Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Best 18 Mile Race I Never Did

Wonder Pets

There’s a TV show that my kids used to watch when they were little called “Wonder Pets”.  It’s about a hamster, turtle and baby duck that all live in a school classroom.  When school gets out they get phone calls (via a tin can that also serves as a pencil holder; hey, the kids bought it) from another animal that’s in trouble, and then together they create a “fly boat” out of items in the classroom to rescue the animal in distress (my favorite episode was when a baby calf was stuck in a tree; again, the kids bought it).  The two main themes of each episode was that you don’t have to be big to do big things, and that the best way to get things done is to work together.  They have a few songs in every episode that are always the same.  One has the lines: “What’s gonna to work? Team work!”, and another is “We’re not too big and we’re not too tough, but when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!”

So, what’s my point?  After trying unsuccessfully to get through 2 episodes of “Utopia”, have I given up on prime time TV and reverted back to kids’ shows?  No (though, after living in a world with shows like “Utopia”, “Naked and Afraid” and “Wahlbergers”, reverting back to kids’ TV shows is not such a bad idea).  Today I was reminded of the importance of working with others.

This morning I was supposed to run an 18 mile race in Central Park.  The Metro-North train schedule – frankly – sucks on Sundays, so I had the “brilliant” idea to drive to the city.  I picked up two fellow Pehlamites and we had a great ride down.  The problem, though, was trying to find parking along with the other few thousand people who had also driven to the race.  After 30 minutes of circling and losing numerous spots to the car right in front of me I dropped the other racers off, and 40 minutes after that (which was now 20 minutes past the race start time), I gave up completely and drove home (don’t worry; my two carmates only wanted one way rides. I was frustrated and pissed off, but I’m not an asshole.  I promise I didn’t abandon anyone).

So, now it was late morning and I was home from my round trip excursion to Manhattan without running one step of the 18 miles I needed to do for today’s long run (thus why the 18 mile race in the park was so perfect, save for the lack of available parking).  I sat in the living room with my husband Wil and daughter Olivia.  First they both sat there waiting for the smoke to stop coming out of my ears.  Finally, Wil decided to step into the lion’s den first and asked, “why don’t you just go run now?”  (Then I think he flinched back a little in case I tried to kill him for trying to help me when I was so angry).  But I didn’t want to run.  An 18 mile run takes well over 3 hours.  It was too late in the day to take on such an endeavor.  I also had eaten many hours ago thinking I’d be running much earlier, so now my food intake was all messed up.  I didn’t have a route mapped out, I didn’t want to run alone for so long, and I had a million other excuses.

In my head, I had a big problem.  It’s 7 weeks until the NY Marathon (and holy – poop – by the way).  Now is not the time to start skipping long runs.  I knew full well that if I skipped this run, that I’d be so angry at myself that I’d skip tomorrow’s 5 mile run, too.  Then on Wednesday, I wouldn’t feel prepared for the 8 miler I had on the docket, so I wouldn’t do that one, either.  Etcetera.  You get the idea.

Just as I was mapping out the demise of my training schedule and possibly my running career, my cell phone rang.  It was my friend and running partner, Rita.  Rita had to go to a wedding this weekend, so we weren’t going to be able to run together.  A few times this week she had told me how she was really dreading doing her 18 mile long run by herself, but didn’t have much choice.  When I had gotten home I had texted Rita about how I had missed the raced.  Now, she was calling me because she got home earlier than expected.  She hadn’t run yet, and asked if I wanted to go with her.

Suddenly, the little storm cloud over my head broke and the sun came out.  Did I want to run together?  YES!  I happily grabbed up my water belt and fuel gels and skipped out the door.  I had someone to run with! 

This blog is getting a little long, so I won’t give a blow by blow of every single mile.  But generally speaking, it was great.  When one of us was struggling we’d say it out loud and the other person would encourage them on (read, the bazillion times I need help Rita turned into a motivational coach, and the one or two times she was having a hard time I helped her out).  As the miles fell away, we’d talk about how “little” we had left; at mile 8: “Just 10 more miles!”, at mile 9: “Woohoo, halfway!”, at mile 12 “Hey, less than a 10K!” 

