The Lady and I ran the Peachtree Road Race 10K this week, our fourth since moving to Athens 3.5 years ago (has it been that long already?). Barring some of the most condescending and unhelpful race officials I have ever encountered in my life (they’ll be hearing from me; it was an embarrassment to the sport), it was a top-notch event, as always.
It also continued a monotonic slow-down in race time year-over-year for me since we started running the race as Athens locals: in 2015 I ran it in 46:19; in 2016, 51:48; in 2017, 53:27; and finally, this year, 53:44.
That’s a bit of an oversimplification; after all, the last several blog posts here have detailed how much running has actually improved over the last year-ish. And broadly speaking, that does seem to hold true.
But the month of June was a barn-burner. The two weeks leading up to July 4 were particularly awful.
As much as I like and trumpet the fact that running is a mental and physical cleanse, an opportunity to leave the real world behind for a bit and be alone with my thoughts or just the ambience of nature, I can’t make that switch flawlessly; just like I carry the benefits of running with me into my day-to-day life, the consequences of events from my day-to-day trickle into my running. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I am a function of my entire life, not just the “good” parts I want to bring with on a run.
The Lady and I went through a hard June. We’re still feeling the effects, but we’ve reached the point where re-establishing a regular rhythm–particularly one which involves physical activity–is going to be a net benefit. But to even consider that our running could have continued unaffected during that stretch would be laughable. There was one run (I think it was that Wednesday on the above screenshot, the tiny bubble with no number on it) where I’d planned about 3-5 miles. I got up in the morning, got dressed, headed out… and quit after 1 mile.
There’s the good kind of awful, and just plain shit. This was the latter. You don’t push through that; you listen and do what you need to do, including and especially if that involves not running.
And that’s ok.
Of course, I have a lot of trouble with the “that’s ok” bit. Part of that stems from my innate perfectionism that wants to check off every goal I set: Strava wastes no time in reminding me I’m currently 20 miles behind my mileage goal for the year, which isn’t quite a full week (~28 miles/week is needed to maintain), but warrants attention paid if I want to stay on track. The other part is the fact that, for the most part, I know running is good for me, but too much of anything is a bad thing; finding that balance is tricky. At the time, I wasn’t sure I should call it quits after just 1 mile of a planned 3+; even after I started walking it in, I questioned if I should try to push through it. It’s only in retrospect (two weeks later) that I can confidently say that 1 mile was all I had to give that day, and even then I was probably drawing on the next day’s energy.
Finally, another part of me just wants to run. Rack up those miles, push the pace, snap long-standing PRs, and just fly. Because, all hemming and hawing and navel-gazing aside, I love running.
It’s that simple. But as many religions have found, it’s tough to be both of the world while also separate from it. Impossible, really; that’s why I can’t just flip the switch and drop the real world when it comes time to run.
But it is nice to occasionally remind myself why I run.
Is it already 2018 already? Where did the last year even go?!
Yeah, even aside from the obvious, 2017 was brutal on a professional level: submitted close to 20 grant proposals (one funded, still waiting to hear on a couple more, so currently floating at a 5% hit rate… lower if we go by % of requested funds), several papers (though three were just accepted to ISBI!), taught two brand-new courses in the fall and spring, and mentored ~18 students from high school up to doctoral.
Set a course PR at the Albany Half in March, coming in at 1:48:24. This beat my previous (and first) performance at that half by nearly 5 full minutes.
Ran November’s Chickamauga Half Marathon in 1:46:55, which was not only a course PR (by about 3 minutes), but was also my fastest half marathon time since I ran about a 1:45-flat at the Georgia Publix half in March of 2015 (aside: it’s been a long, long, looong grind back to fighting form).
Ran the Chagrin Falls 5K over Thanksgiving break in 22:30, which was likewise my best 5K effort since mid-2015.
