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Blood on the Sock January 24, 2010

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Job Search, Life, running.
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On my first attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I blew out my quads. A runner will turn his hat around when his goal is lost.

Here I am. After an 18 mile run I am in bed with a cold pack on my heel and a corn bag on my left thigh. I am a mess and this is only the beginning of the training for the Boston Marathon, my last bastion of freedom.

So I started out this morning, already sore in the heel (now thinking that it is the return of an old injury – Plantar Fasciitis) and new soreness in the knees. At mile nine, a quick stretch on each leg calmed the knee soreness but from there a malaise of pain gradually took over my lower body until around mile 15, when it felt like my legs were on fire. After the run, while slowly unraveling running gear (it was very hard to bend over) I discovered blood on the top of my sock where a persistent hot spot has opened up despite Body Glide ®, and taping. Yes, I am in sad shape and it is only the beginning.

I remember the training for my very first marathon. My buddies and I were experiencing a whole world of hurt that season. I was popping ibuprofen like it was candy. During the carb-loading pre-race dinner the night before the race, I made the grand pronouncement of, “Hey, maybe because we trained so well, it won’t hurt so bad.” My buddies, having run a marathon before, just laughed and laughed at that statement. They laughed again when I discovered that I was wrong – very wrong. I couldn’t go up or down stairs for a week.

I don’t know what is up with my thought process. Yes, I have embraced change. Yes, I am working hard on making my life the life I want. However, I always think, “Oh this will be easy.”  What the hell am I thinking?  My run in Boston this coming April will be my 7th marathon. You would think I would remember how painful the training is. It doesn’t get any easier, and now that I am 50, I have the age thing working against me.

At one point in my life I loved being able to say, “I have succeeded in everything I have done.” It was a hollow statement. I never challenged myself. I never thought that maybe if I took control of my life, I could make a better life. I was in an unsupported career, working with people who were not collaborative or open to new ideas. I ignored a relationship that had become nothing but a conciliatory, domestic partnership. I had the body of a 75 year old, wearing out before its time, and I didn’t care. Of course I am going to be successful accepting mediocrity and compromise. Anyone would. Things have changed. I have given myself monumental challenges in a quest to become the true me with a life better suited for me.  At one point I remember saying, “Changing careers will be a snap. Creating a relationship rich in intimacy, passion and commitment – no problem. Running marathons – bring it on.” Now it is mile 18 and I am feeling the pain.

Break it down into parts

Since the winter season dictates that I leave my bike on the rack, my cross training for this race is swimming. This will serve two purposes; Cross training for the marathon, and streamlining my stroke for a future triathlon this summer. My coach has us doing drills that break down the mechanics of swimming into individual elements. He has us focusing on each part in an effort to slowly rebuild a new, more “efficient forward propulsion,” as he describes it. Again, you guessed it, I found myself saying, “Oh! This  will be easy.” Wrong! I have completely forgotten how to swim! Rebuilding something new after years of doing it wrong is not easy. Frustratingly, painfully, incredibly difficult to say the least. Damn right.

“Rebuilding something new after years of doing it wrong,” that is what I am doing. I have to remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Breaking each element down into its smallest parts is the best way to approach this. I am not ready for the end result yet. I still need to tear it down, correct the misconceptions, practice each part, rebuild from scratch. You can’t rush the end result if the end result is to be successful. Patience and persistence will get me across the finish line when the time is right. Toss in a little blood on the sock as a reminder that this is not easy, but it is going to be worth it – someday.

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The Last Bastion of Freedom January 1, 2010

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Health, running.
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Today was my first official day of my training for the Boston Marathon. I will be running my dream race on April 19th of this year. I had a good run to start off – a 10 mile slip-slide along snow covered roads dodging cars and snow plows. It was splendid! I crank up the long run mileage this weekend. I start cross training (Swimming) on Monday.

