Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Marathon Training: In The Thick Of It

I haven't blogged much about the specifics of my training lately. I'm really trying to stay focused on the big picture and not get wrapped out in any one workout, one week, or one race. While I naturally get super excited when a run goes better than expected, I keep myself in check by remembering I don't base anything off of "one"-- good or bad. I am looking for patterns in my training runs to assess progress.

This training cycle feels different from previous ones, both physically and mentally.

Physical Aspects
Physically, (insert huge knock on wood) I feel fantastic. No tweaks or even lingering muscle soreness. I'm running six days a week and when my rest days arrive, I don't even feel like I need them. I am running 5, 6, or even 7 miles the day after my long run and my legs don't even feel like they ran long the day before. I haven't even had my standard calf soreness during the past month. I'm sometimes logging both a tempo and an interval workout in the same week and I am exceeding my expected paces every time, simply by running on feel or heart rate. I'm successfully meeting the weekly mileage goals I set out for myself, and sometimes going a little bit above because everything feels so good.  I hope this lasts, I hope this lasts, I hope this lasts!

Maybe it's because I am almost always training for a marathon and the mono forced me to take a much-needed break. Maybe I came back super refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Maybe it's because I'm getting better sleep than I have been in years. Maybe it's because I'm more suited to winter running than any other season. I am at my best in the high 30's and low 40's. Not having to battle heat and humidity every day makes things so much easier. And maybe it's because I'm not forcing certain paces on myself during my runs, but just doing what feels to be the right effort level.

Mental Aspects
That brings me to the mental aspect of my training. I've blogged about this extensively ever since last May when I made the commitment to working through my anxiety issues and underlying perfectionism. It's not that I don't care about my paces or my race results. It's just that I am super focused on enjoying the day-to-day training and watching the miles accumulate in my log. I know I am becoming a better runner in so many ways and I don't need PRs to prove it.

I am getting more satisfaction out of the training than ever before. And I think that's coming from the structured "reviews" I am doing after my runs. I am purposefully looking for the positive and feeding my confidence. I haven't had any "bad" runs in months. Why? Because I don't believe in bad runs anymore. Only runs where I didn't feel all that great so I had to slow the pace. Just getting the miles in on days like those is a huge accomplishment. I expect that I will have days that feel un-energized, but as I said above, I don't base anything on just "one". If I had 5 days in a row of feeling off, then I would start to figure out the problem. But one day here and there of feeling tired is completely normal.

I know I'm getting faster and I think that within the past month I've reached a new level of fitness. I honestly think I could PR any distance right now. But believe it or not, I'm far more thankful that I'm able to train injury free and have things feel good. That's really what's most important to me- feeling good while running and truly being able to enjoy it. I'm just as happy with my running now as I was in November when I was still coming back from mono and not nearly as fast. The specific pace doesn't matter as much as the knowledge that I am improving. Happiness is coming from doing the work, logging the miles, and trying my best. I very much appreciate that I am faster, but I take far more pride in the high mileage I have logged and the consistency I have put out.

I guess I've changed.

What Racing Stripes training blog is complete without a graph? Even though I am less of a perfectionist now, I still love my charts. If someone told me that I would be better off if I didn't keep a log or look at charts, I would resist forcefully! I don't obsess over the mileage here, but I do enjoy giving myself a pat on the back when I see those totals rise.
In terms of my plan, I created my own plan back in October that incorporated a mix of elements. I took the long run and interval schedule from my coach, I based the mileage on the basic principle of a gradual increase, and I based the intensity on various factors:

Intervals: Run by feel, don't look at Garmin. My coach has a pace chart that he suggests we try to come close to for these workouts, but I've been running intervals long enough that I know what the effort level should be. I run better if I don't try to hit a particular time but rather just put out a solid effort level. It takes the pressure off and allows me to focus on feel. As a result, I am running these much faster than I did in any previous training cycle. With the exception of yesterday when I ran with my team, I have been doing my interval workouts solo. I enjoy the group workouts more, but the solo ones are great for pushing myself and finding my own rhythm. I plan to mix up solo workouts with team workouts as the cycle continues.

