Tag Archives: training

The Disease, the Parasite, of Doubt

(and how I beat it, this time)

It has been a l-o-n-g hiatus from running for me because of an injury with complications. After a tough, teary-eyed session with my physical therapist last week, however, I think l’ve turned a corner. You may think it’s hokey, but that emotional release during treatment might have been just what my body needed to finally let go of the injury and truly begin to heal. Today, I ran my first mile in over two months. It was slow, deliberately so, and I walked another 1.8 miles after that, but it felt sooooo good to be moving in a way that is much a part of who and what I am.

The next steps are going to require a lot of patience. I am anxious to start running and training, as I have some big plans for next year. First, I plan to run a difficult trail marathon in May. A month later, I will run a tough forty-miler in the same gorge as the marathon, a new race that already has a reputation for being a killer event. After that, I have a solo fifty-miler planned in the fall. For someone who doesn’t race much, this is a packed schedule.

Following some good advice from a recent podcast, I’ve chosen the trail marathon to be my A race. That leaves me a tad over four months of training, so long as my ankle recovers properly. For now, I will just keep rehabbing and rebuilding my base, focusing on heart rate recovery and bringing my body back into balance.

One important take-away I’ve learned from working with my therapist is that my notions of what is and isn’t right for my body are correct, and I should stop doubting myself. I was beginning to see myself as a failure because I wasn’t getting “back out there” fast enough. I wasn’t taping up and gritting through pain to complete a heavy session, and it seemed like everything I’d been reading was saying I should. Or, at least, that I should have been out there much earlier than what my body seemed to be telling me.

This sort of thing had me asking myself, “Am I really able to be this kind of athlete?” I couldn’t help but feel that I had no right to set such expectations for myself. Maybe I am not a true ultra trail runner. Maybe I’m not good for anything beyond mediocre. Perhaps I’ve just been kidding myself, thinking I had the ability within me to do amazing stuff.

Dang.

Even as I write, those lines above make me feel sick and knotted inside, like I’ve allowed a parasite or disease to enter my body. I’ve felt this disease before. It’s the same one that tried to convince me I’d never succeed at college, or learn a language, or be worthy of wonderful relationships. It’s the sickly look from others who judged me even before I had a chance to try, like the high school English teacher who once said to me, “I know you,” in a way that meant, “I know what a good-for-nothing you are; you won’t succeed and you can’t be trusted.”

Well, I am not going to let that disease take hold. I am not going to let that parasite in.

I believe that is why I cried last week. I struggled with that same doubt, and I made it through, this time.

There will be more times like it, I’m sure, but for now, I am looking forward, believing I can do some amazing things.

I give myself permission to go for it.

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Recovery

Sunny day outside, temps are below freezing.

I am taking a break from painting a room in our new home, watching golden leaves fall from the hickory trees in our yard, and watching a few trail and ultra running videos online.

OH MY GOSH, I MISS RUNNING!

A sprained ankle in September kept my running to a minimum for a few weeks, but I had still planned to run a 50 mile race in early October.  Just two days before the event, however, a family member had an emergency and I chose to head back to my home state rather than run. The day after returning home, I sprained the same ankle again. Not running, just walking down the stair and catching my foot on the last step. Turns out the second time was not just a sprain, however; weeks later, still not being able to run, I learned that twist number two had resulted in a fracture.

I have major plans for next year, including (so far) two trail races and one solo 50 miler. I know I need to let this ankle heal well. I need strong, agile ankles to tackle the climbs and the gnarly terrain – the races I signed up for have reputations for being particularly tough. So my routines now are all about rehab and recovery.  Sensible, right?

My brain and body, however, are still wondering what happened with that race I had been working toward. Where’s the reward for the work of the previous half year? What happened to the anticipation of the distance and effort?  WHY AM I NOT RUNNING?!?

This is stage 2 of recovery. The caged animal is pacing, wanting to spring.  The first stage was a a depression of sorts after missing the race and respraining the ankle.  While I go through these stages, I experience frustration, but I also spend time thinking and reaffirming why I run.

