Adjusting Expectations

I started running with the fine people at Southwest Endurance Training (SWET) recently. I found them because I was looking for an individual running coach. Someone to meet with once a month or so, to work on my form; someone to give me a personalized training plan for this Dopey Challenge I want to train for.

When I met the owners of SWET, they convinced me that running with the group would be better – some company on long runs, but still individual attention from a coach and a customized training plan.

I find it easier to get the motivation to wake up and complete my long run when I know there’s a group of friendly runners waiting for me. I like that the group is informal – if you can’t make it to a run, no one thinks badly of you. The tips from the coaches include how to adjust the training plan to fit in everyday life.

As the time to start training for the Dopey approached, I gave SWET my recent race times, a summary of how I felt after the races in June, and a general idea of my goals. Going into this, I was hoping to finish the marathon portion of the Dopey around 5 and a half hours (about my 5:34 finishing time in 2015), but when Brandon saw my June finishing times he suggested that I adjust my expectations of myself. It turns out that he believes I can run a PR marathon even while running the Dopey Challenge.

At first I found this hard to believe. My race times in June were on a course with a steady, gentle descent. The Dopey may be in Florida, but in my memory, it is neither flat nor downhill. The internet disagrees with me and says that it is “pancake flat.” Since it was my first marathon, my perception of it could be skewed. But perhaps that’s beside the point – I didn’t think it was possible to PR a marathon at the end of an almost 50 mile/4 day challenge. Yet, when I got my pacing plan I realized that the proposed pacing for this race feels slow to me. If it feels slow in the middle of the heat of summer here, maybe I really can do it!

So, I’m beginning to adjust my own expectations: of myself and of my personal running capacity.

Practice

I ran both a Half Marathon and a Full Marathon a couple weekends ago. On two consecutive days. And I survived.

The Half marathon was on Saturday. It started at the Hyak trail head on Snoqualmie Pass. I roped in my cousin (R) and my uncle (K) to run the race. It was K’s first half marathon. The trail head parking lot is large and feels wide-open. I was focused on making sure I had everything, but when I allowed myself to look up and take in the surroundings I noticed ski chalets all around. After we ran about a quarter of a mile, we reached the Snoqualmie tunnel, which runs for almost 2.5 miles beneath the Snoqualmie ski runs. Because we had just started the race, everyone was still bunched together; the crowd couldn’t really thin out much in the tunnel because we couldn’t see enough in front of ourselves to pass anyone safely. Some people wore headlamps, but most of us used the small flashlights the organizers gave us when we checked in. I felt like I was running a good pace, trying to keep up with the people around me, not get dizzy from all the lights and shadows, and not trip on the uneven ground that I couldn’t see. With over 200 people in the tunnel, I expected it to be fairly bright, but it was more dim-glow than bright-lamp. I got into a rhythm and it didn’t really feel like we were in the tunnel for 25 minutes. Somehow, seemingly without anyone passing anyone, I ended up pretty much by myself for the last half of the tunnel. This made it easier to see what was around me and gave me more room to maneuver around the tripping hazards.

Once I got out of the tunnel, the world was nothing but green. Almost 3 miles into the race, the miles seemed to stream by. R and K were long gone, running their own races. I never planned to run alongside them and was glad they seemed to be doing well (something I assumed to be true because I didn’t trip over them in the tunnel and I couldn’t see them in front of me). I was also happy to run my own race, knowing that I’d have to conserve energy for the marathon the next day. In retrospect, I may have spent too much time thinking about conserving energy.

In the moment, I was just running around shaded corners, hearing wind in the trees and waterfalls. I love waterfalls. I don’t know what it is about them specifically; I love everything about them. I love the sound of them. I love the romance of them. A waterfall is one of the few things that can immediately transport me to my childhood imagination. They make me think of Disney movies and the paradox of safe-mischief. So, when I hear or see a waterfall, I feel calm and excited at the same time. I want to savor it and see more of them. On this run, I could see some waterfalls, others were out of sight but were still encouraging.

As I approached the last three miles, I felt like I had energy to spare and could speed up, but I was still preoccupied with the marathon on the schedule for the next day. So, I kept my steady pace. I finished comfortably with all the family and friends at the end. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely felt like I ran 13 miles, but I wasn’t completely spent. I took this as a good sign for my efforts the next day.

The next morning, we got up early and headed back to the same start line for a race that started an hour earlier than the half marathon. The race had noticeably more participants than the half marathon.

