Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Runner I'm Not

Why Do You RunRecently, one of my favorite Bay Area running stores, See Jane Run, has been posting real answers to the question "What do you run for?" on their Facebook page. The answers include things like...

  • "I run because I want to stay healthy for my 10 year old, my 20 year old, my 29 year old and of course my beautiful granddaughters. Because being over 50 is hard, and if you continue running, you'll not only be young at heart, you'll continue to add years to your life."
  • "I run to stay healthy, mentally and physically. I had a crazy year with lots of health issues and enough medical procedures to keep me doing my best to stay as healthy as possible without the doctor! Running helps me get there!"
  • "I run for that little bit of time that I take FOR ME, when I am not a mother, an employee or a wife. I am myself. I use it to clear my mind, cleanse my soul, and as I run toward my goal, I use it as a visual metaphor for my life."
  • "I run because I was always picked last in gym class. I run because I have never been considered athletic. I run because at 41, I no longer care what I look like doing it or how fast I do it. I only care that I do it. I run for me."

There are probably as many reasons for running as there are runners, and the vast, vast majority of them are all fantastic reasons, especially if they get us up and moving and accomplishing things. I always enjoy hearing deep, inspiring reasons like these that people have for beginning or continuing to run, because it's so clear that running has improved their quality of life and provided them with a way to feel strong and powerful. We all need something like that.

Part of the reason I hate discussing that question with people (the “why do you run” question), though, is that I just don't have anything deep and inspiring like that to say. I don't run for existential reasons. I don't have any moving quotes that will bring a tear to your eye. I don’t do it for fun or entertainment or even fitness (though that is admittedly a great bonus). Those are all the runners that I’m not (and likely never will be). Most of the time, I run because I’ve gotten in the habit of beating people, and the next time I race, I want to beat as many people as I possibly can.

I hope this doesn't make me a shallow person; for some reason it kind of seems like enjoying the big summer blockbuster more than the deep, thought-provoking indy film.
It is the truth, though. I started thinking about it while trying to choose a fall half marathon. I'd more or less settled on Clarksburg, but the US Half also looked awfully appealing, and Primo's Run still sounds like fun too. A runner friend of mine failed to see the trouble here.

"So run them all," she shrugged. I raised my eyebrows. "I don't mean like really run them all," she continued. "Run Clarksburg for real, and use the others as long runs. You know. Just run them for fun. Get the schwag."

And that's when it hit me, that that is precisely how she (and many other runners I know) differ from me. She can conceive of entering, paying for, and running a race just for the heck of it, just for the experience. I can't. It’s not that I don’t understand that plenty of runners run road races truly just for the experience and not to be competitive, even with themselves. For them, running a certain race is sort of like visiting an amusement park – sites, people-watching, a little adrenaline rush, but with the added bonus of knowing you did something active and healthy that day.

Again, I’m not knocking this – if it gets you out and moving, if you enjoy it and it makes you happy, then more power to you. It’s just not my thing. Running is not entertainment for me. When I look back on it now, I think this is why I wasn’t crazy about Rock N Roll San Jose. That race was more like an amusement park, geared towards folks mostly out to have fun and enjoy their Sunday (which is not to say that some of them aren’t very fast!). I, on the other hand, just wanted a certified time and a reasonable course.

For me, a race is a race and not anything else. If I want to go for a 13 mile "fun run," I can do that a lot closer to home for free. (Hell, at times, I do that most weekends.) What I’m paying for when I register for a road race is the privilege of running on a certified course with professional timing; if I don't run like I want to win, then I feel like I’m paying for a hunk of medal (good for me, I didn't get irreparably lost or forget to breathe) and a fancy shirt, and there are cheaper ways to get those things if that’s all you’re interested in.

I think about this sometimes when I meet or read about people who have become medal horses, running double-digit marathons and half marathons in a single year, just for the medals. I can’t say it doesn’t look impressive, all those boxes and shelves full of pretty glittering metal and festive-looking ribbon. But it does seem a little empty to me, because they are truly finisher’s medals. They can mean a lot, if you go into a race not entirely sure you’re going to finish. Once you’ve got a small museum going, though, what does racing for medals really mean anymore? If failing to complete the distance is no longer a concern, you’re basically just buying them.

I also like to think there’s something special about race day. It’s on the calendar for months; I plan and prepare for it, visualize how I’ll run it, rearrange parts of my life around it, and when it gets here and I’m standing on the starting line, I think my body knows where I am and what I’m about to do and what I have invested in this performance. I have a feeling that if those stimuli come around too often, it would cease to be as special and meaningful for me, and I also have a sneaking suspicion (though admittedly unfounded) that my body would stop responding with that extra little adrenaline rush that I get at the start of a race.