I participated in my first-ever Beer Mile! It’s something I’ve been saying I would do since a few months before my dissertation defense, so this has been a long time coming. I even did pretty well: 2nd overall, behind last year’s beer mile winner. My running was pretty so-so, but the actual beer-drinking part is where I pretty much wipe the floor. Yes, I do indeed have that ability to “open my throat”, so unless you can make your drink flow faster than standard Earth gravity, it’s unlikely you’d beat me in that part 😉
I ran over 1,400 miles! Holy $*@#!
Annnnd, in what may be the biggest news of all from 2017: my beautiful, fabulous, enormously-talented wife got me a Garmin Fenix 5 for Christmas!
Because it’s a Fenix watch, I named it Phawkes.
*pause for knowing smiles*
2017 wasn’t without some down-beats:
April and July were just plain rough across the board. April was spent in an exhausted stupor after back-to-back funerals in a three-week span in the previous month, to the point where I had to sacrifice running just to stay afloat. July was brutal for the oppressive heat and humidity, in addition to the never-ending teaching responsibilities and the huge CAREER grant deadline in the middle of the month. Basically, two months of way, way too much going on.
That metatarsalgia from a few years ago? Yeah, it’s back, but in the other foot this time. As soon as I felt it, I put the custom orthotics back into my everyday shoes, and have also purchased double-wide long run Kayanos. These seem to have mitigated the worst–I’ve had one single long run in the last six months that sidelined me afterwards, unlike every long would the last time–but like last time, it’s just kinda always there. It hasn’t gotten worse since it appeared, which is also a marked improvement, but it probably won’t completely disappear for at least another few months.
Even though I’ve made strides getting back into fighting form–after moving to Athens, starting a new job, and battling multiple injuries–I lost patience with myself again after the Santa Stroll 8K race in the middle of December. I melted down at about the halfway point, and even though I finished with an 8K that was 6 seconds slower than my best, I still lost it when I crossed the finish line. Most of the time I can logically convince myself that I’m making good progress, that I’m getting stronger all the time, that the day is getting closer when I set a PR again, but on this particular day it broke the surface and I just lost it.
So here we are, in 2018. Definitely looking to improve my game:
1,500 miles. Should be totally doable; push those three consecutive sub-100 months up over 100 and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Sub-1:45 half. I’m tentatively targeting the Eugene Half in April for this. We’ve just officially started training (The Lady is training for the full for her next BQ attempt, nat), and with the roaring Fall of 2017 at our backs I should be in pretty good shape to make a run for it in a few months.
Better work-life balance, primarily through regular writing practice. This is solidly in the camp of “professional resolutions,” but I think this is the one that is by far most likely to reverberate throughout all aspects of my life. I took a writing workshop in December that focused on establishing regular (i.e., daily) writing habits for early career faculty such as myself, and it’s a habit I’m trying now to develop in earnest. Already I can tell I’ve been a little more at ease and patient with myself. It’s a pretty nice feeling to be able to say, after a morning writing session, that I can check that off the rest of the day and worry about other things!
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.
Gorgeous fall-ish morning runs in Athens.
Long runs in the ‘burgh!
A paradise right alongside the Thames!
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 🙂
To those of you who stop running because it became tiresome and grindy: I absolutely get it.
The last year of running has been the most unproductive and least enjoyable that I’ve ever had. It’s come from a really bad combination of 1) stressful job that hasn’t let up in this time frame, and 2) bad, lingering injuries that have been extremely slow to heal. I’ve had to mentally put myself in the position of essentially starting from scratch, albeit with the knowledge of having once run 5×1600 with 6:20 splits and a half marathon PR of 1:41.
“Frustrating” is putting it kindly. So when someone expresses their own frustration with running, or dreads going out for a run, or drops it entirely for these reasons, I totally get it.
But if you manage to catch a glimpse of light at the other end, a whiff of progress out of the seemingly-endless grind, it is beautiful.
With very few exceptions, my running the last several months has been consistent down to the week: mid-20s’ worth of mileage.
It’s just that so little of it was actually fun. That the majority was during the absolutely horrific summer we suffered through this year probably didn’t help much, but an enjoyable run in this stretch was the exception, not the rule.
