Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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My Fab Five-Miler and The Real Life Running Coach

At around this time last year I began “officially” working through the weeks of training for my first [minimalist] half marathon. Now that I have gotten over all the “you’re-an-idiot” injuries that kept me from running any other long races in 2011, I find it interesting how different my mindset is this time around.

First, I don’t have a spacial problem about distance anymore. When I was doing long runs, 10 miles seemed reeeeeaaaaaallllly far. And even if I had no real problem getting through 10 miles, the distance still seemed ridiculous. But now, even though my longest run since coming back from injury has only been 5 miles, those same 10 miles don’t seem as long anymore. It could be because over the last year I have made friends with people who run 10 miles for breakfast and another 20 for lunch, but more than that I think it’s due to a complete change in my attitude.

Since the last race that kicked my ass back in June, I’ve changed my GPS watch so that it only tells me how far I’ve gone. No time, no pace, no average pace. Just distance. And if I’m about to run a well-known route, I won’t even take the watch with me. Like Coach Rick says, “Nevermind what the watch says, just run. You’re only going to run as fast as your body can go anyway, and that’s it.” More on Coach Rick later.

These days, I’m a really slow runner. As slow as I was when I first started barefoot running. Well…maybe not quite that slow, but close. But I consider that lack of speed, as embarrassing as it is when I’m running with others, a needed lesson for me to enjoy the journey. I’ve realized I’ve just been dulling my experience by obsessing over how fast I can complete a 5K. And I’m so glad I’ve gotten to this point, it’s huge for me.

I’ve also taken some time to reflect upon my attitude during difficult training runs and races over the last year. It’s an enormous understatement to call myself a complainer. Truth is, I bitch and moan way too much when I’m faced with big challenges. I’ve always told myself that it’s my coping mechanism, but I can sense that I put my running partners off sometimes (sorry, Killeen!), and in all reality it never helped me get through anything. It just kept me from enjoying myself. I realized it when I watched my dear friends cross the finish lines of races with great big smiles on their faces, and mine was scrunched in a scowl. After I finished the half marathon I teared up and wailed out to poor sweet Killeen: “That was really hard!” Not, “that was exciting/fun/exhilarating!” And the race was all those things, but unfortunately for me, I was only focused on the negative parts. Bad attitude to have after completing such a great goal.

This year's training "outline". I guess that means I'm on week 2. Ish.

It’s time to change that, I think. I must focus on my love for running, not just the difficult parts of it. It’s time to think about how great I feel (even if I’m tired), how awesome my last long run was (even if I had to walk part of it), and how I flew through that quarter mile (even if the rest of the run was really slow).

And nothing will make you rethink your attitude like a Boston Marathon running coach, such as one Rick Muhr.

I was invited to attend a Saturday training run given by Coach Rick, with a fellow (very inspiring) blogger and Boston Marathon runner, Sherée. This was the first time I’d ever met Sherée in person, and also the first time that I’d ever shared a training run with 40+ people and a Real Life Running Coach. I didn’t know what to expect, but I found myself sitting in a large room on the basement floor of the First Baptist Church in Newton, tights-clad butts in chairs lining the walls, every pair of eyes following the man with the inspired voice in the center. Coach Rick is just one of those people: you know the type, the guy who makes you feel like you could save the world with a paperclip. The kind of person who holds your gaze and appears truly enthusiastic about making your acquaintance, who instantly makes you feel important to him, even if you only just shook hands. He possesses the powerful companionability that got Barrack Obama voted into the White House, and the unshakable integrity of your greatest personal hero. The man talked for an entire hour in that church basement, and I was hooked the whole time. He mentioned the training and the fundraising that most of the runners had to do, but he talked about a lot of other stuff too. Motivating stuff. Sad stuff. Awe-inducing stuff. Stuff that you think about later on when you’re by yourself in the shower or having a bad day. All I could think the whole time was, man…if I had Coach Rick last winter, I bet that Incident of the Colossal Hill never would have happened, nor would I have had such a shitty outlook upon finishing my first half marathon. Hell…if I had Coach Rick last year, I might have run an entire marathon instead of just half of one. There was such a sense of community there, that I felt like I could conquer any distance I wanted, as long as I had this team of runners and coach with me.

