Running Realizations

2g

Since my 50k in early November, I have been in a running slump. It was easily justifiable:

  • I hit one of my ultimate running goals, so I deserve a break.
  • The holidays (my birthday, Christmas, and New Years within a week of each other) mean little opportunity to run, and why not enjoy the delicious food and excuses to indulge?
  • The weather is getting colder and harder to run in.

I never stopped running, but I ran less often and for less distance during the week. The holidays left me feeling bloated and tired. I suffered through only 10 of the 15 miles at the TrailsRoc WTF trail race. And then I had the Winter Warrior half marathon to look forward to in early January.

And it sucked. As I wrote about previously, I was suffering. It was cold and windy, and I felt out of shape. It was embarrassing, and that – in and of itself – is telling. But it served to make me think hard about running. And I have come to some realizations.

I am not in very good running shape right now.

2a

That’s to be expected, right? Unless you are a serious runner, you tend to trail off at times to the year and certainly after big goal races. December was a nothing month for running and racing, so what harm in dropping off?

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t work this way. One of the reasons I’m writing this blog that no one is reading is because of my obsessive nature. I don’t have many serious hobbies or passions, but when I get one, I tend to obsess over it. It becomes extremely important to me, and the more I devote my life to it, the more prominent a role it plays in my life.

That is not particularly healthy, I understand, but I am willing to accept an unhealthy relationship with a healthy activity. But dammit, because it is so important to me, I want to be better at it! I’m not saying I have unrealistic expectations, but I feel my deficiencies more significantly than they should.

Running is a mental game, and I’m off my game.

2bEveryone admits running is nearly equal parts mental and physical. You can train your body to run faster and further, but you will always come up against that mental wall. It becomes boring or painful or hard or just tedious. And you have to push through those mental barriers to find success.

Blah blah blah. You can read a million running books and blogs about the mental struggles. I’ve always thought myself a mentally strong person. But as to the first issue above, when I don’t attain the level of success that I expect of myself, I tend to be my own harshest critic.

So while I’m not in as good of physical shape as I was, I’m also not in as good of mental shape. I’m finding it easier to see excuses for stopping or cutting short. I’m hurting, and so I slow down or walk more during races. I beat myself up, and that makes it harder to succeed the next time.

Running is not so new and exciting anymore.

2cThis is part of the mental problem mentioned above. The last two years, I was a wide-eyed babe when it comes to running.

“A trail run? Sure, why not?”

“Run in the pouring rain? What a crazy adventure!”

“Run through snow and ice and wind? Wow, this is nuts!”

“Run up a mountain? I can try!”

“Run a half-marathon/full marathon/50k? I can do it!”

Every race brought its own unique challenges and, thus, its own mental successes. The Ossian Trail Race, which takes you up and down a ski mountain, taught me I can run crazy hills and succeed in wild conditions. The Muddy Sneaker race taught me that pain and long hills will not beat me. The heat of Sehgahunda, the exhaustion of a 5-mile St. Patrick’s Day race after running 10 miles earlier, the post-holing through Webster Park on a sunny winter’s day – all of these things taught me something about running and about myself.

And I’ve done them. I have one or two new races on my goal list for this year, and I know that each run and race will be different from the last. But I no longer find these things new and exciting and instructional in the way I did. Long runs through the same old parks become tiring.

This is a mental game as well. How do you keep yourself in the game when the activity is not new and unique? There must be new ways to do this. Learning that will be my lesson for this year, I guess.

Running on a treadmill sucks.

Every runner knows that. I’ll write more about this later, but the less I do it, the harder it gets.

I hurt.

2d

I suppose if you learn to run in school and carry a love for the activity through your life, your body will be adjusted to the pounding and unique requirements. You also would learn – either from a professional or through experience – how to properly stretch before or after races and what and when to eat and how to recover.

You also would have dealt with injuries. Every runner gets hurt (as does anyone else who partakes regularly in a physical activity). Each one seems significant, even if it’s mild and manageable, and you get through it.