For the first five miles, I started at the back of the pack and moseyed my way through the miles. I could have run faster, I suppose, but my legs were tired from the half marathon and I was afraid I’d burn out if I went too quickly. I passed a few people, but really didn’t have an idea of where I was in the pack. I started the race with a woman from Florida. She was traveling in an effort to do a trail marathon in all 50 states. She was lovely, totally relaxed, and in no hurry — so I didn’t stay with her long. Then there was the “sweeper” at the end with the crazy wig, big personality, and great smile. The route starts at the same place as the half, but goes in the opposite direction for 2.5 miles along a lake before turning around and doubling back toward the same tunnel we ran through at the beginning of the half marathon. This meant that I reached the tunnel just after mile 5, instead of within the first quarter mile.

With people spread out, the tunnel was a completely different place. I came with a headlamp this time, in addition to the race-provided flashlight. There weren’t as many people around and, with my experience during the half, I had confidence that this would yield an easier experience through the dark tunnel. It was a less frenetic journey, but still didn’t feel like 25 minutes in the dark. About .25 miles in, I came across an adventurous father with his small daughter on bicycles with headlamps. If they knew they were traversing a 2.4-mile tunnel with a bunch of marathoners, they didn’t seem to mind. Not long after that, I discovered that what I’d thought was a light bulb far ahead the day before was really the tunnel exit. I spent the next 2 miles marveling over how I could see the opening 2 miles ahead! This part was a bit meditative, actually.

The day before, while running the half marathon, the last three miles seemed extremely flat. I felt good, but I was just chugging along. The marathon route covered exactly the same ground as the half, but mile 12 of the half marathon was mile 17 of the marathon. This was great for many reasons, not the least of which was that I could use the half marathon as a scouting run – finding good places to take pictures and getting a feel for half of the marathon route. Yet, I still saw new things on the second day. It turns out, there is a small incline toward the end of the half marathon route that I hadn’t noticed the day before.

Once I passed my cheering family around mile 18, and got past the half marathon finish line, I started exploring anew. Where there is one beautiful trestle on half marathon route, there are an additional half dozen of them in the last 8 miles of the marathon route. And they were beautiful! I came across mountain bikers and walkers. But the most unexpected groups were the throngs of rock climbers hanging (literally) out along the trail. Dogs, children, groups of friends. They all seemed to be having fun and, collectively, did not notice the marathoners plodding past.

This was my third marathon and I still remember the pain and mental challenges of the first two. I specifically remember the feelings of needing to walk, of my legs and feet being unwilling to cooperate and continue moving in the same fashion. I vividly remember giving myself pep talks during the Mt. Lemmon marathon. But this race was different.

This time, I was sore and my legs were tired, but I didn’t fell like I needed to walk. I didn’t need to give myself pep talks about fighting through the pain. When I ran past some people I knew at a water stop, I even had enough energy to run backwards for a few steps so I could keep talking to them as I continued heading toward the finish line! About four miles from the finish, I thought I’d try to pick up my pace. I knew I had more the day before and, since I didn’t have to run again the following day, I thought I’d see if I could push myself for the remaining miles. At that point, I’d slowed to a 12:30 minute mile pace. I only wanted to get back to an 11:30 or 11:45 mile pace.

I blew through the final water station. The entire course was a gentle downhill, but the last half mile was unexpected and a significantly steeper grade downhill. According to my Garmin watch, I got up to a 6:30 minute pace by the finish line.

I’ve been processing this experience for a few weeks now. I am both blown away by myself and, simultaneously, puzzled. The training felt so hard and there were so many times it seemed impossible that I could finish with anything close to a time I would consider “good” for a stand-alone race. But I accomplished that for both races anyway. I’m sure it had something to do with training at double the elevation in close to double the heat. I’m certain that the consistent downhill grade had a significant impact on my success here.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from running, though not complete. It is still summer in Arizona, so I’m allowing myself to enjoy spinning classes and treadmills for a few weeks before diving head first into my Dopey training schedule in August. I am preoccupied right now with trying to get into a mental space where I can have confidence enough to train for faster times, but also enough kindness for myself that I won’t get upset with myself if I don’t accomplish the times I train for during the actual races. This is my new challenge. But for the next week, I’m going to focus on my self-care and attempt to detach from the training ahead.  

