When Not In Rome…

Over the past year, year and a half or so, I’ve been tracking my daily miles run. Looking back at this week last year, I ran 9.5 miles all week.  There’s a couple of reasons for that: First, my convalescence from doing three laps at the FIT Challenge – my muscles were basically stone for the week following, it was ugly – and second, we were in Italy for the week and I was more interested in sight seeing and drinking wine than I was in running.

So this week I’m determined to make some mileage gains against “year ago Mo,” but there is one slight complication: while I’m recovering quite nicely from the DOMS resulting from FIT, thank you very much, I tweaked myself a few weeks back at To Hale and Back – my butt is really giving it to me. More specifically I’m pretty sure I’m battling through a little something called Piriformis Syndrome (either that or hip cancer…these Internet diagnoses can be a little touch and go).

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The most recent Sneakerama Fun Run.  Bonus points if you can find me.  Photo Credit: Lisa Genatossio

It was letting up by the time I started FIT, but I could feel by butt radiating pain not too long into it.  It was low key most of the previous week, zinged me pretty good at the Thursday night Sneakerama Fun Run, but evened out for Saturday after resting on Friday.  Even the next day after FIT at Jay Lyons, it was bothering me – not quite as much as the stiffness in my leg muscles over all, but it was still there.  Who knew that running another 70-miles with a joint that was screaming about a repetitive use injury would exacerbate things?

It really kicked in last night at my running club’s group run – normally I’ll bang out 5 (last week 7!) miles, but this time I just did 4.  A day after running a 7:40 5k with sore muscles, I couldn’t get much beyond a 9:30+ pace.  It was ugly crying hot-mess all the way.  Tonight I banged out 3.7 at a very similar pace, limping all the way.  If anyone saw a 90-year old running around the Wachusett Reservoir this evening, that was me.  Small victories though: where a year ago I scraped by with 9.5 miles on the entire week, I hit 10.8 today.  Of course, I’m also not vacationing in Italy this week – so it’s truly a mixed bag with a net negative.

The stretches outlined in the link above combined with a heating pad and some analgesic cream seems to be having the desired effect. I do have to say that a nice hot heating pad on your butt is a not-unpleasant experience.

I’ve been playing with signing up for a long trail race or half marathon against doing nothing on Saturday.  After my run this evening, I was pretty much decided that “doing nothing” was going to win, but with some stretching and this heating pad I may reconsider, but I have to do it quickly – the half marathon registration window closes tomorrow and it looks like there may only be 11 or so more slots available.  Decisions, decisions.

I mean this heating pad is off the chain.

What I’m particularly happy with is that while I’ve been in a considerable amount of pain, I have been able to keep going; perhaps not as long nor as far as I would prefer, but I’ve been able to go.  I spent six, maybe 7 weeks on ice last year due to injury and I was still able to hit my running goal for the year. It is on that I set my goal for this year, but that requires that I stay healthy.  28-29 miles a week for 52-weeks.  Miss a week means amortizing 30 miles across the remaining weeks.  I can’t afford to lose time.

I know from my heart monitor data that I’m basically maintaining cardiovascular on the past couple of runs – not much exertion…can’t get moving fast enough to get my heart rate up high enough, long enough, but maintenance will suffice for the time being.  Maintaining means I’m not losing ground and that’s the next best thing to gaining ground.

I’ve forgotten how nice a warm heating pad feels.  And on your butt too?  Sublime. How have I not thought of this before now?

Well, I’m going to head to bed and hope that tomorrow morning enough of my aches and pains and dings and dents have given way so I can get a few miles in before work.  If I can’t be in Italy, I may as well run, right?

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2018 Race Recap #17: Jay Lyons Memorial 5k

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Pretty slick race shirt. Got a pint glass instead of a finisher medal – I’m not sure how I feel about that, finisher medals are actually a little more useful to me than additional glassware, but it’s something.

The Jay Lyons 5k is now in its 18th year – a memorial race for one of six Worcester Fire Fighters who died fighting a warehouse fire in 1999. If there is a race worth running, certainly it is this one.

I have to say I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to go. It was a gamble and one I may have lost had I gone for that additional lap yesterday. The day started much later than usual – even for a weekend day – and when I did actually get up, I had a hard time actually walking around.  I was pretty much 90-years old all morning.

