Wednesday, August 7, 2013

talking to myself... and listening carefully.

I talk to myself constantly. 

It’s a good thing—it gives everyone around me a break from hearing my voice. 

When I run, myself and I have some pretty lively conversations… complete with hand gestures.  I wasn’t even aware of that part until one day, running with my daughter, she says, “what are you DOING?”   I realised I was thinking about which route we’d take, and I was mapping out the alternatives with my hands.  (If I’ve ever given you driving directions, you know exactly how this looks.  My friend Megan used to ask me how to get to places just to watch me do it.  She’d laugh, “…and then two hands converge on the road…” )

This week I realised just how powerful those conversations in my head can be. 

I also became aware that the voice I’m listening to isn’t always necessarily my own. 

[This is gonna be long… trust me, when you’re done reading, you can log it in MyFitnessPal and count the calories as if you ran it yourself!]

I hadn’t done a long run in almost 2 months, and I have been struggling with the thought of it for a number of different reasons.  The biggie lately:  I’ve been running my longer distances on some gorgeous greenway trails around here, but I’ve also been hearing about some safety concerns, particularly for women running alone. 

That would be me. 

Everyone will tell you “find a running buddy” but for a long run, that’s easier said than done.  Who else runs at a 13:30 pace and has the same 4 hours free that I do? 

I had a long drive home from the lake on Saturday night, and really had myself psyched up for the run on Sunday.  A long drive is so much like a long run, where you have the chance and the time and the quiet to think, and you really need to keep your mind occupied while you’re covering the distance.  As I drove, I got my brain wrapped around the distance, the time it would take, where I'd run, what I'd wear, water, snacks, the whole deal.  I was completely psyched up to run on Sunday, looking forward to hitting a new distance.

Then Sunday morning the forecast was thunderstorms all day long.  

For a short run, the forecast rarely deters me, but looking at being as much as 2 hours out in an electrical storm is just silly.  Plus, my kids were home all day Sunday.  They’ve been in rehearsals for a show and we don’t have many days that are totally unscheduled.  And there was still the issue of running alone. 

I decided to take another rest day, delay my long run till Monday when the kids would be gone all day anyway, and posted on Facebook to see if, by some stroke of luck, someone else I know was looking for a long run on Monday, too. 

I got so much great feedback from friends.  No offers to run with me for 4+ hours :) but lots of great thoughts.  A couple of friends confirmed my reservations—“No woman should be running on those trails alone.  Some parts are just too isolated.”   I hate that, but I also know it’s the truth.  And as much as I enjoy talking to myself (I mean, I must, I do it so much…) when I’m stuck on something, it’s often much more helpful to have input from others. 

The one comment that really struck me was from my friend, Maggie.  She said, “Oh, you’re too organized.  I usually just wing it.” 

I had been on Nike+ mapping out possible routes through the neighborhoods right around here, where I could run out in the open instead of on the trails.  I was actually getting pretty excited looking at the maps and finding roads and connections I hadn’t noticed before.  I did my first 8 mile run that way.  I had to take an index card with me to keep track of the directions and all the turns, but I had no problem mapping the distance.  It was only when I got to 10 miles that I started running the trails, and I’m not even sure why I felt like that was necessary.  I had gotten it in my head that I needed one long trail of 10+ miles so that I could just run straight out and back, without thinking about turns or directions. 

When Maggie said, “wing it” something clicked.  Of course!  Just go out and start running and keep going until you’ve gone as far as you want to go! 

And that’s exactly what I did on Monday morning.

Well, first I went to the gym with my crazy daughter at 5am, because she had a bug to work out and that was her only available time.  If you ever want a gym partner, I’m your girl, because if there’s any way I can go and help you get yourself there, I’m in.  And there was no way I was telling my girl no, because she’s the one who encouraged me in the first place, and she’s always one of my biggest cheerleaders.  So, 5am, only half awake, we went.  No cardio with that long run looming.  I just did some weights, because I figured it would be poor form to take a nap right there in the gym… 

When we got home, I checked to make sure everyone had their stuff for rehearsal: lunches, costume stuff, water bottles… I hate to leave before they do, but they were all like, “we’re fine, just go ahead!”  I love my kids!

