A Plan with No Goal in Sight

Back in January, specifically at the beginning, I set some goals regarding getting back on track with running. And maybe eating “right” too…

Me and fifty million other people right?

Well, now it’s February, almost the end too. By this time those beginning of the year goals have either stuck or they have not. If you’re still on the health/fitness/self-improvement band wagon two full months into the year I think it’s safe to say you’re on your way to resolution success.

While my activity here on the blog has been spotty at best, I’ve been decently consistent at running of late. After realizing how far off the fitness wagon I had fallen in late December, and subsequently incorporating getting back into the habit of running regularly into my New Year’s resolution, I’ve done just that: gotten back into the habit of running.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle at times. And even though I’m (mostly) running four times a week consistently I haven’t really lost any of the extra seven or eight pounds holiday season 2017 gifted me. (Maybe it’s time to crack down on my eating and drinking habits too. *sigh*) I do feel better while I’m running and in general though. That’s something I guess. Even if it’s something that doesn’t make my pants fit any better.

I’m a goal oriented person; I like concrete markers of success. Usually I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish over the year and set specific running goals. This year is different though; I’ve accomplished my biggest goal. I caught the big fish; I got into dental school. Now I’m waiting to fry the fish and I’ve got five months until life changes dramatically. My short term goal is to make the most of my free time until then.

After two not great half marathons in a row I’m hesitant to set any big race goals. On New year’s day I got a text from my sister asking if I wanted to do a half marathon in May. I felt pretty meh about it. Maybe later in the year I’ll find a half the sparks my interest but right now I’ve got nothing.

Despite not having specific race goals, I’ve got a plan. This is very unlike me.

So what changed? I got a book and a heart rate monitor, late Christmas presents that arrived mid January. The book, Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, I’ve skimmed before but upon looking a second read through I noticed his fitness based plans. Unlike most the laid out training plans in the book, these aren’t based on any time or distance goals. Instead they aim to increase general running fitness. Sound familiar?

It’s exactly what I needed right now. As for the heart rate monitor, I’m not entirely sure what to do with that other than wear it and look at my stats. Maybe I’ll try a heart rate based training plan sometime. Who knows. At least I’m running regularly again and I’m sure there will be some fun races this year…at least until August.

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Eating Through the Winter Blahs

Like many, if not most people, I’ve made a loose resolution to “eat healthier” in the new year. Also like many I’ve resolved to be “better” with my finances, whatever that means.

One area where both these things can get out of control fast is groceries and food in general. With a relatively large household to feed (myself, four teenagers, an eight year old, and whatever friends wander in) it seems like I’m always making meals and constantly need groceries. It gets old fast. I tend to make a lot of the same meals again and again. And again. And again.

The redundant meal rut is especially depressing this time of year. Here in Michigan it’s cold and dark; the holidays are over and we’re just trudging through dingy slush day in and day out. Working third shift tends to accentuate the winter blahs.

In an effort to combat all that seasonal crappiness (don’t get me wrong I love winter but it definitely lends itself to some serious doldrums) I’ve taken (re-taken?) to meal planning and being better at using leftovers. Don’t get too excited, meal planning here literally just means making a list of meals I might make in the upcoming week or two and then trying to grocery shop accordingly. But so far it has helped. I spend more on groceries in one trip but then I don’t have to make those “quick” stops at the store which means fewer impulse buys. I’ve been tracking my spending this month so I should be able to tell if I’m actually spending less on food overall. Fingers crossed! Regardless, we’ve been eating better and more creative (for my less than adventurous bunch) dinners.

Here are some of the cheap, easy, & hopefully somewhat healthy meals we’ve been having…

Chicken stir-fry

This one has a few red & yellow peppers, sugar snap peas, matchstick carrots, those little baby corns that come in a cab, & some weird “Mexican potato” tuber. That last ingredient is what I get for taking a kid and my boyfriend grocery shopping with me.

Ham & potato soup

I know this picture is crap but the soup was the bomb dot com! (Yes I know no one says that anymore, that’s why it’s funny now.) This soup has a little dairy & cheese which gives it ax great cheese flavor without making it overly creamy & heavy. Here’s the recipe I used but I left out the peas. I think I just didn’t have any on hand.

