Give me my 10s

This was a milestone week for me in many ways, including the fact I finished two 10Ks! One was in miles and the other was in words.

On Sunday I was feeling, as they say, “froggy.” Out of the blue, I declared to myself that Monday I’d run 6 miles for the first time.

This has been a goal of mine for a long time. I know many people who’ve done it, and my personal long was 5.55 miles, from a year ago. I’ve only run five miles or more a handful of times in life, and the 10K/6.2 mile mark seemed scary, quite honestly.

On my days of high energy, I’d think about tackling it, and it just seemed a touch too far. Rather than drown in a sea of what ifs, I generally stopped thinking about it as soon as I felt the telltale adrenaline. I wasn’t sure why it made me nervous, but it did.

But Sunday, I felt up to the challenge. I wasn’t positive I’d actually go for it my next time out, but I knew it wouldn’t be long now. Blue ran with me Monday morning, and when we got to my usual two-mile turnaround point, we decided to go a little bit farther. Then a little more.

After running 6.2 miles on the Greenway.
After running 6.2 miles on the Greenway.

“How do you feel about round numbers?” he asked, taking a peek at his Garmin. I knew we were past two, but I couldn’t gauge how far.

“I like round numbers.”

Eventually we were at an even three, which was guaranteed to get me six by the time we arrived back at the start.

As we passed the 5.55 mile mark, I smiled. I was excited to best my personal long and even more excited to know I was going to finally accomplish a long-standing goal. When we got to the start, we doubled-back a tenth or so and came back to finish the .2.

So that was the second 10k.

The first 10k actually happened the day before, on the 10th of November. And now that I think of it, perhaps the earlier achievement  inspired the latter. After many false starts and absolutely zero words dedicated to the effort, I started my first novel this month.

Well, my second if you include the one I began in middle school (which my peers said was really good!).

In October, I announced my desire to be a romance novelist (among other things), and November, National Novel Writing Month, seemed like a great time to start. I’ve long been familiar with NaNoWriMo, the project which encourages authors to write a draft of a novel (50,000 words) in 30 days. Now, I don’t believe in gimmicks. And because that seemed irrational and unsustainable, I always rejected the project outright. But this month, on the first day of NaNoWriMo, I decided two things:

  1. If I only participated a few days, I would’ve at least gotten started on my novel. That’s more than I can say for the past several years of thinking about it.
  2. Who cares about that 50k goal? I could set whatever goal I wanted. One thousand words a day seemed doable, and again, if some days I couldn’t hit it, see number 1.

So I started. And on the 10th day I hit my 10,000th word. My first 10k!

In honor of my 10s this week, a word from B Scott:

On Holding Back

Today’s run surprised me. It had been over a week since my last 4-mile run. Generally speaking, a couple of rest days are good for me. But too many means I start to lose a level of fitness.

It’s not to say I forewent exercise completely. In addition to rest days, I had a couple of bouts of weather-induced aerobics. I also threw two short runs in the mix. In a hotel and pressed for time two mornings in a row, the treadmill beckoned. I’ve mentioned more than once how much I enjoy outdoor running and dislike treadmills, but there was no safe place to run nearby. It was the ‘mill or nothing.

No Bueno
Let’s get right to it and say both of those runs sucked. I never felt as though I could get a good breathing rhythm. I never locked into an ideal stride. I just wasn’t comfortable. Both days, two miles of running felt like five or six miles worth of work.

The past couple of mornings, I looked forward to getting back outside. Yesterday, was a disappointment. Mild fall temps were on my side, but the pouring rain was not. I decided to get on with the remainder of my day, foregoing exercise altogether.

The Greenway this morning.
The Greenway this morning.

Doubting Thomasina
Today, it was cooler than ideal, but clear, and I was determined to go get my miles. But get this: I was worried. Because my recent runs were short and difficult, I wondered if I had what it took to eek out my mileage. Some Saturdays I toy with the idea of a “long run” (five miles or more), but today my standard four felt like a stretch.

I wondered just how long it would take me to finish. How would I feel at the halfway point? Would I have to walk it out for large stretches of the trail? Would I just stop at a mile and turn around? The questions loomed. This level of uncertainty about a run is unusual for me, but there it was. I stalled a bit, and went out anyway.

When I got to the Greenway, I could tell immediately the run was going to go well after all. I easily hit my warm up pace and found a comfortable stride within the first 1/2 mile. It felt nice to open up and push the tempo. Being outdoors again was glorious, despite the cool air. Despite the damp leaves clinging to the trail.

I felt great, like the in shape runner I am.