Tempo: Run by heart rate. The VO2 max test I took last May gave me my Lactate Threshold heart rate zone. I stick to this very closely and always wear a heart rate monitor during tempo runs. Since I know what the zone feels like, I am not constantly looking down at my heart rate. But if I start to feel like I am exerting too much effort, I keep myself in check by looking at the heart rate. As the chart shows, I didn't do tempo runs for nearly a month because I had a 10K race and a half marathon. Those races took the place of my tempo runs. I'll do a tempo run this week and next week, which will be three weeks in a row of solid tempos.

Long Runs: So far, I have kept almost all of my long runs easy. My coach suggests a fast finish at marathon pace approach for all long runs, but given how long my training cycle has been, I wanted to reserve those runs for later in the cycle and not burn myself out too early on them. I'm just now getting the point where I feel ready to start doing those fast-finish long runs at marathon pace, or adding marathon pace miles into the long runs as my coach suggests. So far, I have done a 20-miler and a 21-miler. I have two more 20+ milers on the schedule before the marathon, which will give me a total of 4. I've never done that many before but my body is holding up pretty well so far.

I couldn't be more pleased with how my training has progressed over the past several months.I hope to continue the trend in February!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cold Weather Running Musings

The big news in the Washington D.C. metro area is that it's cold! Yes, temperatures are below average but it's really nothing that should be seen as out of the ordinary. This weather is to be expected in mid-January and I can deal with it. I have to admit I do start to complain when it's 80 degrees in March or if there's 50 MPH winds or something out of the ordinary. But weather that's perfectly in line with the time of year and not some extreme weather event doesn't at all bother me.

And with that, I present some observations and opinions on marathon training in winter weather.

Having the Right Tools
An analogy my sports psychologist frequently uses is that of having the right "tools" to handle certain situations. He says that if it's 20 degrees out and all you have on is shorts and a t-shirt, you won't feel prepared to go outside. But if you have a warm coat and some gloves, then you'd feel better about the situation. Kind of obvious, but it's useful to think about in terms of my past marathon anxiety issues. In the past, I would go out and try to run a marathon without the proper tools. It was the equivalent of going outside in 20-degree weather in just shorts and a t-shirt. As a result, I was anxious and my body would react to the extent that I couldn't even finish the race.

Now, I have many tools in my arsenal to manage potential race anxiety. I have a hat and a warm pair of gloves and some fleece-lined pants. Also known as a process-focused mindset, a realistic understanding of the wide range of outcomes that could occur, and separation of myself as a person from my running. I understand which elements elements of the race I will control and which ones I won't, and I have ways of feeling in control at times when I might have otherwise felt out of control. Simply knowing that I have these tools and I've used them successfully in past races makes me feel confident and more relaxed going into the marathon. While there are no guarantees that I won't blow-up, I have no reason to believe that it would happen again, given that I am starting the race in an entirely different spot.

Tool Recommendations
Moving toward the more literal definition of tool, I have discovered some great running gear to help me feel comfortable in temperatures in the teen's. I typically don't review running products in my blog, but I make exceptions for items that are extremely helpful.

Brooks Wanganui Cabrio Mittens
  • Smart Wool socks. The ones I use are almost as thin as my summer socks but keep my feet from going numb. This is no easy task as I have a pretty bad case of Reynaud's syndrome in my feet. The key, though, is to start running as soon as I get outside so my feet don't  have a chance to get cold beforehand. 
  • Mizuno Breath Thermo base layers. I have a pair of Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves and a Breath Thermo half-zip shirt.On their own, they are okay, but they really work their magic as a base layer. Why? Because when you sweat, the material supposedly gets warmer so instead of the sweat making you cold, it makes you warm. This is an important property for the layer that's closest to your skin.
  • Brooks Wanganui Cabrio Mittens. The Mizuno gloves don't do much on their own, but when warn with Brooks Cabrio Mittens and a set of Little Hotties hand warmers, they are awesome. Here's how it works: the Mizuno gloves are the base layer, then I put on the Brooks mittens, which are convertible into gloves. I insert one pair of the hand warmers into each glove (two pairs total) so that both the outside and the inside of my fingers are warmed. This solution kept my hands from going numb on a 9-mile run in 12 degree weather.
  • Brooks Utopia Thermal Pants. My sister got me these for Christmas and they are a must-have. Last winter, I had to put tights underneath other running pants so that my butt and legs wouldn't freeze.  And that solution was uncomfortable and still very cold. These new Brooks pants are fantastic! I reserve them for temperatures under 25 degrees and they keep my legs and butt warm while still being a lightweight material. They are expensive, but I don't think I could run in such cold temperatures without a pair of pants of this caliber.
You don't get a medal for training in the cold.

