Running Goals in the Time of Cholera (Spring 2020 Running Goals)

It’s kind of ironic that just as I started to come out of a prolonged running funk (my usual late-winter malaise, plus a sinus/cold situation) just in time for a pandemic and the drastic changes to our everyday lives that have resulted. I’m not complaining about social distancing, I’m very fortunate that it will have a minimal impact on my life, but I do recognize the irony.

I’m also lucky that my reluctance to commit to any races has put me in a position where I haven’t laid out any cash for a race that has been canceled or has the potential to be canceled. I was very close to signing up for Chippewa 50K and/or the Med City Marathon when the new social distancing recommendations started coming out. Even the Boston Marathon has been postponed, I’m not assuming anything about the status of any other races.

So, what is there to work for this season? I’m not sure. Here are my original goals:

  1. Run two races.
  2. Run a mile in two new counties.
  3. Visit two new state parks.

Those goals are pretty weak, but they reflect my mindset the past month or so. I haven’t been able to get any interest in signing up for races. I’m feeling so slow right now, and my workouts feel like a grind. Even racing a 5K seems like a pointless endeavor. Warmer weather, an adjustment for daylight saving time, and better terrain (snow melted, ground dry) should make things feel a bit easier (and if not, I guess I need to seek answers elsewhere), but in the meantime, those are the goals I feel comfortable setting. And even running two races seems like a tough goal considering I don’t know if races I’m interested in will still go on.

So, that’s not an exciting way to start the 2020 racing season, but it could be! There’s plenty of adventure to be had, even with such mundane-seeming goals. And there’s no better way to practice social distancing than by spending time in the woods!

Lousy Smarch Weather

This is a frustrating time of year for me. The weather is up and down, and while the rest of the country is enjoying spring (or even sweltering in Boston on Monday), we’re still getting snow in the forecast. This past weekend was really nice, and even though it was much cooler on Monday, it was still sunny and didn’t feel chilly. Then Tuesday it was in the high 30s F and poured most of the day. Yesterday it barely made it over 40 F, and by the time I was getting up to get my running gear, the wind had kicked up.

I was already in a sort of melancholy mood, to the point where I almost sat in my car and finished listening to Eddie Vedder’s cover of “Comfortably Numb,” even though it only started about 30 seconds before I pulled into the driveway. I didn’t, but it was tempting. I updated my Facebook profile photo to Homer Simpson complaining about the lousy Smarch weather. I didn’t even have to upload a photo, because I have used it so many times before! It’s more like Smapril now, but it’s never clear where Smarch fell on the calendar.

After that I stupidly looked through older photos when I was more overweight. There’s more of a contrast between now and then than I thought, which I can look at as good, look how far I’ve come! or as bad, it got worse than I thought. Of course I was in the mood to choose the latter.

Then there was a huge gust of wind outside my window, and I decided not to run. Five minutes later, I said out loud, to no one but the cats, “NOPE.” I stood up, put on my gear, and managed to get outside.

I expected the run would make me feel better, and it didn’t. The first mile really sucked, it was into the wind, and had some annoying uphills (when leaving from my house, it’s basically impossible to avoid an uphill in the first mile), but I figured it would get better. Then I realized I was bleeding. A raw spot under my nose had split open (again). I had five more miles to go, so I got blood all over my lovely mint green jacket trying to stop the bleeding or at least avoid getting blood all over my face. It’s gross, but whatever.

It never got better. I somehow had to run into the wind no matter what direction I was heading. I kept burping the chicken curry Chinese takeout I had for lunch. My feet were landing hard on the ground, practically stomp-running, and I couldn’t fix it. I ran by a long-dead squirrel in someone’s yard. Dirt blew in my face. Not even the view of the lake along Skyline Drive near the copper top church cheered me up.

And my watch malfunctioned. It beeps when I’ve hit a mile, and occasionally I hear a phantom beep, which was what I thought I heard, until I looked down and saw that it was showing 6.2 miles when I was barely over 3 miles into the route. But a 7:17 average pace, congratulations to me!

I didn’t have the energy for any of the downhills I’d earned the hard way, through the big climb on Arrowhead Drive. Even as I turned down the final hill and was less than half a mile from home, I didn’t feel relieved. It felt like it would never be over.

I got home and had to do a load of laundry (to clean my coat), marinate pork chops (I really didn’t want to eat pork chops, but that’s what was thawed), and do some strength exercises (I did!), so even the end of the run didn’t bring me to a better mental state.

