The Serenity Run

Patience–with both myself and others–has been a key component of my new job. Whereas a graduate student I felt constantly pulled in about 2-3 “major” directions, my tenure-track position feels as though I’m constantly pulled in about 200-300 directions. The result is often that I have to put certain things on hold–sometimes for long periods of time–in order to work on the absolutely time-critical items in front of me.

This year, more than any other, has felt particularly demanding in that regard.

I’ve focused my energies this year on grant proposals. An informal count puts the number of grants to be submitted this calendar year at 20, four in the month of October alone. Naturally this rate of submission has come at the expense of other things, like the actual research–I’ve had to almost exclusively rely on my students for that, and it’s been tough; after all, it was the research that got me this position in the first place.

It’s also come somewhat at the expense of my mental and emotional being, creating an almost-perpetual state of panic about all the writing and idea-having that needs to happen before the next deadline, somehow expertly interleaved with all the teaching. Oh right–did I mention I taught a brand-new course in the spring, and am teaching another brand-new course right now? Both are (if I do say so m’self) awesome courses that I wish I’d been able to take as a student, but there’s no getting around the “brand-new” part and its intense time demands.

But despite the fast-paced balancing act that has been 2017 thus far, I seem to have gravitated toward a take-no-prisoners approach to running. I was so busy over last year’s holiday season preparing for the spring course that I never formulated actual resolutions, but realize now have somewhat informally adopted one: make running happen.

Of course this has other implications: by making running a top priority, I’m also carving out time for sleep (can’t have a run without a recovery). And running tends to be the bulk of my social life, which means I’m still interacting with people (even though I’m an introvert, I have to have social interaction to stay anchored to reality). And most importantly, it means I’m spending time with The Lady, because she’s most likely also running–training for the next BQ race, or just stepping back a little before taking the next plunge.

Without any conscious goal-setting on my part, I’ve consequently set all kinds of mileage milestones:

  • Crossed 1,000 miles on the year a few weeks back; 2016 and 2015 were barely over 1,000 total
  • Logged 150.34 miles in September; I had to go back to March 2015 for a higher-mileage month, and that was a peak month for Big Sur training
  • Broke 100 miles 6 out of 9 months this year; only did that for 5 months in 2016

Of course none of this has been particularly fast; my PRs are still getting dusty (all from 2013 and 2014). I think I’ve run 3 or 4 races total this year, where in years past I’d run 3 or 4 races in a month. But it does nonetheless mean I’ve been taking the time to run.

And that’s required patience! Patience with my work, knowing that I’d have to put even more things on hold to carve out time to run. Patience with my body, given the deleterious effects of work stress combined with decent running mileage. Patience with circumstances outside my control, particularly the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer months. Patience with myself, knowing I can’t do everything I want to as well as I know I can but still accepting that I did the best I could with what I had.

This is not to say I’ve always been patient with myself, or been able to accept the circumstances in front of me. Quite the opposite; I still struggle with this on a daily basis, and some days are decidedly worse than others. The month of October is particularly heinous given the aforementioned tetra-series of grant deadlines.

But for better or worse, running is an an important part of who I am, a part I’m unwilling to sacrifice no matter how busy life gets. It keeps me sane, even when it’s brutal and challenging and feels awful and I’d rather be blob-ifying on the couch or fast asleep instead of outside at 5am doing tempo miles. It keeps me grounded, chatting with friends on easy runs or even silently enjoying the atmosphere of running in a group of lovely people. It keeps me healthy and strong, sharp for the next challenge in my job or in shape for some random pick-up game. And it keeps me connected with The Lady, since no matter how busy our professional lives may get, we have an almost-daily routine of time we spend together.

Plus, I’m a stress-eater, so the only way to avoid the tenure-track-twenty is to keep running 🙂

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Moving back to the starting line

I’m currently sitting in the enormous Oregon Conference Center in Portland, OR for the weeklong PyCon 2016 (where I’ll be speaking later this afternoon, w00t!). However, I wanted to take the brief reprieve–there’s a career fair going on in the main exhibit hall right now, which I arguably don’t need to worry about for at least the next 6 years–to discuss something completely unrelated to Python or science in general (ok, maybe it’s grounded entirely in science, just not in the sort of research I do).

The thought that’s been slowly crystallizing in my mind for the past several months (yes, months) is this idea of “starting over” with running. It’s a tough idea to fully wrap one’s mind around; we certainly remember when we first started running, and we often look fondly at what we once thought of as “long” runs or “fast” runs compared to what we do now. But it never occurs to us–at least, it never occurred to me–that at some point before realities of aging set in, we may essentially have to start from scratch.

