Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day something else: In which I learn a valuable lesson

(This was written two Saturdays ago. I got distracted before finishing and never posted it. Also, counting days is surprisingly hard.)

Today is a great milestone, my friends. A day I shall remember for all time, or at least until I'm done with this half-marathon. Today, I became a man. Or woman. Again. I think my bat mitzvah was supposed to be the first time I became a woman, but I'm not sure if God approved of my motives (party!) enough for that. The point is: Today, I learned what running is.

Let me back up, slowly. Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeep. Thursday night, I had a crazy idea. I would set my alarm clock to 5:00, get out of bed at 5:30, and get in some of what I thought was running before work. Since the actual Boston half-marathon is going to start at some ungodly hour like 6:00, and I have never woken up early for exercise, or anything else, in my life, I wanted to start preparing myself for that hurdle. It had also been so long since I had run for more than ten minutes or without giving up in disgust that I figured I could use a jolt like that to get back in the game. So what did I do? I took some Tynelol PM around 9:30 and got in bed, waiting for it to kick in.

People who have lived with me or know my sleeping habits or have taken Tylenol PM before are probably having a hearty chuckle over the idea that the above steps would lead to me waking up at 5:30, and further, waking up alert enough to move my muscles with any degree of coordination. Yeah, it did not happen. Thankfully, I had set some back-up alarms, and managed to get up and to the windowed door of my apartment building by 7:20 AM. As I looked through it, and saw the drizzly, overcast weather, I pondered if I should head back upstairs for a hooded jacket, or a non-white shirt, or maybe a nap. A nap sounded nice. But no! I had to be strong. Brave that weather like a woman and stop wasting precious time! (Translation: I didn't want to walk back up the stairs, and my keys were tied into my shoelaces, and it's sooo annoying to untie them, unlock the door, and then tie them back in.)

Due to my shortened timeframe, I skipped stretching and eating and warming up. In other words: everything that I need to actually run. Result: I did my alluring "hopping in pain" mating dance for 15 minutes, then came home.

That's OK, I thought. That was just a warm-up. I'll work out after work.

I went to a movie after work, and forced myself to go home around midnight. I NEEDED to make the next day's group training. It's been two months or so, and I haven't been able to attend any of them, due to sickness, travel, laziness, etc. I woke up at 7 on Saturday, caught the group right as they were leaving the meeting point, and commenced with the training.

It started with a giant circle of stretching, after which we did an "easy jog" over to the base of a hill that we were supposed to run up and down for half an hour. During that "easy jog," I quickly became out of breath and could feel the lava begin trickling up my squeaky wheel of a right shin. This did not give me hope for being able to run up the most challenging hill in Central Park (Cat's Paw, for anyone who knows the park). Six times.

Our coach, Jay, gave us advice on how to stretch out our legs if our shins hurt afterward. Afterward? I was too ashamed of my bum leg to tell him that my shins already hurt. We started on another group "easy jog" to the top of the hill so we could see where to turn around, and all I will say is that I did not enjoy it. When I was at the top, the pain had become so unbearable that I asked Jay what to do about my shins. (If you're getting sick of seeing the word "shins," be patient. It will all be over soon.)

When we got to the bottom of The Paw, Jay asked me how I run, trying to see whether I land on my heels and take big strides or take short steps and land on the balls of my feet. Turns out that my version of running, which is taking a normal walking stride and making it longer and quicker, is not running. It is also solely responsible for my cartoonish shin pain. He advised me to start taking short steps that land on the balls of my feet, bounce off of my heels, and then go off of the balls again.

This was like AP Calculus to my 11th grade self, except more frustrating. I knew I could understand calculus if I tried a little harder, it's just that it seemed too boring to put in the effort. With the running, I actually wanted to learn, but watching Jay's feet and trying to translate that into movements of my own was ridiculously hard. I was instructed to focus not on speed for now, but on getting my feet to land correctly. I slowly trudged up the hill behind the rest of the group, wondering why this was so hard, and how come nobody ever told me about this mysterious "proper running technique" before.

