Sunday, May 31, 2015

Final Step in Rebuilding

Before my not so fun run on Mother's Day I had done 15 miles on the NCR trail with my training partner, Joselyn, on May 3.  As I sit and write on a day of rest on May 31, I feel that I have successfully rebuilt, although next Sunday, 35 days after the last 15 miler, will be the real test.

But, yesterday, I went through the last step in regaining confidence.  How?

It was a hot morning yesterday.  My car thermometer said low 70's even when I parked at Paper Mill on the NCR trail.

Joselyn and I said, "13, or 14 if we are feeling fine."  We ended up doing 14.  The feeling of being fine was definitely there.

The 14 started off easy--an 8:33.  Then a few more miles at over 8 minutes.  But then we got into a zone and just ran.  The first half--as we ran from the Paper Mill parking lot to a point about 1/4 mile north of the building with rest rooms at Monkton was 56:56 (reflecting those early miles).  The second half we came back and ran it in 54:13.  What a difference.  Yes, it is a little downhill, but not really that much.  That is an average of over 20 seconds faster per mile and some were definitely run even more strongly than that.  And we didn't have any slower than 8 minutes in the second half.

That was despite being dripping with sweat to the degree that once again, I could have wrung out my shirt.

That was despite the humidity.

That was despite the lack of any real breeze.

And as I sort out what my next challenge will be with running, it was great to feel like I was completely back in control at a distance that was exactly what I expected, with my breathing not totally out of control, in the company of a good friend, and ready for the rest of the day.

The rest of the day was pretty good too--my youngest son's lacrosse team won't both games convincingly and made it to the playoffs in this weekend's tournament.  My son, however, has to learn the lessons I have with finding ways to keep going when it is hot.  Not an easy task for a 45 year old.  Not an easy task for a ten year old.  We all learn such things.

My rebuilding to where I was before my Mother's Day run is now done.  It is time to move on.  And to find out again what I am capable of when I put my mind to it.  Both in running and in writing--blog and other projects. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Faster and Slower, More and Less, and Sometimes None

I like to think of myself as a decent runner after 9 1/2 years since getting back to fitness.  Six marathons.  One Boston.  Four under 3:16.  One of them under 3:10.  

But I had my first setback in a while on Mother's Day--as recent readers have read about.  I had my slowest 5K in a while two weeks after.  And since Sunday, I have been rebuilding confidence and rebuilding my sense of "running like me."

But I have to relearn some lessons along the way.  Lessons I first learned when I ran with Charm City Run.  Lessons I learned again when running with others (especially those from Back on My Feet) and comparing notes.  Lessons I learned yet again when I got a plan from coach Shannon at Creating Momentum.  Lessons that now that I am enjoying running with friends but basically planning on my own, I am having to either re-learn or at least remind myself of again and again.

This morning's lesson was about quantity.  Call it the Goldilocks Lesson.  Each day of training has a pace.  Sometimes a steady tempo.  Sometimes increasing tempo before pulling back for a cool down.  Sometimes the ups and downs of a track workout with intervals and active rest.

Then there are weekly patterns.  Some weeks I run more.  Some weeks I run less.  Occasionally two weeks are about the same.  But running a lot every week is just not the right thing to do.

Then there is within the week.  Make sure to take at least one day off.  Make sure not to do two intense workouts in a row if it can be avoided.  (Intense can be faster or further.)  And with those rules in mind, generally don't plan more than 4 (and usually just 3) intense workouts a week.

What happens if I break those rules?  I am probably not going to get faster.  I am probably not going to run stronger.  I am going to increase my chance of injury.  And by not respecting my body's needs in training, I will at best tread water.

So, when I missed my second track workout of the week yesterday, I made a choice.  I ended up with a sort of progression run over a hilly seven miles.  

I really wanted that second track workout and went to bed last night thinking "wouldn't it be great" to get that workout in this morning.  8x400 instead of 6x400.  Rest intervals of 200 meters rather than 400 meters.  I had it all in my mind.

Until I woke up and thought about it while my body was preparing.  

And I realized how many rules I had already broken this week.  

And I realized that breaking one more was not going to help me to prepare for my next 5K.

So, I thought better of it and ran just 3.2--with no mile faster than 8:40.

