Training: July 3-9

It may look like I’m still injured. But I’m not.

That’s more than I can say for my training log, however. Google Docs inexplicably barfed all over it and upon exporting it out to my Mac to try to save the file, I couldn’t open it. So now I have to work with it on Jonathan’s Windows machine, which creates the hideousness you see at right. Damn you, Google. You’re not worth $528.94 a share.

I ran every day last week. And, more important, I ran pain free every day. It was good.

But.

It was also hot.

So I did lots of running inside on the treadmill.

Which was fine.

Not ideal.

But fine.

Highlights of the week included my first Jack Daniels-assigned speed session. That went well. I did not run too hard. I did my strides on a few outside runs and realized that unlike in training cycles past, I was not too tired to do the strides. Good sign.

Then I tore up Suicide Hill in Van Cordlandt and won a muffin. With help from Jonathan.

On Saturday I got some culture and some miles in Prospect Park.

And that was that.

This week’s gone well too. I ran faster than previously on some treadmill speedy stuff. On Saturday I have a 4 mile race in Central Park. I love the bizarre 4 mile distance.

On Sunday I’ll meet some long-admired kindred spirits for the first time (and reconnect with a few regulars) for lunch, one from Philadelphia and one all the way from Australia. That should be fun. I hope he doesn’t make fun of our accents.

I ordered some flamboyantly awful-looking new racing flats.

But you’ll have to wait until the weekend to hear all about those things.

How happy am I not to be injured?

Do you really have to ask?

Race Report: Van Cortlandt Park 2×2 Relay

On Thursday evening I cajoled Jonathan into joining me for a race in Van Cortlandt Park. It was an evening of firsts: my first joint race with Jonathan; my first cross-country race ever; my first time on the Van Cortlandt course; my first time running in new, strange shoes; my first experience of winning baked goods.

It was also the first real race I’ve done since the Scotland Run 10K way back in April. That was a good race but since then my racing and running have left lots to be desired. A boatload of stress, travel and disaster in my personal life curtailed training for most of May. Then in the first week of June I suffered a calf injury that took a month to sort itself out. Since I have a few races coming up, I wanted to test out my calf to see if it could handle faster running on hills. I figured that if I was going to test it out, I may as well go for broke and run it up and down some serious hills. So Van Cortlandt it was.

Since I’m presently working in Manhattan, I had to drag my running gear into the city and dash off to the office bathroom to change into my superhero custume after work. Once in the bathroom stall, I discovered to my horror that I’d forgotten to pack a running bra. If you’ve seen me run (or just stand there, for that matter), you’ll know that this is an essential piece of running equipment for me. A quick, panicky call to Jonathan — complete with his wandering through the house, digging through drawers and laundry baskets — headed off this potential disaster.

The next order of business was getting up to the park. Fortunately, I work near Penn Station, so I hopped on the 2 express, transferred to the 1 local at 72nd Street, and snoozed through the 400+ stops up to end of the line in the Bronx. From there it was a quick walk up to race registration (at the Tortoise and Hare statue, directly opposite the sponsoring bakery, Lloyd’s Carrot Cake), where I met up with Jonathan, surreptitiously grabbed my bra for swap in the portapotty, and got ready to rock The Hill.

Side note: these races are bargains at $5. But, alas, this year they did not allow us to pick team names. Which is too bad because a lot of thought was put into our candidates: “We’re, Like, 100 Years Old,” “Amygdala Hijack,” and “Me Love You Long Time.”

The Trail Minimus 10

Before the race I experienced extreme indecision about what shoes to wear. I’d worn my new shoes: the New Balance Minimum 10s (trail), but so far I’ve just used them for walking around. For racing, I’d brought my Asics Dirt Devil Divas (I hate that shoe name), and had swapped the nub/cleaty things for the spikes. But after warming up in them along the gravel path that makes up about a third of the course, I was thinking those would drive me crazy. Every step was a hard shock to my feet. So I threw caution to the wind and strapped on the New Balance shoes. I’m happy to report that they are fantastic racers. Lots of grip, even on gravel, and they were great on the dirt hills.

I saw fellow podcast hosts and friends Joe Garland and Steve Lastoe and met a few people who were new to me. The race started a little late, but that was fine. I decided to let Jonathan run the first leg just in case my calf decided to rebel. That way, he’d at least get a good race in even if I didn’t. It was exciting to line up and wait for him. What happens is that the first runners start, running along the gravel path that will take them up into the hills of the park, then they come back along the path back to the start (so it’s a “lollipop” course). At that point we’re all waiting to hear their number called (and we can see them heading toward us). Once our partner reaches the start line, we give them a hand slap (or a nod or verbal attaboy or whatever) and start racing north ourselves.

