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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"I Think I Can, I Think I Can..."

Raise your hand if you remember the story “The Little Engine That Could”.  Come on, don’t be shy.  Raise it like you mean it.  OK, you can put your hand down now.  This is a blog.  I couldn’t actually see it.

Even though I can’t take an actual count of hands, I bet it’s a lot.  Almost everyone remembers “The Little Engine That Could”.  That little engine has to make it up a big hill, and none of the big engines believe in him.  But he believes in himself and gets his – caboose – up the big hill.  And all the kids reading the story learn that they can do anything that they set their minds to.

The problem, though, is that real life gets in the way.  As kids we get teased if we’re different or not as good as the other kids when we’re trying to do something.  So the other kids tease, we start believing them and lose belief in ourselves.  And slowly over time, the Little Engine can’t get up the big hill anymore.  Now, this doesn’t happen with everything.  For some reason, we grab onto one or two (or maybe a few more) things that we’re good at, and our confidence stays high in those areas. But we put enough doubt in our own minds about ourselves, and the phrase “I can’t” becomes a reflex answer to almost any new challenge.

Why on Earth am I talking about “The Little Engine That Could”?  Well, it came to mind the other day during my Weight Watcher meeting.  This week the topic was about believing in yourself. For me it was very timely.  I’ve started to lose confidence in myself a bit.  At Weight Watchers, there is a healthy weight range for each person based on gender, height and age, and you get to pick a goal anywhere in that range.  Once you hit your goal weight, you have to stay within 2 pounds of it to still consider yourself “at goal”.  I hit my goal in May of 2009, and did pretty well hovering in that 2 pound radius.  A few years ago, though, Weight Watchers changed its methods.  It’s got the same overall gist, but they changed how they count points (which they count instead of calories; it’s a lot easier) and they changed our points allowance.  I struggled on this new plan for a while, so I talked to my leader and she allowed me to raise my goal by 2 pounds.  It was all fair and legal.  I was still well within my healthy weight range, just now I could live my life without wrestling every calorie (or point) that entered my body.

Again, I’ve done pretty well hovering in my new +/- 2 pound range, but for the last several months I’ve been dancing on the edge – the upper edge.  I admit that it took me a month to notice and another month or two to care.  About 3 weeks ago, though, I decided to buckle down and get down to the lower end of the range, which was more in line with my original goal weight that I haven’t seen in about 2 two years.  So, I became the self-proclaimed Weight Watcher’s poster child, counting points diligently, measuring out my servings, admitting to every extra bite I’ve taken.  In terms of exercise, I’m training for a freaking marathon.  That should suffice.  And   nothing.  I am exactly where I was a month ago, dangling on the edge of my 2 pound buffer.

I weigh in every Friday morning on my way to work.  Each of my last 3 weigh ins has been frustrating.  I’m doing everything I’m supposed to, everything that I know works and has worked for me before.   And the scale hasn’t wavered more than 0.2, and in both directions.  The first week I didn’t mind so much.  The second week I was annoyed, and this week I was dejected.  I had lost faith in myself.  I didn’t know how to lose weight anymore.  I was the Little Engine That Couldn’t. 

When I was done with my weigh in, the woman who weighed me in (and has dealt with every single emotion of mine for the last 6 years) handed me their weekly flyer.  I looked down at the cover, and I chuckled.  My annoyance washed away in an instant.  On the cover was a picture of a bracelet with the word “BELIEVE” engraved in it.  The woman who weighed me in asked me what I was laughing at, so I stuck my hand out.  On my right hand I wear a silver ring.  The ring has one word etched into it: “BELIEVE”.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”  I believed in myself when I was losing weight.  I believed in myself when I hit my goal weight and got the ring as a reminder to myself that I can succeed.  I believe in myself when I train for marathons and triathlons (umm, for the most part).  Yes, I’ve hit a plateau.  But it will all work out.  I just have to keep pushing myself up the hill.

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.