Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Bet Tigger Would Be Able To Make A Decision



This week’s blog is going to be short.  It’s not that I don’t like writing; I actually love it.  It’s just that I’ve caught my son’s cold and I feel like crap.  My throat feels like someone set fire to it, and my body can’t decide if it should sweat or shiver.  My daughter made me some tea in the Tigger mug she got for me when we were in Disney World a couple of years ago (yes, I love Tigger.  Because the wonderful thing about Tiggers – is Tiggers are wonderful things!  Got a problem with that?  I didn’t think so).  The problem is that I don’t think she rinsed the cup out from my coffee this morning (yes, I use my Tigger mug all the time.  Hey, your kid spends her allowance to buy you a mug, you use the mug for the rest of your life.  Besides, the wonderful thing about Tiggers – is Tiggers are wonderful things!), and the water is tepid at best, so this cup of tea is awful (and let’s keep that between just us).

OK, back to my blog.  Last year I ran the Brooklyn Marathon two weeks after I finished the New York Marathon.  I did it for a few reasons:  1) I’m a little bit crazy (evidence: grown woman admitting she loves Tigger), 2) I felt like months of training for one race was a waste, so this way I could use the same training and get two races out of it, and 3) a reason that I couldn’t explain, but I knew I had to run it.  So, I did it.  Last year I ran two marathons two weeks apart.

NY Marathon Finish, 2013
This year, the Brooklyn Marathon is again 2 weeks after the NY Marathon.  Now, they are very different races.  At the NY Marathon you’re running with 40,000 of your closest friends, with about a million more of your friends cheering you on.  It’s epic.  The Brooklyn Marathon – not so much.  It caps at 500 people, so it’s tiny.  I think I counted about 27 spectators, and they all left when it started to rain in the middle of the race.  The NY Marathon runs through all 5 boroughs (though Staten Island and the Bronx don’t get a whole lot of love there), so you get to see the character of all different neighborhoods, and all the different characters that live in them.  With the Brooklyn Marathon, you have to run 6 big and 3 small loops in Prospect Park, so the only thing you pass are mile markers that you haven’t gotten to and that just makes you sad.

At the same time, though, running 2 marathons in 2 weeks is a pretty cool accomplishment.  And yes, you really don’t have to train for the second one.  It’s like getting a buy one get one sale at your favorite store.  Also, you can just take the subway down there, making it pretty easy to get to.

This year, the Brooklyn Marathon has been on my radar, but I couldn’t commit to it.  Not yet.  But as the months to the NY Marathon has dwindled to days (14!), the decision of whether or not I want to run Brooklyn two weeks later is looming over me.  And usually I’m a pretty decisive person, but this time I cannot make up my mind.

I’ve asked a few people their opinions on it.  I’ve gotten great reasons to do it (it really is a big accomplishment, I really have already trained for it, the medals they give out are really cool), and great reasons not to (I already defeated that white whale last year, I might get injured, running around the same park 9 times is really freaking boring).

Brooklyn Marathon Finish, 2013
This morning I was riding my bike on a bike trainer in my basement (speaking of really freaking boring), and I thought about the Brooklyn Marathon again.  Why do I want to do it, and why don’t I?  The reasons why I don’t popped up first.  This training season has been more tiring than season’s past, and I kind of just want it to end.  Being 1/100th the size of the NY Marathon, it’s also about 1/100th as interesting.

Then I thought about why I wanted to do it, and something dawned on me.  Remember how I said that I had a third reason for wanting to run it last year, but I wasn’t sure what it was?  Well, I finally figured it out.  I was afraid of quitting.  As of right now, the NY Marathon is the last one on what was a relatively light race schedule, and I likely won’t race again until March.  I know my body needs some time to rest and recover, but I’m worried that rest and recovery will turn into inertia.  If I don’t have something to train for, I’m worried that I’ll just stop.