By the end of the sixth hill repetition, I was a convert. My legs were sore, but my shins were pain-free! I hope you realize how much of an achievement that is, after seeing how my shin splints take up half of every post I write. And this was after running up a fairly steep hill, which would normally make it worse. I thought the only way to get around them was to warm up by walking fast for 20 minutes, which is simply not feasible for most work-outs, and definitely not for right before I have to go run 13.1 miles. Then I make one change and a miracle occurs.

The one small sticking point was that I still didn't understand how my new stride was natural. Jay tried to explain it a little more to me, and then he asked me what I did when told to run in place. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet, right? Well, that's what running is. Right then, I became not just a convert, but an evangelical. I've already told a couple of friends about this, and one of them tried it out and his shin splints were gone!

Running is running in place, minus the "in part" part. It's like Running for Dummies. And it only took me two months to find out.

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day Something: I attend my first race!

Emphasis on attend. As in, watched. There were almost 20 Team Challengers running or walking in the Scotland 10K on Saturday, and since I knew Friday night was going to be a late one for me, I signed up to cheer them on. I could draw on my vast experience as a sixth-grade cheerleader to provide vital support and also get my first taste of what an actual race is like. That taste was incredibly chaotic. We stood by the start for almost half an hour before everyone had passed us. It was craziness.

I was getting antsy watching 7,790 people run by as I stood still. Yes, I was also working those arm and throat muscles by holding up a Team Challenge sign and emitting bursts of "Whoo"s, but I would only rank that as a 13 (Somewhat hard [It is quite an effort; you feel tired but can continue]) on the Percieved Exertion Scale. I needed to get rid of some energy. We had 15 minutes before heading over to the finish line for the second round of cheering, so I dropped my stuff and jogged off, taking only my cell phone to make sure I got back in time. (Translation: I took my phone in case I got lost and needed to call someone for directions.)

I started north, on a path that was unpaved but at least was straight, so I could keep my meager directional senses from being overwhelmed. After a minute I switched onto a prettier, flower-filled path veering off slightly to the right. It was still basically going north, so I figured I was safe. I took one turn, asked myself if I should turn around and head back, but decided I could always use the buildings as my guideposts, and went off to be an adventurer!

As you may have anticipated, this was a mistake. I wandered around a giant fountain/lake hybrid, turned around, realized I had nobody's phone number to call for help, skipped frantically past Strawberry Fields (W. 72nd), and made an executive decision to turn... That way! That way! was how I thought I would return to Tavern on the Green, my approximate starting point (W. 67th). I ended up at the 5 mile marker, which I knew was on the opposite side of Central Park from my starting point (E. 72nd), and played it safe by following along with the 10K runners. I only had two miles left! How hard could it be to make it back in ten minutes? I did not want to wander back into that labyrinth of nature and risk turning my short run into a Family Circus cartoon.

This was really just a horrible idea from the beginning. I had on my old, floppy sneakers, I had not had any water, I had no map, and I had no idea how to get around Central Park. As best as I can figure out, this was my eventual route (click to expand):

I only ended up accidentally quadrupling the length of my intended run. Not so bad, eh? You'll be glad to know that my pains this time were back to being restricted to my right leg. I could feel the beginnings of shin splints coming on, but mostly it was my outer right toes that were squished and mangled by my ill-fitting sneakers. Ahh, right leg. I bet you'd been feeling left out, hadn't you? Welcome back to the fold.

When I finally made it back to the group, I was able to use those cheering skills by shouting out such helpful slogans as "Yeah kilts!" to people who had gotten into the Scottish spirit, "Whooo, Miami!" to someone wearing a U Miami sweatshirt, and "Way to go! Running! Whooo!" to the world at large. I'm a pro like that.

