Archive for December, 2011
Ah, Christmas! I hate to admit, Christmas has never been my favorite time of year. My early memories of Christmas are a mixture of the frantic but joyful opening of gifts and difficult family fights or tragedies. In my twenties, my ex-husband and I did our best to create traditions for ourselves, but we were both from divorced families with designs on our time and could never really settle into a routine. More recent years have seen me vacillating between trying to make the holidays happy for those I love and refusing to participate altogether.
A few days ago, I took a nine-mile run along one of my usual routes. I wanted to get some space to feel the complex feelings that come up for me this time of year. I know I’m not the only one whose relationship with Christmas is, shall we say, volatile. I’m a psychotherapist, after all, and my client hours often increase in November and December as people wrestle with faith, family, and expectations. And I have plenty of friends who negotiate with exes and in-laws and divorced parents for a little space of their own this time of year.
As I ran, the trails were damp with dew from the night before, and I passed at least two dozen other walkers and runners doubtless working off the holiday meals they were about to indulge in. When I hit the part of the trail that intersects with a pleasant neighborhood neatly decorated with holiday lights and cheerful blow-up snow-people, I suddenly started to cry–and couldn’t stop. I kept up my pace, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew and have to stop to say, “Merry Christmas.” Memories of difficult holiday experiences came flooding forward; news stories of violence around the world flashed into my consciousness, making me feel helpless; thoughts of estrangements from people I used to know well closed in on me; and the realization that my grandmother, who died this year, would not be here to gather her large, dysfunctional family together for her annual holiday blitz suddenly felt very real.
I ran a little harder than usual, letting the cold air on my face remind me that I am a part of a larger whole–an imperfect universe made up of people, animals, trees, wind, governments, pollution, and yes, grief. As I neared my turnaround point, the lump in my throat cleared up a little, running doing its faithful duty to let me feel and move me through the worst of it. On my way back along the trail I reflected on the past year, how loss had been followed quickly with joy. One of my besties had a baby this year. Another one reached weight loss goals that have been beyond her reach in the past. I spent countless hours enjoying being Bill’s partner in this life and playing with the four-legged creatures in my house. And I got a new book contract to co-edit a book on a topic that is near to my heart.
It dawned on me as I plugged my way back up the last long hill toward home at the end of my run that a person has to have a lot of audacity to face life day after day. She has to have the nerve to get up in the morning, knowing that the next hours could just as easily hold joy and bring good news as they could usher in devastation and crushing blows. In fact, each day holds both happiness and tragedy–somewhere in this universe that connects us all.
When I reached my front door, I was done with my cry and was glad I’d gone out, although I’d spent at least an hour trying to talk myself into taking the run in the first place. When you feel blue, burdened with memories or grief, I hope you have the nerve to go out and run through it. Each singular breath you take is really the only one that you can count on. In my opinion, there’s no reason to be afraid of hard feelings, as long as we don’t become attached to and hold onto them. And I know of no better way to let them run their course than to run.
Here’s farewell to 2011, and here’s to the audacity we need to face all that 2012 will bring head on! Cheers.
I asked John Schick for an update on his fundraising efforts. Here’s what he sent me:
“My fundraising, so far, has been quite interesting especially not knowing what to expect in my first effort of this type. To this point, I’ve raised $2,670. Many people have stepped up and been quite generous which has really been humbling for me, as well as my dad. Some people who I thought would contribute haven’t yet, and some who I didn’t really expect to join this effort have in big ways. Letters have told me of personal cancer experiences of which I knew nothing. Several people have told me that they will contribute later, and I’m sure they will. The patience I’ve learned as a distance runner is proving valuable to this fundraising effort. Just as a distance race has many segments, this fundraising effort seems to as well. Even though the finish line is not yet in sight , the race is unfolding before my eyes. So far, so good.”
Below is an interview John did with his dad over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Remember that John’s goal is $8,700 by April. Cancer touches all of us. If you’re able, why not get in one more end-of-the-year donation? Here’s his fundraising link: http://www.rundfmc.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=484862&supid=338423199
If you’re thinking of joining me for the 2012 Marathon Challenge, the first thing you have to do (after choosing a race, that is) is find a training good plan. How you train will determine the quality of your race experience. I love the stories of people who decide to run a marathon a week before the event, show up, and make it to mile 17 before collapsing, throwing up, or requiring medical attention. These are terrific cautionary tales, as long as the storyteller survives to tell it.
But you want to have a successful experience and maybe even have some fun (remember, no one is paying you to do this–it’s all for your own benefit). Fortunately for all of us, my friend, Carol Frazey, running coach, personal trainer, nutrition expert, and former Penn. State cross-country and track star, has prepared a solid training plan for you.
A few things to know before you start:
1. Carol refers to your “1-mile pace” in her plan. Here’s how you find out what that is: Go to a track with a stopwatch and time yourself running the track 4 times (if you don’t have a track handy, measure out a mile with your car or use your Garmin). Run this mile hard–not so hard that you can’t talk at all, but hard enough that you hope you don’t have to talk. This is your 1-mile pace for the time being. When Carol’s plan requires you to use your 1-mile pace, she’s asking you to get to know what your body feels like at that pace, not to measure it each time.
