Sunday, October 23, 2016

Easing Back Into It

Since recovering from mono (or some mono-like virus that took me out for 12 weeks), I've now been running for just over four weeks. My coach determined it was best to re-build my aerobic base before working on speed, so easy running has been the name of the game.

While I'm extremely grateful to be running healthy again, I'm dreadfully bored. Usually I enjoy my easy runs because they are balanced out by harder runs. Variety is the spice of life! But for the past four weeks, my patience has truly been challenged and I have a strong desire to run fast. I've occasionally done very short (12-second) strides at the end of my runs, but those have done little to quench my thirst to push myself.

Meanwhile, I made an attempt to plan out my spring racing schedule. I chose a few target marathons and passed my ideas on to my coach. The thought of having a plan and a target race really energized me, but my coach warned that we should still be taking things one week at a time, and not making any decisions now on when to run a marathon. UGH. In an ideal world, I would run a marathon in early February, and then have all of March and April to run shorter distances, including the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. And if I didn't BQ at the marathon, I would have another shot in early May. But my coach thinks that early February could be too soon, so he doesn't want to make any decisions yet. I trust my coach whole-heartedly and I wouldn't want to run a marathon that I wasn't ready for, so if I have to wait until March, I will.

My overall feeling is that I'm like a caged tiger. I want to plan my spring racing schedule. I want to do speed work. I want to run a race. I want to have some gage of where my fitness is. But instead, it's just easy running. Every. Single. Day.

Here is a recap of the details. Even though there is no variety in the runs, it's nice to see my easy pace getting faster and my distance increasing.

Week of October 10
Monday: 5.3 miles at an average pace of 9:17
Tuesday: 4.8 miles at an average pace of 9:11 (includes strides at the end)
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (includes strides at the end)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:06
Saturday: 7 miles at an average pace of 9:11
Sunday: 2.3 miles at an average pace of 9:04

Total Mileage: 30.1

Monday, Oct. 17
Overall, last week went really smoothly. The weather was perfect every single day: in the 40s with no rain or wind. October is my favorite month of the year for running, and I savored every moment. I played around with the strides a little. I sometimes would use them to run a controlled even effort, at around 5K effort. And I used some of them more like traditional strides where you progress to a sprint.

Week of October 17
Monday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:02 (includes strides)
Tuesday: 5.2 miles at an average pace of 9:04
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6.56 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (details about this below)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:18
Saturday: 8 miles at an average pace of 9:05
Sunday: 3.1 miles at an average of pace of 8:35

Total Mileage: 33.6

On Thursday, the plan called for "60 minutes with the last 10 minutes harder." Because this was the only hint of speed on my 4-week plan (aside from strides) I had been looking forward to it for weeks. But as luck would have it, Thursday was also the hottest day of the month! It was 70 degrees and humid, which slowed my easy pace to 9:25, and my "harder" pace was around 8:00.  My average pace for the run didn't end up being faster than usual, but at least I had 10 minutes of "harder" effort, where I got to push a little more. I wish I could say that it felt great, but it doesn't feel great to push hard in the heat and humidity if you aren't acclimated.

Saturday's 8-mile run was ridiculously windy. Ever since I mastered the wind during the Shamrock Half Marathon last spring, though, I have noticed that even 20 mph sustained winds doesn't affect my pace all that much. Wind used to be a huge obstacle for me, but once I changed my mindset about it, then I realized that my speed doesn't have to be affected to such a great extent. Overall, I was pleased that I was able to run 8 miles at pace of 9:05 in the wind and have it feel easy. That's good progress for less than 5 weeks of running.

This morning, one of my friends was hosting a 5K at the elementary school she teaches at. Since I had 20-30 minutes on the schedule, I figured I would go support her and do it as a training run. Greg came we me and we ran slightly faster than "easy" pace at 8:35, finishing the race in 26:36. I later learned that this time won me third place in my age group, and 7th overall female! It was a small race.

I still have a long way to go to get back to where I was before I came down with mono. The below chart shows my running year-to-date. You can see the ill-fated attempts I made in August to start running again!

It's not easy being green, and I am hoping to add more "color" to my runs during the next few weeks. Overall, I am happy with my progress and thrilled to be healthy, and I know that variety and speed will eventually become part of my weekly schedule.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Everyone else is. . ."

One of the topics that I cover in depth in my book is making comparisons to other people. Little good
comes of comparing yourself to other people, and yet, it's part of human nature to do so. We all want to know how we stack up, and we tend to use other people to gage our own successes. With the rise of social media over the past 10 years, it's almost impossible to avoid these comparisons. There have been many articles written about how Facebook can cause depression-- when everyone else seems to have things that you don't.

