Monday, June 8, 2015

It's My Birthday And I'll Blog If I Want To

I am the worst blogger ever. I started this blog about 3 years ago, when I was encouraged by a lot of positive response to my weight loss and running, and I wanted to talk about my experience for various reasons. One, to encourage those who were asking questions about what I was doing and how I had achieved my goals. Two, to tell funny stories about my experiences so that people wouldn't think of weight loss and exercise as such a boring, tedious pursuit. And three, to get attention. Because I like attention. Truth. At first it was easy to write, because everything I wrote about was new: how I had started, what I had done. I wrote about my first races, my early running experiences, my 100 pounds of weight loss. But as I went along, it seemed like I had no new material. Once in awhile I would get some inspiration, but the problem I then faced was that I have a big huge brain full of words. I am verbose. It seems that when I write, I use 10 words for every one word that normal people write. My posts get longer and longer as more stuff falls out of my brain. And I guess most people don't have the patience to read that many words about what my run down the concrete path on the beach was like. So I kind of bailed on my blog, simply because nobody was reading it. But I've missed writing it. I guess I feel like I still have stories to tell. I just have to figure out how to keep from over-writing and over-sharing. So here goes.

So today I turned 41. A year ago I was celebrating in style for my big 4-0. My dearest and best that live in Southern California came out and celebrated with me, a party I still cherish in my heart a year later. This year on the other hand, it's a regular day in the office. We are still paying for last year's festivities...

I have a lot to be thankful for, but I also know that this is a time of taking stock and regrouping. I am thankful that for the most part, I have maintained an overall healthy lifestyle. I have maintained a fitness routine that includes an average of running about 20 miles a week. I enjoy getting out for a hike when I can get a whole day off because it's too far to drive to the trails to make it just a few hours. I got a bike but don't ride it very often because I keep forgetting I have it. It's currently in the back yard with vines growing on it.

So I can see that four years into what I call my "fitness journey", I have a lot of good experience to draw on, but I also still have a lot of work to do. I have an endurance level that still surprises me on a daily basis. I have 11 half marathons and 4 full marathons under my belt, and know that there are still more to come. I have covered over 3000 miles total of running documented with tracking apps in the last 3 years, not counting the distance I covered in the first year before I tracked my miles. But I'm facing some challenges now. I noticed some months back that I was experiencing a lot of fatigue, and my pace while running has slowed significantly. I went from running 11 minute miles relatively easily just a year ago, to struggling to keep my pace in the low 12's over the same distance now. When I run, I feel little to no pain. But I can't go faster.

If I had reached 12 minute miles and plateaued there, I would be fine with that. When I started out, I could barely make a 20 minute mile, so 12 minute miles are a huge improvement. But because I've done 11 minutes miles and a few times even faster, I am not satisfied with my current pace. However, no matter how much I want to run faster, I physically cannot do it, and it's making me nuts.  So of course the issue is to getting to the bottom of the problem, and it is simply that the issue is my bottom. And my gut. And my thighs. And so on.

I have never been skinny. Even at my lowest weight I was still heavy. But over the last year or so, I've lost some ground in the weight loss battle, and that has manifested in slowing down my running. Now, the funny thing is, when I look in the mirror, I don't see a fat or unattractive woman. This is not about looks by any means. What this is about is that I fell in love with this stupid sport, and I set goals that I still haven't met. I want it so bad I can taste it. The problem is, I also love food so much I can taste it. And I do. More often than I should.

So now this blog is going to take a different turn. I'm at a new point in my fitness journey. I'm not a newbie with a whole bunch of new experiences to talk about. I'm a 4 year veteran in the health and fitness experience. And I am determined to keep fighting the battle to get the pounds off my body that prevent me from making my goals. What are my goals? I dunno. A half marathon with less than 11 min mile pace. I know that is possible because my PR for half marathon is 2 hours, 26 minutes, and to make my goal I just have to take a few minutes off that time. Another goal is a marathon finish time under 6 hours. Not really a big goal in the grand scheme of marathons where a Boston Marathon qualifying time for a woman in my age group is 3 hours and 45 minutes. That's not gonna happen. But I believe the sub 6 hours is possible because I ran a 6 hour 32 minute marathon where I lost 24 minutes waiting in Port A Potty lines on the course. If  I hadn't had the huge cup of coffee before the race, I would have a marathon PR of 6 hours 8 minutes. Don't laugh. That's the agony of defeat they were talking about in the 80's on ABC's Wide World Of Sports. I have a lot more goals, and I am determined to go after them and not give up, saying I've made enough progress and it's good enough when I know I still have it in me to do better if I keep fighting for it.

So now instead of writing about how exciting my new experiences are, I will write about my progress in regards to setting and meeting goals. Instead of reporting on pounds lost, I will report on pace improvements and other technical stuff. It might seem kind of boring to non-runners, but really I have to accept that I write this mostly for myself. It's cathartic to see it all written out, and when I go back and read my old posts I always remember things I had forgotten that help me get back on track.  I mentioned at the beginning that I like attention, but in reality I don't want too much attention. I don't want to be famous as a "blogger" because the internet is full of trolls and I don't want to waste too much time deflecting their stupid brainless comments. Not that I'd ever get that famous, I'm just saying.

So far 41 seems to fit me well. I'll wear it proudly and do my best to wear it out so that when 42 comes a year from now I'll know I didn't waste it. I am looking forward to but also dreading the battles I will face, but I am confident I am equipped to do everything I set out to do, and I just have to take hold of that and go for it. So that's my post for today. As usual, thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more in the days ahead.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Marathon: Round Three

As I begin this post, it's been a day since I finished my third full marathon. It's been a long time coming, I trained for it and planned for it the way I did the first two times around, and looked forward to it, thinking this was going to be the one that beat the first two. I always have hopes for my races, some kind of goal, and I hoped this time around it was going to be "third time's the charm". This year's Long Beach Marathon was supposed to be my PR race, my sub 6-hour marathon. I imagined I would find my triumph running on home turf with a nearly pancake flat course and cool fall weather. But it didn't really turn out that way, in fact, it was the slowest and most difficult of the three marathons I've run.

The thing is, I can't let myself ever think of any race finish as a failure. I am disappointed by yesterday's time results, but the fact remains, I got the same shirt and medal as all the other finishers. And as I go back to think about the race, a lot of things happened to me that will stay with me for a long while. I made memories, learned new things about myself, and experienced both highs and lows. I want to share my experience with you that I had yesterday, maybe some are curious about what it's like to run in a marathon or what happens during a marathon. What goes through a person's mind or how it feels. What can go right and what can go wrong. I'm writing this because the details are so sharp and firmly ingrained in my mind that I can't help but write them down. I always joke that this blog is a place that I put the things that are in my brain, but it's the truth. I often have ideas, but if I wait to write them, the memories fade and then later when I try to write them down I forget what I had seen so vividly before. So here is my one-day fresh recap of my race. I hope you get something out of following me on this journey, whether you encourage me to keep going, are encouraged to try something difficult in your own life, or even decide you could try to do this very thing or something like it for yourself. Read on.

The days before this race were uneventful. I had a lot of tough training runs this season, but I ran a glorious 22 miler 3 weeks before the race. My timing and cadence were perfect and I met the time goal I had set without any trouble, and had no trouble with recovery afterward. I felt like I was set up to make the previously mentioned goal of a sub 6-hour marathon. All I had to do was taper (reduce mileage), eat well, hydrate and carb load, which is what I did. I felt I was ready to make my goal and all signs pointed to success. So as I came to the starting line yesterday, I had confidence that I was going to do what I set out to do, all I had to do was repeat what I did three weeks ago, and just add 4.2 miles on top. But a marathon is a unique type of race. It is so long that there are any number of things that can go wrong, with so many variables that even the best of conditions and training can't predict the outcome, which is what I found out yesterday morning.

The race began at 6am. We all lined up, sang the national anthem, and we were off. It started out as it always does, with the crowd all crushed together and everyone jockeying for position. I had put myself at the back of the pack with the rest of the "slowpokes", but I was still being passed on both sides by many people. I made myself keep my pace down to conserve energy but a little bit of pride in me wanted to pick things up and keep up with the pack. A woman speed walked past me about a mile in, wearing a purple sequined sparkle skirt, swiveling her hips and snapping the skirt left and right. It was an almost ludicrous vision, I thought I shouldn't be letting that pass me, but I gritted my teeth, thinking when I had gotten enough miles in at the slow pace I would be able to speed up, catch up to and pass her. But I never saw her again.