I do not run to race. I am not a competitive person.

I run to lose myself in distance.

I run to see how far I can go – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

I run to arrive at the core essence of myself.

I run to be wild.

While I heal, I dream of mountains and streams, roots, dirt, and green things.  While I heal, my heart is longing to be free.

Soon, I will be beneath those trees, flowing with the leaves, to places I have yet to discover.

Pushing the Boundaries, MY Boundaries

I am not a celebrated runner. Heck, I don’t even race much. Ever since I was a kid, however, running through the woods behind my elementary school and hopping rocks and running paths in parks around suburban Philadelphia, I’ve been a trail runner. Even when years of debilitating migraines kept me from running, my joy was always to be out in the woods or on a prairie path, walking. After turning my life around by changing my lifestyle, In my late thirties I found I was able to run again. What a joy of rediscovery that was, and what an empowering experience to know that my physical ailments did not have to rule my life.

When I started running again, I didn’t have many trails to run. I was living in a foreign country, in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. While in Japan, I was keenly aware of my position as an outsider, a female, and a mother. There were behaviors that I perceived to be the norm for those roles, and running was not one of them. At the time, in that city, women just did not exercise outdoors. Especially women my age, and certainly not foreigners. I was intimidated by custom and my perception of social expectations. I did manage to find some paths to plod, running along the river or in the Shukkeien Garden near my home. When it came to being in real wilderness, however, I never ran, and never went alone. Always, I was with family.

After that came our move to China, and that is where my running became a more serious endeavor. There was a lot of treadmill running at the start, as the city where we lived, Chongqing, is pretty polluted. Still, in a place surrounded by mountains and mist, how could I not explore? I started by running the city, exploring side streets, then running through a sports park where people would watch me through the fences, as you had to pay 2 yuan to get in. Next came Pipa Shan, a small peak right in the middle of the city, filled with old men playing their erhus or playing chess while their birds sang in cages, and grandmothers walking with their grand babies or carrying their washing or whatever they shopped for on their backs. There were the trails in the park behind the university I attended, where I met a family who showed me how to catch, fry and eat cicadas, and another small mountain as well, a supposed botanical park, on the top of which was a small makeshift village. I would run through that and people would laugh and smile and point, commenting loudly about the white woman running down the dirt street. They were always polite and I loved stopping to chat now and again.

Gradually, as my running expanded, my experiences with people and myself expanded as well. In each new place I visited, each new country I lived, I started with something small, a circle or straight distance that was well-defined, safe, and predictable. Even on vacation, I’d start that way. Walk the city and decide, “okay, tomorrow I’ll just run here,” but then the next day, push the distance even further. Read the maps and envision. Settle the butterflies and decide to go just a few blocks more.

I think back on these times and am filled with wonder at the places my running has taken me. There are other countries and other paths, from cities to mountains to beaches. The wonder is not so much about where I ran, however, as it is that I managed to do it at all. You see, I was not a very outgoing or confident person. I was really quite shy, unsure of myself, and downright afraid of doing something new on my own. I still am in some ways, but I am nowhere near where I used to be. Running changed that for me.

I reminisce because a few weeks ago, a woman posted a question on a Facebook running forum I subscribe to. How do people get over there fear to run trails alone? She wanted to desperately, but couldn’t figure out how to conquer her fear. People posted helpful advice, the most common of which was, “just run.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when you are as timid as I was, and possibly living in a new place, “just run” is advice that doesn’t cut it. The fear paralyzes a person. It paralyzed me. It took a lot of effort and soul searching and thinking about what to do before I could break through the wall that kept me bound.

As I read that woman’s post, I thought about how to answer. What could I tell her about my experience? For me, learning to run alone is about a gradual expansion of boundaries, from running what is close and familiar to taking a new turn one day and sticking with it for a few weeks, then taking another and adding that to the mix. Little by little, the familiar ground widens, and every little trial on that ground helps boost my confidence that I can overcome similar situations in new territory.