Getting up to Snuff
I’ve run intervals a few times this year. Before now, I’d never tried them out. It’s true they help with speed, and I’ve come to realize they build my confidence as well. I know I’m reasonably fast for super short distances – I was a sprinter in my day. A few years at 3+ miles per run, I’ve now built some endurance, but often I’m scared to push my pace. I simply don’t want to peter out.

But intervals are designed for you to push, then rest. And really, I’m not racing anyone. I’m building my own fitness. Who cares if I need to rest at various points during my run anyway, intervals or not? And just because I got comfortable holding a steady pace at four miles, didn’t mean I needed to remain comfortable. That can easily lead to stagnation. And to some degree, it had.

Movie Lessons
In recent runs, I’ve found myself thinking about all of this while also mulling a scene from Gattaca (spoiler alert). In it, brothers Anton and Vincent are swimming. Ever since they were children, they tested each other to see who had the endurance to swim the farthest in open waters. Anton always won.

An older wiser Vincent finally stopped living down to everyone else’s expectations, and resolved to give life his all. In a confrontation between the two, they decide to swim one last time. Right when Vincent would’ve cried mercy, he didn’t. This time, Anton was the one who tapped out. He screamed at Vincent demanding to know how he was accomplishing this. How was he pushing beyond well-established boundaries? Said Vincent,

I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent gave it his all. He held nothing back. He learned to overcome his limiting beliefs about himself. In the end, he was victorious.

Holding Back
Often, I hold back when running. I get comfortable with a certain pace. Knowing I can push it, but will have to recover later, I don’t take chances. Steady state. But with the introduction of intervals, I saw my fitness increasing, and it became easier for me to see what would happen if I push it. I’d go faster! And yes, I may have to rest a bit, but I’d go faster for longer the next time.

So today, out on the open path, no music, no pressure, just me, I ran. And when it felt good, I ran faster. And when I thought I’d been running a good distance at a good pace, I checked in. Do I really need to rest right now, or am I holding back? And I’d rest or run accordingly.

It was a great run. Much faster than usual the first two miles, and faster in stretches toward the end. I ran my fastest overall pace for this distance.

I surprised myself. I didn’t hold back. The race was only with myself, and I won.

Make it non-negotiable

Today is National Women’s Health & Fitness Day. People who have met me via social media and in real life, know I make #templebuilding a priority. The days I get up and exercise in the morning are the days I’m off to a fabulous start. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case.

I’m a self-described athlete. I ran and biked like most kids in my neighborhood growing up. I was a gymnast in elementary school.  A cheerleader in middle school. I danced (band auxiliary) and sprinted (varsity track) in high school.

I engaged in fewer structured activities in college, although I danced (partied) several hours a week which definitely counts for something. After college I had an on again, off again love affair with local gyms.  I stocked up on exercise DVDs for the off again moments. Even as an elementary school teacher, I woke up early enough to exercise, chant, drive 30 minutes and still get to work by 7 a.m. I prioritized prayer, sleep, laughter, water and movement. They kept me in good spirits and good health.

When I became a full time doctoral student in 2007, things changed. I found myself a recluse when class wasn’t in session. All the time I read and wrote papers, thought about theory, drank coffee and ate McDonald’s. Seriously. All the time.

Me: May 28, 2012 after exercising at home.
Me: May 28, 2012 after exercising at home.

A few months in, the side effects from that “food” and the disgust from Super Size Me, spurred me to choose healthier meals.

(Sidebar: I didn’t eat fast food for a year after that, and with the exception of two iced coffees in 2007, I’ve never consumed McDonald’s again). I was no longer exercising, because who had the time? But I knew my body was ready to move again.

Despite my desire to exercise, it was a struggle at first.  I had to force myself to stop reading or writing to go for a walk or a short run. I argued with myself – one more page, or one more paragraph. Then another. I’d panic as I watched the setting sun, realizing it was now or never.  I’d throw on some fitness gear and get moving.

That happened many times, until:

  • I realized I always felt better after exercise, and
  • I scheduled it. I made it non-negotiable.

The very first time I put an exercise appointment on my calendar, my dissertation advisor wanted a meeting. I had to break it to her, “No, I’m not available at that time. I’m exercising then.” She, a woman very much into self-care, supported me and offered several other times even with her busy schedule. I understood then, to the degree I was serious about taking care of myself, I could figure out the rest.

And so I set my exercise schedule daily. I incorporated strength training, swim lessons, and running, all depending on my class and homework schedule. I treated exercise like any other important appointment. I was definitely going to attend, so I had to plan the rest of my day around it.

Over time it has become less of an appointment and more of a way of life. Sometimes this means running on treadmills when I’d rather be outside. Sometimes it means a 15-minute high intensity interval workout instead an hour of strength or cardio. Sometimes it means evening workouts although I definitely prefer sunrise exercise.