Vacation Running

We have traveled quite a bit over the last couple of months. Not long trips, but most of our weekends the last month have been spent somewhere other than at home. When we booked these trips I knew I would be in the home stretch of my training program for the Marathon and a Half coming up at the end of June. My solution was to rearrange the training schedule so the longer runs happened either when we were actually at home, or when we were somewhere fairly comfortable without a lot of other plans.

I’ve concluded that this was a mistake.

Let me back up a little and give myself a few kudos before beating myself up. I’ve never been good at making time for exercise while “in vacation mode.” It hasn’t ever mattered how minor the “vacation,” or how insignificant the exercise; if I had to sleep in a bed other than my own and bring a bag of clothes, I was on vacation. And, vacation = no concentrated, intentional exercise. Now, if I accidentally burned a bunch of calories because we walked for miles through a city and its shops: Bonus!

On our honeymoon, I brought running clothes to an all-inclusive resort. We were there for two weeks. I used them once for 30 minutes. That’s it. I just couldn’t fit any other trips to the gym in to my packed schedule: sleep, eat, drink, read by the pool, repeat.

So, I’m sure you can see how the idea of building in back-to-back training runs in multiple vacation locales this spring seemed daunting to me. Result: modification of an otherwise logical training plan.

Instead of the original plan (long run weekend followed by recovery week/shorter runs the following weekend), I grouped the shorter runs on consecutive weeks, leading to grouping the longer runs on consecutive weekends. Not only did I give up my recovery weeks, by not doing the longer runs on vacation, I ended up doing the longer runs in the Arizona heat! Sure, if I had done my 16- or 18-mile run while in San Francisco it would have seriously cut into our relaxation time – but it would have been so much cooler!

I can second guess myself all day long, but I can also acknowledge that it is a pretty big deal that I allowed myself to do any runs on a trip away from home. Serious personal growth here.

Clearly, there is something to the order of the training runs in this program. Clearly, it is better to give the body some time to recover between long runs. I’m used to the idea of progressively longer runs on successive weeks – but that, apparently, is training for a regular-old-marathon. This time I’m training for long runs on consecutive days – I’ve taught myself the hard way that recovery is even more important. At the same time, I taught myself that I can still have a great time on vacation while fitting in significant amounts of exercise. This has been a very educational spring, indeed.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring in the desert is so much fun – it is also one of the most beautiful times. We get perfect weather to be outside all day, can still wear more than flip flops, shorts, and tanks, and all the new growth is inspiring.

Running long distances, though – that becomes more of a challenge. It gets warmer, the temperatures rise earlier, and the air remains dry. This means hydration is both more important and harder to keep on top of.

With longer days, warmer temps start earlier in the day, too. Last year I went for a run later in the morning than usual when I knew temps would reach 90 that day. I told myself I needed to “get used to” running in the heat – we’d chosen this desert wonderland as our home and I convinced myself that I needed to acclimate…quickly. The result: I got so tired I stopped picking up my feet about a mile from home, tripped, and skinned my knee pretty badly about 2 weeks out from a half marathon.

The approach this year? I’ve started setting my alarm (on my weekend!) so I can get my long runs done before the “feels like” temp reaches the 80’s. As summer approaches, I’m prepared to leave the house while it is still dark to get in my miles before it gets too hot: I purchased a hat light. I think my gear is more prepared for that plan than I am, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the weather we have right now, find all the flowers I can along my routes, and remember that running early means I still have my whole day to do all the weekend-things I want (including naps!).

TBD

I ran a half marathon a couple weeks ago. The first one by myself – the first race, really, without a friend – in a long time. I don’t know when a half marathon became a training run for me. I don’t know that I like that feeling. 13.1 miles is FAR. 13.1 miles is an accomplishment. 13.1 miles is something to be proud of. Don’t get me wrong. That St. Patty’s Day half marathon wasn’t easy. I ran faster than I thought I would – faster than my goal – especially the first half of the race. Then, I turned around on the out-and-back course to spend 6.5 miles running into a 10-14 mph headwind. (Who needs hills when you have a headwind??)

Even though I was proud of myself (and the fact that I got my 2nd best time ever), I kept thinking about all the longer runs I have in my near future. It diminished the feeling of accomplishment. Clearly, this is not the fault of the race or its organizers – this is a mental challenge for me: how do I stay in the present enough to feel accomplished while also using these accomplishments to build confidence that I can do more?

