Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Slow And Steady

Thanks to Hurricane Isaac, I’m in the middle of a mid-week weekend. That means I have two days off in the middle of the week, and am enjoying some down time in spite of the impending doom of the Crescent City (overreaction compliments of Meteorologist Bob Breck). This morning, during a lull in the slight drizzle and wind, I ventured out of my downtown lair with my PIC (Partner in Crime) to have pre-storm breakfast. Our one last jaunt before being under lockdown for the duration of the storm took us to Slim Goodies on Magazine Street, and a great idea it turned out to be.

The drive home along St. Charles Avenue was disrupted by the discomfort caused by a gluttonous consumption of banana pancakes. To add insult to my metabolic injury, I had a wave of guilt wash over me when I saw multiple runners along the streetcar line. They were dodging cars that were parked on the tracks in an attempt to avoid rising flood waters. I wanted to pull over and thank these jogging weather bandits for helping to solidify the runner stereotype … that we’re a little left of center, because even I certainly thought they had lost their mind.

Not only had my in-town evacuation led me astray from a healthy(er) weekday diet, but I had written off my training regimen as being “under duress” and these people were showing me up. Unacceptable.

When asked how training is going for my NYC Marathon debut, my typical response these days is “Its Going.” That’s not an emphatically positive statement saying that I’m convinced I’m going to knock it out of the park, nor is it an admission of throwing up a white flag in total defeat. I’ve been maintaining a steady stream of weekday workouts the past several weeks that range from 6 mile short runs to an hour long spin class followed immediately by a two mile sprint. My pace is totally lacking, and I was thrilled to lay down a 4 mile run the other day where I maintained a 9 minute per-mile pace. That’s better than the 10 or 11 minute miles I had been posting through the first part of August, but far off the 8 minute mile pace I want to have for NYC.

I’ve dubbed the worst part of my runs “Self Imposed Walks Of Shame.” Those would be the parts late in my workout where I am completely spent from the heat and humidity, and I have to walk, stretch, regroup and level off my breathing. And yes, I am usually walking kinda funny at this point and look totally disheveled. I hate having to do this, but it’s sometimes necessary to finish a run. Doing it as hundreds of cars pass by you on main thoroughfares in downtown New Orleans? That’s where the shame comes in, and motivates me to continue to omit the breaks from my workouts.

I’ve convinced myself that getting through a six mile run with minimal walking is most important right now. Once lower humidity and cooler temps arrive in the coming weeks, easier and quicker pacing will follow suit. Until then, I’m maintaining my training schedule as much as I can between tropical disasters and momentary lapses in persistence. September and October also have several races in store for me (Back to Football 5K, Tipitina's Rhythm & Blues 5K, and the Jazz Half Marathon), and those will help prep me for the big show. Until then, I’m keeping the same motto as Isaac … Slow and Steady. Now I just wish he would abandon that so he can leave the Gulf Coast, and I can return to my regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A One Track Mind

Have you ever met someone, and through regular conversation, they ask questions that you’ve never pondered? Questions that spurn deeper self-reflection, requiring more than some run-of-the-mill answer? This recently happened to me.

As a runner who is constantly in some sort of training cycle (and hence waking up early, abstaining from drinking, not eating certain foods, etc.), the fact that I run marathons inevitably comes up. Usually that conversation evolves to how long a marathon is, and then onto how long it takes to run. This time, however, the interrogation went one step further, and I had to explain what I think about during a four-hour run. After giving the superficial answer of, “I just turn on my iPod and it’s me with my music,” I realized this is far from the case. There’s no way I could spend that much time alone and not have more rattling around inside my noggin. So that left me wondering, “What DO I think about while running a marathon?”

When people say that running a marathon is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental, they aren’t lying. The physical stamina and endurance that is built up during training doesn’t just reside in leg muscles, but in your head as well. I can speak from countless experiences that once you reach mile 16 of a marathon, all bets are off. Those last 10 miles are filled with more twists and turns than most runners can imagine, no matter how well you know the route.