While I do believe that training "in the elements" is valuable, it's okay to draw a line somewhere and opt for a treadmill. You can get just as good of a workout on a treadmill as you can outside, but there are some caveats. The primary one is injury. While a treadmill is arguably a softer and more forgiving surface than the road, most people change their gait on a treadmill. If you do nearly all of your running outdoors and then switch to a treadmill, your gait will alter and there is the potential for injury. That's how I ended up with three stress fractures a few winters ago. I also did treadmill intervals on a business trip back in October and my legs were sore for two days after. I had to pool run when I got home because they were so sore. That would not have happened on a track.

Putting the injury potential aside, I think that treadmill running can be useful when the roads are icy and unsafe. Or if you just don't feel like bundling up and going out in the cold. There is really no shame in running on a treadmill-- and there is really nothing commendable about running in very cold weather. You do what you need to do to get the training in.

Personally, I will opt for the 'mill if the road is icy and I'm worried about slipping. I'll also do the treadmill if there's a thunderstorm or more than 25 mph sustained winds. And occasionally on business trips if there is nowhere safe to run. However, I will not run more than 8 miles on a treadmill at a time. And I won't run on it more than 2-3 days a week. And as I learned in October, I won't do treadmill intervals anymore. Pool running would be preferable.

Scheduling Flexibility Is Important
I like having a training plan and I have one now. I went without training plans for about a year because I wanted to take things one week at a time, but now I am focused on the big picture and it's important to know what my overall training cycle will look like. The key thing to remember with a plan is that it should be flexible based on how your body feels and on life circumstances. Winter weather is a life circumstance that warrants some scheduling flexibility.

This week, I had planned to run my tempo run on Thursday. Wednesday was a scheduled rest day. I woke up on Wednesday morning and my legs did not feel like they needed to rest. I looked at the forecast and noticed it was supposed to snow that evening, meaning the roads would potentially be unsafe for Thursday's tempo. The current weather was 12 degrees with very minimal wind. No snow or ice on the ground. Pretty nice weather for a tempo, and if I had waited until Thursday I wouldn't have been able to do it at all. 

I adjusted on the spot. Got dressed in my trusty Brooks Utopia pants and layered on the gloves/mittens and did my tempo a day early. The run was fantastic-- my fastest 5-mile tempo ever while keeping my heart rate in the low LT zone. Including warmup and cooldown it was 9 miles total and it felt good! Actually it was much more comfortable than running a tempo in 70-degree weather. I just don't run very well in the heat/humidity so I will take 12 degrees over 70 on a speed work day or a race day.

I had my rest day on Thursday when there was snow on the ground and I did a short treadmill run this morning as there was still snow and ice. I'm not sure how I will manage my long run tomorrow with this ice and snow on the ground, but I'll try to find a mile or two of non-slippery pavement to run back and forth on. My teammates are running the Rock Creek loop (which may or may not be icy), but I need to stay close to home because of other plans I've made.

I think I've belabored this topic long enough! I'm looking forward to some warming next week so that the ice and snow will melt and running outside will be safe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Walt Disney World Half Marathon Race Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ran the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday. Definitely an interesting experience!

Before The Race
Warning: this is perhaps the longest "before the race" section I have ever written in a blog. I'll do it timeline style.

3:00am-3:45am: Wake Up, Eat Breakfast, Get Dressed
Greg and I woke up at 3:00am and it wasn't pretty. I hadn't slept well because I typically don't sleep well the first night in a hotel room. I'm not sure why, I guess I'm just not used to my surroundings. We quickly had our bagels with peanut butter, drank plenty of fluids and got dressed for the race. I had bought a new skirt at the expo the day before (the same brand I always wear) that helped me feel more Disney-like.

3:45am-4:20am: Drive To The Race, Park, Drop Off Bag
There was no traffic on the way to the race, which we were very thankful for. However the directions in the race information said "follow signs to Epcot" and the road we needed to take did not say "Epcot". This resulted in us missing our exit. We eventually turned around and followed other cars to get there. The instructions told us not to use GPS because roads would be closed off and there was only one way to drive there.