I activated my GPS tracking watch at the beginning of the race, but I didn't check my times for each lap, I just wanted to record the course for my mileage tracking site. So I just ran according to my breathing and how I felt. For the most part I felt good, breathing, pace, cadence and all systems were go, nice and slow. For the first 10 miles or so I enjoyed the run, listening to worship music, and laughing as the first round of half marathoners passed me as though I was standing still. I joked to myself that it was probably the only time I'd ever share the same road as the elite runners.

I think it was around mile 12 that I started to think I might be in a little trouble. My legs had begun to fatigue despite the reduced pace. At that point I didn't want to get worried, there was nothing I could do to fix that. I've run on tired legs before, it's not fun but I can do it. If that is the only issue, it's not a big deal. But as the miles passed, more annoying little things began to pop up here and there, and from there on out things got worse.

A few miles later I noticed a pain in one of my toes. I remembered the night before when I had inadvertently stubbed my toe and bruised it a bit. I had put a band aid over it, but I could still feel the tender spot rubbing against my shoe. Again, nothing I could do to fix that, I just kept going. As each mile passed, more and more of these minor "annoyances" began to pile up. If it was just one or two of these things it wouldn't have been a problem, but it seemed like everything that could go wrong was going wrong. I don't want to make this a TMI post, so I will leave the specifics up to your imagination, but just imagine if you had 4 or 5 uncomfortable things going on at the same time how it would feel, and then add running to the mix of that. Not fun. To top things off, the sun came out when I still had 8 miles to go. Up until then the sun had been hidden behind the clouds, nice and cool, but as soon as it came out, things started to heat up. I was still able to run for about a mile after that, but I always run slower in full sun than under cloud cover, and I realized I had slowed down so much that people who were walking were passing me. It seemed silly to run then, so I started to walk too.

At mile 20 I began to have a battle of wills with myself. I was hot and tired and the pain in my legs was becoming more difficult to bear. I tried to remember experiencing this in my two previous marathons but I had to concede that this was something new for me. I'd had the fatigue and pain for sure, but usually not until the last couple of miles. I had been able to push through those two miles knowing that the end was close, but with more than six miles to go I had a hard time imagining being able to put up with that amount of pain for that long. I wasn't throwing in the towel yet, but I wondered really if I would be able to hang in that long under that condition. Up until then, the things that had been happening to me were mostly negative and frustrating, and I was thinking that things were just going to get worse, but a funny thing happened. As soon as I started feeling like I might give up, the annoying things that were happening to me were overshadowed as good things began to happen that lifted my spirits and gave me a "second wind". At this point there was no going faster for me, but getting to the finish line remained within my reach.

I had turned off my music long before reaching this point. I really can only listen to music for a few hours before the sounds begin to mash together and stop making sense. I wrapped the earphone cord around my arm and I turned back on my phone notifications on in case anyone wanted to reach me. It was just past mile 20 when I got a text from my boss. He's the head of my department at work, and I'm his admin. He had run the half marathon, and now he and some of our other co-workers who had also run the half and full marathons were wondering how I was doing. I texted back that I still had a long way to go, and he texted back that they would all wait for me to finish no matter how long it took, and encouraged me to do my best. I vowed that I would, and kept going.

After a little while, another speed-walking woman passed me. She saw me massaging the backs of my legs and asked if I was ok, and when I told her about my tight muscles she pulled out a bottle of muscle cooling spray and offered me some, which I accepted. It might seem strange to think of this exchange between two complete strangers, but between runners in a race there is really a family atmosphere, we often encourage one another as if we are long time friends. It's a wonderful thing and I really appreciated the woman sharing her supplies with me. She continued on her way and so did I.

Next came a man who was also speed walking. At this point I wasn't speed walking or doing anything remotely speedy. He chatted with me for a little while, we joked about our slowness and encouraged each other with the slow runners' unofficial motto: "it doesn't matter when you get there, as long as you get there!" He headed on his way but I felt better and kept going.

At mile 23 I passed a band playing rap music. I'm not a fan of rap but when I heard the lyrics I was encouraged, as they were Christians. I don't know if the song is a popular one or one of their original compositions, but it was an uplifting song about God's power in our lives. It encouraged my spirit and I picked up my pace for a ways after that.

The last hill on the course was halfway between mile 23 and 24. I was headed up that hill and there was a family there outside their house with a table set up. A little blonde boy about 6 or 7 years old came out with a tray of water filled cups and said, "here, have some ice-cold water." I took some and I asked if they would fill my water bottle too, and they took it and put ice water in it. It felt so good in that heat and I thanked them and went on my way. I know they were there all day for all the runners in the race and greeted them all with the same respect and helpful attitude, it was such a nice gesture, how they gave of their time and resources, it got me thinking thinking about how people can be giving and caring in this world, even when it seems most of the time to be selfish. That thought got me to the next mile marker.

Mile 24 was the point when I knew I was going to be ok. I was still walking slow and feeling all the pain, but the difference was that I knew I was in the home stretch. It was hot and icky but I just stayed focused, one foot in front of the other. I began to hear a loudspeaker behind me playing Johnny Cash songs. As "I've Been Everywhere" got louder and louder, I was passed by my former co-worker Salvador who is now an employee of RoadRunner Sports in Torrance, which happens to also be where I buy my running shoes and gear. He was running the full marathon while pushing a stroller with a boom box and a cooler full of supplies for runners. I had passed him earlier handing out drinks to other runners, now he handed me an ice-cold miniature can of Coke with a smile, saying "you're doing fine" as he passed me. I took it and drank it gladly as he passed by.

At this point in the race, I was alone most of the time. After awhile I noticed there was a young Asian man who was keeping pace with me. He seemed to be exhausted and looked like he didn't want to be there. As we passed the Mile 25 sign he was walking right next to me. I pointed it out and told him, "We are almost there! Look!" He smiled and started to talk to me. He told me that he was a senior in high school and his whole family had signed up for the marathon, and his dad had registered him without asking him and not training him. He had never run more than 10 miles before the race. Now they had all left him behind, I was the only one around other than him. I told him it was going to be ok, that he had made it that far and he was going to make it the last mile. We chatted for a while, he cheered up a bit, then two older men came up to him from the side of the road, it was his family coming to look for him after realizing he'd been left behind. They stayed with him after that, and I realized I was about half a mile from the finish line.

I got another text from my boss. He was waiting for me at the final turn before the finish line. I started to run again, not caring if it hurt or whatever. I just wanted to get this thing over with. As I approached the corner before the final stretch, my boss came out and ran alongside me for the last 200 meters. On the sidelines, my other co-workers cheered and clapped from behind the fence as I did the patented "runner's final stretch finish line sprint". I crossed the finish line as the clock struck 6 hours and 50 minutes gun time. I didn't care at that point what the clock said, I was just glad to be there. A teenage girl put a medal around my neck and more teenagers handed me bottled water and a bag of snacks as I passed through the chute. I met my co-workers in the tent with free food and booze. I had missed the food but there was plenty of booze left and orange juice. I let them enjoy the booze and I drank a couple glasses of OJ. We sat around and chatted about our races, posed for pictures, posted them on Facebook, and then went our separate ways. It was a good afternoon.

I got the same medal as the 4th through 2000-something place finishers got...

I felt good all yesterday afternoon and last night. I didn't experience anything alarming like when I fainted at home in the shower after the LA Marathon. I removed my shoes, clothes and gear and discovered some new chafing and blisters I hadn't gotten before in previous races, but it's nothing a few band-aids can't help. At least I still have all my toenails. My legs feel great, which is funny to me considering what a big pain they were to me in the race yesterday. It seems to me they should hurt more now because they hurt more then, but I'm sure as heck not going to complain about less pain. This is even funnier to me because after my race yesterday I went to work and spent 5 hours at my desk in the chair from hell that makes my legs and back hurt even on regular non-running days, and then I spent the night on my bed with the bent mattress that usually leaves my back in spasms for several days post-race. As of right now, I just have a little bit of soreness in my legs and no problem with my back. I can bend, squat, walk up stairs and the like without much pain. It's just so weird to me that my race went so much worse than those previous, but my recovery is the opposite, it's much better than the first two. Eh. There's always an upside.

