Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Encounter With My Phobia

Today was my high quality workout, consisting of 1K repeats, 200M repeats and strides, amidst a warm-up and cool down. I nailed it. Frustrated and upset about more than a few things, I had plenty of energy to burn and could have gone a lot longer. That's the good news....

I got out of the shower, and caught sight of a large, round, red patch on the back of my left thigh. What on earth could it be? Ok, friends and fellow runners. Time for true confessions. I have two out-of-control phobias, bridges and ticks. This wasn't a bridge. When I say out-of-control, please know this is not an exaggeration. I was immediately dizzy, heart racing and a host of other problematic symptoms (read: psycho-somatic), not the least of which was being quite late to work already (Ok, that one wasn't in my head; I really was late).

A panic-stricken call to my husband gave me the sage advice of saturating a cotton ball in dish soap, and using a band-aid to tape it on the tick for 10 minutes. Low and behold, the tick should be on the cotton ball at the end of 10 minutes. Eleven minutes and more than a few extra heartbeats later, the tick hadn't budged. And then I did what I should not have done....

I took a pair of tweezers, got as close to the surface of my skin as possible, firmly grasped it and pulled. That thing was holding on! I tugged harder. STILL it wouldn't move. Alright, everything I have now... and, uh-oh, body off, head clearly in. Deep in, there is no digging it out by me without a razor blade. Which, at this point, I am almost crazed enough to do. Already, though, I am supposed to be somewhere, and I am getting pinged as to why I am not there. Short other ideas, I covered a band-aid with Neosporin, taped it over the little head, and got dressed to dash off to work.

Once at work, with a moment to take a breath, I did a quick search on the Internet. Specifically, on what to do if the head remains. And I read this cheerful little bit:
"Ticks are remarkably well adapted for doing what they do best – latch on, hang on, suck blood. First they saw a tiny slit through the outer skin, using a pair of alternating saw blades called chelicerae, injecting an anesthetic as they go. The victim usually feels nothing. Next, the tick forces its multi-barbed hypostome deep into the skin and secretes a sophisticated organic glue, locking itself solidly into place. In terms of removal, the front part of a glued-in tick might just as well be part of your skin."

Fantastic. I have a doctor's appointment in 26 hours. I am now convinced, if your mind thinks you are sick, it will make you sick. If it thinks your leg hurts, your leg will ache. For something that I could not feel before I saw it, I cannot believe how this is physically affecting me. Can't wait to get this over with. Don't know how I will sleep tonight.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sheena, The First Marathoner I Knew

"If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." --Matthew 5:41 (New International Version)

Sheena was the first marathoner I ever knew. Way back when I had no idea what distance that actually was. Not something that mere mortals do.

Maybe ten years ago, I met her through a mutual close friend at a March of Dimes event. Proud I'd raised over $1,000, I was particularly excited to take part. Sheena was going the thirteen mile route, and I'd only planned to go the three or five or whatever it was. Years before I would call myself a runner. It was hard to turn down a challenge, and as she talked me into the longer distance, we bonded and were friends ever since.

Sheena was like that. Larger than life. And just a couple of years older than I. Witty, powerful, colorful, full-blooded Irish, never afraid to say what she was thinking. When she walked into a room, it was suddenly illuminated with her energy. I remember her telling me, "The day I can't go out and run 5 miles, I will kill myself," in typical Sheena nonchalant fashion. She'd run Boston before, but I didn't know what that meant. And I really couldn't imagine running 5 miles anyway. (It took me over a week to recover from the 13 mile walk.)

When she was diagnosed with colon cancer (how can that happen to a 40-year old, strong, healthy woman?), she met it head on. She joked about wanting IV's of alcohol with her chemotherapy, just so she could enjoy it. It spread to her liver, her spine, her brain. When I talked to her I couldn't believe her bravery. She continued to embrace life to its fullest, and her voice was full of energy every time we spoke. Just this year, she went to Europe. She didn't stop dreaming. She was the bravest woman I've ever met.

