Color me FUN

Weeks like this past one reassure me that I am in the right field of work. I spent the last 7 days amazed by what my body is capable of. I may have had an uphill battle (ha-ha) with the half marathon, but my training showed through in the days following the race. I was stiff, sore, and by day 3, normal. Suddenly this body that felt so bruised and broken just days before, felt fresh and renewed. It was a miracle…no, it was training.

When I signed up for my half marathon, a friend of mine wanted to get back into running as well and we decided to sign up for a color run together. I was a little tentative to commit as the closest race to us was going to take place just 6 days after my half marathon. Images of my crippled self hobbling around for weeks after my first half marathon attempt flashed through my mind. I could feel the pain of the plantar fascitis in my feet as I contemplated how realistic this plan was. Eventually I bit the bullet and committed. Right then, in the back of my mind, the color run had become almost as critical a goal as the half marathon itself. The 5k would be the second best indicator of how well I trained, how hard I worked, and how much I wanted that half marathon. If I could run a 5k just 6 days after my half marathon, then I would know that I succeeded in my number one goal for my half marathon- training.

Color me rad was one of the best 5ks I ran. Not for the course, or the crowds, but for the companionship and all the underlying value I had placed on the completion of that run. I ran it with one of my best friends, who is just now jumping into the whole “running thing.” We had spoken before that day about possible time goals, but in the back of my head, I knew just completing this race was a milestone for me. We took some walking breaks along the way as the course had a couple hills (not Durham hills, but still hills) and my friend (who just had a baby…yes a freaking baby…and wanted to start RUNNING…bravo, just bravo) was a little out of breath.  We managed to make the breaks count, snapping goofy pics. When we saw the 5 year olds and moms with strollers start passing us, however, we picked up the pace.

The race was PACKED with people. They tried to space us out by separating the race into 5 “waves” of runners, separated by 15 minutes each. It made the race challenging in that you were always dodging people. I just assumed everyone I passed was in my wave and everyone that passed me must be dragging behind from an earlier wave, that way I wouldn’t be demoralized when the 10 year old boy raced by me. There were times I wanted to shout “Hey! I did 13 miles 6 days ago…so yeah. I’m a DISTANCE runner, not a sprinter,” but I decided the little boy probably a) wouldn’t care and b)wouldn’t hear me as he was already out of shouting distance.

In spite of the stroller dodging, kids passing and the overall chaos of the race, I actually loved every second of it. There were no mile markers, which confused me, but every time you thought “hey there should be a mile marker” you reached another color station. At the first color station, the tossers lulled me into a false sense of security with light tosses aimed toward my torso. I felt like I was in one of the slow-motion field scenes of a Disney movie–the ones where they play light-hearted, happy music as the characters gleefully skip through the meadows. So there I was, skipping through the next 3 stations as little bags of color bombs fireworked around me, loving every second of it. Then comes station five. Now, understand in MY mind, the stations and I had an understanding. I would slow motion skip through them, and the color would be tossed up for me to dance through. I began my gleeful skip through the station, soaking in the color and holding my breath in an attempt to keep my lungs color-free, and I’d almost made it through the station when WHAM-Color bomb in the face. WHAT?! I have never seen a Disney field dance that ended like that. I kept up my little jog and caught up to my friend, explaining that “that guy AIMED for my face. I just ATE color.” A little disgruntled, I continued my run and wished that I had used one of my color bombs on that guy at the color bomb station.

We finished the race in under 34 minutes. Nothing to brag about really, but for a girl who ran a half the week before I was pretty stoked to have finished. Also, that was my fastest 5k time to date. Prior to that race, I hadn’t run a 5k since starting my half marathon training, and all the ones I’d run before were with someone else that had a slower pace. Again, I’m not one to watch my time and be overly concerned with personal records and such, but I must say that this new PR lead me to wondering what my actual 5k time would be. I’ve only been training for distance, not time, so maybe while I have this break before my next half I’ll focus on increasing my intensity and decreasing my time.