Parking was easy, and it wasn't a far walk to the baggage drop. We actually didn't want or need to check a bag, but the rental car key chain was huge, and neither Greg and I wanted to run with the two keys plus a huge key chain. There was no way to separate out just one key, so we checked a whole bag just for that.

4:20am-4:55am: Porta Potty Line
We waited in line for over half an hour to use the porta potty. And I had to go really, really badly. My stomach was really upset (normal pre-race butterflies) and it was very painful just waiting there with nothing I could do to make the line go faster. I suspected that there were probably porta-potties that were less crowded closer to the start, but we didn't want to risk there not being any and losing a spot in line. I think my entire line knew how much pain I was in. Finally, Greg and I got to use the porta potties. We were very quick about it and were off to walk to the race start.

4:55am-5:20am: Walk To The Corral
The was by far the worst part of the morning. Even worse than waiting in the porta-potty line because I was worried we would miss the opportunity to get in our corral and be stuck behind thousands of slower runners. The walk to the corral was through just one walkway and there were thousands of runners all headed the same way on a road that wasn't large enough. We walked at a snail's pace and sometimes even had to stop dead in our tracks. I tried getting around people but it was no use.

According to the race information, you had to be in the corral by 5:00am. Well, this wasn't happening for all the runners around us. I wasn't too worried about them not letting us into the corral, but I was worried that I would never reach it in time. It was a far walk and we had to walk soooo slowly. Finally we saw a sign for corrals A-E to go one way and the rest of the corrals to go another way. This helped with the crowd a little, but not entirely. We still had to walk past corral E, D, C, etc. to get to our corral A, and these were very large corrals. There were over 20,000 runners.

5:20am-5:30am: Get In Corral, Find A Good Spot In Corral, Tie Shoes
We got to the corral at about 5:20 and the National Anthem was starting. I hadn't even tied my shoes to be "race ready" yet. I did that and then Greg and I moved up in the corral. We got about 2/3 of the way up, and there were still many runners in front of us. I didn't think this was close enough but it was too crowded to get any closer. There was no time to review my race strategy or prepare mentally. The fireworks were going off and the race was starting.

Miles 1-3
The race started and it was very crowded. My plan was to take the first three miles easy, and I didn't want to waste energy weaving through people. Greg, who was planning on running the race faster than me, tried to get up ahead of me but then caught up to me halfway through the first mile. "Honey, I was trying to get ahead of you!" he said. I looked at my Garmin. It read an 8:25 pace. We were definitely both feeling the effects of not getting up close enough. At that point I think I told him again good luck and we separated for good.

I heard two guys around me talking about the B&A marathon. I thought this was really coincidental because B&A is such a small race in Maryland. What are the chances of them having run it? I told them I was planning on running it in March and they warned me about the wind during miles 9-18. I was chatting with them about the course for awhile and then realized I needed to be focused on the race I was currently running! I ran ahead and passed the first mile marker. 8:14. Slower than I wanted, but there wasn't much I could do at that point. I wasn't going to deviate from my strategy because the first mile was slow. I decided to still take the first 5K easy, at around an 8:00 pace.

At this point, I started thinking more about the paces I wanted to run. I felt like I had a lot working against me in this race. I hadn't slept well the night before, or two nights before. I had a lot of anxiety during the hour before the race, which I am sure caused a spike in my heart rate. The weather was humid and around 63, and I wasn't at all acclimated. I decided to just play it safe. No PRs for me-- I just wanted to run smart and not crash. (In hindsight, I wish I was a little more bold, but it's really hard to know what will happen at mile 10 when you are at mile 2).

In terms of a time goal, at the very least, I wanted to go sub-1:46. I plan to run the Chicago marathon in the fall and I need a 1:45:59 or faster half marathon to qualify for Corral C, where I know Greg will be. I knew I was in shape to go sub 1:46, even in the humid weather. I didn't really know how much under, nor did I want to speculate. I was going to try and keep average race pace under 8:00, and see how I felt.

Mile 1: 8:14
Mile 2: 7:55
Mile 3: 8:00

Miles 3-6
The arrow is pointing at Cinderella's Castle
It was still pitch dark, but there was plenty of lights on the course. There were photo opps along the way with Disney characters and with Disney scenery. I noticed people stopping to have their picture taken. I thought it would be cool to come back here and do a "fun run" where I stopped for all the photos. At around mile 5, I finally started to feel like I was getting into my groove. The pre-race anxiety had passed, there wasn't any more crowding, the course was nice and flat, and I had a rhythm going. I had taken my first Honey Stinger Gel at mile 4, so I was feeling good.

