The Next Big Adventure

I’m exhausted and at work.

Like, alternating caffeine sources and there’s still eight hours left on this shift exhausted (it’s a twelve… And I work nights).

Like, haven’t had a real night’s (or even day’s) sleep since Tuesday and it’s Sunday night (technically Monday morning).

That kind of exhausted.

Plus my shoulders ache every time I lift my arms and the deep scrapes on my knees (that are eleven days old and should be healed) are throbbing.

It’s a good feeling though, the hurts. Though not so much the exhaustion. (You know your schedule is not okay when you can’t wait for dental school to start so you can get some regular sleep.)

But the muscle aches and the bruises and the extended life of these scrapes are due to something resembling adventure. (As is a small portion of the exhaustion.) See, my boyfriend and I did a muddy obstacle course run less than two days ago. My shoulders ache from crawling through mud a foot deep and climbing over walls made of tires or rope nets or rough wood. The scabs on my knees, caused by tripping on a run when I was very tired, got a new lease on life when I oh-so awkwardly clambered over a web of tubes serving as a water crossing. So, yeah, I hurt but it’s a good kind of hurt, one that I earned.

Before I started dating my super awesome and great boyfriend I was uncomfortable even running with or in front of any guy I was interested in. Somehow, though, things are different with him. Last year around this time we did our first 5k together (his first race ever). It was pouring rain and quite chilly out but we had so much fun. There was nothing awkward or uncomfortable about it.

Since then we’ve done this obstacle run both last year and this year, a handful of 5 & 10ks, a crazy trail 15k, a run over a huge bridge, at least one “doubler”… And that’s just the running. The long and short of it is this guy challenges me, he pushes me.

Physically, I try harder when I run with him because he’s faster than me and I don’t want to look like a wimp in front of him. (But he doesn’t make me feel bad or think less of me if I’m having a bad run day and need to slow down a bit.) Mentally, he pushes me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things whether it’s food or a new hiking experience. He’s less cautious than I am, less of an over thinker. It’s a good balance. I am cautiously willing to try things and my hesitation keeps him from doing anything too ridiculous.

While things like this mud obstacle run and the various types of races we’ve done are contained adventure our next big thing is a little less so. In just under two weeks my guy and I are going on a backpacking trip that will include hiking a part of the Appalachian Trail.

We’ve lightly talked about hiking the AT since he stumbled on part of it while driving back from a vacation last year but our lives are a bit too complicated to venture out on a long section hike (though maybe that’ll happen at some point). Visiting one of my brothers in Virginia and striking out on a few day hike from there, however, is manageable.

So that’s what we’re doing.

So far we’ve bought a bunch of hiking/backpacking gear (apparently the lighter something is the more expensive it is), read a bunch of information about backpacking; extended hiking; and the Appalachian Trail. I’ve tested the tiny tent and I’ve even loaded up my rather giant backpack to a little more than 20lbs and gone for a five mile hike. (That was eye opening.)

I’m excited! We’re both excited, really. I’m also a little scared. (He’s not… But maybe he should be.) There are bears as disease bearing ticks. We could get lost out there in the wild. It does happen. There’s just so much unknown. I’ve never even gone backwoods camping (as in not in a campground with designated bathroom spots and stuff).

Even if we just go out and hike our pre-planned route and nothing truly unexpected happens this will be an adventure.

Aaaand, in case you’re counting (or really for my own running tally) the Hightail to Ale race is #4 for this year and the mud/obstacle run #5. That’s already half of my total from 2017.

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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.

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. 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.)