When I thought about my answer to her, I realized that this advice did not only reflect my experience on the trail, but it reflected an experience I was having with myself. Each bout of butterflies in my stomach and the subsequent joy that came from setting those butterflies free made me more sure of myself, more confident in my own judgment. I could do this, because I’d proven mile by mile – sometimes just half-mile by half-mile – that I had faced my fear and succeeded before. Surely a half-mile more wouldn’t be so bad. Little by little, the half-mile becomes 2, then 5, then 10. And I discover there is more in me of courage and strength than I realized.

I know there are others who would look at my runs and think they were nothing compared to the amazing adventures and distances they’ve explored. I know there are others who would see the pace of my self-expansion as way too slow for them. For me, however, it’s perfect. Whether it’s my own hometown or one of the many places I’ve been to around the world, taking the time to expand my physical boundaries has helped me to broaden the limits even within myself.

I say to you, woman, go at your pace, add inches or miles, but move forward. You will find so much more than distance.

My Big and Where I Am

Since I’ve moved and begun exploring my training routine, seeing where I am mentally and physically, I’ve harbored a feeling deep inside – I am a crap runner. Honestly. I have a goal to run a 111km race next year, and I stink. I proved that yesterday, when I ran a 10k race as part of the Moscow Marathon event. Too slow. Too unwilling to push. Too out of shape to keep it strong for even just 6 miles.

That’s okay. It was a stressful summer, preparing to move here. I even crashed my car because I was so exhausted. It’s time, however, to move out of recovery and into training. I have found a good plan for myself, I think. It includes a day of speed and hill work, plus one or two long runs, plus cross training (kundalini yoga and cycling) and, of course, shorter runs. I have been doing the routine for a few weeks and it feels good, but I’ve been too comfortable. Time to move that routine into a higher gear and begin pushing a bit more.

At the same time, I also need to remember that training is a process, and for it to have lasting impact, the advances I make need to be small ones. Patience is key, as is humility. I cannot let my ego take over; I have to accept where I am and move forward methodically but, as Bryon Powell puts it, relentlessly (by the way, if you have not read Powell’s book, Relentless Forward Progress, and you are interested in ultra running, get on it! The advice there is invaluable). I sometimes think that is why some people tend to fail at a task they have chosen: they are not so willing to accept where they are and are equally unwilling to pursue the process step-by-step. Lacking the humility to take the process one step at a time leads to failure, I think. I struggle with this aspect of training, but I am learning.

Patience, humility, and determination. Plus a little more courage to push myself further.

I will do this. I am not a professional; I am not anything special. I am just ordinary. But even ordinary can dream big and push for it. To some, what my big is, is nothing special. To me, however, it is. I will run this race, and I will run it strong. Not just finish. I will run strong.

What’ s your big?

Aha. Insight.

I think I just had an “aha” moment.

I’ve been reading the book,

    Running With the Mind of Meditation

, by Sakyong Mipham. I am only on Chapter Four, which is about motivation. It just so happens that I had also started a guided meditation program using the app, Headspace. Number Four comes into play there too, as today is my fourth day in a ten-day program.

Funny.

I purchased the book because as I prepare to move to Russia, I have been thinking a lot about my running. My thoughts are not so much about why I run, but how am I going to run while I live there. There are the logistics, of course – will the trail be safe or will I have to stick to the neighborhood and gym (please, God, no), when will be a good time for me to go, how on earth am I going to handle the winter, etc. – but there is also the training process. Do I continue with heart rate, or do I step up the intensity? Why worry about it anyway? Why should I even be concerned about training? Do I have to? Well, personally speaking, yes. I’ll explain that in a minute. For what will I train? I am not yet sure. I know what I would like to train for – a particular mountain race – but so far I am not getting much support on that at the family end, so perhaps I need to set my sights on something smaller, something seemingly less daunting in my family’s eyes. Or whatever. Why should it matter which race I pick? The race matters because, whatever my goal is will establish my training plan. If I set my goal to simply focus on the 5ks put on by a group called ParkRunMoscow, for example, my training will look a lot different than a program to prepare for a mountain marathon or ultra.

