Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Magis and the Mental Preparation

Weather-wise, it was an odd week in DC.  We had our 5.9 earthquake last Tuesday.  I was in a Starbucks reading, and it went from a small tremor, to, Nope, the whole building is shaking – this is definitely an earthquake! Everything was fine, apartment was fine.  Somehow, no earthquakes in an entire summer in California, but arrived back in DC just in time for one.  Then we had Tropical Storm Irene over the weekend.  I did do a run during it (when it was just pouring rain  -- no severe wind at that point): I was supposed to do a tempo run, but I figured just being out there was good enough.  Also kind of exhilarating – no one else was out there, and it was just me and the rain.  Here is to a much calmer week, weather-wise.

Monday was my first day of school.  Year 2 of the PhD program, year 2 being a TA, the semester I take my PhD comps.  I love school very much, and did a lot this weekend to prepare mentally for the start of the new academic year. 

I am a product of a Jesuit education.  (The Society of Jesus, was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola – a Catholic order).  I received my BA from Holy Cross, and I absolutely know that the Jesuits and their educational system have had a major impact in my life: in academia and beyond.  They have informed my faith, my thinking, and in some ways, have informed how I try to go out and live each day. In 2006, I was studying there, and a mentor gave me a book to read during summer training called Contemplatives in Action: The Jesuit Way.  I read it the weekend before school started, and loved it.  I found it to be a good reflective work, and to help ground me as I prepared to start the new year.  That was 2005.  Every August since then, I have re-read that book before school started, and that was what I did tonight. 

There are many phrases and ideas associated with Jesuit spirituality and Jesuit education, but one of my favorites is the idea of magis (Latin for “the more”).  Part of Jesuit spirituality is dealing with an ever-present tension.  And the idea of magis – seeking more, not yet satisfied with your work, I think, can be motivating.  Our work is not yet done, the battle has yet to be won (St. Ignatius, the founder, wanted to be a soldier for Christ), and we should keep going onward.  We should not be content – we should keep striving to better ourselves and work to better the world around us.  These are not easy challenges, but with the prospect of starting something anew again, there is hope to seek more again. 

Sunday was a day of preparing myself.  I went on a long run, I read, I went to church and prayed for a good start to the year.  I reflected on this book, and hoped yet again to become a contemplative in action – reflective but in motion.  I found a sense of peace – the book was waiting for me after a year of being put away.  It is time for the new season to start.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A very tough track workout - undeterred

As usual, the prospect of a track workout was thrilling.  Mile repeats – 5 of them, starting at 6:55 pace and knocking 5-7 seconds off with each repeat.  I had done a modified version of this a few weeks ago in Santa Cruz: 4 repeats starting at 6:55, then 2 x 800 to account for the last mile.  I wasn’t sure what to expect this time around.  The last time I had this many mile repeats, I think the pace started at 7:20 or so and finished around 6:49.  Not this time!

I should also add that I moved back to DC on Monday.  And I know I was spoiled by California weather for months, and while I know it wasn’t as hot as it was earlier in the summer in DC (it got into the 100s, apparently), it was still hot for me as I just had returned to the heat.  And by the time 2.5 mile warm-up was done, and the 6 x 150 meter strides were done, I was dripping.  Holy moly, how was I going to pull this off?

Clicked through the first repeat at 6:56 and I told myself to just do my best for this workout.  Normally, I am either right on par with the expected times, or even a second or two faster.  I got through the second at 6:51, which meant that I was still able to knock off the expected 5 seconds.  6:46 for the 3rd, and I already felt beat.  And it is so hard once words like “tired” “how many left” “too hot” start to enter the mind to push them out.  6:42 for the 4th, and I was giving it my all to get to that point.  As I was standing at the white line to start the final one, there was a tiny sense of relief that this was the last one, but dread of how I was going to get through it.  Well, not my finest moment: 6:46 – I had slowed down – it has probably been a year since I’ve done that during a track workout.  Still, I was so relieved that I had done all 5 repeats that I couldn’t be too upset.  I did my 2.5 mile cool down (the whole thing was a 12 mile workout), and was completely spent at that point.