So what next? Logic might dictate that I should give up on the marathon. While I always improved my times in shorter race distances with subsequent attempts, my three marathon experiences have been the opposite, I've gotten slower each time out. But being a human being, especially a stubborn one, I will not give up on the marathon. I love races of all distances, and anything up to a half marathon race is fun for me. These are races I know that I can run without resting, races that will not cause me to spend a week recovering before I can run again, races I can put on silly outfits and pose for the photographers on the course. But the marathon is a different animal.

Marathon is a race that takes everything you've got. It's a race that stomps on you, hurts you and doesn't care about your feelings. It takes no prisoners. There is no easy marathon. There is no fun marathon. Marathons suck. So why do them? Everyone who runs a marathon has a different reason. Common thought is that no one is forced to do a marathon, though the boy I talked to on the course was there because his dad made him do it. But that is the exception. If you go on marathon or running pages on social media you will find lots of examples of people's reasons for doing them. They are raising money for a cause. They are trying to beat their personal record. They want to see what is possible for themselves. And many more. My own reason is simply, because I can. I couldn't before, and now I can. Because it's such a huge divide between who I was before and who I am now. Because it's hard and painful and difficult. A marathon forces you to think big. It forces you to dig deep, and find every last bit of your strength and resolve, even bits that you didn't know you had. For me, it helps me build my faith in God. I spent a lot of time talking to God and singing songs yesterday out on that course. It took my mind off the frustration and pain and kept me going forward when I was in the worst of it. The marathon is something that gives me a goal, something to focus on, strive for and aspire to, knowing that the journey to get there will be just as beneficial as the destination.

I have hope that I will conquer the marathon and make my goal eventually. I won't be able to control the when and how, all I can do is train the best I can, take care of myself, and study more about what other runners do in their marathons. I'll sign up again, taking into consideration what I've already learned and trying new things to find the best fit for me, and one day the conditions will be right, and I'll make that goal. Until then I will always respect the marathon, and be thankful for all I have learned in my training and running the races themselves. It's a long road, but so long as I keep going, I'll make that finish line, no matter how long it takes.

Thanks again for reading,
Stay tuned for round four!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Green Eyed Medal Envy Monster

Hello readers! Thank you for joining me here for the latest collection of stuff that came out of my brain. Let's get on with it now. For those of you who read anything I write, you have seen that  many if not most of the posts I write have to do with running. In fact, I post frequently about the experiences I have that involve running using different media outlets, and while I do use this blog for that purpose, it's been less and less because I have a tendency to get caught up in writing and make it way too long. Those who have seen my multi-paragraph Facebook and Instagram posts know what I'm talking about. That's why I don't tweet. 160 character posts are not in my capability. It's hard for me to put things in just a few words when I have so many words in my brain. But I'm thankful for those who put up with my verbosity and actually read all the stuff I write, it's just nice to know someone is paying attention. Thank you for your support.

Today's post has to do with my racing hobby. By now everyone knows I run in races from time to time. though I don't consider them to be a serious pursuit for myself because I'm not in any way, shape or form ever going to win one of those things. I doubt I'll even ever place in a race unless I run in really really small race and I'm only one of three in my age group. But I do enjoy the experience of running races very much, as I have touched on in some of my previous posts. There's the fun of being in a group of people with similar interests and goals, and then the goodies, giveaways, and of course, the medals, or rather, "race bling". There's nothing like having a shiny new medal on a colorful ribbon placed around your neck, wearing it the whole day and going to out eat at some restaurant where the calorie counts are higher than the mileage on you car, and laughing, "hey, here's the proof I earned this lunch!", then at the end of the day adding it to your collection, figuring out where to place it so that the arrangement is just perfect. So if I love it so much, why is it that lately I don't run in more races? Those of you who know me know that I'm getting in the miles. If I'm gonna run and I love the bling, I might as well run for bling, right? And therein lies the dig.

For those who have done at least one race, you know the reality of it is that those things are freaking expensive. It doesn't matter if you have a discount code, each one is going to set you back anywhere from 30 to beyond 200 bucks a pop, depending on the race. And that doesn't figure in the cost of gas, lodging (if it's a destination race), parking fees for both the race and packet pickup, and other various things that pop up. Not many runners can get through a race expo without shelling out money in addition to all the other costs for at least one new piece of fancy new or trendy gear, or a t-shirt with a snarky saying, or a box of Gu or Shot Bloks. There's a saying that running is cheaper than therapy, and despite the cost of running shoes and truly necessary gear, that may be true of just running itself. But once you add racing to the equation, it's by far a long way from the truth.

The first year or so that I ran, I signed up for the races that my running friends had signed up for as well. It was fun to be part of a crowd, and I enjoyed the get-togethers and post race photos, and general camaraderie of the activity. As I got further along in this pursuit and I began to accumulate a few race finisher medals, gradually I found myself signing up for races not because my friends were doing it, but because I wanted to get more of that bling. I didn't run races unless there was bling, and I signed up for races that had interesting bling, or extra bling, such as challenges. A challenge is when race organizers offer an extra medal to those who finish a specific combination of races. The first three half marathons I ever ran were part of a challenge, and I specifically ran those races so I could get that fourth piece of bling in addition to the one medal earned for each individual race. It developed into a bit of an obsession as time went on, and I didn't really think about the cost, I just got out my wallet every time I saw a race I wanted and went for it. To me, it was worth it because I had found something that I told myself was improving my life and fitness, and that it balanced out the cost of what I was paying.

Now, if I were a person with few financial obligations and a greater income base, this logic would make sense. Why not pay money for an activity and pursuit you enjoy if there is a positive result and there are no repercussions? There's nothing wrong with that. But the issue for me is that I had many years of bad financial choices that already stacked up mountains of debt by the time I began racing, and it was yet another money-sucking hobby adding to the pile. My piles of medals stacked up, and so did the credit card debt. This is pure honesty, guys. For most of my life I've been terrible with money, and my income has never matched the level of intensity of my addictive personality. I've gone from one expensive "hobby" or obsession to the next, and racing is only one of many expensive interests I've gotten into through the years. I get an interest, then collect this or that or the other thing, paying with plastic and putting the burden of debt out of my mind with mental blinders each time. It's only been in the past couple of years that my eyes have been opened to the weight of this character flaw of mine, how it has affected me and my family especially.

So now I am at the point where I have decided I have to let racing and other personal interests take a back seat to my financial obligations. It's been good for me since the beginning of this year, I am making a lot of headway with my financial maturity and for the first time in a long time our debts are actually shrinking overall rather than growing or staying on a plateau for extended periods of time. In my relationship with my husband, who is of course also our family's co-provider, I have been given a bit of a leash with allowance for personal spending, and I know it's for my own good even when I find myself at the end of it, and find myself just out of reach of where I think I want to be. So where does that leave me in regards to running? In a good place, though with boundaries that perhaps are taking a bit of getting used to for me. Gone are the days of the first two years that I ran, with me signing up for this or that race at a moment's notice. I have to delete lots of emails I'd love to open, knowing that each one will be a torment for me when I see how much fun I'm missing out on. Even my Facebook wall is annoying with the ads. They know me. Costume Party Run! 80's Run! Color Run! I scroll as fast as I can, but they catch up with me no matter how fast I go. It's painful sometimes, but cutting back on racing has helped our financial situation for sure, and I enjoy getting my bills and seeing the numbers slowly, slowly shrinking down one month at a time.

