Monday, December 10, 2012

A 5k and Some Backstroke!

December 1st marked the beginning of my training for 2013, but truth be told I hadn't yet finished racing in 2012! A few weeks ago I ran my running club's local 5k, and this past weekend I swam in the Masters Short Course Meters Swim Championship at Boston Universtiy.  Both were fun. (and painful. also very painful...)

First up: the GNRC Ho Ho Ho 5k. I hadn't run this race since 2008. I am never in decent shape in December, and running a 5k when you are not in decent shape is never ever pretty. This year, though, I decided to go for it anyway. Sure, I'm in lousy shape right now. Who cares! YOLO, Man! (Okay, I'm trying.)

Anyway. I'm coaching myself right now, and one thing I wanted to know before embarking on such a journey is to find out where I am REALLY at in 5k land--right now. I'd like to take my 5k PR and organize my workouts and pacing around that time--but that would be sorta dumb, now wouldn't it? I needed a benchmark--no matter how ugly that benchmark might be. You have to know where you are in order to design a way to get to where you want to arrive.

The day was cold and snowy. The roads were a tad slick. This did not bode well for my already shaky confidence going into the race. I found my friend Maria and lined up next to her for the start. I figured Maria, who is usually around my pace, would be faster than me today, but I decided that I would try to stay with her. That was pretty much my only strategy for the race. Try to stay with Maria.

The starter said Go! (rather un-ceremoniously) and off I went. Too fast.

A quarter mile into the race I realized I was leading for women. This wasn't a good moment, actually. I knew I didn't have any business leading this race given the shape I was in. Still, I held on. I knew Maria would arrive by my side soon enough! Mile 1: 6:40. Okay. Not so terrible. Not so great, either, but given the rate and force of my breathing I decided it was best not to try to up the pace at all. And then, there she was! Maria, just behind me. Maria, just at my side. Maria, stepping just ahead of me. I used her energy to boost my own and forced myself to stay with her. Mile 2, 6:35. I was definitely having trouble holding pace. I pushed ahead of Maria a bit. Could I psych her out? Convince her I could take her? She moved up with me and we ran stride for stride.

With about a 1/2 mile to go she pulled ahead. I couldn't stay with her, but did my best not to let her get too far ahead. I know she doesn't like to blast the downhill because of her knees, and there is a little downhill section within the last quarter mile of the race. I would catch her then. We hit the downhill and I kicked hard. I gained on her... I was at her heels! But then she pulled away just slightly again and WHAM! We crossed the line. She beat me by 2 seconds.

What fun! We ran 21:03, 21:05 respectively. Not bad for being in sub par shape! And what a race! I LOVE racing when it's really a race! (even if I didn't win.) I must admit I was damn psyched to stay with Maria as long as I did. Thanks for the motivation, Maria!

Last weekend I swam at Boston University in the Short Course Meters Masters Championships. I love this meet. It's a big one, so my Maine teammates come down to race. Also, because we race meters there is less *meaning* attached to whatever times I get. For example, I swam the 400 meter free, and got a 5:45. I'm not really sure how that translates to yards (there are calculators--but every calculator gives you a different number so you begin to lose faith that there is a correct way to calculate meters to yards...) and so I can just say, Well, it's faster than I swam it last month at that other little meet I did, so I must have done great! :) No comparing it to my high school times or anything like that.. because we didn't swim the 400 meter free then!

I swam seven events: the 400 meter free, the 200 meter back, the 100m back, the 50m back, the 50m fly, and then I swam on two medley relays for Maine--100 back in one and 50 back in the other.

One thing I have to say about swimming in meets: you forget how BAD swimming really hard hurts! Swimming hard in a meet is not like swimming hard in practice. Sure, when you swim hard in practice you get out of breath, you want to stop, you feel spent when you finish. But when you swim in a meet? Holy SHxx it is exhausting. Before you get in the water you think, how bad can (say) four lengths be? The first length always feel good. The second length not as good, but you are still on fire. But when you make the turn onto the third length you suddenly realize that you can't get enough oxygen when you breathe; you feel your muscles start to burn, and you honestly think--I'm dying! Yes, it can get ugly. Even if you are just swimming 100 measly meters.

The big question for me is whether my times in backstroke indicate that I can swim the yard equivalent of each event in qualifying times for Nationals. My times were fast in the backstroke (for me)--. Certainly faster than they have been in past years--even the year we all wore super fast, now-illegal suits.  But whether they are *fast enough* really depends on the online calculator you use to measure meter to yard speed. According to Swimming World, I still need to chop off 4 seconds from my 200 back, 1 second from my 100 back, and .75 of a second from my 50. If you use other calculators, I am within 2 seconds on the 200, and with .4 of a second on the 50 and the 100. And if you use one special calculator (my favorite, OF COURSE) (The Great Bay Masters calculator) I have already qualified in all three events.

