Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Science... Wednesday(?)/Shameless Plug

Much to the chagrin of my Science Friday fans, most of my science writing this summer has been concentrated on my internship at NOVA, where I contribute to the NOVA Next website. This week I wrote a feature about focus in sports and devoted half of it to discussing focus in running. (Interview people about running marathons for my day job? Yes please!) Get a dose of Science Friday Wednesday and check it out here.

But first, a warning! There is a spoiler; if you haven't read my Charlottesville Race Reports, I suggest (in a completely non-biased way) you read Part 1 and Part 2 before the NOVA piece. 

Hopefully I'll have some real Science Fridays finished soon!

Dream big,

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hey Stranger, Good Workout!

Friday’s run was an out-and-back route. I hit halfway in a decent-for-these days time, nothing impressive. Shortly after the turn around, a few paths merge into one and I found myself between two runners: one who I had just passed as the roads came together, and one thirty meters ahead. Well, I couldn’t let the guy I passed pass me back, because I’m too prideful/competitive/stubborn. Once I pass someone, I have to stick to it. It’s embarrassing to get passed right back, admitting you couldn’t handle it. If you make your move, you better commit to it. Except I had kind of fallen into my move; rather than one of us gradually overtaking the other, we had just emerged on the same path at the same time and I had gone in front. Oh well, better commit.

So I picked up the pace a bit and put some comfortable distance between us. The acceleration shook me out of the shuffling trance I’d been in lately.  I felt surprisingly good at this new pace, just pushing it slightly, opening up the legs and getting in the rhythm. I realized the guy ahead wasn’t getting any further away, but I wasn’t catching him either. He was keeping up a decent clip, so I decided to make a game of it, to stick with the pace to maintain the constant gap between us. Mr. Blue Shirt and I ran that way for close to three miles, him setting the pace, me trailing behind by about thirty meters. At one point, I thought he might turn a different way, but was glad when he didn’t. This was fun!

I have no idea if he knew I was there. He very well may have hated me—I know I despise when people do this to me. They force me to go fast, just because of my stupid pride of not getting passed. (See above for example.) In the end, though, it amounts to a better workout. Everyone ends up being pulled or pushed a bit faster, and so everyone wins. (Although if it’s a scheduled easy day, better to just let them go.)

Finally, Mr. Blue Shirt turned around and passed me going the other direction. He didn’t acknowledge me at all, not even in an ‘I hate you for following me’ kind of way. He may very well have not known I was there. Meanwhile, I had to refrain myself from giving him a high five, “Good workout, stranger!”

I tried to keep up our good pace the rest of the way, but it wasn’t as fun without my (oblivious) workout buddy. Thanks to his rabbiting, our second half was three minutes faster than my first. More importantly, it snapped me out of a running funk. Thanks, Mr. Blue Shirt. Same time next week?

Dream Big, 

[Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Return of the Watch

Last week, I finally dusted off the old Garmin. The stats on the screen were still there from Brother’s marathon—which he ran two months ago. The last time I used it was a month before that. It probably would have been better for my self-esteem if I left it collecting dust, but it was time to know the truth.

I wore the watch for my “long run,” but I didn’t let it dictate the pace. I just wanted to see: how out of shape am I really? Give me a number.

Sorry I asked. The number was embarrassingly slow. I could blame the heat—which is a valid excuse these days—but the truth is I’m still just out of shape. I take comfort that even though my “long runs” are still shorter than what would qualify as a long run to an in-shape Teal, they are twice as long as a month ago. Progress.

A few days later it was time for an actual workout. Use the watch to time things. Set goals and splits. Compare actual times to predicted ones. Celebrate hard work paying off or get a well-deserved kick in the pants.

The plan was a tempo run of four miles. I had a modest goal pace in mind, but no real idea how I’d feel. Considering how slow I had gone a few days before, this could be trouble.

The first mile didn’t feel so terrible, and I hit my pace dead on. Hey, maybe I’m not so out of shape after all! Mile two I slowed slightly, and reality set in. Nope, you can't keep this up. There’s no salvaging this. You are only going to slow more. The debate began at mile 3: to cut the workout short or to push through, even if that meant a slow time?

The devil on one shoulder listed the pros of calling it at three miles: Sometimes, it is better to call it—it’s just an off day, you may not be fully recovered from a previous effort, it may be better to save it for another day. It’s silly to dig yourself deeper into a hole if you just don’t have it.

The angel on the other shoulder fired back with the cons of slacking off: This was my first workout in months. I wasn’t overtired; I was out of shape. I didn’t need to save it for another day. I needed to suffer through for the hope that I’d be able to handle this workout another day. If I start making excuses now, where will that get me? A month from now I’ll be in the same spot. Four slower-than-expected miles is a tougher workout than three miles. And what I needed was a tough workout.

In the end, I ran the fourth mile. And yes, it was slower than I liked.

But, you know what? It was faster than my third.

That's why you wear the watch. To give yourself a kick in the pants when you need it, and then to do something about it.

And that’s why you keep going. To witness progress, even the tiniest bit.

Dream big,

[Photo credit: purplemattfish]