Thursday, September 15, 2011

what to do when you don't feel like running

You know the feeling well.

One day off feels like an itch. Two, a gnaw. Three or more, and every single thought you have about plans for the day is back-ended with "but I should really go running instead."

Well, welcome to the club!

For years, this blog has been about releasing the guilt after I've beaten myself up for one thing or another, but from this point forward, I'm making a vow: I'm going to be compassionate with myself about my little slip-ups. That includes running—and in life. No more excess worry—just tools to get back on track.

So, here's my secret #1. It's really no big deal.
The faster you can admit that to yourself, the faster you'll get back out there. The more guilt you heap on yourself about not running, the longer you'll wait. Side corollary: If you see another runner sprinting on the pavement at dinner hour when you're rushing home for, well, dinner, and all you can think to yourself is, "damn, I should be doing that," instead, just wish him or her a great run, then commend yourself for all the dinner-hour runs you've put in.

Secret #2: Maybe it's time for new shoes.
Runners are a stoic lot. We can pound the pavement for hours. Our trusty technical tees and beloved Asics powergels become our good luck totems, helping us get through the hard parts. I've worn the same bright-pink Nike zip-up long sleeve tee for four years (see my marathon pic) and I'll never throw it out. But that said, eat Ben & Jerry's Phish Food every night and you'll even get bored. That's when it's time for a trip to Lululemon for some new gear to get you pumped.

Secret #3: Maybe it's time for a new sound-track.
I have loved "Now That's What I Call Music" since they put out version #8, headlined by Britney and J.T. Now they're up to 1,007 or something, but it's still great, upbeat, timely music that reminds you what season you're in and that J.T. can still jam. I've also started running to Ray LaMontaigne albums—he has such a sense of rhythm. But even this one reminds me, I need some new music, too. (Any ideas?)

Secret #4: Tell yourself that even a mile is great.
We hate to run less than last week. I hate it to think that last month I was running my usual three miles a day and now I'm feeling winded. But you know what? A mile is better than nothing. In fact, it's a great thing. I think back to the first mile I ever ran, back four years ago, when I couldn't fit into my bridesmaid dress. That mile meant a lot. In fact, it meant everything. It meant that there was hope. Now, I'm going to applaud myself each time I run that first mile, because it means I've taken action—the hard road.

Secret #5: What are you afraid to think about?
I've finally realized that this is the real reason we don't run. We're afraid of being in our own heads for 30 minutes. What scary truth might come up? Have we put on 5, 10 pounds and don't want to admit this to ourselves yet? Are we unhappy in our job and don't feel like hearing the scary answer—that we need to quit? Has our relationship reached an unconquerable impasse and we have no idea what to do?

It's all pretty frightening, that life stuff, sure. But guess what. Running also provides answers if you're willing to listen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

gaps and opportunities

In running, and in life, you can fall into a gap and get stuck there.

After a period of about a year, I've come to realize I've been spending time in one of these gaps, checking it out, languishing a bit too long. To be specific, after completing the NYC marathon last year, I haven't stopped running, but I've stopped training, which in a sense is all about moving forward.

There are some good excuses: the temperature's never seemed quite right, my clothes from a few years back feel itchy on my skin and my fitness levels have plummeted. I've also been launching a freelance writing career, finishing a book manuscript and trying to find love. But being honest with myself, I've allowed a darkness of spirit to seep in that I haven't really felt up to facing yet.

Though I've been aware of it happening, I haven't been able to figure out why I'm letting it happen. Have I not been putting myself first? Or is it normal when my other major life goals are a priority? But none of the above goals have been fully realized. They are all unfinished marathons in their own ways.

The endless monkey brain loop is something I've spoken a lot about in this blog. A steady stream of thought spirals, what-ifs and ruminations like those ghostly army men in the last Harry Potter movie, hungering, blood-thirsty and ready to storm the castle any chance they get.

While I was training for the marathons, those annoying footmen seemed to take a break for a while, but now they're back, in full force, storming my weakened barriers on all fronts.