Then we entered the Magic Kingdom. I saw the castle in the distance all lit up and it was so beautiful. But once we got into the park, I was not loving life. It was twists and turns and curves and I had to focus really hard on running the tangents and even staying on the proper race course. It seemed like lots of people around me were going off course to get their photo taken or to say hi to their spectators. At least twice, someone who I was running directly behind went off course, and it threw me. Since it was dark, you had to really pay attention to where the cones were. As exciting as it was to be running in such a "magical" area, it was mentally draining to have to focus so hard on where I was going and having to make so many curves.

The photo to the right is a perfect example of me scoping out a tangent while the other runners are looking straight ahead.

Mile 4: 7:56
Mile 5: 7:46
Mile 6: 7:50 (through Magic Kingdom)

Miles 7-10
Most runners would probably say this was their least favorite part of the course. Not a lot of crowd support, nothing really exciting going on, just running from the Magic Kingdom back to Epcot. I, however, really enjoyed the fact that it wasn't as curvy and that there wasn't as much hoopla. I know, I know, I shouldn't be running the Disney Half Marathon if I don't like a lot of hoopla and excitement. But if I'm putting out a lot of effort, all of that stuff is just mentally jarring and exhausting. I appreciate running by a nice lake or ocean with maybe a few spectators cheering for me. But the loud marching bands, the massive crowds of spectators-- I really could do without all of that.

I had my other Honey Stinger at mile 8.5, drank the rest of my G2 and then tossed the bottle. I always love that point in the race where I can toss my bottle. I feel more "free" and I know the end is near. It was starting to get tough here, but not nearly as tough as it was in Richmond. I don't think I put out the effort in this race that I did in Richmond. Overall, I'm fine with that, but part of me wonders why I felt the need to play it safe. I had over a month of 50+ mile weeks under my belt and some really fantastic speed workouts. I think I let the weather get to my head. Yes it was warm and humid and not as nice as the 35-degree weather I train in. But it wasn't disastrous. I guess I am still learning how my body reacts in different weather conditions and learning when it's okay to push a little hard and I truly do need to be conservative.

Anyway, I enjoyed the peacefulness of these miles. I was working hard, but I felt good. I was enjoying being out there.

Mile 7: 7:46
Mile 8: 7:50
Mile 9: 7:50
Mile 10: 7:51    

Miles 11-Finish
Unlike my last 10K and my recent track workouts, I did use the Garmin during this race. I wanted to make sure I kept that pace under 8:00 so as to be sure to qualify for Corral C in Chicago. At this point in the race, the Garmin was showing 7:55, which made me feel confident I would get my sub-1:46, but you never know how "long" the course will be because you didn't run the tangents perfectly. Especially in a race like this where there were so many curves. And the curves weren't just in the Magic Kingdom, they seemed to be all over the course.

At the start of mile 11 was a rather long uphill that I wasn't expecting. It wasn't horrible, but it was getting late in the race and I didn't realize there was going to be a hill. One of the volunteers was telling runners "just get to the top of the hill and then it's all downhill to the finish". I believed him, but he was wrong. There were still a few more hills to come. Usually I try to just maintain my effort up a hill as opposed to my pace, but since it was so late in the game, I decided to go for it and work the hills at a harder effort.

The last mile was through Epcot Center. I hated this as a last mile. I felt like I had energy left in the tank to expend, which would have been perfect for a straight away, but there were tons of twists and turns which kept ruining my momentum. We ran around the big fountain which I later named "the fountain of death" because who wants to run around a fountain during the last mile of their half marathon? I kept waiting for that long straightaway where the finish line would be far in the distance and I could just kick it hard, but I was just twisting and turning through Epcot until I saw the mile 13 marker. It was a pretty strong last mile, but I just didn't feel like I was able to really finish off my tank.

Soaked in sweat
Finally I saw the finish line and gunned it. And the race was over!

Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 7:42
Mile 13: 7:47
Last 0.19:  (6:48 pace)

After The Race
I glanced down at the Garmin and saw an average 7:52 pace which I was happy with because I steadily watched that average pace come down over the course of the race. Hot weather blow-up successfully avoided!