It was a little dizzying watching the waves of people pass by, searching them out for our orange-and-blue T-shirts. There were old people with more impressive abs than I will ever have, a few people who had on plaid tam o'shanters with obviously fake orange wigs glued inside of them (just like Bret Michaels!), a guy in boxers who had painted himself completely blue and red, an older lady who looked like a drama teacher in tight black pants, a tight black turtleneck and bright white sneakers, and some dude in a Speedo who had written the name of his blog all over his chest and back. Perky people, huffing people, nearly nudes, never nudes, completely covereds, people talking to themselves, and people giving sweet encouragement to their partner (ex: "I don't care how you feel, finish strong!"). Red-faced people, blue people, singles, doubles. It was like a Dr. Seuss convention out there.

After everyone from Team Challenge had finished, runners and cheerers headed out for brunch, which I avoided, because I wanted to get home, stretch, eat just a little for energy, and go running for real! What happened was that I got home, ate an entire bag of Pirate's Booty, and fell asleep around 2 PM. When my eyes peeked open again, they became quite confused at how dark it was outside of my window. A quick check of my cell phone, and all was revealed. It was past midnight. What can I say? 10Ks are exhausting, even if you aren't technically a participant.

I forced myself out of bed to soothe my growling stomach with some food, watched a couple episodes of Arrested Development on Hulu, and passed out again. This fair princess did not arise again until after noon, and if you consider "arising" to require some kind of movement from the supine position, then that didn't happen until 2 or so. All in all, I would not say those were my most productive 24 hours ever. But they also weren't my least productive ever! Victory!

Once this morning's breakfast settles in, and maybe after a short nap*, I'm going to go running, but I can't do much since my space-age shoes are stuck at work. I also don't want to bore you with the past ten days of nothing, because I haven't had much time to do anything. If I go during lunch, I don't have enough time to warm up and avoid shin splints, and I've been spending the hours after work either trying to set up my fundraising event or going out with people from work to say goodbye to two people from my team who are leaving for greener (and boringer) locales. (Just kidding, people who live in New Hampshire!) I don't know how much time I'm going to have until the fundraiser is over, either, but hopefully I can fit something in between my marathon sleeping sessions.

*I wish I were kidding, but the sun makes me so sleepy! My eyes are closing at this very moment.

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Days 32-34: Girly so groovy, I want you to know

I have a blood blister underneath the nail on the "this little piggy stayed home" toe on my left foot. On the one hand, this blows. Obviously. But on the other hand, at least it's on the other foot. That's right, folks, this blood blister is the first running pain, whether it be knee-, shin-, or foot-related, that has afflicted the left side of my body. Up until this, it's only been my right knee that wants to pop off, my right toes that get jammed up and sore, my right shin that has flames, flames on the side of my leg. Now I know that I can potentially hurt all over! So... yay?

Tonight I went running on a small track two blocks from my apartment. There were two guys messing around with a soccer ball on the field inside of the track, and some kids running around being dumb because they're kids and can get away with that. I felt stupid setting up my stuff, spending 5 minutes stretching, and then just... walking, so as I walked the first couple of laps, I swung my arms around, kicked my legs up behind me, and generally made it clear that I wasn't walking, I was still warming up. This isn't what I came here for, strange men and children whom I will never see again! This is the start of something big, believe you me! I'm gonna live forever!

I think after 15 minutes of me walking in a circle, they might've seen through my ruse. After 20 minutes of walking, the kids and soccer ballers had left, and I began to run. Stacey had schooled me before I left the apartment on why I need to start following the training schedule. I'd been doing my own thing, partly because the training schedule has me doing run 8 minutes/walk 1 minute, and I can't handle that, but also partly because I'm a rebel. A loner, Dottie.

I went with a routine of run 3/walk 1, and when I was finally getting into the groove after a few splits (Warning: I may not completely understand the meaning of the term "splits"), someone came to lock up the track and kick me out. El Bastardo! He also called me the last of the Mohicans. Just call me Daniel Day-Lewis. Or whoever it was that played The Last Mohican. If you must address me, though, I really prefer "The Highlander." There can be only one...

