Other running stuff (not deep thoughts)

It’s Twofer Tuesday on RLaG. You get TWO posts!

Here’s other stuff that’s going on.

I was tempted to do the Randall’s Island Zombie Run, but at $60 it’s expensive. Plus, as I wanted to go as a zombie, I’ll be all overachieving and need to get plastic gashes and such. It’s coming at the end of a huge month in terms of personal and professional commitments. So I’m going to skip it.

Our household NYRR membership lapses in November. I truly don’t give a shit. I’ve barely run any NYRR races and have been soured on them as an organization for various reasons lately. Their races have just gotten too crowded. When I get back into racing I’ll probably return to CT, NJ and Rockland/Orange counties where there are wide open spaces, fast ladies and cheap trophies aplenty.

Yesterday I took JS on a tour of Van Cortlandt Park. We ran a bit along the South County Trail, which is actually a paved path, and then parted ways so I could go back and hit the XC course for some tempo miles. JS continued going north and eventually his Tuckahoe Road. The path continues north and becomes the North County Trail around Elsmford. I wish I’d known about this path when I was training for CIM, as it has a mile+ gradual hill. In any case, we’ll return, I think often. I’m sick of the running path I’ve been using for close to 14 (eep) years.

The dirt cheap gym I joined is in Yonkers at the Cross County Mall. Blink Fitness is a wildly expanding NY-area gym. It’s $15 a month. You get treadmills, ellipticals, sort of shitty stationary bikes (not spin bikes), FormFitness strength machines and a smattering of free weights. That’s about it. You have to bring your own towels. But it’s $15, people. That’s, like, three beers at one happy hour.

Tammy Lifka, whom I interviewed for my Houston Hopefuls project, just ran a 2:49:02 in Chicago. She has been struggling with her running for quite awhile, but she changed her regimen (and her coach) and now seems to be on a tremendous upswing. I am incredibly happy for her.

Lize Brittin, whom I also interviewed for a Runners Round Table podcast close to two years ago (again, eep), has just self-published her memoir of anorexia, Training on Empty. I read a very early draft of this book and gave some feedback. It’s compelling stuff. The foreword is written by the author of my all-time favorite running memoir, Lorraine Moller. Here’s a review from Kevin Beck.

And finally. Shoe companies are clearing out their 2012 models to make way for new editions. So if you want to stock up on the shoes that are working for you, now’s a good time to pick up “last year’s models” at closeout prices.

Modern Stories

I now officially have too many websites.

Last night I launched Modern Stories, the home of the storytelling me (not me).

I’ve also created a Facebook page for this new venture, although right now it’s a little sparse.

Long-time readers of this blog will recognize some pieces that have appeared here over the years. But, going forward, I’ll author most of those kinds of personal pieces over at Modern Stories rather than on this site. After the life hiccups of the past few months I’m getting back to the performing end of things too. If the next six months turn out to be as interesting as I’m hoping they’ll be then I should have lots to write about.

Questions

How long is a month?

It’s a long time. But it’s also not long at all.

What’s the difference between grief and depression?

I can’t actually tell the difference right now.

Is there anything good about death?

Nope.

Really?

Okay, maybe it’s not all bad. I found this interesting quote from from Ann Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies:

Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t work for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.

And here is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose name is practically synonymous with death, has to say:

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.

These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.

That sounds great. What’s wrong with that idea?

Because I’ve already been through plenty of defeat, suffering and loss. I get it, okay? I’m trying to be as beautiful as I can be, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. You can give it a fucking rest now.

At least I’m not this woman. There’s always someone else with a greater burden to bear, equipped with more strength and grace than you with which to handle it. And that’s pretty inspiring, somewhat comforting, and not a little intimidating.

My dad’s memorial service is in two weeks. I keep thinking something magical is going to happen after that, like it’s some sort of grief threshold I’ll cross and then everything will start getting better instantly. But I know better than that.