The point of this stream-of-consciousness post is merely to say: sometimes running sucks. The whole time, not just the first 2 miles. Sometimes running isn’t the answer to a bad mood, or a way to clear my head, or a way to feel like I’ve accomplished something on a day I’ve felt like I don’t have the energy to do anything. Running doesn’t solve every problem, and that’s okay. It’s not supposed to, and if I expect it to, it’s only going to make things worse. Tough days happen, and every single time I get out there and run on a tough day, mentally, physically, or emotionally, I’m figuring out new ways to cope. I can’t imagine when that will come in handy — maybe at mile 18 of Chippewa Moraine, or hour 18 of FANS?

Short and Sweet

In praise of short runs.

Before yesterday, my last run that took under an hour happened December 29th, and my last run under 4 miles (that wasn’t a race) was November 30th.

This isn’t really surprising, since I have been training for longer races for almost a year now, and I am slow, so even short runs take quite awhile. Lots of people can get in a medium-length run in under an hour, but I can’t.

It’s also hard to see the point of hauling on all my gear just to get out and do 2 or 3 miles. It seems like a lot of effort for very little benefit. What’s a 2.5 mile run (that isn’t a speed workout) going to do for my 50k training?

This winter, I have been using Tuesday as my off day, because I have a night course prepping for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. I don’t have enough time to run between work and class. But yesterday, I was determined to get out. The weather is going to start turning colder (though not terribly cold, relatively speaking), and I did not want to miss out on the last mild day for awhile. So I left work slightly early, suited up as quickly as I could (only a little bit of lollygagging, since I got a package from my mom in the mail), and put in 3.3 miles on the road.

It was awesome. I was giddy at the prospect that not only had my run barely started, it was almost over. (Of course this also meant that the proportion of time the run sucked was very high — the first 2 miles are always the worst.) I didn’t wear gloves, because I didn’t have to worry about cold hands – I’d be done soon! It didn’t matter if my feet got wet – they wouldn’t have time to get cold either! It was still light out when I finished, AND I had time to get coffee and a muffin before class. I was also still high on endorphins during class, and further elated that I finally remembered something about a subject (statics). Usually I sit there with a blank stare, trying to remember the class I took 3 years ago on the subject du jour. “So you guys remember this, right? It’s a simple redox reaction. The half reaction isszzzzzz…”

My choices lately when I don’t have a lot of time to run are either 1. don’t run or 2. run longer and be late to wherever I have to be. That is really stupid. If I can fit in an extra rest day and still get the mileage I want, I should probably go with the rest day, but there’s always been this option right in front of me, that I’ve been avoiding: run a short run. They’re nice.

At A Standstill

It turns out while I thought I got away with running while sick, I did not get away with racing while sick. The Saturday afternoon after the race I started to feel fatigued, Sunday I was pretty lethargic, and Monday I was really unwell. So now I’ve rested for 8 days as a precaution (I was going to get back out there this weekend, but I started sneezing quite a bit on Saturday and backed off).

I’m feeling a mix of things, none of which are “good.” I know all feelings are supposed to be valid, but I’m growing tired of their effects. I would like to run Zumbro 50 next year, but my 16-week training cycle starts next week. This has caused me to feel anxious about my fitness, as well as about my health as the winter progresses. It’s colder now than it was even last week. I also feel guilty, as if I should be out running, or I should have done something differently to avoid getting sick. I also feel pretty down about my weight, which has crept up a bit over the last several months. My clothes still fit so it’s not the end of the world, but I was hoping for some more downward progress. My treadmill is still broken (for some reason dealing with it seems to be an insurmountable task, although the wheels are in motion now), so my only option is going outside, in single-digit temps. I’m going to have to invest in some serious cold weather gear this year.

There’s just not that much to be positive about when it comes to running. I’m determined to get out there tonight, in as many layers as it takes to stay warm. Then I have to make a couple pans of brownies for tomorrow’s holiday pot luck. That will certainly get my nutrition and fitness back on track!

How I Get Back on My Feet After a Bout of Laziness

I feel very virtuous right now because I’m back in the habit of running again! And by that I mean I ran a whole two days in a row. On the treadmill both times, due to the dismal weather we’ve been having lately. This is my punishment for laziness over the weekend, when it was nice out both days.

The longer the layoff from running, the harder it seems for me to get back in the habit again. What’s one more day when I’ve already skipped five?

Here are a few ways I’ve successfully overcome this completely ridiculous, purely imagined obstacle.