After the lecture, everyone put on their hats and gloves and filed out the door into the 9am sunshine. An ill-timed bathroom break got us started a couple minutes later than the rest of the group, and I immediately fell behind Sherée while she tried to catch up. I knew my legs would have to last 5 miles so I put on some Florence + The Machine and chugged along happily at my own pace, absorbing Coach Rick’s words of wisdom like the sweet warmth of a summer day. I didn’t let it bother me when just about everyone in the group flew by in the opposite direction, already headed back to the church. Well okay…maybe it bothered me a little, but give me a break I’m still working on it.

The best part of the whole run is that when I stopped to get a drink of water (they had water stops!), and when I joined Sherée and the others at the end, I had nothing but positive things to say. “What a beautiful day to run!” “First five-miler in months!” “I feel like I could run six!” “Those hills were awesome!” What a difference a good pep-talk makes.

As I continue through the rest of my training, I plan hold on to Coach Rick’s words for as long as possible, and perhaps duck into the group again in a few weeks to top off the tank with some more motivation. I still love running alone because I just enjoy the meditative state of focus that it allows me, but there’s really something to be said for that community effort. After Saturday, I no longer wonder how my friend Sherée and some of these other Boston Marathoners made it through their 22 mile runs last year.

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Two Half Marys and a Spartan Sprint: Re-motivating.

This has been an eventful few days for me, as far as this whole running endeavor goes. On Sunday, I ran the Boston Athletic Association 10k race. It took place in Back Bay, went for a spin around all the gardens and traveled up and down Commonwealth Ave. It was quite novel to run red lights in the middle of the Boston streets, and awe-inspiring to see all the celebrity elite runners gazelle-ing it past us in the opposite direction toward the finish line. Pretty race, not so pretty performance on my part. It was humid, and I’m discovering that after all that winter training I’m not much for running in the humidity right now. It was also at 8 o’clock in the morning, a time of day that I almost never run. Oh, and at mile 3 I did something stupid: I ate 2 Gel Bloks – which I’d never tried before. About a mile later my stomach let me know she wasn’t having any of it.

All graphic details aside, I didn’t finish as fast as I wanted to. I finished about 15 seconds later than my last 10k, and both my running partners finished over a minute before I did (which, in my mind, means that I should have run at least that much faster). So I was somewhat disappointed in my performance, but it’s okay. I got my t-shirt (B.A.A races always have the BEST shirts!), my cool medal to add to the collection, and had a great time with a couple of awesome chicks who love running as much as me (the pumpkin pancakes and beer at the Pour House afterward weren’t so bad either).

Another thing that happened that day is my very close friend Kathy inadvertently reminded me that I have some half marathon training to do! We are both running the Smuttynose Rockfest Hampton Half on October 2nd, and her official first day of training was Sunday. Excellent. Except I’m also running the Rock ‘n Roll Providence Half Marathon way before that…on August 2nd.

Which means I have (drumroll)………………

SIX WEEKS to train for it. Yikes.

That would normally not give me the least bit of worry, my last long run before this weekend was 8 miles so I’m on track. But my performance on Sunday tells me that I need to majorly work on speed and endurance, especially in the humidity (of which there will be an abundance on August 7th). So, Monday morning I pulled up the “Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Program – Intermediate” and figured out where I ought to be. Now, let me say that I don’t actually believe in following these plans to the letter. I like to use them as a sort of guideline, a way of knowing what might be expected of me to do well. Turns out I’m expected to have run a 10k last weekend (check) and 16-19 miles this week, with a 9 mile long run on Saturday. No big deal.

um.

It’s important to point out that I’m sort of training for TWO half marathons. Knowing that this first one in Providence will likely be satanically hot and therefore quite slow, I may just consider it an extra-fun training run for the second race (a flat ocean-side course in nice, COOL October), which I hope will be a PR-maker. So – I’m going to try and run three days midweek instead of my usual two, for interval training. I like intervals, fartleks, hills. They add total suckage to the current workout, but it’s amazing how much they help later on.

