June 21, 2009

Ctrl + Alt + Del...Restart

I suffered what you might call a minor setback this week. I'd been plugging along dutifully, carefully tracking each bite of food that entered my mouth and proudly checking each workout off the weekly calendar, when all of a sudden, Life Happened.

I felt like I'd walked blindly into oncoming traffic. The work days stretched out, each one longer and more arduous than the next. Family obligations beckoned. I found myself desperate to regain my focus and commitment, strapped for time, low on energy, and mentally drained. I had to force myself to do the bare minimum to keep up the status quo, and cursed myself for missing too many workouts.

By Wednesday, I'd had enough. It was time to get back to reality, and back to my training. Onward and upward, so to speak.

I never know where my mind will take me when I strap running shoes on my feet and head out the door. The second my soles strike pavement and the momentum builds, my thoughts drift away and swirl round my head rather dreamily.

One afternoon, I got to thinking about computers. They can freeze and crash when too much information overloads the system, and conversely, they can go into "sleep" mode after a significant lull in activity. When you encounter some computer trouble, sometimes simply restarting it can help clear up whatever went wrong. You reboot, and the problem simply vanishes, as though there had never been anything wrong in the first place.

I feel I'm the same way.

I overextended myself, as I often do. I have a problem saying no, and can't help feeling guilty whenever I put myself first. As a result, my mind was foggy, my body was tired, and I had to recharge. A quad-crushing hill run is exactly what I needed to clear away this oppressive cloud of listlessness.

I woke up early. I put on my favorite running gear (Adidas sports bra, Nike running capris, and my blue Santa Monica Classic 10-K tee shirt.) I wore my favorite Assos headband to keep my awkward "bangs" out of my face. I slid the iPod earbuds into my ears, hit "start" on my heart rate monitor, and took off in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park.


June 14, 2009

Wildwood's Revenge

The week pressed on as I dutifully stuck to my training regimen: 6 mile hill run, track workout, two 5:00 AM gym workouts, and a nice flat 5 miles on the waterfront. My legs are slowly beginning to come around, which I think is due mostly to the speedwork. On Friday night, I double-checked the training log for tomorrow's long run.

Well, well, well. Wildwood Trail, we meet again. This time, I'll be ready for you...or so I think.

Same bleary-eyed morning routine: whole grain cereal, fruit, cottage cheese, and coffee. Sports drink: check. Chocolate Gu packets: check. Hydration belt: fully stocked. Muscles: stretched. 7:30 AM rolls around and I'm out the door and off into the wilderness.

The distance today is a choice of 12, 14, or 16 miles. Since I've had experience on this trail, I know better than to shoot for a 14. Knowing how Wildwood will surely test my will, I settle on 12 miles. I don't want to be disappointed when I inevitably tap out at the end. I line up with the four-hour marathon pace group and we hike up the road to the starting point.

Everything starts off swimmingly. We head off at a relaxed 11:20 per mile pace, and my heart rate settles comfortably at 161 bpm. The first two miles are gently rolling hills, and the scenery is beautifully green and lush. I'm with a faster group this time, and my footsteps fall right in line with theirs. My place at the front of the single-file line makes me feel like an integral part of the team.

We arrive at Rest Stop #1 in no time. Stretch, hydrate, refuel. We start the descent down for Part 2, and I know that this is where the fun will really begin. The steady and sharp downhill pitch in the beginning always makes me dread the return. Sharp switchback, steep incline, root, branch, rock, fern. The guy in front of me stumbles over a wayward branch, so of course, I immediately trip over it and fall down in the dirt. The trail is jarring on my ankles, knees, and hips. It's a challenge just to stay balanced and upright.

We get pretty far along, without the soft, oozing puddles of mud this time. I'm proud to see we've gone much further into the trail than we did last time. I'm so focused on myself and my thoughts that I don't even hear the commotion in front of me. I'm suddenly seized by an intense, searing pain in my thighs and it feels like daggers driving into my flesh. Everyone is panicking. Did I get hit with a stinging nettle or something? What the hell just happened?

It takes me a second or two to discover we've been attacked by a swarm of aggressive, angry wasps. The groups in front of us must have disturbed their nest and boy, are they pissed off. There's about six wasps latched right onto both of my legs, stinging repeatedly. I have a phobia of bees and wasps, which doesn't help because I only have a tiny, single track trail on which to COMPLETELY FREAK OUT. I jump up and down, brushing them off my throbbing legs. Another one descends on my right thigh and I swat at it frantically. My right index finger promptly swells up and hardens. "Did anyone get stung?" asks the pace leader. I nod and manage to say yes. Not sure how many times, but it feels like a thousand.

I will my aching legs to move on. We hit the second rest stop and collect ourselves. I can barely stand up straight at this point, and peel back my running tights at the knee to have a look at what lies beneath. There's a raw, red, bleeding dot where I got stung. I know there are several more on my upper thighs, but I have to ignore them for now. My finger is swollen and bruised, and I'm not looking forward to the return trip.

Our group comes up with a plan: separate and sprint through the wasp's nest. I ask if I can use anyone as a human shield, half in jest. I sprint for my life, waving my arms in front of my legs and desperately hoping they got enough of me the first time around. I narrowly escape, unstung this time. My comrades aren't so lucky - two girls get stung, one of them on her neck.

I can feel my thighs swell and harden through my running tights, and the multiple spots where I got hit are throbbing and burning brightly. I press on, and start to fall behind a little. I had tried to make a mental note of all the steep downhill spots on the way out, but there were too many to remember. It feels like we're running completely uphill the whole time, and hill running isn't my strength.