Start over. As in, among other things:

  • 3-mile easy-pace runs aren’t hard, but they’re not easy either.
  • Tempo pace feels hard after the first mile.
  • Hitting double-digit mileage in one run is really long.
  • Every single run feels at least a little bit grind-y.
  • (corollary to the previous point:) I have no idea what this “runner’s high” thing is you keep mentioning.

There are plenty of other little points, and I’m sure everyone could name a few from their own experiences (e.g. coming back from an injury), but the real kicker I want to emphasize in all this: these are things new runners don’t think about. They don’t have the experience or the context to remember previous easy runs that were truly easy, or tempo runs that got hard once you were a few miles into the tempo pace, or that it was the 20-milers that were lengthy (10 miles was a cutback run).

Maybe it’s just me and my superhumanly-overactive frontal cortex that runs every little thought into the ground before beating it ad nauseum, but it’s tough to shake the feeling of “this is where I should be in my running” when I don’t perform to my internal expectations.

It was about this time a year ago when I first started seeing a physical therapist in Athens about my nagging metatarsalgia in my left foot. The problem never really improved until months later when I invested in some custom orthotics. Even now, though, it can still be problematic depending on how tired I am and, ultimately, how hard my foot slams into the ground while I’m running.

This injury has resulted not only in a slew of secondary injuries from “compensating” while running (Achilles’ tendonitis, IT band warnings, foot pain)–DON’T DO IT, KIDS; DON’T ALTER YOUR RUNNING FORM–but it’s necessitated a huge pullback in the total mileage I’ve logged. I barely crossed 1000 miles last year after logging nearly 1600 the previous year, and right now I’m on track to do about the same as last year. Only in the last several weeks have I managed a sustained training regimen in the 20+ weekly mileage range.

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Finally putting in some consistent mileage again.

The thought bouncing around my head for months but which I’ve only just started fully elucidating is this: I’m essentially starting over.

My paces and average mileage hearken back to an era nearly half a decade ago, when I was just getting into running and had no frame of reference for any of these concepts. In some sense, particularly given the context of this post so far, that certainly made the process easier: nothing against which to compare myself. Just pure reckless abandon.

But as The Lady has pointed out numerous times, it doesn’t necessarily have to function as a weight, a reminder of what you once were, and how far you’ve fallen. Instead, it can serve as foundational experience, a guide for how to do things the right way. How many times have we said that if we could do it all again, we’d do it differently?

Of course, this comes with the caveat that we first have to accept that we’re starting from scratch. That’s the part that’s been months in the making for me. All this time, I’ve been implicitly assuming it would take only a short time (weeks? days? who knows) to work out the kinks and get back into fighting form.

If only any part of life were that simple!

No, this is a much more sustained effort; I took months off from running. Yes, I increased my cross-training, throwing down hours upon miles upon hours upon miles on the stationary bike and, weather permitting, my beastly Raleigh Talus, Sybil. But you can’t leave something for months at a time and just jump back in without skipping a beat.

So here I am. I’m not fully healed yet–metatarsalgia requires constant vigilance, and I have to keep up with my PT exercises to hold tendonitis at bay–but the last several weeks have demonstrated more promise than the months before that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those same past several weeks have overlapped with the time where the idea that I really was starting over began to consciously take hold.

Hi. I’m Shannon, and I’m a newbie runner looking to build my mileage and crush my PRs.

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The Injuries of March

A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.

Too nicely, of course. My right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.

So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.

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Slow and steady, if nothing else.

But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.

The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.

I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.

I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements have been nothing short of astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.

I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a runner, dammit. When I don’t run, I get angry. That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.

So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.

Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.

Wish us both luck!

Big Sur, Week 12: The Double Cutback

To play off one of my all-time favorite cartoons, training has been…interesting. The Lady and I raced our hearts out at the Georgia Half Marathon this past weekend, and while I will say that we seriously kicked ass, I’m going to hold off for a bit on a race report (basically until I have more time to do it justice; this will just be a quick training update).

The past few weeks of training haven’t made a whole lot of sense from a bird’s eye view:

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Reasonable questions to ask after looking this over include

  • Why does the mileage drop for two consecutive weeks?
  • Where’s the long run for the week of Mar 9-15?
  • What’s with all the runs of 2.9, 5.9, and 9.9 miles?

The answer to the third question is short and sweet: “because Strava is a unfathomably frustrating when it comes to manually specifying treadmill workouts.” The first two questions require a little more prior knowledge.

