2013 in the Rearview Mirror

Back in January, when the “Year in Review” posts pop up all over the internet, I started thinking about last year. It had felt like an off year. My running was generally iffy. Although I had a strong finish in the Griffith Park Trail Marathon, I DNF’d the Leona Divide 50k. I ran a 5k in June, but beyond that, hadn’t run a single race. I had attempted to train for 2 or 3, but every training plan ended up half-written, and my runs tapered off to 1 or 2 per week. When I went out for long runs, I usually cut them short by 4 or 5 miles and turned around early. Weight workouts went undone.

Riddle me this. Say you have a best friend, whose father died early in the year. Say that she started feeling disinterested in running after that, not completing workouts, didn’t feel like training for anything. Would you say:

“That sounds like it really sucks. You know, it sounds like maybe you just need to be kind to yourself and take a little time off. Want to go get coffee and chat?”

Or:

“Shut up and suck it up. God, you’re such a whiner.”

To be clear, I am both the friend and the responder in this little scenario. And I did not choose the nice response. I spent a year beating myself up for not feeling more “into” running and fitness, and never really thought that maybe my response to a traumatic experience wasn’t going to be “go run a 100 miler” but instead would be “take a little time to chill out and see what happens.”

My dad died in late February of last year. Three weeks after he died, I spoke at his memorial service. Then the next weekend, I ran a marathon. Two weeks after that, I DNF’d my first 50k attempt. I thought my response the rest of the year meant I was just a failure, but I think it meant that I am just a human.

I’ve spent enough time around runners now, both in “real life” and on their blogs, to realize that everyone’s running is affected by their life. Sometimes it means you have a really good year. Sometimes it means that you have a year where you need to take a little down time and gear up for the next one. But the best runners, the ones who truly enjoy the sport and seem to have longevity in it, seem to be the ones who can recognize which type of year they’re in and roll with the punches. They have patience.
It’s shaping up to be a better year. I feel like running again. I feel like getting into the gym. I’m training for a 50k in October. But most of all, I feel like I can more clearly see that sometimes you can’t muscle through and pull off an incredible year. Sometimes you need to let the year be what it wants to be, and set yourself up for the next one.

Runner’s World Is Reading My Mind

Jimmy Dean Freeman  posted a great article on Facebook from Runner’s World listing the 12 most common mistakes that runners make. I tend to open up these articles feeling a little smug, because sometimes the mistakes are things that I’ve managed to fix through trial and error awhile ago. But this list? Ouch. It was like someone followed me around for a week and wrote down everything I did. Thankfully, Leo isn’t as prone to these particular mistakes and tends to call me out on them, but they’re still things I really need to work on.

My worst ones?

Mistake #2: Make all runs “medium” runs. I have this ingrained idea that if I take all that time to put on my running clothes, rinse out and fill my hydration pack, and plan out a route, then I better run it fast! Once I get out on the road, I realize that it’s not really possible for me to run 10, 12, 16, or 20 miles fast…but maybe I can just push the pace pretty hard. “I’ll run it medium,” I think, convinced that I’ve come up with the next big training strategy. Except that I burn out partway through the run, crash, start whining, and generally become an unfun person to be around. It’s been hard for me to retrain my brain and convince it that an easy pace really is a good thing, and that I’m still a “real” runner if I’m running mileage splits that aren’t what I’d want to see in a race.

Mistake #4: Recover inadequately. When I start hitting the last few miles of a long run, the only things I can think about are a shower, and a couch. And if I’ve fueled particularly badly, a footlong Subway meatball sandwich. The thought of a long hot shower gets me through the last couple of miles, and the minute I hit my front door (or a little past it, since I like to run until my Garmin sings its little “you’re finally done running” song) I’m peeling off sweaty running clothes and heading for the shower. Then my butt hits the couch, and I don’t get up for the next few hours. Stretching? I’ll stretch later! Except when I go to stand up, my Achilles tendons have frozen my feet into permanent Barbie position, and my knees feel like someone forgot to oil them. I know that stretching (and delaying the gratification of a hot shower) immediately will make me feel better in the long run, but I often don’t put it into practice.