And I got on with my day.

But I am thinking long and hard about the "Goldilocks plan".  What is not to fast and not too slow.  What is not too short and not too long.  How should I plan that out and what goal does it all center on?  

And how can I take this lesson from running and apply it to the rest of life?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Life Lessons in a Course Preview

I have run the GBMC Father's Day race either 4 or 5 times now.  It benefits the NICU at the medical center.  Once, I ran it with all three of my sons.  The youngest took great joy in coming in ahead of the oldest.  For the first several years I ran it, the race was in Hunt Valley on a relatively flat course.  For the last two years, the course was much hillier--going from the medical center campus out to Osler, through Rogers Force (hilly!), and back onto the campus.  Two different ways.  Two different courses.  Driven by construction.

So, I have registered myself for the race.  I will register my two younger kids for the race.  And I will run as part of a team with my adopted daughter for the day as I did a year ago.  She is just young enough to be my daughter and I serve as a training partner, mentor, and friend.  We had the good fortune of taking the Father-Daughter competition last year.

With this year's website, it was unclear how the course would be structured.  So I wrote to Charm City Run's race management arm and asked.  And pleasantly to my surprise, less than four hours later when I got off the plan last night, I found the course description.  It is a bit of a hybrid between the two courses of the last two years.  It looks like it won't be short as it was two years ago but we won't have to double back as we did last year.

Still hilly.

This morning, for my workout, I decided to preview much of the course.  I've run most of it dozens of times over the last nine years.  But I hadn't run it in a while and I wanted to remind myself.

I've mentioned several times that the course is hilly.  Up Osler in the first mile.  Up at the end of the race.  Up Stevenson after coming off a nice downhill on Stanmore.  Up Bellona to Charles before beginning the nice descent.  All of those are notable.

But in my mind, the hardest part of the course is when I finish running up the long-slow hill on Osler, turn the corner onto Steven, and have to continue to climb toward Stanmore.  I just thought as I previewed that this morning about all the times in lie when I have turned a corner hoping for something better, something easier, and found instead that the road ahead was actually harder for some time.

That is the point in the race at which each runner will have to decide one of two things--either "this is a hard course and I might as well coast the rest of the way" or "I'm taking this head on and working even harder."  This morning, I took the first path.  I'd run an 8:30ish first mile.  then surprised myself by coming down under 7:50.  Then under 7:40 as I ran down Towsontown.  Then, climbing Osler and around back up over 7:40.  Then, for the run down Stanmore, up Stevenson, and up Bellona toward Charles, I ran 7:14.  Then, I eased up for one mile and took it back down to a sub-8 to finish.

The key was that I ended up with a slightly slower time in mile 4.  But I didn't give in.  Even on a workout a morning after returning from Texas and running by myself and thinking "the course is testing me rather than me testing the course," I ran one of my strongest workout performances in a while and could say, when all was said and done, that I had tested the course.  I'd like to do it a few more times before the race--just to make absolutely sure I know how it feels.  And I can say with certainty that I know how the race can feel if I just take it in stride and work on it.

The lesson for life is to do the same with any other task for which I end up on a similar topographical trajectory.

And to share with others the joy of the sense of accomplishment that one can get when achieving that goal.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


So, I've been so inspired by running that I am blogging three times in a week. I think this means I will also return to my writing for other things soon and try to finish the book I'd started.

In any case, yet another lesson from yesterday.  Yesterday was my first run with a my training partner, Lauren, since May 7.  That was after her marathon run--for which I had spent a lot of time training with her--and before I had my running meltdown on Mother's Day.  She had been at the 5K on Sunday, when my running was anything but consistent (6:29, 7:01, 6:58) but hadn't run as she'd just gotten back from London.

So, we arrived at the track and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was open by about 5:15.  We didn't have big plans for the track workout.  We just wanted to start--her toward feeling herself after not running much while she was away and me toward feeling like myself in my running again.  I had told her that unlike most of the winter and early spring workouts where I was pacing her, I was going to be the "rabbit" for her to chase.