As good as it feels to make progress in this arena of my life, there is one unfortunate side effect, that has been the creation in me of what I think of as a great big green-eyed race day medal envy monster. In the most common usage, the green eyed monster refers to envy over money. But being as how I have green eyes, I find the description to be apt for this alter ego of mine. This is the person that I have started to see appear nearly every weekend as I scroll through the walls of my various social media outlets and see the happy race day photos that many of my FB and IG running friends from all over the country and even the world are posting. They smile as they wave their shiny new bling and hug each other in victorious group photos, and I scroll past, gnashing my teeth and wishing I was there with them. I look up at my medal collection on the wall of my bedroom, for a time unable to see that I have so many medals already and have accomplished amazing things to get them, instead seeing empty spaces that would be a perfect fit for this or that race medal that my friends have gotten. But that's insane. I have run many more races and have a lot more race medals than most people I know, and I seriously doubt any of them get all bent out of shape when I post race day photos of my new bling. In fact, they generally encourage me and tell me they are inspired by my accomplishments.

My entire medal collection, from the 2011 Bubba Gump 5k
to this year's Hollywood Half and Best of LA Challenge last April.
Not too shabby!
So, this envoius attitude is a part of me that I have to nip in the bud. It sucks. I have keep reminding myself that it's not as though I will never race again. In fact, I am currently registered for two races in the upcoming months. One of them I was given free of charge in a wonderful turn of events, the other I registered for many months ago at a very steep discount. I have them to look forward to and think about and train for. But I get stuck thinking about this or that race that I won't be able to do instead of the ones that I will get to do. And part of me subconsciously actually feels inferior to other people when they run a race the same day I run a training run, as though my run down the beach bike path didn't count because it wasn't organized by some company and I didn't get a t-shirt for doing it. Sometimes when I'm doing training runs and I end up running along with some race that's using the same route where I run, I'm temped to find the registration tent and pay the fee so I can collect the shirt and bling since I ran the miles. But that would be crazy. Or would it? The truth is, if I had the money to pay, and same day registration was allowed, I would do it. I have no shame in admitting that. It's in my blood, I tell ya.

So at this point, I'm working on vanquishing the big ugly medal envy monster. The cure for it is simple, really. I need to remember that my life choices got me to where I am now, and perhaps if I had made better financial choices in the past, then I could afford to run races every weekend and have a pile of medals so big that I could swim through them like Scrooge McDuck in his vat of money. Don't think I'm kidding. I'd totally do it. But since I can't I can only do this. When I see those race posts in my feed, I'm gonna hit the like button and mean it. I'm gonna cheer my awesome running friends on because they are tough, determined and strong, and if they have cute outfits and their bling is awesome and they get PR's I'll annoy them with cheerful comments. In doing this, I vow that I will no longer allow someone else's joyful moment to be a catalyst for my own personal pity party.

It's gonna be long road for me to get out of my financial situation, but I can already see that there is light at the end of that tunnel. And who knows if by the time I get there I will still be obsessed with accumulating shiny bling, or if a new interest will have taken hold. I tend to go from personal fad to personal fad, and though I don't see myself stopping running or racing altogether, knowing my history, I can easily see myself finding new activities to enjoy in addition to it, and I may eventually reduce training for and running races as I spend more time pursuing the next interest that I find. But no matter what I end up doing, the most important thing to remember is that my legacy is going to be measured in neither mementos or miles. It will be only measured in the impact I have in the lives of those I am associated with, who know me personally or virtually, who read my posts and see my pictures and hear my voice and see my face. Did I lift people up or bring them down? I love my medals and enjoy seeing them on my wall, but in the end they won't matter, neither will my PR's or total miles run or how many pairs of Brooks and Adidas I wore out. I've gotta focus on the best that has come out in my running these past years, and that is hearing people say they are inspired by me and that they are trying to improve their own lives because they saw the positive things that I was able to in mine.

So to all my running friends, keep racing! To all those who want to get into racing, go for it! Post your awesome race status updates and pics, and I'll be your personal cheering squad from my smart phone. Unless you are running the same race as me. In that case, when the starting line comes up, you will have to watch my backside disappear into the crowd. Because there will be bling waiting for me at the finish line, and I won't be waiting around to cheer for anyone until it's in my hot little hand. What can I say, I gotta be me. Happy running to all!

Congratulations on making it to the end of one of my posts! You should get a medal for that alone. I've got an ugly Bubba Gump Shrimp 5k medal that's at the back of my pile. Send me your address and I'll put it in the mail, stat. First come, first serve. On second thought, never mind that. A medal is a medal, and if I give them away, I'll never have enough to swim through! But if you are interested in starting a collection of your own, let me know. I've got lots of race emails I can forward to you.
Until next time,

Friday, June 20, 2014

Over The Mountain, Not Over The Hill

So this is my first blog post after my 40th birthday. Woo hoo! A year ago at this time, I posted about celebrating my 39th birthday by climbing Mt. San Antonio, aka "Mt. Baldy", and wrote about how amazing it felt to be doing things at that age that I couldn't even do in my younger years. This year my birthday celebration took a completely different course. Instead of putting on boots and stomping through the woods, I celebrated on my birthday by putting on a ball gown and sharing the night with a lot of people near and dear to my heart. I loved stepping out of my usual routine, and enjoyed being "queen for a night", it was really more than I could have dreamed for a birthday celebration. But that night couldn't last forever, so after my moment in the spotlight, as it were, I have resumed being a "plain jane", a persona that suits me for the most part, and is indeed more suitable for most of the activities that I devote my time and energy pursuing in general, especially for the aforementioned stomping through the woods.

As much as I enjoyed a change of pace for my birthday night, all things considered, it stands to reason that I'd spend at least one day of my birthday week hiking somewhere, as that is one of my first loves. So 4 days after my 40th, I laced up my boots and headed out on a hike via the Sturtevant Trail to the summit of Mt. Wilson. This hike was not a particularly special or exciting or even a new route, but it was a personal one, beginning when I hiked the same trail to the top of Mt. Wilson in November of 2012. That experience had started out well but ended on a bad note when a bank of fog settled on the mountain top and cut off all visability, and I literally had to hitch a ride from the summit back to my car. After that experience, I was determined to complete the full hike I had originally set out to do, and I did that last year in April, returning to the mountain and finally completing the entire 13 mile loop.

But the experience was still lacking. I still hadn't gotten the full experience out of it that I should have. The result from the April 2013 Mt. Wilson hike and also my Mt. Baldy birthday hike last June was a great deal of pain and a lot of recovery time afterward. It didn't seem to me that it should be like that. So, since then, I had been determined to get back and have another go at Mt. Wilson. However, the reality of life is that it is difficult for a person with family responsibility, a full time job, involvement in ministry activities, and oh, yeah, that marathon training thing, to find and set aside an entire day for a personal activity like a 13 mile hike. 13 miles of running on a flat route is about a 2 1/2 hour chunk of time for me, leaving plenty of time for other stuff the same day I do it. But 13 miles on narrow, rocky trails with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss is an entire day's commitment of time for me. So I had to bide my time, and it just happened that my birthday week this year was the opportunity that finally opened for me to have a day to go and take one more crack at Mt. Wilson.

Having been at this hiking thing for a few years now, I've pretty much already got all the gear and stuff I figure I need to take with me any time I decide to go for a day out on the trails. For the most part, other than food and water, that is just items to prevent or aid in the the instance of injury or getting lost. If you go to the "outdoor section" of your local sports store or WalMart, you'll find these products. I tend to stick to the basic items, and avoid "creature comforts", but I did decide to add one new tool to my arsenal: trekking poles. I have never really thought it necessary to have them, but after seeing a lot of other hikers using them on my recent trips out on the trails, I figured "what the hey", I'll give 'em a shot. So the day before my trip I picked up a pair at WalMart as I stocked up on beef jerky and granola bars. I also picked up some bug repellent wipes. The package proclaimed in big letters "30% Deet!", so I dubbed them Deet Sheets, and into the pack they went. Now fully equipped, I was ready to go.

The day of my hike was the kids last day of school. I took the day off from work and after they were off to school, I headed across the valley to begin my hike. I got into Chantry Flats at about 10AM, and pulled in right as someone else was just leaving. That's a mini miracle in and of itself, because it's a popular spot, and finding a parking space out there is a little like winning the lottery. I've had to park down the road a couple times, which is risky because in some places it's posted "no parking". Despite this, people always park there and ignore the signs, but I always try to get a "real" parking space because I'd hate to return from a day on the trails to find that was the day that the Forest Service decided to go all official and tow everyone in the "no parking" zone.