Ham Risotto with Bulgar

This one was something totally different for us but I had leftover ham to use up and really didn’t want a boring egg based meal. I’ve only had risotto once & have never made it. When I searched for recipes I was discouraged to learn that you need a specific rice for risotto which, of course, I did not have. (Something about the starch level of the different eucre and how v that absorb moisture) Oddly enough I did have a bag of bulgar that had been sitting in my cupboard for a long time, possibly years.

A quick search uncovered this bulgar risotto recipe. And I had grabbed asparagus at the store just because it looked good. I think this meal was meant to be. Peas were left out again though because I still had not gotten any. I also used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan… because that’s what I already had. Plus cheddar and ham is such a great flavor combination. It was not a bad move. This was delicious! It was reminiscent of a good creamy macaroni and cheese but with a healthier grain. I will definitely make this risotto again!

The classics…

It hasn’t been all new and different though. I definitely fall back on some hearty classics like the chicken drumsticks and oven roasted potatoes pictured below. Or meatloaf and baked (leftover) mashed potatoes.

Being more conscientious about what we’re eating has lead to some tasty, hearty winter dinners.

Impatience

I think of myself as a relatively patient person. I worked with kids for years then I moved on to traumatic brain injury patients. Both jobs relied on keeping cool and being patient with whatever situation arises. Even now, on a regular nursing floor, I understand the importance of being patient even though there are ten million other tasks to complete.

patients-versus-patience

I rarely have road rage. (Unless someone cuts me off.) I can make a (usually) unbroken cheesecake which requires so much waiting and patience for a properly finished product. I just don’t get riled up easily.

BUT, then there are times when I’m extremely impatient. Waiting in long busy noisy lines gets me. I’m impatient when other people are running late and I’m meeting them. It drives me crazy.  And once I’ve made a decision, I just want it to happen.

This is also the case with New Year’s Resolutions. I just want them to happen. Unfortunately they are all things that take time. As I mentioned, I’m job hunting, and, probably, driving everyone crazy because I’m talking about it so much. I just want to know what that next step is going to be. Now. I want to know now and I want to begin down that path now! However, everything moves slowly in the healthcare world. So I just have to be patient and wait.

I’m a whole 2 days into trying to lose weight…with no results yet. Obviously.

when-you-dont-eat-for-5-hours-but-youre-still-29859597 (2)

I’m realistic. Really. But it still tests my patience. I’m trying, so what do you mean I have to wait for results?! How many times do I have to go to the gym and not eat fries before I start seeing results?!?! (I do understand the reality of it all, honestly.)

I’ve got some long roads to go down, I get that. And I’m trying really hard to be patient.

patience-is-about

 

 

Falling Off the Wagon

Sometime between running an “Iron Turkey doubler” (a 5k followed by a 10k) at a somewhat local Turkey Trot in mid November and late December I fell off the running wagon. Hard!

Just before the end of the month my running miles for December totaled a mere 24 miles. I’m pretty sure that’s a new low in my past seven years of regular running. I did manage to pull it up to 32 miles by the end of the year but that’s still pretty weak.

On top of that I’ve somehow gained ten pounds over the past couple months. TEN POUNDS! (I’m a short person, ten pounds are not well hidden on me.) Really it’s not shocking considering this lack of running was matched by a complete lack of attention to what I was eating and an excessive amount of night shift work hours. Really I fell off the self-care train, not just the running wagon. And I was never super great at self-care to begin with.

Last year around this time I was setting a running goal for 2017: run 1000 miles over the course of the year. Yeah…. That didn’t happen. I fell about 300 miles short with a total of 710 miles logged in 2017.

A slower than expected start to the year combined with a stressful, very low mileage, June and this most recent dip in mileage are mostly to blame. But, despite the less than desired mileage, this year wasn’t a complete failure on the running front.

For one, I ran more races than previous years. I also ran in some new locations. And tried new distances. For me running is about stress relief, fun, and adventure. 2017 was a running success on those important fronts.

A brief synopsis of those ten races follows.