Normally, there is a greater sense of victory after the track workout – it is my favorite run of the week.  And I wasn’t grumpy or crabby – don’t think that.  But it wasn’t quite what I expected.  So, as usual, I wrote to my trainer to let her know how the workout, and this was her response.
Nice effort.  Some days are just not meant to be workout days despite what the training schedule says.  It looks like you didn't have a complete meltdown, so that is good (trust me, some of my racing team training partners have had that workout really be a bomb--me included!).  And, honestly, you managed to average in the 6:40s, so that is awesome for not feeling too great.  Don't ever feel like you have to make it through a workout on days when your body isn't cooperating. You know yourself, and if you ever feel like you just need to stop--even mid-interval--shut it down! Plus, you just did a lot of traveling and moving, and, that really does take a toll on you--sometimes more than you think.  Just remember how many great workouts you have been having, so don't focus on one day or even one week. 

Obviously, that made me feel a lot better.  I knew it wasn’t a failed workout, I never thought that. I am hoping that I will get this workout again in a month or so, once the weather cools down a bit and I continue to adjust to these faster paces.  I am excited about the prospect of rewriting how this workout goes and getting a second chance for success!

Monday, August 15, 2011

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

Now that my summer job is over, I need to turn my brain to the next task: my PhD comprehensive exams, which are at the end of October (and 2 days before MCM). I did a lot of reading before I left for California, a bit during California, and now the challenge is to take on that second load. The book I am currently working on is on wonder, marveling, and miracles in the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and immediately preceding the Enlightenment.
Wonder! Wonder was positive - people were utterly fascinated with the unknown. There was not glaring suspicion or mistrust, but anticipation of the great beyond. This was particularly the case in the Middle Ages, as the Catholic Church was full of people devoted to various saint cults, which had their own sets of relics, cult sites, and various expression of piety. Then as time marched on into the early modern period (Renaissance/Reformation), the sense of wonder evolved as scientific discoveries were made.
However, as the Europeans approached the Enlightenment, the ideas of wonder and marveling were frowned upon - people wanted facts, not a suspension of belief.
The conclusion of the book offered some consolation, that there is still a sense of wonder in our world today, "We still crave wonders...we wait for the rare and extraordinary to surprise our souls."
I loved that.
I think wondering and craving wonders is important to have in our lives. When we as Catholics make our Confirmation, we learn that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of wonder. Wonder is truly a gift, and the desire to be surprised by the unknown drives us forward, I think.
I would like to think that wonder can factor into running. There are a lot of unknowns in running, especially distance running. You never know exactly how a long race is going to play out, even if you've been training for months or years. Workouts may be unpredictable too. Perhaps it is coming on the heels of a hard week, or it is a new set of interval, and you just do not know how it will go, yet on the other hand, cannot wait to try it out.
I've noticed that I have trouble getting to sleep on Monday nights, because that is the night before my track workouts. I get so excited about what I will be trying to accomplish in the morning, that I cannot seem to calm myself down enough to fall asleep. Even if I try to go to bed early, I am just unsettled and ready for the next day, that is a long time before I fall asleep.
This was my task for this morning - are you surprised I was up late thinking about it last night?