This isn’t an outrageously ridiculous thought.  I’ve finished the peak of my marathon training, and my body is tired.  Yesterday I ran a 15 mile long run, and slept half the day afterwards (though it may have been this damned cold coming on).  I’m on my 3 week taper, and any runner will tell you that tapering is really hard.  You’re used to doing so much, and now you’re doing a fraction of what you did before, so it almost feels like you’re standing still.  Also, we can’t forget about that Fat Girl that used to live in my body (if you’re curious, she liked Tigger, too).  That girl took inertia to a whole new level.

Although I’ve had this epiphany, I still haven’t decided on the Brooklyn Marathon.  Per the race organizers, it’s close to selling out so I really do need to make a decision.  At least now, though, I figured out what it was that drove me to do it last year.  I have to remind myself that I’ve gotten through several winters with no races and no visits from Fat Girl.  Doing one marathon instead of two isn’t going to push me off the cliff of inertia and right into a Key Lime pie or a vat of gelato.  I can stay healthy and fit regardless of if I sign up for this second marathon or not.

Sorry to leave this blog on a cliffhanger.  Maybe next week I’ll write about the decision I made and we can all decide together if it was brilliant or just plain stupid.  But for now I'm going to curl up on the couch and drink my tepid tea that tastes like this morning's coffee.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Things Are Better The Second Time Around



Pouring rain early on a Saturday morning in early fall.  What could be better?  You can hear the rain outside, but you’re all warm and cozy under the covers.  You’re snuggled up with your partner and maybe even a cat or two.  Ah.

But then the damned alarm goes off.  Ah turns to “Aaah!” as you jolt awake and remember why you set your alarm for 5:00 AM.  It’s time for your 20 mile long run. 

Ok, maybe this wasn’t you.  Maybe the first paragraph is almost exactly how you were this past weekend, perhaps substituting the cats for dogs, children, or whatever else crawls into your bed and nuzzles up to you in the middle of the night.  But the second paragraph?  The one about waking up at 5:00 AM to go for a 20 mile run in the rain?  Nope, doesn’t apply.

Well, it did to me.  Saturday I had to do the second and last of my 20 mile long runs in preparation for the NYC Marathon just a mere 3 weeks away (and btw – yikes!).  My running partner and I weren’t running until 7, but with a run that long you have to eat and then let it digest so that your body can tolerate such a long run, but won’t jettison anything along the way.  So, I extricated myself from the husband and cats and went got dressed for my run.

Now, you wouldn’t think a 20 mile run would be so bad if it’s the second one in your training plan, since you already did one and therefore know that you can do it.  Well, it’s actually harder.  You see, the problem this time is that you know roughly how long it’s going to take, and exactly how much it is going to hurt.

I wasn’t looking forward to this run at all.  My running partner Rita and I did our last 20 miler two weeks earlier, and I still had memories of my feet hurting and my self-confidence lost somewhere along the way.  When we had finished our run that time I was completely defeated, knowing that I never would have been able to run another step let alone the extra 6.2 miles I would have to run in the marathon.  On top of all that, this time it was raining and pretty cold for early/mid-October.  Neither Rita nor I wanted to run in the rain (or at all, frankly), but our thought was that the marathon itself could be during a monsoon so we might as well be prepared for it.

At 7 o’clock, after I was fed and digested, Rita and I met up and started our run.  We both had on windbreakers, which for me ended up being completely useless.  First, I was hot after about 5 minutes and tied it around my waist for the rest of the run, and second, it was raining so steadily that staying dry was futile.  Just as we started, Rita commented how we were off on our 20 mile run.  I immediately interjected, “No, I’m not running 20 miles.  I’m running 5.”  Rita looked confused, so I told her “that last 20 miler almost killed me, so I’m only thinking about this run 5 miles at a time.”  Rita allowed me my fantasy, and the first 5 miles were pretty much a breeze (a very wet breeze). 

When we hit 5 miles we slowed to a walk so we could eat our gels and have some water.  Other than being soaked, I felt great.  That’s the best part about being deep into a marathon training plan; after a while, 5 miles starts to feel like nothing.  When we were done eating, Rita remembered my altered sense of reality regarding this run and asked, “OK.  Ready to run 5 miles?” and we turned our walk back into a jog.