April: A local glow-run 5k with three of my kids including my then seven year old. (His first 5k. Definitely a proud parenting moment for me.)

May: a Cinco de Mayo beer run (5k) in Detroit, a muddy obstacle 5k at the local ski hill, and a Memorial Day 10k in Northern Michigan

June: very little running and no racing…same for July.

August: 15k Viking trail run (on some seriously brutal trails) & a local 10k Melon Run (my 4th consecutive year doing this one)

September: Labor Day run accross the super cool and impressive Mackinaw Bridge (around 4 miles).

October: the Detroit (half) marathon for the second consecutive year & my kids’ school sponsored trail 10k

November: the aforementioned Turkey trot Iron Turkey doubler which fell on one of the first cold days of the season.

Neither of us was feeling especially enthusiastic about running two races that morning but we still managed a couple of our best times and we both got 4th in our age division for the Iron Turkey. The two medals that click together and two shirts each were effective motivation.

And after that race I rolled off the wagon. And stayed off it until the last week of the year. Like my friend & co-blogger, I like the fresh start of a new year and the opportunity for reflection and goal setting. So now, as 2018 opens, I’m starting the slow climb back onto the wagon. Thank goodness I got a treadmill this fall. (It’s been below ten degrees Fahrenheit for a couple weeks now.)

Are you feeding the PR?

One of my favorite things about running (which I’ve likely said before) is that you can achieve success even if you’re not medaling or winning races. As a runner success is measured in what we call the PR: the Personal Record.

It’s exactly what it sounds like, your individual record fast time. (Sometimes also called a personal best.)

Running is all about self improvement, pushing yourself to be better than you were the race before or, heck, even the run before. Work hard, challenge yourself, get faster. That’s the beauty of running. It’s that simple.

Well, on paper is that simple. In reality it can be much more difficult than it appears especially if you’ve been running for a while.

As a new runner the gains come quickly and relatively easily. You feel more fit within a few weeks, your race times naturally drop as a function of just running regularly. But after a few years of running three to five days a week almost year round a PR becomes much more elusive. You actually have to strategically work for it.

I recently ran the Detroit half marathon for the second time in two years. It was my fifth half marathon and it was not a PR. Far from it, this was my slowest half yet. It was even slower than the same race last year but this time I didn’t have the excuse of recent illness to blame. It’s tempting to write this race off and say that me & the PR just don’t meet in Detroit, maybe blame luck or circumstances. Excuses are always easy to find. But, really, I like this particular race. I enjoy the atmosphere, the course, and the city.

So what’s the problem here? Why haven’t I PRd in Detroit?

After contemplating the matter it occurred to me that the PR is like a monster: You have to feed it to keep it alive.

Both this fall and last, and really in general of late, I have not been feeding my PR monster.

How can I realistically expect to PR when I haven’t been eating well, sleeping enough, or following a real training plan? PRs thrive on hard work and at least adequate levels of self care. If you’re going to attempt to push your body to new limits you have to give it the resources and fuel to do so. This is something I try to tell my 18 year old all the time. “You’re not eating well and you’re not sleeping, of course you feel crappy!”

Around the tenth mile in Detroit, when I was still running but not very fast, I realized I might need to tell myself the very same thing sometimes.

Fall is a busier season in my always busy life. Not only am I coordinating and adjusting to my kids going back to school but I’ve also been coaching cross country the past two years. I thoroughly enjoy it but it’s demanding, requiring at least fifteen hours a week of my time and attention. All this does not leave time to properly train for a long distance race. Or sleep more than six hours a day (if that). Or plan and prepare good meals.

My point here is that I shouldn’t expect a PR if I didn’t prepare for one. Does this mean I shouldn’t do fall races? No, not necessarily. But I should be realistic with my expectations for the races I do. You really do get out what you put in.

So despite it not being a PR, I’m going to celebrate the success I did have with the Detroit half marathon this year. I ran some fast (for me) miles on the beginning. I learned some important things about my self. I ran most the race and didn’t die in the last three miles, not completely at least.

Maybe I’ll take on another half marathon in the spring and maybe then I’ll give my PR monster the time and attention it needs. Or maybe I’ll just keep chugging along for the fun of it and enjoy the scenery.