Mistake #8: Search for the perfect workout. Hi, my name is Jessica and I’m a librarian who can’t stop researching things. Training plans? I’ve read books about them, Googled them, and looked up blogs and followed training recaps through the weeks. Workouts? I’ve tried to find the perfect speed workout, weights workout, cross-training workout, hills workout, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. While I firmly believe that information is a good thing, I forget that a lot of working out is trial and error. If I don’t try one thing at a time, I can’t figure out what’s working for me, and what isn’t  Plus, when I get all fired up and create a new training plan, I tend to overschedule with every.cool.new.thing that I’ve found out, and I get tired just looking at what I’ve decided I’m “supposed” to do in a week. I’ve started trying to make more minimal training plans, that I can expand if I’m feeling good, but it’s hard to resist the siren call of the next betterfastermoreperfect workout.

Head over to Runner’s World to check out the whole article, including some suggested fixes for each mistake…it’s really worth a read!

The End of 2012

Last year, on the first day of 2012, I wrote that if it was true that whatever you did on the first day of the year was an omen for how the rest of your year would go, “I will apparently be rising obscenely early, running, reading funny books, and driving in LA.”

This was mostly true.

Rising Obscenely Early/Running

I had a lot of fun running the Virtual 12athon this year, although my participation was much heavier in the early part of the year. It was a good challenge to get 12 miles in on the 12th of every month, no matter what else was going on. I think my favorite 12athon run of the year was June, where I succeeded in running 12 miles all uphill, while staying up far too late (or early?)

Mile One

Mile One

I also ran a lot of races in 2012, again mostly in the 1st half of the year. Although I enjoyed them all, I’m most proud of my performance in the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon since it was the longest distance I’ve ever run by myself.

Photo Credit: RaceFace Media Race Photography

Photo Credit: RaceFace Media Race Photography

Driving

I did a lot of driving in LA as I finished up my Masters degree from UCLA and graduated in June.

UCLA MLIS Graduation

I also managed to land a fabulous job, and then cut my driving almost to zero by moving right across the street from my work. We are now a no car family, and it will be interesting to see how that works out in 2013.

Reading Funny Books

I don’t know about all funny books, but I read 69 books in 2012 according to Goodreads!

Goodreads 2012 2

2013

And what’s up for 2013?

Well, I’ve started a new running challenge and joined Moon Joggers! Our goal is to run enough miles together to run to the moon in 2013. I’ve pledged 1,000 miles, and I hope that’s a conservative goal rather than a reach. Should be fun!

I’ve also entered my first ultramarathon, and will be running the Leona Divide 50k race in April of this year.

Leona Divide Signup

 

As for goals:

1. Post more frequently! I enjoy reading others weekly wrap-ups and event recaps so much. I want to look back at the end of 2013 and have a great record of the year.

2. Train consistently – not trying to do too much, and not trying to take it too easy.

3. Be willing to be uncomfortable in the short term for gains in the long term – this means getting up early to run before work, and being willing to try longer and harder runs that I’ve done before.

I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and a wonderful 2013. See you in the New Year.

Running in the Red (Softcup Product Review)

Anyone who gets iffy about talk of menstrual issues might want to click the little “x” in the corner of this tab, ’cause we’re going to talk about “that time of the month.”

When I first got my period, there were tons of books, websites, and various informational pamphlets on what to expect, what to do, and what to use. While useful, the “what to use” portion of these was limited to pads, and tampons. And while both are useful, I never really knew about any other options.

When I started running, one of my first questions (beyond, “what shoes do I get?”) was, what do other runners use during their periods? And the answers…well, there wasn’t much information that I could find. I assumed the answer was just tampons, which I used unhappily. They never felt entirely comfortable, and produced way too much chafing for my taste, even after removing that annoying little string.

Then, several months ago, I saw a note on another runner’s blog that she had gotten a sample of a menstrual product called Softcup to review. And she LOVED it, saying it was much more comfortable and convenient to use than tampons or pads. So I asked if I could be included in the sample pool. (Full disclosure: they also offered reimbursement for a race entry fee…but I was honestly more interested in the product than the perks).

A Softcup is a flexible plastic cup that can be worn internally for up to 12 hours. It collects menstrual discharge without leaking (once you get it settled correctly), and is hypoallergenic, non-toxic, and doesn’t mess with your body’s natural pH balance (which helps reduce the risk of yeast infections). They’re approved by the FDA and have been on the market for 10 years.

It comes in a box of 24 (or a box of 2 if you choose the version that can be reused for an entire cycle). Thankfully, some wonderful person decided to package them without cutesy designs or figures of women running around.

From left to right: Softcup, tampon, overnight pad. Note the absence of cutesy designs.