This 5 mile set was pretty much as fine as the first.  The rain lessened and got stronger at different intervals, but it never let up.  My socks were still dry enough that I was leaping over puddles rather than going through them, but the leaps were getting a little harder to do (though I’m not sure if it was because my legs were getting tired so jumping was hard, or that it had been raining for so long that the puddles were getting bigger).

Rita and I continued on, chatting about work, family, neighbors, our favorite foods (hey, when you’ve been running almost 2 hours and you’re less than halfway done, you get a little hungry and food becomes a fascinating topic).  Before I knew it, my watch beeped that we were at mile 10.  Halfway!

We slowed to a walk again to have our next serving of chews and water (which didn’t hold a candle to all of the things I was planning on eating when I got home).  I still felt good, though I was definitely more tired.  We also had a problem that we were both getting kind of cold; running for 2 hours in the rain and then slowing to a walk will do that to you. We tried to make our walk break shorter so we could warm up again, but I had trouble getting started.  The problem wasn’t with my body; it was in my brain.  We had just run 10 freaking miles, but we still had 10 miles to go.  I couldn’t do this.  But then I remembered my trick.  I didn’t have to run 10 miles, just 5.  I asked Rita if she was up for a 5 mile run.  She smiled, either liking this method or thinking I was insane and just humoring me, and we picked up our pace again.

The third set of 5 miles was the hardest, and I knew it would be.  We had already run so much, but we weren’t close to the finish, even when this set was over.  I told myself (and may have said it out loud; I was too cold and tired to remember at that point) that the point of this run was to prep for the marathon, so this was like miles 17 to about 21, when you know you’ve done a lot and you are exhausted, but you have quite a long way to go.  I tried to think of some things to keep my going.  I thought about how I was healthy and fit enough to be this cold, wet and tired because I could run for hours at a time.  I thought about my kids who think exercise and vegetables are just a given (though they believe that vegetables come from the freezer.  Hey, I’m a working mom; I do my best).  I remembered that I love doing this because I love the feeling of setting up a big challenge and then succeeding at it.  And suddenly this 5 mile set wasn’t so tough.  Well, it was, but I was feeling less cranky about it.

At mile 15, we slowed down for our third and final nutrition break.  At that point the thought of eating more sweet, sticky chews was really unappealing, but I was starving so I pulled them out and tried to open the package.  And that’s when I realized I had a bit of a problem.  My hands were completely numb. I could see that I was holding my packet of chews, but I couldn’t feel them.  I ripped the packet open with my teeth (and heard my mother in my head yelling at me for doing so), and managed to push the first of the 3 chews out.  But the second one was another story.  I was so cold that I couldn’t move my thumb to push the chew, and I suddenly understood how cats felt next to an unopened can of tuna.

I finally managed to get the chews out of the package, and as we started running we cheered about how we really did only have 5 miles left this time.  By then my shoes and socks were so soaked that I didn’t worry too much about the ill effects of puddles and just ran through them when I couldn’t avoid them.  After a mile or two (which put us at about mile 16 or 17), I noticed Rita slowing down a bit.  She said she was beginning to struggle, so I took over the conversation and talked about anything to distract her from how she was feeling.  She’d done it for me in our last 3 or 4 runs, so I had the method down.  By mile 19 I figured I was driving her batty, so I shut up and let her finish her run in peace.

A millisecond after my watch beeped for mile 19, it displayed its “low battery” message and conked out completely (lesson learned, Alison: don’t forget to CHARGE your watch the night before a 4 hour run, dumb ass).  After I got over my jealousy of my watch being done and not having to endure this run anymore, I told Rita my watch was dead, and that she was in charge of counting the last mile down by 10ths.  Suddenly, each 10th of a mile seemed longer than the previous one, but finally Rita yelled out “Twenty!”  I stopped dead and was suddenly met by waves of lactic acid creeping into my quads and calves, but I didn’t care.  We did it!  Rita looked at her watch and told me our time.  Even in the pouring rain, we ran this 20 miler over 18 minutes faster than our last one.  Now that is a good training run.

