The Best Laid Plans

I have run a decent number of races in my running years, and I’ve experienced many of the myriad race-day and training variables that either throw you off or boost you up.  This month, however, I had a brand new experience.  The half marathon I had signed up for in September was canceled only days before the race!  And it wasn’t some fly by night impromptu race.  This was a reasonably sized race with an experienced race director, but, so they told us, despite their best laid plans, the city revoked their permits at the last minute, requiring them to call it off.

My would-be race medal!

It made me think about all the people whose plans were changed by the decision and made me wonder how everyone handled the change of plans differently.

For starters, I’ll admit, it was easy for me to have a neutral, almost bystander’s reaction to this news because of all the races I’ve entered in my life, it was for this one that I was the most poorly prepared.  After a wonderful spring racing season, I had to reduce my mileage dramatically over the summer to accommodate my ailing Achilles tendon – no speedwork, no long-runs.  I had already contacted the race director in the week before the race to request a switch from the half marathon to the 10k.  The race was in my own town, so I didn’t have to change travel plans.  I just gained a free weekend and a t-shirt that represented a missed opportunity.  Learning that the race had been canceled was almost almost good news because it granted me a free pass on what would have inevitably resulted in my posting a poor race time for all the world to see, embarrassing and disappointing myself at the same time.  On race day, in lieu of going for a long run or trying to simulate the race, I went for a slow easy 30 minute jog and called it a day.

The beer glass that I didn’t earn but will drink from anyways!

But with that said, I know that my reaction was a far cry from that of most of the participants.  How many people, I wondered, had to cancel hotel reservations at the last minute?  How many had flights planned that they couldn’t get out of?  How many decided to head into the city anyways and make the most of it?  How many people were running their first half marathon, had trained diligently all summer, and had been nervously anticipating how they would perform?  Surely lots of people had put in more miles than ever, done their speedwork, cross-trained, and fueled just right and had high expectations for the best performance of their lives?  And of those, how many will be lucky enough to duplicate the same sequence of events, with months of successful training uninterrupted by illness or injury?  Maybe it would have been their only chance.

I believe that most of the participants were understanding.  We had the option to choose a refund of our race entry fee, or to allow our fee to go to the intended charity anyways and accept our t-shirt, medal, and beer glass as souvenirs.  When I went to pick mine up, my fellow would-be participants seemed disappointed but not angry.  I know this wasn’t the universal reaction, however, because social media posts proved otherwise.  I noticed several people react to their disappointment with anger directed at the race, the director, the city, anyone who could possibly be implicated in the blame.  And I understand.  While it worked out well for me this time, I would have felt very differently if I’d been one of those people prepared to run the best race of my life, peaking on just the right day, then being thrown off course.  Hopefully I would have managed to react with a little bit of understanding, despite the disappointment.

This t-shirt now represents the shared memory of a race that almost happened!

Even in the face of disappointment like this, however, there are a few things to consider that help take away the sting a little bit.  Luckily, this wasn’t the Olympics, and while someone’s lifetime personal best may have been on the line, no one’s career was.  No one sacrificed their job to train for this race (I think), and it wasn’t like that anyone was going to use this race to launch their professional racing career.  (If they were fortunate enough to be that talented, then hopefully they’ll shine in their next race.)  Luckily, we all retained the right to go out on Saturday morning and run 13.1 miles with or without a race bib.  And luckily, there are more, many more, races to run.  It may have messed with your training peak and taper, but there would be plenty of opportunities this fall to register for another half marathon without seeing all that training go to waste.

So what’s the point of rehashing it?  Well, happily, this was one of those cases where I was able to take a relatively objective point of view regarding an unexpected change of plans.  I’m often less objective in such circumstances, and I’m hopeful that I can use this lesson and the observations I’ve made about the other runners the next time my plans are changed and I’m the one who’s most disappointed.  Hopefully I’ll accept the disruption and make the most of it!  Here’s hoping that I’ll be better prepared for my next race regardless of the outcome!