When it comes to running, falling into the comparison trap is all too easy. We talk about our paces, the length of our runs, how many miles we trained, etc. There are so many numbers and data points that comparison just feels natural. If you're a perfectionist, then you'll likely look to find fault with your own running (potentially without realizing it) and noticing how someone else raced or trained compared to you just feeds into this counterproductive mindset.

It's difficult to not make these comparisons, especially if you are active on social media and have friends who run. My best advice for not doing it is to simply realize that focusing on other people will not help you with your own running. It could actually hurt your running if it results in you feeling like you have to run as fast as someone else. Then, you'll be putting additional pressure on yourself, which is not conducive to a strong performance. The best way to be successful is to simply focus on yourself and your own progress, independent of what others are doing.

Why am I talking about this now? At the Army Ten-miler last weekend, where I went to cheer on Greg and my friends, I found it difficult to not fall into the comparison trap: "Everyone else is running fast times and I can't even run 10 miles right now." When I registered for this race last spring, my goal was to run it at a sub-7:00 pace. But if you've been following this blog, you know that I spent the entire summer being sick and unable to train. Everyone who I went out to cheer for ran really well, and Greg broke 70 minutes with an average pace of 6:58. 

I had a great spectating spot to snap a photo of Greg.
My focus for the entire day was supporting Greg and my friends, but as the day progressed, I started to feel a sense of loss. I was perfectly fine the day before the race when we picked up Greg's packet, and even during the race when I was watching all the runners go by. But once the race was over and everyone started talking about their races, I felt a little sad. I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade so I did a good job of ignoring my feelings and focusing on being there for my friends. And yet, I still had a nagging feeling that I had missed out.

Later that evening, after all the celebrations were done, I started to reflect on my feelings. I was sad. It was hard to see everyone else have a great race when I was unable to run, and wouldn't be able to run the Army Ten-miler for another year. I then began to judge myself for falling into the comparison trap. For allowing other people's accomplishments to diminish my own. After all, I was recovering well, feeling healthy, and I had just run five miles the day before. So why was I back to my old ways of comparing myself to other people?

But then I realized something. I actually had not fallen into the comparison trap. Even though watching other people run this race really well (especially Greg, who ran the time that I had hoped to run) made me feel sad about my situation, I wasn't really comparing myself to them. Instead, I felt lonely. Lonely because everyone else was talking about their races, and I didn't have a story to share. Lonely because everyone else was talking about the upcoming Indianapolis marathon, which I wouldn't be running. Lonely because I was surrounded by my running friends and my husband, but not having a shared experience.

Countless runners have reached out to me to thank me for writing my book. Often, they tell me that they felt like they were reading their own story, and it was good to know that someone else out there experienced the same thing. It seems that readers are connecting with the book on an emotional level because it makes them feel less "lonely" for having feeling of disappointment, loss, injustice, and a slew of other negative emotions. They've thanked me for being so open and honest about my feelings. In a world dominated by social media where people typically only talk about their successes, it can feel lonely if you perceive yourself to be the only person who didn't set a PR or who didn't have a good race.

If you're trying to work on your mental toughness by steering yourself away from making comparisons to other people, then it's good to be aware of this loneliness component. You can be doing a great job of not comparing yourself to other people while still feeling disappointed, sad, or lonely about your own situation. It's important to separate the two. In my case, I have to be realistic in knowing that I am going to be a little sad about missing out on these fall races. It's harder to ignore those feelings when I'm actually attending the races and supporting my friends and my husband. But, overall, I'm in a great spot mentally and I am truly happy to see other people succeed. Especially Greg, who I have been coaching. The goal with mental toughness isn't to never feel sad or upset. The goal is to not dwell on those feelings and have them interfere with your overall state of being.

So when you feel like everyone else is. . . then, ask yourself if you are comparing yourself and your worth to those people (the comparison trap) or if you are lonely because you feel like you are the only one who feels a certain way. If you are lonely, then remember that you're actually not alone and that many other runners get down about their running from time to time. They just don't post about it on Facebook, usually, or even talk about it.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Running After Mono: Making Great Strides

It's comeback time!
I am thrilled to be healthy and able to run again!

My previous post, Running and Post-viral Fatigue Syndrome, summed up the timeline of the illness,
and my first few runs back. I officially consider September 20 as my first successful post-mono run, and since then I have been doing quite well. So it's been about 2.5 weeks, after having not run for 12 weeks.