I'm choosing the Great Bay calculator. Thanks.

One thing I love about these big meets is watching the super fast, accomplished swimmers who come to compete. My friend Tracy is one of those swimmers (as well as Alina, of course!). Tracy broke a bunch of New England records (many set by her in previous years!) including swimming a time of 1:00 in the 100 meter free. That's like... a :52 or so in yards! Crazy fast. Actually... all her swims were of that caliber. That swim just stands out in my mind, though. She amazes me.

On Saturday night after the meet (it was a two day meet--Saturday and Sunday) Alina and I celebrated our swims by going out to dinner at this awesome little Mexican place we like.  Included in said dinner were a few margaritas, and they were YUMMY. I rarely drink margaritas (except with Alina!) and so this was a super special treat. Probably didn't help our swimming much on Sunday, but hey--as I said, I'm all about YOLO right now.  (Right, Bean?)

Btw, I STILL WANT TO BE your faithful advice columnist. If you think of a good question--shoot me an email! ( OR you can make up a question! I'm all about answering faux questions. I *may* even make up a few of my own. Now THAT could be fun.

Happy Training.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Mary, Advice Column #1

Dear Mary,
For the past ten years I have always enjoyed running, while not my best it is my favorite part of triathlon.  I have always used running to kind of escape real life and enjoy the friendships it has brought me and the clear mind.  However I have never felt like a runner.  If people ask if I am a runner I am quick to say I am a swimmer or triathlete.  This makes no sense to me (Yes, I sometimes make no sense to my own self).  I can identify myself as a swimmer, cyclist and triathlete but no matter how much or how fast I run I can't identify with being a runner.  I feel like this inability to indenitify myself as a runner hurts my confidence when I toe the stating line of a run race.  When I toe the line of a run race I do not have the confidence to say to myself "I got this" like I do the other sports.  I want and feel like I need that confidence and same agressive style to be truly successful at running.  Please tell me the running secret!
Wanna be Runner  
Dear Wanna be Runner,
The other day I was skimming through updates on Face Book. A friend had posted an inspirational quotation about running on his page. 
What defines you as a runner isn't how many miles you've run or how fast you run. What defines you as a runner is the decision to lace up your shoes, get out the door, and run. 

My first thought was Oh! Just for Wanna Be Runner! There it is!
But then I thought... Oh PLEASE. What bull. I find it interesting how often I find a quotation like that at first inspirational, and then, practically in the next moment, I find it hollow.  I'm not just a runner because I lace up my shoes and head outside to run. I very MUCH think that the miles I've accrued and the pace at which I run defines me as a runner! And it defines you as one too, Wanna Be Runner, even if you don't feel like you can define yourself as such--as a true runner--as a runner who deserves to be defined as a runner.
Although I found the quote hollow it did get me to think about how we define ourselves, and also how we allow our perceptions of what the outer world believes about us to define us. This, as you know, is something I've written about many times; it's a real obsession of mine. How do I define myself with and without the labels I have used to describe myself--mother, teacher, triathlete, reader, writer? How does the world view me, and is my definition of myself in line with how the world perceives me?

 So I totally get your problem, Wanna Be Runner. I totally get how you can define yourself first as a swimmer, cyclist and triathlete, and not at all as runner, even though you spend a lot of time running and have run for many years. I get it because how we define ourselves often has little to do with what we actually DO on a daily basis, and more to do with who we have been, who we hope to be, and who (we believe) the outer world says we are.
I remember when I first started running I did not own a running bra. I also didn't own running shoes. I decided one day that I would try running... and as I ran it occurred to me. Hmmm. It is certainly not comfortable running in this under-wire bra. And when I got home from my 9 minute jaunt I noted that the skin trapped underneath the underwire had been rubbed raw. It was my first experience with chafing. What did women do about this? And then there was the problem of shoes. I knew at once that the very old tennis shoes I had used for this inaugural run would not suffice if I were to take up running in earnest.

 I asked my mother soon after for a running bra and running shoes as a Christmas present. (Being a rather poor college student at the time, I didn't not have the means to buy such things with my own meager savings.) She got me a pair of Reeboks which she learned from the clerks at Lamey Wellahan were designed for running, and an extremely unattractive, white, grannyish bra that fit more like a girdle than anything I had worn before or have worn since.  I wore those shoes and that ugly, granny-ish bra for a full year before I invested in another bra and another pair of running shoes. I'm not sure I realized at that point that runners replaced their shoes often, or that real runners had many more than ONE running bra.

