Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gifts of the Season

I tend to run alone. My friends who live near me do not understand my need to run, and certainly don’t want to run with me. They will happily drop off a water bottle or two when I have a 20 miler planned, but the thought of running 5 of those miles makes their skin crawl. So in general, I only run with people at races. I always figured I wasn’t missing out on much running alone all of the time.

This week I found out I was wrong. I was lucky enough to get two running days in with two entirely different runners, both of whom gave me so much in such in the duration of a single run, I had to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) and just talk about it.

My first partner run this week was with my buddy Beth. She is a strong runner who has a marathon PR of 3:15, which she ran at Boston. For reference, my PR is 4:18. We never have run together, I honestly I thought my pace was too slow to run for her. I had a 10K run scheduled. She told me she had been taking it easy and would like to do a slower mid-distance run, so we made a plan to meet up.

Her easy pace turned out to be about a 7:30 minute mile. Go ahead and look at my marathon PR again, and you will understand how I might have been feeling. After a mile I was sure I wasn't going to make it 5 more at that pace, but I kept plodding along, nodding and gasping as she talked easily and caught me up on her life. At the turn-around, she said she wanted to go an extra mile or so and ran up the hill out of site, as I turned around. I know I slowed down after she turned around, but I am sure I was running faster than I would have at all if it wasn't for her. Beth caught me again in the last mile, and we finished the run in what would have been a big PR 10K pace for me.

I had a chance later in the week to run with a friend Danny. Danny is not your typical runner or triathlete - most who look at Dan think he couldn't run 10 feet, not to mention 10 miles. But looks are deceiving; Dan has run 2 marathons and done numerous Olympic distance triathlons. When I mentioned going for a 5 mile run the next morning, he asked if he could come along. Happy for the company, I agreed.

As we stepped out the door the next morning, our conversation turned to our 2010 goals, training, and life – the miles flew by. I mentioned that I was signed up for the Timberman Half Ironman in August. Dan was so positive and kept saying, “Holy cow, that is awesome! Good for you!” We talked about this year’s Kona, and he asked me when I was doing a full Ironman. I laughed him off, but the thought stuck in my head. After 4 miles, Danny headed home and I finished off my 5th mile with dreams of Ironman dancing around in my head.

I learned a lot in those two runs. From Beth I realized that I can push myself to run hard and fast for longer than I thought. I never would have known I could run that fast if it wasn’t for her. I realized that I can I train my body to hold a faster pace for a longer distance. New goal: sub-4 hour marathon this spring. Or as close to 4h as I can get.
My run with Danny re-lit my off-season training fire with his excitement and support of my 2010 race plan. He inadvertently reminded me to always think bigger, reach higher, and that your biggest limiter is always yourself. I came away from that run with an even stronger resolve to stick to my winter training plan.

So whether it is a faster runner pushing you harder than you thought you could go, or a positive, happy, fun person who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, running with friends is good. If only I could convince my friends to run.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sit? Really? For how long?

There are a lot of things that one could be bad at. Some folks can't throw a baseball, train a dog, or cook anything that doesn't come in a box. Me? I am a terrible sitter.

I know, this doesn't sound like a problem. But most people I know are excellent sitters. Sitting is the equivalent of relaxing to most people. (Go ahead, you can replace "most" with "normal" if you want.) In general, people like to sit and talk, or sit and watch TV, or sit at the computer...I can't sit and do anything without knitting, reading, or doing something else in another room, running in every now and then to get caught up on the action. This is all considered rude by other "sitters", who for the most part do not understand how anyone would not want to sit and "relax". Sitting still for hours with nothing to occupy my hands? Are you crazy?

Nothing about sitting is relaxing for me, which sitters can't seem to wrap their mind around. The thing is, if I run 6-12 miles, bike 25 miles, or swim 1 mile - then I can sit. For a little while. I guess I am like a dog, I need a good walk to sit still and behave, preferably twice a day. So I try to wear myself out when I know that these situations are going to arise, so I can "sit". Good girl.

My friends and family know this about me, that I don't sit well. Yet, when I get up at 5am to go for a run, or pull out the knitting needles as soon as I sit down, knowing it is going to be a while, they shake their heads. I really do try to sit but I find if my hands are empty that my mind wanders and I don't hear a thing that anyone is saying. But if I am a little tired and have something in my hands, I am listening.

The other thing with sitters. They don't understand training and are amazed that I participate in triathlons, marathons, and century rides. I like to feel strong and able, and besides, what the heck else am I going to do with this energy? Let it dissipate? Plus, if I don't feed that fire, it will burn out - like I am afraid it has with the sitters in my life.

Happy Holidays to all...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Smashing the Excuse Demon

Every now and then when I am training, this small imaginary guy pops up on my shoulder and whispers, "You don't have time for that..." or "Oh man, you have tons of time before your next race, take a day off.." Today he was whispering, "It is way to freaking cold to go for a run."

I had to admit, this little dude had a point. This morning when I got up, my thermometer read -10 and the wind was howling. Welcome to winter training in Caratunk, Maine. It isn't the coldest I have trained in by any means (last year we had 2 weeks of between -30 and -40), but last week I was running in shorts, so this change was a little shocking to say the least. Since I was working at home, I moved my morning run to my lunch hour, hoping the temperature would creep up to at least zero.

As noon approached, the excuses creeped into my head - "You have too much work to do, you really don't have time..." and "Run tomorrow (which tomorrow turns into run tomorrow...)," and "Did you see that it was -5 in the sun?" That excuse demon was trying to work his way into my head, and he isn't easy to ignore when he speaks what is logic to most people.

As I was starting to give in to the reasons why I shouldn't run, I reviewed my goals for 2010. Granted, this one 5-mile run won't make or break my 2010 season, but whether or not I do it does set a precedent for my off season training. I want a solid base going into 2010, with a spring marathon and a late summer half iron man planned as key races, and this is just a piece of the foundation. I do not need the excuse demon to squeeze into any part of my training; I want him to be a spectator who eventually fades into the crowd.

So I bundled up, laced up my sneakers, and stepped outside. My nostrils froze instantly, and the thought slipped through my head, "Most people don't even ski in this weather, no wonder your neighbors think you are a freak."

Shrugging off the easy out, the excuse that would send me running back inside diving under a blanket with a big cup of hot cocoa and a good book, I pulled my scarf up over my face, put my head down into the wind, and started running. After 5 minutes, I was comfortable. After the first mile, I was warm and enjoying the view of the icy Kennebec River flowing by, not imagining being anywhere else but right where I was, running in the freezing cold with a big smile on my face.

Mandy 1, Excuse Demon 0.