Time or no time, however, this weekend marked another milestone. I completed two races in 6 days. Running is about developing a lifestyle, not falling for a fad. If you’re just starting out, focus on the process. Don’t worry about the numbers (yours or other people’s), and just enjoy it.

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So you wanna run a half marathon?

Since I’ve begun this journey of half marathon challenges, I’ve had several friends approach me, interest piqued at the idea of attempting the 13.1 themselves. I don’t think I’m the expert on the subject, or even a seasoned athlete, but I know that 10 months ago I was at that curious contemplation stage that so many people get hung up on. So here’s my advice on tackling your own half marathon.

1. Mind over matter. Physically your body is a machine and it is built to move. Too many people get hung up on the thinking it all through. I read the book “Born to run” and it changed my view on distance races entirely. The premise of the book was essentially that our bodies are BUILT to run. We are engineered to travel long distances and be in motion. It’s only in recent decades that we’ve traded our sneakers for slippers and opted for sedentary self-destruction. So stop thinking 13.1 miles is only for “the runners.” Stop thinking your body “can’t handle it.” Just stop thinking and go for it.

2. Prepare your body. While your body may be built to run, that doesn’t mean you haven’t trained it to sit. Some people call inactivity detraining. I call it training. You are training your body to be very efficient in a motionless state. Obviously no one starts out with the intention of training their body to be sedentary, but it happens. The only way to combat it is to get moving! In my first point I wasn’t implying that because your body is built for running, you will naturally be able to go out and run. If you have a big test in one of your classes, you may have a mind that is built for learning, but unless you study and learn the materials, you are not going to “instinctively” pass that test. The same goes here. Running takes commitment and half marathon races require preparation.

3. Prioritization. Running will have to be a priority, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to become your only priority, or even your first.There will be days where other things come up and family, friends, emergencies, LIFE get in the way. You have to learn to be ok with this. You never want to get to the point where you resent your runs. That’s a quick and easy way to lose your motivation. On the other hand, you have to commit to certain goals and stick to them. I am awful at follow pre-prescribed training plans. Even if I pick the one I want, I always feel like my plan is telling my body what to do rather than my body dictating the training. I want to have the freedom of allowing my body rest and push harder when possible. Find a plan that works for you (whether it is exact mileage, runs per week, etc), and put it near the top of your priorities.

4.Find your motivation. I run for fun. If I’m not having fun, then it’s just not worth it for me. I found my motivation for running by using it as my me time. I flip between several different playlists each set to represent different moods and push me through my runs. I have my intense upbeat rock tempo for my speed runs, my slow and easy country for my distance, and my uplifting christian on the days where I’m happy that I even got out the door to run. I don’t know that I will ever be the person that runs without my music, but by the same token, you need more motivating you to run than “music time,” because, let’s face it, music time can happen on the sofa. I use the running to clear my head. Almost all of  my running is done solo because it’s the one time of the day I know I can be alone with my thoughts.

5. Find your race. In exercise programming and training we often talk with clients about the stages of change. There are five that I typically use:

Precontemplation- You aren’t even thinking about change.

Contemplation- You are now considering the idea of changing

Determination- You are now determined to make the change and are making plans to change.

Action- You are beginning the actual process

Maintenance- You’ve changed, it’s a habit and you are incorporating it into your lifestyle.

Too many people get stuck in the contemplation stage and never get to the point where they truly believe it’s possible. I can’t tell you how many people have told me “that’s great that you did a half, I really want to someday.” My immediate response is always “you should! just do it.” Sign-up. That’s what it took for me. I needed to have a race on my schedule in order to reach the determination stage. The date looming in my mind was what actually pushed me over into determination, and action followed quickly after.

Every half marathon is an emotional experience for me. As I cross that finish line I always feel amazed and in awe at my body’s ability to overcome the physical and mental barriers the race posed. It’s not an unattainable goal.So that’s my advice to everyone “contemplating” the half marathon endeavor. Get your mindset, prepare your body, prioritize your training, find your motivation and find your race.

