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.

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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. ūüôā )

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

 

Just for Fun! 

The past few months I’ve been running without a specific goal (other than my general thousand mile goal). It’s been surprisingly freeing. Equally surprising is that I’ve actually been running more without following a plan that’s building up to a race. Okay maybe not more miles total but more regularly. Like five to six days a week frequently.

And it’s been fun! Not being so end-goal focused has allowed me to rediscover a real love for running.

In the spirit of said fun, I ended up doing two 5k’s in the past two weeks. I know that’s not a real feat of any sort but, again, both races were super fun. It helped that one was a glow and the other beer themed.

Finishers beers all in a row; what a beautiful site.

On Friday a friend and I did the Hightail to Ale 5k in Detroit. It was cold. It was rainy. But it was also very fun.

The run was sponsored by Atwater brewery and the course was a flat out and back type loop near the Detroit riverfront. It was a pretty big run and the start was staggered in waves; standing in the dreary drizzle waiting to run wasn’t the best but once we were running the weather wasn’t a big deal. And after the race there was beer for everyone! Well, everyone over 21 I suppose. When registering for the race there was the option to purchase a meal ticket to use at your choice of the food trucks in the post race celebration area. We did not do this but the food smelled amazing! If it had been dry or warmer we would have perused the food truck offerings. Atwater had their tap room open and a band playing so instead we crowded in with the other wet runners to finish our beers and enjoy the music.¬†

Despite the chill and rain (it was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit) the atmosphere was light and festive. The race swag was pretty decent too. The shirts are soft & fitted with good quality and colors and there were pint glasses and medals.

Maybe next year it’ll be more like a typical May day on Cinco do Mayo. I’m certainly hoping so because I’d love to do this race again.

Last week’s fun 5k was a small, local glow run. Another family from my cross country team (the one I coach & a couple of my kids run on) were doing this so three of my boys and I joined them. Along with the perk of being local, this race was cheap and in the evening. ¬†It was a win win win.

Excuse my tired face, I worked the nights before.

 

There was no kid’s race but my little guy wanted to run. I had signed him up for the 5k but was slightly concerned that he’d be scared or overwhelmed but he did great. He hung with me and a high schooler for the first mile and wasn’t far behind us for the second. The kid finished the race with a time of 33:33, just under a minute after his brother.

Doing races with my kids is The Best!

This time last year I was gearing up to run the Cleveland Half marathon with loose plans to do another half in the fall. And while I’m toying with the idea of signing up for the Detroit half again ¬†(I’ll decide for sure before the price goes up again at the end of this month.), right now I’m just enjoying running for the sake and love of running.

New year, New running goals

It’s the first day of 2017 and I’m already mentally shirking on my running goals. To be fair, I just decided on this goal yesterday so I haven’t exactly worked out a plan of attack.

But first 2016, what a year! There was, at least, some good running around here in 2016. My main goal had been to run two half marathons in the year. I accomplished it, though that last one wasn’t pretty. I may have also done more 10k’s than previous years as well but it’s hard to say as I don’t keep track of those in the same way. On the other hand I think I did fewer 5K races than most years, again, difficult to say though. There was the Super 5K back at the end of January 2016 (or whenever the Superbowl is) and the Gobble Jog 5K on Thanksgiving day (in Atlanta…bonus points for an out of state race). It feels like I’m forgetting one but that’s all I can recall right now. (New goal for 2017: Find a more efficient way to keep track of races.)

Oh wait, I remember now, there was one in October. A “Glory Days” 5K in the early morning before one of the high school cross country meets. My middle school team didn’t run that day so a couple of the kids and I ran the open 5K race. Okay, maybe I didn’t do fewer 5k’s. And now that I think of it, I only participated in two 10k races, one in August that was not so great (but won me a cool growler with a second in my age division) and the trail race a couple weeks after the Detroit half where I got my new 10K PR of 57:03….

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That brings the 2016 race total to 3 5K’s, 2 10’s, and 2 half marathons (with age group placings in both 10k’s) with a new 10K PR AND a new half marathon PR (2:07:29 in Cleveland back in May). Not too shabby!