My official time was 1:43:48.
I placed 23rd out of 2,090 women ages 30-34
I placed 128 out of 13,128 women

I'm definitely happy with these rankings!  After I got my medal, I found Greg and we went directly to baggage check for our car keys. He set a PR at 1:36:48, which is about 2 minutes faster than his time at the Philly Rock 'N Roll Half in September.

We drove back to our resort, showered and relaxed and spent the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom. Sunday was Animal Kingdom and Monday was Epcot. I'll do another blog to recap all the fun we had at the parks!

Final Thoughts
As I try to be less of a perfectionist and go easier on myself, I find two sides of myself at battle. On the one hand, I'm pleased as can be because I ran a strong race with negative splits in conditions that were far from ideal. I ran the time that I planned to run and qualified for my Chicago corral. Plus, this was my second-fastest half marathon ever.This is all great stuff.

I've been trying hard to focus on everything above, but perfectionist in me wishes I had been less conservative and less afraid of the weather. And she's a bit frustrated that she hasn't set a PR since April of 2012. Not like I expected Disney to be a half marathon PR, I guess I am just getting impatient.

When I think back on this race I want to remember that I ran it smart, that it is my fastest "warm weather" half marathon and that it was just the beginning to a very fun vacation with my wonderful husband. My 2013 racing has just begun and I plan to do some amazing things this year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm Going to Disney World!

I'm going to Disney World tomorrow! Yipee! I can't wait. Greg and I leave tomorrow morning and return on Tuesday afternoon. Greg hasn't been there since he was a small child, and I've only been there a handful of times.

What am I most excited about? The zebras in Animal Kingdom. I've never been to that park and I found out that they added 15 new zebras in October, making them guaranteed to be visible during the ride. I hope the ride stops long enough to take plenty of photos and just enjoy the magical presence of these fantastic animals. Yes, I do realize I could go to a zoo and see zebras, but not this many all at once. And I have been to zoos where the zebras are really far away so you don't get a good view.

I'm also excited about dinner in Cinderella's castle on Saturday night, a reservation we had to make months in advance, and exploring all the countries in Epcot. I can't wait to find the perfect souvenirs for my little nieces, one of whom is obsessed with Tangled.

Oh yes, and there's also that half marathon on Saturday morning. It totally doesn't feel like I am racing. I typically get way more fired up for a race, even just a 5K. I guess my focus really is on the trip itself and all the fun I will have, and the race is just one piece of that. Also, since the weather is forecast to be hot and humid, I really don't care about my time. I definitely want to go out there and run the best race I can and prepare well for the conditions, but I know my time will be a far cry from what I could do if the race was in DC this weekend. Once again, good practice for being process-focused and not results-focused.

Am I bothered by this weather? Not as much as I probably would have been in the past. And the annoyance that does exist comes from the fact that it's typically much cooler for this race and not as humid, but Florida is going through an unseasonably hot/humid spell right now. I feel like I just bring warm weather with me whenever I travel for a race!

Anyway, I've accepted this weather and I'm going to prepare as best I can, given that I am not at all acclimated. I've been sleeping well, I'm hydrating, I have no nagging aches/pains and I'm far more focused on having fun this weekend then my race performance.

If you'd like to track my race, my Twitter account will be tweeting my splits. Follow me at @Elizabeth1111.

Things that I am hoping to bring home with me:
1. A zebra from one of the Animal Kingdom shops, and probably other zebra stuff
2. A big shiny Disney medal
3. Souvenirs for my nieces and nephew
4. Several extra pounds from all the yummy food (well, I'm not hoping for the lbs, just the food!)
5. A great set of photos to remember the trip by
6. A suntan. Hey- if it's going to be really hot, let me have something to show for it!
7. Greg. (Just stating the obvious here.)

I have been looking forward to this trip for a very long time and I am so happy it's finally here!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 Goals

A year ago, my yearly goals would have looked something like this:

Marathon: Sub-3:35
Half Marathon: Sub-1:40
10K: Sub-45:00
5K: PR
Miles to run: 2000+
Injury Free.

They don't look like that now. I've changed and grown quite a bit over the past year and a result, I see my running in a different light.