After 3-laps at FIT last year, I couldn’t walk for a week.  I mean I really hammered myself good.  This year, while sore, I’m self ambulating so that’s a good sign.  I may not have been with an additional 3 miles and 1400′ of gain, so I may have learned a lesson.

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Running is such fun.  Look how happy everyone is. Photo Credit: Debbie Linder

So, today was pretty much lazy – I did some laundry, did some errands, but otherwise laid pretty low.  According to my Fitbit, by noon I had accumulated maybe 1,800 steps, when I’ve been averaging about 20,000 daily.

By the time I had my bib, and the National Anthem began playing, I still wasn’t sure how well I was going to be able to run: the ibuprofen started to wear off and I was very much feeling the dents and dings from yesterday’s course.

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Repping Team Sneakerama. Something about running with this team brings out my better efforts.

The fire truck horn sounded and the runners were off. My first mile was pretty good, but it was clear to me that it was going to be a bit of a battle and that first mile was definitely going to be my best: a 7:20 pace.  Mile 2 was reasonable, but clearly slower at a 7:40 pace. I was feeling the wear and tear by that point and when my watch went off with the 8:04 pace for mile 3, I knew I had only a little more course left and with what gas was left in my tank, I laid it out there. The course was really, really flat and a little more than a 5k – I recorded 3.18 miles, and in that time I hit a 6:41 pace.  Now, I’m left to wonder if I could have pulled off a better pace had I paid more attention to my mile 3 time although I’m quite sure it would have had the opposite effect.

It’s a nice, pretty easy course, that I think I would normally have had a good shot at a personal record.  Even still, it wasn’t a bad time at all – a friend noted that a few months ago that would have been close to a personal record, and indeed that is true.  I’m happy with the overall result and glad I took the opportunity to run.

Team Sneakerama took home quite a few individual trophies and a team award – I have to say for a relatively small race, funding a great scholarship for one of Worcester’s High Schools, there were a HUGE number of awards.

Results

24:18,  7:49.3 pace
Overall: 47/362
M: 39/165
M 40-49: 12/39

2018 Race Recap #16: F.I.T. Challenge

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That means I finished 3 laps, not that I came in third…BUT pretty slick swag nonetheless.

What can I say about this race? What I’ve come to find about small and/or local obstacle course races is that they’re generally low-rent, or just poorly executed. There are some  that are well considered and crafted with love, but just aren’t challenging.

The Wason Pond Pounder (Chester, NH) for instance, is lovingly crafted, and well done. The non-profit that runs the race, gives as much back to the community as they can without compromising the quality of the race. It’s a family oriented race, and a lot of people spend a lot of time planning it. But, it’s just not all that challenging – it’s not designed to be.

Similarly, The Samurai Sprint (Westport, MA) is a fun course and is well executed, but it’s “fun.” There were some elements to it last year that I found challenging, but overall it wasn’t designed to be anything more than fun.

The FIT Challenge, though. This is a challenge. It’s tough. The course is approximately 5k distance (plus or minus…well, plus), its 30-odd obstacles will test your meddle, oh and there’s the small matter of about 1400′ in elevation gain. That doesn’t do it for you? Ok, well, you can do multiple laps for $10 more.  Its probably the only smaller, local race that should be considered in the same conversation with Bone Frog or Spartan – to this point: who was at the starting line today? Norm Koch. The designer behind the early Spartan Races.

F.I.T. is a acronym. Fortitude. Integrity. Toughness. The race doesn’t demand you complete an obstacle under penalty of burpee, only that you give it a good faith effort. No mud for mud’s sake. Fortitude to take on a very difficult challenge. And of course, the Toughness to keep going when you’d rather not.

It plays out thusly. 30 obstacles. In 3.5 or-so miles.  Let that sink in. Essentially, if you’re not climbing s trail (remember – 1400′ of elevation gain), you’re climbing a wall…or a rope…or a peg board… you get the picture.  Suffice to say, I’m a fan on FIT Challenge.

This year I was determined to get- in 5 laps. It wasn’t long into my first lap that I realized that 5 wasn’t going to happen today. Robb, the race director, was very clear in his communications out that multi-lappers could assert a limited right of way, but I felt like such a dink asking to go ahead that I didn’t ask.  That’s on me. Now, the one criticism I have is that there are some difficult obstacles that require a reasonable time commitment…and on a short course, with multiple waves (no matter how hard you try to space them out) you’re going to get a log jam.  So, if you’re really going for time, you can get frustrated.