A few hours ago, she passed away quietly. It was the first time Sheena did anything quietly. And I am just in awe. I can't believe that someone with such a vibrant spirit is gone. And believe me, when I run Boston... I will be thinking of her with every step. The girl who made me go the extra mile, and first spoke the word "marathon." Thank you, and good-bye, Sheena.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Dreams, My Hopes, My Shoes

My Dreams. This year, I drooled over the 112th running of the Boston Marathon. My heart rate rises just to look into that picture. In 364 days, I intend to be there, somewhere in the pack, part of the biggest marathon invitation-only party in the world. This is my single-biggest goal in life right now. To qualify, and earn the right to be there for the running of the 113th Boston Marathon. In that picture. Next year. At the starting line in Hopkinton. Congratulations, Boston runners! Save me a spot for next year!

My Hopes. Yup, this is what it's going to take. A 3:50 time in a qualifying event. It's a mind game to me right now, and I need to "dial in" (to use Verna's words) that I can do this successfully. I see this number over and over, waking and sleeping.

My Shoes. What could be cooler than my first pair of racing flats? I'm not sure. But strapping them on my feet for my 2 mile repeats yesterday was incredibly thrilling. Part of me felt like I was pretending to be a runner, but part of me felt like I deserved to be wearing them. After all, I was authorized to wear them by Vince, and I did not pick them out. It's not like I'm cheating and wearing equipment that's too advanced for me just because I'm a "wanna-be," (even though this is what I fear).

I only have one more piece of equipment to obtain before the race is here.

Training is going well. I continue to be injury free, running over 40 miles per week and feeling really strong. Four-and-a-half weeks and counting! I can think of little else right now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Five Weeks To Ottawa

I'm fascinated with my new body. I'm a little more than seven pounds lighter than I was when I started the "Eat Clean" diet a few months ago. And the last time I actually hit this morning's weight was August 10, 2006, in a period of extreme duress trying to make a job change (which, of course, all turned out ok). The last time I weighed this and was normal and healthy... was well before I began running in 2005. I have no idea when.

I'm fascinated because I'm here, in a perfect storm of fat loss, increased energy, and the most strength I've ever had. Running is my primary gig, but I didn't undertake eating clean or running just to lose weight. I wanted all of the benefits that came with it. And I have especially focused on not losing muscle in the process. I've done that by following the principles of "Eating Clean:" eating frequently, eating a lot of lean meats and fish, at least three cups of fresh fruit or vegetables a day, avoiding sugar and refined carbs, and supplementing with protein shakes. I combine that with other strength building exercises on the side. Five to six days a week, I do push-ups, very light but high reps with dumbbells (exclusively to remain toned and not lose muscle), and core work.

The result? I think I've lost more than the 7.2 pounds of fat, because I'm pretty sure I've gained a little muscle along the way. I wake up, and I feel the difference. I feel like a coiled spring, and I'm ready to start my day. I'm impressed by how my body feels, what it can do... and just amazed at how I look. And I'm grateful that the long, hard work has paid off in this way.

I am in a really good place going into Ottawa, all the obstacles I've encountered in previous weeks aside. I am utterly uninjured, nothing is even sore. I'll run a little over 45 miles this week, and feel good about it. And I've never felt, better, stronger, faster or more powerful. I don't feel thin, I feel "Game On!" So, in the terms of the recent Nike commercial (to my old self whom I've left behind--
way behind)... "My fast is faster than your fast..."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Discouraging Words

When I was in college, I initially began as a music major, focusing on piano performance. I'd already been studying with the Chair of piano at this private college for sometime long before my freshman year. But, after about a year and a half, I discovered this wasn't what I wanted to do, and I yearned for something new. Befriending a few Science majors, I decided that taking Zoology with them sounded interesting, but it had a few pre-requisites that would require some special consideration by the Chair of Biology at the time. A man I had to stand in front of to ask permission to take the course without having completed the necessary Biology 101, Chemistry 101, and so on. Only because I was one of a handful of honors students enrolled in a special program who already had a number of basic core courses waived, was I eventually granted this request. But not without this stern, condescending warning: "You know, Alex, some people are just not cut out for college. You might be one of them."