On top of all that (and probably around 800 total miles logged), I got to coach cross country for the first time. I can’t remember if I’ve really talked about that here but it was a truly awesome experience. I had the largest middle school cross country team the small charter school my kids attend has seen in its 20 years with 13 boys (yes, 13 middle school boys…it’s as crazy as it sounds) and 4 girls. That’s 17 middle school runners at my disposal¬† in my charge.¬†I was lucky enough to work with a high school coach who has a few years coaching under his belt, knew all the returning runners on my team, and was willing to mentor me as a coach. Did I mention how much I loved coaching and how cool it was to lead my team of rowdy teens (and a few preteens)? Because it is a small school community and the athletics program is pretty young (and partially because of my crazy fall schedule with late classes twice a week) the middle and high school teams practiced together quite a bit. So in addition to coaching my middle school group, I was also a support person for the high school team so I got to be a part of the great running experience for even more people. If I didn’t have other life advancement goals (I’m looking at you, dental school.) I’d be putting a lot of my time and energies into learning how to be a better coach and strategies for developing young runners….if I don’t get into dental school this year I still might spend a good amount of time in 2017 doing just that. Hell, I may even do that anyhow.

But enough reminiscing of runs past and gushing about coaching and onto this year’s running goals…

Because I am unsure of what my life will look like this year, (yes, I know, no one¬†really¬†knows what their life will be like any given year but I have an exceptional amount of uncertainty right now that will have an effect on what the next twelve months looks like on a fundamental level.) I didn’t want to set race related goals that I might not be able to reach due to non-running related factors. Instead I settled on a mileage based goal: 1,000 miles in 2017. Or maybe for the sake of symmetry and an affection for prime numbers 1,017. Either way, at least 1,000 miles. That’s roughly 84 miles a month on average.

(As an added bonus my 17 year old answered a not unenthusiastic “maybe” when I offhandedly asked him if he wanted to run a half marathon with me in 2017…It wasn’t the usual flat toned “merphmg” response so that’s actually quite promising.)

By the time this is published I will be 3.2 miles into my¬†1000¬† 1,017… Because writing about running makes me want to run ! So here’s to a new year and to new running goals. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it. Because life is only as good as we make it…so make it better by making yourself better. Everyday.

(Agh, sorry ¬†for the overly cheesy motivational crap. It’s ten AM on the Monday after a work weekend and I have not slept yet.)

Riding the Struggle Bus

As you may (or may not) remember, I signed up to do the Detroit half marathon this year. It happened in a brief moment of impulsiveness when my judgement was clouded by post-race endorphins… but even then there was a small voice niggling at the back of my brain saying something about that maybe not being such a great idea. Don’t get me wrong, with three half marathons under my belt I’m starting to grow fond of the 13.1 distance and I’ve really enjoyed preparing for these races the past couple of years. But this fall is looking like it’s going to be a crazy one. My class schedule is less than ideal, my oldest is a senior in high school which means college stuff, and it’s cross country season. Did I mention my insane class schedule?

half marathon meme

It sounded like a good idea at the time.

There is not much time in my fall for training for a big race and that was before I got the middle school cross country coaching position at my kids’ school.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited about coaching. As my eleven year old pointed out, I get paid (a very little bit) to share my love of running with others. And so far it’s been a fun experience. It¬†does¬†cut into my own personal running time. In fact, I did not even log fifty miles in July. WTF?!?!

Part of that can be blamed on the whole dental school application/completing shadowing hours thing too (yeah, I’m totally milking that for all it’s worth) but no matter what you blame it on, here I am barely a month and a half pre-race and I haven’t run more than six miles in…months? So much for just maintaining my level of conditioning from the last half marathon. It was a nice idea while it lasted.

Really my mileage for August doesn’t look too bad, I’ll probably hit 75 and a lot of those came from doing two runs on the same day. One at practice with the kids (usually at a pace slower than my not-all-that-fast norm) and one a few hours later when I’d pound out a quick three miler in the dark just so I can say I got my miles in. So last night I decided it was time to get back on the horse and log some double digit runs.

My goal was to get up early (for me, probably late for most adults) and head to the park to run the ten mile loop. It sounded like a great plan right after cross country practice where I had run four miles in a nice, light rain and then got poured on as the team stretched and did a little core. In the morning after staying up way too late making pies and drinking beer while watching Orphan Black (my new tv obsession), ten miles did not have the same appeal. I procrastinated and whined a little before changing my plans and mapping out a ten miler around town.

Around 11am I finally headed out to run. It was terrible.