The course is brutal, especially under Summer in New York conditions, which on Thursday were, as one Facebook friend called it, “Mombasa like.” But I raced at as high an effort as possible, perhaps holding back a little in the first half since I didn’t know how bad “the hill” would be. It was bad. I got passed by a few guys. But no women. Coming downhill was also a challenge, as light was fading and the path is quite rutted in spots, plus there’s a 90 degree left turn to make at the bottom. I was not about to blow the rest of my summer racing season by falling on my ass in the throwaway race. So I came down on the cautious side.

We finished in 28:20 by my watch, with Jonathan running a 13:04 and I a 15:16. That was good enough to get us first in the 100+ mixed couples category, which yielded two really good carrot cake muffins and two Barefoot Contessa-sized shirt tents. It was fun. I’ll go back for more races there, probably as early as July 21.

Us. I'm almost certainly saying something rude and/or smartassed to Jonathan.

While we were milling around afterwards someone came up and asked me about the Sunset and Suds 5K, which I remembered that my team, the New York Harriers, is involved with. I didn’t know much, although I told him where to go get information. Then he asked me lots of questions about the Harriers. It was then that I realized that when you wear a team shirt, this will happen. I extolled the club’s virtues (wild sex parties, free acid and discounts at Staples) and may have recruited a new member in the process.

Best of all, I didn’t get reinjured or even have any hints of a problem with the calf. Plus I enjoyed myself. Good race. I feel pretty confident going into the Central Park 4 Miler in a couple of weeks.

Training: June 19-July 2

This is starting to look like a training log again. Finally.

I’m nearly out of the woods with this latest injury. It’s only in the last two days that I’ve been able to run without feeling a moderate amount of pain on every other step. Running (almost) without pain and on the faster side has been a real pleasure.

Last week I was able to step up the paces again, although the week was so dominated with unpredictable work deadlines, late evenings and lack of sleep that I ended up not running most days. But the days on which I did run, I ran well. Considering that I took half my days as “off” days in May, then spent June hobbled with a calf problem, I’m running pretty well.

I’ve lost 11 lbs since we got back from England six weeks ago. I am definitely lighter on my feet and only need pick up our 10 lb medicine ball to realize the difference 10+ lbs makes. It’s been a grind, eating very little and counting every single calorie, and on some days I feel very hungry or low energy (in which case I up the intake a bit). But it’s steady and I rarely go more than three days without a drop in weight, so there’s plenty of motivation to stick with the program. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m confident that I’ll get there.

So — the runnng: during last week’s hellish work week, I only ran three times, but I was not fucking around on two of those runs. I did them at a solid 8:10 pace, which was not high effort. I also kept my commitment to do core work (something that’s becoming more gratifying now that I’m actually starting to see some definition in my abdomen). Considering that these were humid days, I’m feeling pretty good about those paces.

Last Sunday I meant to go out and do a very easy 9-10 mile recovery run, but ended up running the thing at 8:50. I guess my legs were pretty rested, so I went with it and just ran whatever they wanted to run. But I was wiped out on Monday, so took the day off. Wednesday was the big test of my calf’s comeback: could it manage some faster running, meaning a  little faster than 5K pace? The answer was yes.

That was a good run, primarily because I felt like I was training again, rather than waiting to train. It was extremely humid, at 93%. Naturally, the next day dried out. But I was glad I did the run in those conditions, since I need all the acclimation I can get. Now it’s a four day holiday weekend, with the last three days scheduled to be very hot. I wanted to do a tempo run tomorrow, but the weather was so favorable this morning (cool and relatively dry) that I decided to push it up a day. And I’m glad I did. I did a few segments at varying paces. Once again, I’m spent from the effort, but very gratified by that run. I had almost no pain left, just a little ball of tightness. I’ll keep working on it this evening, but I’m thinking it’s going to be gone come next week.

I fell off the wagon with regard to core work this week. But, really, who the fuck cares? I’m running fast again and doing workouts, so I’ll take it. I plan to hit the weights this weekend (and I’ll be limited to just one trip a week for the time being) and get back to core stuff too. I have a feeling this will all start coming together for me soon: the training, the weight loss, the decision to focus on shorter stuff. Famous last words.