I ran home, dropped off my water bottle, and went back out to make the sidewalks my b-word. (I apologize for the salty language.) I was supposed to be at a low-medium level intensity during the "run 3" portion. Stacey explained that as when you're able to talk to someone running beside you. I scoffed, because I don't have enough breath left over for talking when I'm running at any level of intensity, but after about 25 minutes of run 3/walk 1, I decided to test it out and see if I was in compliance with The Schedule. Sure, I was breathing heavily, but maybe once I actually tried to form words, I would surprise myself with my amazing ability to speechify.

Or maybe not. I thought of a sentence that I would say. "Hey Stacey, look at me, talking while running!" This is what I imagine to be the runner's version of "Look ma, no hands!" I got halfway through thinking about saying that sentence before I got too exhausted to continue. That's right. I was too out-of-breath to even complete a sentence in my mind.

After 30 minutes of run 3/walk 1, the balls (teehee) of my feet were hurting, so I stopped on a slightly slanted bench next to a doggy park that technically doesn't allow dogs in it. Story time: Around New Year's I was dog-sitting for a friend and took le chien andalou to the non-doggy doggy park. As I was standing on the grass next to some sign that my eyes had skipped over, two security guards drove up in a golf cart and stared at us, then pointed to the sign. "No Dogs Allowed," apparently. This is not a very effective sign.

As I was saying, I sat down, then lay down on my back. "This is nice," I thought. "Who needs music? The night sky, a doggy running around smelling things nearby, my feet get a break..." 2.5 seconds later, all the blood in my body rushed to my head, almost causing me to black out. 3 seconds later, I realized that I hadn't given sitting straight up a fair shot, and really, the view of the outside of the public bathrooms was just as relaxing as the sky.

A few minutes of sitting, and I hopped back up and started running home. At no time was I running with any impressive speed or form, but by this point my "running" was looking more like "awkward hopping." I passed by two men I know, smoking outside of a bar that they had previously only seen me inside of, and we exchanged bright smiles (me) and confused waves (them). I completed my allegedly 4.6 mile-long trip, if I can trust, which I'm beginning not to, by falling asleep in a kitchen chair. Impressive!

Nothing too exciting happened on Monday and Tuesday. I could only go on the treadmill at the gym during lunch, so I didn't have much time, either for stretching or a warm-up walk, and both days I only managed a couple of mixed walking/running miles, with burning shins both times. So where do I stand? I think I stand pretty well, actually. I managed to go for 40 minutes with 30 minutes of running, or at least "running," which is the longest amount of time I've handled so far. Saturday's 90 minutes don't count, since I was mostly walking. All that's left for me right now is to figure out a way to shower without having to get up off this couch. If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments.

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Days 29-31: Unexpected accomplishment

Ouch. I went to a Pilates class on Friday to help re-limber my stiff legs, and that did help, but there were still a couple of deeply sore spots that made me aware of every step I took. I was not looking forward to Saturday morning's Central Park group run. Luckily, I didn't make it!

Let me explain. A friend of mine is moving to London in a week, and Friday night was the last chance to see him for a while, and perhaps ever. I thought I could still manage both - go out early, refrain from drinking, come home early, wake up early. After all, early birds catch the train in time. Or something. I forgot I was dealing with chronically late people, though, and didn't make it out until after midnight. I still thought I'd be able to make the run, so I managed to resist peer pressure and not drink all night, but the only person my 6:30 alarm effectively woke up was Stacey. (Sorry, Stace!)

It worked out reasonably well, though. When I eventually woke up to temps in the high 70s, I brought a vase of flowers out onto a ledge of my balcony, pulled out a yoga mat, and stretched to the soothing sounds of "Funky Town," Billy Idol, and the glass vase being blown over the ledge and shattering. I jumped up and stared over the edge in shock. My dead from neglect artfully dried roses, now trapped in a small, strange, empty, walled-in rectangle! A previously unnoticed, be-Speedo'd man tanning in his backyard asked me if I was OK. I was so startled that I jumped, looked at him, looked at his Speedo, looked back at him, gave a thumbs-up, and scurried back out of his sight-line.