Before I can set my 2013 goals, I think I need to take a look at where I am now. My goals are to continue to hone the "tools" that will make me a happier person and a stronger runner, both physically and mentally. These tools or skills aren't a "yes/no"-- rather, they exist on a spectrum of how strongly they can hold up with  increased amounts of pressure or adversity. I have quite a few of these, but I am going to go with my top 5 skills that I want to strengthen in 2013.

  • Focusing on the process of running a race, as opposed to the outcome
  • Not comparing myself to other people
  • Separating my running from myself as a person-- not defining myself as "a runner"
  • Focusing on the big picture of my running- not any one individual race
  • Attaching emotions to the process (ex: being happy about executing my race strategy)
The better I am at each of these, the less anxiety I will feel about running and racing, the better I will sleep, the more relaxed I will feel, the more content I will be. And ultimately, this is what leads to strong performance.

A year ago, I didn't have any of these skills. One bad race would upset me so much and overshadow the big picture of my running and all the hard work I did during training. And I couldn't let it go-- I couldn't separate out my running from other parts of my life and who I was as a person. A "bad" race would hang a dark cloud over me for days. I knew I had anxiety issues that were impacting my marathons and the more I tried to get myself to relax, or convince myself that I didn't care about the time, the more anxiety I generated. I finally put a stop to the cycle and committed 100% to learning how to be kinder to myself.

With 1 being "I don't have this skill yet" and 5 being "I have this skill and I am extremely confident that it will hold up in any circumstance, even extremely high pressure ones", here is how I evaluate myself now.

Focusing on the process of running a race, as opposed to the outcome. Now: 3. Goal: 4
I've demonstrated this skill at my past 4 races, including my most recent race where I felt like I was physically in shape to PR. However, none of these race were what I would have previously considered "goal races" so there wasn't as much pressure as there might have been if the race was my "A" race. I'd don't know if I will ever be able to push this to a 5 because I've always been so focused on my time goals, but I think I can get this to a 4 with more practice. A "4" would be where after the race, I'm still thinking in terms of process and not judging my race result. 

Not comparing myself to other people. Now: 3. Goal: 4
I've made huge strides here. I used to constantly compare myself to others. I don't do it as much anymore, but that's because I am literally having to remind myself not to. A 4 or 5 would be when the temptation is not even there and the thought doesn't even cross my mind to compare my running to someone else's

Separating my running from who I am as a person. Now: 4. Goal: 5
I never did this before because I didn't think it was important. Actually, I thought that all successful runners were completely defined by their sport and ate, breathed, and slept it. I've opened my eyes and taken a good look around me and realized that the most successful athletes I know are not at defined by their running. It's just one aspect of their life and they aren't carrying it into conversations at parties or into the workday, or letting it just occupy their mind 24/7. So once I realized that separation is actually a very good thing, I adapted nicely. I think I'm at a 4 because I still find my mind wandering to running when it really should be focused on something else. But only occasionally and I see this happening less and less.

Focusing on the big picture of my running- not any one individual race. Now: 3. Goal: 5
Perhaps a bit aggressive to move this to a 5, but I think I can. Marathon training is really focused around one goal race and all the workouts, etc. are timed accordingly. Therefore, it's hard not to see the marathon as the "A" race of the season and everything else as "B" and "C". But I really want to put everything on a level playing field. No one race defines my training cycle. And there aren't races that are "just for fun" and "for time". Every race should be fun. And I should care about my time for every race, although not have it be the main focus. As I explained in a previous post, only 20% of races are likely to be PRs. And 50% of them are likely to not go my way. That's just how the sport is at my level, and I want to accept that within the big picture of 2013.

Attaching emotions to the process. Now: 4. Goal: 5
I've always done a little bit of this. I've always been really satisfied with my training and proud when I ran a race to the best of my ability. But it's always been overshadowed by the race result, since my emotions were more strongly attached to that number, and not the process. I've had so many fantastic training cycles for marathons, and had marathons where I ran the best race I possibly could given the circumstances- be it heat, an upset stomach, or whatever. And I was proud of myself for that, but that feeling of pride was never the dominant feeling after the race. I have a more realistic view of racing now, and there is no reason why I can't always run the best race I have in me that day and be proud of it. 

In closing, I think I have progressed more as an athlete in 2012 than any other year prior. Ironically, I only have one PR to show for it. But I think I needed to go through mono and other adversity to get some perspective and to "practice" skills that would be hard to learn if I was in peak condition physically. With these goals in mind, I am ready to embrace whatever 2013 brings.