So last time my peak mileage per week was 20. This time it’ll be more like 23-25. Still not a crazy amount in relative terms, but I think it’ll do. My biggest worry is recovering mentally from the first race in order to prepare for the second one. It took me over a month to get back into gear after April’s half. It could have had a lot to do with the crushingly busy season at work and the subsequent week-long business trip, but also a bit injured so it was difficult to get back on track. Hopefully I’m stronger now and will have less injuries as I go through training (IT Band, don’t fail me now!)

And then there’s the third thing: Today I signed up for the Spartan Race, which will take place three weeks after the Providence half marathon. The Spartan Race is in the same vein as the Warrior Dash. My friend Kathy has dubbed it “the race for people who don’t run,” which is fitting since most of it actually consists of things like crawling, climbing, swallowing dirt and dodging tires, not even running. It sounds fun, kinda badass. It means I’ll need some upper body strength (of which I currently have none…I mean come on, I’m a runner!), so it will motivate me to take more lunch breaks in the weights section at the gym. So, hopefully I will avoid injury at the Providence half. But more importantly, I hope I don’t injure myself at this thing – because the Hampton Half is kind of critical now so I don’t want to screw it up with this goofball race. I’ll just have to be careful, I guess.

But I can’t pretend like it won’t be fun to smoke my guy friends who are running it with me. That’s right, smoke ’em like salmon.


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The Final Countdown

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy [running] to post. But the reality is that sometimes I’m so afraid to be uninteresting, that it keeps me from posting at all. I have two drafts started on other topics, but haven’t finished them. I’m going to have to work on that.

My half marathon is this Sunday. Which means I’m finished “training,” I’ve done all the prepping that I can, for better or for worse, and I’m tapering for the week. In case you’re reading this and you’re not a runner (assuming I even have readers) , tapering means significantly lowering the amount of miles you run over the course of a week or more (depending on the distance of the race), following the height of training. The whole point is for your body to be rested, primed and refreshed by the time race day hits.

My last long run in training was my longest, fastest, best performance thus far. Up until then I’d been pushing against a wall of 12:00 miles. I swear, every time I’d look down at my Garmin I would see an 11 on the pace meter…but would still turn up pretty much exactly a 12:00 pace by the end, every time. It was frustrating. I know, I know, a lot of folks will click their tongues and say that for a beginner distance runner, 12 minutes is a fine pace. But I felt like every long run had some setback that kept me from running as fast as I knew I could: either I hadn’t eaten enough, was running hard trails, too many hills, had a sore something-or-other, or got too winded from chattering with a running partner (more on that later). This last run did have one setback: I brought my Boxer, Oscar, and even though he’s been known to run pretty endlessly with me, he just didn’t seem to feel up to snuff that day. I’m not sure if he was tired, feeling yucky, sore, bored, or if his backpack was chafing. I was practically dragging him behind me for the last 4 miles. I felt bad, but I was 4 miles from home, it was too cold to walk, I was too prideful to call for a ride, and besides the dog wasn’t showing any outward signs of needing to stop (i.e. limping, panting, excessive water consumption, tail between legs). And I was averaging an 11:15 minute mile, so I wasn’t willing to give up my personal best for a pooch who was just being stubborn.

(For those of you who might be worried about Oscar’s well-being, don’t feel too bad…once we got home he happily ran figure-8’s around the yard for twenty minutes).

Don't let this sad face fool you; Oscar is an ultrarunner.

Anyway, even though 11 miles was the most I’d ever run, and even though the last mile was pretty mentally rough, I got through it in my best time: 2:04. I beat my 10-mile pace by 7 minutes and I was pretty darn satisfied with myself. I also didn’t take a walk break on the “colossal hill” that gets me every time. Not even for a second.