I’m still learning this the hard way, though. My calf strain last year caused a number of other injuries because I didn’t rest it enough and over compensated for the discomfort. This year, I have tendonitis in one knee and the other leg’s Achilles. These haven’t kept me from running yet, but they make some runs extraordinarily uncomfortable.

I know I’m lucky. None of these injuries has been serious. In the lead-up to the Rochester Marathon last year, my friend was going to run it with me, and he dealt with a number of knee issues. It became so severe, he hobbled through the half instead and has barely run since. Many injuries require surgery and months of therapy, and then you have to build your running base all over again.

But tell yourself you’re lucky all you want, and you’ll never buy it. You can only experience what is set before you. Mild injuries are difficult and sometimes debilitating. I wince every time I walk up or down stairs right now, but I am pushing through it. Because I want to keep this injury in perspective and prepare for the next one.

Another realization is how much I have to believe the articles about strength training and stretching being required for serious running. And then I have to start following that advice. It’s just so hard to find the time!

I do not have the right equipment for this exercise.

2eThe Winter Warrior taught me this particularly. But last winter was fairly mild and light on snow, and it was the first winter I ran through. This winter has already been colder and icier, and it’s barely a quarter over.

So far in my running endeavors, I have kept the activity as affordable as possible. I shop for off-brand clothing and make do with gifts. Shoes are my biggest expense, and even those are probably used longer than they should be.

The reality is that running, like any other activity, is expensive when you get serious about it. You can run in cotton shorts and shirt and socks and off-brand shoes. But to run regularly and long and stay comfortable and be successful, you really should have the right equipment. That means paying $70 for spikes and $100 for a jacket and $60 for a single shirt and $40 for three pairs of socks.

None of those things will make me a better runner, necessarily. But they’ll make me feel better and stay warmer and be able to run further with less discomfort. I’m investing in running this year. Perhaps the reality of the money I put into this will be what keeps me going in the harshest winter evenings.

A half marathon is a misnomer.

2fReally, 13.1 miles shouldn’t be a half of anything. In a society where most people are thrilled to be able to run (or run/walk) a 5k (3.1 miles), 13.1 miles is huge. Most people will never run a half marathon. Many people use this as their big goal race.

Companies make their money on half marathons. They cost more but are far easier to put on than full marathons. They take hours of commitment and usually bring the best swag. They are serious endeavors not to be taken lightly.

So then why, when a race includes full or half options, is there always the need to say “I’m just doing the half”?

If the marathon distance was established – anecdotally – based on the distance run by Philippides between Marathon and Athens, how about establishing half of that distance and making 13.1 miles an event all of its own? Better people than I should attempt rebranding this, but a simple Google Maps search of Greece shows a number of towns or named areas half way between these cities. I see Kifisio or Zirinio or Panorama.

I like the last one. Rebrand the half marathon. It’s outdated and limiting. Instead, challenge yourself to a full Panorama!

Winter Warrior Wrap-Up

ww3ww1The idea of a long winter race – in this case a half marathon you can run solo or as a relay – is a good one. People need motivation to get out and run in the harsh Western New York winters. This type of race motivates people to train while allows for a controlled environment that can be kept as snow- and ice-free as possible.

Fleet Feet/Yellowjacket Racing add extra motivation through the Four Seasons Challenge, in which you sign up for a half marathon in each of the four seasons, starting with this one and ending with the Rochester Marathon (which can also be run as a full) in the fall. You pay less for each race if you sign up for all four at once, and you get an extra medal piece that combines to one cool piece of bling.

I completed the Four Seasons last year, but I will admit it was a good year for running. The two harshest weather races – this one in January and the Shoreline Half in July – both featured mild weather. In fact, last year’s Winter Warrior is still my personal record (PR) for the half at around 1:45.

If anything, my biggest complaint last year was that the race was boring. You start at 4 pm and run four 3-ish mile laps around an office park, weaving in and out of driving lanes and hitting the street for a short distance. It obviously has to be controlled to keep traffic out and maintain conditions should snow and ice be forecasted. The lap structure also allows for just one water stop and an easy relay transition. There’s one very slight hill you hit four times, and although the wind can be biting, it is only in your face for about a mile and a half (four times).

