirty yards to walk and figure out what I wanted to do. I decided that instead of keeping my head down and feel awful for another 10ish miles, I slowed down, kept my head up and took in the scenery around me on a hilly training run. It was the right decision, an odd and cathartic thing for me to do, but there is something to be said of those people we pass by who keep focus on the ground/locked in a 100-yard stare off into the distance, or those who keep their heads up and see what surrounds us. 

IS THIS LOOKING UP AND DOWN NONSENSE A METAPHOR FOR POSITIVITY? WELL SHIT. I need to wrap this up. 

I've encountered ridiculously pleasant and talkative people while out on colder days, people who wouldn't have noticed me or had nothing to say if not for looking up at a stop light, crossing over the highway or while walking the dog near a park. Uh. Yeah...Dogs!

These are my mom's canines. But they don't care for your moaning, either.
I think it's kind of cool to have one of these historic winters as an experience to reference down the road. Sorry baby boomers, your '67 Blizzard stories just don't hold water anymore. So take it all in for what it's worth, but I swear if you bemoan the humidity and warmth of the summer, so help me. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

About Me

I created the sub-sections of this page (photos, contact me, etc.) within the last two weeks, and absent-mindedly never really put anything on them. I’ve slowly starting to flesh them out one by one, but the most viewed ‘About Me’ page remains blank.

This void, combined with the fact that it currently is 80 degrees (so says my rowing machines thermometer on its display, its greatest feature as I rarely use it) in my apartment as air flow isn’t transpiring (such is the life of a loft) and the AC refuses to exist, my mind is slightly gooey and unable to produce a new topic for this evening, so I’ll cathartically tackle that section. Hmm, so where to begin…

It shouldn’t be so difficult to wax poetic on oneself, but it’s hard starting at the beginning. Back then, there was always running. I started running with my mom in my early youth (around age four) and apparently pouted my way through the process of varying races in the suburban Chicago countryside.  
The Brookfield Zoo Run Run was a mainstay on the Kind running circuit in the velvet hat era.

Fun fact: my favorite color is blue. Why are my mom's shoelaces yellow?

I remember that race, circa 1993. I was in third grade, and (probably by default) earned an age group award for my efforts at the Indian Boundary YMCA 5k. I was so damn proud of my accomplishments that I wrapped the light yellow tassel attached to my red ribbon around my wrist and wore it to school the following day.

I can recall always doing well in the gym class runs out on the field of my elementary school, looping out and around the metal backstop of an arbitrary baseball field out on the playground and back to the stereotypically masculine lady gym teacher. I wasn’t the fastest, but I beat some of the more popular girls. I was a tomboy and got picked to play kickball with the boys when no other girls did. Thus started my notion of being a fearless competitor.

With my older sister devoid of height (and I not much taller), potential athletic endeavors were limited to the sisters Kind, save joining the all-accepting cross country/track team in junior high. I followed in my sisters footsteps at my mom’s urging and even in my baby fat-filled, sub five foot tall days, found slight success in running 1.5 mile races or 800/mile ventures on the track.

Moving on to high school, my freshman year saw me as one of the better members of the freshman/sophomore squad. Between the middle of eighth grade until a year later in HS, I grew about six inches and shed easily 20 pounds of that aforementioned baby fat.

From that point on, I committed fully to being a runner: mentally, physically, emotionally. If cross country/track athletes could be considered jocks at a high school that loved football, I certainly was. My dream was to qualify for the Olympics. I moved up to being one of the top five-six runners on the team in my first two years of school, and improved immensely my junior year, becoming the team’s top runner. I upped the ante the summer before my junior year of setting a goal for myself to qualify for state, and had a breakout track season that year, serving as the anchor runner of the 4x8 relay that qualified for state after winning the 800 and mile at conference, both indoors and out.

While I found more success in track, my love was the uneven rustic nature of cross country. One of the greatest races of my life fell at the Niles West sectional as a senior, where after placing 10th at the regional, I finished seventh amidst some pretty heavy competition, leading the whole team to qualify for state, an appearance where I wet the bed and faltered in my attempt to earn All-State accolades in my final race at Detwiller Park .


I began seriously discussing college possibilities with various coaches and teams around this time, which continued on through the spring during track season. I turned down scholarship offers to attend the best school I was accepted to academically in Miami University, meeting with the coach who would allow me to join the team as a walk-on. The lure of photos of All-Americans on his walls that entered school with my own meek PRs at the time was too great. I wanted to wear a uniform and represent at team and get up on that wall. I could feel it being a very real possibility.