At one point we had been running in silence for a bit when we came to just one more hill than my legs could bear.  I was done.  If I had been alone, I know that I would have stopped for a bit.  I might have walked a little and tried to run again, but mostly I would have walked, stopped, and sweared for the rest of the run.  Instead, though, I just said, “OK, Rita, I’m hurting.  You need to talk about something that will distract me.”  Without missing a beat, Rita started talking about the wedding she had just gotten home from, and then next thing I knew we were up that first hill plus two more and I barely noticed them (OK, this was about mile 14, so let’s call it like it is: I noticed them, but I was too busy listening to the story to think of any bad words to mutter as I went up them).  A bit later she was having a tough time, so I cheered her on.  “What’s going to work?  Team work!”

We finished our run at my house, so I grabbed my car keys to drive her home with a detour for celebratory frozen coffee drinks from Dunkin’ Donuts.  When I got home from Rita’s and cooked and then inhaled a stack of pancakes (hey, I had just burned 1600 calories.  Frozen coffee drinks and pancakes weren’t even a blip on my food radar for the day.  Besides, I make these awesome multigrain pancakes with pear sauce and bananas. Totally healthy – as far as pancakes go), I thought about my morning.  My “brilliant” decision to drive to the City had killed my race and threw me into a tailspin that I couldn’t get out of on my own. But missing that race led to the happy accident of me be able to run with my friend who didn’t want to run alone either.

Ben (kid) helping Gunther (dog) fetch a "stick".  Teamwork!
Rita and I don’t run together all the time.  We do all of our weekday runs alone.  But, I know that to be prepped for our weekend runs that I need to get through the weekday ones, or I risk holding Rita back and messing up her own training.  It’s funny how we can be quick to let ourselves down, but when we’re working with someone else we really want to help each other out.

Is there something you want to work on but you just can’t seem to do it alone?  Well, look around.  There might be someone in your world who wants to accomplish the same thing, and maybe you can help each other out.  “We’re not too big and we’re not too tough, but when we work together we’ve got the right stuff!”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Who Will Win In the 17 Mile Run: My Heart Or My Head?

I look at my calendar, and almost want to cry.  Here it is again.  It’s that time of year, where I have the annual event that I dread most in my life.  No, it’s not back to school time (I mean, it is back to school time, but name one parent who is sad about that?).  It’s not my annual mammogram (all the women over 40 reading this just cringed at the thought of their next appointment.  Women under 40 pretended they didn’t read it, and the men don’t understand.  OK, guys, here’s what it’s like: have a complete stranger grab your breast, lay it on a table and try to flatten it with an encyclopedia, and have them hold it like that for a minute or so.  Oh, but first make sure they put the encyclopedia in the freezer for about an hour first so that it’s really cold.  Now repeat on the other side.  Yeah, now you’re cringing, too).  Nope, this is worse.  It’s time for my 17 mile training run.

I know; you’re confused.   This is my 5th marathon I’m training for.  Haven’t I run 17 miles before?  Yes, of course I have.  I’ve run 17, 18, 20, and 26.2 (for some reason, no training plan I’ve previously used had a 19 mile run, and almost all training plans stop at 20 miles, with the logic being that 20 miles is roughly when your body hits “the wall” and starts to rebel against you, so the training plans don’t want you to know how incredibly crappy you’re going to feel until you’re in the actual race and there’s no going back).  But for some reason, 17 miles is my Achilles Heel.  It’s always my hardest run and the moment in my training when I want to quit.  My 17 mile training runs are always the ones where my brain starts to beat up my heart and convince me that I can’t do this, and that it’s just too hard and too much work for something so insignificant.