So I guess, for me, what it boils down to is quality over quantity. I think I’ll probably always opt for fewer races, in order to give each one the time and attention and first-rate effort it deserves. I’ll always opt for one really fast time in a season rather than four mediocre ones and a box of medals. I will never be the girl in the hot pink hoodie smiling broadly and throwing a thumbs up at the camera on the race course. I’ll never be part of the knot of chatting girlfriends jogging comfortably along. I’ll never be among the crowds rocking out to Blues Traveler (or whoever) at the post-race concert or posing heroically with my medal.

I’ll be the one lying awake the night before, running the course over and over again in my mind. I’ll be the one warming up alone a good mile away from the course, the one striding along on auto-pilot during the race with a zen-like look of utter concentration on my face and sprinting so hard for the finish that I’m not capable of standing or breathing properly for a good five minutes afterward. The one waiting quietly by myself for the official results, tossing my T-shirt and medal in the backseat, and driving away from the madness as quickly as possible. That’s the runner I am.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Week In Review: May 22 - 28

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

This week was a pretty abysmal one for mileage. I knew I was going to be super-busy traveling this past weekend, so I was prepared to sacrifice a run or two if I had to. What I wasn't prepared for was a sudden and severe relapse of the hip pain that I've spent the last four months dealing with in physical therapy. The weird thing is that it's on the other side, which has always been fine until now, and the side where I originally had the pain is still almost completely pain-free. Sigh.

I'm still rather amazed at the speed with which it went from zero (Saturday night) to limp-worthy (Sunday morning). I've long since gotten over being a martyr about running, though, so I decided to put off the easy eight-miler I had planned in favor of a day of rest.

Monday: 8 miles easy. Well; at least easy was the idea. This was the run I'd originally planned for Sunday & pushed back a day. Instead of easy, though, it ended up being profoundly miserable and frustrating for a number of reasons. First, the weather 'round these parts has been crazy windy for the last few weeks, and I am just about DONE with it. Running uphill & into the wind for four miles straight is just not any sane person's idea of fun. Second, for reasons I can't explain, my legs felt as if I'd run twenty miles the day before, rather than six miles two days before. Just no gas in the tank at all. Finally, without going into a laborious and uninteresting story, I ended up running in a pair of shoes that I thought I might be able to eek just a few more miles out of comfortably and decided about 2 miles in that I was very, very wrong and the shoes needed to be retired post haste. As a result, I also found myself dealing with lower leg and foot pain for a lot of the time as well.

This is one of those runs where a younger, less mindful version of my running self might have just blamed the whole thing on my dumb body and spent the rest of the day moping. Fortunately, I've become a bit wiser over the years when it comes to running, and more disciplined about identifying the cause(s) of a bad run rather than letting myself wallow in a general feeling of misery and failure (in this case, I think the shoes & weather were the biggest issues). So whatever; sucky runs happen. Moving on with life.

Wednesday: Originally I'd scheduled a track workout on Tuesday, but given how dead my legs were after Monday and the hip pain, I took Tuesday off & planned to do the track workout Wednesday. I was still having some pain that morning, though, & figured my body was telling me to take things just a little more gradually. By later afternoon, things had loosened up considerably, so I decided to go ahead and do a short, easy run in the neighborhood. I tried the first two in my racing flats, which seemed to confirm a suspicion I've had lately, namely that they just aren't that comfortable on concrete if I'm running slower than about 7:30/mile (most likely for form reasons). Switched to the Kayanos after two miles & did two more at a slightly faster pace (which was much more comfortable).

On Thursday, the pain was still pretty bad. As much as I want to get my mileage back up and get back in race shape, I’ve definitely learned the hard way that running through pain that’s more than minor soreness is likely to cost more in the long run than just taking a few days off and letting things heal. I spent most of Friday traveling, so I'd already carved it out as a rest day. Saturday was busy, but I could've gotten in a shorter run if I'd been up for it. Alas, the hip pain really hadn't let up at all, so I decided to err on the side of caution & skip it. This is annoying, but something I've definitely gotten better at.

Grand Total: 12 miles

Ugh. Now that's depressing. Hopefully, the hip pain will take a hike this coming week & I'll be able to get in more mileage this week. Still, for the time being, I think it’s probably best to put off adding speed work & just work on building up easy mileage. I'll probably take this week a little easier to be sure nothing serious is wrong, but hopefully I'll be able to get back up around twenty.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week In Review: May 15 - 21

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

Well, I didn't get raptured yesterday, but I did complete my first 20+ mile week since training for the Santa Cruz 10K in April, which seems just as good.

Sunday: 7 miles easy. This was a particularly amusing run as it occurred around 2 pm through the panhandle & Golden Gate Park the day of Bay to Breakers. I'm always amused by all the costumed revelers reminding me that "the race was this morning" and exhorting me to "keep running! You're almost there!" Actually, running B2B is on my to-do list, but not until I'm fast enough for the seeded division (probably).

