Category Archives: psychology

“You Have Beautiful Form!”

As most runners know, people love to yell things at us. Usually it’s some iteration of Run Forrest Runnnnnn or a slew of angry words because they had to stop at a crosswalk. Yesterday, however, I had an utterly fantastic experience that made my run.

I was starting my warmup on the bike path and trotting down my pre-workout downward spiral of I feel tired and it’s humid out and my hamstring hurts. For whatever reason, when I’m anxious about a race or a workout, my left hamstring feels tight. I panic about until the workout or race starts, then it magically goes away. Anyway, as I was running along, a biker came up behind me and said “You have beautiful form! I aspire to run like you.” I sputtered something back along the lines of thankssomuchareyoutalkingtome. I was stunned both by the fact that someone speaking to me on my run wasn’t quoting a movie from 20 years ago and that someone thought my form was admirable.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good things about my form. I have a quick cadence and I land lightly. In fact, from the waist down minus poor knee drive, I look pretty darn good. Waist up, well, there were Tyrannosaurus Rex(i?) who once ruled the Earth with better arm carry than me. Still, it made my entire workout to have someone say she aspired to look like me when I ran.

Does this mean I just do really good workouts?

Does this mean I just do really good workouts?

Later in the workout, I was on my last cruise interval when she biked by again and said “You are so fast, is that like a 7 minute pace?” “620ish right now” I huffed back at her. “You are AMAZING.” And with that, my amazing random support biker biked off. As I finished the last interval, I was so touched that a perfect stranger would say something, that she dropped so much kindness and support on some sweaty, ponytailed girl huffing along the bike path. I also wondered if my husband planted her to stop my hissy fit. He claims to know nothing.

She wasn't wearing a cape but this is basically what she looked like to me.

She wasn’t wearing a cape but this is basically what she looked like to me.

So to the lady on her bike that made my morning yesterday, you might aspire to have my running form, but I aspire to make other people feel the way you made me feel yesterday.

What’s the best thing someone has ever yelled at you on a run? The worst?

Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose

I’m not sure where all this introspection is coming from this week. Maybe it’s a few solid weeks of training under my belt. Maybe it’s this weird feeling I’ve had lately that things are about to pull together for me athletically. Anyway, one of the scariest things to do is to put yourself out there and admit your goals. When Katie and I were getting ready for VCM the other day, she started hedging her goal. “Well, I’d like to run under 1:27. I should be able to. But I don’t know…” She blew her goal away, running well under 1:27. Sometimes the biggest part of the battle is admitting what you want from a race.

Stating your goals takes courage. It puts your dreams out there and makes a clear marker of success or failure for everyone else to see. Below are my goals organized into the next 18 months, someday and pie in the sky. Some are pie in the sky because although they are theoretically attainable, they’ll take a lot of things pulling together for me. Furthermore, I’ll be just fine if those remain things I worked for my whole life and didn’t quite achieve. My someday goals and next 18 month goals should be closer in reach.

Next 18 Months

PR in the marathon Mohawk Hudson, 2:54 in October of 2014

Break 1:20 in the half and 37 in the 10K

Get a shiny new 5K PR (see also, race a 5K)

Someday

Win a marathon RDC Marathon 2017

Win a national title (Masters Club Nationals for track is my best bet…)

Run a beer mile

Break 2:45 in the marathon, 1:18 in the half, 36 in the 10K and 17:30 in the 5K

Run a trail marathon

Transition to an excellent masters career

 

Pie in the Sky

Olympic Trials Qualifier in the marathon

Start in the Elite Women’s Corral for the Boston Marathon

Get invited to the USA Running Circuit

Get a mention on Let’s Run or Running Times

 

I put myself out here, now it’s your turn. What are your goals?

 

 

 

A Running SWOT Analysis

In my old life, most projects began with a SWOT analysis. Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats. As I was out for a recovery run the other day, I started to think about my running SWOT analysis. I’m a bit cynical by nature and often focus on my weaknesses, but it occurred to me that acknowledging my strengths might have some value too.

