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Monday, January 31, 2011

Running to the beat of my own drummer

On Sunday, January 23rd, I was supposed to run the Boston Prep 16 Miler Road Race in Derry, NH.  This is a "moderately challenging" course that I've enjoyed (?) running since 2007.  It's like a tradition.  I wouldn't dream of missing it.  I sign up for it every year in advance for fear it'll be sold out and I'll be S.O.L.

This year was no different, save one exception.


Seriously???  Who are you and what have you done with Cyndi?  Skipping a pivotal race in your Boston Marathon Preparation is just, well, it's just lazy!  And irresponsible!!!  

Why did I skip it?

I hadn't slept well the night before, which I normally don't before marathons and/or biggish type races.  I could have gone out there and gotten through it, though.  Lord knows I've run marathons on inadequate sleep, let alone a 16 miler.  The temps were ridiculously cold, which they normally are in January, but we're talking zero temps at the start, only warming up to single digits by the time we hit the finish line.  Even that didn't really deter me.  I have plenty of layers and have experience running in extreme cold and heat.

You know why I didn't go?

Because I just didn't feel like it.

That's right, friends.  I just didn't wanna.  In my estimation, I wasn't quite "ready" to race.  My running at the tail end of 2010 was so sporadic and thus, I don't feel I am where I need to be for this particular event.  And, to be brutally honest, I didn't want to put myself through the stress of my own expectations.  You see, I'm cognizant of the fact that I still have a teeny, weeny, itty, bitty, tendency to care about what others think of my race times.  I'm making great strides towards being secure and confident in my abilities, but, on that Sunday morning, the thought of going out there in an attempt to match or better my 2010 time just made me cringe.  It woke me out of a sound sleep at 1 a.m. and beat me into submission.  I was even having dreams about oversleeping, missing the race, going to the wrong place, etc.  When the time came to get up, I shut off my alarm and sent my pal, Ted, a text to let him know I wouldn't be making it to the lovely town of Derry that morning.

Instead of spending 2-2.5 hours in single digit temps, I drove over to the gym around 11 a.m. and spent about 2 hours on the treadmill. 

And I didn't care.

I didn't care what that potentially did to my "real runner" status.  As I ran on that machine with my tunes, I heard all of the things that other runners have said to me or other people in the past.  Statements such as:

Real runners don't run on the treadmill.  Ever.
Real runners don't run with an iPod or headphones.  This makes you a fraud.
Real runners definitely don't run on a treadmill while WEARING an iPod.

I can get really pissed off at the voices.  Don't they have anyone other than me they can torment??? 

But, this time, I appreciated them.  They made me realize that I didn't have to define myself by or listen to any of it.  Furthermore, what I do and how I train is no one's business but my own.  I'll run how, when and where I want to.  What does it matter what other people think and say?  This is my life.  Not theirs.

Who am I doing this for, anyway?  (Hint:  any answer other than "myself" is the wrong one.)

Later that day, I talked to my pal, Ted, who ran the race (in a time of sub 2 hours, which is a PR for him as well as a stellar performance) and shared some of these concerns with him.  As he always does, he listened, offered me great insight and supported me.  He encouraged me to be kind to myself and follow my intuition as well as relax and let go of all this should have, could have, would have stuff.  He reminded me to trust my training, the universe and myself. 

Since then, I feel like a big weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.  I realize my choice to stay in bed that day and skip the race was my rebellion against these flawed premises and cognitive distortions.  It was the ultimate act of defiance; a big old f**k you to the voices both inside and outside of my head.  Who cares?  At the end of the day, who really gives a @#*%?  This is something I do for fun and health.  This is not going to turn into something stressful. 

I refuse to put myself through the mental gymnastics anymore.  I just simply won't allow it.

It's time for this girl to march, or shall I say "run", to the beat of my own drummer.  To live the way I want to live, to do what I want to do, to race when I feel like racing and run when and how I want to run.

Because this isn't about the "elite runner", it's perceived "standard" or the voices.

This is about ME.

It's all about me.

In closing:

"It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes." 
-- Sally Field


"We probably wouldn't worry about what people think of us if we could know how seldom they do." 
-- Olin Miller

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whining about the weather

Weather is a great metaphor for life - sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, and there's nothing much you can do about it but carry an umbrella.  ~ Terri Guillemets

It's January 19th, 2011.

Also known as Winter.

In New England.

This time of year, it's cold.  And it snows.  Sometimes a lot. 

I know, big shocker.