So, we ended up doing "just" 6x400.  (For those who don't run track that is one lap around an Olympic track.)  Neither one of us really needed to push as I had done my not so hot 5K on Sunday followed by a hard distance workout on Monday and she was congested.  But my 400's were run at 1:26.8, 1:28.7, 1:28.4, 1:28.3, 1:28.4, and 1:26.4.  That last one was a little faster mostly because my watch was not ready to start when we got to the starting line, and I encouraged my friend to run ahead.  When my watch was ready, I caught and passed her before finishing.  She ran 1:40's the whole time and then came in around 1:38.

Running only 1.5 miles at pace--not the longest track workout we'd ever done.  Running 1:26's to 1:28's for me--not the hardest I'd ever run.  The key was that this was the most consistent run I'd don in a long time.  With the inexactness of starting and stopping one's own watch, these were really all essentially the same time.  And that was with no one right by my side.  And it was with just a sense of how to keep myself going.

Sometimes the consistency is the most important thing.  Whether it is in running--to get into a groove and feel like I can keep going.  Whether it is in career--not trying to cram too many things in too early but to spread things out and build over time.  Whether it is in parenting--making sure that the kids aren't given too much to do all at once but are allowed to grown and develop at a pace.  Whether it is in studying--making sure that one pace's oneself going along rather than waiting until the end.

So, some things in life can start too fast and fizzle.  Some things in life are dangerous to wait and then stress out at the end.  Consistency is good.  And yesterday was a great way to be reminded of that.  Now, I hope to be able to take this back to my next race.

For that, I have to build not just the consistency but the distance as well.  That is the next challenge.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Some Days Everything Just Goes Right..And Other Days...

Yesterday, was a day for my running when everything did not go right.  I would not go so far as to say that everything went wrong, but it was not one of my better runs.  As I commented yesterday, I got everything from comments about looking miserable to friends telling me they know I would be back.  And I am realizing that with enough running days over enough running years, there are going to be some days that just don't turn out the way I expect them to.

That was yesterday.
And today life goes on.
You won't find me in yesterday's world
Now yesterday's gone.  [To quote Foreigner.]

Yes, I came back one day later with a running friend whose side I have run by for four years.  Someone with whom I have had really good days.  And someone who has seen me struggle on multiple occasions.  Someone I have seen at her best in running.  And someone whom I have seen struggle.  Not usually so much on our runs--but from sitting out for weeks or months at a time after injury or from her missed race last fall.

We have both had great days.

We have both had struggles.

And we have each had to deal with the reality of how hard training does or does not fit into our lives.

With that said, she told me even yesterday morning not long after my race that she was sure I'd get my pace back.  I told her I was not sure if I could hold anything close to our usual training pace today.  She told me just relax.

So, we met at the Safeway on Boston Street in Canton, and headed out for our run.  Five miles over to Fort McHenry staying mostly on the roads on the north side of the Harbor and then 6.4 miles on the return by hugging each peer as much as possible.

We ran the first three miles above 8:00/mile including the first mile at a very easy 8:50.

But then we settled in.  We ran 7 miles in a row under 8:00.  The 11th mile was just over 8:00 and I think that was only because we missed a turn away from the peer and had to get over a 4 foot wall at one point--never a dull moment for us.

The temperature was in the 60's.  We started just after sunrise and there were long shadows from the tall buildings on the north side of the harbor that gave us shade for much of the way.  There was an ever so slight breeze coming off the water that was not so hard that we had to fight it but that was just enough to cool us off.

It was a close to a perfect morning as you could get without being about 10 degrees cooler.

And running with someone with whom I have developed a comfortable pace of around 8:00/mile--sometimes a little faster and sometimes a little slower--after four years of running stride for stride made it easy as well.  It was just a matter of going out and doing what I know, what I have learned to do, and what I enjoy doing

Plus, my friend who had listened to me struggle two weeks ago at my last run that long, told me I just sounded much better.

So, it was all good.  And some days are like that.  Those are the easy days.

The key is to remember on the days that are not so good that there are better days ahead.   

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Message from a Bird

Yesterday, when I was waiting for Joshua to be done his day of volunteering at the zoo, I was sitting in my car reading a news magazine and I had what I thought of as an odd experience.  A small bird looking very bewildered flew in through my car window and landed on the dashboard up against the windshield.  I was at least as surprised as the bird was.  I opened all the windows and stepped out of the car.  The bird managed to get across the dashboard and out the front passenger window.