Here’s where the “why do I have to train?” question comes in. As a runner who has been solo for virtually her entire running life, I often poo-pooed the apparent hyper enthusiasm for racing in our (or any) running sport. Why should I want to race? I don’t really care for buckles and medallions anyway. I am not all that competitive. I just want to run. Why do I need a race to motivate me? I am not so much a goal-oriented person; I’m a process-oriented person. Why should the purpose of running be to compete in a race? Seems so egotistical and narrow-minded.

That is what I used to think. My mind is changing now.

Before I ran my 50k in May, I never really trained or paid attention to strategies or running plans. I sort of followed plans for my two half-marathons, but not really. To follow a specific plan seemed so driven and ambitious. I don’t like to think of myself as an ambitious person (even though, trust me, if I’m passionate about something, I can be doggedly relentless). For the 50k, however, I did train. Not rigidly – I like to say I was more focused rather than disciplined – but I did try to follow a general schedule, paid close attention to advice about heart rate, pace, eating, breathing, etc., and developed a few mantras to guide me when the going got tough. I found that, over time, I began to thoroughly enjoy training for the race goal. It wasn’t the goal so much that made me enjoy it, it simply was the process. My goal was merely the motivator to get me to train. Running the race successfully made me appreciate the training process even more.

Since I finished my race, I’ve been floundering. I am running, of course, but I am not running with the same focus or intensity as I had while preparing for the 50k. I find myself desperately wanting a race to set my sights on so that I can have a purpose to my training.

The race itself, however, is not the purpose. It is just a motivator and a helper.

Does that make sense?

I see a need within myself to race, not because I need it as a purpose to define myself as a runner, or as a purpose because I feel the need to compete, but because I see the value of racing as a helper to what I view as the real purpose of my running: training.

Setting a goal is not the end-all; crossing that finish line is not really what I am about. Developing the strength and fortitude to get out of bed to run, spin, do yoga and strength workouts, and push – that’s what I am about. I am finding that, in order to get the most out of all that, I need a goal to reach for. Why? Because that goal will at least partially dictate how I will train. I can visualize my goal and then visualize how I will go about achieving that goal. I can work to make the visualization reality and, in the process, I can exert myself so that, as I work, I can be transformed.

It’s the transformation that goes on while preparing for a race that is my purpose; not the race itself.

Aha.

A Cardinal Sin

I’ve committed a cardinal sin in race preparation. I…dare I say it…bought a pair of running shoes (sharp intake of breath from the reading audience). And, not only that, I confess – please don’t hate me – I ran in them (even sharper intakes of breath, accompanied by exclamations of intense dismay). I know, I…I was weak!

They were on clearance. Mizuno Nirvana 8s. An avid wearer of Vibram Five Fingers for more than two years, I don’t know what came over me. I was thinking about the advice from people who say, with ultras, it isn’t a bad idea to have a different shoe at the end with a bit of cushioning. Not that I’ll need them for the 50k, I think, but what about a100k? Or a 50 miler?

I had to run too. Just a little – enough to stretch my legs out, open up, and move. It felt good. These Nirvanas will never replace my Vibrams or running barefoot – nothing beats that freedom – but I can see training with these and having them for when I’m fatigued and my ankles start to roll in too much. I do like the way the shoe hugs my arch and yet leaves room for my toes. Much better than my Altras, which have left me blistered, and even my Vevos, which (other than the wonderful sock-like insert of the Ultra), have soles so hard I feel like I’m wearing cleats.

We all have our weak moments. Today was mine. Please forgive me!

(Shhhhh – I think I’m going to run again. Don’t tell the taper police. It just…feels good, you know? Under 6, I promise!)