Sheer determination to hit 20+ miles each week, seeing how many weeks in a row I could do it, and stubborn refusal to give up on it were just about the only reasons I kept going out every day. That, and trying to keep my endorphin levels as high as possible with the stress of work. If I wasn’t running, I wasn’t working out, period. And I needed to work out.
So I kept running. But it wasn’t confidence-inspiring; if anything, it did the opposite. When almost every run hurt, my already-dim view of my own abilities only drooped further. It probably doesn’t come as much surprise, then, that when Ath Half rolled around, I was just hoping not to thoroughly embarrass myself.
You can argue that one’s finishing time ultimately doesn’t matter. And you’d be 100% correct! The problem is, once you actually hit the road, that just doesn’t matter anymore. The fact that I haven’t run a half marathon in over 2 hours since 2010 weighed heavily on me as I considered possibly exceeding 2 hours in this race, given how miserable my runs had been.
I was telling everyone ahead of Ath Half that I just wanted to come in under 2 hours.
Truthfully–as runners do–I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to come in under 1:55, since my 2015 Ath Half time was somewhere around low-1:54. C’mon, I thought: at least make a run at last year’s time, right?
But I had absolutely no gauge for what I could do. The last half marathon I’d run in recent memory was the brutal downhill Scream Half, where I posted a respectable 1:53, but the insaneelevation change obviated any possibility of comparison. Plus, that was all the way back in June. I had no barometer against which to infer my limits.
And, because the aforementioned summer sucked so freaking much, I wasn’t putting much stock in my abilities. Hence, sub-2 sounded like a treat to me.
Enter race day.
One of our running buddies, Jonathan, was the 1:40 pacer. A bunch of ladies on the Fleet Feet running team were going to hang with him. Going in, I figured I’d stick with the group for the first mile for the lulz, then just coast the rest of the way to the finish. An eclectic plan for sure; it also betrayed just how not-seriously I was taking this race.
(and belied how much I was dreading it)
Still, the weather was quite a bit nicer from Ath Half 2015. That year, it was muggy as hell, and I suffered quite a bit as a result. But while the more pleasant weather was certainly welcome, it did nothing to assuage the dark recesses of my mind worrying about the hills on the back half of the course. They’d be there no matter how nice the weather was.
Thus began the race.
It was clear within the first couple of blocks that I wasn’t going to stick with the 1:40 group; I let them go pretty quickly after the start. Still, I knew I was being pulled along at a decent clip by all the folks around me, so I focused on slowing down.
Cool! But too fast, let’s try to draw it back a little.
Wow, that’s neat. But still too fast. Pull back on the throttle.
Hmm. Is the throttle busted?
Yeah: first 5 miles of the race in 40 minutes flat. I was not expecting that. But at the same time, I knew it was the flattest 5 miles I’d get, so I really, really needed to slow down, no seriously guys, for real, time to slow down.
Somewhere around this time, I caught up to The Lady, who’d fallen off the 1:40 group. I walked alongside her for a bit, checking in and making sure she was ok. I was also confident at this point that I no longer had to worry about living through my WORST NIGHTMARE of coming in over 2 hours (by my math, would’ve had to run 10-minute miles for the remaining distance for this to be a problem).
Turns out, we weren’t far from the next water stop, at which point The Lady stopped there for a bit to collect herself, and I started back up running again. I could feel that my legs were definitely getting heavy, and we’d only just started with the hills. Welp, I figured, I wasn’t going to set any landspeed records anyway. Let’s just see what happens.
I was mentally kicking myself at every mile, as I kept watch-hawking. I couldn’t seem to help myself; I was going by feel, but at the same time felt an overwhelming need to check the distance, check my splits, blah blah blah. I knew it was mental, that my mind wasn’t the honed, sharpened, hardened diamond it had once been, and as a result I was doing things and engaging in habits that were counter-productive in a race environment. But the discipline just wasn’t there. I tried to shake it off and just keep on going.
Yep, definitely slowing down (though I did walk this mile…).
Huh, apparently not.