It turned out alright. Less than three years later as I prepared to graduate with a Biology degree, he ended up having to personally hand me an award for scoring higher than anyone in the department (across all science majors, including the pre-med students) on an intercollegiate science exam that had recently become a requirement for graduating. On top of it, I had the highest grade point average in the department. I'm not sure if he remembers his sneering comments years earlier, but I'll never forget them.

I am reminded of this story as I enter into a period of extreme self-doubt before really trying to qualify for Boston. Self-doubt in me is somewhat commonplace. I was born thinking or being taught that everyone had a better set of "tools" than I did. I often just work harder than everyone around me because I always feel inadequate; or not good enough to belong. Which can bring me good results, but often leaves me quite lonely.

Hoping I could find a running partner, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I've been contacting a few experienced somewhat local marathoners with whom I might be able to share a couple of training runs. I think this was a mistake.

My last contact was to an older male (and I use the term "older" loosely; let's just say, a bit older than me), very experienced marathoner (more than 50 marathons), with times better than, but somewhat comparable to my goals. After a brief introduction, I was quickly dismissed and told that I should consider the run-walk method as preached by Galloway if I really wanted to do marathons, as that was far closer to matching my ability. My current goals and training methods, he authoritatively spoke, were "too fast and too young" for me.

Not to debate this method ("Gallowalking"), I will at least for this moment state that it currently has no room in my training philosophy. But, the superior, scoffing tone in which the message was delivered has left me wounded and worrying if I am just too dumb to know any better, and any silly dreams like running a 3:50 marathon is ludicrous.

There are plenty of reasons I could fail here in a little over five weeks. And I'm still going to try. Maybe I'll even try harder than I would have, just to prove him wrong. Perhaps that will be the one thought that will carry me over the finish line. I know it was something sillier than that for my first marathon.

At this moment, I am working on promising to myself to never dash anyone's dreams; never crush their spirit; and encourage everyone. I hope to never make anyone feel as stupid and inadequate as I do right now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

To Ottawa, Or Not To Ottawa?

"Don't despair over the training disruptions. It could still happen. And even if it doesn't happen this time around, just remember it isn't supposed to be easy. Go to Ottawa and give it all you have, take what you get in return, and rejoice for another round of valuable experience whatever the outcome." --Verna Troutman, email to me 4/2/08

"You're in a good spot right now and you'll be ready to run a great race when the time comes. You're in the best shape of your life. That should make you smile."-
-Vince, email to me 4/5/08

"The question should be, is it worth trying to do, not can it be done."
--Allard Lowenstein, and quoted to me in an email from Vince 4/6/08

I'd been waffling on running Ottawa or not. Funny that Vince would pick that Lowenstein quote for me this weekend, because I did not mention that I was seriously thinking about not running Ottawa. But, what a perfect conclusion to my thoughts. It is worth trying to do.

I'm now convinced I will run Ottawa. I'd be a fool not to. Here's this great opportunity in front of me. How on earth would I talk to myself if I just gave up and didn't run? What if I can do it? What if I can qualify? Maybe I'll even surprise myself. I'll never know until I pour myself out on May 25th. It's not impossible. It's just... going to be difficult.

I feel great lately, stronger than I've ever felt. I know I'm in better shape than I was for Olathe and Lewis & Clark just last year, though my training is radically different. I have much less focus on just miles and long runs, and a much greater focus on quality miles, more frequent runs and higher overall weekly mileage. In some ways, that's scary (the longest run I've had is 16 miles). In others, well, it makes sense. I would like to have more time, but I do not.