Running in the rain (B'klyn Marathon, 2013)
We limped back to Rita’s house and climbed into her car (and whoever invented heated car seats is my favorite person on this planet) so that she could drive me home by way of Dunkin’ Donuts where we got hot chocolates big enough to climb into.  Once my insides were warm from the hot chocolate and my ass was warm from the seat, I thought about it.  Not only had I run 20 miles, but we’d shaved 18 minutes off our previous time.  And when I thought about it, I knew that I could have run more if I had to.  I was wrong about my original thought; I didn’t know roughly how much less time it was going to take, and I definitely didn’t know how much less it was going to hurt.  Usually I hate being wrong (I’m not really used to it since it happens so rarely :-), but this time I was thrilled.

Now we start to taper our runs down in preparation of the big race on November 2nd.  And after that, I get to snuggle in bed on a cold, rainy weekend morning.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Toe-ing The Line



I promise to write a full- fledged blog here, but I really don’t need to. Oh, I have stuff to talk about to get you through that morning cup of coffee or a part of your train ride or whatever it is that you are doing when you read this.  I had some of my usual trials and tribulations that hopefully will make you laugh for a few minutes.  But to be honest, this entire blog could be written with two words: Toe Socks.

Those who read last week’s blog know that I painfully hobbled through my 20 mile training run, and from it I earned 3 blisters and the inability to walk normally because of a corn on my foot.  This resulted in new running shoes and a trip to a different podiatrist who removed the corn – quite painfully, I might add – but still had me in pain every time I walked.

The podiatrist told me I had to keep my toes from rubbing together when I run.  He recommended toe spacers and powders, most of which I had already used to minimal success.  Toe spacers slip out of place, and powders wear off too quickly.  I limped out of his office still in pain (really, this guy will never earn the nickname “Dr. Gentle”), and pretty dejected.  Nothing was working.  The traditional remedies were no match for me and the world’s stupidest, most ridiculous reason for worrying about not being able to run the NYC Marathon in 4 weeks.

Friday morning I rode my usual 5:15 (yes, 5:15 AM.  I know; I’m tired just writing about it) train into the city to go to the gym and ride on a spin bike for 30 minutes before my boot camp class that was going to suck out  my will to live.  I usually fall asleep on the train (who wouldn’t?  It was 5:15 in the freaking morning), but I couldn’t.  My brain was too active, thinking about how much my foot hurt, and what on earth I could do about it.  And after a very odd train of thought (I won’t go into it, but at one point it included the project I had to get to when I got to work, that I wanted to make meatloaf for dinner on Sunday, and if my son’s favorite color was still green), it hit me.  Toe socks!

Toe socks!  They can’t slip out of place, and they won’t dissolve like powder.  Toe socks!  At that moment I felt a mix of feeling so incredibly smart for coming up with an idea that seemed plausible and nobody else had thought of, and also so incredibly stupid for taking so long to figure out a solution that was so simple.

On my way to the office that morning (after my boot camp instructor was done sucking out my will to live), I stopped at a City Sports around the corner from my office.  They sold toe socks, but only in pink.  I internally apologized to my daughter Olivia   whose first favorite color is purple, and whose second favorite color is “anything but pink” – and happily doled out the absurd amount of money for a single pair of socks.

I wore them all day, and it seemed to work.  The pain I still had was much less than it had been without them, and was at a level I thought I could live with. 

Today, though, was the true test.  I was running a half marathon race in Central Park.  This race – my last race before THE race – is a little more than 2 loops around Central Park, and happens to be the very first half marathon I had ever run, back in 2009.

The race was great.  The weather was in the high 40s, perfect weather for running (once you’re moving, but boy was it cold while we waited for it to start!!!).  My running partner Rita and I kept up a pretty good pace the entire time, slowing down only to drink water a couple of times (and at one point during a water stop I came up with my next brilliant idea: cups with lids at water stops so you can drink while you run without splashing it all over you).  I lost track of mile 9, which caused a pleasant and surprised feeling at the mile 10 marker, and at the very end Rita and I sprinted to the finish and passed a few people which is always just fun.