The upside (or perhaps, the down-side) to having done so well that day is that now I have a mental time goal for my first half. I know your only goal at your first half marathon should be just to finish it, but I can’t help myself. My current comfortable running pace is about 10:45-11:00. My best long run was at an 11:15 pace. If you factor in race-day adrenaline (the same adrenaline that let me finish 5 miles in 52:00 at last year’s Turkey Trot – a pace I have yet to ever match over that distance in training), then perhaps that can get me down to an 11:00 pace. And an 11:00 average pace will get me to the finish line in 2 hours 23 minutes.

Seriously, this stuff is way too easy to get all over your face.

I’m trying really hard not to hold on too tight to that time, but I do believe wholeheartedly that, barring any major catastrophes (injury, sudden unforeseen energy depletion, energy gel mishaps, runner’s trots, etc.), I should hope to be able to finish in less than two and a half hours. I am running with two friends of mine, one who is in much better shape than me and will likely spend the entire race pretty much just pacing me (that is, unless I can convince her to try for a better time, which I know she can do – she just isn’t as competitive as me, a.k.a. she is sane). The down side to that is since she’s in such wonderful shape, it won’t be a problem for her to converse heavily throughout the entire 13.1 miles. But if I’m trying to maintain an 11-minute pace, I don’t want to waste too much energy pushing hot air out of my lungs. I think I learned on my lone training runs that while it is much lonelier to run without a buddy, it’s much easier to put out my A-game. Unfortunately for me, she’s fun to talk to and it will be difficult to 1. tell her I don’t want to talk without feeling bad about it, and 2. actually not talk. Maybe I’d better bring my headphones just in case. Heh.

Race-day jitters aside, I feel pretty accomplished that I even finished training for a half marathon at all. I mean, isn’t that the hard part anyway? You can’t run a distance race unless you’ve put in the hours of training (or unless you’re a running demi-god, like my friend Meg Fox). I know – I hope – that one day I’ll look back on my peak running weeks during this training (20 miles) and think it’s not a lot of miles to run in a week at all, but at this junction it has been a big challenge. Just like last September when running a 5K race was a great challenge for me, and when 4 miles was my long run. The expectations get bigger as you move forward, but the mental challenge never diminishes.

I live for those moments in life when you realize you’ve just gone and done something you never thought you could do. Up until a couple of months ago I never thought I could run a half marathon, but on Sunday I will. I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for the race report!

In case you were wondering, yes, I did name this post after the song by Europe. And yes, the hook has been stuck in my head ever since. (video contributed by Larry Gibbons)



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Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears: What I’ve Learned on my Quest for the Double-Digit Run.

If running is a solitary sport, then training for your first Half-Mary during the worst winter in recent memory is downright reclusive.

Here I was last Sunday, at somewhere around mile 6 of my first 10 mile run ever. Twenty minutes into digesting the first of two energy gels and stopped dead at the bottom of a colossal hill, under the guise of needing to check my dog’s feet for salt burns. My dog was fine. It was me who needed a health check. Or maybe I just needed my head checked. At 31 degrees I had labeled the weather “warm” (in relative terms), I was wearing shoes with 3 millimeter thick soles and separated toes on frigid slush country roads, with no sidewalks; I was standing on golf ball-sized blisters on both feet from a 4-mile (sans socks) altercation with a treadmill two days prior, I had unwisely chosen to wear my lighter running gloves, and I was just plain not in the mood to run. I would have started crying at this point, but any available facial fluids were already running out of my nose. It was here that, despite my patient canine companion, I was feeling the most lonely I’ve ever been since I started my second running life.

I’ve appointed this degradation of sanity “my second running life” because until last June I’d only been sort of jogging on and off for nine years, and never really taking it seriously. I never tried to run further than 2 or 3 miles at once and I never paid much attention to form, stamina or proper footwear. I hurt my knees and ankles a lot, and then that would stop me for awhile. It wasn’t until I discovered the whole minimalist running movement that I realized I wanted to enter races and get better at running. And that is the point at which I became truly mad.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m alone at this junction. Who wants to run ten miles at all, let alone ten miles in the freezing cold on a dreary Sunday afternoon in January? And who would want to be next to me right now, anyway…shivering, snotty and grumbling to myself about a colossal hill in front of me that, by the way, isn’t really that steep at all? No, I shouldn’t be surprised that 100% of my jogging pals had dropped out of my “fun weekend run” circuit by the time I was up to 8 miles. Training oneself to run a half-marathon doesn’t sound like much fun to the rational person. But to me, 13.1 miles is glory at its finest, and I am going to finish training for it even if it kills me (something I’m not entirely ruling out). And it all begins with this hill.