Simply put, The Lady and I were hitting walls, with the end result being that we both felt completely strung out. That 3.2-miler (+XT) at the end of the Mar 9-15 week was supposed to be 10-12 miles; we knew very early on it just wasn’t going to happen. Even though we’d logged an absolutely kick-ass 10M ladder workout only two days before, our hearts, bodies, and souls just weren’t into more mileage. Furthermore, with the following week already scheduled to be a cutback week, we had to further silence our inner critics that demanded we push the mileage we were skipping into the next week.

In retrospect, while the physical ramifications are still somewhat up in the air, at least from mental and emotional perspectives we absolutely needed the mileage drawbacks: skipping 75% of the scheduled long run and sticking to the original cutback week plan were essential. For the first time in awhile, this last week of training didn’t feel terrible. There were numerous runs which, at their end, I actually felt good, a far cry from the feeling of “thank God I got through yet another workout.”

I’m certainly not going to say we’re settled in. There’s still lots to do, personally and professionally, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which direction is up (see my research blog for some perspective into the professional side of things). And then there’s April, which features 1) our (The Lady and I) first wedding anniversary, 2) Easter, 3) Ragnar, and 4) Big Sur. It’ll be a whirlwind month, notwithstanding anything that has to do with settling into our day-to-day lives.

tl;dr Things have been mixed lately, but at the moment I’m cautiously optimistic; there’s been a definite upswing of late, and I’m hopeful it will continue.

I’m hoping to post the Georgia Half race report sometime in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

Week 9: Still re-training myself

As we near the halfway point in our Big Sur marathon training cycle, it’s worth stopping to take a look at how things are going and make an honest assessment.

Honestly? Hard not to be disappointed. It doesn’t feel like there’s been a whole lot to be proud of.

Of course that’s objectively false. I logged my first 100+ mile month since November (127.35 miles, to be exact). While my IT band still stiffens up at times, it seems more than capable now of carrying the marathon training load as long as I’m diligent in rolling it out on a regular basis. My quality workouts (track work, tempo runs) have been solid; not outstanding, but steady. Weightlifting has been going well. Our latest long run–16 miles–while a strangely disjoint route due to a strange afternoon running schedule, clocked in at an 8:47 min/mi average.

Overall, not too shabby. But it’s nonetheless difficult to shake off an overall feeling of disappointment. The Lady and I have discussed this, and while we’re both certainly having a tough time settling into our new lives here in Athens, there has been an unexpected (though perhaps it should have been anticipated) side effect: I’ve forgotten how to suffer.

Somewhere along the line, my training switched from trying to push my limits and make myself better and stronger to simply trying not to crash and burn. Trying not to suffer. Making the goal of my workouts that of avoiding pain.

It clicked earlier this week with something I’d said to The Lady several weeks ago: that I felt like I was holding back. I’m tired seemingly all the time (work stress, unpacking, a general feeling of floating in limbo), consequently I’m not pushing myself as hard as I should be in a bid to “go easy on myself.” It wasn’t a conscious decision, but the result of a constant grind wearing down my psyche. I told one of the Fleet Feet folks here that I felt as though I was having to re-train myself how to run “from scratch,” as though I was starting over at 0. One could argue for the truth of that, honestly. But it’s not the full story.

I’ve written here before about how I need to run as though I have nothing to lose, to leave it all out on the course, to run with reckless abandon. It’s a good thing to remind oneself of from time to time. Forgive my cringe-worthy triteness, but my high school football coaches were right: when you hold back in an attempt to protect yourself, you actually make yourself more injury-prone.

Plus, making your goal “to avoid pain” is boring. What can possibly be accomplished without pain?

It’s something I objectively know, but which has nonetheless crept into my habits when I wasn’t paying attention; believe me, there have been plenty of distractions of late. To some extent, I do indeed have to re-train myself. In particular, I need to learn how to embrace the inevitable pain, rather than try to avoid it.

I made some strides this week. Our Thursday tempo run went decently well; the last mile was a struggle for me, as the pain really started caving in and I couldn’t manage it. This Saturday’s long run went better; it was the first time in quite awhile I posted 16 miles. I felt like crap the whole time, but I actually managed it. I sucked it up and kept putting one foot in front of the other. It felt awful but it proved [to me] I can re-train myself how to do this.

8-mile tempo. Managed to stay fairly consistent in the middle tempo miles.

8-mile tempo. Managed to stay fairly consistent in the middle tempo miles.

Long run, and at a surprisingly brisk pace.