Tiger Lily Flower
I headed down the paved road from the parking lot, getting to the trail at the bottom of the valley around 10:30AM. As I reached the bottom, the trees closed in overhead and a nice cool settled in. I started using the trekking poles where the trail begins in the canyon. At first, I felt dorky and couldn't figure out what I supposed to be doing with them. But after a short while I figured out they are very helpful for navigating rocky trails. I tend to stumble from time to time while hiking, tripping over my own feet as often as I trip on rocks in the trail. I don't really admit to that, but I've fallen a few times out on the trails. That's the main reason I don't trail run. Because I'm a klutz. So, in regular fashion, I did trip on rocks a couple times that day, but each time the poles saved me from biting the dirt. I made a mental note. Trekking poles for hiking: good. Dorky, but good.

Monkey Flowers

I made the four mile mark by 12:30PM. There is a backpacker's campground there called Spruce Grove. It has tables, fire cook stoves and the worst pit toilets on the planet. I think they are cleaned and emptied like once a year, if that, which means, most of the time they are unusable. I always stop at the campground on my hikes, eat lunch at one of the tables and attempt to use the, ahem, so called "facilities" before continuing on my way. On occasion, the necessity to find an alternative arises, but after so many years in Girl Scouts I am familiar with which types of bushes are friendly and which are not. I've found it's a good skill to have, as you never know when it will come in handy.

Continuing on the trail past Spruce Grove, there is a trail junction. The Gabrielino trail that you came up on goes to the right, and the Sturtevant Trail begins, going left toward the summit of Mt. Wilson. This is the beginning of a 3 mile stretch that is the steepest, most difficult section of the trail in the entire round trip hike. First, the trail goes straight for about a mile. You can look back during this section and see a long stretch of trail behind you, and you find yourself seeing how steep it is and thinking, "holy smokes, I did THAT?" Thankfully, the trail looks a lot steeper looking back down it than up at it. Otherwise I think a lot fewer would make it up there than do now! So, about halfway up, mosquitos and deer flies and gnats decided that I was a snacky treat and began closing in. Apparently June is prime deer fly season. Yay nature. I wiped myself with the Deet Sheets and that took care of that. They still buzzed around, but kept their distance from my Deet-ey odor. I don't even know what Deet is, but if it stinks bad enough to keep the blood sucking bugs away, it's fine in my book.

After the long stretch, the trail begins up the steepest slope of the mountain, and goes into switchbacks that zig-zag back and forth across the side of the mountain, as is typical for hiking trails where it is too steep to go straight up. This was where I started to lose it a bit. I had hoped to make the summit by 2PM, but when I reached the 1.5 mile marker to the summit, it was 1:56PM, and I calculated that it would take me at least an hour or more at the pace I was going to get to the top. I wasn't trying to beat any particular time, I save my PR goals for my runs. But what was on my mind was that the road out of Chantry Flats closes at 8PM, and I wanted to make sure I could be off the mountain early enough that I wouldn't have to spend the night in my car in the parking lot there. So as I started up that last 1.5 mile stretch, with a clock ticking in the back of my mind, I started to get irritated. I noticed every little annoying thing. There was no shade. The sun was too hot. The trail was narrow in spots. Logs had fallen across the trail in a couple places. Stupid people had cut the trail in places, making it difficult to navigate. Why I am doing this? It's not fun any more. I pity partied my way along for a mile or so, until I came around the corner just a short distance from the summit, looked out and saw...the view.

about 1/2 mile to the summit
Two miles of switchbacks can be a lot for any sane person, but at this point on the trail you are up higher than the peaks of the surrounding mountains, and you can see the entire stretch of the valley to the horizon. Even on a day with smog and bright sunshine, the view is really something. From some parts of the trail, you can see the cities below, and try to make out the shapes on the ground to figure out what is what. From other parts, you can see the surrounding mountains, the rise and fall of their ridges, the multiple layers extending for miles in the distance. Realizing I was near the top, I checked my watch at the point and was happy to see it was 10 minutes to 3PM. I was comfortable that I still had enough time to rest a little at the top before heading back, and not risk having to bunk overnight in the back of my Honda Pilot.

On the lower sections of trails I had seen many fellow hikers, but as I got higher, there were fewer brave souls. Most of the trip my companions were wildlife. There were a lot of birds and California gray squirrels, a whole lot of stink bugs for some reason, and many, many lizards. Close to the summit I saw a small rattlesnake making his way up the hillside. I took pictures, with my zoom lens, of course. None of my companions out there bothered me, except maybe some of the squirrels. They are kind of particular about their territory and tend to watch you closely as you pass. It's almost a bit disconcerting, but after many hikes on the upper and lower trails out there, I've learned that the squirrels may be a bit peculiar, but for the most part they will leave you alone, so long as you keep your hands off their nuts.
TV transmission towers
It was just after 3PM when I finally reached the top. The unique characteristic of this hike is that unlike most mountain hikes, this one has actual civilization as part of it. At the top of Mt. Wilson there is a large Observatory complex, with several telescopes and a little museum, which attracts visitors who arrive by driving up on a paved road. The folks who drive up look forward to exploring the observatory complex and seeing the view from the top of the mountain. While hikers such as myself also have the option to enjoy these things, the most meaningful thing to us is that there
Mt. Wilson Observatory
 60 inch telescope
is a bathroom up there on the summit with actual running water and flush toilets, and a place to refill water bottles with clean water. For most visitors to the Observatory, that's no big deal. But to hikers coming out of woods having spent much of the day with nothing to use in regard of restrooms but overflowing pit toilets and friendly bushes, these bathrooms are like coming into the lobby of a Ritz-Carlton. Every trip up there, I find myself in that bathroom washing my hands and thinking to myself, omigosh...water...and soap!

the best shot from several attempts
using cell phone self timer
After using the restroom, I snapped the obligatory photos: view from the summit, a couple of the telescopes, the Mt. Wilson marker, selfie in the parking lot, and so on. Then I headed to the Mt. Wilson trail, and began to descend back to Chantry Flats.

One of the reasons I like this hike is because there is the option of doing a loop. That means, one way to get there, and a different way to get back. It means more scenery and different perspectives of the terrain. But I have always done this loop the same way, ascending via the Gabrielino Trail and the Sturtevant Trail and descending via the Mt. Wilson trail, and the Winter Creek trail. Maybe one of these days I'll switch it up and do the loop in reverse. But this time I followed the pattern I'd previously done twice, because I wanted to have the same conditions as previously, while trying for a different result.

Happy Trails...
The descent went well overall. I actually hike better going up than down because my toes bang against the inside of the boots on the way down, but this trip went well, so I enjoyed the hike down. Except maybe for the part where I sat on an ant hill. What I actually sat on was a tree root by the side of the trail. I had to stop several times during the hike to empty little bitty rocks out of my boots, so I figured the root would be a good enough place to take care of that piece of business. Apparently my resting spot was close enough to a nest of ants that my presence either alarmed or excited them, and they swarmed out and began to climb all over me. They weren't the scary red ants, just black ants, but that wasn't of much consolation when they began biting me. I was in the middle of emptying one shoe when I realized what was happening, they were all over my back so I pulled off my shirt in the middle of the trail, hopping up and down on one leg, shrieking and doing a frenzied arm waving jig out in front of God and everybody. It took about 10 minutes of slapping and flicking, but I got them off me and put my shirt back on. Stupid nature.

I reached the bottom of the steepest section, and came into another backpacker's campground along the bank of the creek. There was someone there in a hammock playing a harmonica off in the distance. It sounded almost a little haunting, but I figured I would be ok so long as I didn't hear any banjos. I sat down, had another lunch and wiped on some more Deet Sheets to get the mosquitos out of my ears again. At this point in the trip, I had two miles to go to get back to the parking lot. I checked my phone, it was 6PM. I still had two hours before the road closed, but I was starting to feel pressure again as the sun had long disappeared from the deep section of canyon I was in, and it was as dark as dusk. The last two miles of any hike pretty much suck anyway, just like the last two miles of any run. It's simply state of mind. You know you are ALMOST there, and you want to be there NOW. You are tired, you are getting cranky, and if it's dark, there's not much scenery to enjoy. And now, with that clock in my head ticking louder and louder, those last 2 miles were particularly irritating. After hiking for what seemed like forever, I started to psych myself out at every turn by thinking "the end of the trail MUST be around the next bend!". And then, it wasn't, I got all irritated, and so on. I kept up this fun routine until I finally reached the end of the Winter Creek Trail at 7PM.