A year ago I was recovering from the 2010 Green Mountain Relay (a race I’m committed to for 2012), getting ready to start work with a new coach, and totally unaware of the tsunami of misfortune that was forming just offshore. The year since has featured a lot of setbacks and distressing developments.

That’s life. I’m looking forward. I’ve got a bunch of races to be excited about. I’m definitely going to Houston in January (and Jonathan’s doing the full marathon) to watch the Trials, meet a bunch of people, and I hope run like a masters machine in the 5K race that weekend. If I can just stay uninjured and healthy, and remain relatively unscathed in my personal, familial and work life, I’ll be very happy and maybe this year can redeem itself. Like Lolo Jones, I’m looking to catch a break right now. There’s one out there somewhere.

As for the near future, I have plans to run the 4 mile relay in Van Cordtlandt Park next week on Thursday. Jonathan and I will each take a leg. It will be an evening of firsts: first race (or run) on that course, first relay race with Jonathan, first cross-country race. I’m kind of excited about it, not least of which because it will be a chance to race again and get some sense of where I am fitnesswise.

After that is the Central Park 4 Miler (a club points race) on July 16, and perhaps the Sunset and Suds 5K on July 21, although I may skip that in order to coordinate with long-time virtual friends/bloggers Flo from Girl in Motion and Ewen from About a Ewen (aka “Ewen from Down Under”), both of whom are coming into town for a meetup, perhaps on that evening. Or maybe I can convince them to race with me. Either way, I’m sure we won’t be able to top Vegas for Ewen, but we’ll try.

I also picked up a pair of New Balance Trail Minimus 10s. This is a model I’ve been lusting after for months, primarily for its looks. They’re just cool looking shoes. So far all I’ve done is run errands in them, but I’ll probably use them for my daily 3.5 miles of commuting-related walking starting next week. I may also take them out for a spin on the OCA Trail this weekend, just for an easy run.

Other than that, the plan is for lots of couch and bed time. I have been a stressed out and hardworking bunny of late. I need some time alone in the rabbit hole to recharge.

Training: June 5-18

The patient slog through injury continues.

Nothing happened June 5-11. My log that week is a wall of yellow that says “INJURED.” I do credit myself for sticking to my plan to do core work twice a week, and I managed to keep that up this week as well. Guess what I’m doing this evening? That’s right: core work!

I have a set of exercises I do (around 12) for my core. The current print issue of Running Times has a few other good ones, so I’ve added in another 4-5. I also do some arm/shoulder work with dumbbells, since I have the weakest biceps known to man. I know I don’t need bulging biceps to run well, but I would like to one day do at least one pull-up. A girl can dream.

All of this takes me about an hour. I watch “Locked Up Abroad” or “My Strange Addiction” while doing my routine. Both of these shows always make me feel a lot better about my life than I did before I watched them.

There’s some light on the horizon, at least compared to earlier in the month. I was able to at least start jogging again this week, although my right calf does not like to go faster than 9:00 pace. It doesn’t like uphill either. Nor does it like flat bits. It loves downhill sections, which comprise around 3% of the terrain I run on.

But, you know, I ran 18 miles. That’s a start. See? Positive attitude. The new me. I can run. That’s more than I could do the previous week. The pain is now just a dull ache, and I’m encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t get worse over the course of a run. If I stop every mile or so and stretch my calf, it seems better by the end of the run. I’ll keep doing that.

I’m throwing out the 10K plan for now. It’s still there in my log, but I don’t look at it. What’s the point? I don’t dare do any faster running until the pain is totally gone. When I get back to the training, I may experiment with a 9 or 10 day training cycle, since I don’t think my body tolerates doing three hard workouts a week.

I have rough plans to do the 2-Person Relay (with Jonathan) in Van Cortlandt Park, a 4 mile XC race (it would be my first XC effort) on Thursday July 7, assuming there isn’t a fire drill on my current freelance project that requires I stay late; if there is, I might swap that for the Women’s Distance Festival 5K two days after that on Saturday the 9th. But this is assuming I can even run fast and free of pain soon. That’s a big question mark.

I still hope to compete in the Run for Central Park 4 miler in a month. If I’m not running fast by then…well, let’s not go there.

Here are some good things that are happening:

The summer has been pretty nice so far. Or maybe it just seems that way because I’m not out running much, or when I am it’s about 5:30 in the morning. Aside from a few scorchers, it’s been in the upper-70s to mid-80s most days. So I’m appreciating the season.