But since running is so darn lonely these days, I have had plenty of time to deliberate upon the many things I’ve learned about myself over the course of this mental illness (it also helps me forget that gnawing pain in my left arch that started back at mile 7). I’ve listed some of them below, as it helps me to mantain lucidity if I can remember that this is actually a useful learning experience.

  • I can run more than three miles. The last nine years have been a bunch of pretense and foolish whining.
  • it doesn’t matter if I run with music or without. Rhythmic sounds do not make those last two miles magically go by faster.
  • running at neck-breaking speed for the next fifteen seconds does not make them go by any faster, either. Moreover, landing on your face at the back of the treadmill is embarrassing.
  • guacamole and chocolate is not a good dinner to have the night before a 10K race.
  • there is an art to performing snot-rockets that is particularly vital to learn if you don’t want to wash your gloves after every run.
  • underwear is unnecessary. Why waste a pair of skivvies just to run in them for 40 minutes? They always get twisted and bunchy anyway.
  • the best way to silence a room is to ask if anybody wants to join you at next weekend’s 5K race.
  • the second best way is to talk about how many miles you plan to run tomorrow morning.
  • you don’t need to wear a lot of layers out in the cold if you’re going to be running. Frozen sweat is quite unpleasant.
  • running 10 miles is somehow twice as hard as running seven.
  • going to races by myself is not fun. There’s nobody to talk to at the number pick up, at the starting line or at the coat check, and the Post-Race Victory Lunch just isn’t the same when I’m eating it out of a Wendy’s bag on the drive home.
  • the worst time to think about next week’s long run is right after this week’s long run.
  • 48 degrees is not that cold; it’s actually the perfect temperature for running outside.
  • I appreciate my dog Oscar, because he is always willing to run with me, any day, any distance. Everyone else refuses to commit.
  • running works better than fiber (just think about that one for a second).
  • removing teeth with a plastic spoon might be more pleasant than running for an hour on a treadmill.
  • A Camelbak filled with 50 ounces of water weighs 50 ounces more than it did when I tried it on at the store.
  • It is my personal opinion that people who run full marathons are utterly and irreversibly deranged. And that people who run ultra-marathons simply cannot exist.
  • I am an outdoors person. I love beach, trail, grass, warm breeze and the summer sun. If I lived in San Diego, I could get all of those things on a run, every day. I still haven’t learned why I continue to reside in New England.
  • just because I ran 20 miles this week doesn’t mean I can eat at Five Guys and still expect my muffin top to disappear by summer. I’m over 30 now.
  • only three people on Facebook give a damn about my 4-mile fartlek time, but even if nobody did I would still post it.
  • I feel I am an Enlightened Runner because I run in minimalist shoes, and a Rock-Star because I run barefoot in mild weather (well…some of the time, anyway).
  • I sort of like it when people call attention my barefoot running ways. Even if is to tease me mercilessly.
  • the most exciting thing that ever happens during a run is seeing another runner. Other crazies make me feel more validated.
  • I am always a little disappointed if the other runner is wearing regular running shoes.
  • I’m kind of a slow runner. Even when I think I’m running fast, I’m still pretty slow.
  • now that I have my very own Garmin watch (thanks, hubby!), I get to see exactly how slow I am in vast, glorious detail.
  • Buying BodyGlide is an embarrassment on par with buying condoms or Vagisil. But going without it is far more terrifying.
  • sometimes the best runs start with a hangover.

It’s times like this I am glad I can learn anything from my madness. Because my 60-pound dog can’t pull me up that hill, and if I can’t remember why it’s all worth it, then then it’s really going to suck to see my husband’s disappointed face when he comes to pick me up in his SUV.

So, anybody want to join me for next week’s long run?