Before I get into the specifics, I'm going to make some comparisons between this comeback and my comeback from mono 4 years ago. I'm a bit of a data junkie, and I love analyzing things based on the facts. Here are some key findings.

I'm running more frequently, but my distances are shorter.
For the first month or so back in 2012, I ran a pattern of 2 days on, 1 day off. With my current plan, I am running 5-6 days a week. In fact, I plan to run 6 days a week for the foreseeable future. But my daily mileage is much lower. At this point in my comeback in 2012, I was already running 7 miles!  I prefer this current approach because it keeps the legs moving with more consistency, and no single run is all that difficult.

I'm not taking walk breaks.
I used walk breaks for the first month of my 2012 comeback. It allowed me to do those longer runs without getting too worn out. I did walk breaks for my first week only this time, and I don't plan to go back to them. It's definitely more challenging without the walk breaks, particularly from a mental standpoint because there is nothing breaking the run up. As a result, my overall paces are faster. So, in 2012 at this point I ran 7 miles at a pace of 10:35, but now I am running 5 miles at a pace of 9:33.

I'm not using a heart rate monitor.
Part of my attachment to walk breaks in 2012 was to keep my heart rate down. I wanted to keep my heart rate in zone 2 to make sure I wasn't overdoing it. This time, I am pretty sure my heart rate is creeping into zone 3 by the end of my runs, but I don't want to be as scientific about it. It's good to keep the heart rate down on easy runs when you are logging loads of miles and also running speed workouts. But right now, all of my runs are easy, and if I don't get my heart rate up a little bit, I won't make as much progress. I'm primarily running by effort/feel.

So, given all that, here is a recap of the past two weeks:

Week of September 26:
Monday: 5 x (6:00 jog, 1:00 walk) for at total of 3.3 miles at an average pace of 10:37
This is fun!
Tuesday: 2.0 miles at a pace of 9:49
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 2.2 miles at a pace of 10:21 (on a treadmill because of thunderstorms)
Friday: 2.5 miles at a pace of 9:48
Saturday: 4 miles at a pace of 9:26
Sunday: Rest

Total mileage: 14

I was honestly shocked that my Saturday run was as fast as that. I had planned to run it at a pace of around 9:50, but the faster pace felt more natural. All of the runs last week felt super easy and not at all challenging. By the end of the week, I was antsy to do more, and I didn't feel like I needed a rest day on Sunday. The rest of my training plan from here on out has me running 6 days a week instead of 5, and I think I will be able to handle that just fine.

Week of October 3:
The great thing about making a comeback is that progress happens quickly. So last week's "long run" of 4 miles became this week's easy run! On Monday, I ran a slightly hillier route than I had on Saturday, so it was more challenging.

Monday: 4 miles at a pace of 9:41

Tuesday: 2.9 miles at a pace of 9:32.  This run finished with 4 x 50 meter strides (that's about 10 seconds of running). My coach didn't want me to do any speed work for the first month, but I asked him if he could include some strides just to get my legs used to turning over quickly again. It felt so good to be able to run fast.

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: 3 miles at a pace of 9:17. This run also finished with 4 x 50 meter strides, but by this time, I was a pro at strides! I found my "stride" and ran them at the following paces: 6:17, 6:22, 6:31, 6:33.

Friday: 4.2 miles at a pace of 9:20. This was the same route as Monday, and the effort level felt
Feeling wonderful!
equivalent. How nice to be shaving 20 seconds per mile off of my easy pace in just four days. This is the best thing about making a comeback! Progress happens quickly at first.

Saturday: 5 miles at a pace of 9:33. During the last two miles, I started to feel some fatigue in my legs. This is to be expected, and I actually liked it because I want to feel like I am being challenged. Last week, I felt like the training was too easy and I flew through it. I felt the same at the beginning of this week, but now I feel like I am pushing myself to some extent, but without overdoing it of course. Throughout the run, I felt relaxed and my breathing was easy. I was able to easily carry on a conversation with Greg. But my legs were getting tired and I could feel the effort in my lungs a little.

Tomorrow: Planning for 2-3 miles before I go cheer for Greg and my friends at the Army Ten Miler. This will give me about 22 miles for the week. Which is awesome!

I have some 5Ks on the calendar, the first of which is in five weeks. With the Army 10-miler tomorrow (which I am registered for, but not running) and all of these other fall marathons going on, I am just dying to get back out on a race course. It's tough to be patient, and I need to make sure I focus on my own journey without getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. My day will come.