I was talking to a good friend today about control. It seems there is very little that people have personal control over these days: finances, careers, relationships. People are making sacrifices for their children. People are forced into financial compromises because of unemployment. People are postponing relationships because of overwhelming responsibilities. I am no different. I don’t have control over much in my life right now. I have made good choices but with poor timing (deciding on a career change right when the economy tanked.) Because of this, I have made several sacrifices for others. I have had to accept compromises for myself. The only thing I have control over these days is my running. I am in charge of my training plan. I make decisions about where to place my runs during the week. I listen to my body and respond to it’s needs for nutrition and rest. I weigh the consequences of skipping a run or the advantage of adding a run. It is all up to me.

My Only Control

People need to have control of something in their life. Even if it is only one thing, it gives them freedom. To be the master of your own creativity, to be the director of your own narrative, to be the manager of your own career, to be a contributor of your own relationship – just one thing to grab onto and say, “this is mine.”

  • I know someone who lives for writing
  • I know someone who breathes for photography
  • I know someone who determines their children’s future
  • I know someone who is a partner in a passionate love affair
  • I know someone who has a successful business

These people have a purpose. These people have control. These people have something to wake up for. These people have something that keeps them alive. These people have freedom.

The Challenge

Training for a marathon will be a challenge in such a harsh environment here in the northeast. I have only trained for half-marathons during the winter, never a marathon. I have already hit challenges in the past few weeks and now that I am on a strict training schedule, I need to be creative in my re-working of training elements.

Cross training – I will have to switch to swimming as my non-impact cross training. In my usual summer-fall marathon training, I used cycling for this. I am hoping to get the same benefits in the pool.

20+ long runs – Always a challenge even when the weather cooperates, I have never run a 20+ training run in the snow. I have also decided that I need to do at least 4 of these to get myself over the Newton hills and still come in at a sub-four hour finish time.

Speed workouts – I have been very successful with step-ladder interval training on a track in the past. Since I won’t have access to a track (shoveled off anyway) I will have to resort to Fartleks exclusively. It is hard to monitor progress with this training technique and I have never relied on them exclusively.

Treadmill alternative – In severe weather, I will have to use a treadmill. I hate training on a treadmill. These machines do not offer the same training return that road training does because they naturally aid in the push-off. I also will miss the psychological and spiritual benefits of running outside.

Night training – Running in snow is one thing. Running in the dark in the snow is just downright dangerous. Most of my training injuries have happened in the winter mainly as a result of the combination of poor visibility and slippery conditions.

Weight – Winter is when people experience weight gain the most. Not only do I have to focus on my training diet, I also need to lose about 8 pounds before race day. This will all be a challenge in itself especially with the stresses of other variables in my life right now.

The Benefits

Ever since I have been running marathons I have always dreamed of qualifying and running the Boston Marathon. The journey to that end has changed my life. On this road I have found new perspectives in my social life, psychological stability, spiritual awareness, and self esteem. I have discovered elements of myself that I never thought existed. My depth of understanding and awareness has increased. My fear of challenge and change has dissipated. My perception of what is important in life is clear.

When I cross that finish line on April 19th it will be the symbolic culmination of my personal freedom because I am in complete control of this one little part of my life. I will determine my fate. I alone will decide my success.

The Finish November 27, 2009

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Finish Strong

Wineglass Finish/Boston Qualifier 2008

The most difficult part of any race for me is when I see the finish line in the distance. For some reason, knowing I am that close after such a punishing pace only raises the anxiety. What if I come short? What if I don’t have what it takes to make my goal? Has the training been good enough to bring me there? Do I have enough experience?

I turn the corner and see it. Through the haze, through the masses of people screaming at me, “You are almost there!  You can do it! Don’t give up now!” I see it… and it scares the hell out of me.

I have been here several times before – very close to my goal. I can see it. I can taste it. It is invigorating to think I have come this far and all of a sudden the finish line is just in front of me. But I have been here before, and I have come up short.

I have done everything correctly. I trained hard and long. I planned and ran the race perfectly. I endured the pain through all the miles. Now I see it and I know I just have to hang on for a few more minutes and I will have my PR. All I have to do now is cross the finish line. Do I have enough? Will this be the finish that I have been waiting for?

Years and years of preparation, pain, study, more pain, miscues. Yes, I have been this close before only to come short of my goal. In this kind of race they only give out a first place ribbon. Finishing second or third only postpones the pain until the next opportunity, if there even is another opportunity.