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My Favorite Blueberry Muffins

One of my favorite things besides running is food, and luckily they often seem to compliment one another.  I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t noticed that running allows me to indulge in a few more snacks without accumulating extra weight.  I’d hate to say that I run so I can eat, but, well… it doesn’t hurt.

There’s a lot to be said for fueling properly, and today, rather than talk about running, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite ways to fuel – with my favorite blueberry muffins.  Blueberry muffins and other deliciously carby carbs are perfect for a pre-run snack because all that sugar can be put to good use right away.

I’ve been on a quest lately to find my “ultimate” version of every classic recipe.  There aren’t many things more classic than a warm, fresh, blueberry muffin, and I’m always looking for one that satisfies my craving for something sweet while meeting my expectations for delivering some worthwhile nutrients.

In other words, if I were going to just waste a bunch of calories with no nutritional value, I would choose a cupcake.  I have higher expectations for muffins.  Muffins need to deliver.

The Foodie Physician's Rise and Shine Blueberry Muffins | thebahamallama.wordpress.com

I finally found a recipe for muffins that do exactly that – they delivered on their promise of being nutritionally better than cupcakes.  They’ve got blueberries!  (Obviously, but still… )  They’ve got oatmeal!  (Fiber! Complex carbohydrates!)  They’ve got wheat germ!  (Omega 3 fatty acids!)  Score.  Most importantly, they pass the taste test.  I would actually like to eat the whole dozen in one sitting, and I feel confident that I could get that done if I were brave enough to try.

The Foodie Physician's Rise and Shine Blueberry Muffins | thebahamallama.wordpress.com

In the process, perhaps the best outcome of all was that my search led me to a new food blog which I adore. The Foodie Physician (www.thefoodiephysician.com) is full of great recipes with a focus on health.

You can find her original post including the recipe here. While you’re at it, browse the site – I was super impressed.  I now have a longer list of things I must try.

A Change of Scenery

No matter how much I value running, there’s no escaping the fact that some days, it fails to excite me to return to the same routine over and over.  The same easy three mile loop past the same houses, the same mailboxes, the same dogs, the same street signs, the same undulating hill(s) – it’s the most convenient way for me to hit my exercise quota for the day and feel like I’ve fulfilled my requirements, but it’s not surprising that it doesn’t provide me with an extra burst of enthusiasm as I head out the door.

On the same ordinary route, the minutes often seem to drag by.  I stop noticing my surroundings because they are so predictable.  Instead of appreciating the way the sun reflects off the surface of the lake at dusk, instead I look down to check my watch.  Four minutes down, twenty-six minutes to go.  (I’ll look again in thirty seconds.)  Instead of charging up the hill to challenge myself, I slow my pace to maintain my effort level and shuffle up.  And as I approach my 15 minute turn-around spot, I look left and right and see that I’ve reached the same mailbox (plus or minus one) as I do on most days.  My pace has been unremarkable, and I, foolishly, have failed to appreciate my run.

For this reason, a change of scenery is exactly what the doctor (or running coach, perhaps) ordered.  Not only is a new course good for the body, it’s also good for the mind.

For starters, running the same loops with the same canted sidewalks day in and day out can lead to repetitive use injuries.  Varying your terrain (as well as your pace and distance) is good for your muscles and joints and can be a useful way to improve your performance!

Perhaps most importantly, however, varying my course keeps me coming back for more, year in and year out.  It’s the reason that I continue to love running.  Whenever I can, I will seek out a trail, a new neighborhood, or a route I’ve never run.  (Sometimes even the variety of hitting the track or a treadmill gets me out of my box enough to feel refreshed!  I know that doesn’t make sense, but I treat myself to a podcast while I complete a treadmill run which is just enough variation from my usual routine to make it exciting if done sparingly…)  When I run a new route, I’m not constantly checking my watch to see how much time I have left because I’m actually engaged in checking out my surroundings.  If I’m lucky, I’ve chosen a beautiful place to run – maybe a nice bit of nature to appreciate or some beautiful homes to fantasize about?  The miles tick by faster as I explore my new territory.  The very fact that I’m doing something different makes me feel like I’m growing as a runner and a person.