But this year was hard, and I didn’t do nearly as well. I had three immediate and obvious problems going for me:

1. It was so cold.

The sun was out before the race started, and that kept the temperature up to about 22 degrees F. But once the sun went down (dusk after the first lap and dark for the other two), the temperature dropped as well. It was cold, hitting about 12 degrees with a gentle but biting breeze.

As explained in my previous post, I am a wimp in the cold. I was dressed reasonably well – two layers of gloves and socks kept fingers and toes warm, and multiple layers kept my legs and torso comfortable enough. The problem was the wind, which made the damp base layer freeze as the temperature drop and conform to my skin uncomfortably, and the exposed skin of my face. I would pull a buff over my mouth and nose for a few moments to warm up, then lower it, only to have it freeze from the moisture of my breath.

I ran in colder temperatures last year, but last year’s winter was mild one, and only 5- to 7-mile runs were so extreme. I get the feeling this year is going to be a much colder and harsher one. I have already ordered a jacket to wear over layers to help keep warmth in and wind out.

2. I was hurting.

The Thursday before this race, I was running with my local group of brewery runners, and I slipped on a patch of ice. My knee hit the sidewalk hard, and I had to limp after the rest of my fellow runners for a bit. It swelled up and turned black and blue, but it really wasn’t hurting much at all other than to touch.

Then I started running. No problems at all for the first two or three miles, and then it just throbbed the rest of the time. I could ignore it for a while, and then I had to stop and just rub it and let it rest for a minute or two. This obviously killed my time.

Not much I could do about the knee, I guess. Injuries happen, and this one isn’t particularly severe. It was, however, frustrating to stop (and get questions about whether I was alright), and it hurt quite a bit to start again. It was also far too cold to stop for more than a minute or two.

3. Late-day races are tricky.

I know how early to get up for a typical race or run so that I can drink coffee, eat breakfast, wake up satisfactorily, and take care of that most-important pre-run activity: the bathroom break(s). With late-day races, it’s hard to know what to eat and when. One of my friends who ran it said he didn’t eat enough. Apparently I ate too much.

The entire first loop, I had that unfortunate and uncomfortable sensation of running shaking the digestion track. If you run, you probably know the feeling. It’s not easy to run and clench at the same time.

The port-o-johns were at the start, and I made a bee-line for them at the end of the first lap. It was another delay, going along with my sore knee, and it put me behind my friends. I was never able to catch up.

Those are the easy and true excuses for a painful run. The realistic and harder-to-admit reason is that I let those three things get to me mentally. I was struggling mentally because I was struggling physically, and that’s human nature. But it meant that the last lap, over 10 miles in when you’re cold and tired and bored out of your skull from running lap around an office building, I had a hard time motivating myself to keep running. The cold helped keep me from walking for more than a bitter minute or two, but I knew I was checking out.

And that’s what bothers me most about this run. I finished it (about 2:10, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared), and there’s something to be said for getting through adversity to just finish the damn thing. But that’s the glass-half-full, optimistic view, and I am not that person. I am the glass-entirely-frozen, pessimistic worrier, and I took a hard slog of a race in which I had to stop and walk here and there as a personal failure.

But that is running, I guess. You take the good runs and feel buoyed by them, and you take the bad runs and learn from them. I couldn’t change the weather, although I could acquire better cold-running gear. I couldn’t change the knee pain. I could have eaten better, I suppose, though I’m not sure how or when. All that being said, the one thing I would probably do different is wear headphones and listen to music.

Because four laps around an office park’s parking lot in the cold and dark for over 13 miles is really, really boring. And even the thoughts of macaroni and cheese and a friend’s house for beer sharing after couldn’t motivate me enough to power through this year’s Winter Warrior.

I’m a Wimp in the Cold

syr1 I hate the cold.

Call me a wimp if you will. I sometimes feel like one when I see people running in shorts and t-shirts, perhaps with gloves or a buff around their ears, and I’m covered in layers and still complaining.