Obviously, I don’t want to do this run, but I’ve been doing most of my long runs with a friend, Rita.  We’re using the same training plan so we have the same torturous long runs every week.  Running with Rita makes things MUCH better.  Rita works in roughly the same field I do, so she enjoys a good conversation about math as much as I do.  Last week we spent about ½ of our 13.1 mile long run calculating the effect of unit cost increase versus utilization increase in a large spike in trend she had found in a medical claims analysis she was working on for a client.  Mixing running with data analysis was my idea of utopia, and that run flew by in an instant (though we couldn’t get to the actual numerical answer since neither of us thought to run with a calculator).

I had warned Rita in advance that the 17 mile run was my arch nemesis, so that she’d be prepared for me to be grumpy and basically suck.  She drove to my house Saturday morning, and as I stepped outside, I knew this run was going to be even worse than I had expected.  We hadn’t even started yet, and it was already over 70 degrees and 90% humidity.  I don’t think she was looking forward to the torture either, but we knew we had to do it, so we might as well get going.

The first few miles weren’t so bad.  We had to add on to our usual route, so Rita had an idea that we actually run in the opposite direction from where we normally go, so by the time we looped around to what is usually right at the beginning, we had already completed over 4 miles.  The conversation was great as always, but I was already really sweaty and hot.  I had 4 bottles with 8 ounces of water attached to my fuel belt, and I was already wondering if it was enough.  It was REALLY hot.

At mile 5 we ate some gels and water, and I had to keep wiping my face off so that sweat wouldn’t drip into my eyes.  By mile 7 I had finished up 2 of my water bottles and was thinking I was in trouble.  Later in the run we were going to run around a park that has a water fountain, so Rita and I tried to figure out at what mile we’d hit the fountain and then divide that by the ounces of water that I had left.  Again with no calculator, the answer in my head came out to “I am not going to have enough water to get to that fountain and I think I’ll collapse and Rita is going to have to drag me home.”

Rita is a pretty positive person, and kept saying things like “the glass is half full, so we’ve already run a 10K!” or “the glass is half full, if we were running the marathon we’d be half way through Brooklyn!”, so I didn’t tell her that I was expecting to die and I’d do anything to drink that proverbial half full glass. 

My nickname is “Wrong Way Bob”, so Rita usually determines the course and I happily follow and am just thrilled that I don’t have to try to figure out where to go and how not to get lost.  At right about mile 9, we turned a corner and I realized were about 2 houses away from my sister-in-law’s house.  So, early on a Saturday morning, my poor sister Tracy had her day interrupted with two VERY sweaty people ringing her doorbell and begging for water.

Tracy filled up two of my bottles and one of Rita’s and told us whenever we run by we can fill up with her hose if we need it.  This prompted us to thank her, say goodbye, and immediately down one container of water each and walk around to her hose to refill them.

By mile 10 or 11 (I was too hot to remember), we decided to walk one minute every mile, mostly to make sure that we could finish the run without external forces, like an ambulance or at least a cab.  We ate our second course of gels , and I drank enough to pretend I was washing them down.  I only had about 1 and ½ bottles of water left, but was dreaming about the oasis of the water fountain in the park.  Or maybe I was just hallucinating at that point.  I’m not really sure.

Somewhere around mile 13 we entered the park and started the lap we take around its perimeter.  The park abuts the Long Island Sound, so some kids on a crew team were carrying their boats and paddles to the water’s edge.  One kid had a handful of oars over his shoulder and turned right when I passed him so that I almost introduced my face to 5 or 6 paddles.  I ducked just in time, but the semi squat I was in caused both quads to scream almost to the point that I think the kid heard them (or maybe that was me screaming; again, it was too hot to remember).

A mile or so later, we saw it: the water fountain!!!!  I think there was a small glow around it, like it was wearing a halo.  As we got near it, though, it looked dry and dirty, kind of like a water fountain that has gotten dusty from lack of use, like the way a water fountain looks in a park – after Labor Day when they’ve shut the water off.  So yesterday – 5 days after Labor Day – I pressed the button on the water fountain knowing before I even touched it that it wasn’t going to work.  And it didn’t.  And all I could think was, “I am totally screwed.”