The last section of this hike is the same paved road I came down at the beginning of the day. It's an incredibly steep 6/10 of a mile section of road, probably the last thing anyone wants to see after nearly 13 miles of hiking. But up I went, and got to the parking lot at 7:18PM, a full 42 minutes before the gate slammed shut. On my way to the car I passed several gleeful teenagers goofing around in the parking lot. As I got to the car, one young fellow climbed on the top of a building and began to belt out Beyonce's "Single Ladies" at the top of his lungs. I wondered if he knew he was standing on the roof of a pit toilet and what he was risking falling into should the roof of said pit toilet give way. I thought of taking a video, but that's pretty much when my phone battery died, so that little moment of history will only be able to live on in my memory, and not the internet for all to share. Lucky for him.

So what is the moral of this long detailed story? I have several, but they will need to wait for another post because I think this one is long enough. The one thing I will say is, being 40 is awesome, as least so far! I don't feel old and crotchety, which is what I had assumed would happen all throughout my younger years. Every time someone in my life would turn 40, everyone would make jokes about them being "over the hill", as though the best part of their lives had passed and it was all downhill from there. It wasn't until I began literally reversing my aging process by improving my health and fitness that I dared entertain the thought that 40 didn't have to be the end of "the good years", and that just the opposite, it was really at the beginning of the best years of my life. So my theme of my first days of being 40 is to counteract that old joke that's not really funny: being "over the hill". I have made sure that the personal activities in my life involve literal hills. My first run after my 40th birthday was up to the top of Signal Hill. My first hike after turning 40 was to the top of Mt. Wilson. And I'll continue doing this, not only for its own sake of being just plain awesome, but also as a statement that the hill is only in our minds. You see, if we go with the joke and give in and give up on the later years of our lives, then we lose out. But if we accept that we still have the possibility in us to climb mountains and do other amazing things no matter what the calendar says, then we are truly living the life we were intended to live. And that gives me so much to look forward to for the years ahead to come!

As usual, I would like to thank you for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed my post, please repost to your FB and share with your friends if you think I'm cool.
Thanks again! Until next time,

Friday, February 28, 2014

What Have I Gotten Myself Into...Again?

Today's blog post is another of my usual musings about my fitness journey, specifically running and racing. I suppose they might all start to sound the same to everyone, but I always have a lot of stuff in my brain, so I write it down and hope the people that read it get something out of it, even if they aren't runners. I love writing this and so here's the latest entry into my online journal of my life adventures.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about anticipating my first marathon. In that post I went over the fears and hopes I had, and my anticipation of that moment in my life. Not long after, I went on and met that goal. Those of you who know me in real life or who have followed me/friended me on my various social media outlets in the last year or so know that for the past year I have been gearing up to do another one. I suppose I have been pretty open about why it's important to me, but I want to revisit that in case any of my 12 faithful readers of this blog missed it the first time around.

I have been at this running thing for about 3 years now. It all started, of course, with my desire to lose weight and improve my fitness. During the first year of that journey, I made so much progress that my eyes were opened to the possibility of seeing that things that once seemed impossible to be possible for me. During that first year I set and achieved many personal fitness goals, and have continued doing so since then. Along the way of losing a third of my body weight, I went from walking 5k's and 10k's to eventually running those same distances, and beyond. I finished my first half marathon two years ago, and progressed from that to the full marathon a year later.

For the first few days after I finished that race, I was on such a high. I had finished a marathon! I had the medal, the shirt, the pictures, and the sore muscles to prove it! It was one of the most amazing feelings of my life. To be honest, that feeling has not faded since that day, even up until now, more than a year later.  But in the weeks that followed that finish, I mentally evaluated everything I'd gone through, from my training and my race day prep, to the race itself. I had known as soon as I crossed that finish line that I wanted to do it again, so as I recovered and got back in my routine, I began putting together a new training plan and setting my sights on the next marathon goal.

That was a year ago. Over the past year I have made a lot of progress in my training, and set and acheived a lot of goals. I gave myself a year to train for a marathon on purpose, in order to have time to get as many good quality training runs in while regular life went on. There were times when I missed or had to modify a planned training run or two, even a couple months went by when from week to week I wasn't meeting all my goals because real life has a funny way of interfering with training plans. I have a lot of things I'm committed to, and as much as I love running, it falls somewhere down around number 4 or 5 in life priorities, behind things like my family, my job, my ministry commitments, and such. But if I have learned anything from doing long runs that take three or four hours to complete, it is patience. Lots and lots of patience. So while the "one year marathon training plan" is not one you'd find on any of the big name running websites if you Googled the term "marathon training", it worked like a charm for me. I met every single one of my training goals. If I missed a run one day, I retooled the next week's schedule until I met the goal I'd set. Then I moved to the next goal. I did long, slow endurance runs. I did short speedy runs. I ran up and down hills. I met distance goals, and pace goals. I did everything that you would see in one of those 17 week training plans, but it took me a year to do it. It may have taken longer than most, but I'm completely satisfied that the training I've completed will accomplish the purpose I had for it.

So as of right now, I am 9 days out from marathon #2. I'm super excited this time around. The first marathon I did kind of terrified me. Before that race, the furthest distance I'd ever covered was a 20 miler, and I'd only done it once. Now, that is of course nothing to sneeze at. But to add 6.2 miles to that is asking a lot of a body. I had a lot of fears that I wouldn't finish, or that I would finish so late that they would have already reopened the streets, run out of medals, and such. I was satisfied when I finished my race in 6 hours and 27 minutes, three whole minutes faster than my goal of 6 hours 30 min. I got a medal, and the right to put a sticker on the back of my car that says "26.2". I didn't care that I came in nearly dead last, only that I had come in.

So this time around, I have a similar goal. Of course the main priority will be to cross that finish line in Santa Monica. But I would sure love to see some major improvements over my previous marathon race. Now, I am running a different course than the first time around. There are some hills on this one that were not on the first one I ran. But I feel that the training I've completed has set me up to improve my time drastically, even with the addition of hills. I will be happy to finish with a time under 6 hours, but I'm shooting for an average pace of 13 minutes per mile, so my "official" goal will be a finish time around 5 hours, 40 minutes. This will probably be pushing it, as my last long run was a 22 miler on flats and I finished with a pace of 13:05 per mile. But if I prepare for the race correctly (nutrition, carb loading, tapering), I think I can meet that goal, or at least come close. And again, no matter what, finishing a marathon is an awesome accomplishment, no matter what time I end up with.

I am so blessed to have the support of a lot of people in my life who keep encouraging me to do what I do. I know that running doesn't really serve any practical purpose in life, on the contrary it just makes my leg muscles look funny and give me awesome tan lines on my arms where I wear my armband and GPS watch. I no longer do it to lose weight, and if I stopped running I wouldn't gain weight again, because the bad eating habits I've conquered are what prevent me from packing on the pounds. In fact if anything, running has made it more difficult to keep weight off, because the mileage I cover makes me hungry. REALLY hungry. But the people in my life understand that running has helped me in other areas of my life, that are perhaps not visible to the eye, but perceived on an emotional and spiritual level. I know that when I get to the starting line in 9 days, I may not have a cheering squad on the sidelines holding posters with silly sayings for me, but I have a huge contingent of folks cheering me on through various connections, whether it's my FB and IG friends, my family and friends in the flesh, or a combination of both. I'm so thankful for all that love and support, and it means a lot to me to have so many wonderful people at my back. The next 9 days are going to fly by, so keep the well wishes coming, because come March 9, I'm gonna need all that I can get!

Thank you again for reading! Until Next time...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Braggedy Brag, Brag, Brag.

OMG another blog post! There were like six months between the last two posts, and now here's another one within a month. I'm trying to rev this up again, I really love to write but often have trouble finding time. But I have lots of stuff I want to get out of my brain and unload onto all of you so thank you for being my somewhat willing audience. I hope my brain droppings continue to amuse and inform you.