It was about 3/4 of the way through my second lap that I knew 4 would be a stretch. I was really fatiguing from climbing and was really starting to fail obstacles as a result. By the time I finished lap 2 I held out some hope I could get 4 in, but about a mile into lap 3 I knew that it would be my last one. I was failing obstacles I had done easily on my first go around, and struggled through on my second.

These things are placed rather deliberately to be challenging. Upper body, followed by a log carry, over to a rope climb, to a peg board…

There was a 5-hour cut off for multi-laps. Meaning that you had to start your last lap before 5 hours expired. In this case, I finished my 3rd lap with about 30-minutes left – I COULD have gone for 4…could have except I’d have wound up pissing everyone off because I’d fail everything and would probably be a menace to myself on those pretty technical trails.

No automatic alt text available.One of the frills of the FIT Challenge is the swag. A shirt, a head buff, finishers’ medal with pins for each lap complete, and if you do three or more laps you earn a block that Robb makes by hand.  The rarer ones are, of course, nicer. Those “5” Lap blocks are pretty spectacular. My “3” block…less so. But – going back to the beginning here, where I talk about being crafted with love – they’re each unique, put together by hand by a guy that really cares about the product.

There were some obstacles that broke mid course (sand bag hoist) and I’m pretty sure that can happen at any event. Frankly with the abundance of other obstacles, it was nice to take a pass on that one. Last year one of the floating walls was out of commission for a bit, which caused a significant back up on the lone remaining one.  The thing is with a short course, and a relatively small race (there were about 900 participants today, as compared with the several thousand that go through a Spartan Sprint), there are only a couple of stations for each obstacle (I think there may have been 3 sand bag hoists) and when one or two get 86’d the entire obstacle goes down and given the ethos of the race, obstacles are tough. So it takes a while to complete them…which causes lines…

I hate to suggest taking obstacles out – FIT has some ridiculously innovative ones and I love that he reinvests into the product – but some could be reconsidered. Lines at the inverted cargo net get pretty long. This is so clearly a labor of love, that I think I’d rather suggest making the course even longer and perhaps placing those time consuming obstacles at the top of a hefty climb to keep the group thin, but consistent.  Or spread the waves out even more.  Hard to say; I’m pretty sure it’s a work in progress and there are worse things to be vexed by.

So, results? Pretty much par for the course. 50 percentile.

Results

Multi-Lap:
2018: 63/126, 4:30:07
2017: 128/161, 5:06:38

Single Lap:
2016: 619/983 1:58:20

An improvement over last year on a more challenging incarnation of the course, and I feel better than I did last year afterward.

Reframing Stress

My definition of stress for this purpose is along the lines of “the physio-emotional response to external demands/stimuli.” Stress doesn’t necessarily have to be negative: psychologists differentiate between “eustress,” that stress springing from demanding situations where a positive outcome is or can be expected, and “distress,” which is that which comes from situations in which a negative outcome is or can be expected.  Want some examples?  Basically, when TØP sing about being “Stressed Out,” they’re really singing about being “Distressed Out.”

Of course, that’s my undergraduate level understanding of psychology speaking – there’s a greater level of differentiation to be sure, but for current purposes I think that dichotomy will suffice nicely. It’s been a long time since I graduated college so my understanding is likely more than a little rusty as well.

There’s all kinds of negative jazz that goes down when you’re constantly experiencing your world though the lens of “distress.” Anxiety, perceived loss of self-control, feelings of lack of coping ability.  Which is ultimately what it comes down to for me: it’s a RESPONSE to these external stimuli, and our choice of response is ours.  In other words, we own our response and that the stimuli doesn’t inherently cause eustress or distress.

I find having a running partner – whether or not they know they’re my partner (which sounds far creepier than I intend…basically someone I use to pace myself) – creates a eustressful situation: it keeps me moving toward my goals.  I run more consistently,  longer, and better when I have someone else to run with.  I went for a run last night with someone whose a better runner than I am; I wanted to quit half way through, but I didn’t because I was responding to that potentially stressful situation by pushing myself toward the end of the run, by keeping up with him, by not quitting when it would have been easier to do so.  I could have gone the other way: quit because I was feeling uncomfortable, but I chose the opposite response.