When I posted this on social media, one aunt pointed out that it is a gift to be visited by another member of God's creation.  And one of my dear long distance running friends (she runs ultra-marathons while I stick with nothing longer than a marathon) and fellow blogger said it was a sign or message.  I had to ponder what that message would be.

I think after today's 5K race, I have an idea of what the message might be.  The day was a picture perfect morning for a 5K at 7:30 AM.  Although as I and several people I spoke with afterward noted, for runners who arrived early to register on the day of the race, arrival at sunrise when it was still cool could easily mask the fact that on Key Highway with the sun shining down, even if the air temperature is only in the 60's, it is hot to run.  

The race, I ran in an official time of just under 20:55.  Not bad for a 45 year old, by all means.  But it was one of my slowest in a long, long time.  In fact, last year after having the GI week from hell before Father's Day and running longer than I should have when looking for a good time on the day before the race, I ran about the same time on a much hillier course.  So, something is up with me.  In fact, one of my running buddies said he had never seen look so miserable during a run before.  

So, how does this story relate back to the message from the bird?  The bird did not just sit on the dashboard helpless.  He found a way to get himself going again.  He found a way to set himself right again.  And he flew on.

So, after nine years of running off and on and 5 years of running almost constantly and four years of almost always improving times, I am at a spot at which it is clear that I have to choose carefully how much to run.  Life is ever more full of other things.  

I have to choose carefully what workouts to do.  I have been mostly accompanying friends at paces and distances of their choosing while being along for the ride rather than having a plan for myself.

Have I enjoyed that type of running--making it up as I go and just being there as a presence for others?  You bet.  But it doesn't help me race.  And if I want racing for my own times to be part of my continued running experience, then I need to be like the bird.  Get myself going again.  Right myself.  And focus on running ahead.

The biggest question is what role I want racing to play.  I have been quite happy with accompanying others.  I have told one person that the Marine Corps Marathon is still on my bucket list and if she would like to try a second time, I'd be interested in running with her.  I've told another runner that if she just wants company for a race, I'd be happy to do that at least once.  I have a "running debt" to pay forward from someone who helped me to achieve a wonderful time last year.  And I just love helping others achieve anyway.  

Those are fine reasons to run.  But it is not like saying, "I'm going back to Boston because I can and I'm hoping to run harder this time."  That would be my own goal.  And for that, I really would need to follow what the little bird did.

We shall see.

There are lessons in life to be learned at every turn.  A little hiccup in life didn't stop the bird.  One bad race and a couple of less than perfect weeks of training should not stop me.   

As I recently saw Michael Jordan pointing out in a video--he missed lots of shots.  He even missed chances to win games.  But that was on the way to making lots of spectacular shots and game winning ones.  Less than perfect races happen once I run enough races.  Now, it's time to see what I can do if I keep on pushing even though I know every one can't possibly be my best.  I told a friend how great it was that she could do that. Now, I have to prove that I can do it myself.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Two Reasons to Pause

This week I have had to reasons just to stop.

The first stopped me.  After two weeks that included two three day trips--to Tampa and Denver--being away during the unrest in Baltimore city, coming home to give nights of curfew, running as many miles in four days as I normally run in seven for two weeks in a row my body just said, "STOP".  Loudly and clearly.  I made it through a nearly 12 mile run on Sunday morning, but the miles got slower and slower.  My running partner had every right just to go ahead. But like a good friend, she would not leave me behind.  She encouraged me to finish.  I should have slowed my day down there.  But I still made a mother's day dinner for Sherry (as I had planned to), went for massages with Sherry, and then served dinner, and went to mass.  It was when we got home from mass that I just collapsed.  Slept for 10 hours.  And then tried to go to work on Monday.  I had not recovered.  I stayed at work for 2 1/2 hours and didn't make it past that.  My body reminded me that ever after putting it through 2200 miles last year and while only planning to put it through 1500 thsi year, I still cannot mistreat it.  There are limits I must respect.  And I was not respecting them.  So, my body made me pause.  That gave me some time to think about how to balance all I want to get done--which is and will always continue to be A LOT--and the need to just pause.  Pause to reset my mental health.  Pause to reset my physical health.  Pause because it is the necessary thing to do.  And if I do not give my body at least an opportunity to stop and sit and veg-out and just watch TV or get some extra rest every once in a while, then it will make me pause for longer than I had planned and longer than I would have to if I worked the pausing into my plans.  There is a lot to think about as I try to plan out how to lead my life in a way that will benefit myself and my family as much as possible.