  1. Start small
    Don’t expect to make up a whole week’s volume in one day. I’ve run as few as two miles at times, just to get back in the habit, if that’s all I can fit in. If you’re tired or you’re busy, it’s easy to let another day slip away, but that’ll just make things harder the next day. (If you’re really, truly tired, then take another day.)
  2. Start big
    This is the exact opposite of what I just said. I don’t know if it’s a smart idea, but I have been known to go out and run 12 miles on a Sunday after not running all week. I had the time, and it felt great to at least get to double-digits in mileage for the week.
  3. Don’t sit down
    Monday I came home, fed my cats, and immediately got into my workout clothes and got my butt downstairs to the treadmill. I didn’t sit down and turn on the TV, or check 8 different websites, or even get a little homework done. When I do that, I waste time and have to shorten my workout to get done before dinner. Or  I don’t do it at all.
  4. Incentivize the workout
    Don’t run the same boring route. Pick a new route, or pick your favorite route. Pick the easiest route, or the toughest route, depending on what will make you feel better at the end. I did repeats on the treadmill to mix it up. In better weather, I pick a great trail or a road route that has some great views. Of course, I live in a beautiful city on a great lake, so that’s easy for me to say. Bring music, promise yourself candy at the end of the run, whatever gives you a sufficient kick in the butt.
  5. Ignore the scale
    (Just bypass this if you’re one of those people who thinks running for any other reason besides the love of the sport somehow cheapens and denigrates it. Just bypass this whole blog, in fact.) This advice is kind of dependent on how long the layoff is. At some point, if I haven’t run in awhile and haven’t been eating well either, I do have to face the music. But I don’t see a point to doing a weekly weigh-in when I haven’t run in 5 days. It’s only going to further discourage me if I’ve gained a pound or so. I’ll just wait til the following week, when I’ve already gotten back on my feet. This applies to people in maintenance mode, too. If you don’t normally weigh in, don’t assess the “damage” of your time off. I don’t really know if people do that, as I’m not in a position to be so laissez-faire with my weight.

Those are just a few ideas that have worked for me that I thought I’d pass along. I’m sure I’ll need motivation again someday soon (like when it’s -20 F, the streets are covered in ice, the sidewalks are unplowed, and I’m facing another treadmill slog), so send any other tips my way.

The Sound of Silence

I am trying to run as many workouts as I can without headphones and music. Yesterday that was a pretty easy decision, because it was misty and threatening rain at any moment. My phone isn’t waterproof and I don’t have anywhere to stow it.

I don’t run with headphones for a few reasons:

1. I don’t want music to be a crutch during races.
I need to be able to keep sane during races, long or short, without requiring music. I have to be able to self-motivate. Many races don’t allow headphones, and other races I plan on running in the future might not have data access (I do have a regular old MP3 player but I only use it on planes) or might last longer than the battery life on my phone. If I rely on music during training and its not available come race day, I’m at a disadvantage.

2. I don’t like the carry more than I need to.
I don’t want to wear an arm band, and since it’s warm now, I can’t just shove my phone up my sleeve. This means carrying it. If I purchased either an arm band or a top with a nice zippered pocket, it would be easier, but it’s still added weight I don’t need.

3. It’s safer.
I can hear cars, animals, other people, etc. I also don’t wear down the battery on my phone in case of emergency. (This is also a reason I got a GPS watch, I didn’t want to use my phone for tracking and wear down the battery. I still of course carry my phone with me on trail runs in case of emergency.)

4. I can use it as a treat if I need motivation.
If I’m struggling to find the will to get my butt off the couch and run, I’ll pop in my headphones. I like using music as a motivational tool rather than as a requirement for running. I do use music every time I do hill workouts, since it’s the workout for which I need the most pumping up.

5. Nature is a superior soundtrack.
I rarely use music on trail runs (unless I need motivation). I enjoy the quiet on trails, and I like hearing bird calls. I also enjoy scaring myself thinking a bear is coming. Wheeee! I also need to listen for other runners so I can be ready to step to the side and let them pass (it’s a nice way to get a little break!)

I had a great run yesterday, running by feel. I didn’t want to be a slave to my watch, so after my warmup (2/3 mile, I’d planned on 1/2 mile, but during stretching my right hamstring did something weird and I had to walk it off) I covered my watch with my sleeve and ran based on effort. I didn’t walk any hills, running up them at a controlled pace instead, and focused on staying alert during downhills and flat sections. I tend to get complacent on flat sections and run more slowly than I should, only realizing it when I peek at my watch. I need to get that in check without my watch. I did a good job keeping my average heart rate down (120, 134, 139, 139) but not so fabulous on pace (18:39, 17:16, 16:40, 13:34), although a lot of it was uphill. (Guess which split was the downhill?) I’ve got to reduce my dependence on my watch (during the run), just like I’m trying to reduce my dependence on music.