The point is, I’ve made it a part of my regular routine. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

Happy temple building!

Six years ago

Once upon a time, I drafted some ideas for a story. I wrote a few pieces as the characters began introducing themselves to me. I’ve never edited nor even really revisited those pieces in all these years. I simply wrote them and went on with life – which was graduate school at the time. That’s my disclaimer. This is one ’em. *shivers*
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Laysha stands on the damp grass, watching, waiting, eyes trained on Casey. Though the fans gathered are talking and laughing, she hears nothing. She barely feels Yogi’s chin against her shoulder. Yogi’s voice, miles away, registers “Four hundred. Your girl’s up.” ‘Laysha nods, distractedly. “Umm-hmm” she breathes. She thinks to herself, This should be good. See what she’s really made of. Hmmm. They put her in the right place. Slow poke lane way on the outside.

The shot rings out interrupting ‘Laysha from her thoughts. Arms crossed, her eyes follow Casey who quickly gets up to full speed. Casey rounds the first curve looking pretty even with the other girls. Her slight forward lean and wide, quick stride are almost regal. She’s running on her toes the way many sprinters do. It’s obvious she has some skills, but this isn’t your ordinary sprint.

She’s startin’ off kinda fast. Too fast really. I know she can’t keep that pace.

Into the first stretch, Casey is still striding, but losing pace with the faster, more experienced runners.

“Dang,” says Yogi, under her breath. ‘Laysha gently shakes away. Yogi, fully engaged, does not mind the brush off.

Dang is right. The 400 is no joke. She’s trying, gotta give her credit for that.

Casey is still at it, but all grace is gone. Three quarters around the track, she is demolished. Her feet pound the cushioned track as though each slap will somehow keep her going. Her chin in her chest, her eyes in her forehead, her face clouded with determination and pain. Entering the back curve she’s been left behind. Yanking her arms forward and back, her face is a grimace. She desperately gasps for breath, and silently prays for energy. She’s where no runner wants to be, but where every runner ends up sooner or later – nearing the end of the race with the bear on her back.

Engrossed, ‘Laysha thinks she hears Yogi, “Don’t give up Case!” She steals a glance to see Yogi clapping, waving her arms like she’s flagging the last bus of the night.

No longer able to feign disinterest, ‘Laysha leans forward shaking her head, “The bear really sucks,” she whispers. She realizes her heart is racing. She nibbles on her thumb then snatches it away. She might be a trooper Laysha concedes. She sucks in a deep breath, relaxing her shoulders while nibbling again on her thumb. She strolls toward the finish, apparently not caring how the race turns out. The other girls are staring at Casey, cheering her on like good teammates should. ‘Laysha keeps walking, peeking over her shoulder to see the grueling end. Just finish, she thinks. Just finish, her thumbnail starting to splinter under her teeth.

The race is over. Casey, last, out of breath, red from exertion and running in slow motion, finally passes everyone. She leans over the finish, almost toppling forward. She comes to an abrupt halt, clutching the stitch in her side and burying her face in her knees. “No, keep going!” Someone yells. “Jog it out Casey, don’t just stop!” She musters the strength to stand up straight and start moving again. Exhausted yet embarrassed, she is grateful for a reason to move a few feet away.

‘Laysha finds herself in step with Casey, whose arms are now skyward, beckoning air to once again fill her burning lungs. Body cooling from the ordeal, a few drops of sweat start to slide down her temples. Casey suddenly notices ‘Laysha on her left. Too winded to care, she whips her face back forward. Breathing is the only thing that matters right now. Breathing and mourning. Warm tears begin to slide down her damp face.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think.” No hint of the usual sarcasm. No snide remark. “Everyone knows that’s the hardest race. You held your ground. Keep your head up.”

Just as quickly as she appeared, ‘Laysha left Casey’s side, leaving the still breathless runner to consider the race, the team, and most of all the enigma ‘Laysha had just shown herself to be.

Getting back to great

Some runs are just good runs. This morning’s run definitely goes in the books as a good one.  Why?

I found a new route that works well.
Because I’m in a new area, I’m mapping and remapping routes as I run. This morning I found a couple of good stretches without too many turns to memorize. Moreover, today’s route  didn’t take me over too many ginormous hills nor past too many dilapidated houses.

I ran 4 miles. Again.
Although I used to run 4 miles 3-4 times a week, it was all on relatively flat land. I’m building the stamina to run 4 miles on hilly terrain. Although I’ve hit the magic number a couple of times this summer, it’s my first time this year running 4 miles twice in one week. Progress!