This is where it started getting hard: the hills kept coming and my mental game wasn’t improving. Turning down some extremely rolling terrain, I tried to focus entirely on the relief I still felt that it was nigh-impossible at this point to finish in over 2 hours.
Still, that damn hill coming out of River Rd is effing brutal. I used the water stop there as an excuse to stop and re-tie my right shoe, which had become loose enough that it was becoming a distraction. I recalled at the starting line it had crossed my mind to double-knot my shoes, then something shiny must’ve come along. Go me.
At this point I was coming into the home stretch where we loop around the stadium a few times. It’s both electrifying (lots of cheering sections) and deflating (so close to the finish for so long). I was still allowing myself to slow considerably on uphills; I’d like to say it was because I was refusing to walk at any point, but really it was because I was just mentally lazy and knew that I’d come in under 2 hours, so who cares about shaving off a few seconds on this hill.
Then I finally did the math–wait, I’m less than a mile out and barely into the 1:40s? I CAN BREAK 1:50?!
I tried to kick, I honestly did. My legs were burning pretty good at this point, and my chest felt like it was being compressed by an anvil, but for once in the entire race I managed to push my mental laziness aside and give it everything I had left–an average 6:43 pace.
I couldn’t believe it.
I just finished Ath Half–ATH HALF–not only faster than last year, but under 1:49!
For comparison, here’s the mile-by-mile breakdowns of Ath Half 2016 versus last year:
2015 mile splits.
This year’s mile splits.
This year’s cadence.
One hell of an improvement!
This is not to say I’M BACK B#^*%ES. I still have a ton of work to do. My cadence fell off considerably, especially in the last few miles. Given my foot issues from the last year, cadence is the one thing that I absolutely cannot slack on; it needs to stay above 160, preferably around 170.
Speaking of slacking, my mental game is a joke. I had absolutely zero capacity to settle in, let the world around me disappear, and just let go and go. I kept glancing at my watch at least a couple of times each mile, I kept oscillating between worry about the next hill and worry about embarrassing myself. And I had no ability to push myself in the last few miles, instead getting lazy and just slowing down, even though I clearly still had gas left in the tank. Speedwork and tempo runs will help with this, though.
And hills–in a not-so-distant previous life, a source of strength and motivation–have become borderline intimidating. That’s a little worrisome; downhills have always been hard for me, but it’s helped that I always got a boost out of uphills, even if it was only psychological.
But! Yes, there is, in fact, a “but.”
There’s a core here worth building on. Something has clearly been clicking for the past several months, to the point where I could run a sub-1:50 under less-than-ideal conditions; my previous sub-1:50 performance was at last year’s Chickamauga Battlefield half marathon. Absolutely perfect conditions–extremely gentle hills, near-freezing temperatures, and perfectly sunny–and it was still a squeaker: I came in somewhere around 1:49:57, and only after redlining the last two miles to do it.
I had time to spare this year, on a much harder course. Time that, of all things, I spent being mentally lazy on the final climbs. Had I really pushed myself that last 5K, who knows how much room under 1:50 I would’ve had.
I’ve been telling people how this past year has basically felt like starting over from zero, except with all the knowledge and experience of “I used to be able to do this…”, which has made it so easy to be so hard on myself. It’s been true in a big sense: I’ve had to accept limitations I haven’t experienced since I started running, and at that time I was blissfully unaware of said limitations.
That’s made it hard. Really hard. Which is why I understand if you’ve been in this position and have chosen to walk away and try something else. And who knows: maybe this race was an anomaly and running will go right back to sucking in the near future.
All I know is something clicked at Ath Half, and for something to click in a half marathon, something has to be clicking for weeks before that. Plus, I told The Lady years ago that I would retire when I broke a 1:35 half marathon; can’t stop now that I’m making headway toward that goal again!
I know I’m probably wading into a pool with which I’m at best unfamiliar, at worst wholly unwelcome. In that spirit, I want to limit my discussion here to what I am perceiving given my role as a runner and athlete.
I’ve heard The Lady use a line I’ve also since seen on the interwebs at large:
CrossFit is the opposite of Fight Club: the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit.