I’m able to get home at a reasonable hour most days and have been throwing food on an outdoor Weber I got for my birthday. I find the process of preparing the grill extremely relaxing and gratifying. I sit outside while the bricquets heat up, staring at the fire. I clean the grill later on. I research new grill recipes. I think I might actually be a guy.

My stepmother is on the road to recovery after her near-death, then near-permanently-fucked-up experience over the past two months. She sounds completely back to herself on the phone and she’s been told not to worry about doing any physical therapy, just walk a lot, lift things, etc. I’m still awestruck by her luck and resilience.

Jonathan ran his second race in a year today, and ran fairly well considering the lack of conditioning. He’s not happy with his time, of course, but that will improve. His foot is still stiff and he suspects that will always be the case. But he’s racing without foot pain for the first time in about 16 months. This is a good thing.

Finally, I’m losing poundage in the form of fat. I’ve been holding off on posting about it because the effort is ongoing and has involved quite a bit of experimentation (and deprivation). But I’ll have a full accounting of the good, the bad and the ugly once I reach my target weight of 125.

Here’s some video of the Portugal/Father’s Day run this morning. Jonathan flits through at the 7:35 mark (small, full head of grey hair, glasses, plain blue singlet, stopping watch). That’s NYRR head honcho Mary Wittenberg off to the left. There was some noise about her leaving NYRR to head up USATF awhile back, but, honestly, I can’t see her ever leaving this job. She so obviously enjoys interacting with the runners — all of them, not just the elites — as they come over the line. Much of that action is off camera, but I thought it worth noting since I was so struck by it this morning.

Yep. I’m injured.

Whatever I did a week ago is lingering. My right calf voices complaints when walking up hills and stairs, and it’s tender. I tried a run on Tuesday morning just to see if taking a few days off had helped, and in doing so I think I set back recovery from whatever this is by at least a few days. I made it a mile exactly with dull pain, and then it went all sharp and stabby on me again. I hobbled home and decided to not run for the rest of the week.

I’m trying to have a positive attitude about this. We’ve had two calf injuries in our household, neither of them serious. I tore the fascia in my calf a few years ago. It was fine again in about 10-14 days, if I recall. More recently, Jonathan did exactly what I’ve done and I think his turnaround was even shorter. But it involved intervention, which I’m committed to. Every night I sit on the couch and knead the hell out of it, digging into it with my thumbs and a special plastic benubbined torture device our massage therapist gave us. It feels a little better the next morning.

Anyway. The Mini 10K is Saturday. This Saturday. I probably won’t run tomorrow. What’s the use? Maybe one more day will do the trick. I figure I’ll go with the intent of racing, or at least running the course easy. Besides, I’m really there for the shirt, the “event” (meaning seeing the stars of women’s running) and the post-race brunch. As Ewen suggested in a previous comment, I should know in the warmup if things are still off kilter. In which case I’ll opt out of running altogether and just spectate. That’s not exactly that great a compromise considering the field. I don’t want to skip it, but on the other hand I’ve had fun racing it twice and there will be more years in the future to race it. Turning a minor injury into a major one isn’t worth it. I’m finally, finally learning this lesson.

Unfortunately, my new work project precludes me from doing much of anything, least of all preparing for and conducting interviews. I won’t be doing any interviews for the Diamond League Adidas Grand Prix event later in the day either. Oh, well. I suppose I’ve earned the right to soak up the experience without having to produce anything. Haven’t I?

Training: May 29-June 4

This week featured: a holiday Monday, a new gig that requires a 3 hour round trip commute, weather with wild mood swings, and a late-week injury. It wasn’t a very good week.

I took Sunday off so I could move the speedwork back from Tuesday (effectively, my first day at work) to the holiday Monday. The heat was brutal that day. I was scheduled to do 3 x 1 mile repeats, but couldn’t handle the heat. I cut the repeats down to 1200 and instead of jogging 800 between just sat in the shade for three minutes. Even so, on the third one I started to feel dizzy, so that was that. It would be one of two speed sessions cut down in its prime this week. Later, at the gym, I made up the work with two faster bits of running on the treadmill.

Over the next few days I got the hang of getting up very early to run (around 4:45 am most days), although I did one run after work.