Do you remember, Wanna Be Runner, your first running bra? Do you remember your very first pair of bona fide running shoes? And where are they now? Do you remember your first run--the run you took before you became a runner? Do you remember how, early on, you couldn't escape the shin splits so common to those who have just taken up running? Do you remember the very first time you ran more than 3 miles and realized, DEAR GOD, I just ran 3 miles? Do you remember? Do you remember finishing your first 5k and the feeling you had that WOW! I can do this! I ran a race!

I ask you to remember because I think your answer to whether you can consider yourself a runner resides in the answers. My guess is that you have now run through dozens and dozens of running shoes, and that you have far more than one, lonely, grannyish running bra. My guess is that not only do you have more than one lonely bra, that each week when you do the laundry you have to wash several running bras, because you have gone on far more than one silly run. My guess is that you have been irritated, at times, that your favorite bra is not clean for your long run, or that you've lamented that they have discontinued (as they always do) your very favorite pair of running shoes. My guess is that it was a long time ago that you realized, with joy, that you could actually complete 3 miles. My guess is that when you run 3 miles now, you think of it as a short little run.

The fact that you have this history with running means that if nothing else you have done your fair share of running. And isn't that, in the end, what should define you as a runner? That you have run, that you still run, that you will continue to run, barring catastrophe, in the future? That, just as the platitude says, you lace up your shoes and run out the door? You have done that for years--you have accrued miles and miles and miles. Yes, Wanna be Runner, there is no doubt you're a runner.
 But it seems that what is more at issue here is not whether you are a runner, which you are, but whether you a runner who feels she deserves to define herself as such.

And so you must ask yourself, what would it take, in your mind, for you to DESERVE to be defined as a runner? What kind of speed does it require? What kind of mileage per week? Do you need to be a person who can run a 5k in a certain amount of time? Do you need to be a person who has run a marathon? A person who has earned a BQ? What, when asked whether you are a runner, is CAUSING you to recoil and then not allow yourself to say--Why yes! I am!

Perhaps you are thinking, but that's just it! I don't know why I do not allow myself to say I am a runner -- to believe I can run! But it's in there, Wanna Be Runner! Somewhere, at some point, you got in that head of yours a particular definition of what a runner is and should be. You are holding yourself to that standard, even if you currently can't even say what that standard is. You are holding yourself to that standard and it is sucking the energy out of your otherwise confident racing self. You are taking away your running power by not granting yourself the status of runner--a status you can only earn by meeting the standard you have in your head.

So the first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly what that standard is that defines you, at least in your head, as a runner or not. After you figure out what that is you have to decide, am I going to try to talk myself out of that standard, or am I going to try to SLAY that mofo of a standard? For me, the standard was running a marathon. I remember distinctly sitting in my bedroom in my little apartment on Nottinghill Road in Brighton thinking, Now, if I could run a marathon.... THEN I would be real. I would be a real runner. If I could run a marathon I would be the real deal.

It took me several more years before I did run that marathon. I ran Boston as a bandit in the spring of 1997.  I remember how astonished I was every time I did a long run leading up to Boston that I had actually made it that far---10 miles, 14, 20. But it was not until I crossed the finish line of the race that I actually believed I could run that far--that I could be a person who ran 26.2 miles.

I also remember that after the race I felt strangely unsettled. I had done it! I had run 26.2 miles! I WAS a person who WAS a runner! But yet... I was still me. I was the same Mary I had always been. My friends and family, my boyfriend (Andy) who had run the final miles of the marathon with me, all viewed me as .... Mary. Just Mary.  I had not magically transformed. I did not wear a label that said, LOOK! I am a person who can run a MARATHON!

And then I knew... I hadn't run that marathon so that OTHERS would view me as a runner. Or maybe I had--but others, especially those close to me, would not think of me differently if I ran a marathon, or two, or ten. I would still be... Mary. I had run that marathon to show me that I was a runner. I had to do it to prove to myself that I had it in me. I had to slay that mofo of a standard. And then I would allow myself to call myself a runner. Only then.

Is there something like that for you, Wanna be Runner? Is there a standard you need to conquer before you allow yourself to define yourself according to your running? Because the secret to running, which I think you already know, is to believe yourself a runner. In my eyes, and in the eyes of others, you already are one. But what will it take for YOU to believe you are one? My advice is to figure that out. Figure that out, and then go for it. Figure that out, conquer it, and then return to the starting line, knowing that you are the real deal. Go out and prove that you are the REAL DEAL--the real deal that, ironically, you already are.