Sorry about the color, Olivia!
As we picked up our bags and headed out of the park, I checked in with my own body.  My leg muscles were killing me from having to climb the Harlem Hills twice, and I was hungry, but that was it.  My feet didn’t hurt AT ALL.  I smiled and then humbly put my head down and silently gave thanks to the inventor of toe socks.

OK, you’ve read this whole blog entry and you think it’s stupid.   You’re thinking, “Did I just waste 5 minutes reading about a chick with sore feet?”  Well, I don’t think you did.  You see, it’s not the toe socks here that are important (well, not to you; to me they are now the one possession I will run back into my house for if it ever burns down).  What’s important is that I didn’t let an obstacle trip me up.  I did a few things by trial and error (mostly error), but when they didn’t work I just kept thinking until I came up with the right answer.  We all get obstacles thrown in front of us.  And some are huge, way more important than training for a marathon on a sore foot.  Some solutions are easy, and some may take a bit.  But they’re almost always there if we keep looking for them.  I found my solution.  It was ridiculous, but it worked.  Now I just need to find a store that sells them in any color but pink.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When A Relationship Causes More Pain Than Love



I have something tough to say this week, so I’m just going to say it: I’m getting divorced.

Now hold on.  Keep reading.  I’m not divorcing my husband, Wil.  Why on earth would I divorce my best friend, strongest cheering squad, intellectual equal (almost :-) and world’s greatest dad?  Would I really want the man who to his knowledge is the father of my children (just kidding, honey; we all have the same blood type for a reason) out of my life?  No, I’m not divorcing Wil.  I’m divorcing my damned shoes.

The holes should have told me I wore them too long.
I’ve had a problem for months that I haven’t written about because it’s completely ridiculous.  But, here goes.  In April I developed a corn between two toes on my right foot.  Well, 5 months, 3 pairs of sneakers and 2 podiatrist appointments later, and I still have the stupid thing and it still feels like someone is squeezing my foot in a vice grip every time I run.  Or walk.  Or breathe if I have shoes on.

I’m pretty sure it developed because I was wearing running shoes that needed to be retired but I was trying to keep the relationship going longer than it should have.  The next pair just exacerbated the problem, but I didn’t want to toss out a pair of running shoes that were too young to die.  So I wore those for months, running in pain every single time.  A couple of months ago I couldn’t stand the pain anymore, so I kept the same brand (Brooks) but changed styles (from Ravennas to Adrenalines).  And – no difference.  The problem now, though, was that I was knee deep in my training plan for the NY Marathon.  It was time to start breaking in the shoes that were going to accompany me on my 26.2 mile journey through the 5 boroughs of New York City, and this relationship needed to work.  So, I pretended that my little toe wasn’t dying every time I ran and I ignored the pain that lingered the rest of the day after a run.

Yesterday I had the first of two 20 mile long runs on my training plan.  The weekly long runs are the meat and potatoes of a marathon training plan, and are pretty crucial.  You need them to build up muscle in your body and stamina in your mind.  The 20 miler is a really big deal, because finishing that is one way of telling yourself that: a) the marathon you’ve been training for months for is getting pretty damned close, and b) that if you can get through it on your own power then you’ve got this marathon in the bag.

So, yesterday my running partner Rita and I set off bright an early for our 20 mile run.  We had a bit of a route planned out, but since the run is so long, we just kept turning down whichever road seemed reasonable and doubled back through neighborhoods in order to fit a 20 mile run into a town that is only 2.2 square miles in area.  Things were fine for the first 4 miles, but then I felt the vice grip on my right foot, squishing that toe that is so unhappy right now.  I didn’t want to start complaining THAT early on in my run, so I shifted my stride a little so that I landed on the inside of my foot instead of the outside.