Long run, and at a surprisingly brisk pace.

So here it is: I’m disappointed an 8-mile tempo run at 7:30-7:40 feels so difficult, when I used to pound out sub-7 minute tempo runs at the same distance. I’m disappointed I let the pain get to me so easily. I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to let go and just enjoy the run. I’m disappointed all of this feels so bloody hard all the time.

Most of all, I miss our friends in Pittsburgh. I like Athens and its folks, but moving really sucks. It’ll take some more time, I know. I guess I’m just impatient. 🙂

At the very least, I can say we haven’t been skimping on our carbo-loading–

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The Great Wall of Sushi.

Big Sur, Week 6: wat is happening

Wait, we’re six weeks into this thing already? Jeez.

I’m proud to say that things have improved dramatically since early January: my IT band is most definitely on the mend, and I finally seem to be settling into the ebbs and flows of training.

Good to be back in the 20-30 miles/week range on a regular basis!

Good to be back in the 20-30 miles/week range on a regular basis!

It’s still tough going, though. Life in Athens thus far has been a whirlwind, to put it concisely. Work has been nuts, and all our available not-working time has lately been spent running errands or unpacking. And oh yeah, training for Big Sur and trying to make friends in the process.

Last week I had a bit of a meltdown as a result. Just couldn’t keep up with the pace of things; consequently, I slept in both Wednesday and Friday, breaking our usual routine of hitting the gym Monday-Thursday mornings and doing yoga Friday mornings.

And then there was Exhibit B: Thursday morning was our first track session in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long. The goal was 6x800s with 400 rests in between, with warm-up and cool-down to make the total 6 miles.

It was…very meh.

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Splits 1-4 were ok (3:15, 3:31, 3:24, 3:24). After that I was absolutely dying. It seems like I have some speed, but stamina is still severely lacking. Which, given how run down I’d felt all week, probably makes a lot of sense.

The weekend’s long run was a lot better. We were scheduled for 14 but wanted to meet up with the local running group, Athens Road Runners, for their 6-mile run at 8am. So we did what any completely sane, pulled-together runner would do: woke up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to run 8 miles before 8am, so we could then finish up the last 6 with the group! Logical, right?

We had a blast. We had to run some of the same brutal hills twice, but we met a handful of lovely folks and chatted with them both on the run and for a solid hour afterward at the local coffee shop / bar / music venue Hendershot’s afterwards.

I’m getting there. There’s still a lot of hectic, swirling chaos: my office furniture still hasn’t arrived, there’s still more unpacking to be done at home, and work is pretty stressful. But I feel more refreshed after this past weekend than I have in awhile, and my running has been noticeably improving of late. I’ve even upped the weights on most of my lifts at Ramsey for the first time.

Here’s to continuing the difficult but worthy process of settling in!

200

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(technically 201.61 miles but who’s countiHAHAHA couldn’t keep a straight face)

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My first 200+ mile month. What an epic monster. And this when I’ve already broken all my previous annual mileage records, and am simply pushing the bar higher and higher every time I go out for a run for the rest of 2014.

This August, The Lady and I not only ran our 20-miler in conjunction with the Run for Gold 26.2K, but we added a twist with this year’s marathon training program: a 22-miler to cap off peak week. Granted, experience counts for a lot with marathons, and we’re certainly no exception. But our previous 20+ mile runs have been disappointing more often than they’ve been confidence-inspiring; at least, it’s been that way for me. So we decided: rather than have the full marathon be the first foray into 20+ territory, we’d mix in a single run along those lines into our training regimen.

It was intense, to say the least. The first 5ish miles was me trying to shut my brain off, as it was pretty much freaking out over how long we’d be out running. And the last few miles were definitely painful. But not only did we finish, we finished standing up: we never walked, and only had 2 of the 22 miles over 10 minutes (10:08 and 10:06, respectively). That’s pretty effing awesome.

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We’re officially in taper now, although it’s a bit complicated from me. Recall that I didn’t register for the full marathon, but wanted to train as though I had. Given that this is a cutback week, followed by two full weeks of taper, I’ll likely mix in a quality workout somewhere just to keep some pop in my legs for the shorter distance that I’ll be racing.

But really I’m just thrilled I was able to stick with it through monster month. A lot of folks have been saying that I’ll PR no problem at Air Force, and while I’d love for that to be true, I’m trying to keep the perspective of just going out and having fun. It’s not a sure bet that we’ll be able to run Air Force next fall, so I want to make the most of this outing. Leave it all out on the tarmac, as it were.

2 more weeks until Air Force!

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