Penetrable barriers aren't necessarily a bad thing. Porous boundaries allow me to take in a lot more of the world. This profound sensitivity allows me to see trends, sense feelings on a mass scale and perceive the stormfronts simmering below the surface that others may not notice. Eschewing cliches more readily, hopefully I can see the entirety of what is.

The problem is that sometimes "what is"—this gap—can have a dark cast to it. I think I've seen the darkness a little more fully this year. In slowing down, taking a break from work and busyness, I've allowed myself to really see it, walk around in it and feel it—maybe for the first time in my life.

The darkness isn't a bad thing either, but when you have fuzzy edges, it feels like you've been walking outside on a cold, rainy day without a jacket and you feel it in your bones.

However, running buffers the grainy edges. With each pounding foot, the jangly glass shards tossing around inside me smooth out and my internal barriers thicken up.

Running is like carrying a sepia-toned flashlight, softening what I see into beautiful rosy glow.

Instead of seeing shadows, I see opportunities.

There may be gaps to fall into, but with running, there's hope.

With each step, I'm reminded that taking action, in whatever small way I can, is the answer.

Sometimes it takes a full year to realize this, but other times, all it takes is one good run.

As I get back into running more regularly, signing up for races again as little metaphors to face my fears and complete things, I'll be casting a light on those annoying Harry Potter army men waiting cleverly outside my castle. As I do this, hopefully I'll also start to see the completion of all the other marathons in my life—the book manuscript, a successful freelance career, opening up my heart enough to fully let love in.

I have to believe that this waylay hasn't been for naught. That within these small gaps of nothingness that we fill with our beliefs and thoughts also lie the breeding ground for the biggest opportunities—the transformative kind that feel like miracles.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

running and writing

A lot has happened since I decided to defer my spot in the ING NYC marathon last year.

I haven't been training for races. And in January and February, I pretty much stopped running entirely. But in many ways, I've been using everything I learned last year in Rome. Though this time it's been off the course.

For starters, I wrote a book. Well, a book manuscript. The idea came to me while I was in training for Rome, actually. I was talking to my good friend Weatherly on the subway coming back from Brooklyn from a friend's dinner one night in late January. She was in her second trimester of pregnancy and I was in the middle of marathon training and we were remarking how similar the feelings were. We laughed about how in pregnancy and in the later stages of training, you're tired, achy, worried and hungry all the time. She told me how much she was looking forward to taking maternity leave in the summer and I told her how I needed my own maternity leave. I won't say much more about the idea now, but looking back, I think something was unlocked during those 15-mile runs because the words just seemed to pour out of me that night once I got back home.

Fast-forward to last October. I finally got my manuscript in a good enough place to send out to agents and publishers and received some good initial early feedback. But, my agent would need me to do another revise before she'd consider taking it on. Working at Seventeen, training for the marathon, then the injury, and having any kind of life outside of work was taking up all my time as it was, let alone get myself into the brain space to finish a manuscript.

Throughout September and October, I battled the feelings inside of me pulling me in multiple directions. What exactly were my priorities? I knew I had to train, and raise money for charity, and do my job, and finish my book, and be a semi-decent friend. Every morning I'd walk the familiar path down Columbus Ave to work trying to figure out how to do it all, but no answers were coming. Instead, deep inside a quiet voice would pop up, but I was afraid to listen to it yet. It was like a tape on repeat. "You know what to do. Just quit. Just quit. Just QUIT!"

Then, my IT band started hurting. I put aside the book revise to attend to my injury, seeing doctors, going to physical therapy, and even acupuncturists. I've mentioned what all that was like in previous posts, but I didn't talk about one thing. One night at the acupuncture place in the W. 60s, the therapist was inserting needles into all the tender points along my knee and up my thigh to my hip. Laying on the table in the dark of the room one Friday night around 9PM I revealed my biggest fear--that I would have to defer.

She thought about what I said. "You know that the IT band is connected to the gallbladder in Eastern medicine," she said. "The gallbladder is the organ related to decision making. What decision are you trying to make?" she asked solemnly. I just gulped. the answer was right there at the tip of my tongue. "I'm considering whether to quit my job even though I don't have a book deal yet." She just smiled. "Well, make the decision and your IT band issue will be resolved."