I ran hard.
Today’s run was not for punks. I’m no speed demon, but based on my current level of fitness, I really pushed it. I opened up my stride and maintained a nice pace for decent stretches. It felt good to work hard without feeling tired or run down. It’s refreshing to remember what athleticism feels like: VICTORY (that’s my name, by the way).

I welcomed the sun goddess.
Today, during a short breather, I said good morning to the sun (yes, out loud). One of my favorite things about running is the opportunity to be outside and connect with nature. This is especially awesome when I run from first light to sunrise and can see the sky warming as we welcome the morning.  Since I’ve moved away from the Sunshine State, I’ve had to work a little harder to catch the sun’s beauty, but two of my new routes allow just that.

All in all, this morning’s run was fabulous. I’ve been eating more mindfully and resting as much as possible the past couple of days. I’m starting to feel more like myself.  I’m feeling good and getting back to great. Coincidence?

No such thing. \o/

When more is better

Distance running didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a sprinter, and have been ever since I outran the neighborhood boys back in grade school. In my 20s, I tried distance running a few times, but it never really stuck. I rarely felt as if I could breathe very well, and my legs always itched. I figured out the solution to both of those things years later – a histamine blocker and pacing.

Yesterday’s run was a good one. This route had manageable hills and after 3 miles, I had energy left, but no time.

It takes me anywhere from a half mile to a mile to get warmed up. During those first 5-10 minutes, I’m looking for a comfortable stride length and finding a good cadence for my breathing. Around mile two I get in a groove. I relax and settle into the run, especially if it’s a familiar route.

The third mile varies. Depending on my level of fitness, I experience fatigue during the first half. I slow down a bit, especially if I was pushing things earlier. Sometimes I start wondering how much longer I have before I arrive at home base.

Unless I’m short on sleep or fuel, I shake it off by the second half of the mile. By then, I’ve gotten my breath back, my legs back, and I’m rocking out. Yet for years, that was the end of the run. Eventually I discovered the magic of mile four.

That fourth mile? That’s the sweet spot. I’m warm. Breaths come and go in energizing rhythms. My stride opens. I’m pushing it until I cross the finish line. The endorphins are in full effect. Life is great.

These days I’m back at 3 because I’m finding new routes and running hilly terrain for the first time. It’s a tough slog, really. Training on hills is more than a notion.  I’m looking forward to developing my fitness, and eventually finding 4 sweet again. After that? We’ll see.

On tunnel vision and hidden lakes

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The hidden lake.

I’m a runner.  After a several month hiatus, I ran a few miles in June of this year, and began running in earnest in July. I was serious about getting back to it. I had stopped earlier in the year due to spending an inordinate amount of time in hotels.

I’m an outdoor runner. Treadmills, while great for me as a new runner, simply irritate me now. Seriously. Staring at wall? Or talking heads? Or those red snaking lights on the console? No.

For some, running is part of a serious training regimen. They’re preparing for races and other sports. Me? I just love the endorphins. Exercising is how I get going in the morning. Many hotels are not situated near runner-friendly territory, and I’m not so dedicated to running that I’ll regularly subject myself to worn-out treadmills and the fight to find a free one.

And so here I was, in a hotel for two nights. As I unloaded my car to check-in, a quick glance confirmed there wasn’t a nice stretch of sidewalk/running path nearby. I’d brought my exercise DVDs so I was set. But I knew I wanted to run. Determined to keep my newly established momentum, I resolved to beat the morning rush and *gag* get my morning miles in on the treadmill.

I made it down to the fitness center shortly after 5:30 a.m. I found a working treadmill and got my miles done.

I was proud of myself. And why not? I had a goal and I was well on my way to reaching it. The next day, I stuck to my DVDs. Endorphins flooded my body and all was well. That is until I noticed the sunrise and took a good look out of my window.

Lo and behold, I spotted a sidewalk! Not just any sidewalk, but one alongside a lake! A picturesque, runnable path. And I had missed my opportunity to complete a beautiful outdoor run. Twice.

I couldn’t believe it. I was so focused on “sucking it up” and “sticking to the plan,” that I allowed my previous experiences with other hotels to dampen my curiosity and sense of exploration. I barely looked around before I determined I had no other options. I didn’t even inquire, even though I’d considered doing just that. All because I had convinced myself that what was  visible was all there was.

Boy, was I wrong.

That taught me something. It’s great to have a goal in mind and a serious commitment to stick to it. And it’s important to have clear focus so I can dismiss distractions and detractors. But equally important is maintaining an open mind and open heart to be able to explore options that may not be visible to the naked eye. It’s a balancing act. But I’m learning to live in the spaces between focused intention and seeking spirit.

Don’t allow your tunnel vision to block your view of the lake.