Still Running

While I have been notably terrible at posting here (due to all the usual excuses: work, kids, it’s cross country season, the general craziness of life) I have still been managing to run regularly …mostly. Well, except for the better part of July when things were extra busy between retaking the DAT and throwing a graduation party open house for my son on top of everything else. But in general I’m still running.

At the beginning of 2017 my race goals were vague. I was feeling uninspired on that front so instead of setting some race related feat to work toward over the year I chose a mileage goal. Here we are well over half way through the year and I’ve only run 526 miles. Yup, barely over half of my 1,000 mile goal. (Maybe I should make it a 1,000 km goal. I’m pretty close to that.) As irony would have it I’ve done more and more types of races than previous years. I blame this guy I’m dating. He wasn’t really a runner when we met but was a good sport when I suggested signing up for a Cinco de Mayo race in Detroit. The beer theme helped I’m sure. As it turns out, he really enjoys racing. That first one the weather was cold, rainy, and slightly miserable but we had a great time and he was hooked. Since then we’ve done a muddy obstacle run, a 10k along the coast of Lake Michigan, a 15k trail run, the local 10k Melon run, and the Labor Day run across the Mackinaw bridge. That’s a total of six runs over the span of as many months. I also ran a local glow run with my kids back in late April. So much for not racing as much this year!

The unexpected upswing in races has been a small, friendly reminder that you never really know where life will take you. You can make all the plans and set all the goals you want but things are going to happen, not all of them within your sphere of control, and you’ve got to be able to roll with it. For better or worse. Whether you like it or not. I’ve had more than a few reminders of this over the years, not all of them so gentle and kind; I like this one much better.

In the spirit of flexibility I’ve embraced the race theme of this year and signed up to run the Detroit Half marathon again. I enjoyed the race last year but wasn’t especially happy with my time. I thought I’d be less busy this fall and would have adequate time to make and follow a training plan that incorporated speed work twice a week. That really hasn’t happened. Nor has regular grocery shopping or meal planning/prep or laundry or cleaning or (quite obviously) blogging. Really I’m not sure what I have been accomplishing lately (other than working full time, managing four kids going back to school, and coaching a team of middle school cross country runners). My recent 10k, 15k, and 4.4 mile races have been counting as long(ish) runs until last week when I finally managed an 8.5 mile run. I had planned on running the 8.5 mile loop around a local metro-park then going to practice and running another easy three miles with my team but the weather had other ideas and we had to cancel practice.

Once again I made plans and the universe laughed.

So here I am 3/4 of the way through the year and a month out from my “big” race trying to balance the demands of life with setting aside time to pursue my personal goals. Tempering the sleep deprivation of working a bunch of long night shifts in a row with self care while still finding ways to get the miles in. And even if it’s not all the miles I want. I’m still running.

running fuel

My current running fuel favorites.

bridge

bridge run horses

Constantly Adapting Expectations

“New goal” I said to my boyfriend as we ran through the forest “make it through this race without falling.”

(Yeah, boyfriend. I have a boyfriend now. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here yet. 🙂 )

We had started the race thirty minutes after the gun went off; the person who was supposed to cover the tail end of my overnight shift showed up (half an hour) late. Initially the goal was to run the 15k Viking themed trail race without walking but that ship had done sailed. Within the first three miles I was huffing and puffing like an asthmatic smoker (Thank you, night shift work.) and had to walk… so I could adjust my sagging ponytail (any excuse would do at that point). Seeing both of us had stumbled more than once on the rocks and tree roots that littered the rough terrain of the trail that wound its way up, down, and all around the Michigan woods, not falling was an appropriate goal albeit it a different sort of accomplishment than the original. It required luck, balance, and intuition instead of the grit, stamina, and determination demanded by the first.

Moments after deeming Not Falling to be our new race goal we ran down a hill lavishly coated with the loose, medium sized rocks that seemed to dominate the surface of these trails. As we hit the bottom of the hill and tilted to make a sharp left I lost my footing and hit the ground (lightly though, I’m getting pretty good at falling while running). There went that goal.