Needless to say, I don’t have a particularly high opinion of it. I’ve been known to defriend acquaintances on Facebook just to cut down on the sheer quantity of CrossFit-related pictures showing up on my News Feed.
However, my biggest complaint with CrossFit isn’t how it appears to encourage humblebragging. My biggest complaint isn’t that it seems to reinforce bad and potentially injury-prone lifting technique. My biggest complaint isn’t that it exudes a very clique-ish aura of you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality.
My single biggest issue with CrossFit is that proponents of it truly cannot acknowledge the effectiveness of workout regimens that aren’t CrossFit.
This is completely at odds with one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with running: if you ask a runner why they run, you’ll get a unique answer every time. Everyone runs for their own reasons. And that’s not only ok, it’s awesome! We’re all bound in siblinghood by our varying degrees of crazy, even though our motivations may be wholly disparate.
And even the activity of running itself can take many forms! There are long slow (LSD) runs, tempo runs, speed work, hill repeats, fartleks (heh heh), striders, sprints, run streaks, and the catch-all of cross-training. All of these are essential, and while some are qualitatively more important than others, they all work in unison.
tl;dr version: There’s no best way to go about doing your thing. Of course there are plenty of wrong ways, but there’s no single right way. Where every one of my interactions with CrossFit proponents seems to be a paraphrasing of “CrossFit is the only way to work out,” runners revel in the veritable “Choose Your Adventure” of training regimens. Coming from an athletic background–organized baseball, football, and basketball; weightlifting, running, pick-up soccer, racquetball, tennis, and even swimming–one of the worst things you could say is that one of these sports is objectively better than another.
For instance: since arriving in Athens, The Lady and I have adopted the following workout routine:
Monday: squats, squats, and more squats (30-45 minutes’ worth); 30 minutes of treadmill / elliptical; 3-5 miles in the evening with Fleet Feet
Tuesday: back and shoulders weights (bench press, standing/sitting rows, laterals, plate lifts; 1 hour), treadmill / elliptical (45 minutes)
Wednesday: core work (45 minutes); treadmill / stationary bike (45 minutes)
Thursday: biceps and triceps (dips, tricep extension, chin-ups, halting dumbbell curls; 1 hour), quality cardio workout (speed work / tempo run)
Friday: rest, yoga
Saturday: long run (10+ miles)
Sunday: rest, yoga
Nontrivial amounts of strength training (with focus on proper form) with nontrivial amounts of cardio. The specific lifts and cardio sessions change each week to ensure our bodies are exposed to as many different workouts as possible. “Cross-training,” indeed.
Which is awesome. And is, I think, what sets it apart.
If you want to run, run! If you want to CrossFit, do CrossFit! If you want to do both, do both! Just remember that what works for you–as amazing and remarkable as its results may be–won’t necessarily work for everyone. The key is to be open about that. Runners are so perpetually hopped up on endorphins, we can’t help but roll with it.
I’ve had this post rolling around in my head awhile: how I got into running. The upshot is, it’s a lot complicated, but the simplest answer I can give is that this particular individual bears a lot of responsibility (or, perhaps, credit) for getting me where I am now:
I’ll back up a bit.
I can recall the first time I ever went on a run: something in grade school inspired me to get into shape. Probably something related to the competitiveness all us 10-12 year old boys felt on the baseball field when we came up against someone who wasn’t, in fact, scrawny and lanky and could, in fact, hit and throw quite well. I remember getting into push-ups, starting with 3×5 and working up to sets of 20. As for running, I ran the block around my parents’ old house, which I’m pretty sure in retrospect was all of a quarter mile. Also having no idea how to “run”, and being a kid, I did what I did best: RUN AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.
Needless to say, a quarter mile got me plenty tired.
