Change of scenery, part two

It sounded like a good idea at the time.

I knew I’d be tired from two days of herding cats chaperoning 56 eighth-graders around Washington D.C., but I didn’t want to skip training all four days of my trip. I’d gotten a grand total of ten hours of sleep since we left Saturday morning, so when I woke up just before 5am to meet my friend J for a run, I looked at my Garmin, (which informed me it was 3:55 Central time) and I was reeeeeeaallllly tempted to crawl back in bed.

But I only get to see J a couple of times a year, so despite the early hour, 29-degree temperatures, and increasing exhaustion levels, I bundled myself into my warm running gear and headed for the hotel lobby.

I didn’t try to pretend I knew where we were going. I had a vague understanding of where my hotel was and that she’d planned to make a three-mile circuit, but I had no solid map in my head. Instead I focused on not tripping landing smoothly on the uneven sidewalk.

At home, I do most of my training runs in the evening in a suburban neighborhood, so a pre-dawn trek through the city was a somewhat new experience. I decided I liked urban traffic lights because they allowed me to catch my breath from trying to keep up with J, who was, sadly, already running waaaaay below her usual pace to accommodate me.

About halfway around the loop, my stomach started feeling a little queasy. Under most circumstances this would not be panic-worthy, but the day before, two students had acquired a short-lived but rather violent stomach virus. We quarantined them and sanitized everything (including the other 54 kids) and we thought we had contained the outbreak. But with this many teens in such close quarters, we feared it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. So when my stomach sort of lurched, I thought with no small amount of dread that perhaps that moment had come. Nothing to do about it but cross my fingers and keep going.

A half-mile later, nothing worse had befallen me–and considering the illness had struck my students so suddenly, I began to hope that I was in the clear, my funky stomach just a casualty of too little sleep and six meals of restaurant food. We continued on, running through a neighborhood of Colonial houses, a gentrification project slowly overtaking a section of mom-and-pop stores, folks waiting for a bus, a guy who must have been running to the gym down the block (or was from the Arctic, considering his lack of cold weather clothing), and some road construction, before heading back to the maze of hotels in this area of Arlington.

It was a slow, hilly three miles. Yet because we had started so early, by the time we returned to my hotel, it was still dark. And still 29 degrees. But seeing my friend > sleep, so it was worth it.

I took a hot shower and headed down to breakfast. The kids were up, and we had another full day at the nation’s capital ahead of us.

Good morning.

Good morning Washington.

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Change of scenery, part one

Spring is always hectic around here (and yeah, late February in Texas = spring) because my husband travels for work from February through mid-April, right about the time my son’s lacrosse season starts. Add in my half-marathon training and my own work chaos, and this time of year I spend most of my time running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

Until now, my training runs have either been with Rogue or in my neighborhood. But last night, B had lacrosse practice in a park that also has a great running path. It’s a half-mile out and back in each direction from the lacrosse fields, so I can run four miles by hitting the whole circuit twice, all while B and his teammates are smacking each other with sticks running practice drills.

When I started at 5:30, it was about 75 degrees and sunny. I headed down the west trail first, passing some ROTC guys doing some kind of calisthenics and folks walking dogs. This part of the trail has a bridge that does weird things to my sense of balance–it feels like it sways as I run across it–but otherwise it’s a pleasant and wide trail.

I completed the first out and back (crossing that damned bridge twice) and followed the path downhill toward the creek bed. It’s been so dry, the creek is really just a trickle of slimy water. The path crosses the creek in several places, and it’s a great little hill workout. So after I finished the eastern out-and-back, I ran down, across, and up the opposite bank, then back again. I think I did that four times, then hit the western trail again and repeated the whole loop.

I finished with four miles and something like 10 creek bed hill repeats. I felt strong, passing people on the trail and bounding up the inclines. And my final mile was the fastest of the four–finally, something resembling a negative split!

After my run, I sat in the grass watching the end of lacrosse practice, a gorgeous sunset dropping behind the trees.

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I’ll miss my long run on Saturday and my Tuesday training because I’m taking 60 eighth-grade honor society students to Washington D.C. for four days. But my friend J lives a few miles from my hotel, and we are planning a short run Monday morning, which makes me happy despite the stupidly early hour it will require.

Stay tuned.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead

You know how when you’re tired and overwhelmed, everything seems impossible? Yeah, my whole week was like that. I felt like I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Or the Carnival Triumph.