We had such an event around these parts yesterday.  The television meteorologists masquerading as ambassadors of goodwill forecasted 2-4" of snow in and around the Boston area.  There was a possibility for heavier amounts of precipitation north and west of the city.  However, temperatures were on the rise and it would all turn to rain sometime around noon.

I had the early shift yesterday, working 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The snow didn't start to fall until I was about 10-12 miles from work, so I had a joyously uneventful commute in.  I figured most of the hoopla would be going on while I was inside, working and warm.  As I looked out the window, it became apparent to me that this wasn't stopping anytime soon.  In fact, it almost seemed to intensify.  At one point, the snowflakes were so huge, they resembled golf balls falling from the sky.

And everyone couldn't stop talking about it.  From the time it started until the time I left to go home, everyone that passed by my area had to talk about the weather.  Comments like, "it's so nasty out there!" to "when's it supposed to stop?" came in an endless stream of chatter.  I kept hearing daunting warnings from folks such as, "the roads are awful" and "you better leave early or else you'll never get home".

I'm pretty resilient as a general rule but, I had to admit, I was letting it get to me.  I don't enjoy small talk.  Most of the time, it's just white noise to me.  And, when it involves the weather, I enjoy it even less.

I live 37 miles away from my place of employment.  On a good day during off peak hours, it takes me 40-45 minutes to get from point A to point B.  Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.  However, throw some snow, ice or even rain into the mix and, well, you can just double, triple or even QUADRUPLE that travel time.

Succumbing to the negativity, I began surfing all of the popular weather sites, reading the gloom and doom about dangerous, icy roads and reports of spinouts and accidents everywhere.  What had started off as 2-4" of predicted snow now became 4-8".  I get that meteorology isn't an exact science, but that seemed like a substantial difference to me.  I had the doppler radar up and running, hitting the refresh button every five minutes to see if that snow/rain line had moved any closer.

I became a woman obsessed.  And a little cranky too.

I started my workday as a relatively normal, well-adjusted person.  I was on the verge of ending it as an escaped mental patient.

Finally, I went out, started up the red car and got her cleaned and ready to travel.  I worked myself up in a panic to the point where I ended up just getting mad.  So what if the roads are bad?  So what if it takes me two hours to get home?  I'm not the only person who has to get someplace, after all.  There are a lot of other drivers out there who will be in the same boat as me.  It is what it is.  I'll get there when I get there.  What other choice do I have?

I got in the car, put it in gear and headed home.  It was 2 p.m. when I left work.

I reached my destination, home, one hour and 37 minutes later.  Safe and sound.

Yes, it was slow going.  Yes, it was slippery.  But, it wasn't impossible.  As long as you go slow and pay attention to the other motorists who may not be employing common sense, everything will be fine. 

So, in the final analysis, why do we make such a big deal out of things that, well, aren't really a big deal?  Is it fear?  Maybe.  Control issues?  That's also possible.  Regardless, it doesn't change the current reality.  It had been snowing for hours.  Had it started a few hours before I left for work, perhaps I would have made the choice to stay home.

But, it didn't.  And I went.  That's the reality.  Instead of should have, could have, would have and railing against what is, acknowledging and accepting things as they are seems more productive and practical.  Folks, there are certain things in life that we have no control over.  If you can't affect a change one way or the other, why exert energy in trying?  Parents, think about the power struggle you have with your children about cleaning their rooms.  And you want to take Mother Nature on????


I admit.  Sometimes, I sweat the small stuff.  Sometimes, I forget what's really important and become a raving lunatic.  Sometimes, I don't make creative use of my emotions, knowledge and time.

But, I get over it.  I always do.

It's January.  It's cold.  And it snows.  I've lived in this part of the country for 31 years.  This weather pattern is not news to me.  Beyond picking up and moving to another part of the country, there really isn't anything I can do about it.  Except, I can focus by taking a deep breath, relaxing and going with the flow. 

Sure beats whining about the weather.

Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.  ~ Anthony J. D'Angelo

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Age is an issue of mind over matter

If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. ~Mark Twain

As some of you may remember, I turned 39 on 12/21/10.  This would now qualify me as a member of the "39 Forever" club, provided there's anymore room in it. 

Having hit this "almost milestone", I occasionally find myself spending a little more time looking in the mirror  than I normally do.  At the risk of sounding narcissistic, it's more to check for the onset of potential gray hair or lines around the eyes and mouth than it is to gaze longingly at my pristine reflection.

After all, isn't that what "one does" when you "get to be my age"???