I took what she said to heart, but didn't do anything besides try to rehab my knee. I kept going to acupuncture through two weeks before the race, but with only one 17-mile run under my belt six weeks prior, and no runs longer than 3 or 4 miles without pain, I knew this decision was going to be made for me. I deferred, disheartened and shaken.

I stayed off my knee throughout November, glad to not have to count on it for anything, and then mid-November, I got some great news. An editor friend happened to love an early version of my book and wanted to submit it for acquisition. Other agents told me to hold out until it was finished to negotiate a better deal. I had assurance my book would sell. And so I made the decision, just before Thanksgiving, that I was going to quit my job. A huge weight lifted, I went for a celebratory run on Thanksgiving Day, my first in a while. Energized, I ran pain-free for five miles.

The following Monday, I came back to work, gave my notice, and then struck a deal with my boss to stay for three months until another editor could come back from maternity leave. I was free! I worked on the book during two vacations, but really was only able to get it finished about a month ago, after I'd left Seventeen, finally having the peace, time and uncluttered brain space to devote each day. And, another perk of not working in an office? Daily runs in Central Park.

But, back to what I was talking about at the start of the post. Like I mentioned, I haven't been training-running, I've been fun-running. Running how much I feel like, when I feel like and where I feel like. I've tried not to "should" myself into running, but just let my body and brain decide when to go. The April weather's been a gift and so I've been out quite a bit, running two to three miles most days, grateful for legs that don't seize up on me like those scary days last October.

But even though I'm not physically training, I've come to find out that the book-selling process is just like race day, really. Finishing the manuscript was like running the course up until mile 16 or 18, giving my blood, sweat and tears, mentally and physically to the story I was crafting. I'd written before, of course, for the past eight years, but writing all 260 or so pages took everything I had in me, just like getting to the those miles in the race.

Then, sending it out to agents felt like it did when I got to mile 20 in the race. I'd only ever run 18 or so miles, and now, I was expected to surpass that milestone. It took stamina to write a book--something before running a marathon I never even realized I'd had--but now, it was going to take more than stamina. It was going to take mental determination and perseverance to deal with rejection. And to cross the finish line, i.e. get a book deal, that part I remember too. Somewhere after mile 23 or 24, I pretty much came out of my body, turned into a machine, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, eyes focused only on the finish line ahead. I think the trick was not thinking too much, or at all, about anything besides the goal. Really, because there was no other choice.

So, basically right now I'm at mile 20, trying to find an agent, and having received rejections (polite, encouraging ones, but still) from three agents, I'm taking the lessons I've learned from running with me. Then, after that, on to find a publisher. And even though I know it won't be easy, just like in Rome, I know I'll cross the finish line.

PS: This was mainly about my book, but I am planning on starting training in July for the NYC Marathon on November 7, 2010. I'm also planning on a few 10Ks and half-marathons beforehand, so I'll be writing about running and writing once again. Thank you as always for all your support!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

dealing with deferring

I guess I should have seen it coming.

After five weeks of not being able to run longer than about 3-5 miles without major pain to my right knee because of IT band issues, I've decided to defer my entry to the NYC Marathon until next year.

I'll still be able to transfer all the money I've raised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training, and I'll still be able to run the race next year, but as you can probably guess, I'm pretty depressed about it.

I can only share what I've learned to hopefully help others dealing with the same thing, and of course, a few thoughts about what it means for me personally.

1. "IT Bands like rest." This was said to me the first week at practice I told my coaches about my knee/hip issues. I got a bunch of different responses from people who'd had IT issues, but this one stuck with me. With three long runs still to get in before the race, I couldn't rest--I had to keep going. But now looking back, I wish I'd just taken two solid weeks off my leg, and then tried to come back, vs. just running on it every odd day, just injuring it more.

2. Acupuncture works. Coach Ramon told me about this great sports acupuncturist Colleen Canyon. I definitely believe in Eastern medicine, but with my knee completely locked up, I was skeptical it would work. Amazingly, even after the first treatment of about 25 needles stuck directly into the parts of my knee that were hurting, I began to feel all the tension dissolve away. The next day at practice I was able to run about five miles without feeling any pain. Unfortunately I was on such a high that as soon as I did, I kept running for another mile, setting me back a lot. It continued to help my leg loosen up, but unfortunately not enough to allow me to run as long as I needed.

