Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making Time to Organize

Life is insane.  I’m running around like a hamster on a wheel, trying to keep up with everything that needs to get done, all while feeling I have gotten nothing accomplished.  I feel like I get no reprieve, no rest from the various things that must get done in my life.  I’m so busy trying to get on top of the various backlogs that things that should be simple decisions, from what to-do to tackle to what I’m having for dinner, turn me into a confused mess and returning to bad habits.

I am still binge watching Mission: Impossible to quiet my mind, and I had an epiphany:  it took a lot of planning to execute the complicated missions successfully.  That planning allowed their minds to be calm and rehearsed, no matter what complications were thrown at them.  Yes, I know, fictional television series, but it still took a lot of planning from script writers to set designers to technical light and sound and camera crews to makeup stylists to film editors to make each episode happen. 

Planning is exactly what I am not doing.  I need to figure out a way to plan my days and weeks so that I am not wasting my limited energy and resources.  I have no idea what will work, what will ease my mind, but the process of finding that answer is just as important to my quest as logging the miles or learning German.  So one night this week I am going to go out for a nice dinner, bring my notebook with me, and see what I can do to make life a little more organized and planned.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

All You Really Need is a Pair of Shoes

I ran as a kid on the high school and college cross country teams about 25 years ago, then quit in college to pursue figure skating.  Back then, if you had a Timex Ironman watch, you had top of the line running gear.  You ran in t-shirts and shorts, which were just as likely purchased from Venture as it was from a running store.  There were races, but most were managed by the local running community, and unless the race was a fundraiser, the fees were set at a break-even price point.  I wasn’t naturally talented, so I was thrilled to win a ribbon for placing 14th in the freshman-sophomore county meet.

When I came back 15 years later, the entire running world had changed.  From obstacle courses to national race series to finisher medals, I’m often finding myself lost in a land of expensive gear and races.  I will never forget lining up to run my first Chicago Marathon and seeing people dressed as if they were about to hike Kettle Moraine.  I was wearing the same type of gear I wore in my old cross country days….a shirt, pants, running socks, and running shoes. 

Because at the end of the day, all you need to run is a pair of shoes.

Running is about the feeling of exploring a new trail, of watching the seasons, of being outside, of getting away from the daily grind.  The mile after solitary mile is meditative, allowing time to think and ponder, pounding your frustrations and stresses step by step.  These benefits exist, whether you put $100 or $1000 into it.

While it’s great to see so many people getting involved in the sport and spending money, I do worry that people see the fancy rain jackets and shiny finisher medals and think, “oh, I can’t afford to run.”  Yes, you can.  I have to come up with the travel expenses for five marathons, so I’ll be running it “old school” on the cheap….so if you have a pair of shoes, come join me this summer!  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lessons learned from Cinnamon Carter

I’m having a rough go at things, so naturally, I’m binge watching the original Mission: Impossible series.  Seeing talented actors evade Soviets and South American dictators and mafia bosses quieted my mind in college, so again, it’s allowing me to escape my daily stressors.

My favorite episodes concern the model-turned-spy Cinnamon Carter.  I had always thought the actress who played her was pretty young, since her looks were part of her role.  Nope, she was in her late 30s, and probably why I look up to her.

Cinnamon was classy.  She never had a hair or nail out of place, whether she was playing a wealthy diplomat or helping Barney with his electronic setups.  Her nails were always well groomed, even when they weren’t polished (which was more often than not), and her style was never sloppy or unkempt.

Cinnamon was calm.  She could take on dictators and mobsters without blinking an eye, even in an era where in some places, women were to be seen and not heard.  When the mission didn’t go according to plan, she never panicked.

Cinnamon was calcuated.  There was research, rehearsal, and organizing that went into each mission.  Not only was there a plan, but often a backup plan in case of contingencies.  It was clear she was always thinking, always plotting of what to do next.

Cinnamon was cool.  She could walk into a room, knowing full well she had everyone’s attention, without breaking a sweat.  Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, she was able to improvise, trusting her problem-solving skills.

Cinnamon was confident.  Whether it was biochemistry or journalism or modeling, she didn’t hesitate a bit.  She could saw out a wall, then trick a mobster to believe she was a dumb blonde.  In fact, she used her intellect and research to be an equal to men.

Obviously, the world of television isn’t real.  One corrupt Soviet Bloc police captain ended up being Archie Bunker.  We won’t talk about Spock’s second life as The Great Paris—or that losing Leonard Nimoy is why I started watching in the first place—but there are still points where life imitates art that can be applied to real life.

I can spend more time working on my appearance and style.  I can work on my acting skills so I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.  I can spend more time planning and organizing.  I can work on being able to think and process while stressing.  I can start reminding myself I’m smart and talented and resourceful and able to solve any problem.