So you’re sad right now. That sucks. What else are you up to?

I’m working, but not too much and thankfully it’s from home where I’m free to have the unexpected emotional meltdown. I’m trying to decide if I want to pursue a lead I got on a freelance gig with a VERY BIG NAME (rhymes with “schmoogle”), but I don’t know if I have the energy right now.

I’m running, although I don’t really have a plan other than to try to run at least five days a week and do two decent workouts in there somewhere. Most of it’s unstructured. I’ll go run around on the XC course at Van Cortlandt Park. Today I went into Central Park and did 25 minutes of fartlek running, chopped up into 3-7 minute segments over a full park loop. I passed a lot of people and felt like a badass for 45 minutes. I mostly just go run and do whatever. I have a race next weekend, the Cherry Tree 10 Miler Relay, with two of my favorite people. That’s for fun, although I’m hoping I can do something with the 5K fitness I spent months working on building and did not get to use in Houston last month except for running through airports.

I don’t sleep very much. I am plowing through my generic Ambien at an alarming rate. My neck and back are a holy mess — I basically go for the same massage every 10 days or so. My massage therapist is a funny woman, about my age, who has lots of stories about death. We’re going for drinks some night soon, since I’m usually lying face down when we converse and I’d like to change that.

I have neglected fruits and vegetables. I need to get back to those. Also: flossing.

I drink to excess some nights, but that was something I did in the best of times, so don’t worry.

I’m writing up an absolute storm these days.

I am hoping to hit some open mics this month, although that’s been a lot of work since I have to have very short pieces for those and everything I write is about 8 minutes too long. But I have one new piece that’s short and will be working on others. I’ve been going to a few to listen (and mostly rule them out). But I do appreciate living just north of NYC, where if you can’t find an open mic at least four nights a week then you are either blind or not very resourceful.

A few months ago I signed up for a beginner’s acting class that started a week after my dad died. I deferred that and will instead be taking that in about two months. I’m nervous about it, because I’m a terrible actor, but that’s why I’m taking a class, isn’t it? (I don’t want to be an actor, by the way. I just want to learn to be less self-conscious when I’m up on stage telling a story.)

The truth is, I feel awful much of the time. I’m not fun to live with. I get brief waves of levity and then I ride those waves (usually in the form of making amusing Facebook posts, seeing friends, or getting my shopping done) for all they’re worth. I don’t think I’m wallowing in self pity. I believe it’s good to acknowledge and feel pain for the reasons Lamott states above. It would be helpful to have some sense of when it will lessen. But I know things don’t work that way. I have Kleenex boxes in every room of the house. My entire house looks like a psychoanalyst’s office. It’s actually sort of funny, when you think about it.

I’ve developed a theory that the periods of reprieve we get from the soul-crushing sadness are some kind of evolutionary mechanism; they keep us from shutting down completely in order for us to survive. That theory is extending into the idea that maybe death as a physical and psychic experience is also not that bad, or perhaps even fantastically pleasurable. We can only hope.

Thanks for the kind comments on the previous blog post, as well as the various notes and other condolences. I hope that I can be as generous, wise and buoyant a presence for others when I hear the call.

Everything is going to be okay.

Why you should be disturbed by the IAAF ruling on women’s world records

A few weeks ago the IAAF came out with a new ruling that limits the distinction of “world record time” in women’s races to races that only contain women. Read that again. Do you have a problem with it? I do.

I will not bother going into the ruling’s details (primarily because it’s so simply stated already) or the ensuing controversy. You can do you own research and read about those things with a simple search of Google news. If you haven’t already done that, go off and do it for 10 minutes. Then come back here.

Are you back? Good.

