Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Tale of Two 5Ks

Somehow April is almost over and I have already done my first race of the year. Actually, I've already done my first two races. I did the Race for Excellence 5K in Columbia, Maryland two weeks ago and then did the Race Against Racism 5K in York on Saturday. I debated writing two separate race recaps but I waited so long to write the first one that I figured I might as well combine them. What the hell, right?

Race for Excellence 5K
I ran this race with my sister and her boyfriend as a part of one of our friend's company team in the corporate challenge. I had no expectations going into this race as my running has been fairly slow lately and I haven't done any speed work all year. Since I paid to do this race I was going to at least run hard. I hoped I could throw down a solid time that would reveal a little about where my run fitness is right now.

Race morning arrived and it was one of the warmest days we've had all year. It was beautiful out but I was not used to running when it's that warm yet. I did a short warm up jog and was greeted with lead-legs. I noted it and then tried to push the negative thoughts out of my head until the race started. I've had some really good races on tired legs so I knew I couldn't count myself out yet.

Turns out, my legs really didn't want to run a 5K. Or at least a hard one. I struggled from the first step to get my legs to turn over. I pleaded with them, trying to will them to run for just a couple more miles. I felt like crap for the entire race but somehow was still enjoying myself. I think it was being back at a race. The last race I did was in November and the last race I really raced was in September. In all those months I think I forgot how much races hurt. I forgot what it feels like to push through pain.

I ended up finishing in 25:57, which I was pretty happy with considering how bad I felt. My 5K PR is 25:31 so only being ~25 seconds off was certainly good enough for me. After I finished the race I was able to check my splits and see I positive split the race like a champ. Oops.

Mile 1- 8:11
Mile 2- 8:34
Mile 3- 8:16
.1- 8:04 pace

Race Against Racism 5K
This past weekend I ran the Race Against Racism with my Girls On the Run team. It was our end of season 5K and going into the race my only goal was to be there for my girls. None of the girls needed me be their running buddy so I decided to go for it and see what kind of time I could do. We were told parking would be pretty scarce so I ran to the race and used it as my warm up.

The weather for this race was perfect, with temps in the high 40's and mostly cloudy. It made it pretty cold waiting around but I would choose racing in the cold over heat any day. When the race started I tried to hold back a little and keep the first mile comfortable. I think with everything going on with my girls I never had time to stress over the race, and so the whole thing felt really comfortable. I never freaked out about what pace I was running, how heavy my legs felt, the annoying guys who kept cutting in front me around every corner.

I wish I had more to say about this race but to be honest I don't remember all that much from it. My mind was quiet- the gremlins never came out to play. What I can say about this race that is far more important than anything I thought or experienced during the race is that I finally broke my 5K PR. And I'm not talking about what I call my 5K PR that I set a year and a half ago. I'm talking about the PR I set back in high school when I was at the height of my swimming career. Breaking this PR was symbolic of so much for me- breaking free from the person who set that PR and everything I went through between then and now.

Mile 1- 8:08
Mile 2- 7:52
Mile 3- 7:50
.1- 6:54 pace

It's funny how one week an 8:11 mile is going out too fast, and another an 8:08 mile is holding back.  It's also funny, I'm sure only to me but since I'm the writer here just play along, how easy this once elusive time was to achieve. I was on such a running high after finishing that I turned around and started running again in search of some of my girls. I think they were the reason I had such a good race. I wasn't worried about myself or my time until the gun went off. This was not my day to shine. It was theirs. They worked so hard for those twelve weeks. This was their day to celebrate and be the stars.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Learning to Trust Myself through Triathlon

I, like so many others, am indecisive. For as long as I can remember I have had trouble making decisions. Sometimes I just genuinely didn't care, other times I was so torn between my choices that I made someone else decide for me. It started off small, in a way I was unable to detect. A friend where I wanted to go for dinner and I would let them choose. It didn't really matter to me so I gave the decision making power over to them. Little did I realize that each time I let someone else make a decision for me I was loosing the ability to make a decision on my own.

The other weekend I thought it would be a good idea to do whatever workouts I wanted. I was going to decide what sounded fun and brought fire into my soul. This plan backfired in a major way. I couldn't decide what I wanted to do because I'm so used to someone else making decisions for me. I have become so dependent on other people that I couldn't even decide between going for a run or to yoga. The amount of anxiety I got while trying to make this decision was my first big clue that something was going on that needed to be fixed.

From talking with friends I think this inability to make decisions is something a lot of us struggle with. And it makes sense. For so long our parents are our primary decision makers. And when our parents aren't making decisions for us, society is. Going to college wasn't a choice I made but rather an expectation that was placed on me. Don't get me wrong, given the choice I still would have gone to college because I have always loved school and quite frankly can't learn enough. Now that I have graduated college I am in this limbo, where my choices and decisions are still influenced by my family and what my professors and advisors expect of me yet I yearn to make them myself.