Numbers only lead to obsession

I used to be able to do 10 consecutive body-weight pull-ups. About 7 years ago I made it my mission to be able to complete 10. At the time, I could not even do one without assistance. There is no realistic reason why I need to physically be able to do this, but it’s been something I wanted to get back to. Right now I’m back where I was seven years ago in that I can no longer do an unassisted one. So I’m making it my goal by the new year to be able to do at least one.

Additionally, I have a weight-loss goal as well. I’m choosing not to disclose even the number I want to lose because this isn’t a post fishing for compliments or assurances that my goal is unnecessary. I have a number in mind so I know when my goal is attained, but the number won’t be the focus throughout. As with any goal, I want support and encouragement. I feel like every time I see someone set a goal of weight loss, it becomes ALL about the numbers and scale. I refuse to focus on numbers–calories, pounds, etc. No one needs to know the numbers of your goal in order to support you. I want to feel better. Functionally I would feel better if some of my numbers changed, but I don’t need to tie in emotions with it. I don’t need to attach you to my numbers. As with all my goals, this one is for myself. I share it for accountability. Since when do we need numbers for that?

Believe me, I know the value of numbers. My field is based off of them. We use them to categorize people. It’s much easier to use a blanket numeric system than to physiologically assess millions of people. Numbers are incredibly useful, but they aren’t always best.

I can tell you my weight goal is realistic and healthy. I can promise I will go about attaining it in a safe and step-wise manner. I’ll use numbers as necessary, but not as an obsession. My scale will disappear tomorrow until  4 weeks from now. I think that is the best way to approach weight-loss goals. You want results not obsession. If you take away the numbers and focus on the process, there’s an obsession in the work, rather than depression over minimal changes. My satisfaction will be in the process.

Race Recap

This half marathon was so much more difficult than my first. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a moment when I wanted to quit (there were several), but in the end I persevered. It’s hard to even know where to begin for my race recap. Chronological order makes the most sense so let’s start at 5:15am, October 20th, 2013.

My alarms were not set to go off in their strategically sequenced ringing until 5:45, but at 5:15 my mind told my body it was time to go. I popped out of bed and gathered all my race gear before heading off to the site. First surprise of the morning–I was greeted at my door with a frigid wall of ice wind. For some reason I had this expectation that the weather would somewhat mimic the weather of the morning before (BIG miscalculation…did I forget where I live??). The 40 degree weather prompted me to go grab an extra layer.

I made it to the race site an hour and a half before gun time and started to settle in and explore the area. I’ve been in Durham countless times, and I am all too familiar with Tobacco Road specifically, but everything looks quite different at 6am just hours before a half marathon. I had some friends show up to wish me well and my racing companion made her appearance about 30 minutes before the start.

It had not warmed up at ALL, but we still decided it would be best to run in our tanks and not have to lug around extra layers, so we stripped off our jackets. I hated this decision for the 10 minutes we waited for the start, but by mile 5 I was thankful to have nothing but my body to carry up the hills. After stripping off our extra layers, we had to find our pace group. Our first half marathons had been similar 11 min/mile paces, but, alas they didn’t have any pacers slower than 10:30. We found a spot near the back and gave each other one last look of “why are we doing this again?” As the start bell rang and the thousands of people in front of us started to walk, jog, and finally run, we knew there was no turning back.

Durham very quickly greeted us with some little hills, luring us into a false sense of security. If THESE were durham’s hills, this wouldn’t be so bad! Mile 3 came by fairly quickly, and by my watch’s count we were maintaining an 11ish minute pace. Then it hit me. There was a sharp pain in my left hip. Not a searing or stabbing pain, but more of a pulling. I could run through it.

Mile 4-It was around this time that I took inventory on how my body was doing overall. Legs- feeling okay. Shoulder- pulling a little (running puts some strain on your arms due to holding them up for so long and swinging). Lungs- struggling a little (around mile 7 I realized this was due to an unused, forgotten inhaler sitting uselessly in my car). Hips- same pulling on the left side.