So, as you guys know, I've been at this crazy running thing for awhile now. I enjoy doing it, I do a lot of it, and I track what I do. That creates a lot of data. For example, I track my distance. How far I run each time out, plus how much cumulatively in a week, month, year, and so on. I track my time and pace, and other little bits and pieces that probably don't seem like much on a daily scale, but look pretty impressive when combined in graphs and charts and stuff over a long period of time.  Originally, I used a cool phone app to track my running stats, but unfortunately, cell phone GPS is still pretty much in the dark ages, despite the prevalence of so many of us hopefully relying on the things to tell us where we are and where we should go and so on. So as most of you have seen, I got myself a Garmin.

Now, for most, that is a meaningless term, I suppose. So, just to clarify, Garmin is a company that specializes in manufacturing GPS enabled technology. For distance sport enthusiasts like runners and bicyclists and the like, they make an assortment of dohickeys that track distance using GPS. Most of these devices are really ugly watches. Now, I might not be the most girly of girls, but I don't particularly like having a big boxy thing squatting on my wrist. So for the most part, though it is very functional as just a plain ol' watch with time and date and stuff like that, it stays in the corner of my room most of the time that I am not running. But when I get ready to run, the Garmin watch takes its place on me along with my ugly cell phone armband holder, my ugly running supply belt and the generally ugly spandex contraptions I squeeze myself into. I'm pretty much one big ball of ugly with all my gear on, but I don't care because when I head out, I know I'll be out running alongside a whole bunch of other people dressed in pretty much the same ugly outfit. It's almost like there's a uniform we all wear, minus the name tags. But that's a blog post for another day.

So since I've got all these devices that have been tracking my stats, all that info has got to go somewhere. Both the phone app I used, as well as the watch, have websites that collect, store and sort all the info. This storing and sorting of info is nothing new for runners. Just the format has changed. In the old days, runners had to map out their runs beforehand with actual paper maps, or by using their car odometers, though that option was kind of dicey if they wanted to run on trails or bike paths. I suppose there were ways they connected with each other to share and trade info about routes, but I'm too lazy to Google any of that. Running clubs come to mind. After plotting out a running course, they would track their times and write the results in log books or journals. I've seen some people that still do this post pictures of them on various social media, and I think to myself, how quaint. Because the internet does all that now. I suppose I might come off as a snob by preferring electronic tracking than paper journaling, but it all comes down to one thing I've already touched on. I'm lazy. I figure, if somebody went to all the trouble to write a bunch of code that would make my running stats look cool and official, I should enjoy the fruit of their labor and put it to good use.

That being said, now what? I've got this info all collected and organized and it looks real nifty, but I'm the only one looking at it. What am I supposed to do with it? Now, I suppose that runners who journal on paper and don't use the internet bring those journals and share them with fellow runners that they know. "Hey, check out this PR I got for my run last week! I did awesome!" And the fellow runner would be like "Hey, that's really great, good job, keep up the good work!" Please note this is not the transcript of an actual conversation, it's only conjecture of what I imagine non internet-using runners to be doing with their info. Again, I'm too lazy to Google if it's actually true. My point is, we no longer share information that way. As we all know by now, the internet has created a completely new platform that we humans can use to share our information. Of course, that is social media.

I'm sure that previous statement elicited more than a couple eye rolls from my approximately 12 faithful readers. "Well, duh". But think about it. Most of us now have joined at least one or more social media platforms. We have access to them via our computers and now handheld devices that we drag around with us everywhere we go. We connect with people we know in real life (like on Facebook), or make new friends and find ways to connect with people who have similar interests (Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). We learn about our friends and connections through their posts, and they in turn learn about us the same way.

So, most social media users both consume and supply info in the continuously moving stream that is our news feed. We like to read what other people are doing, and we like to share what we are doing. But as we add more followers/friends, we discover that there are people out there that maybe don't share the same interests we have. *Gasp* Each of us has particular interests, those things that are interesting, fascinating, engaging, and exciting to us. We enjoy them so much that want to share with our ever-growing circle of friends, thinking that they are going to jump up and down and clap with joy since that's what we think they should do. So we post our posts, and are surprised when the reaction seems like the sound of crickets chirping. Wait, what? That sandwich I had for lunch was so delicious! How come nobody is liking my picture! And my 20th post this week about my adorable kids? Only 10 likes? What gives? They are ADORABLE! (BTW I'm totally guilty about the adorable kids posts, so don't think I'm calling anyone else out). And not to mention the Gloomy Gus posts. I'm also guilty of this, you guys. OMG, how come nobody is commiserating with me on my 2nd week of allergies and runny nose! Only three people commented to cheer me up, and one of them was my mom, who is required by law to comment positively on every one of my posts! (Love you Mom, keep commenting or I'll come to your house and start eating all your food again). And so it goes.

My dilemma is that my social media affiliations have given me the perfect platform to share all this running info that I regularly generate and want everyone to see because it's Just. So. Exciting. So I share and share and share, and share some more.  At first it went really well. When I first started walking, I had a cell phone with a decent camera and FB access. So I created an album on FB called "going for a walk", and every time I went for a walk, I took a picture and posted it with comments about how my walk went. At first everyone commented how great it was and encouraged me to keep going, and it really helped me get through the first part of this journey, which was the hardest. Without my phone dinging at me on a regular basis to tell me I had another comment, I probably would have given up like I had always done before. But hearing all those nice comments made me feel good and want to keep going, so I wouldn't let my "fan base" down.

It was like that for a while, then the comments and likes dwindled. There have been some who were faithful at the beginning and still are to like my posts and chime in with encouraging words. (Love you, Mom! I could totally go for some Bodie fries right now.) And I've reconnected with more folks since then and made new friends along the way who pop up on a regular basis when I post. But mostly, the interest in my activity has waned. That hasn't discouraged me from posting. When I transitioned from only posting photos from my runs to adding stats, there was noticeable drop in interest in my running. I began to think, am I really that boring? Or am I just pissing people off by bragging too much about my accomplishments? Because "fat girl goes for a walk on the beach and loses weight in an effort to better her life" is a lot more interesting and inspiring than "girl who is fit enough to already finish a marathon is training for another marathon and ran 20 miles today." I totally get that. And yet, I still share.

The bottom line of this post (and thank you to everyone who read all of the paragraphs above to get to this point, you deserve a medal for that alone) is that I hope I'm not offending anyone by my multiple posts about my running. My maps, my stats, my PR's, my distances, my pace, my splits and all that stuff. I suppose I should do a post to explain what all that means. I've been buried in the world of running so long that I realize I might use terms that maybe are meaningless to everyone else. But the point is that I share because, like I said earlier, this is something that excites and engages me. My posts are not intended to make people think "Oh look how great MaryAnne is, running all those miles." They are intended to remind everyone of who I used to be and how far I've come. It's been three years now since I got up off the couch and started taking steps to change my life, and what an amazing three years it has been! Every mile I run puts another nail in the coffin of my old lazy, defeated life. Last year alone I put over 1,000 nails in that coffin, and I'm on my way to doing that again this year, and more.

So, if you are connected with me via any of my favorite social media, don't be looking for those posts to disappear any time soon. I have goals I've set for the coming weeks, months, and year, and each victory along the way will elicit some kind of post, whether it's "OMG, I finished another freaking marathon today!" (look for that one in about 6 weeks, you guys), or "I ran six miles and enjoyed the sunshine today." They are coming, I cannot stop and will not stop them. It's no longer about likes and comments (though those are ALWAYS welcome. And Mom, now I want some pie). It's about me wanting to share the joy of the experience of reaching new goals both big and small, and hoping to influence even one person to try and go for their dreams too, not only specifically with running, but with anything that they have in their heart that they want to accomplish. And if you want to take up running, I say go for it! Just make sure you send me a message beforehand and let me know, so I can tell you where to buy the ugly uniform. Because it's required.

Thanks again for reading, all!
Until Next Time

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Confessions Of A Race Bling Addict

So here I am looking at the past three years of my life, still with a sense of awe at all that has happened. I can't believe it's already been three years, I still feel like it all began yesterday!

