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 🙂

MCM Week 9: Bouncing back? Knock on wood?

The past month has been difficult. I’ve felt run down; even on easy runs that are only a couple of miles, I haven’t had any energy and couldn’t find a rhythm. They were struggles the whole way through. The long runs were a particularly nasty variety of grind: I’d have to stop a lot, I was burning through a ton of Gu, and my stomach was being particularly uncooperative. I attributed it to a delayed autonomic response from all the stress in the past couple months (moving twice, proposing a Ph.D. thesis, lots of traveling, and submitting two publications).

I also [finally] made the decision to scale waaaaay back on my paces. I’d keep the distance if at all possible, but I was going to stop caring about the paces I was running (even though I was hitting some pretty awesome tempo paces). This may seem like such a tiny thing, but for me it’s really hard. I’ve improved a ton in the last year, and after peaking at just the right time before the Pittsburgh half in May but then getting sidelined by an IT band injury, I really wanted Air Force in September to be a massive PR. I’ve had to mentally refocus, concentrating on rediscovering the fun in running, as opposed to the constant atmosphere of competition that is often invigorating but lately has been a dead weight.

Take this 18-mile long run, for example. Two weeks ago, I ran 18 miles (The Lady had a slight toe injury that healed quickly, but she had to sit out on this run) and met up with Devin for the last 6.

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The first 12 miles were rough. I averaged probably around an 8:40 (minus an emergency stop at mile 6, roughly 10 minutes). Devin’s pace is a lot slower, but by mile 15, even 10:00 was feeling too hard. We both crashed at mile 16; The Lady drove Devin home, and after a 15-minute rest, I finished the last two miles, feeling absolutely terrible and like I was about to fall apart.

That was when I decided it was time to stop being stubborn and listen to what my body was saying. From then on, I wore my Garmin, but ignored it on runs, going entirely by feel. I also stopped listening to music.

The first couple of runs were still really tough. Everything felt awful. My legs were tired all day every day, feeling like I’d just done squats. Every run was a struggle to keep going and get the mileage in. One of our mutual friends (who I affectionately refer to as “Cranberry Dude“) suggested I take a couple days off from running and up my protein intake. This all–thankfully!–coincided with a much-anticipated cutback week in our training.

I dusted off an old recipe and whipped up some protein bars.

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Peanut butter, chocolate chips, and lots and lots of healthy grains. Oh and protein powder for an added stomach-filling punch.

Two weeks later, following our cutback week, The Lady and I ventured out once more for an 18-mile long run. Once again, we were set to meet up with Devin about 2/3 of the way through.

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You’ll notice the “Time” at the top is actually about 2.5 minutes slower than the previous long run. But if you compare the “Elapsed Time” field in both, that’s where the biggest difference lies: 3:14:28 vs 3:06:24. This reflects the total amount of time the Garmin was on, disregarding all stop/start buttons. Basically, it’s how long we were really out there on our feet, from the moment we took the first step until we reached the very end (since we usually pause the running time at lights, when we met up with Devin, when we stopped for water, etc). This means we spent only about 18 minutes combined not actively running, as opposed to almost 30 from two weeks previous.

Even though I ran this 18 miles 2.5 minutes slower than two weeks ago, I felt really good for the last 10 miles. Miles 4-9 were a little bit iffy; my legs were tired, and I was feeling the same worn-down sentiment that had become so familiar over the last month. But something clicked around mile 9 and I started settling in. We met up with Devin, and as we kept running, my breathing became more and more comfortable, my legs felt stronger, and I actually felt a runner’s high. I haven’t felt one all month. At the end of the run I was tired–I’d just run 18 miles, yo!–but it was a happy tired. An accomplished tired, rather than a “holy shit thank God that’s over I can’t take another step” tired.

I still have a long way to go. But my easy 7-miler yesterday felt similar: another runner’s high, two in a row where previously I hadn’t felt one in a month. The Lady and I have a 9-mile 5×1600 track workout tomorrow morning, but my plan is to suck down my ego again and add 15-20 seconds per mile on top of where I was at the last track workout.

And when Air Force rolls around, hopefully my body will be ready to push itself again. But if it’s not, then I’ll listen. It has my attention now (took me long enough to actually start paying attention), and I love running too much to risk wrecking myself for MCM. I’ll get back to pushing sub-7 tempo runs soon enough!