On top of the usual craziness that comes with teaching middle school (and let’s not underestimate the reasons Valentine’s Day is pretty high on the list of teachers’ least favorite holidays), I’m also getting ready to take about 60 eighth-graders to Washington D.C. for the annual honor society trip. Lots of organization goes into this, and with the trip a week away, my co-sponsor and I have loooong to-do lists. The end of the grading period is the day before we leave, so I have to make sure all my grading is done and entered ahead of time. If you have seen my desk, you know that this is no small feat. Then I have to write sub plans for the two school days I will miss. Plus, with meetings and the trip itself, I’m going to miss two Tuesday trainings and next Saturday’s long run.

My students are in the middle of taking district-required benchmark tests, essentially practice tests for the real test they take later in the spring. I have huge philosophical issues about this, especially considering how much class time we lose on these things. It’s such narrow, short-sighted thinking, focusing on tests instead of good teaching. So the irony was not lost on me when, just as we started this round of benchmarks, I got an email from someone I know at Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment asking me to [gulp] appear before the Texas Legislature’s education committees to discuss the testing system and how it’s affecting my students. I agreed to do it, which means even more juggling of schedules, sub plans, and stress this coming week. I knew I really needed to catch up on sleep this weekend in order to have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving it all. Getting up at 6:15 Saturday morning to run ten miles did not fit into that plan even a little bit.

And my attitude only got worse last night when the temperature dropped and it started drizzling. My facebook status went something like this: It’s cold and rainy and I’m tired and I think I’m getting sick again and I don’t want to get up early to run 10 miles tomorrow.

The good angel on my right shoulder reminded me that I’m going to miss three training runs in the next 10 days–if I didn’t do this now, it would be March 2nd before I got in another long run with my group. And my family and I are doing a 5K on the 3rd. Jamming all that in after a short hiatus is no one’s idea of fun. But the bad angel on my left shoulder reminded me how warm my bed is, how much I need to sleep in, how tired I’ve been, and how this cough really doesn’t sound good. The good angel set the alarm, but the bad angel vowed to attack at dawn.

The good angel won.

The good angel won.

It’s hard to admire a beautiful sunrise when it’s still dark (and therefore early) enough to need headlights. And as I stopped the car to take this picture, my car’s temperature alert thing dinged–31 degrees. But it was too late now–I was out of the house and committed.

Today’s route made me happy. It’s a two-mile run to Brushy Creek Park, then three miles out to the YMCA. My son and I had run this trail a few weeks ago, and I love it. There wasn’t much of a crowd at Rogue this morning, since a lot of people are running the Austin Marathon or Half Marathon tomorrow morning. But still, I passed dozens of folks along the trails. Runners, walkers, dogs, cyclists. Even a guy in full military gear–boots, backpack, all of it.

The cold weather can be a challenge for me–my leg muscles (and my asthmatic lungs) just don’t like sub-40 temps. But that aside, I had a really enjoyable run. I never felt that “OMG I still have four miles to go” desperation, never had that “this sucks and I want to sit down and cry” feeling that has plagued me on really cold days in the past. Yeah, I walked some. Yeah, it was slow. Yeah, I felt some soreness starting at about mile five. But it was sunny and I had my podcasts and I didn’t need my inhaler.

Against all odds–or at least despite the bad angel–I finished 10 miles. It’s funny–one of today’s podcasts was the Stuff You Should Know episode on willpower. One of the hosts mentioned that he sometimes does little things just to build up willpower–making a special trip in the cold to put something in the car rather than leaving it for the next time he goes out, for example. I pretty much suck at willing myself to walk away from the cupcake or whatever, but one of the lines kind of stuck with me. He said, “we use our working memory to remind ourselves of our long-term goals in the face of a short-term reward.” And I guess I kind of did that today. I didn’t want to, I had 4059686 reasons I could have used to get out of it,  but I made myself get up out of bed and hammer out those ten miles. Perhaps it would have been easier if cupcakes were involved.

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra…

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via inspirational-quotes-hq.com

Yeah, I know he was talking about baseball, but honestly, running is the same way. At least it is for  me. I’ve run two half-marathons and zillions more miles in training. I’m not fast and I won’t break any records, but I know I have the physical ability to finish a 5K or a half-marathon.

But it’s not the physical ability that gets me. Okay, so my legs were a bit sore toward the end of today’s eight-mile training run (thank you, hilly stretch over Highway 183-A) but I wasn’t incapacitated by it. No, it’s that voice in my head–I’ll call her Fred–that looks ahead, calculates that I have three miles to go, and points out that I can’t possibly run all of it without a walk break. Or when I’m at mile 12.9 of a half-marathon and I tell myself to power through that last hill to the finish, and Fred chimes in to tell me I can’t. Imagine having the offspring of Siri and Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in your head, and you’ll see what I mean.