Mile 5- One of the hardest miles yet because this is where the 5 miler racers broke off to their finish line. I can’t describe the self control it took to not veer right and run under their banner. This is when Jen turned to me and said “You were right. I hate them a little for being done.” RIGHT? But alas, our journey had 8.1 more miles.

I started realizing I probably wouldn’t be able to keep Jen’s pace. The consistent hills were taking a toll on my body and it was screaming for a respite. We decided to rest at the 5.5 mile water table, but shortly after that I convinced her to go on without me. I never want to hold someone back from their best. She reluctantly took off, I stopped for a stretch and contemplated my next move. I had 7.1 more miles to go-now solo- and I had little confidence my body could push through it. I started to secretly search for a police officer or course monitor that had a golf cart. The golf cart would be my salvation. Alas, as I jogged the next mile or two there were none in sight, and by mile 8 I decided there’s no way I’d forgive myself if I didn’t finish. I had no time goals for this race. My goal was training. My goal was finishing. An inner battle was waged:

Suck it up. You’ve done it before

Yeah, but not with THESE hills.

Your body hasn’t given up. Why have you?
Eventually that stubbornness won out, and I knew I’d finish. I picked up my pace and drove as hard as I could for the next 20 minutes. There were no milemarkers in sight. Twenty-five long, grueling minutes passed. I told myself if the next marker I saw said only mile 9, I would quit. I would not accept a 25 minute/mile pace. Just then I came over the top of another hill (hill number 5,672 for those who are counting), and saw the blessed mile 10 marker at the bottom beckoning me down the hill. The declines were almost as bad as the inclines on the course. The pounding of my feet against the pavement rattled through my ankles, knees and all the way up to my hips. Keep going. It’s only a 5k from here.

I passed a guy holding a sign that said something along the lines of “only 16,452 more feet.” I wasted one precious breath to inform him that I hated his sign. He took it in stride (I think he’d heard that a lot), and cheered me on. Mile 11 came and went asI tried to psych myself up for the final bit. By now the racers had thinned out, and I ended up running with the same people for the last two miles. It gave me someone to keep up with. I really wanted to finish with “the girl in the pink,” but then this guy running barefoot with a backpack slowly inched past me, and that’s when I kicked it up. No way was a barefoot, backpack guy going to beat me to the finish! I dug in and made it past mile 12 and made a left turn into the final stretch.

It was long and uphill  and you could see the finish line beckoning you home. I took one last walking respite. I’d reached the point where finishers were coming back to cheer on their friends. I picked up to a jog again, willing my body the last 300 feet. Then Jen appeared from behind the crowds and jumped into stride with me. It lifted up my spirits just that little bit I needed to pull out the running finish. We hit the finish line together, her for the second time, me for my first. We joked, laughed and cursed the hills that had almost stolen the finish from us. We recapped all the crazy signs we read along the way and babbled about some of the more scantily clad racers. We had done it.

I finished around 2:54 -Nearly 30 minutes slower than my first. It seems backwards to have gone slower my second race, but for me this time meant two things. 1) my first time was really good 2) the durham hills suck. I also knew as I crossed the finish line that April Mary could NOT have completed this half marathon. My training had paid off. That realization is further supported by the fact that I am up and walking today. Sure, my body is sore and some of my joints feel less than springy, but this is NOTHING compared to the Mary post first half marathon. She couldn’t walk for 2 weeks. She went to the doctor worried about a stress fracture. I am not her. I am stronger than she ever was (and she was pretty strong).

I met all of my goals for this half marathon (and more). I will never do these races for time. I’m not racing against anyone but myself. I’m not trying to beat anything but my own goals. For this half my goals were as follows:

1. Train consistently

2. Finish

3. Be able to function afterwards

I accomplished everything I set out to do. Thank you everyone for the support and encouragement. I think my next goal will be the Nike Women’s half in DC….evidently that half marathon ends with being awarded a unique tiffany’s finisher necklace from firemen in suits. I can see why this is a women’s half. That one isn’t until April though, and I am potentially trying to find some sort of tough mudder or spartan race prior to that. Either way, the Durham Bull City Half Marathon is done, and this girl is going to take a few days off.