After concluding my high school career as an all-state athlete in the 4x8 as well as qualifying individually in the mile (a race that people I bump into when back home still bring up nearly a decade later, akin to how people in Texas ruminate over championship football games from the days of yore), the summer prior to my freshman year of college saw my feet begin to falter. After bashing the inside of my foot into the edge of the sidewalk during a run while still in high school (I fell off while talking about sex with my teammates, go figure), it became painful to run, hindering my ability to train. Presumed to have a stress fracture upon arriving to Miami, the coach didn’t want me until “I was up to par with his program” (a stinging phrase that really hurt at 18 and perpetually rings in the back of my mind) and it became painful merely walking around the campus I wanted to compete for. I almost failed out of school due to the intense discomfort paired with the loss of my competitive running, my sense of self.

I returned home at fall break and was diagnosed with accessory navicular, or an extra piece of bone present in my feet. Its rare occurrence (only 10% of the population has such) was known upon hitting the edge of that sidewalk, seriously aggravating the tendons keeping my feet together. I had this piece of bone removed from each foot in the summer of 2003. 

Faint and hard to see via my iPhone's camera, but the inch-long scar remains. 

Various bouts of physical therapy over the next few years never really helped. My stride and gait completely changed and I lost all fitness, not to mention my etched in stone sense of self.

Fast forward a few years, as not much transpired in between the conclusion of college and present day – athletically speaking. With minimal preparation, I’ve run in a few races, but not like I want to—I’m not competing, just a member of the masses. I felt like things were slowly coming together in the spring of 2010 before getting derailed by the presence of a bone chip, floating by my ankle. I signed up for the 2010 Chicago Marathon but couldn’t get past training runs of 15 miles during the summer due to a mental blockage. As I type this, I’m a few weeks from the Solder Field 10 miler, and I’m highly under prepared.

I’m tired of that reasoning following each attempt. This isn’t me. I prided myself on smart tactics and sheer ballsy racing, something still stuck in my brain from nearly 10 years ago, left untouched as I barely go out and hit the pavement on a daily basis, for whatever excuse or reason.

The purpose of this place is to focus my competitive athletic efforts back to a place that I’m happy with, even if it’s not at the same level I left off at when I was 18 and healthy.

That being said, there is the ultimate goal of running an official sub five minute mile once in my existence before speed is totally void in my legs (I know it’s still there. I can feel it).

Hmm, so I’m putting that goal out there into the ether. Oh well, now all that’s left to do is get after it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Process

It’s never simplistic when it should be.  I enjoy writing; on occasion I have even been paid to do such. I like running, both pertaining to my own journey and that of the sport.

Yet, there is always something more intertwined into what is (was?) supposed to be my place to madly type away in regards to training, racing or things running-related. So, this is an attempt to strip that excess off & out of the effort, see how that feels, and take it from there.

A mistake I constantly made last year was what I did upon experiencing important moments and milestones that mattered as I started to race and train with consistency, with a bit of confidence. I’d write, but what I would do with the output…it didn’t matter.

That changes. Doesn’t matter if you read this because you know me in some form or fashion, or merely delight in the drifting anonymity that digital voyeurism provides as you pass by. Either way, welcome.

 I went into 2013 with some goals. Let’s see how those worked out.

1. Regain moderate sense of fitness & running confidence by years end.

Indeed, I did. After too many instances of repetitive, disappointing efforts in the previous few years, I signed up for a half marathon as a means to see if the interest and focus was still something within. That certainly served as a nice catalyst in accountability, enjoying a set routine and challenging myself. I know it led to good things.

2. Be prepared & healthy for every race.

This is a dorky thing I made, there is no other means to describe such. I need to work on my captioning skills. 
March O'Madness 1/2 - 1:58:35 (PR)
Race Thats Good for Life 5k - 23:10
Soldier Field 10 Miler - 1:17:23 (PR)
Four on the Fourth 4 Miler - 30:07 (PR)
Run for Walk 4.1 Miles - 30:01 (PR)
Fort2Base 10 Nautical Miles (11.5 Miles) - 1:34:16 (PR)
Chicago 1/2 - 1:47:00 (PR)
Moraine Run for the Hills 1/2 - 1:58:02
Frank Lloyd Wright 10k - 47:22 (PR)
Madison 1/2 - 1:45:19 (PR)

…Not bad. And while I wasn’t entirely satisfied with all my efforts because I am ridiculously hard to please and am constantly forward-thinking, I took something away from each race in a very new-to-me area of grey beyond good race/bad race, be it enjoying the scenery, camaraderie from fellow runners, pushing myself or just going after an arbitrary time goal because I'm stupid. That really was more enjoyable than not racing as I had in 2012. Don’t really feel like doing a babbling play-by-play of each race, but I’ll touch on a few momentarily.


3. PR 1/2- marathon by 15 minutes.
4. PR 10-mi by 9 minutes.
5. Flirt with 22min 5K.

Time-based goals are tricky bastards, aren’t they?