I've been asking myself the question "why" a lot recently. Why am I training for an ironman, why am I going to grad school, why am I not traveling the world during my time off from school. Some of the things I thought I wanted I am realizing are really things that the people around me want, and I am not okay with that. This is my life and I should be the one to shape it, cultivate it, make it everything I have ever dreamed of.

I've spent the past few days on a quest to find my voice and figure out what I really want in life. Right now that means not doing a half ironman prior to racing Ironman Lake Placid in July. Pretty much as soon as I signed up for Lake Placid I was looking for a 70.3 I could do in late May/early June as a tune-up race. Even though I found a race months ago I had been hesitant to bite the bullet and sign up. After months of putting off signing up it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason for my procrastination. When I really thought about it, I had no desire to do this race. I knew I should but it was giving me more anxiety than necessary.

When I came to endurance sports a few years ago I had no idea what I wanted out of training and racing, other than something to fill my time with. I dabbled with stand alone running races but something was off. It wasn't until I found triathlon that I truly fell in love. And while yes, I do love the training, what I really love about triathlon is the ability to race. To be more than a mere participant and go head-to-head with other competitors. I love the combination of the speed and endurance that is required to truly race these events.

I was lacking motivation to train for my ironman in a way that initially shocked me, but doesn't so much anymore. My entire year is pretty much dedicated to this one race, in which I am more of a participant that a competitor. I have given up so much in order to do this race, and I in no way regret any of it, but it was starting to take a toll on me mentally. When it hit me that what I really wanted to do was race, rather than complete another long distance triathlon I was plagued with anxiety. I was up almost the whole night thinking about how I was supposed to do this one race. I was so torn between what I was supposed to do and what I wanted to do that almost couldn't do anything at all. This decision consumed me because I didn't know how to listen to my own voice and do the thing that makes my heart sing.

In an effort to find this voice, I am on a quest to choose to do something every damn day. That might be sleeping in, or treating myself to a chai tea latte. Maybe it is taking a pit stop of the way to the store to meditate at the park. All I know is that I need to stop letting everyone decide my life for me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bend Before You Break

Sometime in January I woke up with a kink in my neck. The kind where you don't really notice it until you turn your neck just the right amount and suddenly you're screaming in pain. I tried poking around my neck a little to try to ease the tightness and instead discovered that my neck pain was really shoulder pain manifesting itself as neck pain. Why is this important, you might ask. Well, because my shoulder/neck/upper back is still not quite back to normal more than two months later. I don't notice it often-- sometimes at night, when I raise my arms above my head-- definitely not often enough to call the big guns yet. I've debated getting a massage and if they weren't so darn expensive I would have gotten several starting back in January. When it occurred to me that I was still dealing with this same issue all these weeks later I thought maybe going to yoga would provide some relief.

The yoga at my local YMCA is nothing like the hot yoga studios where you leave feeling like you had a great workout. This yoga is gentle, more like a stretching class with some yoga poses thrown in there. And you know what, I love it. I went to class Friday morning and spent the entire class feeling like I couldn't get enough stretching. Suddenly I was realizing how crazy tight my hamstrings were, and how my hips barely let me get into pigeon. I remember thinking during class about how athletes spend so much time beating their bodies up, many until they reach their breaking point. We constantly hear about the importance of recovery but for so many of us this pillar of training is neglected because it isn't as glamorous as running 14 miles and doing an open water swim.

I have dealt with several small nagging injuries and one more serious one in the few years that I have been an endurance athlete. Before that I swam competitively and spent the last three years of my swimming career seriously injured. I'm talking three surgeries in three years. While some of them were accidents, so many of our injuries are unpreventable. Since the start of the year I have been struggling with my run because my IT band has been acting up. I went to yoga on Friday and on Sunday did the longest run since my 70.3 back in September. And it was pain free. Coincidence? Maybe, but I think there's some kind of connection.

I ask so much of my body, constantly taking it through really hard workouts yet I never give it the reward it needs. Don't we owe it to ourselves to treat our bodies like temples? Like goddesses? There's this notion in the sports world that our bodies are somehow disconnected from us. All the time we are being told to listen to our bodies. But you know what? Our bodies are a part of us. They are connected to us in every way and deserve as much love and respect as we give our minds. So why wait until our bodies are screaming at us to do something. It doesn't have to be yoga. There are so many things you can do that aren't training to make yourself feel good. For me, movement is a game changer. I'll go to yoga, take the pup for a walk, hike at the local trails.

So go. Go beat yourself up the best way you can and then build yourself back up. Give yourself love and nourishment. I promise you'll feel amazing.