After that, I felt a change of scenery was in order, so I headed down to Brooklyn, which I know is the site of some of Stacey's running routes. I couldn't find my pedometer, so I wasn't able to track my distance, but I did bring my stopwatch. All in all, I was out there for an hour and a half, plus a couple of minutes to 1) drink from the public bathroom sink in McCarren Park and 2) buy a Gatorade, because public tap water is not the most refreshing and satisfying possibility. (Jeez, I feel like I should be getting paid for this endorsement.)

I was still trying for length and endurance over speed, so I spent most of my time walking at a tourist's pace. Granted, it was the pace of a tourist from New York who can't wait to get to the other side of some podunk town with one stop sign and who occasionally runs in terror after spotting some Children of the Corn, but a tourist nonetheless. I'm not sure what that last sentence was. What I mean is that I walked fast, and sometimes I would run for a block or two. My only pains this time were a dry throat, chapped lips, and developing jello legs with leaden feet after about an hour. I was draaaaagging, and my form was starting to resemble Phoebe's, except with a level of enthusiasm closer to "zombie" than her "manic squirrel."

After a few sips of Gatorade, I actually did perk up a bit. Whether or not that was from a placebo effect, I don't know. But I did, near the end of my march, run up a set of stairs that takes you up to the Pulaski Bridge. It was only about 2-3 flights, so it's not like I was Rocky, but it's something. When I got home, Stacey told me about the site Map My Run, where you can put in your route and get the mileage, elevation, etc. I meandered down a lot of side streets, so this is only an approximation, but I apparently completed a little over seven miles. That's an average of under 13 mph. I'm honestly a little shocked and disbelieving. It's not exactly fast, but at that pace, I'd finish the half in well under three hours, and I didn't even think I was putting much effort into speed.

Lessons learned: 1) Next time, bring Chapstick and a small bottle of a sports drink, if possible. 2) Get music. I have a mini mp3 player that can clip onto my shirt, but I lost the cord that charges it. Do you know how boring it is to run for ninety minutes and have nothing to listen to? (It's extremely boring.)

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Days 21-28: Shame, a powerful motivator

From last Thursday on up until today, my running consisted of the following: bupkus, again. I was sick for ages, I was working late, it was raining, it was St. Patty's Day... I have multiple excuses, and most of them are legitimate, but I was becoming discouraged by my complete lack of advancement. If it's this hard to find the time to run when I only have a few miles to do, how am I going to find the time when the running will take hours? We're supposed to be up to doing four miles at a time, and I can't even do two!

Also, since I've been telling everyone I know about my plans, I've naturally been fielding questions about how my training is going. Having to repeatedly tell people that my training is going nowhere because I've been sick and working late is not fun. I knew that this weekend, I would be seeing many more people who would be asking that same question, and if I had to keep telling everyone, including people who have been generous enough to donate, that I haven't done anything? That I've been too busy telling drunk people wearing green that I refuse to join in the "traditional" trappings of St. Patrick's Day because they offend my strong Catholic upbringing in Ireland? (I'm a Russian-Polish Jew.) Oh, the shame.

Thankfully, I'll be able to answer honestly that I've accomplished two of my goals! I wanted to be able to run a mile without walking and break a ten-minute mile. After work today, I went to the gym, which was pleasantly empty. I guess on the day after St. Pat's, most people figured just dragging themselves into the office was exercise enough, if they made it to work at all. Anyways, I had my choice of treadmills and got to steppin'. I think I made a mistake in trying to start running right off the bat in my other workouts. Since the half is going to test my endurance, I've been advised to start by doing longer distances at a slower pace, then move up to running.

This was a good call, because I was able to walk three miles without stopping or stretching, at a 15-minute mile pace, AND I got to read while doing so. After that, I had finished Agnes Grey and decided to improve my time on the fourth mile. I went up to 6 mph and somehow didn't stop. I stayed there for eight minutes, then went up to 6.2 for a minute, and finally 6.4 for the final minute, plus a bonus, show-off minute. I didn't get too tired, and my shins felt fine, so I feel much better about my ultimate ability to complete the race, even though I'm still a long ways away. Nine miles and some knee pain away, to be precise.

