Friday, October 31, 2014

A Thin Line

So far, I’m having the best season of my life.

Here’s the problem: I’m scared I’ll lose it at any moment.

Of course it is always more enjoyable to be running well than running poorly. I cannot/will not/am not complaining about running well. But… I’m stressed nonetheless.

After Philly, things clicked and then took off. I snapped out of the either self-induced (overtraining?) or DC-induced (the swamp of humidity?) funk I had been in since late August. I gained some confidence from my workouts, used that to set a big PR at Army, and have kept rolling ever since.

But I’m scared.

Scared I’ll run one mile too many, tweak an old injury, create a new one. Overstretch, under-stretch. Over-train, undertrain.

In the midst of my August Funk, I slashed my miles. Now I’m feeling good—better than ever—should I ease the mileage back up to my early season hopes? Or I am feeling good because of the lower mileage? I’ve opted for some in-between mileage purgatory; but is that still too high or too low?

Will I peak too soon? Am I peaking now?

Will my stress about hips and injuries and other imminent disasters hold me back? I thrive off high mileage and gain confidence from logging it, but I’d rather be cautious than hurt something. Will playing it safe backfire? If I never push myself, how will I get anywhere?

A week ago, I flipped through last season’s running log. I thought it would prove how much better this season is going (I’m doing everything right this time! I’m crushing every workout! Fall 2014 Teal could kick Spring 2014 Teal’s butt!) The problem with that seemingly innocent—albeit cocky—tactic? I was in better shape last spring than I remembered. I ran some of my best workouts to date and was feeling great going into Boston. But the marathon was a disaster. Am I setting myself up for the same disappointment? I continue to blame dehydration and not appreciating a warm day, but maybe it was peaking too early? Overtraining? Too much, too soon after the injury? Undertraining? Too cautious after the injury? Being overly ambitious? Will I make the same mistakes?

Despite this inner game of flip-flop, my workouts continue to improve. Fall 2014 Teal could kick Spring 2014 Teal’s butt. But, of course, my ambitions are higher, too. So the mental battle continues.

Maybe I just need something to worry about. Isn’t this the challenge of running and racing well? Pushing our limits is an experiment. Finding the perfect balance is part of the process. It’s a thin line between agony and glory. And we won’t know which side of the line we’re on until race day.

So all these questions will remain questions until December 7th. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day for some, but D-Day for me. On that day I’ll know where I stand, if I’m going to win the war. I’ll get the answer to all these questions… too late to do anything about them.
It's not until we get to this line--the finish line--that we
know which side of the thin line we're on. 
But, first things first: this weekend, I’m shutting down the questions of over or under. Instead, I’ll focus on running the Raleigh Half Marathon, where I hope to set another big PR, suppressing all negativity as I go. Hopefully the result will prove that Fall 2014 Teal is better than ever and ready for battle on December 7th. 

Dream big,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Army Ten Miler

A patriotic shot from the Army Ten Miler.
When was the last time I had a good race? It’s seems like I’ve run race after race that has fallen far short of my goals. Through these disappointing and frustrating months, I’ve wondered if I lost some of my old grit and determination. The going gets tough, and I give up. Mid-race, I drown myself in thoughts of not being able to keep up, that this is crazy, that I’ll never be the runner I want to be. And sure enough, I race poorly and retroactively make excuses: it was too hot, too humid, I was dehydrated/sick/low on iron. I needed to stop giving up on myself. But first I needed a reason to believe that I shouldn’t.

Soon after Philly—one of my Worst Races Ever—I felt better. I did a tempo run and actually hit my goal pace, for possibly the first time in the history of RunnerTeal tempos. I felt like I had more pop in my legs at track practice. A marathon pace run was faster than ever before. I felt…. great.

But would I be able to translate this into a race? I haven’t in so long. I felt great in the spring, but Boston was a disappointment. I had to race well for once, to prove to myself I could.

And so I made a plan for the Army Ten Miler. It’s simple. Silly even. No Negative Self Talk. Anytime I thought I couldn’t do this, couldn’t keep this pace, couldn’t keep running, I would just bat it away. Bury that thought somewhere else. Because most of the time when you think that, you are still doing it: still running, still keeping the pace. Often, it’s only after you tell yourself you can’t that it becomes true.

The more literal (and perhaps less lofty) plan was to go out at 6:05 pace. That would be a big PR and seemed intimidating, but given my string of good workouts I tried to stay confident. The optimistic side of me thought if I made it through five miles at 6:05, I might even be able to pick it up. The pessimistic side of me was told to shut the hell up.

My pace in the early miles was a little erratic. My first mile was slightly too slow, the next too fast, then too slow, then too fast. There were some slight inclines and declines, so I blamed that. I relied heavily on my No Negative Self Talk strategy. I didn’t berate myself for a fast mile or a slow one.