Then on Friday disaster struck. The weather had cooled off. It was a beautiful morning to do some track work. I got there and did a decent warmup — about 9 minutes of easy running followed by 4 x 100m sprints on grass — and went into my first 800 repeat. 600 metres in it felt like someone was tasering my leg. A lightning bolt of pain started in my achilles, hit my calf and shot up midway through my hamstring in all of half a second. It hurt like a mother.

I’d pulled something. But the intense pain was gone as quickly as it came, leaving behind a dull shadow of itself. Could I still run? Should I still run? It’s so hard to answer this question. If you let every little issue cut short a run you’d never get any quality work in. So I decided to try doing the rest of the workout. My calf was complaining, but it wasn’t altering my stride, so I ignored it.

The 800 repeats were fine, the 200s not so much. I made it through two (at the appropriate speed) and then on the third one my calf was really beginning to bray at me. So I stopped running fast and headed into 10 minutes of easy running. But my leg was not done with me yet. Three minutes into that it went “Boing!” again and I could run no more. Walking was iffy now.

Unfortunately, I had to walk a lot in the city that day, as part of my gig involves running around town and interviewing people. Three ibuprofen, 20 minutes of icing and a slathering of Voltaren later, I was in reasonable shape to walk. The leg got a bit better over the course of the day, as I think walking helped stretch out the knotted calf muscle(s). But I was in no shape to run on Saturday, as walking was still painful.

Yesterday I tried a run on the treadmill at the gym. That really hurt. So I spent 45 minutes on the elliptical, which didn’t.

I hope I can get this cleared up by Saturday. I have a race that day.

Training: Mar 27-Apr 2

What a weird week. I was sick all week with a cold that kept flaring up and then ebbing. On Tuesday I went out for a progression run that went okay (I was running 7:30 at around 86% effort — I wore my heart rate monitor for the first time since the summer), but my hamstring went nuts toward the end. That was annoying. And worrisome. I wish this thing would just work itself out, but I think it’s going to take awhile.

I rolled, stretched and massaged the living daylights out of it that evening. I’ve learned that this is what I must do now: tend to it. Usually, all is forgiven within the next 24-48 hours.

Wednesday was Zen on the Track Day. That was a good session.

I was supposed to do two 6 mile recovery runs on Thursday, but I questioned the wisdom of that plan. The first run went okay, but the second one was just painful. Since I could not see how running 6 miles on exhausted, aching legs was going to help, I cut the run short at 4 miles.

On Friday my cold peaked and I felt very low energy. I had a 9 mile recovery run scheduled but couldn’t imagine running a mile. So I took the day off. I do this now and I think it’s a good thing. I don’t worry about getting overtrained anymore and, in fact, I see some evidence that my training is actually going pretty well.

I was still dragging on Saturday, but I forced myself out to run anyway. I had 14 x 1 minute surges scheduled. I saved those for the last possible point in the run, doing them over the final 2.5 miles. It was windy. I was not into it at all. But I did all 14 of them and was pretty darned proud of that.

This week’s workouts have been surprisingly good. So much so that I am now worried about Sunday’s 10K. Things seem to be going so well — I expect some sort of cosmic payback this weekend. I am trying to push those worries aside. I will be trying for Zen in Central Park.

Finally, let me offer my apologies to the reader who submitted a comment on my March 30 post with some thoughtful observations about running without goals and, often, without a watch, and the potential for personal liberation in these decisions. It got flagged as spam and then in a spastic move I managed to trash it. Thanks anyway. It was nice of you to comment. If you want to try again, I’ll try not to screw it up this time.

Oh, also, yesterday I had a really good birthday, which included several phone calls from family and friends; a few really sweet cards; some snazzy new earrings; free money; and…flowers! And we had some leftover cake and wine from our weekend celebration. I got to make another wish. I don’t feel any older. Just happier.

Running moment to moment in lane 4

[Warning: A bout of confessional bloggorhea follows. There is a running pay off, though. And maybe other useful things.]

This past fall and winter were rough. When I think of 2010, I see a year that began with disappointment and frustration (following hot on the heels of a less-than-stellar 2009), then had a fabulous high point — a couple of extremely good and gratifying months in early summer — and then began a nosedive in August followed by a flap-rattling death roll through the rest of the year and into this one. The ups and downs (mostly downs) weren’t limited to running — there were work/career goings on, social stuff, financial stuff. You name it. It was a year of extremes in many ways.