Staying in Shape
Fast-forward a handful of years to high school. This is where I recall running playing a more prominent role. Granted, while I was in high school, football ruled supreme. I still played baseball each spring, but it was to stay in shape for football. Gym workouts every weekday in the offseason was for football. Football doesn’t exactly lend itself to distance running, either; the only remotely feasible connection came at the very beginning of camp at the start of each fall season, whereupon exiting the bus at whatever backwater college campus we were staying for the next week, we’d all run the vaunted 1.5-mile fitness test on the track. I don’t know what I got in 10th and 11th grade (9th graders didn’t go to camp), but I do recall my senior year: a not-too-shabby 9:47.
That time came from using the weekends to get in 2-4 miles around my neighborhood. Football practices during the season and weightlifting in the offseason left me drained come the weekends; the obvious response was to sit around like a blob Saturday and Sunday. However, it was amazing how much blobifying over the weekend would rear its ugly head come Monday practices. So I started running once over the weekend, usually Sunday evenings, just to get the lead out. Once, I may have run 5 miles through my neighborhood, but that was the highest my mileage ever got.
I do recall one special instance the week after I got my [mild!] concussion senior year. It happened in the last game of the regular season, so luckily enough there was no game the following week before the playoffs started. I, of course, did not participate in any practices that week anyway, and that Friday we were given completely off. So I headed over to the cross-country practice (many of my friends were on the team) and joined in for their “easy day:” a fast romp around the ~2-3 miles of the trails surrounding the school. I was pretty much dead afterwards, but I enjoyed it. I even ran my first-ever 10K my senior year: finished in about 61 minutes! Not bad for a defensive end.
In college I kept the weightlifting going with both old and new friends, and ran some even longer distances (one run was somewhere in the 6-7 mile range around the Georgia Tech campus; I was proud!), and in 2005 I succeeded in running my first sub-50 10K! Sadly, the race in which I did so no longer exists (check out my post from last year exploring old race bibs; in particular, the last two are from that race). I wouldn’t come close to that kind of running performance again until graduate school (FORESHADOWING).
In all this, the pattern remained the same: running was a way of staying in shape. At most, I’d run two, maybe three times each week. One of those runs was usually a hill workout. Not a bad regimen by any stretch! But rather than running for its own sake, I ran to maintain some level of fitness, and often when life got busy and stressful I’d drop running entirely without much of a second thought. I wasn’t a runner, nor would I have considered myself one.
This was a memorable year, for many reasons: I graduated with my M.S. degree, started my Ph.D., and for the first time in our already-four-year relationship, The Lady and I were living in the same city, walking distance from one another. We started running together as (again) a way to stay in shape, get to know the city, and get to know each other on an everyday level that hadn’t been possible with 800 miles separating us. The Lady was knowledgeable about running–gear, shoes, distances, paces–but hadn’t maintained running through the whole year before. I had zero knowledge of running besides putting one foot in front of the other, but had run in races before. We took a stab at a local 5K, running a pretty slow time, but the end result was an epiphany: The Lady was hooked on racing.
[before the race]
The Lady: “Why would anyone want beer after a race?”
[after the race]
The Lady: “THIS IS F*$#ING AWESOME LET’S DO MOAR.”
We signed up for the Pittsburgh Great Race 10K and had a blast. [Editor’s note: slight continuity error. The 10K came *before* the 5K. However, the above quotes still happened.] Then came what, in my mind, truly catapulted me over the edge from what was essentially a hobby-jogger mentality into full-blown runner mode: we registered for, trained for, and ran the Atlanta Half Marathon.
It took some time afterwards for me to admit it, but in retrospect, this is when the paradigm shift occurred: I was a runner. I fell in love with it. I don’t know why it never quite clicked with me before through all those years. Wrong timing? Circumstances didn’t align? Current pursuits didn’t mesh? Who knows. I ran races, even went on hard training runs (Freshman Hill repeats at Georgia Tech are no cake walk!), but never caught the bug…until The Lady quite literally arrived on the scene.
Coincidence? I think not!