Strengths

  • Running Easy Runs Easy: I’ve never been one to race the easy days. Unless my run is a workout or a race, I don’t worry about pace. My long runs are easily 90 seconds slower than my race pace. I wear a heartrate monitor on key recovery days and don’t fret if that under 135 pace is 8:30 or 10:00 pace. I still recall an article from before I loathed Ryan Hall where he talks about running 9 minute miles on recovery days. If it was good enough for Ryan Hall in his heyday, it’s good enough for me.
  • Eating Good Food: I’m not perfect. I love anything gummy and most days, salt can get me too. That being said, I eat a mostly excellent diet with enough energy to power my day. I eat more carbohydrates than most people need because of my training load but balance that with high quality protein and good fat. I always refuel within 30 minutes of my runs. For long runs, I have almond milk with protein powder and a whole wheat wrap with almond butter. For shorter runs, I go with water with protein powder.
  • Basic Strength: I’ve done the same strength circuit before bed since I was a freshman in college and I reflexively do squats when I brush my teeth. What was once an attempt to maintain beach abs is now a habit. It includes Jane Fondas, crunches, bicycles and pushups. When all else fails and my schedule gets crazy, at least I get a little something in.

Weaknesses (so tempting to go on a roll here)

  • My head: I am working on this, but I am the master at mentally defeating myself in workouts and in races. By the time I hit the start line, I’ve already assessed who I’m going to lose to. Not a great way to go.
  • Sleep: Medical school is kind of ruining this for me, but my sleep has been subpar over the past months and I’m starting to feel it in workouts. I really need a solid 7 hours to feel human but often hum along on 6 and coffee. I’m using SleepCycle to try to reign this in. Although I’m not sold on the science, it is a very good measure of what time I got in bed and how many hours I’m sleeping. I’m often amazed at how much I overestimate my sleep.
  • Weight Training: Right now, our gym situation just isn’t that convenient. Because we walk or bus to school, we don’t have a parking permit which means we can’t go to the gym until 3:30 and since one of us coaches through all seasons, this limits our available hours for the gym to about 6 pm til 8 pm, exactly when we eat dinner.

Opportunities

  • Our new house (we’re moving in July) has a HUGE basement which means that I can get a treadmill!!! I know no one has ever been excited for a treadmill, but with our schedule, it offers me the opportunity to train regardless of my call schedule. It’s also a half mile jog to the gym, which will hopefully improve my weight lifting weakness from above.
  • A surgically repaired foot
  • A new PT that I’m really jiving with
  • The explosion in interest in Olde Bones and training partners that provides

Threats

  • Medical School
  • Injury
  • Father Time

What is your running SWOT analysis?

 

Fail Again. Fail Better.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

By and large, most of us will fail in our lives. Some failures are catastrophic and can change the course of someone’s life. Some are smaller but can still hang with us for days, weeks or even years. Medical school is one big experiment in failure, at least in my experience. Just when you think you have a grip on something, more knowledge gets layered on and the expectations and stakes get higher. Inevitably, your first try is an absolute disaster.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had two friends sustain what they deemed as failures and have had a front row seat to the pain of failure. One hit a major career bump. Over the past couple of years, they struck out on an adventurous career path and opted to choose their own adventure instead of walking along the traditional career path. To me, this takes extraordinary courage. I’ve certainly taken an unconventional path to medicine, but my paths here have all been relatively conventional. To step off the beaten path and try it your own way takes courage. And it almost guarantees some temporary failures along the way.

Another friend had a running failure. As I wrote on Saturday, Laurel was starting her first marathon yesterday. Unfortunately, her stomach had other ideas and she was seriously sick by mile 7 and made the smart choice to stop at 13. Understandably, she feels pretty awful today. The marathon is like that. You can survive a 5K or a 10K or even sometimes a half with something going wrong. The marathon, however, is an unforgiving beast. In talking to Laurel last night, I encouraged her to lick her wounds for a couple days then look at the option of trying again in 2 week at Vermont City Marathon. Perfect? No. But getting back up when we get knocked down is how we learn and grow.