A few nights ago, I got together with a dear friend for a drink.  He and I have known each other for close to six years now.  As we chatted about "getting older", he commented that I haven't changed at all; that I look the same today as I looked back then.  I smiled and thanked him for the compliment (and no, he didn't follow that up by asking for money). 

Thanks to my parents and some good living, I haven't really changed all that much.  However, it's what you don't see that has.

Perhaps, more importantly, the changes associated with getting older are more internal than external.

Let me explain.

I've been noticing some changes in my behavior/personality, particularly in the past few years.  I've included a short list below in no particular order of importance (remember what the first "R" of my blog stands for):

  1. People's opinions of me don't matter that much anymore.  I was always clamoring for people's approval my whole life, whether it was from my parents, my teachers, my friends or my boss.  What they all thought of me took precedence over my own self-concept.  The older I get, the more in tune I'm becoming with my own inner guidance.  I don't make choices in my life to please others nearly as much as I used to.  There is a fine line between being a compassionate, giving person and a wishy washy doormat.  Pro to aging.
  2. I'm more comfortable in my own skin.  This is kind of related to the first category.  Since I don't care what other people think of me like I used to, I don't treat my body like a trophy or show piece to garner attention from the peanut gallery.  So what if there is a dimple or two on my thighs or an extra couple pieces of "laundry" shielding my washboard abs?  I'm strong.  I'm healthy.  And I'm pretty sure I can still turn a head or two.  Not that I've noticed, mind you (see #1).  Pro to aging.
  3. I'm becoming more private.  As long as I can remember, I've been the sort of person who loved to be the center of attention.  I'd tell anyone anything they wanted to know, no matter how well I knew them.  Now, I've become weary of small talk.  With the exception of my penchant for blogging, I'm not okay with divulging information about myself to casual acquaintances.  I just don't want to talk about myself to people that much.  I'm drawing a more tangible line between my professional and personal lives.  Maybe I'm becoming masterful at the art of setting boundaries.  Or maybe, I'm just getting ornery.  Possible "con" to aging.
  4. I enjoy being home.  I used to be a busy bee in my late teens and early to mid twenties.  My days were chock full of appointments, nights out with friends, work obligations and other social activities.  I was always running from here to there in a frenzy.  There was a certain restlessness to my spirit and I thrived on this chaotic way of living.  Now, I couldn't be bothered.  I love my friends and I derive a good amount of satisfaction from my job.  But, I don't need to take on the world and have a full calendar anymore. I don't like to go out on weeknights, as a general rule (in the case of the friend mentioned above, I gladly made an exception).  My idea of an exciting Friday night is cozying up on the leather sofa with a glass of red wine and my kindle.  And I'm okay with that.  Or maybe I'm just old and boring now.  This could be 50% pro and 50% con to aging.
  5. I can be still.  For as long as I can remember, my life has been a process of searching for something, anything, to show me meaning and purpose.  Is it the right career?  The right religion?  The right relationship?  I assigned all kinds of responsibility to external factors that I had no control over.  Through meditation and self-study, I began to realize that my purpose is joy.  Not only that, I am the only person that can make me happy.  I can't expect anyone else to do that for me.  Now that I know, all the other areas flow much smoother.  Because there are no expectations.  They are bonuses to me.  They enhance my life dramatically.  I appreciate my relationships and my material blessings immensely and realize just how much I have to be thankful for.  But, I am 100% complete without them.  I learned to sit with myself.  And I liked it.  Pro to aging.
So, there you have it. 

Just some random ramblings about things that aging has shown me.

Gray hair and facial lines?

Well, my friends, they only tell part of the story.

The years teach much which the days never knew. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, January 8, 2011

To get faster, run...slower???

Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis???

That just makes no sense whatsoever, now does it?

Not to me, anyway.

That is, until I picked up "The Maffetone Method-The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness" by Dr. Philip Maffetone.


You had me at hello, Dr. Phil (not to be confused with the pop psychologist on tv).

In this book, he explains the benefits of aerobic fitness, stress reduction, proper footwear and nutrition.  At the risk of going off on more tangents than I normally do, I'm only going to outline the finer points he illustrates regarding the first topic:  aerobic fitness.  Maffetone realized that "the human body would progress athletically naturally if it was not overstressed."  He decided to see how successful an average person could be by following a no-pain approach to exercise, as opposed to the "no pain, no gain" philosophy that most of us have been subscribing to for years.

Myself included.  Let's face it, folks.  I'm a fitness professional by trade.  People PAY me to hurt them.