Tuesday: 10 minute warm up, 25 minute tempo run, 10 minute cool down (for a total of about 5.2 miles). For some reason this run felt a lot tougher than it should have, even the 10 minutes of easy jogging at the end. Just one of those less-than-stellar-feeling days.

Thursday: 2 miles easy, 2 miles at 10K pace, 2 miles easy. Not really feeling the two fast miles today, probably because I was too lazy to actually drive to the track and ended up running on concrete again, and my joints were like, really?

Saturday: 3 miles easy, 3 miles at 10K pace. This time I actually did drive to the track, only to find that it was closed due to a soccer game. Fortunately, they do have the .4-mile concrete track on the upper level, which was better than running through the park, but my joints were really, really looking forward to the track. On the bright side, I had a great run except for a weird occasional twinge in my right Achilles tendon, which was freaking me out a little bit. On the not-so-bright side, my left hip is aching something fierce this morning.

Grand Total: 24.2 miles

Next week -- similar stuff, plus a couple of miles of track intervals, hopefully. I'll be out of town Friday through Monday, so it'll be interesting to see what I can get in on those days.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some Decisions, At Last

Clarksburg Country RunSo, after several weeks of wringing my hands over selecting a fall half marathon, I've managed to come to least a few decisions. If everything works out, I'm going to shoot for the Paul Reese Memorial Clarksburg Country Run in Clarksburg, CA on November 13. I know it's not -really- in the Bay Area, but it's got several other cool things going for it that caught my attention.

First, it's a small field (like, under 500 people small), and it's been a long time since I've run a long race that intimate (probably since the Los Gatos Jungle Run back in '08). It's also a PA USATF Championship race, which not only means the course is certified, but also that it's likely to have a less touristy vibe than some of the bigger races. The course is flat, fast, and only has about 10 turns to memorize (really, only 5, though, when you consider that it's an out and back course), and last but not least, is reasonably priced at $55. The other nice thing is that registration doesn't even open until August 15, so there's no rush to sign up, or any price increases to worry about. So yeah. I'm looking forward to that.

I'm entertaining the possibility of running another half closer to home this fall as a tune-up race, maybe in September, depending on my job situation. There's always the possibility of switching to the Half for the Race to the End of Summer in September, which I'm currently planning on running as a 5K. I would rather run a half in early October, but there just aren't as many good local options. Primo's is still on the table for that as well; the good thing about that is that I can put off signing up until the last minute if I need to.

SF Pride RunIn the more immediate future, I'm looking at the SF Pride Run in Golden Gate Park on June 25th, a small 5K / 10K event put on by the SF Frontrunners for $30 a head. It'll be the first in a series of several 10Ks for me this summer, and a nice, low-key one to start off with.

Currently my hip seems to be holding up reasonably well. I spent the last couple of weeks doing mostly slow, comfortable runs at reasonable distances and have just started adding shorter tempo and race-pace runs. By the end of this week, I should be up to around 20-25 miles, and hopefully back up to 30 a week or two after that. In the mean time, I'm trying to be a good person and stick to all my PT stuff so that things continue to fire correctly (which is sometimes easier said than done...).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Picking the "Perfect" Race

race medalsAs I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for this year is to qualify for the Prestige Half Marathon, which means clocking double-digit minutes (ie, under 1:40) in a USATF-certified half. Realistically, this is not a hugely ambitious goal; I used to run 10 & 15 miles at a time at that pace or faster, and when I was just getting back in to racing seriously a couple of years ago, I raced 1:46 in a USATF half with only five weeks of pretty moderate training. Encouraged by this, I registered for another the following October with the intention of breaking 1:40; alas, that race happened to coincide with the worst of my much-lamented hip and tibia injuries, and I ended up mostly limping to the finish in a pretty dismal 1:49.

After four months of physical therapy and a really great April 10K, though, I'm finally ready to give it another shot this fall, meaning I need to pick a race and get myself registered for it while it's still reasonably affordable (as prices tend to go up the closer the race gets). Luckily, there is no shortage of fall half marathons in the Bay Area. Unluckily, I've become so focused on finally closing the book on this long-overdue achievement that I've found myself getting a bit neurotic about choosing the actual race.

First of all, it can't be too pricey. I am still not permanently, full-time employed, so spectacles like the exorbitantly priced (and much over-hyped, in my opinion) Nike Women's Half are out of the question. Second, anything with significant hills like the US Half is out, not because I'm particularly down on hills (I love training on them) but because they definitely mean a slower pace. Third, since I want to use the race as a Prestige qualifier, it has to be run on a USATF certified course (which includes many but certainly not all of them). Finally, I'm looking for a course that's relatively straightforward. Too many turns means memorizing tangents, which I'm terrible at; as a result, I'm almost guaranteed to end up running 13.3 or 13.4 instead of 13.1 (which is why it's unlikely I'll ever run Rock N Roll San Jose again). Secondary concerns include the size of the field (preferably under 5,000 but definitely not over 10,000), the distance from home (gas & hotel rooms significantly increase the cost of a race), and perks (I'm a big fan of technical shirts; how many cheap cotton logo T's does one runner really need?).