Maybe this is why I like vacation running so much?  I know some people who love giving themselves a free pass on vacation and skipping their runs altogether.  I love indulging in some time off as much as the next guy, but I would never plan to skip running on a vacation!  What a waste!  Each run on a vacation feels like a little mini-tour of a new area.  I have a chance to scope out my surroundings on foot and be constantly stimulated by surroundings I haven’t seen before or don’t get to enjoy every day.  And if I’m really impressed with what I saw, then I might enjoy returning to do it again the next day.  Just because you’ve run a route once or twice doesn’t mean that it has no more excitement to offer!  One of my favorite running destinations, for example, is a route I’ve run many many times on Hilton Head Island.  At best I get to run this route a few times over the span of a single week in any given year – not nearly enough to get burnt out, and I always can’t wait to return!

I know that on many days, my “usual” course will be the only thing I can find time for, and for that reason, I won’t give it up entirely.  Its efficiency and convenience are its redeeming qualities.  Obviously I wish I had the luxury of running my favorite trails and routes or exploring new ones every single day, but in lieu of that option, I will continue to do my best to appreciate my “usual” route for what it helps me to accomplish – maintaining my fitness in the midst of a busy and hectic schedule, and preparing me to take on an exciting long run on a new route the next time I have a chance!

Runners: The Best People


​Do you ever get tired of going to a track or cross country meet and watching a fight break out before the meet? The teams come out to the 50 yard line, stomp on the other team’s logo and the fists start flying? Or right before your next 5k or half marathon, does the trash talk between competing runners drive you nuts? Of course not because it just doesn’t happen. Runners are the nicest people. A runner would be more likely to go out of their way to give a competitor some of their extra safety pins or point out the way to where the porta-pot lines are shorter than to ever try to hinder another runner’s performance. Maybe it’s because playing defense isn’t really a thing in a running race. We can try to go as fast as we can but we can’t try to slow down someone else. Or maybe, just maybe it’s because we are just nice people.

​Why is that? What is it about runners that makes them lovers not fighters? At least for distance runners we are mostly skinny little twerps; as pictured above who are much better equipped for running than fighting. But I believe it is much more than that. I think some of it is because we all share a bond brought about by mutual sacrifice. You know what it took you to get where you are and you respect others who have made the same or more sacrifice to get their own level of fitness. Sweating together, seeing what each other look like at the end of a hard race eliminates any airs of uppity behavior. We all look like crap at the end of a race, at least until you pound down that post-race sports drink and get your wind back. Shared misery is a great equalizer. Not many things make you look less cool than being watched as you puke after a race.

​But mostly I think that running just attracts a friendly group of people. Running in a small town as I do is great. If another runner is passing you going the other way, there is always eye contact, a smile or wave, usually a “hi, how you doing?” and once in a while a high five if you are near each other. A runner passing you going the same direction will often end up with a short conversation or at least some encouraging words. Although I find it interesting that when I run in a large city it’s not the same. Maybe it’s the anonymity of the big city but other runners tend to not make eye contact or acknowledge your presence. That always puzzles me and makes me appreciate the small town.

​I really like the atmosphere at road races. Runners who don’t take part in the occasional race just don’t understand what they are missing. I hear it all the time. “Oh, I’m just not into competition” or “I’m not fast enough to run a race”. Well guess what, the vast majority of people in that race know they are never going to win. They know ahead of time that they are about to finish way behind the jackrabbits at the front of the pack. But they don’t care. They are out to have a good time, see what they can do compared to what they have done before and just enjoy the camaraderie. Runners invariably are happy to share their training tips or offer advice to a fellow runner at a race who has stumbled onto a problem the other runner has dealt with before. It’s all smiles at the end of the race (once the puking is over) as runners and their supporters mingle with refreshments, applaud the award winners and generally have a good time with each other.