And that’s the moment that my brain took the opportunity to beat up my heart.  It started saying things like “you can’t do this” and “just quit.  Tell Rita you’re done, and just stop.”  But, I didn’t.  Rita saw that the fountain was off and asked if I was OK.  My mouth opened to tell her I couldn’t run anymore and ask to borrow her phone to call my husband and ask for him to come pick me up.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead, I said something like, “Oh, I have one bottle left, I’ll be fine.”

In truth, though, I wasn’t fine.  I had 8 ounces of water left.  I had been sweating so much that I could literally wring out my shorts.  I was beginning to feel a little nauseous, and my legs felt like they were stapled to the ground.  But I couldn’t quit.  I wanted to, but I couldn’t.  If I quit that run, I was done with marathon training, and probably done with being healthy and fit.  Ending the run would have led to an all-out pity party where ice cream, pizza and Chips Ahoy cookies would be served in abundance, but being the only guest there, I'd eat it all myself.

Rita and I plugged along.  Our minute walks turned plural as we’d walk for over 2 minutes at a time.  We also took turns asking the other if we could stop running and walk for a bit.  It slowed us down to the point that we really couldn’t use the word “morning” to describe the time of day.  The sun was right above us and there was suddenly no shade.  During one walk break, I could literally feel heat coming off my head and neck.  At one point while running, we had to go single file and I was in front.  Rita started to laugh when she saw that my shorts were dripping and so the back of my legs were soaked.  I promised her that it was only just sweat and that I still had full bladder control, but at that point I’m not sure that it was any less gross that it was just sweat.

Run From A Hot Day
Finally we hit 16.5 miles, and I started counting down by every 10th of a mile.  After what seemed forever we heard our favorite sound of the day which was my watching beeping the end of the 17th mile.  We did it!  We finished our 17 mile run in what was now close to 80 degrees, still with 90% humidity.  Including the refills I got at my sister’s, I had drunk 56 ounces of water, most of which was now dripping off my shirt and shorts as I walked.  This 17 mile run was just as bad if not worse than all the other horrible 17 mile runs I’ve done.  But in a way, that makes it better.  They get more challenging, but I don’t back down, as much as I want to.  In the end, my heart and my legs conquered my brain.

Next week my long run is 18 miles, but that’s OK.  18 miles is one of my favorite distances.  Go figure.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone High Up in the Tree Tops

This week I want to talk about comfort zones.  Now, we all have something that makes us feel safe and comfortable: our Mom’s lasagna, a favorite chair, an old worn out sweatshirt that feels like a hug every time we put it on.  And we all need comfort.  Kids need to know there’s a safe place when they’re scared.  Actually, adults do, too.

There is a problem with comfort zones, though.  Sure, they’re safe, but they never let us get anywhere.  It’s much safer to walk around the block without ever crossing a street, but if we never cross the street we’ll never know anything other than our own block.

Last week I took my kids to visit my BFF Heather, and her family up in New Hampshire.  Now, I’d have to say that Heather is probably the person on this planet that I am most comfortable around.  I met her at McGill University my freshman year, and we’ve been buds for the last 28 years (yes, we went to college when we 5.  OK, we weren’t.  Yes, we’re old.  Just let it go).  But although I was in a comfortable place, my family and I all did things out of our comfort zones.

First, the drive alone was stressful for me.  I don’t drive much anymore, so 5 hours on interstate highways was not something I enjoy.  Also, my track record for drives to and from Heather’s house are not stellar.  Once I got a huge speeding ticket, another time I had to pull over on I-95 because there was such torrential downpour that you couldn’t see and the road was flooded.  And then there was the ice storm that I tried to drive in and ended up wrecking my car and getting a concussion. So, although Heather is my favorite person to visit, driving there is not what I would call fun.  That said, if I wanted to see Heather, the only way I could get there with the kids was to step out of my comfort zone and drive there.  And I did.  The drive was nerve-wracking but fine, and the payoff was 4 days with my bestie.  Totally worth it.