My anxiety rises, my focus waivers. Seeing the finish line does this to me. To be this close yet so far away crushes me when I know this is where I need to be the strongest. “Push through the pain! You can do this asshole,” I scream at myself. “Don’t fuck this up, it is right there in front of you. Take it!”

I am again very close to my end. I have done everything right despite the pain involved. I went back to school. I finished top of my class with a 4.0 GPA. I took every opportunity afforded me. I have prepared for just this moment. I have been at this point before and faltered. Now I have another chance – another opportunity to cross that finish line. I must finish strong this time. There is no room for error. This one has to end perfectly.

I am almost there. The finish banner comes into focus. My chest is about to burst. My legs are numb. Every ounce of energy I carried is now gone. I am running solely on adrenalin. Time slows down. I see the crowds screaming but I no longer hear them. I am gasping for anything that will enter my mouth and nose. I am seconds away. I am so close now… so close…

And now for some GOOD news! November 23, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Health, Life, running.
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I am a runner. In previous posts I have told you how running has been instrumental in shaping my psychological and spiritual life. Now I need to tell you the obvious good news. I have never been fitter in my life. I have never been healthier, had as much energy, looked as good and, yes (on the rare occasion that I do) I have never had such pleasurable sex as I do now. Now that I have your attention (sex will do it every time.) Let me tell you my story.

In 2003 I weighed 210 pounds. I was experiencing lower back and knee problems. I could barely get up and down stairs because of joint pain and just plain cardiovascular weakness. I developed sleep apnea. My blood fats were high (Triglycerides and Cholesterol.) I could not make it through a regular workday without falling asleep. I was quite often sick and my doctor had just written me a prescription for high blood pressure. I was dying.

It was then that I realized that I was not ready to give up on life at such an early age. I guess it was the blood pressure medication that woke me up. I don’t believe much in drugs and medication and believe in the true healing power of the body, but at that time I was lazy and expected that the body could to it without much help from me. I was wrong. The body has amazing powers but you have to keep it in a condition to allow it to do the work.

I started walking first. Then I worked on running a full mile without stopping. Then, I made three without stopping. Then came six. I ran a few races with my buddies and found a wonderful, supportive community that gave me even more inspiration. I dropped down to 190 pounds quickly. I ran my first half marathon. Then I started studying nutrition and found the value in nutrient rich, complex, fat burning foods and the value of eating smaller meals throughout the day.  I dropped another 15 pounds QUICKLY. I ran faster, stronger and longer…

Today I weigh 170 pounds. My triglycerides and cholesterol are way within the limits. I sleep soundly and have tremendous energy throughout the day. I am no longer experiencing back pain, knee pain, or sleep apnea, and I have been off blood pressure medication for over five years now. I have run and finished six consecutive marathons. I have qualified for the Boston marathon (with a 3.30 finish time) and will be running there in April of this year. I am fitter, healthier, stronger, AND SEXIER (had to get your attention again) than EVER before.

Yes, YOU can achieve ANYTHING if you believe in yourself.

Now the proof

I hate to show my fat pictures but here they are, followed by recent pictures.

My fattest in 2003 - 210 pounds

Tired and Indifferent in 2003

Light and Strong in 2006

Light and Strong in 2006

Lean and fast in 2008

Lean and fast in 2008

Boston qualifying in 2009

Boston qualifying in 2009

Running is… November 15, 2009

Posted by jassnight in fitness, Life, Love, running, Spirituality.
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superstock_1431r-214silhouette-of-a-man-running-postersRunning is not just physical for me, it is also spiritual. Let me explain.

Much to the displeasure of my fundamentalist sister and the disappointment of my mother, I have not been inside a church to worship for almost 7 years now.  Why?  Because I have found a direct conduit to God, Yahweh, the Creator (whatever you want to call him/her/it, and shame on me to even try to label.)  I will call him the Beloved for this post, reflecting Trebbe Johnson’s book, “The World is a Waiting Lover: Desire and the Quest for the Beloved.” Her description of an internal connection with the soul that reaches out to the creator best fits my ideals of spirituality.