Initially, I was all set to run Primo's Run for Education in Danville / San Ramon on Oct. 9. It's cheap ($50), flat, certified, relatively close, and involves not one but TWO performance shirts (if you're one of the first 500 people to sign up, which seems pretty easy given how small a race it is). Finally I decided I should stop procrastinating & just sign up. Before I did, I decided checking the course map wasn't the worst idea anyone ever had, JUST to be sure there was nothing too crazy about it.

Sigh. As perfect as the rest of the race seems, 20-25 turns (depending on how you count) is a bit daunting (San Jose was maybe 22ish, and that was quite stressful).
So now I'm back to square one. On the upside, I do have a whole list of potential fall halfs to re-sort through; on the downside, I always seem to find something wrong with whichever one I'm looking at. I'd love to run the US Half sometime when I'm not trying to set a PR. Dean Karnazez's Silicon Valley Half seems like a cool, small race that's not too far away, but the course isn't certified. Big Sur would be perfect if it weren't a) in Big Sur, and b) $95. (This one is definitely on my list to run at some point, but probably not this year.)

Then again, it could be that I'm just over-thinking all of this (shocking). If I'm really in shape to run double-digit minutes, a few hills or turns shouldn't really matter that much. Part of me thinks maybe this all goes back to the fear I have of paying for a race, training hard all summer, then getting to October and finding I'm not ready to hit the time (or not definitively ready and in a place where a few hills and turns could actually make the difference). This is definitely one of those times when having a coach would come in handy. :P

Thursday, May 5, 2011


It should surprise no one that I am Facebook friends with a wide range of running-related pages/organizations, including Active.com, CoolRunnings, Runner's World, Running Times, Marathon Nation, IRunFar, See Jane Run, etc. Several of them definitely rotate through posting the same articles, and for a while there was one making the rounds called Fear No Run (which some quick Google-Fu quickly turned up). The article discussed common fears that runners sometimes experience as they get closer to a race, things like, "What if I don't finish?" "What if I start too fast?" "What if the terrain is tough?" "What if I slow down?"

These are all pretty foreign concepts to me. I can't remember ever worrying about not finishing a race, or slowing down, or getting beat by the terrain; I plan too well and train too methodically. By the time I'm at the starting line, I am usually able to accurately predict my finishing time to within a couple of minutes, depending on the distance. I know what my race will be, and all I really have do on the day of is execute. In that sense, the race (or time, or whatever) is really won more during the training cycle than it is on the course.

Lately, though, I have had other fears, and those fears are stopping me from signing up for races I want to run. The original plan for the year was to start with a 5K in February, take care of my injuries by March, run a 10K in April fully healthy, run the SF Half in July as a Prestige qualifier, then use the Long Beach International Marathon in October to qualify for Boston. Apparently, my injuries had other plans.
While I really, really can't complain about the 10K I ran in April, I did run it on 50-60% of the training mileage I'd have liked and still didn't manage to get 100% healthy by race day. All the uncertainty around how much I'd be able to run and train in May-June-July had me waffling about SF, and when I thought about the cost vs. the amount of running I figured I'd be able to get in post-injury vs. the likelihood of nailing the time I needed, I finally decided it made more sense to put it off. Instead, the new plan is to spend the summer working on my 10K and running several of those in preparation for really nailing the Half in October or November.

But I haven't signed up for any of them. Not even the local, relatively low stakes 10K in June. I've finally been able to admit to myself that it's because I'm afraid.
I'm afraid that as I dial up the mileage the pain will come back and my training will stall out again, making racing pointless.

I'm afraid of the drain that racing every four to six weeks might have on me and that it might result in overtraining, or undertraining for the half in an effort to avoid overtraining for the 10Ks.

I'm afraid of spending the money for a race and then blowing it by running poorly.

I'm afraid of not being able to run another 10K like the one I ran in Santa Cruz, of training all summer and still not being able to match or beat that time.

I'm afraid that my life will somehow manage to look completely and totally different by October/November, rendering the Half irrelevant. (On the other hand, at $50, the race I'm considering is a pretty cheap Half, and the first 500 people to sign up get nifty long-sleeves performance shirts, so that's sort of helping drive me past my fears.)

As of now, I'm still figuring out how to deal with all this. I may go ahead and register for the Half, but wait on most of the 10Ks until I see how my hip is holding up over the next couple of weeks. The nice thing about the 10Ks is that I don't think they're likely to sell out crazy early, and the price increases are far enough off that I can afford to postpone registering. That's all for now. I'll update in a couple of weeks.