My friend says he runs hot, so maybe I run cold. It’s hard to say. I certainly warm up too, after a while. It’s that while, though, when the cold is so difficult to bear.

The experts say to dress for at least 10 degrees warmer than the temperature says when going out for a run. This is fine when you’re two miles in and feeling is finally returning to your fingers and toes. People who dress according to the experts believe it is better to be comfortable when their body warms up for the remaining miles than for those first one or two. I can’t help but disagree.

At the Syracuse half marathon last year, we stood around in the cold and worsening snow, shivering and eying the water-filled roads ahead of us. Muscles got tighter as blood receded to the core. And then we were off for a few miserable miles before the blood warmed up and the muscles loosened.

syr2(Granted, that race never got bearable. It snowed, sleeted, or freezing rained the entire time, and entire blocks were filled with two-inch puddles that were unavoidable. Feet were never dry, and icicles hung from exposed skin. My sister points out the one picture of me in which I was smiling. That’s because the poor cameraman sat for hours, taking shot after shot of crazy runners, while at least six inches of snow and slush accumulated on his head. It was amusing and ludicrous. The indoors area after the race looked like a war zone filled with shell-shocked survivors. Even the cool tech shirt was not worth it.)

Most runners I know hate being overly warm. Some refused to run in July and August at all due to the heat. I sweat too, and wet hair under a cap and wet hands in gloves are not particularly comfortable. But they are much more bearable to me than discomfort of the cold and wind buffeting exposed or improperly covered skin.

Besides, I learned the hard way that if you remove the cap or gloves when your head and hands warm up, it’s nearly impossible to put the sodden items back on. I did try to put gloves on again in one long training run last year, and my hands felt far colder than before. Now I leave the gloves on. Let my hands be warm and damp; that’s more comfortable than frozen.

After running in cold weather, I want nothing more than to get the damp clothes off and take a hot shower. After, my fingertips get numb. This is apparently common, although it worried me the first few times. Again, the more heat I preserve while outside in New York winters, the more confident I can be that I will recover when my core temperature rises again.

So you run hot and deal with the wind and cold and ice sticking to exposed skin. It’s hard enough to get me outside when the temperature dips to 20 or below as it is. I’d rather be comfortable as possible those first two miles and warm for the rest of it. The warmth won’t hurt me, but the cold sure does.

Then again, one of my resolutions is not to complain about the cold or other conditions when I run. So maybe I’m just trying to get it out of my system in advance. I’m pretty sure complaining keeps you warm. And there’s only three or four more months of upstate New York winters…

Resolution Run ‘Round the Bay

https://www.strava.com/activities/817835628/embed/e40a6c749aaebe0c7a708f2115d4b5c7b186618f

Running early in the morning on New Year’s Day seems like a great idea. Start the year off right, right? And it gives you incentive to take it easy the night before… well, in theory.

In reality, New Year’s Eve is for drinking and celebrating, and running the next morning is bound to be painful. After many beers – including a five-year vertical of 13+% bourbon county stouts with friends – and plenty of food, running even at 10 am seemed understandably crazy.

Last year, Rich, James and I pushed through and ran around Irondequoit Bay New Year’s morning. We took the easier way, shortening a normally 15-mile run to 13ish. It was our resolution run, and we planned to do it again this year.

No matter how bad I felt this morning, I was going to run. Rich and James…not so much. So I headed out on my own, knowing full well that the last few weeks of over indulging and barely running meant I would be walking pieces of the trek. And the ice made entire sections of sidewalk unrunable.

But I pushed through. The sun was shining, and the temperature edged over freezing. My legs were tired and my stomach felt heavy, but I was loving every minute of it. I recognized the entire way how lucky I am to be able to run (or run and sometimes walk) more than 13 miles in January.

Bay Road is always a tough run. There’s barely any shoulder, and cars drive far too fast. Running between the bay and the lake is at least 10 degrees colder and always windy. And the last two miles from Seabreeze to my house were completely unrunable due to ice. But I felt good, and at least I kept my resolution!

And so far, I’m averaging a half marathon every day in January! Not too shabby!