From left to right: Softcup, tampon, overnight pad. Note the absence of cutesy designs.

When you open it, the Softcup seems a little larger than a tampon.

Looks a little large compared to a tampon.

Looks a little large compared to a tampon.

But, once you squeeze the sides of the Softcup for insertion, they’re about the same size.

Tampon vs. Softcup 2I found the Softcup extremely easy to use, very comfortable, and absolutely essential for good runs while on my period. During the LA Marathon, I carried a tampon in my sports bra in case of emergency (which was good, since I ended up being out there for 6 hours). If I’d had a Softcup, I would’ve had nothing to worry about. This is my new favorite product for “that time of the month” and I won’t be going back to pads or tampons any time soon.

I will admit though, that when I first got my sample, it sat in my bathroom cabinet for awhile before I could get up the courage to use it. It just seemed a little too different from what I was used to. Trust me, getting up the courage to try it is a good thing, and I felt pretty stupid for waiting so long.

Check out the Softcup website for tons more information on both use and ordering! And feel free to leave a comment or send an email with any questions you might have for me. I know people often don’t like to talk about these kinds of topics, but I think that the more information we all have, the more we can all find the solutions that work for us. Besides, runners seem to have a higher threshold for squeamish topics than most!

Open to the Experience

For awhile I was having very bad runs. I did almost no running 3 weeks before the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon, and even before that my runs started to become sporadic. It was extremely frustrating. Running has always been a really useful stress relief tactic for me, and to not want to run, and not feel like running, threw my whole mental state into a tailspin.

I wouldn’t feel like going on a run. I’d be grumpy and whine while pulling on my running clothes after work. I’d lay on the bed for awhile and contemplate not running at all. Once I finally got out of the house and my husband asked where I wanted to run, I’d grumpily say “nowhere” or “wherever” and proceed to huff and sigh my way through a run that left me feeling unfulfilled, untrained, and unchallenged.

I realized today what was holding me back. One of the reasons I really love running, is that at the end of a long or difficult run, it strips away everything you have. You can’t have any barriers or walls anymore, because all your energy is being poured into breathing, staying upright, and continuing to move. You become completely open to all of your emotions, and by the end, it feels like you’ve managed to get some sort of control by allowing yourself to be completely broken down.

This is not my normal state. In fact, I prefer to not face emotion at all, and to pretend everything is fine. This is for a myriad of reasons and past experiences, and while I’m doing it, I think everything really is fine. I can believe my own lies.

But I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional things lately. Starting a new job, moving, dealing with my father’s poor health. And it became easier to not deal with those emotions, and to keep them hidden. And the longer I failed to deal with them, the scarier and more menacing they seemed.

So I started to avoid running, knowing subconsciously that pushing myself to my limits would mean facing my avoidance and dealing with all the things that I didn’t want to think about. Which, hilariously, only makes everything else harder to deal with too.

I think the race  finally got me over that hurdle. I feel like running again, and feel like I can think a little better than I have been. And hopefully, next time I feel like laying on the bed rather than putting on my running shoes, I can remember that there are a lot of really good reasons that I should be open to the experience.

Race Recap: Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon

I woke up the morning of the Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon and burst into tears.

Let me back up.

For about 3 weeks before the race, my husband and I had been working on moving to our new apartment. This entailed not only packing, which was difficult since I had a new job and a long commute, but also utility logistics and transportation craziness. My training schedule had fallen by the wayside. WAY by the wayside. More like into a very deep ditch. I hadn’t run in about 3 weeks, and I had done maybe 2 days of weight training during that time. About 3 days before the race, I had managed to go on a 5 mile run around our new neighborhood, but that was it.

The day before the race, I’d gotten a call at work saying that my husband had been in a bike accident. Our car had died on the final day of the move, so a coworker drove me across LA to the hospital that he had been taken to in an ambulance. After 2 CT scans and five hours, they determined he had a broken nose, a broken cheek, a concussion, lots of cuts and bruises, and was released. We got a ride home, ordered some takeout and went to bed, where I proceeded to not sleep well between worrying about his concussion, and listening to him snore (you have not heard loud snoring until you’ve heard broken nose snoring…but obviously someone with a broken nose gets a free pass).

So I was not thrilled on race day morning. I immediately thought about getting my first DNS and staying home. I wondered why I should even bother, since I’d probably do awfully anyway. But I knew that if I didn’t even try, I’d feel worse. And Leo woke up and told me that he felt well enough to come hang out at the finish line. So I got up, put on my running clothes, dithered about taking my new and untried hydration vest (which I decided to wear), and called a cab.