With that send off, and Maggie’s encouragement to “just wing it” I was out the door and off on an adventure.  It was magic, right from the start!  The simple excitement of making turns in opposite directions, away from where I normally run.  I found an awesome asphalt sidewalk that runs along a service road behind a string of car dealerships—just as broad and open as my running trail, but safe and out in the open!  I could see the busy highway at a distance, which was pretty cool.  I drive out that way all the time, and here I was RUNNING it! 

With four miles already behind me, I was heading back toward my neighborhood when I passed the kids driving to rehearsal, all smiles and waving!  Such an overwhelming feeling there—they encouraged me to go run, and helped each other get all their stuff together for the day.  I love the thought of us working as a team like that!  (Real life: when I got home, I saw my daughter left her lunch on the kitchen table, but when I texted them, they said my son had packed two sandwiches and was happy to share…nothing’s ever perfect here, but still and always, working as a team!) 

My next turn took me onto a familiar street, but I was headed to a newer neighborhood that connected behind the one I knew.   My goal was to hit 10 miles before turning around.  The crazy thing was realising that this neighborhood is just across the road from mine, and I’d never been back there before.  It was beautiful!  The sidewalks were pretty level, and shaded all along by trees.  There was a sweet little courtyard of shops (I took the kids back later for gelato!) and even a huge clock tower!  I was enjoying all of this loveliness when I noticed I had hit 10 miles!  WOW!
I felt great! I had eaten only 3 of the 12 or so gummies I had brought along with me, and felt like I had plenty of water.  I brought a bottle of SmartWater water plus my camelbak—24 extra ounces of water + electrolytes in late July is always a good idea.  And once it was down to less than half full, I mixed in a packet of EmergenC for an added boost!  (It was great!  I usually prefer plain water, but I had heard good things about EmergenC for recovery, and I take it all the time anyway, so I thought I'd give it a try on my run.  Next time, I plan to try 2 packets mixed in more water.) 

Everything was looking good at the turnaround, until I glanced at my phone.  My battery was at 60%!  My math-geek brain suddenly kicked into overdrive!

See, I carry my phone for music, and the security of being able to call 911 if I need it.  Or for a pick up, or to tell my kids to meet me at the ER (that actually happened once…)  I’d hate to lose my music or that safety net, but I’m not gonna lie—what was freaking me out at that moment was the thought of “losing” this run from my Nike+ data! 

I know that sounds crazy, but if a girl runs 20 miles and every detail is not captured on Nike+, did it really happen???  I was not in any mood to find out. 

My math brain reassured me that I had more than half of my battery life, and had covered more than half of my goal distance.   But my math brain also knew this was a longer run, and the second half would likely take longer than the first.  I tried not to think about it.  I really did. 

Running back to the front of the neighborhood got me to 15 miles and I was seeing my goal within reach.  I also saw a big truck outside the nursing home and a few guys unloading something… boxes?  furniture?  I don’t even remember, but the next thing I knew, CRASH! 

Yep, I wiped out on the sidewalk.  Again.  Happy to report this was not one of my more spectacular falls, although there were five witnesses, just for the sake of embarrassment.  I didn’t hit my head, scrape up my face or bust my nose on the pavement.  My hands were pretty red and sore, and my knees were torn up.  Again.  But this time in a different spot!  Still pretty bloody, but not near as bad as it usually is, and it looks like these scrapes might not scar.  Win!

I dusted myself off, checked my phone battery (more annoying than the fall, truly) and got moving.  I was headed back to a more familiar route—just 5 miles and home.  Other than my palms and knees being ON FIRE, I was feeling fine and totally ready to finish this run. 

The next couple of miles were OK.  I was still obsessing over the battery, but appeased myself by taking a screen shot of my progress on Nike+ after each mile.  If the battery died before I got a chance to sync, at least I’d have the data on my time and pace up to the nearest mile.  That kept me going thru mile 18. 

At that point, I was tired. I had been running for over 4 hours, and my legs actually felt pretty good.  It was my BRAIN that was tired!  My phone battery was now at 17%, I had covered my familiar route in this part of the neighborhood, and I knew I was less than a mile from home.  So I was trying to figure out how to stretch that one mile out to two and do it before my phone died.  I was about a mile from my favorite Starbucks, and my tired brain was actually contemplating going in there and somehow getting my phone charged.  (Delusional at this point.) 