2.5 mile warm-up; 6 x 150 meter strides; 2000 meter cut-down, start at 7:05 pace and cut down a bit each lap. 2 lap jog. 6 x 800 meters. Start at 3:24 and cut down 2-3 seconds each interval. 1 lap jog between intervals. 2.5 mile cool-down. Total: 11 miles

I got through the 2k cutdown in 8:11 (last year, I was happy to get through it in 8:59), knocking off about a second per lap. Then the 2 lap recovery jog was enough to clean the slate, and make me feel like I was starting fresh all over again. I felt a bit warm, but not too hot. 3:23 for the first 800, and I could not believe how fresh I felt. Really? A year ago, that wouldn't have felt comfortable. And so it continued. Each one just kept flying by. By the time I would start to feel uncomfortable, I would only have 200-300 meters to go. I knew the last one would be hard, but I just took a deep breath, hopped around to shake out the nerves, and then was off. With 200 meters to go, I knew I was going to succeed in my workout, and when I crossed the finish line, I was grinning from ear to ear.
3:23, 3:21, 3:18, 3:15, 3:12, 3:09 for the 800s.
I couldn't help but be filled with wonder and joy. As I was looking through my notes from last year, it was clear that there was a difference. Not only were my times better this time, but I just felt better throughout the whole thing. It was a great way to start the day.
And I do have to include the link to "I hope you dance" - one of my favorite songs, hence the lyric as the title of this post.
I hope you can find wonder and awe in your day, too.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye...

So, I am a pretty sentimental person. I like to keep things and hold onto them for memories' sake. Maybe that's me being a historian. Or that's just me being unwilling to let go.
I have kept every pair of running shoes since I started running in 2008. Each pair has meant something to me - each signifies training for a particular marathon. And I know my shoes: mint green - National Marathon 2009. Blue - Marine Corps Marathon 2009 - first BQ.
Hot Pink - 1st Boston 2010.
Saucony Lilac - earned them for winning a race in 2010, wore them for Rochester 2010 and MCM 2010. Magenta - Training shoes over Winter 2011, when I was dealing with ITBS and CD, and trying to dream of a comeback.
And lightning yellow and blue - Boston 2011 - one of the greatest days of my life. Together, all of those shoes have covered thousands of miles, traveled to numerous states, and tell a lot of great (and not so great) stories.
When I was packing to fly back to the East Coast, I only had the Boston 2011 ones with me, and they were getting to be past their prime. So, I ordered a new pair, and had to bid farewell to them. I LOVED these shoes. I had so many good runs in them, and they served me very well. And when I got back to the East Coast, I thought I should also donate some of the other pairs too. So, it was time to say goodbye to mint green, hot pink, and magenta. I even took pictures of all of them. So, my closet is a bit emptier now, but eagerly
awaiting a new pair. I'll be testing out my new Asics this weekend, and saying hello to my new pair.
Until then...bye to a few pairs, and to whoever receives them from the poor box - enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Monday was my last day of work in California. The kids went home on Friday, and we stayed to finish wrap and pack everything away. I cannot believe how fast the summer went. Santa Cruz was very good to me, and my program this year was very good to me.

I feel content. I got to run in one of the most beautiful places in the country.I was so pleased with how the summer went: the kids had a great time, were safe, and learned a lot. The staff did a great job, and I enjoyed working with them. I took on a promotion, and fell in love with the job. I learned a ton - both from the kids and their classes, and from working with a big team. I solved problems and helped others growing during the process. I experienced some challenges, but learned that overcoming was very rewarding.

I took a risk, a leap of faith, by moving across the country for the summer, and totally stepping out of my comfort zone. I had worked at a different location for 5 years, and while the thought of going else where initially was hard to grasp, it was absolutely the right decision. It was like the leap of faith before Boston: I changed my plan, and while it seemed difficult at first, it yielded tremendous results.

I think this helped me grow a lot this summer. Whenever I talked to friends and family back on the East Coast, they said I sounded more relaxed and happier than they had ever heard during my summer experience (normally I get really stressed). At first, that seemed like a paradox: calmer and content during a hard year? But it did happen, and it reaffirmed my love for this job and desire to continue to working with gifted children.

On Sunday, a bunch of us went to Puma/6 mile Beach (one of the many beaches in Santa Cruz) to enjoy our last full day together. Absolutely gorgeous.
Water was a bit cold, but when we went to Seabright (another beach), I did jump in and swim around, riding the waves. Tried skimboarding, which didn't go so well, but still fun. I can't believe I got to live in a place with multiple beaches.