But, I was still intrigued.

As you know, the last four months of my running has been sporadic.  I'd experienced my share of physical challenges that prevented me from running as far and as fast as I would have liked.  I've always thought of myself as a health and fitness "guinea pig", so to speak.  I try different approaches and exercise trends in order to be informed and aware if and when the subject comes up with a client.  So, the idea of immersing myself in another fitness related experiment seems natural enough.

Maffetone claims his "healthy approach to exercise worked not only for the average person but also for competitive athletes, who improved their personal-best performances and finished in first place in local races. Some went on to even higher levels; some even achieved world-class status, winning national and world championship events."

Hey, I like improving.  And I wouldn't mind finishing first place in local races either.

I decided to start with Chapter 6:  Exercise and Heart Rate.  Maffetone says one of the most important aspects of your exercise program is knowing whether you're aerobic or anaerobic.  He says "Aerobic speed-the ability to work faster and harder with the same or less energy-can be developed only when one has a high level of aerobic function".  In other words, the most important part of your fitness regimen is the aerobic base, "the time you'll need to spend to build your aerobic system".

I'd trained with a heart rate monitor off and on over the years.  Since I already owned one, I figured this would be the best place to start.  In the early 1980's, Maffetone developed a new formula for determining the optimal heart rate for anyone who works out.  It's called "the 180-Formula".  You may have heard of the 220-age calculation which, the author states, is inaccurate.  The numbers using 180-age are generally lower than 220-age, which are based on "oxygen-consumption tables and estimated maximum heart rates.  The 180-Formula is based on each individual's general health and fitness level and was derived from clinical trials and from gas-analyzer results."

The 180-Formula is as follows:

1)  Subtract your age from 180.

2)  Modify this number by selecting from the following categories

  • If you are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation, any hospital stay, etc.) or if you are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  • If you have not exercised before, have exercised irregularly, have been exercising with injury, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or cases of flu per year, or have allergies or asthma, subtract an additional 5.
  • If you have been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the above-mentioned problems, use the (180-age) number.
  • If you are a competitive athlete and have been training for more than two years without any of the above-mentioned problems and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
The heart rate obtained by using this formula is referred to as the maximum aerobic heart rate. (Page 62)

Sounds easy enough, right?

I subtracted my age, 39, from 180 and decided to add 5 (since I have done six marathons and have had long stretches of injury-free training), making my maximum aerobic heart rate 146.  Maffetone suggests using a range from that number to 10 beats below that number, which would make my training zone 136-146 bpm.  Those numbers seem REALLY low, I know.

In time, as the aerobic system improves, I'll have to work harder to maintain the same heart rate.  In other words, I'm going to adapt to this intensity.  My exercise pace is going to change and I'll have to go faster.  

I decided to train with my heart rate monitor during all my aerobic runs (which is the majority of them-I'll plan on one day of anaerobic/fartlek/speed work) beginning this week.  Since I'm in the process of ramping back up in preparation for Boston and everything feels good, it seemed like the best time to start.  So far, here's what I have:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011
6.20 miles
Avg Pace 10:25/mi
Avg Speed 5.8 mph
Max Speed 7.0 mph
Avg Heart Rate 147 bpm
Max Heart Rate 156 bpm

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
6.26 miles
Avg Pace 9:35/mi
Avg Speed 6.3 mph
Max Speed 9.3 mph
**Did not use HRM since this was a fartlek run, preceded by 15 minutes easy running and followed by 10 minutes of slow running to cool-down**

Thursday, January 6, 2011
6.20 miles
Avg Pace 9:58/mi
Avg Speed 6.0 mph
Max Speed 7.6 mph
Avg Heart Rate 147 bpm
Max Heart Rate 157 bpm

Saturday, January 8, 2011
5.50 miles
Avg Pace 10:12/mi
Avg Speed 5.9 mph
Max Speed 7.8 mph
Avg Heart Rate 145 bpm
Max Heart Rate 154 bpm

It's only been a week, so to say that it's made a profound difference already...well, that's a bit premature.  However, as you can see, I'm starting to get myself into the 136-146 bpm training range by adjusting my pace.  That's been the toughest thing for me so far, as I like to see my average pace between an 8:40-9:40/mile.  Running over 10 minutes per mile always seemed slow to me.  I like "feeling like" I can be faster than that.  But, for the purpose of this experiment, pace and distance are irrelevant, really.

So, I'm shelving the ego and submitting myself to the process.

Stay tuned, folks.