Here is my issue with organized religion. Religion has a human incentive to it. Since the “church” existed there has been a human desire to profit share with the Beloved. Historically, churches used the beauty and glory of the Beloved to manipulate, suppress, propagate, and market the human agenda – sometimes for good, more often for peripheral motives. Regardless, the church has always portrayed itself as the conduit to the Beloved. You are discouraged to speak to the Beloved unless it is through the convention set down by the church; a certain way to pray, a certain structure to service, a certain amount to tithe, a certain viewpoint in lectures, homilies, sermons, a certain way to die and morn, a certain way to celebrate, a certain way to love.

My connection with the Beloved has no conduit. We talk directly to each other. It is mostly when I run. There is something about the solitude coupled with the rhythmic sounds of breathing, heart beating and foot placement combined with the glory of the outdoors that brings me to the Beloved. This morning’s long run was a classic case.  When I started the run, my mind was in reality. I was thinking about my less than ideal situation. I was stewing about a relationship with someone that frustrates me. I was assessing what I will say in a very important interview tomorrow. Then I climbed out the foggy valley and looked down, I saw the blanket of clouds resting in the valley keeping it warm and safe. A huge flock of geese appeared from behind me and flew overhead. There must have been well over 500 of them crisscrossing in a complex array of “V’s” as they headed south. The sun had risen and splashed colors throughout the sky and fields. The wind was in my face. The smells of fall engulfed my mouth and nose. My day-to-day reality melted away and I was now with the Beloved. We became one. My body and mind connected to the earth. Heaven appeared and I was immersed within it. I loved and was loved. Peace.

Peace.

Running is… my connection to the Beloved.

What Empowers You? November 1, 2009

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Empower YourselfThis morning was long run morning. Since I qualified, registered and I am going to participate in the Boston Marathon, I have decided that I would run nothing less than a half marathon for my long runs until I need to ramp up the mileage after the new year. I am committed and I am following through.

In the midst of a self-esteem crushing and soul-sucking job search on top of confusing and hurtful relationship problems, running empowers me. It seems to be the only thing that I have control over in my life right now. My decision to take on the challenge of winter training and run the Boston is a commitment I have made and a goal I will achieve. No one else made that decision for me and no one else gave me permission to do it (note – always discuss long distance running with your doctor before embarking on training. Have check-ups regularly.) I reap the rewards of good training and consequently understand the issues if I skip a training run or run stupid. I am directly responsible for my running and fitness success. Me – no one else.

Running is my source of pride, my base of identity, my constant, my life source.

Running Empowers Me.

I wish I could have been there with you… You were October 26, 2009

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Running is many things to me. It has been with me for seven years now and continues to be a major force in my life. What I gain physically is limitless. What I learn is enlightening. What I discover emotionally is enormous.

I knew the value of my relationship with running when I decided to go back to school for a second master’s degree. As a side note, actually deciding to go back to school was a direct result of my running experiences. When I entered my degree program I made a pact with myself: Running will remain priority and I will never give up a run because of my coursework.  Why would I do this?  Because I knew what running does for me. It gives me the confidence to take on such a huge commitment. It maintains an energy level that allows me to stay alert and productive for long hours at a time. Most of all, it levels me. Running calms me down when I am excited. Running brings me up when I am depressed. Running keeps my head clear when I am confused. During my runs back then, I found myself writing outlines, conceiving projects, organizing presentations, creating strategic plans. The benefits during that time were huge.

Lately, during my recent difficult times, running has been there for me as well. Running seems to be the only thing that I have control over in my life right now. I can always count on it to be there for the reasons stated above as well as allowing me to work out personal problems. The past few runs, yesterday and today, were no different. I have been pretty upset lately and again, running has been there to level me. It is getting me through this.  There is something to be said about a solitary run with nothing but the rhythm of your breathing and the pulse of your heart beating. It brings you deep into your core and allows you to touch your soul. It reminds you of who you are.  This morning’s run was that and more. An early morning run with the sun rising above stunning fall foliage, mist hovering over fields, a spectacular view down through the valley after cresting the hill. It was a moment of pure connection with Self moving through this heaven.

I am reminded of a specific scene in the movie, Forrest Gump. Not many movies make me cry but this specific scene does it to me every time. Every time! Jenny is on her deathbed and Forrest describes some of his most beautiful visions while he ran across the country. When he is done, she says, “I wish I could have been there with you.”  He responds, “You were.”