Even without meeting the initial goals this race could be considered a success. We ran 15 kilometers (that’s about 9.3 miles) over hills and crazy footing, in my case after working all night, and still managed to pass a few people. Our chip times put both my guy and me second in our age divisions. On top of that my son who was also running won the race.

That’s right, he won the whole freakin thing, my eighteen year old boy.

viking dash win.jpg

I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture but he’s super proud of himself.

He reluctantly committed to the 15k instead of the five even though he hadn’t done much running since cross country season ended over nine months ago. My son’s fifth and senior year of cross country season came to a crashing and disappointing premature halt last October. At the beginning of the season I had high hopes for him. While I’ve always been proud of my son’s running, it’s long been apparent that there is untapped potential teeming just beneath the surface of this somewhat distant and detached teen. When he began conditioning for his last season it looked like some of that running potential would finally be tapped into. Until academia caught up with him.

First was the failed class from the year before. We didn’t know it made him ineligible to run until the first week of August. I found an accelerated online make-up class that still counted as summer school as long as it was done before school started. It was. Just barely. Well, sort of.

In typical avoidant teenager fashion, my son thought he could pass the class with the required 80% without doing the “speaking assignments” (it was a Spanish class). Technically he had enough points to pass but the fine print dictated that every assignment be completed. At any rate, he missed the first meet of the season.

By the second and third meets he was eligible to compete but his race times didn’t reflect the stats he was achieving in practice. When he was running the first two miles of a race in under twelve minutes but finishing close to twenty we realized this might be a nutritional issue. Unlike previous seasons, there was no significant increase in appetite when his running mileage increased. Instead a general malaise took its place. I was concerned about depression.

As October approached my son has posted a couple PR’s (personal record race times) but nothing close to his early season projections. My boy was struggling and not just physically.

The last two meets of the season are big ones: the “small school” regional meet (not sanctioned by the state’s high school athletics association) and the actual regional meet that would hopefully qualify my son and a few other kids on the team for the state championship meet. It being my son’s last year of high school running made them that much more important…and the disappointment when he found himself on the academic ineligibility list that much more intense.

That’s right, academia reared its ugly head again.

At this point one might think that my son is a little dull or that he was taking a very difficult course load his senior year. Neither is true. However, that malaise that was apparent in his appetite was also showing its effects on his schoolwork. He did rally and attempt to bring his grades up to passing before the regional meet but by that time the hole had been dug too deep. Both my son and his good friend were academically ineligible for what should have been the crowning event of their senior seasons. Instead of racing at the regional meet we watched his team falter without their leaders.

As is often the case, running is a metaphor for life. Well, in this case it was foreshadowing.

The rest of my son’s last year of school continued in the same fashion. He failed the college math class he was taking because he didn’t believe me, his teachers, and everyone else who told him homework is important. At one point he was suspended for being at the store before the school day started. (Yes, it was as stupid as it sounds. Basically he was penalized for being a teenager in public.) In the spring we had multiple meetings with the principal of the school about whether or not my kid would pull it together and finish his senior presentation, a graduation requirement at the school, in time. And then there was another independent study make-up class. Clearly his senior year was not the commemorative occasion it should have been.

Still I encouraged my brilliant but troubled boy to apply for colleges; to aim high and to be optimistic about his future.

Not only did I encourage, I cajoled, pestered, begged and pleaded.

All to no avail. My son refused to even follow through with a college application. The closest I got was an “I would go there if I was going to go to a university.” after an especially cool campus visit (a six hour drive from home). The farthest was when he asked me to consent to him moving out before turning 18. (Umm, hell to the no, kid!)

So what is my point here???  Well, that (once again) running mimics life.

Much like the 15k trail race, I had hopes and goals at the beginning. As it progressed it became clear those goals were just not realistic right now (maybe someday though). Towards the end I was happy to accomplish what I did. Sometimes just getting through a thing is a success and sometimes you need to circle back around and try again under better circumstances. Such is the case for 15k trail runs and for my hopes of my son going to college (or choosing a path that will enable him to “make something of himself” …which to me means finding an engaging and sustainable way to spend his time and efforts).

viking trail 15k viking run duo