Failure is relative too. By most people’s measures, my performance at VCM last year would be a success. For me, it remains a source of pain that I’ll carry until I try the marathon again. Yes, 2:58 is “good.” But when you are trained for 2:50, it stings. Bouncing back from it can be so difficult. Failure may motivate but it also introduces doubt and fear when you start to try something again. As I’m picking a fall marathon and starting to train again, the little voice still frustrated from VCM last year is back on my shoulder as I’m working through workouts that would have been a breeze a year ago, telling me that it isn’t going to go well, that my goals are ridiculous. My job over the next few months is to progressively silence that voice and strengthen the one that tells me to try again.

How do you handle failure? What is your biggest running-related failure?

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Last Saturday, I went to the State Meet to cheer my chickies on. I figured they needed me there for another familiar voice as they ran around the track. It turns out that I needed them. As long as I’ve been coaching them, I’ve enforced the rule that one can’t be mad about a PR and that you can’t control bad weather or how anyone else runs. I’ve heard myself say these things a hundred times but wasn’t sure that they heard them. It turns out that they did, because all of them came up throughout the day to remind me that I don’t get to be disappointed with my run at VCM because it was a PR, because the weather wasn’t in my control, because my run had nothing to do with anyone else’s run. And they were/are right.

VCM was a 7 minute PR over a year ago and an almost 20 minute PR over my first marathon five years ago. That’s a lot of time. It’s okay to learn from mistakes that I made during the race, but it’s not okay to dwell on and be disappointed in my performance. As such, we move on.

So what went well at VCM?

1. Nutrition. We nailed it. I had plenty of energy, my stomach felt great and I never had foggy moments of glycogen depletion. For no other reason, this makes VCM a complete success because nutrition can be such a wild card. Taking this element off the “to-do” list is a huge accomplishment.

2. Patience. The women’s field went out fast. Really fast. And I didn’t go with them. I stuck to my race plan and felt great throughout the entire race. I didn’t have a lot of drive to do much at the end (the word that keeps coming up is bored), but I moved from 14th at the 10K to 9th at the finish, and that doesn’t count at least two invited women who dropped out. I worked hard throughout the early parts of the race to remind myself that the marathon is a long race and that anything can happen between the start and 26.2 miles.

3. Recovery. After my first marathon, I was so sore that I could barely walk for a week. Last year, it took me over an hour to walk half a mile in Waterfront Park. This year, I was walking and talking almost normally after a shower and a snack. Although my shins were inexplicably sore on Monday and Tuesday, I was able to walk without a hitch by Wednesday. I also took an entire week off of running, which I often don’t do. Even this week, I’m keeping runs short and still taking rest days to let my body and mind heal.

The Hurtbox

The strongest athlete isn’t always the fastest or the most talented. The athletes who perform well time after time are those who can get into and stay in the pain cave or hurtbox. I personally prefer hurtbox, as it seems more structural and less dark and dreary. Regardless, one of my struggles this winter and spring has been with the hurtbox and my seeming inability to either get moving fast enough to get there or lack of drive to stay in it. The hurtbox isn’t everything; you have to have the foundation underneath it first. However, it can be the difference maker between first and second, the tick between a good performance and a great one.

I did one of my last workouts last Tuesday. The intention of the workout was to practice my gear change between marathon pace and tempo pace, which emulates effort over harder portions of the course and any surges that might happen later in the race. Before the workout, I had a strong talk with myself about the hurtbox and made a commitment to myself that no matter how bad I felt, I was doing my best to execute this workout. My times had to be wind adjusted, but I absolutely nailed it, running 6:36, 6:38, 6:37, 6:06, 6:04. I felt so in control of the workout that I had to resist the urge to fistpump upon its completion.

The real benefit of a hurtbox success isn’t the physiology, however, it’s the psychology. Yes, the workout was uncomfortable but I did it and I feel almost invincible now. I’m less scared of what a surge might feel like or how I will react. I’m getting really comfortable at both my planned marathon and tempo paces. I’m assured of my fitness.

Welcome to Race Week.

Calm

I’m a runner who can whip myself up into a nervous frenzy weeks before a race. I worry about everything from the weather to my competition to the parking situation, only some of which I have any control over. This time around, however, I find myself extremely calm going into Sunday. I’m excited for sure, but the panic that usually takes over my brain is missing.