When we got to the race start, it was raining pretty hard. My feet were already soaked through by the time I checked in and found a tent to huddle under with some other runners. The race shirts were fabulous, and I was a little more motivated by the idea that if I didn’t finish, I wouldn’t feel quite as cool wearing the shirt.

Before Friday, my goals had been: (A) Run under 3:00.00; (B) Run under 3:15.00; and (C) Finish. In previous training runs of the course, my fastest time had been 3 hours. Now, after 3 hours of sleep, an ER trip the previous day, sketchy pre-race fueling, and almost none of my favorite running fuels? My A goal had become “finish under 4 hours” while my B goal had become “finish at all.” I didn’t even really see a point in having a C goal.

But it was hard not to get excited milling around the starting area with all of the other runners. Keira Henninger, the race director, really knows how to do a race right. There were coffee, pastries, and Naked Juice samples for all of the runners, check-in and porta-potty lines moved quickly, and there were even enough canopies to shelter everyone from the rain. When we started the race, I was in the back 1/3 of the pack, and focused on not killing myself through the first mile, since it’s mostly uphill. And honestly, from then on, I felt great. I really love competing, I really like running, and I really loved this race.

I was able to stick with a relatively good nutrition plan (alternate salty and sweet at aid stations) and take down plenty of water. I had some great conversations with other runners, including Doug Malewicki (who geezered me right at the end!). I hadn’t remembered to bring the Garmin from home, so I was running blind, but I focused on walking all the uphills with small steps, staying upright, and keeping my running form smooth and focused.

As I came down the final descent, I was able to catch a glimpse of the finish line, and decided to run it in hard (thanks, sprint training!). I felt remarkably good at the finish, so good that when Doug snuck up behind me, we sprinted it in together at full speed.

Photo by Brian Cravens Photography – check him out on Facebook!

After I got my medal, Leo found me with the video camera and told me that I had finished unofficially at 2:35…which I didn’t believe until I looked at the clock myself. 2:35! A PR on that course, and almost a half marathon PR. One of my most well executed runs, on a shot to hell plan with bad nutrition. Who knew?

I think this is one of my favorite races, and one of the best run! Aid stations were fully stocked with water, electrolyte drink, and food of all types. Swag was awesome, and not overtaken by advertisements. Weather was perfect. This will definitely stay on my list of races to do every year. And we were so grateful for Jimmy Dean Freeman and his wife Kate, who gave us a ride home (after a detour for an amazing breakfast). Runners are good people to hang out with.

So apparently, I just need to relax a little more about races and I’ll do fine…right?

Official Finish Time: 2:33.58

Place: 13 out of 29 in the F 20-29 age group, 192 out of 349 runners

Griffith Park Half Marathon Training Plan

Aaaaannndddd….I’m type A. I like training plans.

I enjoyed my summer of free-form running, but I was feeling like I tended to slack on runs because I wanted to “save” energy for some undetermined future run. I also have a weird mental block with runs over about 8 miles, and when Leo asks, “So, how far do you want to run today?” I immediately answer, “Ummmm, 3. Or 4. But not more than 4. Unless I feel great. And then maybe 6.”

So I started putting together a training plan. And because I enjoy Excel spreadsheets and running math, it took forever. But it’s done!

Training Plan – Griffith Park Trail Half Marathon (I don’t know why you’d want this, but feel free! However, I am not a doctor, and have gained all my running knowledge from the internet. Don’t be stupid)

Yeah, it’s color coded.

I threw in a day of swimming (or cross-training) because I’ll start having access to a pool when my new job starts in August. I’ll also have access to lots of big heavy weights, and a track, hence the weights-only days and speedwork. I’m going to try to do all of my other runs at least partially on trails, which is pretty easy around here. I kept the long run mileage relatively high, and added some back-to-backs because I may want to run another marathon in December or January (I will actually run a marathon).

I’ve already noticed that I’m putting more effort into my runs, since I know exactly what’s on the schedule for the next day. Yeah, I could have just sucked it up and pushed myself harder, but I like this way better.

Of course, it’s still all subject to change, based on day availability and whether I feel like running more. We’ll see how it goes! Saturday is already looking fun, there’s a training run on the Griffith Park Trail 10K course, and it’s just far enough from my house that if I get a ride there, I can run home and hit my 10 miles. Runmuting!