The prospect of my phone dying before I reached mile 20 was such a distraction, I was having a terrible time focusing on the distance, even though I know the mileage of almost every stretch of road in that part of the neighborhood.

And even though all of this was just going on in my head, it was also affecting me physically.  I felt tense, my form was a mess, and it was literally making me feel tired. 

Fortunately, another thought was racing around my tired brain:  you have a choice here.  You can either suffer thru these last two miles, or not. 

OK, not. 

Brain: just need to come to grips with the “worst case.”  Phone dies, Nike+ data is lost.  Solution: continue to screen shot each mile.  It may or may not post to Nike+, but I’d have the numbers for my training log.  Done.
Body: back to basics.  Head up, shoulders back, Iron Man posture, GO! 

I ate quite a few of my remaining gummies, ran those last two miles, and finished with 5% left to spare on my phone battery!  WHEW!
Me, obsessing over every mile.  Finished with 7% to spare!

20 miles, done!  Marathon in 6 months, totally within reach.

Happy.  Relieved.  Enlightened. 

Tough run.  Excellent lessons:

1) Remember where you started.  Every detail! 

As much as I enjoyed running the greenway trails, I had missed running the neighborhoods.  I missed seeing so many people and houses and fun surprises along the way.  And all the different roads and turns were a much more interesting distraction than a 10 mile “out and back” stretch of greenway.  Added bonus: no bikes zipping up behind me from out of nowhere!  I was so focused on not being able to run alone on the trails, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed running along the roads. 

2) Always be flexible!

I really have a hard time changing my running plan.  Once I’ve said I’m going to go (even if it’s just to myself), I am super reluctant to back away from that commitment.  I’m sure a part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to start putting off a workout, that will become my new normal.  But on Sunday, as much as I had mentally prepared for that long run, it just didn’t make sense to stick with that plan on that day.  Despite the stormy forecast, it was such gorgeous weather for a run, but everything else was wrong.  So, as much as it made me squirm, I chose to wait.  Instead, I spent the day just hanging out with my kids, enjoying the beautiful weather together, and mostly just relaxing and getting our ducks lined up for a busy week ahead.

And the world did not come to a screeching halt!

On the contrary, we were all well rested and better prepared for the week ahead, and my run on Monday was better than it ever could have been if I had followed my plan and done it on Sunday. 

Changing the day and changing my route—winging it—made all the difference!

3) Be aware of your influences, and listen wisely.

There are so many influences out there, some of which I may not even consciously identify.  If I’m going to be listening to someone else’s voice anyway, I’m going to choose wisely.  I didn’t need to run on the greenway trail, I just needed to run.  Maggie’s advice to “wing it” put me back on streets that I loved running when I first started out.  The greenways are an amazing resource, and I’ll happily run them whenever I have the chance and a running partner.  But I’ll also remember that there are still endless routes to explore where I can safely enjoy the solitude and freedom of running by myself. 

More and more, I find it’s so important to find voices that encourage me in what I’m trying to do.  It’s always easy to find those that will tell me not to bother, give myself a break, or help me find excuses to do less.  But there are also many that will help me find sensible options and inspire me to go beyond what I could imagine on my own! 

4) You always have a choice.

The biggest lesson of those last 2 miles was realising that I had to decide how it was gonna go.  No, I couldn’t just say, “OK, I’m feel awesome!” and then magically zip home at a PR pace.  But I could make a choice about all the things going on in my head.  Rather than giving in to, “I’m tired and not feeling great, maybe I should cut this short and get home before my phone dies,”  I could bring my awareness around to how my thoughts were affecting me physically.  As soon as I took a deep breath and adjusted my posture and form, I felt exponentially better!  And if I had done those things and still felt bad, I might have decided something else was going on—maybe I had pushed myself too far and it was time to head home.  The point is, I had to separate what was going on in my head from what was actually physically happening. 

I know this is something I do in my day-to-day, not just running.  I’ll find myself feeling “off” and then realise I’ve got something rattling around in my head that needs to be addressed (or dismissed) so that I can go on about enjoying my life! 

One of the things I love most about running is how it teaches me things that apply to life on a much more broad scale.  Thoughts have tremendous power.  
I plan to do my best to use mine only for good!

Happy running, friends! 

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