Whether I make my goal for a BQ here in six short weeks has yet to be determined. I do, have the opportunity to make Ottawa my best marathon yet. And that, at the very least, is what I intend to do. If you're running Ottawa this year, see you there!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

USATF Does About Face on Headphones

From "SportsGeezer.com" July 01, 2005:

"Music Improves Athletic Performance. Forget the drugs; turn up the volume. According to this LA Times story written by Jeannine Stein, music can improve the performance, reduce the pain, and sharpen the focus of athletes. Stein tells us that the way music affects athletic performance begins with the eighth nerve from the ear, which has two direct tracks: one that involves hearing, and another that goes straight to the vestibular system, that part of the cerebellum that manages balance and some motor functions. The same kinds of messages from the cerebellum that enable us to concentrate also encourage maximum performance. And then there are the studies; Stein points to two. One, done two years ago at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, found that women who listened to music ran a minute or two longer than those who didn't. They also adjusted their strides to run more efficiently, and had lower perceived exertion. Another study, done at Southwestern University in Texas, found that men cycling at a high intensity were able to exercise longer while listening to fast-paced music, and even longer while listening to music they liked. Rock on."

The USATF banned headphone use in December of 2006 at their annual meeting, sending many music-loving runners (like me) away from USATF-sanctioned events.

I just learned that two months ago, they repealed the headphone ban and applied it only to the long-distance championship race. Whew, I'm safe!

The bad news is the ban is still in effect until December 2008. Some races are so strict about the rule (like Grandma's, where guilty scofflaws who are photographed with headphones, have their time automatically disqualified and those seen running with them, will have them removed and not returned) it makes people like me who rely on my iPod pass up on many popular races.

Meanwhile, I'm elated that the USATF has seen the error of their ways, and undone the harm they have done to many common runners, such as myself, who's strongest 'ergogenic aid' is simply a stimulating playlist. Chase down the steriod-imbibing dishonest runners, and leave the bourgeois to enjoy their harmless music whilst exercising, lowering their blood pressure, burning fat and otherwise enhancing their quality of life while training for and participating in USATF-sanctioned events.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Missing Training

"I know it's difficult to feel like you're missing training."--Vince, 3/24/08, in a training email post round 2 of the '08 flu

I'm annoyed. Not at Vince, but in general. I want to say, "You have no idea." But, I'm pretty sure any serious runner has a very good idea. I hate missing training. For any reason. And I will not miss it, as long as I have some control. But when seriously sick or injured, I have no choice but to take some time off.

I begrudgingly tolerated the break a few weeks ago with the first round of the flu, like a child grounded for a few days for some small infraction. I came back for a week, and then got another flu strain with a meaningful intestinal element to it. The second round hit me much harder than the first. I ran a high fever and lost 6 pounds. I turned into a pale, elfin waif more likely to wilt on the couch than be found strapping on my latest Brooks Adrenalines. I took this time off about as well as career criminal busted on Fox's COPS 20th season, wanting to hurl expletives at anything that moved while I resisted arrest (but too tired to do it).

I came back strong, though, for a good week plus, only to find myself injured in a freak accident during a family fishing trip; seriously enough to warrant a trip to the hospital and a round of morphine. At least I got my 12-miler in before that happened (and it was a good one!). I missed Sunday completely, both in running and in life. I remember very little of it, which is probably merciful.

Running is such an honest sport. You can't really be good at it if you don't work consistently, day in, day out and train hard. What you put into running is directly proportional to what you get out of it. It's one of the most appealing things to me about running. And all I want to do is put in the time, work hard and qualify for Boston. Which now somehow sounds more like Cinderella wanting to go to the ball with no fairy godmother on hand. It's become a fairy tale, while I wait locked in a secret room and a dress of rags.

I am very frustrated at having missed runs when I should be training my hardest. Weeks ago, I was bullish on qualifying at Ottawa. By the time I had the second round of flu, I was inclined to do what all princesses do in secret: cry my eyes out. I skipped the cry, chose to hedge my bets, and signed up for Chicago in October. In all likelihood, I will run Ottawa anyway and do my best. But, from an emotional perspective, I cannot have a failure when I cross the finish line with no immediate plan to remedy that. Should the clock show me something over 3:50:59, I know what I will be doing for the next three and a half months. Because I will make it to Boston--the old-fashioned way. I'm going to earn it.