The second made me pause in my tracks. I had recently met the co-founder of an education technology company. There was an Amtrak accident yesterday in which several people died tragically when the train derailed not far north of the 30th Street station in Philadelphia.  I would not want anyone dead or injured on a commuter train--especially one that would then prevent me from making it to an appointment later in the week. But then I found out that one of the people who passed away was the CEO of the education technology company whose co-founder I had met.  Someone with a child.  Someone who was just commuting between Philadelphia and the New York City area for her job.  Someone who had left 30th Street Station with one simple expectation--to arrive home safely.  And because the train approached a curve at more than twice the recommended speed, the train derailed and a person lost her life at random.  But those who lost their lives are just that--people.  Someone's mother, wife, daughter, sister.  Someone else's son or bother.  Each person has a story.  It can be all too easy for me to hear the statistics but be almost immune to the enormity of what had occurred.  Until I found out how close to me this was.  And then, I had to pause.  And remember, once again in my life, to hug my kids a little tighter.  To cuddle with my wife.  To tell my friends how great they are.  And to tell my colleagues how much I appreciate them.  To pause to do each of these as often as possible.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

A few updates, a few observations, and a single purpose

I can't believe how long it has been since I last blogged.  And I'm only going to reflect on a small piece of what has happened in my life since my last blog.

First, I have been to two professional conferences.  Both were good.  Both demonstrated how much I have learned to take advantage of the opportunity to hang out with and learn from others while I still need time to myself to decompress.

Second, the city I live in and have learned to love had one night of riots and several days of protests with several thousand national guard and extra law enforcement in the city.  It was sobering.  It was disturbing.  I documented a run that showed just how odd some of the extra security appeared.  And most of all I really do not think that the extra enforcement was necessary for as long as it was around.  
Third, my youngest has had some great lacrosse games and auditioned for the School for the Arts after school program for grades 5-8 that would get him on a path toward stage design.

Fourth, my middle son had his first solo skating program and we celebrated that with a dinner out, although still under curfew.

Fifth, after the curfew dinner with a bottle of wine that we ate and drank between 8:15 and 9:45 PM, I was up and running by 6 the next morning.  I said my stomach was not 100%.  My training partner said she was tired.  So we ran 15 miles at an average 7:42 pace.  So much for not being 100%.

Sixth, I have continued to work on how to do the parts of my job that required me to have an externally facing presence better.

Seventh, I have been reading a book that calls on me to look beyond my goals in the workplace and to even look past career goals but to really search for my purpose in life.  My best statement so far is: "my purpose in life is to provide a lens through which others can view my synthesis of the gifts I have been given so that they to experience enrichment".  

Eighth, and finally, I have gotten myself seriously back into the swing of training.  The question now is training for what, if anything.  On Thursday, I had my first run with one of my training partners since she surprised herself with a slightly faster than anticipated time at the Kentucky Derby Festival marathon.  She was wearing orange compression socks, black shirt and shorts, and a headband with small elephants of multiple colors.  Except for the headband, she looked ready for an Orioles run.  In any case, with my head stuffed from a week and some of allergies and high altitude in Denver for the conference, I felt like an elephant waddling along as we began.  But we picked it up and ended with 7 miles in less than 59 minutes.  Proving that despite the initial feeling I was ready to run.  And despite her concerns with not having run more than 3 since the marathon, 11 days later she was ready to go.  Then, this morning, I may have felt a bit like an elephant after my 1600 meter time trial--again just lumbering along to get home.  But the time trial itself went great with my best mile in a long time at 5:49.  Still have to get faster if I'm going to run a 5K at my goal pace, but I do think that I can come back down under 20 in the near future.

So, this set of small points shows some of what I have done in the past two weeks and some.  Not really all that exciting.  But definitely signs of never a dull moment in my life and in my city.