My next “out of comfort zone” story isn’t about me.  It’s about my 9 year old daughter, Olivia.  For those who don’t know her, Olivia is a very methodical, by the book kind of kid (unlike her mother, I doubt there will ever be any speeding tickets or car accidents in her future).  Olivia is also very practical.  Dumb ideas just don’t fit inside her body.  You know how you use a kid’s first, middle and last name when you are yelling at them and you want them to know that they are really in trouble?  Well, I don’t think Olivia even knew what her middle name was until she was about 7.

Heather's family and mine, before the course
During our visit to Heather’s, we all decided to go to Gunstock Mountain.  Gunstock is a ski resort in New Hampshire that doubles as an adventure destination in the summer.  They have a ropes course that takes you about 50 feet off the ground, a zip line ride that is 3 miles long, and off-road segways just to name a few.  Heather and her teenaged daughters were set to do the adult ropes course, and I was going to watch Olivia and my 6 year old son Benjamin on the kids’ one.

The course started with a safety demo.  I watched Ben to make sure he was listening and understood (unlike his sister, let’s just say that Ben was hearing his middle name 3 times a day before he was out of diapers).  Every now and then I’d look over at Olivia.  I knew she was concentrating on the rules, but I could see that she was also scared. 

After the demo, the kids and I headed over to the kids’ course.  Although it’s smaller than the adult one, it still puts you between 6 and 10 feet overhead, where you have to tightrope walk, Tarzan swing, or balance your way across wobbly logs while you’re held on by nothing other than a climbing harness and a couple of carabiners. 

Ben went up first, and I had my eye on him to make sure that he was always clipped into something, even if it was just a cable attached to a tree.  I knew that Ben wouldn’t be overly scared, so I also watched Liv. I just wasn’t sure if she could face her fear of heights, climbing, and well, hanging from a cable held on by nothing but a climbing harness and a couple of carabiners. 

Liv, facing her fears and talking to Willy
Olivia was fascinating to watch.  When she got really scared, she started talking out loud, and after a bit I realized that she was pretending to talk to her favorite stuffed animal.  “Willy” always makes her feel better, so she just pretended that she was talking to him.  I watched her concentrate and focus.  One obstacle was really difficult.  You had to walk the length of three different logs.  Each one only had suspension points on the end, so they wobbled back and forth as well as side to side.  And as you finished each one you had to take a very big leap to get to the next one.  Liv was terrified.  Frankly, I was terrified watching her.  But she comforted herself by talking to Willy and just kept putting one step in front of the other.  And let me tell you, nothing has ever shined as brightly as her face when she made it to the end. It was amazing.  Liv stepped out of her comfort zone, and the feeling of accomplishment she had was so big that it radiated from her.

Ben crossing the wobbly logs
But it gets even better.  When my guys were done with their course (which they got to do twice; the first time was slow and methodical, the second time they whipped through it), I texted Heather.  It happened that she was done with her course at the same time.  I hadn’t planned to climb at all, figuring I’d be with my kids while everyone else went, but Heather offered to watch them for me so that I could try the adult’s course.

I didn’t do all of the course, because I had to get back and relieve Heather since she and one of her daughters had to leave before the rest of us.  I was a little nervous, but I really wouldn’t say that I was out of my comfort zone, so I won’t get into my journey through the ropes course.  Besides, I want to get back to part two of my kids.

The kayak phenom
When I was done, I found Heather at the lake.  She was standing on shore, watching Ben and Olivia zoom around in kayaks.  I told Heather that they had never kayaked before, and she said that they wanted to try it so she took them over.

When the kids came back to shore, I asked them about kayaking.  Liv had a blast, and said it was her new favorite thing.  I asked her if she was scared to try it, and she said, “Well, yeah, but I was scared of the ropes course and did it, so I figured I could do this, too.”

And that, my friends, is why we need to step out of comfort zones from time to time.  We need to push ourselves at one thing to realize that we can accomplish many.  It’s great to feel safe all the time, but if we never leave that safety, we won’t discover other things that we end up loving.