As usual, what I have on my mind right now is running. I suppose this topic might be worn out by now, but I hope my 12 faithful readers can bear with me as I throw out more musings regarding this crazy activity that I love. So here goes.

As I enter this year I am looking back at the progression of the last three years of my life. The first year of what I often refer to as my fitness journey was the beginner year. I made the most significant progress in that first year, I went from a couch potato to an active person. I did participate in a few small road races, each time as part of a group from work, but mostly I just got out there and walked, hour after hour, 3-4 days a week. I didn't track mileage at that time because I was just doing it to lose weight. Then a funny thing happened. I got an Android smart phone, and was futzing with it one day and discovered a GPS app that was designed to track mileage. I was completely unaware that such a thing existed, let alone that I should use one. But being curious, I entered my info, went out for a walk, pushed the start button on the thing, and from that day on I never looked back. 

For the first time, other than the races I had done, I had an idea of how far I was actually going each time I got out there. Those numbers really excited me, seeing that little glowing screen with a real number on it lit a fire under me. Soon I was tracking every walk, and as I progressed from walking to running, I set goals to increase mileage and began to really feel amazed at the numbers I saw. It pushed me forward to keep going, to see how much farther I could go and how fast I could do it. At that point I began to think that more difficult race distances were within my reach. I kept at it, getting in the miles and continuing to re-evaluate the idea of what was possible for me to accomplish.

As I entered year two of my journey, I was preparing for the longest distance I'd ever done: a half marathon. I had finished my first 10k race in November, walking most of the way, and I'd been so proud that I could run the entire last mile of the race. Now I began to run more and walk less, and as I added miles to my runs, my faithful GPS friend cheered me on every mile, telling me how fast I'd gone and how far. By the end of January I completed my first 12 miler, then a few short weeks later I finished the half marathon. I ran a lot of it, walked about 1/3 of the total distance of the race, and I finished more than 20 minutes faster than I thought I could. It was an amazing feeling, I felt like I had joined some exclusive club that I had always thought only belonged to the super fit and super crazy. As I crossed the finish line, a complete stranger handed me a ribbon with a little piece of metal on it. It had the race logo, the distance and the date on it. And it was mine. My first half marathon race medal.

Though I had previously done several short races, I'd only gotten one medal up until then. It was in the shape of the Bubba Gump shrimp because they had sponsored the race. Pure product placement. I hadn't thought much of it, but now as I hung medal number two on my bulletin board I could see a pattern forming. I thought that they looked kind of lonely, just the two of them there. And that's when it happened. I started to become addicted to racing and collecting race bling. I immediately signed up for two more half marathons at that point, because I was fired up from the first one, but specifically because the combination of those particular races netted the finisher an extra medal for finishing the "challenge" of completing all three races. I ran the second half marathon a few months after the first, running the entire thing without walking. I ran the third half marathon 5 months after that, with a time half an hour faster than the first one I had done. That was an awesome achievement for me, but I remember the most exciting part for me was going to the tent to pick up my challenge medal after receiving my race medal at the finish line. I walked around that day with not one, but two big hunks of metal around my neck. They were heavy and clanked together obnoxiously, but I loved it. I went home and added them to my bulletin board, photographed them from every angle and plastered the photos all over Facebook. Then I sat back, and thought, "what's next?" There were many races coming up in my region and I wanted to do them all! Pretty soon I was registered for 4 more races all taking place within 4 months of each other. Sounds like a tall order, but I felt invincible and felt confident I could take them all on.

And then it was year three. A year ago at this time I had already completed the first race of the year, with three to go. I still looked at the medals I had on my wall but kept thinking about the ones I didn't have yet. I trained and trained and racked up miles, but my mind was on all the races coming up. By this time last year I was fully entrenched in training for my first full marathon. I was stressed from the requirement of the training, but I kept thinking how my "collection" would finally be complete with a medal that had "Marathon" on it. I went to the starting line that day, and finished a distance of 26.2 miles. And just like the year before, I received a pretty ribbon with a pretty piece of metal on it. Over the next few months I ran all the races I'd signed up for, collected my bling, and had to find a new way to display the medals because they were too heavy for the cork board I'd been using. It was a wonderful feeling to see the "evidence" of all the hard work I'd done. And yet the funny thing was, that no matter how great an achievement it was, I was totally burned out.

I started to think about the races I'd run. I had achieved a PR at nearly all of them, but I was still falling short of my ultimate goals. How could that be with all the running I was doing? I realized that I had been focused so much on racing that I hadn't had time for proper training. That is, a set routine of different routes and speeds, over a long period of time. Each race required a lot of effort and time in and of itself, as well as weeks of resting during tapering before and recovery after each race. I wasn't giving myself enough time in between to regroup and spend time focusing on just getting in the miles. I had a wall full of bling but was still short of the rewards I really wanted. So I took some time off from races and went back to running just for the sake of running.

5 months and a vacation in Hawaii passed before my next race. I spent that time running a regular routine which included runs of distances between 4 and 10 miles 2-4 times during the week, with long runs on Saturdays of 14-18 miles. I racked up miles and without upcoming races on my mind I found myself focusing on each run, to seeing what I could pull off on my own, without official timers and bling at the end.  In October I ran my seventh half marathon race and finally pulled off a significant time goal that I'd been reaching for since the first race of the year: to run that distance in less than 2 1/2 hours. I did that, and 4 minutes under my goal, I was super excited with those results. As I added my new medal to the collection, I didn't really think about it, I was more excited about my time. I didn't run another race after that in 2013, though there were many that I would have loved to have run, timing and finances weren't right for it, so I just enjoyed being out there and getting in the miles.

That's not to say I'm giving up on the thrill of racing. I love racing, even though there's not a chance I'll ever win one of the silly things. It's basically the environment involved. Sure, I can go run for free any day of the week in lots of scenic places and share smiles with people in similar silly outfits like mine. But race day is like prom for runners. You go get your outfit (packet), you dress up, prepare yourself, and show up whether you have a date or not because you know it's going to be an event to remember. Everyone at a race has the same goal, whether they are in the first corral or the last corral. To finish the distance in the best possible time, and to share the same experience with hundreds or even thousands of others as crazy as them. There are smiles and high fives and bonding between complete strangers because we all know what it took to get to that starting line, and what it will take to finish. I've received compliments and encouragement countless times in races from people I've never met, and even made a new running BFF at one race, after striking up a conversation in the most random of circumstances.

As year 4 of my journey begins, I am back in race prep mode. I just ran my first half marathon of the year, and next up will be full marathon #2 in March. Another half marathon will be in April. After that, who knows? I already have "must have" races planned for the next year and a half, but I no longer have the desire to register for every single race I see advertised. I have specific goals to meet for each race, and specific training routines I set to meet those goals. As I go through my training, I can laugh at myself that I get so excited about getting a medal for running 13.1 miles, when I reasonably easily complete distances much further than that on a regular basis, with no medals or t-shirts to show for it. I still have my trusty GPS app, and have just upgraded to my first GPS tracking watch, which supposedly will provide even more accurate results to guide me in tracking my training progress.

As I look back on the last three years, as I previously mentioned, I am in awe of the progress I've made. I laugh at myself because regardless of the changes I've made on the outside, my addictive personality is still firmly intact. It's just that the addictions have changed. Whereas I once previously was addicted to collecting things that kept me sitting around in the house (I don't want to think how much I spent on DVD's in those days), now I'm addicted to things that contribute to my personal well being and health. Yeah, maybe collecting all those race medals might seem silly to non-runners, but for me they will always represent the difference between the old me and the new me. My goal now is simply to scale the addiction back enough that I can enjoy the rewards without wearing myself and my bank account out getting them. Those registration fees ain't cheap...
Anyway, I'm still learning balance, it's taking time for sure, but I'm closer to reaching it than ever before.

And now here's a photo of my race bling so far. You didn't think I'd write all this nonsense and not show you the bling! This is every piece of race bling I've collected since I've begun running races. These medals include 3 5k's, a virtual half marathon, 8 half marathon races, the Beach Cities Challenge medal, and 1 full marathon. And counting...

As usual, thank you for reading my brain droppings. I appreciate any comments (nice ones anyway, LOL), and feel free to share if you think your friends could stand me.
Until next time....