Half marathons and I have a very odd, dysfunctional relationship. I question each time I register for one…yet I ran four last year. Of the four, each one was so unique an experience, completely different than the last. March Madness was my first race—that I prepared for, that I actually was at the starting line for—in a long while.  The last time I ran a race of that distance was…2010. I had to look that up, to be honest. 

In the training miles leading up to March, I wanted to be out there. I didn’t think I would be ready, but I wanted to prove to myself that what I wanted still mattered. Probably could have selected a much more forgiving race, but the drive out to a suburb unknown, the moments of quiet solitude on the course and feeling humbled by the hills –it was all great. And invigorating. If not for that first race, I probably wouldn’t have done much last year.

The humidity and a slight case of hubris got the best of me at the Chicago ½. Under the weather, I made a decision that the Moraine ½ was going to be an easy training run after realizing it wasn’t going to be my day, and was treated with discovering the beauty of a state park previously unknown. Felt like I ran out of gas come November, but once I got going in Madison, I went for it and closed the year with a PR, only missing my goal by 20 stinking seconds.

Got my PR at the 10-mile distance on a perfectly cool day in May, largely in part of breaking away from a fear of running with someone, and finally, oddly enough in hindsight, only raced a single 5k, in April.
Ran the last 3+ miles of a training run in mid-fall in upper 21 minutes, so that one doesn’t bother me as much—I established that possessed the speed, I just never paid for the opportunity to do it in a race.

A lot happened in 2013, but to pare it down to a bite-sized nugget of a notion, I got to reap the benefits of caring about myself.

As for 2014? I know, given the date on the calendar that this combined recollection/looking at the New Year comes off as a bit tardy, but the year hasn’t started off all that great. Frailty in the wellbeing in my family (or lack thereof), saying goodbye to a friend of indescribable importance, adjusting to a new work environment, apparently it was abnormally cold out, and hell, my childhood dog died. Been quite a six-week stretch.

(So much for that separation I desired at the beginning of this.)

Like I said, it’s always something. Yet, in the face of all that is heavy and hard, I’ve got my wits about me. More importantly, I found a means of crafting balance and control internally. Don’t think I would have been able to find that if it wasn’t for what running provides both mentally and physically.

Enough of that. So to more accountability, here are my goals for 2014.

1. Write more frequently.

I’ve been writing a lot, taking advantage of taking off at lunch and sitting somewhere to scribble. I just fail to take the next step in putting it out there for eyes and criticism. I’m going to be better about that. I’m excited about my upcoming training cycle, and I’m figuring out how to write about it that makes sense to me. Stay tuned.

2. Become more competitive in my age group.

The world tells me I’m on the cusp of a highly notable shift as I enter my third decade as a person. Hooray? I had four top-10 finishes in my age groupings last year. Once I get into the 30-34 territory, it’s going to be even harder, especially for some of the larger races. I’m excited.

3. Attend one summer all-comers track meet.

This is the most foolhardy and more personal of goals I will openly state, but I’m putting it out there. I cannot wait to race on a track, even if it means slightly embarrassing myself in the process. Once I stopped allowing the notion of failure in past experiences to define me, failure doesn't really scare me much anymore. 

I’ve had these forever, I got them when my feet were still (for lack of a better term) broken. I think its time to use them.
In black & white to reduce leg pastyglare. 
4. 8-10 CARA races (Run DG 5 Miler for the first time in 13 years).

Still figuring out my schedule, but June 22 in my hometown is in my sights. Two days before my birthday, no less.

5. Patiently build up to prepare for marathon in fall 2014/spring 2015.

It’s certainly fair to point out that I gave myself some cushioning in this, and I personally construe that as cheating in a way, but I have a half marathon benchmark (time withheld) to attain before I go after a marathon. But I’m letting my Wisconsin Marathon effort in early May dictate if I sign up for the Monumental Marathon (in Indianapolis) or focus on shorter and faster efforts for the fall.

6.Break 20 for 5k, (Current PR 23:10 Lifetime PR: 20:28)
7. 67 minute 10 mile (1:17:23 in 2013)
8. 1:30 half (1:45:19 in 2013)

Make no little plans. I want to do what I can to stay healthy, tap in/hone my speed, and have a great year. I firmly believe that ability never fades. I think it’s time to prove that.

My running club decided that on top of the list of goals, we should select a single word that sums up what we want to accomplish in 2014. Thought about it a bit, and I had to go with the notion of:

Process

I like it because it’s flexible. To me, it forces hard questions to be asked of the self.
 “How do you take in what you experience?” “How do you break things down and make that which is overwhelming manageable?” “What keeps you from quitting?” “What steps are required to be successful?”  

And the big one: How do you achieve that which you care about, even when others may find such laughable. Or worse, not even acknowledge.


That’s what I want to work hard for this year, and I think my goals reflect that. I won’t disappoint.