I flew out Monday night and arrived back in Rochester Tuesday morning. While completed exhausted and jet-lagged, I arrived content. I am at peace, I feel content, and am very grateful for everyone I met, everything I learned and experienced in Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't you quit

"It is when things are the hardest that you must not quit."

Friday marked the last day that our kids were at camp, and so when I made it to bed that night, I was wiped. I knew what was in store for the morning: a tempo run followed by packing up our site. I went to sleep excited about the challenge, but completely exhausted. When I awoke, not much had changed. I felt so tired, and quickly the minutes crept by. I could either gut it out then, or hope to be done closing early enough to fit in the run. Nope, wasn't taking any chances on missing out. And with that, I was out of bed.

So, the warm-up that I have been doing is a 2.5 mile uphill run through this trail by UCSC. Very beautiful, but actually pretty hard for a warmup. It is uphill consistently for the first 1.5 miles, then it levels out to a reasonable level. By the time it evened out, I still felt tired, and unsure about the challenge ahead (6 mile tempo starting at 7:15 pace). Maybe I could just make this a run without concern for time, and then just do the tempo on Sunday. Nope, stop trying to change the game!

So, I started my watch and was off. Thankfully, the weather was misty enough that even though I felt tired, the weather was invigorating. And as I kept going faster and faster, I felt more alive, more alert. Was this possible? I shot out of the trail, back on the road, and felt great. I thought, maybe this won't be a wash after all. I came through 5 miles in 34:xx, and that was when I starting to tire. The flat stretch was almost over, and not only would the final mile of the tempo be uphill, but so would the cooldown (this is part of the 600 ft. climb). I told myself to just hang on as long as possible, and I did take on part of the hill. Then I saw a stop light, and just told myself to get to there, and I put everything I could into hitting that light with some semblance of speed. - I ran 5.75 miles in 40:15 (7 minute pace)! The "Don't Quit" poem kept running through my head, with the resounding line, "It's when things seem worst that you must not quit." I am so glad I did not - it was not a wash or wasted run - it was great. Totally totally worth it, and I went into the day feeling proud of what I did. Do you ever feel like that? Going into work with a successful and complex run already done, but you can't really explain it to any coworkers? Eh, it's okay - they didn't know what it meant, but they did know what it meant to me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shifting the Threshold

This is my last full week in Santa Cruz, which I am sad about. While I am exhausted from overseeing the academic department of my camp for gifted children and am looking forward to resting and seeing my family, I will be sad to go too. I have never lived in such a perfect running place. I wish I had had the time to go to San Francisco and visit there. There is always next year.
I am making sure to go out with a bang, take everything in, and breathe in that California air deeply.
On Monday, I did a boot camp with a colleague of mine who is a personal trainer during the year. This was the second time we did this (last week, I was so sore the next day that it hurt to pull up my shorts), and I definitely felt a lot better this time! Still, it is definitely a humbling experience - it identified some of my weak points. Lots of jumping, planks, bounding, push-ups, squats - it is 45 minutes of drills. I was sweating like crazy, and completely exhausted. But, it was fun to workout with someone here, and to know that the drills are good ones for runners. I hope that after I leave camp, I can continue to do these with some regularity!
I did go out with a bang on the track on Tuesday. Perfect conditions (seriously, I don't even check the weather anymore) and while sleep was limited the night before and I felt tired heading out, I was quickly revitalized when I hit the track. The task: 4 x 1 mile repeats, followed by 2 x 800, all getting progressively faster. Ended up running 6:55, 6:48, 6:43 (after which, a maintenance worker asked what speed I was going at), 6:37! At this point, felt tired, but reassured myself that by the time I would tire during each 800, I would be so close to being finished. 3:17, 3:12 for the 800s. So pumped! I have signed up for a couple of 5ks in DC in September, and hoping to run some fast times. Plus, everything will be so much flatter (although not necessarily cooler), that gunning it won't feel as hard.
Wednesday was weights in the morning, with the hope of cross training in the afternoon. It was tough enough to get up in the morning, but I got the weights done. I was a bit dubious about how the afternoon would go - I had a lot of work to do in my office. And I was moving slow - just dragging the whole day. But, things fell into place in the afternoon, which meant I could afford to head to the gym. I jumped in the pool (it is an outdoor lap pool, which is a lot more fun), and managed to get out my 2000 yard swim. Generally, once I can get past the halfway point, I'm able to convince myself to get through the whole thing.
The task just seems so daunting when you've only covered 300 yards. But I triumphed! And I felt I even got on the bike for 30 minutes (7 miles). Amazing how much exercising revitalized me for the rest of the day - I felt amazing and ready to go.