​So, what can you do to try to perpetuate the happiness of the running community? First, give your fellow runners a wave when you pass each other on the streets. When running on a street and an oncoming car swings out to give you a wide berth, wave at them. They went out of their way, literally, to make your run safer. Be free to answer questions from beginning runners and encourage them every chance you get. That will never slow you down. In fact, getting with other runners who are faster than you will make you a better runner yourself. Last of all, for a great day at the next 5k, unless you are one of the few who might win, there isn’t any reason to run hard enough to puke. That’s not fun. Just enjoy the day, the people around you and your ability to run. Life is good when you are a runner.

 

Keep running my friends!

Run the Mile You’re In

I’ve heard this quote attributed to different people over the years, and frankly, I don’t know who said it first, but they were on to something.

Sure, there’s a time and a place for reflecting on past performances, just as there’s a time and a place for planning ahead.  Without these practices, we would never learn from the person and runner we had been.  We may not have noticed that race times were slowing when we eliminated speedwork or that one knee always flares up after running on the slanted part of the road.  And we certainly would struggle to meet goals if we never created training plans for the coming days, weeks, and months.

Nonetheless, when it’s time to perform, there’s no place you should be but present in the moment.  In the same way that we can practice mindfulness in our day to day living, we can practice mindfulness on the run.  We all know there have been plenty of long runs and races that didn’t feel great.  It’s tempting to keep dwelling on mile 2 when we pushed a little too hard up that hill and we’re still paying for it.  And it’s equally tempting to keep repeating over and over, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe have 11 more miles to go…”   When you’re struggling in the middle of a run, there is perhaps nothing less motivating than reminding yourself that you’re not even close to being done.

However, by refocusing and being present, we can choose to concentrate on the mile we’re running at that very moment.  It turns a big goal into a smaller, more achievable goal.  When you’re five miles into a half marathon, focusing on “8 more miles” may not help you perform your best.  But focusing on getting from mile 5 to mile 6 makes more sense.  Sometimes you can only ask yourself to try to keep this up for another mile, and then… we’ll see what happens.  Sometimes you need to choose to forgive yourself in advance for whatever is to come.  Acknowledge that you’re going to do your best on this mile. In all subsequent miles, whether your best is still this good or you have to pull over and stop altogether is out of your control for the time being.  All you can control is this mile.

I love this little piece of advice because it’s so useful in running.  In my last half marathon, I recall holding a pace that I thought was ambitious, and I frequently started to doubt that I could maintain it for the duration of the race, but I maintained my sanity by never asking myself for more than this mile.  Just try to make it to the end of this mile, I would tell myself, and then I’ll re-evaluate.  Dwelling on what’s yet to come is a distraction, and it’s unfair to the mile you’re in.

But perhaps I like this advice best of all because it applies to life in general as well.  There have been many days when I’ve felt overwhelmed – either by disappointment over what I’ve failed to accomplish in the past or by a daunting to-do list in my future.  Sometimes that to-do list is so distracting that it keeps me from truly focusing on doing a great job of the task I’m presently working on.  My desire to do all things at once so often prevents me from doing a great job at any one thing.

So whether it’s one workout, or one mile, one book you’re reading, or one closet you’re cleaning out, give it your full attention.  If you’ve chosen to be there, then be there.  And when you’re done, move on to the next thing.  Certainly set aside time to reflect and time to plan, and when you’re doing those things, give them your full attention.  But at all other times, give yourself the freedom to dive into the task/mile/project at hand.

My Tracker Died

So, what do I do now? My fitbit won’t charge any more. How can I possibly get in shape without it? How can I satisfy that primal urge to know that I got 10,000 steps a day in? Does exercise count if you don’t record it?