3. Trust yourself. This was the hardest and biggest lesson for me this time. Not wanting to give up until the very last minute, I asked just about everyone their opinion, and have literally run around going to five appointments a week to try to rehab my leg. Coaches, my physical therapist, my acupuncturist, friends, random people with IT issues. Each one had a different piece of advice. Some people told me just to keep going, that every runner has had injuries, and that if you keep training, any way you can, you'll get out there on race day and just feel enough pure adrenaline to carry you through. People who'd had IT issues told me to stop running, start rolling, and rest. How would I keep up my fitness for the race, I thought? Deep down, I knew that my body was telling me something this time around--that it wasn't going to hold up for 26.6 miles again this year. Once I finally made the decision to defer earlier this week, a weight felt lifted and I knew it was the right decision for me.

I still feel very guilty for letting everyone down who's generously donated to my running fund. And I worry that this backslide in not completing what I said I would says something, too. Like that first marathon--and my newfound resolve--was a fluke. But I do know that with a winter to rest up, and hopefully strengthen my leg, I'll go into next year's training even more reinvigorated than the first time.

Here's hoping.

Monday, September 28, 2009

the pros of pain

When I started this blog, I knew I'd be writing about the highs and lows, but I never realized how each leg of this journey would take me past all of the significant running milestones.

I've written about the great long runs, the not-so-great ones, the thrill of completing my first marathon, and the guilt of sitting on the couch when I could be running a race. I guess it was inevitable, but now it's time to write about the dark side of running...getting injured. And of course, it wouldn't be Unlikeliest Marathoner if I couldn't find a lesson or two nestled within the nebula.

So far, two Saturdays have passed since my longest run yet, 17 miles, and both I've tried to go out and run a modest amount. And both times I've had to stop at 4 miles because my knee has felt like it would collapse beneath me. I've tried to hobble run, run on the balls of my toes, and even a combo walk/run, and each time, my knee would just send shooting darts of pain up my thigh, laughing at me, like, you know this won't work. I've been going to physical therapy and doing my exercises and ice, and though my right leg feels much stronger, and I'm now able to walk pretty well, my body has gone on strike.

It's been frustrating to say the least, and as each day passes, and my leg still continues to give out on me, a dark thought keeps creeping in...what if I can't do my long runs, or worse, what if I'm going to feel this way the day of the race.

I hate to even think about it, and what it would mean. I'd have to tell everyone who's so generously donated to me that I had to back out. And not to mention that dream of crossing the finish line in Central Park that I've been holding onto with each run would disappear. Okay, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but for someone who until only recently was not so great at completing things, it feels like I'm back at square one.

But, still, in all of this, there have been a few silver linings. For one, I've encountered a whole new community: physical therapy. It's so weird as a person who's so in her head all the time to meet people so heavily focused on what their bodies can do that they'd be willing to devote three hours a week, and $40 copays, so they could compete. And the weirdest part? I am now one of those people. I've woken up for 7:30 AM sessions with my physical trainer, and actually enjoyed spending the better part of an hour trying to strengthen this funny part of my musculature. It's actually pretty calming, in a different way than running. Like, it's okay to be so body-obsessed and have someone else really care about my leg and my goal other than me.

Another lesson? In order to get through this, I have to be on my body's side. I can't run through the pain, and I can't curse my knee for giving out on me. I got my knee into this, and now I'm going to have to get it out. The more I get frustrated, the more my body seems to hold out on me, like it's taunting think you're going to run long, heh, I can wait just as long as you can. So I have to seduce it back onto my side with plenty of special treatment: massages, ice baths, rest. I guess I owe it as much for getting me through the first marathon pain-free.

And the funniest part? I'm willing to do anything if it works. Today I even went to a sports acupuncturist on W. 20th street and had about 20 needles stuck into various parts of my leg today to try to release the muscle's trigger points. And you know what? It feels a whole lot better (even better than after the PT massages.)