Grab your box of tissues and watch…

Trust in the training – Respect the distance October 18, 2009

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Leaf PeeperI ran the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon in Cortland this morning. It was a beautiful crisp fall day and plenty of miles to keep everyone happy.  I also met some very wonderful people. The running community is so supportive and friendly. Many, like me are just out there for the base-line goal – to stay healthy.

I have to admit however that running has become something more to me. Running, in particular, marathon running has taught me so many things that I can apply to my life. These are just a few:

Train for the distance – Every runner knows that achieving goals don’t happen by chance. There is hard work that needs to be done. Most of us design our own training plan or use a pre-designed one by a professional runner or organization. A comprehensive training plan not only includes a running schedule but also rest, nutrition, hydration, injury prevention, and mental preparation need to be addressed. I knew I had a long way to go if I was going to complete my “life marathon” so I went back to college and received a second master’s degree. I accepted every opportunity that was offered to me in order to receive the best “training” possible for my new career goals. I prioritized my daily tasks and eliminated non-essential activities. I balanced my life socially, physically, emotionally, and culturally so that I nurtured body, mind, and soul. Now I am running the race and someday I am going to cross that finish line.

Pace yourself – Runners know the concept of negative splits. This basically means, start slow-end fast. Take your time and assess as you run. Read your body and always respect the distance to the finish line. Patience has never been my strong point. I can’t tell you how many times I have hit the wall because I went out too fast in the beginning. I expect instant results and consequently always end up disappointed with the outcome when I get cocky and run too fast. You must take your time and respect the distance. Life change always takes longer than you think. It is important to stay calm, conserve energy, and assess the situation. I have a lot to learn in this category.

Teamwork – many who are not part of the running community look at this sport as a solitary venture. Nothing can be further than the truth. You need people to support you. There are the running buddies who train with you, the friends who support you, the runners you meet up with on the course to share the experience with, the support staff at the water stations. On top of that, after my marathons I personally need a recovery support coach at the finish line to walk me around and keep me moving as well as make sure I eat and drink. This is very important for recovery and I am not very cooperative in the procedure as my past recovery coaches can attest to (many thanks to Polly, Ginny, and Nicki over the past 6 years for putting up with me.) My life marathon is no different. My friends have been a leveler for me. When I hit a wall, they are there to console me and tell me to get up and try again. When I achieve, they are there to celebrate with me but also to warn me not to get too cocky.  When I am impatient, they wait with me and tell me it won’t be forever.  No one can do this alone.

Pain is only temporary – In running, as in life, pain is always a factor. I tanked out at mile nine today and the pain was evident, believe me! Life has its pain too. There are financial problems, medical problems, relationship problems, career problems, etc… The key is to know that it won’t be forever. Things will change. When the race is over, the pain dissipates, and there is always a sense of accomplishment at the finish line. The key is to start the race, put one foot after the other, and finish. Push through the pain. It is only temporary.

And the most important lesson I have learned…

You can do anything you put your mind to – This is actually a psychological theory called Locus of Control which refers to what people perceive as determining factors of their life situation. Some feel it is all by chance and controlled by outside influences (the “life is a box of chocolates” wisdom from Forrest Gump’s mother.)  Some feel that they have control of their life and it is all determined by their own efforts and behaviors.

You have to believe that you can run a marathon before you can. You must know it as fact that whatever you put your mind to, you can do. This is called Intrinsic Locus of Control. [See The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer – Whitsett, Dolgener & Kole, for more information on the use of Locus of Control for marathon training. I used this book as my training guide for my first marathon.]

For years I settled into a mediocre life because I felt that I had no control over my circumstances. I was also terribly afraid of change and figured that I was better off if I just stayed where I was in life. Now, because of marathoning, I know I can change my life as well. I believe it can happen. Yes, it takes training, pacing, pain, and teamwork, but it can be done.

I am running my “life marathon” now and I am close to that finish line. I just have to remember to trust in the training and respect the distance.

I would be interested in hearing from readers about what you have learned from running. Leave me a comment and share.