All of these things will help on my quest.  From lowering my marathon PR to navigating two countries where I don’t know the language, learning to be more classy, confident, and calm is a benefit.  So I will be continuing to channel my inner Cinnamon Carter.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Not Such a Solitary Venture

When you think of running, you think of the lone runner, racking up mile after mile after mile.  You see the joggers on the road, ear buds attached to their phone strapped to their arm, and start pondering the long and winding road.

I started running on my high school cross country team.  It was a very different experience, meeting after school every day to run together, whether it was a 6 mile run around Crystal Lake or the evil interval “bowl” runs, named because we ran around the bottom of the hills at Veteran’s Acres park, which hosted our home course.  There was comradery and teamwork, and I always struggled running in the off-season without that support.

Including last year’s marathon.  It seems, when I’m stressed about all the things I have to do, running is the first activity to get axed, despite that it should be the last one.  It showed during the Chicago Marathon last year.  I was so slow that I saw people starting to take down the water stations.  (Yes, there was plenty of water for the runners behind me.  They just didn’t need all the tables when most of the runners had passed.)  Now, there are some runners who are happy as clams to do a 6+ hour marathon.  God bless them, but I’m not one of them. 

I joined my local run club’s Facebook group last year, but I was so busy and stressed that I never could make it to one of the runs they organized.  However, after the marathon, I was tired of being so slow, so I came out to a Saturday run.  I found a few people who run a little faster than my pace, and it felt so good to be challenged while also making new friends.  I’m now a regular on both the Wednesday night and Saturday morning runs, and I can feel the difference when I do run on my own.

Last Wednesday, I ran with someone who can run a marathon in four hours.  We were doing intervals, and I was thrilled that I was able to maintain sub-10 minute pace.  Afterwards, the social activities continued at a local watering hole.  One of the near-Boston-qualifying runners offered to run the Wisconsin Marathon with me, on the condition I do the half.  So I’ve decided to do the half instead of the full. We enjoy chatting, so it will be a lot of fun.

On Saturday, I showed up a few minutes late, right as the group started to run right past my car.  I hopped out and joined the group.  Since I’m one of the slower runners, I knew I would get passed by most of the group until I hit my pace group, and it was fun to have a few words of greeting with everyone as they breezed past me.

Eventually, I got to my group.  We’ve been running together long enough that our conversations continue from week to week, and when one of us miss a run (because life), it’s very much time to catch up on what has been happening in each other’s lives.  I had a great time, so much so that I was over a minute ahead of my pace.

So progress is happening.  A sub 2:30 half marathon is in my sights, and with my running club, it is entirely possible.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Just because I’m slow doesn’t mean I’m a beginner....

Yesterday I challenged myself by piggybacking on a Boston marathon training group through my run club.  It’s sponsored by Fleet Feet Sports, who also support my charity team.  While I am hours from a Boston Marathon qualifying time, I’m glad to have the opportunity to participate with some fantastic runners. 

While I was clearly the only one there who had a marathon pace over 10 min/mi, I never felt excluded.  My club is very encouraging of people who are at all paces—the point is to be out there running instead of sitting at home—and even the organizers were encouraging of my pace.  I had a lot of fun being out there with really good runners and exploring new roads.

However, I don’t like being slow.  I’m trying to work very hard to *not* be slow anymore, but you don’t just magically wake up and take three minutes off your marathon pace.  It takes time and hard work and dedication and overcoming obstacles and determination.  So when a runner flew by me, saying, “Good job!  Keep it up!” it came off as condescending, like encouraging a newbie.  I was a rookie in 1989—over 25 years ago.    

With 10 more miles to run, it gave me a lot of time to think about it.  When I see another runner on a path, I don’t assume their history, their background.  Every runner’s story is different, and rarely do you know a runner who has a career filled with success and devoid of failures.  I don’t know if that strange runner is on mile 2 or mile 20, a beginner or advanced, going as fast as they can or having one of those days where they’re sucking wind. 

My mind then wandered towards the situation when I’m faster than the people who I see walking and jogging in my area.  I have read stories and blog posts about women being harassed because they’re trying to get in shape or lose a few extra pounds.   I can imagine that the petite girl jogging at 11 min pace would look intimidating to the person already self-conscious about being out of shape and just starting a fitness program.  Especially if they were a competitive athlete as a child.

In general, the running community is extremely supportive and encouraging.  As we pass each other on the roads and trails, whether on an organized run or going solo, an acknowledgement is common, so I know the other runners had the best of intentions by encouraging slow little me.

Because of all of this, I tend to say, “Nice day for a run” or “Good morning” when I see another runner.  I may just wave, saying nothing, especially if I’m doing a tempo or interval run.  A familiar face, where I know the background, gets whatever they appreciate:  a fist bump, a “go you,” or even trash talk.  The point is to connect without seeing one runner as “above” another, since, in the end, there is no ranking, only PRs.