Now, I’ve gone head-first into my training for the Super Fast Half and Marathon in June. This is my preamble to the Dopey Challenge – an effort to see where I am in my training and fitness. And, frankly, an effort to give myself a confidence boost. If I can do a marathon and a half back-to-back, then I should be able to add a 5K and 10K on the days before. Right?

For my last few long races (half and full marathon distances), I’ve used one of the training programs on the Garmin website. The training plans had speed-work, but also focuses on time, rather than distance, for the long runs. When I ran the marathon in November, I discovered that my long training runs probably weren’t long enough in distance because I was going at an easy pace (as instructed), but not far enough to feel comfortable with the marathon distance.

This time around, I found Coach Jenny’s Training online. She has a bunch of training plans, but I really liked that she has specific plans for the Disney races. I’m starting with her Goofy training plan (that’s the Half + Full Marathon training plan) and will move on to her Dopey plan if all goes well in June. The key to these plans is to simulate the back-to-back runs on a regular basis. So, I will spend this spring running on Saturday and doubling that distance on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Fear

I’m sure I will be able to write many more posts about the fear I experience as I prepare to run the Dopey Challenge in January 2020. Really, I could talk about fear in all aspects of life, but this blog is about running, so I’ll focus on that.

I find that my fear creeps in most often in the moments just before I do or decide something. For example, when I start planning out my training schedule for my next race, I get this rush of worry that I won’t do it right – or that I won’t do it at all. What will that mean? What will it say about me? Will I be a failure in everything if I’m not as successful as I want to be in this one thing? Sometimes, I get a similar (though, less intense) feeling just before a long run or a workout I’m unfamiliar with.

Recently, I started planning out the rest of my running schedule for 2019, as I edge ever closer to the Dopey 2020. I’m running a half marathon over St. Patrick’s Day weekend and have a marathon and a half scheduled for the end of June. Apparently, half marathons don’t scare me anymore. But, when I started mapping out my training schedule for the marathon and a half, I started to panic a little. Could I do this? Is this too ambitious? Will I make it?

It’s all the standard self-doubt stuff. It is designed to stop me before I even get started. This self-talk is well-practiced and it has taken me a lot of time to get as experienced at pushing past it as I am listening to it. I remind myself that the goal is to finish, not to win. The goal is to survive, not to have my best time. Is it bad that my strategy to survive self-doubt is to lower my expectations? Maybe – but it is working for now.

So, I’ve mapped out my training schedule for the next race adventure in June (before I’ve started the March race). And I’m still scared. But, I’ve learned that all I can do for now is put it on the schedule, tell people I’m doing it (for accountability), and make my best effort each day. One foot in front of the other, as they say.

Running With Friends

It has been a while since I updated my training journey here.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of running with my dear friend in her 2nd half marathon adventure & in honor of a milestone birthday. We spent the weekend celebrating her, running our way through town for 13.1 miles, then celebrating her more. We were surrounded by friends in the race, on the route, at the finish, and on social media.

As we ran and celebrated, it occurred to me that running with friends is a whole thing. It is a completely different thing than solo training runs. So, for this installment, I will explore the differences: pros and cons, from my perspective.

Running Alone:
I find running to be a form of meditation. It is my time to let my mind wander, to think through all the complicated things in my life, and to let my brain work so hard and so long that it works everything out and can be silent.

I also enjoy the time my long runs give me to catch up on podcasts and music. I get to feel productive and all caught up on pop culture by the end of one of those runs.

When I run on my treadmill at home, I get to watch the news or cheesy television: my choice.

The thing about running alone is, I get to spend all that time with myself, go at my own pace, and settle into whatever mindset works for the day.

Running with Friends:
When running with my friends, there is little time for meditation while running. But there’s plenty of time to work out all your issues: we just do it out loud when we run together. There’s no listening to music or podcasts, no getting lost in your own head, no getting distracted by media of any kind.

Running with my friends is an exercise in breath work, laughter, and catching up on everything we’ve missed since the last time. It is fun; it is satisfying; it is often the best way to make a long run go quickly.

So I sit here and ask myself: What is your favorite way to run? Alone or with friends. Like many things in my life, I don’t want to choose. I like it both ways.

I will say this: just as we choose our clothing for the weather so we stay warm (or cool) and comfortable and safe, we should run with others – or alone – as best fits our needs at the moment. If you need company and the support or input of those dear friends: run with them! If you need time to work out your feelings or make your shopping list or finish Serial: take time alone and run!