So hopefully, I'll come out of all this soon--my next practice is tomorrow. The pain, just another reminder that taking it slow and steady always pays off.

Monday, September 21, 2009

diary of an injury

This post will go in reverse chronological'll see where it's all going soon enough:

8:32 PM, Saturday, Sept. 21: Finished running 1.7 miles (my favorite, the reservoir, where it all began.) This time though, instead of the mild September air cooling me off as I ran charging to beat twilight, it was broken up into three segments: the amounts I could run without pain, coupled with walking.

3:30 PM, Sunday, Sept. 20: Ran 2 1/2 miles, from 83rd to Cat Hill, instead of running the Queens Half Marathon as I was supposed to, due to my knee locking and seizing. Silent prayers to the running gods spoken the whole time.

1:00 PM, Friday, Sept. 19: Walking to work, feeling my the sides of my knee inflame in pain, but at least it only started at 60th street this time vs. 72nd street.

7:20 PM, Thursday Sept. 18: Trying to run the reservoir, since my knee doesn't feel like it's going to break into pieces every time I step on my right leg. Nope, can only make it a quarter mile before the pain comes back.

1:00 PM, Wednesday Sept. 17: Brad, my new psychical therapist at New York Sports Medicine, tells me I've definitely got an ITL band injury after a quick inspection to my muscles, knees, and new lopsided gait. I should not run the Queens Marathon or any long run until things start to improve.

1:00 PM, Sunday, Sept. 14: I cannot move my right leg without it feeling like it's going to collapse underneath me like a dried out, dead tree limb.

1:01 PM, Saturday, Sept. 13: Hmmm, what's that feeling? My knee's locking up a bit--must remember to stretch a little more after 17-mile runs more often--but wasn't that awesome? I feel sleepy.

12:59 PM, Saturday, Sept. 13: I did it! I just ran 17 miles! And just like last time, the trek over the GW Bridge into NJ was a magic run, the kind that remind you why you are a runner. The miles floated by as I found myself deep in thought, or well, not really thinking about anything, which is the whole reason I started running to begin with.

7:37 AM, Saturday, Sept. 13: Okay, a little nervous. Haven't run in, well, about 10 days, after a seven-day trip to Panama. Maybe I should have just toughed it out down there and got in a few short runs to keep my muscles firing. Well, we'll just see how this goes. I should try to do about 15 miles today, not push myself.

12:30 PM, Monday, August 30: Just ran 14 miles and they actually felt good! Training is paying off, finally! I ran all the way from my apartment down the west side highway up the east river to Central Park. I need to update everyone on unlikeliest marathoner because my last post about my running malaise was pretty grim.

And there you have it, folks. In the past three weeks, my running track record speaks for itself. I've overdone the long runs, skimped on the short ones, and have gained one ITL band injury. It's feeling a little better thanks to PT every other day, and I'm hoping it will continue to improve with daily muscle strengthening exercises. But right now, my first 18-miler looms ahead this weekend, and if my throbbing knee has anything to say about it, I might be forced to make some difficult choices.

Stay tuned for freakout post coming soon.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ups and downs

Okay, so I wish I had some good news.

Like, for example, training to run my second marathon is miraculously easier than the first. It's like I'm this Olympic marathon runner. And every long run feels like running through a field of wheat in the sun on a mild summer day.

Well, yeah, actually it's the exact opposite.

The past few long runs have been pretty hellish. To be exact, the past three long runs (11, 12, 13) have felt like torture. Each one, worse than the previous one. Yes, I've completed them, but like the Bronx run, it's been tough. Not a magic run by any means. The kind of run where you start already wondering when it's going to end, and the subsequent next few hours are an exercise in patience, mental toughness, and sheer will power.

I'd heard runs were like this--the kind where it's all about pain, not pleasure. And I'd experienced a few. But not for the most part. So this time feels a little scary. And the fact that today I was supposed to run 14, and I didn't thanks to hurricane Danny, makes me worry a bit about my overall commitment this time. Will I catch up? Will I have a bad second marathon?

I guess these feelings of doubt are normal, but as an unlikeliest marathoner, I guess it's not necessarily a given each time. Could it have been a fluke?

Any encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

xoxo, Meg