It’s become part of me, but even more than that, it’s part of us. It was one of the first activities we embarked on together as a couple living in the same city, and like us the activity has grown in many wonderful ways that continue to be sources of individual and collective strength and support. I’ve mentioned to her on several occasions, particularly within the last few months (hello run streak!) how much easier it makes sticking to running that I’m with someone who is also a runner. I can’t count how many times over the course of the run streak one of us had negative motivation to bundle up and brave the elements just to run one measly mile, but the other person managed to coax both of us out. And in 100% of those cases, we’d both come back feeling amazing. Having that extra boost in the mornings is invaluable; alone, I probably would have reset my alarm, rolled over, and hibernated for the winter.
It also gives me a newfound respect and admiration for those who stick to their running schedules without the gentle nudging of someone who will be accompanying them. I sincerely tip my hat to all of you.
I love running. And I can’t say enough how grateful I am to The Lady for helping make that happen.
Now! Before anyone barfs from the cuteness, here’s a cat wearing an Oscar the Grouch hat.
(don’t worry, I’ll make a race report of the Spring Thaw once Elite Runners posts the pictures from it)
It’s tough to admit, but I’m in a bit of a rut at the moment: my paces have plateaued since last year, and I haven’t been able to progress as quickly as I would like.
I didn’t start running in earnest until late 2010, when I ran my first half marathon. The rest of that year and most of the next were intermittent; I struggled with on-again, off-again shin splints from shoes that really weren’t built for me. Things started smoothing out in the fall of 2011, and between that time and the spring of 2012 I experienced incredible gains in both speed and distance: I was hammering out long runs at sub-9 paces, and crushing half-marathons at tempo pace. This rapid improvement continued through about 3/4 of our marathon training, right about until I twisted my ankle and stress levels skyrocketed due to impending research deadlines.
Since then, I’ve had trouble finding my footing again. As it were.
Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to see why I had a relatively poor marathon outing: stress, lack of sleep, a lackluster final month of training, and a precedent for breaking down the first time I run a longer distance. Most of this was completely outside my control; something runners have to be prepared for is that on each day there’s some non-zero chance of having a bad day. Usually, these bad days happen during training, and you hardly think twice about it. But by sheer probability, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bad day at least once when you really, really don’t want to. Like your first marathon.
But I’m still struggling to find my rhythm again. Training has started for the Pittsburgh Half in May, and the second week was a bit rough. The desire to run is back with a vengeance, but my muscles still seem somewhat timid. Spring Thaw didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and this morning’s “easy” run didn’t feel all that easy, and was in fact a bit slow for me (average pace was a few seconds over 9min/mi).
It would be unrealistic to expect near-constant gains in speed and endurance over time. I had an incredible ~1 year run where every run seemed to be faster than the previous one; almost every time I raced, I set a PR for that distance. I was steadily pushing my tempo pace into the low-7s; my speed pace was right at 6:20, and I even set one at 6 flat.
Here’s the upshot: these slowdowns not only happen, but they’re inevitable. Training goes in cycles; you’ll experience gains and then plateau while your body catches up. The key is not to become frustrated by these seeming lulls in productivity. Frustration will build on itself and create more problems. The hardest part is knowing that you’re capable of doing something by virtue of the fact that you’ve done it before, but right now it seems just beyond your reach.
Google “running slow progress” and you’ll find endless threads from people in the same situation. I’m no expert; I only started running in earnest in late 2010. But if history is any indication: be kind to yourself. Be patient; stick with the plan. If boredom is part of the problem, mix in some cross-training. This is something I haven’t been particularly good about; I miss my long 25+ mile bike rides around the city. I’ll have to bring that back now and again, along with semi-regular rowing.
I’m my own worst enemy. The worst thing that can happen is I get so frustrated with myself that I start hating running, and that would be truly regrettable. I need to take a deep breath…relax…and trust my training. Switch to cross-training on occasion. Run without music, or without a GPS watch. I’ve been going at this for longer than I ever have before; of course there are going to be bumps in the road.
I was out of the game for about 6 months in early 2011 due to shin splints. Quite literally the only difference between then and now is that I’ve built up a bunch of expectations for myself. I’m running like I now have something to lose, which always adds stress. I need to run with reckless abandon, like I have nothing to lose.