There are variables in our life at play that affect our choice of responses: if your boss is being secretive about plans, or perhaps leaving you off invitations for meetings to which you should be invited, you could respond in several ways: “I can’t change the situation, so it is what it is…” to “I must be getting fired! What am I going to do?”

In the second scenario, is it really about the prospect of losing THAT job that concerns you or is the the ramifications of losing that job that concerns you: money concerns, job searching skills to brush up on, employment prospects…the list goes on. It’s the variables in our lives that affect how we will respond to those stressors: have we maintained our professional network and continued to develop skills or have we coasted? Have we been saving money for a rainy day or have we spent it as we got it?

I want to make that point without getting into a conversation around privilege – I get it, there are many many people who due to circumstances cannot make ends meet even with a consistent paycheck, never mind save a portion of it for a “rainy day,” for a great multitude of reasons. The fact of the matter is that folks in lower socio-economic levels are generally more stressed than higher income earners.  It’s really hard to find time to relax or work out, if you’re commuting between two part time jobs.

“Chronic stressors such as food insecurity, substandard housing, and greater exposure to violence have also been demonstrated to increase the wear and tear on biological systems.” (Schanzenbach, Mumford, et al., “Money Lightens the Load“)

I  also know many, many folks who make choices that inhibit that ability to save for a rainy day.  Here’s an example: Cigarettes consistently sell for more than $11/pack – or about the after-tax take home for an hours’ work at minimum wage.  There’s a choice to be made between saving that hour’s pay and buying a pack of smokes.  If you’re making $12/hour full time, your gross pay is $480.  If you’re smoking a pack a day, that’s about $77/week or about 16% of your pre-tax wages. This isn’t to say you should or shouldn’t smoke, this isn’t to place judgement on a choice to smoke, it is saying that it is a choice and a value judgement that it’s more important to smoke than it is to have that $77/week.  There are these variables and choices around every one of us, every day.  There are other, too many to name, variables that aren’t as easy to identify.

Back in 2017, the NPR podcast “Hidden Brain” did a piece on the “Scarcity Trap,” where the scarcity of needs causes the person experiencing the scarcity focuses the brain on that need. If money’s the problem, all you can think about is all the things you need – to the exclusion of future needs.  Perhaps quitting smoking would be more stressful than having that additional means for other purposes.

“Scarcity takes a huge toll. It robs people of insight. And it helps to explain why, when we’re in a hole, we sometimes dig ourselves even deeper. ”
– Shankar Vedantam, “Hidden Brain”

Everyone’s circumstances are different, and the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss why those circumstances exist, but rather simply to identify why someone may feel distressed. Also, it’s at this point that you may be interested in the full length version of the “Hidden Brain” story from above. As it happens, quite by happenstance this episode was recently replayed.

Feelings of helplessness or lack of control impact one’s ability to see the brighter side, or in other words, affect your ability to see how you can see the control you can exert. Part of that is taking control of the situation before it seems so far out of reach.  Amazon is really, REALLY good at connecting you to things you want, and makes it really easy for you to get them — until you max out your credit card buying them. You’re far more likely to pay attention to Amazon than the credit card’s website…or CreditKarma or any of the myriad credit scoring sites.

I say “part of that is…” and not the far more complete, “the key is…” because the key isn’t necessarily to catch it before you believe you’ve come too far, the key is to acknowledge your situation. “I’m drowning in debt,” “I’ve been written up a couple of times at work and if I mess up one more time…,” “My spouse has been really kind of crummy lately…”

I’m also aware of folks who have to work really, really hard to keep their status where it is – they’re exhausted because they’re always on point, always working to their full potential, meaning there is no leeway – a wrong step, a lost opportunity takes longer to recover from.  Which is why, I can imagine, bandwidth being so problematic.  There are no easy solutions in life – any life advice designed for a general audience will fall flat. Everyone has their unique situations, we all have courses to navigate. BUT because of that, you have to be honest with yourself. You have to know what your limits are – challenge what you “know,” but understand where you are currently and just how long it will take to build your capacity. Not everyone can do that.

That said, what I’ve found is that it’s rarely too late to course correct.  Certainly, when they’re tossing dirt over your body it’s too late; “rarely” is not “never”  but so much of progress is having the realization that you’re not where you want to be and working toward where you do want to be. It’s not getting discourages with incremental gains. Temporary set backs. Injuries. Whatever. But those are long term goals. You’ve got to be able to focus on the long term, and if you’ve got a deficit you’re not able to.