While I’d hoped that 2011 would bring instant relief — I don’t know why, since it’s just a calendar page, or dropped Times Square ball, or new crow’s foot, or however you keep score — the hideous blob of sheer misery and distress that was laying waste to my psychic backyard was rapidly advancing toward my mental domicile’s shaky foundation in the new year in a most horrific way.

On this blog I have not made a secret of my history of anxiety, a problem that I still struggle with now. I’ve also got a long history of depression — a constant kind (called dysthymia) which sometimes erupts into major depression (a delightful sequence known as “double depression”). This glowing tinder of seemingly innate unhappiness has become a full on conflagration on several occasions in my life, lasting anywhere from weeks to more than a year. I’d gotten a reprieve for most of the 2000s and thought I was out of the woods. But it was back late last year.

Why did I get depressed this time around? In some ways, it’s an impossible question. Why does anyone get depressed? Normal people — meaning people who are not otherwise vulnerable to depressive states — will get depressed in reaction to some catalyzing event: extreme loss, for example. Again, this is normal. Others, like me, will get knocked slightly off balance by some event that is not on its face disastrous — in my case, it was a couple of things that don’t need detailing here, but [here's the tie-in] included my stress fracture and subsequent total layoff from running for about 4 months. It’s not an event in particular that’s causing the quick slide down off the mountain. The event may be disappointing, but it’s not the problem. The problem is the reaction to the event — or, really, the chain reaction of mental machinations, all of them harmful in their extremity and breadth, and based on ingrained patterns from previous death spirals, that cranks into motion after that single event.

And what’s feeding that engine of awfulness? For me, it’s anxiety. And feeling bad about the anxiety. Then the anxiety about the anxiety feeds the depression and then the depression, in turn, feeds back into the anxiety in a crescendoing feedback loop. Pretty soon the top flies off your Waring blender of distress (“Hey, what’s that burning smell?”) and before you know it your kitchen walls are covered in the worst parts of yourself.

Holy crap. I finally get this. For some reason, this was the year that I was able to step back and observe what happens. I couldn’t stop it from happening, mind you. But, once things lifted enough for me to think straight, I could somewhat recognize cause-and-effect/effect-and-cause. That small shard of perspective produced a glimmer of hope. That hope got me thinking. The thinking got me reading. The reading got me working.

It’s not fun to be me much of the time. I think I’ve established that. But I will always be me, so I’d better learn how to live with myself. What I suspect needs to happen is that, going forward, I need to focus less on fixing and more on just being aware of the pattern and movement of my own thoughts and feelings, with an aim to get out of my own way. Floating, not flailing. I don’t write all this because I feel sorry for myself. I write it because I’m a slow learner and I hope that someone else can learn from it a little quicker than I have. It’s also nice to share news about things that are working well.

I am now trying some things that are wacky, or at least they are to me. I gave up on psychoanalysis several years ago. I will not take meds for these problems, as that presents a host of other potential problems in the form of side effects and — let’s face it — masking rather than actually addressing what’s going wrong. I am taking a bunch of vitamins and supplements that supposedly help with moods. We’ll see what those do or don’t do. I don’t put a lot of stock in them, but I figure they can’t hurt. I’m off synthetic hormones. I stop at one drink now.

But the heart of everything else I’m doing is a twosome of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and “mindfulness,” areas I only just became aware of quite recently. I so wish my former analyst had looked at me in 1991 and said, “Julie, your habitual thought patterns are toxic and your perceptions are totally distorted. You need CBT for your anxiety and the depression it fosters, not years of analysis from me.” But Freudian analysis is at best a quaintly blinkered belief system and at worst a cult perpetuated by adherents who I believe only have the best of intentions, so I bear them no ill will. But given what I know now, I’m not surprised that our exchange never took a more practical turn.

Okay. So what does any of this have to do with running? Fair question.

Running.

Running.

Running has given me so much when it’s gone well, but has hurt me so deeply when it hasn’t. Or, rather, it has set me up perfectly to hurt myself deeply. This time around, it lit a fire of depression. When I was limping around with my stress fracture in the fall, my dad, himself a former obsessed marathoner asked, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” By that I think he meant: “Why do you keep making this so important and setting yourself up for a fall in the process?”

The answer to that is because I thought in running I had found a source of pleasure and achievement that I could control. Boy, was I wrong about that! A sane person would have stopped caring so much about it after it went so wrong for so long. But I reacted by stubbornly caring about it even more. I devised new goals, goals that may or may not have been realistic. It doesn’t matter if they were or are. The problem is that I had goals.