Now, any runner with two cells of grey matter will tell you that changing your gait midway through your run is a terrible idea, especially if it’s because something hurts (the logical thing to do is stop, but runners are almost never logical).  The reason is simple; if you’re now landing on parts of your foot that have not been trained to receive pressure three times your body weight over and over, those parts of your foot will also start to hurt.  And by mile 7, that’s exactly what happened.  I could feel what ended up being 3 blisters rubbing.  They were spread out over both feet, meaning that there was no way to feel relief.  I think it was somewhere around mile 8 that I turned to Rita and said, “I need to apologize”.  Rita looked confused and asked what I was apologizing for.  My reply: “For how incredibly bitchy and nasty I’m going to be for the next 12 miles”.

I knew this run was important so I kept going, but it hurt like hell.  Usually Rita and I encourage each other along, but this time she was the only cheerleader joining us for our run today.  We both work in data and math, so every few miles she’d yell out our completion rate in percentages: “25% done!  37.5% completed!”  Yes, it was very nerdy but it helped. 

We drink and eat our gels every 5 miles, and walk as we do so (for Rita I think it’s just to give herself a break; for me it’s so that my water doesn’t end up everywhere but my own mouth).  Starting up again after the 5 mile break wasn’t too bad.  The 10 mile one was very hard to go from walking back to running, and at the 15 mile walk break I tried to determine if I could still say that I completed my 20 mile run if I walked through the last 5 miles.  I knew I couldn’t, so I started running again. Ouch.

At mile 17, I -- the math genius and card carrying Mensan -- thought to myself “yay, just 2 miles to go”.  Yes, I thought that 17 plus 2 equals 20.  Hey, you go out and run 17 miles on a painful corn and 3 blisters, and tell me how good you are at math at that point.  We plodded along, and when it felt like a half mile had passed, I looked at my watch fully expecting it to say that I was at mile 18.5.  But when I saw that it said 17.5, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  I realized my math error and mentally just gave up.  I couldn’t run anymore.

I actually stopped for a second.  I walked for a bit, getting up the nerve to tell Rita that I couldn’t run any more.  But then I thought about how hard I had been working.  I was at mile 17.5 (NOT 18.5) of a 20 mile run.  I had been running in pain for hours.  Hell, I had been running in pain for months.  Was I going to quit now?  No, I decided.  I wasn’t.

So, I started to run again (if we can use a VERY loose definition of the word “run”) and just kept going.  I got to mile 18 and then the real mile 18.5.  At mile 19 I started counting down every 10th of a mile.  Rita had gotten ahead of me and was out of earshot, but I’d yell out anyway: “0.9!”, “0.8!”

At one point Rita looked over her shoulder and I held up one finger (no, not THAT finger.  My index finger; geesh): 0.1 to go.  Rita turned around and ran back to me.  By then I said, “point-oh-eight”.  We ran together and I counted down the hundredths.  Finally, my watch beeped.  20!  We stopped dead in our tracks and high-fived each other. We did it.  I felt amazing and like pure crap, all at the same time.

I spent the rest of my Saturday wrapping blisters and trying to stay off my feet as much as possible.  And while I laid around like a lox, I realized that if that had been the actual marathon, I would have been completely screwed.  I would have finished, but I probably would have walked the last 6 miles and would have been incredibly pissed off at myself.  I would have trained for months and worked so hard to have to complete a marathon in the very last way that I wanted to do it. So by this morning, I decided it was time to part company with this most recent pair of running shoes.


My mom has a saying: “Cheap is expensive”.  Every pair of shoes I have ever bought have been on sale, liquidation, or I had enough coupons that the store practically had to pay me to buy them.  And every pair since April has been slowly trying to kill my feet.  So today I bought the most expensive pair of running shoes I have ever purchased (side note: I still managed to get 10% off. I will die before I ever pay retail for anything).  The marathon is exactly 5 weeks from today.  My relationship with my new shoes needs to be more like a torrid love affair than a great marriage.  It needs to start strong and build up fire for these few weeks.  Then we need one amazing, amazing all day love affair on November 2nd as we tour New York City by foot.  So, here’s hoping that divorcing my old shoes was the right move to make, and that my new “champagne taste” sneakers do the trick.
My new kicks: Brooks Glycerin