Fun fact: While conducting research after reading Tender Is the Night, I discovered that Zelda Fitzgerald had colitis, and she was sick during the same trip to Italy on which she convinced her husband to name his recently completed novel "The Great Gatsby."

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Days 17-20: General Incompetence

I have learned three important lessons this week. One, that when buying my very first pair of running pants, I should make sure that extraneous fluff is exorcised before removal from the store. Fluff like, oh, say, the security tag.

I bought these last Thursday. Odds that by the time I return to the store, the weather will be too warm for them? Whatever the opposite of "slim to none" is.

Two, that while it is difficult to take pictures of one's own back, at least it is less awkward than asking a roommate to be the photographer.

My first three tries, before I figured out that the big black triangles meant the camera lens hadn't opened all the way. Just call me a female, non-morphine addicted Sherlock Holmes.

It's like someone's peeking at me through a door in the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Three, that picking a cold night when I was sick with an exceptionally sore throat was an exceptionally bad time to start my outdoor endurance training. On Monday, after two miles and half an hour, I entered my apartment to switch out the CD in my Walkman (yes, I am living in the 90's) and head back out for more. Instead I collapsed on my bed in a coughing fit.

I did manage to get two miles of walking done today, with a few minutes of jogging thrown in, but even without over-exerting myself, my right shin does not want to behave. I'm thinking of cutting off my leg to spite my shin. That sounds like a practical idea, right? Right.

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Days 13-16: Inspirational Failure

Three people have already told me that I inspired them to restart their long-lost running routines. I even have one friend in Boston who woke up at 7 AM three times last week to go run. Granted, the inspiration all came in the form of "If THIS girl can do it..." which isn't the most flattering concept, but I'll take it however I can get it.

I, on the other hand, have not been doing nearly so well. Day 13, Wednesday, I walked a mile. Since then, bupkus, aside from walking up a ton of stairs instead of taking escalators. I thought that when I signed up for this, it would help me get more exercise, since my gym isn't open on the weekends and forcing me to run on Saturdays would add a day to my routine. Instead, my workouts have become shorter and less frequent. When I do get on a treadmill, my body resists so quickly that I can't do more than half an hour. I also used to be able to hit the gym after work and take my time, staying for an hour or more, but now I have fundraising seminars and running gear clinics after work, which means I need to fit everything into my lunch break, if I get one. Is it possible to actually get in worse shape after running a half-marathon?

It might help if I stuck to my resolutions, though. I knew the early morning Saturday group runs would be a challenge to me. It's enough of a challenge to get to work on time, let alone wake up over an hour earlier on a day reserved for sleeping in. That's why I told myself I would stop going out on Fridays. I would kill two birds with one hand grenade: drink less, exercise more. Both of these were months-old happiness project ideas, and after all, Stacey does it! How hard could it be?

I had such high hopes...

Leila, she of the gym lending, invited me to happy hour on Friday. She was on a timeline for dinner, and I needed to return library books before the library closed at 8. Perfect. Go for an hour, talk with some friends I haven't seen since last year, and go home to sleep.

I ended up being talked into having one glass of wine, then going out for dinner with a side of Bavarian coffee. In fairness, I was the one who tried to talk everyone else into the delicious, peppermint schnappsical coffee. If anyone is in New York, go to La Lanterna and order it. You will not regret it. Anyways, long story short, I woke up at 1:30 PM with library detective Bookman already on the hunt for $2 in overdue fines owed to the New York Public Library. I swear, they're worse than a drug cartel.

BUT. This is where the optimism flares up again, like a bad case of eczema. The weather turned gorgeous today, rendering my new winter running pants useless, but motivating me to walk by myself for twice as long what the group workout had planned. Four miles instead of two. Monday night there is also a make-up group walk, which I'm going to attend. I'm moving forward! There's no use crying over spilled milk, onward and upward, don't look back in anger, to infinity and beyond!

Hey, I'm not going this for my health! Well, I sort of am, but I'm also doing it to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis. Please donate and help me get to Boston to complete my journey!