No Negative Self Talk was simple, actually, and surprisingly not as impossible as I thought it might be. (Clearly, I was having a good race, but the cause and effect is perhaps debatable.) Whenever I had a negative thought I just ignored it. Thought about something else. Focused on my breathing, on my stride, on relaxing. Told myself I could keep up this pace, because I was so far, so shut up, Pessimistic Teal.

By five miles I was slightly ahead of 6:05 pace and feeling good. Great, let’s keep it rolling and see what happens. I had long ago given up on my early season hope of sub-60, but now I wondered: how close could I get?

So I continued to bat away any negative thoughts and take it one mile at a time. When I saw they had a marker for the 10K, I thought, “You know, this is probably a 10K PR.” The clock flashed 37 something, and, sure enough, it was. (My previous PR was 38:05.) One PR down, one to go.

The endless bridge.
Soon after the 10k, the course turns onto an endless bridge/highway. You’re on the thing for nearly two miles. I was still feeling good by the start of it, but at the end, as the highway rises slightly, I had had enough. I wanted to be done with the bridge and the race. This is when it got harder to bat away the negativity. I can’t claim I was pure positivity in the last few miles, but most importantly, I did not give up on myself.

Trying to will positivity into my legs.
We looped around some more on the other side of the bridge, and once again I had no clue where the finish line was. I heard them announcing other runners, cheering for the people squeezing in under an hour, and still I could not see the finish. I just tried to push, push, push (no negativity!), to get as close to 60 flat as possible.

My official time was 60:19, the second new PR of the day. (My average pace was also faster than my 5K PR pace; I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I hate am terrible at 5Ks.)
Eyes closed, but legs pushing.
Do I wish I could have run 19 seconds faster? Sure, who wouldn’t? But I honestly don’t know where those 19 seconds would have come from. I did not have the confidence to go out any faster than I did, and picking it up significantly in the last two or three miles didn’t seem possible. I always start off the season with really ambitious goals, but this time they’re not so far from my grasp. (Which is good, because I've got plenty more for this season!) Mostly, I feel rejuvenated. This was the first race in a long time where I didn’t give up and decide I couldn’t do it. So sub-60 be damned, I’m pretty satisfied with my new PR.

And my new strategy. Think positive, people.

(Also, don’t give up. That race in Philly was completely awful, but the workout it became helped me later. Never give up, even on the really terrible days.)

Dream big,

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pumpkin Infusion

Happy Pumpkin Mania!

I may seem late to this trend—apparently pumpkin season started back in August before pumpkins were actually in season—but I held out until Official Fall. (Each season deserves its proper time!)

As seemingly everyone knows at this time of year, pumpkins are awesome. A lot of the flavors we associate with pumpkins are actually just the spices used in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Adding these spices to nearly everything isn’t a bad idea: cinnamon may help control blood sugar, while ginger has anti-inflammatory properties.

But adding actual pumpkin—along with the spices, if you so choose—is a better idea. Pumpkin is full of fiber and vitamin A, a vitamin important for your eyesight and your immune system. You can also use it as a replacement for oil and eggs in brownie and cookie recipes, although you lose the pumpkin flavor that way. Pumpkin seeds have lots of protein (8 grams in a half-cup), healthy fats, and minerals like manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous.

Pumpkins all around: oatmeal & tea, muffins, and Mr. RunnerTeal Homebrew.

But pumpkins aren’t just delicious and nutritious. How else can you embrace this trend as a runner, besides doing your next run through a pumpkin patch? Here are a few RunnerTeal ideas*:
*Not guaranteed or even at all likely to work. Please do not sue for pumpkin-related injuries, arguments with farmers, or fueling mishaps.
  • As weights: Hauling all those cans of pumpkin back from the grocery store (city dwellers) or pumpkins back from the patch (country folks) is a good arm workout.
  • As balance balls: Find a great, big, very round one and lay it on its side. Do your core work, stretching, etc. while balancing. Ignore strange looks from puzzled farmers.
  • As foam rollers: Using the smaller, bumpier pumpkins you discarded for the balance ball exercise, roll out those tight hamstrings, quads, and butt. (And seriously, extra bumpy is a plus.) For the city dwellers, a can might also work, particularly the larger sizes.
  • As energy gels: Here you’ll need the fake, candy-corn ones. They are full of carbs: six candy-corn pumpkins have 37 grams of carbohydrates, compared to 25 grams in GU. But... the pumpkins also have five times the sugar, close to twice the sodium (good for salty sweaters?), and no potassium, which is probably why Brach's does not appear at running expos... yet. 

If those ideas aren’t your flavor, below are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes*.
*Much more likely to work, or at least be delicious. Guaranteed to cause fewer strange looks than those above.

Dream big and pumpkin spice it up,