Unfortunately, the heart of what’s wrong with this ruling has gotten obscured by aspects that, while important (especially to record holders who are affected by the ruling’s retroactive application), do not constitute its essential wrongness. The ruling is not about the sport of running, or pacers, nor is it even about women’s inequality. Insofar as it attacks one of modern-day feminism’s foundational elements — namely, that there should not be a single “male-normative” standard that renders females as “the other” — it certainly touches on that area. But, again, for me this dimension does not fully capture its unfairness.

The IAAF’s ruling is about discrimination, pure and simple. It is the embodiment of the blindness that comes from being privileged and, when that blindness is combined with power, the institutionalized discrimination that inevitably results. Perhaps what amazes me most about the ruling is that, even considering how insidious and subtle its origins, its harmful effects are glaringly obvious. While I’m tempted to use certain aspects of Southern legal history to help throw light on why it’s so wrong, racial comparisons are a veritable tinderbox in any context. So instead I’ll look to the same “different but, you know, sort of equal” mechanisms currently being offered to gay people in lieu of real marriage equality:

“If a man is in the race — anywhere in the race — we’ll call her time a ‘world best.’ It’s a different distinction, but everyone knows it’s just as good as a ‘world record.'”

“If the people are of the same gender, we’ll call it a ‘civil union.’ It’s a different distinction, but everyone knows it’s just as good as marriage.'”

If you need a separate distinction to cover a different class of person, well then guess what? You’re not offering equality. You’re discriminating.

This problem is easily fixed, of course, via a choice of two remedies: either get rid of all pacers (in every race, at every distance, for every gender — all, every, none, pacers go away totally) or get rid of the “world record” distinction and just call everyone’s time a “world best.”

Or there is a third remedy, which is to ensure that of all the races recognized by the IAAF as venues for setting a world record, 50% of them are women’s only races. Until there is an equal opportunity for women to pursue world records, this ruling is discriminatory.

I’ve already gotten into one good-natured argument about this on Facebook. It’s a proposed topic on a podcast I cohost. But you know what? I don’t want to discuss its “drawbacks vs. merits,” pick apart the IAAF’s logic, talk about Paula Radcliffe running with a guy in London, or otherwise debate this with anyone. We live in a world now where everything is up for debate and in cases like this it is bullshit and it’s largely the reason behind why I no longer watch television news.

This is not up for debate because it is so obviously wrong. And if you are unable to recognize why it’s wrong, then I’m afraid that I cannot help you.

It’s Lauren Fleshman Appreciation Day!

When I think of the Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight” I picture Lauren Fleshman. She gets injured, she slogs through injury recovery, she trains again, she runs fantastic races. Then she gets reinjured and the cycle begins anew. But she never gives up. And she always comes back.

Fleshman has one of the few outstanding elite blogs that I’ve found. Not only is she remarkably candid about her own running, but she generously doles out helpful advice to anyone who asks for it. She’s opinionated and well informed too, and you’ll find interesting, useful posts that run the gamut, from the rabbiting debate, to eating disorders, to building mileage and more.

Fleshman’s self-possessed manner extends to live interviews, as shown in this famous post-race encounter after the 2010 US nationals:

And here’s edited footage of her win over the weekend at Crystal Palace:

New plan. New rules.

Back in May, after my debacle in the Long Island Half, I put together a plan that consisted of 10K-specific training to get me to the NYRR Club Championships in early August, prepared to race my best 5 miler. Then both life and injury got in the way and I ended up with severely compromised training until about a week ago. So here I am, back at square one again, sort of.

Over the weekend I looked at that original well-laid plan, and at the races scheduled over the coming few months, and decided that if I was going to try something new (again), now was the time. I have a few races scheduled between now and the championships. But there’s one beyond that — the Fifth Avenue Mile — that intrigues me more than any other. Ever since I ran a decent 1500 last summer (~5:46) on no short-distance training to speak of, I’ve wondered if I could improve at distances in the mile range. I originally thought I’d skip the Fifth Avenue race, since I’m guessing NYRR will screw up the start and I didn’t want to get stuck in a crowd clog. But now I’m thinking that if I train properly then I have a perfect right to start up front. So I will. Train. And start up front.