Getting better. Changing myself. Fixing what’s wrong. Whether we’re talking about running or about my state of mind, these are all bad goals. They are all about forcing something to happen, denying what’s actually happening, giving potency to something that’s nothing, missing what’s real, and often good.

Edited: One book I’m reading quotes from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

“How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races — the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and everything you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

One of the wackier things I’m trying — the “mindfulness” part — is meditation. I would like to say that I suck at it. But that would involve a judgment and I’m gathering that the whole point of meditation is to be, not to do. If you’re sitting there meditating and thinking, “I’m not meditating the right way,” you’re lost. You need to just sit there and be. If in one moment you realize that you’re thinking about what to make for dinner, then you’re doing it right; the work lies in the realizing and the accepting, not the thinking or the not thinking. Gaining an awareness of whatever’s going on in your head means you’re on the right track. Awareness of “mistakes” — and refusal to label them as such — is the success, not the failure.

Supposedly meditation can actually change your brain chemistry, affecting key areas like the amygdala, which is our brain’s bus driver for fear reactions (“fight or flight” — the core of all externally expressed anxiety)  and so-called “emotional memory” formation, and which comes into play in conditions like social phobia, depression and other problems that are near and dear to my heart and history. Working with the hypothalamus, the amygdala also regulates some aspects of our nervous system. Read up if you’re interested, since I’m sure I’ll screw something up if I continue here. I found it intriguing enough to pursue in addition to the more directed methods offered by CBT. This book, which was created by some of the authors of this study, in particular has been quite the mind- and eye-opener. Its approach works as well as happy pills, but doesn’t make you fat, dizzy or dullwitted in the process.

But back to running. All this other stuff I’m doing is having an effect on running, which is a welcome, and quite unexpected, side effect. I am starting to naturally run without goals, without expectations and without judgment. This is making running easier in ways I did not expect. For example, I had a very tough track session today. Since it’s unusual, I think Coach Sandra would consider it “proprietary,” so I won’t give details. But there was short stuff (a lot!) followed by semi-short stuff, followed by a long interval that was to be run “all out.”

I had never done this workout before. It frightened me a little, but I went in with an open mind. Stuff that normally would have bothered me didn’t today.

People were wandering chaotically around the track. I like running in lane 4 because it’s closest to 400m (the track in Bronxville is screwy because they shoved it into too-small a space, but the installers chose aesthetics over accuracy for the markers — so no lane is exactly 400m — inner lanes are shorter, outer lanes are longer). I did not let the dawdling interlopers get to me. I ran around them. I did not have to run in lane 4 at all times. Accuracy didn’t matter. The effort is what mattered.

I did not think of the many repeats/rests that lay ahead. I thought only of the one I was doing. I didn’t think of how far I was from finishing it. I didn’t think, with dread, “Oh, god, 300m to go…” or, with resentment, “This fucking wind is slowing me down” or any of the usual stuff I do when I’m doing track work. I just ran at what I thought was the appropriate effort at that point in time and kept the rest of the workout out of my mind. I would get there when I got there.

At one point I was running fast and realized that I was totally relaxed, watching my hands swing up, my right arm swing and wrist angle completely different from my left, something I now accept rather than try to correct, my flats eating up the curve. I enjoyed running in that moment. Thinking about it right now makes me happy. My splits were remarkably even — for 18 intervals (I did an extra by accident). Like within a second or two of each other. No watch required.

The last, killer interval was awful. It was slow, something I knew without looking at my watch. Then I realized that it probably wasn’t supposed to be fast. It couldn’t be. I had exhausted myself with the previous few miles of faster running; my legs were burning and aching. I realized midway through that I was now doing “get comfortable with suffering” training, something I’ve come to recognize in some of Sanda’s workouts. I made a mental note to ask her what the purpose of that horrible last big push was — mental, physical or both — and then I gently returned my attention to my hands, my feet and the metres unfolding in front of me.

Training: Mar 20-26

Another uneven week. I had a horrible run last Sunday, owing to exhausted legs and a hamstring that seems to now reliably conk out after about 10 miles. I look it easy after that run and was rewarded for my patience and discipline with an extremely good speed session on Wednesday.

More rest and recovery followed, and then I hit Central Park to again try for a 13 miler. I decided to take it easier yesterday, since I think shooting for 8:00s is too ambitious at this point. Maybe that — in combination with the hills — is what’s straining my problem hamstring and adductor.