Much of this is because I’ve had an exceptional training cycle: 13 weeks at 65 miles a week, no injuries, no illness, no missed workouts. For the first time ever, I have a coach that I trust completely. Instead of worrying about paces or scheduling, all I’ve had to do is run, rest and repeat on his word. Workouts have been crushingly hard (seriously, 16 by 400 followed by 5 all out 400s? 13 miles with 9 at steady state pace?), but just when I felt like I was going to crack, I’d get a much needed rest day or adaptation week. All of this has translated into fitness that I really trust and a confidence that I’m ready to compete at Philly, not just show up and see what happens.

My race plan for Sunday is simple. Tempo effort for the first set of miles followed by a few miles of agony. I’ve practiced my tempo and steady state pace weekly since August and at this point, it feels like second nature. As I was doing my last workout yesterday (1200s at said tempo pace), I found myself calmed by the rhythm of my breathing, the turnover of my legs. Every time I finish a tempo workout, I find myself realizing that although I was happy to stop, I didn’t have to. I still don’t totally know what “comfortably hard” means, but I’m getting much closer.

As for my tactical race plan, I’m hoping to not have to do all the work alone in the forecasted wind and with marathoners and half marathoners running together, I shouldn’t have to. After the frenzy of the first mile, I’m hoping to latch on with some runners of similar pace and hang together until it’s time to move. Just like the steady state run with Chris and Seth that felt like jogging, racing in a pack feels significantly easier than going it alone. Once we reach mile 9, however, it’s every woman for herself and I’ll be happy for the track speed I’ve been working on in this last phase of the cycle.

In Govind we trust…

 

Mind over matter

I’ve never been able to do a pull up in my life.  The past year I’ve been working on my core and upper body strength, which is more like upper body endurance as isn’t it impossible to really get upper body strong while running?

At the gym last week I was marveling at a fellow runner in his 60s reeling off pull up after pull up.  He gave me some advice and with some major effort and over a minute of struggling I did one.  He said to do them palms up as they are easier and do them at every workout and they will naturally be easier and you’ll be able to do more.

And he was right as after a week of persistence today at the gym I was up to four pull ups in a row.  They aren’t the prettiest pull ups you ever saw and everyone knows now to stay clear of the bar area to avoid being kicked by my flailing legs, but I get my noggin above the bar four times, so they are legit.

Anyways the Mind of Matter part of the story comes in now:  After doing my rep of glorious four pull ups today I came back to the bar at the end of my workout knowing I should be able to bust out at least two more pull ups.  And without realizing I gripped the bar palms down and started pulling.  To date I hadn’t come close to doing a palms down pull up.  I struggled mightily, but my mind said “Tim, you just did four, there’s no way you’re not doing less than two now” and I did it, I pulled myself up and not until my head cleared the bar did I realize I had just done a palms down pull up.

Ok so I probably just needed to push myself to do a palm down pull up as I was getting comfortable with pull ups in general by now.  But it’s weird as I could feel a difference when my mind was determined to do it, it’s like it found another gear to get the job done.

So now I’m wondering how I get that mind to take over at mile 20 of a marathon or even in the middle of a tempo run.  Maybe I’ll just run palms down?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Running Shorts

There’s no doubt in my mind that I would not be successful at and love running like I do without the women I’ve trained with over the years. From my teammates in high school to my training partners now, I am surrounded and supported by amazing female runners who push me along.

Watching the Women’s marathon yesterday was a blast. The definition of “ain’t over Til it’s over,” the best women in the world came to play and put on a gutsy show on a rainy, technical course.

I had to laugh as Shalane and Kara finished, however, because it was reminiscent of Christine and I after VCM. Both in a bit of a fog, I crossed the line where Christine was waiting with an impatient official who wanted her to keep moving. Through my pain I heard her say, “no! I’m waiting for my friend.” Our hug was pitiful and hunched over, but the only reaction after countless training runs and a 26.2 mile test. When I saw Kara pick up Shalane today and wrap her arms around her, I knew just what they were feeling.

Shalane and Kara, we are all so proud.

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