Early on in my marathon running career, I’ll admit that I was an emotional mess when I’d finish a race.  The first couple times I competed at the distance, I literally teared up somewhere between miles 16 and 18, and then again at the finish. We’re talking full-on heaving with possible whimpering. It was a guttural reaction to a realization that I’ve gone from barely able to run 2 miles to being able to run 26. Throw in poor choices in music on my running iPod (thanks a lot, Lee Ann Rimes), and I couldn’t keep it together. Fortunately, race day chaos and a breathing pattern that sounds like I’m searching for my last breath allowed me to play off my emotion and keep my dignity. After this blog, though, I may be turning in my “man card.”

As I put more notches on my belt and complete more races at the marathon level, my amount of self-confidence has improved. I no longer spend time during races questioning my abilities; instead, I have more time to think about what I want to do in the future. This ranges from anything short-term, from what lies around the corner in the remainder of the race, to long-term, such as which future races I want to participate in, how can I improve my training for those races, who I can rope in to doing future training and races with me, and which body parts I’m willing to part with to pay for those future races.

I’ve realized that as runners, we evolve and mature. Physically we get stronger, run faster, set higher goals, and gain endurance. However, emotional maturation also is a major part of becoming a better overall athlete.  With the approaching full running season, I look forward to seeing how my growth improves my game.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

And We're Off!

Training for the ING New York City Marathon is officially underway, and I’m already doing my best to make sure I don’t burn out before November 4th. After several delays in kick-starting my running regimen (including a sinus infection, sprained ankle, and debilitating heat), I think I’ve finally settled in to the mindset that I have a goal to achieve and now is the time to start working toward that goal.

The biggest necessity when training for a marathon, or race of any distance for that matter, is having a support system that not only enables you to undertake a task of such magnitude, but also one that encourages you to push on in spite of the challenges that try to get in your way. In my case, the biggest challenges I face on a regular basis are the sweltering New Orleans temperatures and my own laziness. As a result, I’ve implemented some failsafe mechanisms to make sure training stays on track through the months where motivation may be lagging.

1) A fellow CYJ blogger, co-worker, and music connoisseur has started a “Fit Challenge.” It’s basically a several month program where my coworkers along with a few outside participants meet up on specified days of the week at specified times to do group athletic activities. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays (see below) are dedicated to group runs where Saturday mornings and various other times are for strength and cross training. So far we’ve done several 2-mile runs on St. Charles Avenue, and I’ve tacked on extra mileage to the front and back ends of the scheduled run to meet training requirements. Getting me out in the heat is the most difficult part of schedule, so once coworkers drag me out there I am good to go.

2) Nothing encourages me more than a need for me to be encouraging to someone else. Case in point, I have a coworker who wants to train for the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans at the end of October. She runs casually on a treadmill, but wants to ramp up to do this race. I’ve convinced her to agree to start running with me after work. The distance is dictated by her training schedule, the pace is what she’s comfortable with. In our first runs together, we’ve logged 4 miles per-run at a pace of around 10 minute miles. This is pretty impressive for someone who’s not used to running streetcar tracks or outside in the current conditions. I am actually looking forward to our training together so I can see her progress and then get to run the race with her come October. This will also keep me very active and training consistently. Accountability ... A lot can be said for just a little.

3) Sunday Runday New Orleans. Yes, we have finally expanded the fun to the GNO.  What CYJ groupies in BR have known about for quite some time has come to the Big Easy. Sunday nights in Audubon Park, there’s a group run starting at 6:30pm. You can do planned paths of 3 miles, 6 miles, or whatever fits your training schedule. This set date, time, and location keeps me obligated to get a weekend run in when I’m feeling lethargic and trying to enjoy my two days a week off. Plus, the company is fun and keeps it entertaining. Oh, and did I mention ice pops, watermelon, or other sugary treats provided post workout? (Rumor has it that there will be cupcakes for someone’s birthday very soon.)

Finally, I’ll be keeping you abreast of my training off and on with my blog here at CYJ. Knowing that there’s tens of dozens of readers looking on from a distance will serve as great encouragement to keep going. I’ll also hope to get some feedback in the comments below about what races you’re training for and what keeps you motivated as running season approaches.