Thursday, April 29, 2010

Overcoming the First Setback

On the 15th training day of the Couch to 5K program, the prescribed workout was a brisk 5-minute warm-up walk, then jog 2 miles (or 20 minutes, depending on whether you measure time or distance). From the beginning, this was the day I was most worried about because it seemed like such a huge jump from the previous day which was

Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)
Walk 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)

I had gotten through that, but I depended on having the walking break in between. I hadn't even run a solid mile since June and here I had to run two?! I do my long runs on Saturdays and yes, this was a long run so I went on a Saturday afternoon in late December (deadsville time), hopped on my favorite treadmill and made it through the first mile, panting, constantly telling myself how much it sucked.

Hitting 1.0 miles was like hitting a brick wall. No matter how many steps I took (and yes I was counting them), I never seemed to reach 1.01 miles. How was I ever going to make it to 2.0? My mind shut down and my feet refused to go just one more step. Grasping the sides, I killed the speed, bent over and panted until my heart rate was back under control. Eventually I finished the two miles, but with several stopping points to breathe.

I felt like a failure. Serious aspirations of a marathon and I couldn't even finish two miles?

I went back the next day to try again. This time I was somewhat better prepared. No one was going to stand next to me and tell me I could do it, so with a Sharpie I wrote on my left hand "You can do this!" On my forearm I wrote "My mind is stronger than my body." One of the guys working at the Y asked who wrote all over my arm. It might have looked silly, but it worked. Every time I swung my left arm slightly forward I was reminded that yes, I can do this, and yes, my mind is stronger than my body (and hand sanitizer instantly erases permanent marker from the skin).

Finishing two miles was the first great accomplishment of training for this race. Now it's a short distance ("Only two miles to go!"), but in December it was major and after I finished and collapsed in the sauna I could think only one thing: "I did it!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

To Music or Not to Music?

I have always relied on music to work out. I've heard some of the arguments against it, such as without music, I'll be able to better focus on my body and my breathing. Except I don't want that focus on how much it hurts, I want - need - the distraction from music. My reliance on music is to the point that three times I've gotten to the Y and realized my iPod was dead. Rather than exercise without it, I went home long enough to charge it, then drove back.

I used to have a collection of approximately 100 songs lumped together in my cardio playlist that I played at random, but I've started sorting them into the ultimate 4-hour cardio playlist. I listen to the same songs, in the same order every time I exercise. The continuity helps. I like the predicability of knowing exactly what is coming next.

I read a story in Men's Health (way better than Women's Health!) that recommended setting up a playlist by starting with a moderate beat per minute, then gradually increasing. They found that doing so enabled athletes to go longer than if starting with a super high bpm. Following this, my first ten minutes are a pretty moderate bpm, plus the first song is just darn funny.

So here is hour 1:

1. Kiss Me I'm #!@*Faced - Dropkick Murphys
2. For Those about to Rock - AC/DC
3. Something in Your Mouth - Nickelback
4. Good Vibrations - Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
5. Hate - Drowning Pool
6. Bad Girlfriend - Theory of a Deadman
7. I Love Myself Today - Bif Naked
8. Burn it to the Ground - Nickelback
9. Bodies - Drowning Pool
10. Thunderstruck - AC/DC
11. The Night - Disturbed
12. Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna
13. Whiskey Hangover - Godsmack
14. Girls - Beastie Boys
15. What's my Age Again? - Blink-182
16. Cryin' Like a Bitch!! - Godsmack
17. Skinhead on the MBTA - Dropkick Murphys

Something that always amuses me is my choice of music. If given just the playlist (and not the fuchsia iPod), I would assume it was the music of a 17 year old boy. What can I say? I like angry music when I'm working out and there's nothing wrong with that!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Getting started

A journey of a thousand miles (or 26.2) starts with a single step and all that blah blah blah, but how does one actually prepare for a marathon? I looked online for some training programs and many of them started with Day 1: run 6 miles. Sorry, can't do that! So I had to come up with another plan.

I actually wasn't in terrible shape when I started. I finished the Belle Isle triathlon in June 2009, but I had focused on the bike and the swim and didn't start training the run component until six weeks ahead of time when I went too far too soon and got shin splints. I couldn't deal with that same pain during 11 months of training, so after spending the summer mostly biking and walking, I decided to start the marathon from absolute square one.