I’ve thrown out the 10K plan. Between now and the Club Champs, I’ve got three races: a 2 miler, a 4 miler and a 5K, respectively. I could continue to do 10K training, but I’m going to go ahead and start training for that mile race. I believe I have enough endurance that those races will take care of themselves, if not be stellar ones. That’s okay. I want to focus on the mile race in late September. I have 12 weeks. (I was originally going to give myself 6 weeks.) I want to be as ready as I can be.

I’ve owned Jack Daniels’ training book, Daniels’ Running Formula, for a few years, but have never looked to it for training guidance. For one thing, his plans looked really hard and complex. Upon closer inspection, while they are still hard, they are not as complicated as they seem. Perhaps more importantly, they are quite flexible. Right now, flexibility is the name of the game for me. So I’m going to use Daniels’ 1500-3000 training plan (shortened a bit) to get me to my goal mile race.

Here are some of the characteristics I like about Daniels’ plan:

  • He provides either two or three quality workouts a week, but they are prioritized so that if you need to cut back, you can. You just make sure you do the first workout that week at least and preferably the second one as well. Since I plan to just do two quality workouts most weeks (or one plus a race), it’s pretty easy for me to spot which one to drop from week to week.
  • Speaking of races, there are lots of opportunities to fit races in as part of training. Almost every week features an option to use a race as quality workout.
  • He offers two plans: the A plan is more structured in terms of distances to run; the B plan is a little looser and gives you time-based goals rather than distance- or paced-based ones. I like this because it allows me to do workouts on the roads if the track won’t work out for some reason, plus it allows me to train purely by effort rather than obsessing about distance/pace. I’ve struggled with this tendency in the past (and have trained too hard as a result), plus it’s tempting to discount the effect of training in heat and humidity when you have set times to run. I can throw those out and just focus on effort now.
  • Within the workouts themselves there is latitude to make adjustments based on energy level, what distances are working best, etc. For example, today I had a bunch of varying repeats to do. I could do anywhere from 1000-1600 repeats. Since I was tired, I chose to do 1200s.
  • Maybe this is true of most 1-2 mile programs, but there are lots of shorter, faster intervals and fartlek segments. I love running 200s and 400s, and mixing those up with longer repeats. I’ll get to do a lot of ladder-type workouts.
  • The rest of the week is not regimented at all. The mileage I run from day to day, and how I distribute it, is up to me. As long as I take my easy days easy, do strides 4x a week and keep my weekly long run to under 25% of total mileage, I can do whatever I like.
  • Finally, there’s a ton of variety in terms of workout types and how they are structured: fartleks, tempos, track sessions…it’s all there and there’s lots of variation. This will keep me from getting bored and, I hope, be a good stimulus for improvement.

My rules are pretty simple:

  • As stated above, maximum of two hard runs a week, with little exception.
  • I will take a day off when I need to, and will do so anyway every two weeks at least.
  • If I feel injury coming on, I won’t run through it.
  • I won’t run my workouts too hard. I may even hold back a little in races.
  • If I’m unsure about how to adjust a workout, I’ll err on the side of caution and cut things down more so than less so.

So that’s my plan from here until September 24. After that I’ll probably take a week off, or just to do easy running. Then, if Daniels worked for me for the mile, I’ll go into his 5K-15K training plan for the El Paso 5K in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. That will be a 15 week plan. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself…

Article: “The Crowd Goes Wild” by Alex Hutchinson

This article from Maisonneuve is worth a read. It discusses the changing dynamic of track and field journalism, one that has evolved from a monodirectional and highly controlled presentation to a two-way exchange between stars and fans that is at times both confrontational and disarmingly honest.

I should point out that I post interesting finds like this to Facebook often and rarely take the time to highlight them here. So if you want more of the same, then (be)friend me.

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