These are all questions that unfortunately went through my mind as I contemplated what to do now that my fitness tracker no longer works. The warranty is no longer in existence so I don’t want the advice to just call the company. Instead, I am going to take the other route. I will be a radical and live without a fitbit on my wrist. How can that be? I came to this decision for a few reasons.

First, I don’t like addictions. Wearing a fitness tracker is kind of an mental addiction. I can function just fine without it but somehow I think I have to have it every day. Now that I have been without it for a few days I find that life goes on.

Second, whoever came up with the idea that 10,000 steps a day was what it takes to get in shape or stay in shape. Is it really 10,000 or would 9,382 do it? Or does it really take 18,500? Call me skeptical but I find it odd that the magic number is exactly 10,000. Now looking at the average American in your local Wal-Mart, maybe 10,000 steps a day would improve our country’s overall obesity level. But for the runners reading this blog, I don’t believe 10,000 is going to do much.

Third, did I really take more steps because I had a tracker on? That’s a big fat NO! Some people do but I am not one of them. I will admit that if I was about to go to bed with 9,879, I would probably walk another 121 to hit 10,000. But if I had 7,679, I wouldn’t walk an extra step to get more when 10,000 is out of reach for that day.

Fourth, I don’t feel like spending another $100 or more to get a gadget that I end up being a slave to. I am old enough now that I treasure my independence and refuse to give it up in worship of a device that pushes me towards and artificial goal of what is supposed to be fitness.

Learning to live without the fitbit brings a lot of relief. Just ask this woman who apparently has walked away from her fitness tracker addiction to a life of self-fulfillment without being controlled by a gadget on her wrist.

Now if only I can convince myself that exercise does still count if I don’t record it.

Keep running my friends.

Patience

It has been several weeks since I last wrote about my week off of running.  In an attempt to heal what I’ve since become convinced is a mild case of Achilles tendinitis, I took a week off running and then tried to gradually add it back in.  I seemed to hold steady, running no more than maybe 7ish miles per week and seeing no worsening, but at the same time no improvement of my symptoms.

So, I did what any stupid runner would do.  I said, ok, well, it’s not getting worse, maybe resting isn’t helping.  I’ll just go ahead and start adding back some more miles, and we’ll see how things go.  It’s not like I went crazy, but last weekend I did back to back 3 mile runs on two consecutive days.  And on Monday I was painfully aware of the results of my experiment.

It seems that the one symptom most resistant to healing is extreme tightness in my Achilles when I wake up in the morning.  I’ve now Googled the answers and asked the pros (like my coach) what they would do.  We’ve settled on this plan – I’m using the elliptical and doing short treadmill runs (only after a good warm-up) and daily eccentric calf raises.

After a week or two of using this plan, I’ve found that I now wake up with less stiffness in my calf/Achilles, and I’m feeling optimistic!  However, now I’ve reached the hardest part.  Now I’m starting to believe that I’m on the path to recovery, and the natural next step is to start behaving as such, returning to regular running and trying to prepare for the half marathon I’m signed up for in less than two months!

Ah… but this is where patience comes in.  Yeah, it feels like I’m getting better, but I know I’m not all the way there, and I know that whatever I was doing before (moderate running) wasn’t working.  So I must be patient.  I must continue to wait.  And I’ll try to wait beyond the day when I’m pretty sure I’m back to 100%.  I’ll wait a little bit longer even after that first day when I wake up and walk to the bathroom without any limping at all.  Because that’s what it’s come to.  Patience.

It’s hard to be patient when my Saturday workout feels so meager compared to the Saturday morning workouts I was doing in May.  And it’s hard to be patient on the elliptical when I feel like I’m “not really exercising.”  And it’s hard to be patient when I wonder if I’m losing all the fitness I’d been building, and when I wonder how long it will be before I’ll be running like normal, and when I imagine that doing long runs is going to feel way more difficult when I try to build my mileage back up.

So this week (and next week, and probably the week after), with the big picture in mind, I’ll just be striving to achieve the virtue of patience.