The eustress of working toward a future, further-out positive goal has to outweigh the distress of the negative feelings of the immediate situation. Feeling that deficit – “I’m so fat, and I’m not losing weight fast enough” – leads me to eat that bag of Cheetos. When I can focus on the longer term goal and realize that as long as I’m staying on track, I’m losing weight slowly and surely AND, more importantly, I’m losing body fat then I can concentrate on just drinking the glass of water.

Getting oneself out of a crummy credit score takes time. It takes concerted steps to pay off more than you’re spending, but it’s really hard to do that if all you can see if what you don’t have.  Its about maintaining control. Understanding where you are, understanding there are steps to take – even if you don’t know what they are just yet, and continuing to work toward them.  It’s about wanting that goal more than wanting the shorter term pleasures.  Losing THAT job would hurt, afterall we have THAT job to make ends meet, to pay for the things we need in life, but if we spend a little more time focusing on the future – tucking a little away – we could alleviate the distress of the current situation (am I going to lose my job?) by reframing saving for a rainy day as a eustressor.  Having enough FU money that you don’t really have to deal with worrying about whether or not you’re going to lose your job.

Whatever journey you’re on, whatever you you’re looking to become, it is at the end of the day a process. A process requiring long term commitment. It’s stressful – distressful – to see just how far/long it is to get to where you want to be, so be kind to yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to experience eustress – small milestones along the way. Its really about reframing the perception – stress is all about how you perceive it: if its negative, its distress.  If you want to run a marathon, you have got to start working on 5ks. Focus on them until you’re ready for a 10k…and a 15k…the marathon is someday, the 5k is the now. Chunks big enough to swallow.

Obiter dictum: Semper Fi

I just updated my 2018 Race/Goal Tracker page.  My monthly running total for March, despite having three more days than February, came up 10 miles shorter than last month: 140.75 vs. 150.8.

NB: I usually only record tenths, unless I’m recording a quarter mile. So I’ll only record a 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.75, 0.8, or 0.9.

So, as I’m trying to increase my mileage, it’s important to me to be sure I’m on track; I use the approach that if  you manage the week, then you’re managing the month; if you’re managing the month, then you’re managing the quarter; if you’re managing the quarter, you’re managing the year.

Anyway, I finished March with 393.55 miles run on the year, which puts me at…get this… 26.2% of my goal for 2018 (it’s actually 26.237% but that’s neither a compelling story nor is it wholly accurate due to the rounding discussed above, so we’re going with 26.2%).

Oddly enough, on March 29 I was informed that I had been selected in the Marine Corps. Marathon lottery to be invited to participate in the 43rd MCM, an invitation I chose to accept. I had registered for the lottery on the last day it was open as a lark – I mean, seemed interesting enough and I had poked at it with a stick previously enough to know what package tours and the like cost. So I clearly hadn’t ruled it out, but I honestly didn’t think I’d get in.

I didn’t plan to be 26.2% of my goal, didn’t set out a plan to run a marathon – I’ve famously avoided running marathons, actually, opting for either halfs or 50ks and thereby fully bypassing the 26.2 mark totally.  The reason for that is typical me: a former supervisor has asked me if I was planning to run any marathons and I responded “I will never do 26.2…” so in the interest of maintaining my integrity, I’ve just skipped over it.  I mean 31.1 is by definition NOT 26.2 and don’t think the irony of  my “no 26.2 mile races” commitment being undone by a race honoring “Semper Fidelis” is lost on me.

Somehow it all came together at the end of the third month of the year. The fates have apparently dictated that I do this. I have remained true to my vow I would not run a marathon, but once the fates start lining up what am I supposed to do?

More interesting is the idea that on the 44th week of the year last year, I hit my goal of 1000 miles. That week was the week of October 29 and November 4. The MCM this year is October 28, so perhaps there’s a possibility that I could hit my 1500 mile goal at that point.  As I write this, I’m currently 95 miles off the pace that would have that happen, but I have almost 8 months to get onto that pace.

Sometimes goals, and challenges have to be fluid and flexible, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow – to be ready to accept a challenge when one is offered.

Marathon training starts now.