2. Your “10K pace” is slightly slower than your 1-mile pace, but still harder than your long run pace. Carol suggests adding 40 seconds onto your 1-mile pace as an estimate of what you should be able to sustain for 10K (or 6.2 miles). My best 1-mile pace is 8:53, so my 10K pace should be 9:33 (though truth be told, I cannot imagine sustaining a 9:33 pace for 6 miles–but some might say I really haven’t tried). Jeff Galloway says to multiply your one-mile trial by 1.15 for a 10K pace. Example: If your mile trial is 10 minutes, your 10K pace, according to Galloway, will be 11:30. Whichever formula you use, your 10K pace will help you work on conditioning and speed, and again, you’ll be going mostly by how your body feels for our purposes.
3. How do you know what your half-marathon or marathon pace will actually be? To figure it out, take your fastest 1-mile trial and multiply it by 1.2 (according to Galloway). This should predict your best per-mile pace (under ideal conditions) for a half marathon. So my 8:53 mile multiplied by 1.2 comes out to a little slower than an 10:39-minute mile. According to the experts, I should be able to sustain that for 13.1 miles. For a full marathon, Galloway suggests multiplying your trial mile by 1.3 (for me, that would be a little over 11:30 per mile sustained for 26.2 miles).
Having said all of this, my fastest half marathon brings me in right around 11:30 (or eleven and a half) minutes per mile and my average full-marathon pace is closer to 12:30. The moral of the story is: Do your best with whichever training program you choose and realize that no equation fits for every runner. In my opinion (and in the opinion of many who give advice about this sort of thing), the MOST IMPORTANT part of any training program is the long run. Get your long runs in on schedule and you’ll hold your own on race day!
Any questions so far? Well, guess what? I’ve got Carol on speed dial, so I can get answers.
I’ve been lost in the woods on courses, missed turns and even participated in races that ran out of water for those of us at the tail end of the pack. When you’re running your first (or second) race, you have to pick the right one or you’ll get discouraged and it could be your last. If you choose a race that’s really set up to accommodate the slow pokes and the newcomers, you’ll have a good experience and, perhaps, fall in love with the marathon (and the half marathon) as I have.
I suggest a few questions to ask when choosing your first marathon:
- How many hours is the course open? Many races have cutoff times after which the course closes down. There would be nothing worse than doing the work of training to run your long race and discovering at the finish line that the port-o-potties have been taken away, all the recovery food has been consumed, and there are no volunteers left to wave you in. If you’re picking a marathon, be sure the race you choose is open for six or more hours. If you’re walking the race, make sure the course is walker-friendly and is open for at least seven or eight hours. For half marathons, check that it’s open for three and a half hours at a minimum. A good way to find out if a race is friendly for slow pokes is to look at race results in previous years. If you see race results recorded for people at your pace, you’re golden.
- What does the race offer in the way of support and accolades? If you’re a first timer or a back-of-the-packer (finishing in 4:45 or longer for a full marathon), the number of volunteers and water stations on the course is important. You’ll want to find a race with water available no more than three miles apart. You’ll also want to choose a race that gives you a medal and a shirt! If you’re not likely to place and be recognized in your age group, you’ll want those mementos to give you the pat on the back you need at the beginning of your running career.
- What does the course look like? It’s pretty awful to have to run past the finish line and watch others completing the race while you still have two hours of running left. Be sure to choose an out-and-back, a single loop or a point-to-point course instead of a double loop (which trots you past the fast finishers as they celebrate and stretch). Also, be sure the elevation gain and loss on the course is something you have trained for and can handle.
- How many participants will the race have? Some people like to choose the mega races with 25,000 runners or more for their first go. These large races are a lot of fun, and they tend to be pretty well supported and good at making runners feel celebrated. But because they cater to so many participants, the really big ones may make it tough for your family and friends to find you in the crowd along the course (at mile 16, for example, when you most need their moral support to keep going) or at the finish line. On the other hand, a really small race (say, less than 150) may mean you won’t be able to see other runners in front or behind you at certain points on the route. You could get lost or discouraged under those lonely circumstances. How big you want to go depends on your personal needs and the kind of experience you’d like to have. If you’re not sure, try choosing a race with between 500 and 2000 racers for your first foray. Your supporters will be able to find you along the course, and you’ll see plenty of other runners at your pace, but you won’t bump into them or have to elbow for space at the starting line.
- How old is the race? New races haven’t worked out the kinks. Choose one that has at least two or three years under its belt.
- How much does it cost? Marathons are big business nowadays, but a larger entry fee doesn’t necessarily mean better organization or support. You can find a great race for between $50 and $60. Remember, too, that the cost goes up closer to the race date, so get your registration in early.
Keep me posted! Where are you running your 2012 half or full marathon???
The New Year is just around the corner. Durning 2011, I received several emails and facebook messages from people saying that they want to run their first marathon or half-marathon in 2012, and I’m here to say YES! Let’s do it. In fact, I’d like to throw down a challenge.
If you’re a runner who has been thinking/dreaming/wondering about amping up the miles, but you’re ambivalent or scared, you’re in good company. I’d like to invite you to join the 2012 Marathon or Half-marathon challenge.
Here’s how it works:
1. Send me an email ([email protected]) or write a comment to this (or any subsequent) blog post telling me your first name and the race you’re shooting for.
2.I’ll post your name, your race and your miles (as you update me with your progress) on my 2012 Virtual Training Partners page. I’ll even quote any comments, complaints, or questions you send along (again, via email or on a blog comment) on my Runner Updates wall.
3. I’ll post regular encouragement, training tips, and nutritional advice right here. I’ll even answer your questions, if I can (and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does).
So what do you say? Who’s in????
Stay tuned for tips on choosing your first Marathon or Half Marathon.