Around a bend, I let most of the group pass me by. As we move on, the gap widens even further. Another member of the group falls back with me, due to an IT band injury. We slog up the big hill alone, having completely lost sight of the pack. I'm wheezing and panting, willing my swollen legs to stumble upward while my companion is taking it easy to protect his left leg. We're trail running road kill. There are so many twists and turns that I can't see the opening of the trail, and the rest stop. It's killing me, and just when I'm about to give up and start walking, I hear whoops and hollers. Oh sweet Jesus - we're done. We've made it.

When I finally get home and run a hot bath, I peel off my sweaty layers to carefully inspect the carnage. I have 11 wasp stings total, all glowing red, swollen, and angry. I wonder briefly if I should seek medical attention. As I sit on the edge of the tub and wait for it to fill, I give myself kudos for finishing what I started. Sure, I ran the shortest distance of the day, fell face-first in the dirt, got attacked by wasps, lost the group, and ran out of steam at the end, but the point is, I never gave up.

Oh Wildwood, you'll test me every time, but you'll never get the best of me.

June 5, 2009


The 80-plus degree heat beats down on me with an irrepressible fury. Sweat, grime, and dust run slowly down my forehead and drip on the brown asphalt. Splash-splash. My heart is a giant hammering racehorse, beating thunderously inside my chest. My itchy, irritated eyes narrow and my jaw sets firmly as I pump my fists in front of me, willing my legs to turn over faster, stronger, harder, and propel me 100 meters further down the track.

Rewind to four days ago. The Project Manager in me was unleashed, and I started getting antsy about my training. Have to do more, have to really hit it hard, bigger workouts, more miles. Don't have time. Must get on top of things NOW. I evaluated the meal plan and put myself on strict compliance. I put pen to paper and devised some gym workouts and intervals on the indoor cycling trainer for some guaranteed ass-kicking. I set running schedules for my usual loops and hills, and planned a track workout to throw in a little speedwork.

When I was finished, I gave it a look and wondered if I was setting the bar a bit too high. Three double workout days in a row seemed possible, but since I hadn't set foot in the gym but once in the past three months (stupid tendinitis), maybe it would be tougher than I thought. I've done this before. I can do it, I say to myself. No problem.

By 5:00 PM on Wednesday, my muscles were feeling admittedly sore from all the workouts. I hopped on my commuter bike after work and headed across the river towards Duniway park. Three miles is nothing, but on my converted single speed, it feels like 20. I rolled up to the track just in time for the group workout to begin.

Warmup, lunges, squats, jumps, side shuffles, push-ups (guy-style, thank you very much), and sit ups. Then, our plan for the day: 100 meter repeats, and 6 laps around the track at 'comfortably hard' pace. It's all pretty much hard for me, so I wasn't sure what that meant. I just knew that I had one thing to accomplish: go fast.

And fast I was, at least on the 100 meters. I'd forgotten that I was pretty snappy with the short distances. When it came time to do the 6 laps, I lagged behind as usual. The pain set in and I was sure I did a number on my calves and hamstrings. After the work was over, I hopped on the bike for the 5 mile commute home and briefly considered calling J for a ride. Rather than endure the inevitable heckling that would accompany such a phone call, I reluctantly headed home.

That night, a tiredness crept over me that I'd never felt before. I almost fell asleep in the kitchen while I was waiting for the brown rice to finish cooking. I mechanically fed myself and then crashed in bed at 9:30 PM. I ignored J's commentary of my early bedtime ("What are you, six years old?") and slept like the dead.

The next day, I could barely raise my arms above my head. I wobbled on sore legs with tender heels. Every muscle, joint, and tendon hurt. I was definitely going to skip today's workout. The verdict? Overtraining.

It's been two days and I'm still not fully recovered. I wished for a nap all day, and walked around like a zombie at work. I headed straight home and used the cloudy, damp sky as an excuse to miss today's 6 mile hill run. I need another day off to recover.

But more than that, I need to learn to listen to my body and convince myself that if I miss a workout, it will be okay.

June 1, 2009

This is My Love/Hate Letter

"Dear Food,

Why must you torment me so?

You know how I feel about you. Instead of being grateful and returning the unconditional love, you toy with my emotions. I think you look for my weaknesses and specifically target them to cause my inevitable downfall while you stand on the sidelines, laughing ruthlessly at me.

I've lusted after you for years. I've had dreams about you. I've lied for you, thrown up on purpose because of you, cursed your name, and sworn up and down that you'd never get the best of me again.

I've even cried because of you.

You'll be my friend one day, then give me a horrible stomachache the next. I'll make good choices and feel amazing, and then one sidelong, come-hither glance from you, and I crumble with my admitted lack of willpower. Lack of a spine. You reduce me to a quivering, frenzied, hungry animal desperate for nourishment in the form of anything high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat, and low in essential vitamins and nutrients.

When our relationship is good, it's unbelievable. When it's bad, I feel completely powerless. With all the physical activity I'm doing, I have to come to terms with you. I have to figure out how to embrace whole grains, lean proteins, leafy greens, fresh fruits, and nutrient-dense vegetables. I have to learn how to balance the part of me that wants to inhale desserts and processed snack foods with the other part of me that wants to perform better as a long-distance runner. I have to turn a blind eye to your eternal taunting, and become deaf and dumb to your siren call when the ravaging hunger takes control of every fiber of my being.

I have to let go of your stronghold. I hope you can respect that.

With love,

The Novice Marathoner"