I hadn’t realized how muggy it was. My first mile was decent but then I started to feel tired, my legs felt heavy and my lungs incompetent. I slogged on but found myself really wanting to walk around the two mile mark. You know it’s going to be a bad long run when you are tempted to walk before even finishing three miles. I tried to motivate myself by thinking of all the¬†crap¬† motivational things I say to the middle school runners to keep them running when they want to walk. I reminded myself that if eleven to thirteen year-olds can push themselves to run so can I. It wasn’t really working though.

Clearly this run was just going to suck. Some do.

After seven miles I decided to throw in the towel and call the¬†game¬† run. It was time to head home. All total today’s long run was nine miles. Nine long, arduous miles of self-inflicted torture. And a very good reminder that it’s time to get my shit together and plan some long run times. One ride on the struggle bus was enough for me, I do not want to spend thirteen miles running in front of other people if it feels like that!

So, the new goal is to figure out when and what my training schedule is going to be so as to not embarrass myself in Detroit in October. Also, I wouldn’t mind another half marathon PR…if it’s not too much to ask for.

wtf meme.jpg

I ask myself this ALL the time!

 

Eyes on the Prize: A 10k Recap and Some Other Stuff

This weekend was my small mid-Michigan town’s annual Melon Fest. Really the only part of Melon Fest I take part in is the Melon Run.¬†It’s been my favorite 10k race because it’s close to home (I literally jog to the start line) and it’s an evening run so no 6am wake ups on a weekend morning. I’ve even placed in this race both the years I’ve done it but¬†this year I was going to pass on it. Right now money is tight and time running short. The melon run was going to be one of those minor casualties of the overly busy summer I’ve been having…until I saw that they were handing out growlers from a local brewery as prizes this year AND it fell on a weekend that the kids were home. That sealed the deal. Beer and running with my kids? It’s barely even a choice, I basically had to do this run.

This time I got three of my kids in on the fun. My oldest did the 10k “with” me (he was exactly fifteen minutes faster than I was), my eleven year old did the 5k, and my little guy did the mile fun run. As an added bonus a handful of the kids on my cross country team participated in the run with us since practice had been cancelled. The other coach is out of town doing an Iron Man and I was doing the Melon Run. So instead one middle school girl (who is quite an impressive little runner) ran the 10k (and won her age division) too while four of the high school runners and six middles did the 5k. Having such a large group of runners and parents made the melon run even more fun.

elijah melon run

There’s my little guy towards the end of his mile.

As far as the actual running goes, I wasn’t feeling my best on Friday. There had been a couple days during the week that contained very little sleep and, even though I was exhausted, I had not slept very well the night before. I was dragging and feeling a bit dehydrated throughout the 6.2 miles. I stopped at almost every water station and walked a little too. I was struggling to keep myself running and even the thought of winning a growler was losing it’s motivational pull. The race finishes on a gentle up hill and ¬†I desperately wanted to walk that last quarter of a mile but there was no freakin way I was going to do that with my kids, part of my team, and other parents watching me. While my inner voice was complaining and whining, I forced myself to pick up my feet and push up that stupid hill to finish the race. It wasn’t pleasant but I’m glad I did it; I just barely made the Under an Hour mark…which to me is anything under an hour and a minute. My official time was 1:00:39. It counts.

melon run me & C

And it was good enough for second in my age division. Obviously my big guy won his and we got growlers so I was happy. Now I’ve got a complete set of first through third in my age division from this run. Of course, two are medals and one’s a growler but still, prizes all the same and who doesn’t love a prize?

Speaking of prizes, late the night before the run I got and email from the ADEA dental school application system saying my application was processed and complete. I had submitted it just ten days prior. They tell you it takes four weeks to process and I was sweating my perceived tardiness in getting the thing completed. Shortly after that email another came through, this one from the actual dental school I’m hoping to get into (and the only one I applied to), saying that they had my application. I know it’s a tiny tiny part of this whole process but hearing that the school has my application felt like big news to me. This whole dental school thing might actually be happening. Holy Shit!

The past three months I’ve been sweating and stressing over the dental school application and getting it done and submitted. Everything else took a backseat while I struggled through June and July to get all the pieces in place. My running took a hit, there were no vacations or fun beach days, no extra work shifts, it all went on hold. But now there was email confirmation that I had gotten it done. All summer it’s been eyes on the prize and here was proof that the prize is within reach. It’s a great feeling.

growler prize