I looked online for a 5k training program and found the Couch to 5K Running Program. The plan was three days a week that should take 20-30 minutes. I can handle this! Even better, the author acknowledges that "It's easy to get impatient, and you may feel tempted to skip ahead in the program, but hold yourself back. Don't try to do more, even if you feel you can." Well I took this advice to heart and took my sweet time logging all the distances, even when I knew I was capable of doing more. If the program said to jog 60 seconds then walk 90 (repeat for a total of 20 minutes), that's exactly what I did and nothing more!

It took me 3 months to get through the program, which is designed as a 9-week program but it worked and I could successfully run a 5K for the first time in years.

I normally disdain using treadmills, but in this case, it was easier to monitor the times on the machine to nowhere.

The entire training program can be found at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Inspiration Wall

My inspiration wall started off simply enough - I saved the page from the Free Press of the 2009 marathon route and hung it on the back of my front door. I knew I would see it every time I left the house and it's in clear view of the couch, so perhaps seeing it would motivate me when I wasn't feeling it. Simple enough, right?

It was fine until New Year's Eve when I sat down for an hour and wrote out what I accomplished in the past year and what I want to accomplish in the coming years. As soon as this was printed, it also went up, this time on the wall adjacent to the front door (When I have company I try to keep the door open because not many people get to read the wall...). In addition to seeing the race route, every time I leave the house, I also see exactly what I want to accomplish in 2010.

My inspiration wall now contains a hodge podge of quotes, song lyrics and magazine pages, as well as pictures of my car with the caption "Justification for Higher Education."

An inspiration collage isn't the best look for every room, but it reminds me of what's important, of what I want to do with my life. It's ultimately all about who and what I want to be. Rather than letting that guy be my cheerleader, I've become my own.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why now?

This isn't the first marathon I've attempted. In 2003 I dabbled with running the same race, but gave up in early summer when I decided to go back to school for my teaching certificate. I knew I had to work full time and I could either go to school full time or train for a marathon, but there wasn't time for both. I chose school and a new career and didn't think seriously about the marathon again until 2009 when a number of factors came together to make this the year.

First I lost 26 pounds (and counting) since May 2009. It's easier to carry fewer pounds through the miles and I wanted to do something to celebrate the weight loss. I feel better than I ever have before, which is all the more reason to do it now.

Another factor was quitting my job in October. Preparing for a marathon takes a massive amount of time, of which I suddenly had plenty.

Next, every fall the Free Press publishes the list of all the runners signed up for the race and prints a full page route map. I read this every year and wish I was among those listed, promising myself that someday I will be. In addition, the New York marathon is televised around the same time, as is the Ironman triathlon world championship. Watching these on tv isn't boring, but a huge inspiration and reminder that I can do something like that!

Also, I've been going through a bit of a 1/3 life crisis, in which it finally dawned on me that I'm not in my 20s anymore, I have a career I don't especially love, a masters degree I don't want, no house of my own, no kids, no man and no prospects. I wanted something positive to focus on, a major accomplishment of my own.

The biggest intangible, however, was the guy I was dating in the fall, who helped me realize I can do anything. Talking to him and hearing his positive attitude every day gave me renewed confidence in myself and in my ability to do great things, that I'm so much more than "just" a teacher or any other one-dimensional label I could give myself. I had visions of grandeur and he helped me see that yes, I can do anything I want. When we broke up, endorphins became my drug of choice and I was at the gym every day for weeks, cursing the YMCA for closing on Christmas. He pulled me out of that flatline and gave me the kick I needed to jump start my life. Everyone should have a cheerleader like this. "I wanted to fly. He made me feel like I could."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why am I running a marathon? Where is the sanity in this decision?

I'm not a runner. I don't enjoy it and when people talk about a "runner's high" I have no idea what they're talking about. I have yet to experience this sensation even once.

Yet I'm training for a marathon. When I tell people I'm training (accountability leads to dedication), they invariably ask if it's my first one. I think the real question, though is "Why?" What would possess an otherwise rational person to run 26.2 miles for fun? Especially someone who readily admits she doesn't enjoy running?

The standard answer is that it's #5 on my bucket list. Most people accept this as the answer, but I've been asked why a healthy 30-year old has a bucket list. I've always been a list maker and seeing things written out on paper makes me more likely to accomplish them. For years I've had ideas of things I want to do "someday," but I finally decided that someday starts this year and I wrote out what I want to accomplish in 2010, in ten years, and in my lifetime. The marathon isn't something I want to do when I'm in my 80s so I'm doing it now, following an 11-month training program. For sake of comparison, most people train for six months.

I love reading your comments and thank you for your kind words and advice. If you want a response, please email me and I'll get back to you.