So, the next time you’re sitting in your favorite chair eating your mom’s lasagna while wearing that old sweatshirt that feels like a hug, think about trying something that scares you.  You may just find your new favorite thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Two Phases Of Renovation

Have you ever renovated a house?  There are really two main phases: destruction and construction (and no, I don’t have a new show on HGTV; when we lived in Massachusetts we lived in a 2 unit house, and we helped our condo-neighbors with destruction and renovation of their place.  This was of course before we realized that they were psychotic, anti-Semitic bullies who we eventually spoke to only through lawyers.  Good times). 

The deconstruction phase is actually kind of fun.  You get to swing sledge hammers, kick walls in, and take your aggressions out by destroying your own home (that aggression part was the neighbors.  In hindsight we should have known what we were going to be in for just by watching them demolish their own property with such gusto).

Once everything is torn down and swept up, you start with the reconstruction.  Reconstructing involves more work in that it needs to be pretty precise or you have to live with shoddy results.  But if you put the work in, satisfaction in a job well done is a fantastic reward.

So, was I tearing my house down last week?  Nope.  So what’s with the deconstruction/reconstruction analogy?  Well, two weeks ago I went to Memphis for 4 days’ worth of work meetings.  Going on any business trip is tough.  You have hours of long meetings where you barely get to walk around, the days are very long and you’re sleeping in a hotel bed that you’re not used to.  And then there’s food.  At most conferences, there's tons of food, usually buffet style.  This meeting was no exception.  The food was abundant and was ever present.  Besides meals, there were snacks, sodas, and sweet tea (and by the way, in Memphis sweet tea is served with your meal instead of water unless you request it.  That was new for me).  Oh, and did I mention the desserts?  Key Lime pie (in my opinion, the only non-chocolate dessert worth eating), pecan pie (a very close second non-chocolate dessert worth eating), peach cobbler, ice cream.  And those are only the desserts I can remember.

Needless to say, my week in Memphis was deconstructive in terms of my own weight and fitness goals.  I ran a little, but, umm, have you ever tried to run outside in Memphis in August?  Talk about hot!  Regarding food, I tried the Weight Watchers trick where if you can’t pick your own food, make the best choice you can given what’s available.  But when the best choice available is fried chicken, you know it’s going to be a tough meal. By night 3 I was enjoying an extremely large margarita/strawberry daiquiri combo from Wet Willie’s on Beale Street (hey, by then I figured that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  And if I was going down, it might as well be in a giant frozen margarita/daiquiri).

When I got home I weighed myself.  I was up two pounds, and that was with bypassing the cookies, deep fried okra, sweet tea, and even the Key Lime pie (sigh).  But here’s the important part.  I remembered the construction part of remodeling.  I knew where I wanted to be in terms of weight and fitness, so I just worked towards that.  All last week I ate like the Weight Watchers poster child.  I counted my points, tracked everything. I ran, biked, even got through two boot camp classes without swearing (out loud).  And when I stepped on the scale this past Friday, I had lost 1.8 of that 2 pounds of Memphis that I brought home with me.

There are always destructive times in our lives.  Things happen that we can’t control, or that we’re just not strong enough to deal with.  Everything falls apart, and when the dust settles we see that there’s a lot that needs to be fixed.   But there are two ways to look at the end of a destruction phase.  You can be so overwhelmed by all the work that you do that you leave everything in shambles and let it all continue to fall apart, or you look at all the empty canvas you have to build yourself up any way that you want.

70 pounds ago, 2008
When I lived as Fat Girl, I’d try to lose weight or be active.  I would do OK until some random thing got in my way (family illnesses, car accidents, a McDonald’s drive thru), and the deconstruction would start.  And once I was able to look up again all I saw were all the walls I had just knocked down (or kicked in if, you’re my old anti-Semitic, psychotic neighbor), and then I would decide to just stay on that course.  Rebuilding was too difficult. 

But the truth is that it doesn’t have to be.  Remember what it is that you want to build and what you want to get to.  Just that thought can get you back on track and help you to rebuild.  It may take a while, but isn’t the finished product of a remodeling job always so much better than what you started with?

Renovation complete, :-)