I parked on 108th and Madison only to discover that I’d not only forgotten my Garmin, I’d forgotten to bring any watch. I wasn’t about to drive all the way home, so I went and did the run, watchless. It was actually very liberating, not knowing how fast or slow I was going. I did take note of the time when I left the car and when I got back and figured (allowing for walking, MP3 player fiddling and other forms of dawdling during the run) that I was probably running around 8:40. That’s not terrible, and it’s reasonable for a long run pace.

But. Ugh. My hamstring/adductor again started giving me trouble right around the 11 mile mark. I had to walk for a bit. This issue is annoying and worrisome. I don’t have a lot of confidence that I can race hard for 13+ miles anyway. Now the spectre of nagging injury has been added into that worry mix.

It’s taking a long time to build up endurance. It amazes me that in 2009 I was regularly running 15 miles mid-week and doing 18-22 on Sunday. I don’t think I could even run 18 miles at this point. The good news is, I don’t have to. Yet.

Over the next two weeks leading up to the Scotland 10K I have no long runs scheduled. The longest one is 10 miles. I’ve got a 14 miler a week after that race and then that’s it for long runs until the Long Island half on May 1.

So how far I can run without issue is going to be something of a mystery come May. Perhaps the avoidance of longer runs will help the problem area calm down. I have no idea.

I picked up a bug this week, some kind of throat crud that doesn’t know if it wants to turn into a real cold or not. So I’m low energy today and taking cold medicine that is just making me feel cruddier. I was supposed to run easy today and take tomorrow off, but I’m switching those around and spending the rest of today on the couch.

This week I have a progression run of 10 miles, a speed session that I can only describe as nightmarish and then a fartlek run on Saturday for a total of 54 miles. Next week is a pre-race week, so the mileage is low, but there’s still some hard work in there.

My love affair with Warren Zevon came into full bloom yesterday in Central Park. Here’s the mix.

Zevon Memorial Mix

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
Excitable Boy
Veracruz
Tenderness On The Block
I’ll Slow You Down
Back In The High Life Again
Finishing Touches
Suzie Lightning
Angel Dressed in Black
Searching for a Heart
Sacrificial Lambs
Basket Case
Genius
I Have To Leave
My Ride’s Here
Desperados Under The Eaves*
Let Nothing Come Between You
Sentimental Hygiene
Boom Boom Mancini
The Factory
Trouble Waiting to Happen
Reconsider Me
Detox Mansion
Bad Karma
The Heartache
Looking For The Next Best Thing
Splendid Isolation
Nobody’s In Love This Year
Backs Turned Looking Down The Path
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Mohammed’s Radio
*This track is off the collection Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings. It’s a stark, much more raw-edged approach to the song than what came out of the studio version on his eponymous album (and which featured Carl Wilson on backing vocals, along with strings that are a little over the top, in my humble opinion). I like this version much better.

Training: Feb 27-Mar 5

Here ya go.

I was really keyed up after the previous week’s long run in Central Park. I ran what was supposed to be a 5 mile recovery run way too hard, in wind and on hills, around my local streets in the Crestwood neighborhood. My adductor started hurting, so I cut it short and took the next day off.

Determined to stay off the treadmill,  on Tuesday I headed up to Scarsdale for what was supposed to be a progression run with 2 fast miles at the end. But I was really beat, plus it was incredibly windy again. So I made do with a run at decent effort, dropping the faster stuff. I knew I had a speed session and a race coming up, so there was no point in pushing things.

Wednesday featured a horrible track workout. That was unhelpful.

I spent the next few days focusing on getting mentally ready to race a 5K, since my body was not doing its fair share. One of the Harriers’ coaches sent round a “Racing Coogan’s for Dummies” document and I studied up. Then I did some race visualization. I know it sounds hokey, but I’ll try anything at this point.

That race went pretty well, although I was a minute off my PR. But I was not expecting miracles. Nor did I get them.

And there you have it. I ran a measly 31 miles, but given my performance on Sunday, that is okay. I’m becoming convinced that less is more when it comes to pre-race mileage, provided you keep the quality up.

This week I’m back up to 50 mpw, with the staples: progression, speed, long. With the exception of one fartlek session featuring Billat surges, all of my speedier stuff between now and April 10th’s Scotland 10K race is track torture. While it’s not 10K training per se, the variety of shorter track stuff mixed with progression work over hills is bound to help when I line up for that race five weeks from now. Or at least I hope so.

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