All of this got me to thinking about the threshold. In running, there are lots of workouts that are about reaching lactate threshold. They are very tough, and certainly uncomfortable. But what does it mean when you shift your threshold?

I remember doing a set of 800s on the track as I was getting ready for the Rochester Marathon last August. It was 10 x 800, and for the life of me, I could not get
past 3:16 for my fastest one. That was it - I was done. I remembered that on Tuesday after my track workout, that just a year later, 3:12 emerged at the end of a tough workout. And being able to get through new workouts at a higher intensity does reflect the ability to shift the threshold.

We are never permanently locked into a limit. We can raise the bar - it may take work, but we can improve our threshold.

And on the days when we are not supposed to push hard, we can just take in the view... (this is where the UC Santa Cruz track is)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tough tempos can bring out the best

So, my running coach in DC, Sarah, wrote to me the other day to ask how my Saturday tempo runs have been going in Santa Cruz. As I told her, it took a few weeks for them to actually go well! As I transitioned to the hills, it took a while to take to the hills with any semblance of speed. The more important objective was to just keep going. But, as things clicked, it finally became reasonable to take on the Saturday tempos with a bit more aggression, as if I were on the East Coast. So, 2 Saturdays ago, I had a great tempo run: 2 mile w/u, 5 mile tempo starting @7:15/mile, 2 mile c/d. I averaged 7:00 for 5.2 miles! And the weather cooperated well, and it just felt great. I was so pleased, and it definitely was a confidence booster. And those are the good runs - the runs that you can reflect on after, be proud of, and get you excited for upcoming races and training.
I had been strutting around with that one, and had had a good track workout too last week. Workout days are often my favorite running days (and days in life, period) - I think it is the challenge posed, and the ability to push through and overcome it. Anyways, this past Saturday, the challenge was an 11 mile hilly run with 10 x 90 second bursts of speed. Perfect weather: misty, 58 degrees - I was in heaven. And my bursts of speed didn't feel like I was dying: my legs were just motoring and I was able to go with it. I had about 2 miles ago, with a 600 foot climb to get to the top of campus. I was waiting for the light to change, and there was a cyclist on the opposite side of the road. I said "I don't know how you do it, biking here."
Cyclist: "Well, I am actually a runner, and this is hard, I am just injured right now. Which way are you going?"
I pointed, and she asked if we wanted to do the climb together.
Inner thoughts: "What?! I can't run alongside a cyclist! This is going to be crazy!"
But..I said "Yes!"
And we climbed our way up, amlbing and gabbing along the way. She has done a dozen marathons, and we had a great chat. I felt like I was dying - it was so steep to begin with, I was trying to chat, and oh yes, I am trying to keep up with someone on wheels.
Cyclist "You're doing so great, this is incredible!"
And you know what? While part of me was so tired, the other part of me was absolutely exhilarated. It was very tough work, but making it through also felt like a major triumph. It was a very unexpected way to finish the run, but completely worth it!
Again, I think tempo runs are one of the hardest parts of training, but definitely can help yield great results!