I feel like I have two personalities in there–the one who wants to push harder, run further, suck it up, and finish strong, and Fred, the counter-productive naysayer. And while sometimes I can drown Fred out with Maroon 5 or distract her with an episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, more often than not, especially on longer runs, Fred manages to barge in and shake my confidence.

I’ve developed a few strategies to stifle Fred’s voice, but I have yet to silence her completely. Sometimes I bargain with myself–run to the next street light/corner/mailbox. Or I switch songs on my ipod. Or I focus my vision on a tree or a building or the sunrise/sunset off in the distance, sort of a “Nyah nyah, I can’t hear you!” gesture. Sometimes I literally say out loud, “Suck it up, Princess” which usually comes out louder than I intended, thanks to the muffling effect of my headphones. 😉

via onemoremilerunning.com

via onemoremilerunning.com

But I’m not one of those people who loves running, who can zone out and just go, who runs double-digit distances for fun. I like being done with my run, not the run itself. Many days, every mile–hell, every step–is a challenge. Clearly I need to add some mental exercises into my training regimen–but how? I know how to improve my physical endurance, but I don’t have a clue how to deal with Fred. My phone has a Do Not Disturb function–too bad my brain doesn’t.

Recurring theme

Yesterday I felt like I was somehow involved in the Battle of Hoth. I’d like to think of myself as the heroic fighter pilot who saved the day with quick thinking, fast reflexes, and a giant steel cable. But more likely, judging from my slow plodding gait, I was the Imperial Walker brought to its knees in the snow.

So today, in what has become a recurring theme around here, I went out and ran a few miles just to prove that I could do it. I fired up yesterday’s episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, borrowed the bluetooth headphones I gave my husband for Christmas, and took off for my usual three-mile loop around the neighborhood.

When I started out, it was two hours later and probably 15 degrees warmer than yesterday’s run, both of which worked to my advantage. I took it easy, mindful of the shoe acclimation situation, and overall everything felt good. Less like a stumbling AT-AT and more like, oh, an elderly Tauntaun (speaking of a recurring theme, these Star Wars references are getting out of hand…).

The bluetooth headphones rendered me completely hands-free, something I don’t generally experience. Often I carry water and a towel, plus I hold on to my headphone cable to keep if from flapping around. But not today, and I kinda liked it. In the past I’ve had trouble finding headphones that stay put–the regular Apple earbuds are great for low-impact activities but not exercise. I like my Yurbuds, with the squishy things and the sport loops, but there’s the cord to contend with.

Plantronics BackBeat 903

Plantronics BackBeat 903

These didn’t move, they sounded good, and most importantly, they didn’t seem to have any effect on my iPhone battery at all. I’d resisted bluetooth headphones before because when I’m going 13.1 miles, I don’t want battery failure to strike down my music at mile 12, you know? But at least on this run, my battery only dropped to 99% with the podcast and the bluetooth in use. I have a day or so left on my Amazon Prime account, so I’ve ordered myself a pair–they should be here midweek.

So with that, I’ve solved a problem I didn’t know I had. Now I need to figure out why so many of my Saturday long runs have become difficult. Is it that I’m so tired after the workweek that I don’t have a good attitude about getting up early on Saturday too? Or is it because 7am means colder temperatures and my muscles rebel? I need Jedi-master Yoda here to teach me how to get my act together, I guess.

Okay, okay. I’m done with the Star Wars stuff. 😉

Echo station 3-T-8, we have spotted Imperial walkers

I didn’t want to get up at 6:15 this morning. But I did.

I didn’t want to run Heely Sonova in the cold. But I did.

And after the first mile when I still felt slow and sluggish and leaden, I accepted that it was going to be one of those days.

I was cold, under-caffeinated, and tired. Sitting at the Starbucks sounded WAY more appealing than running. My calves ached, probably because I’m still adjusting to the new shoes. But I ran with a partner today, which is new for me, and having someone distract me with chatter and playlist comparisons kept pushing me along. I’d loosely planned to run five miles–this spared us the worst of Heely Sonova, although when we improvised after three miles, our new route cut the distance by half a mile and added another hill. We ended up with 5.5–yes, I worked for that extra half-mile, people.

The whole run, every step was tough. But I told myself to suck it up, shut up, and power through. And even though I probably looked like a Star Wars AT-AT out there, I didn’t let myself walk that last Park Street hill. I didn’t exactly speed up it, but I didn’t walk either. At least I fared better than the AT-ATs in the Battle of Hoth, although I admit I was worried about tripping on those little road bumps on the ramps at each curb.

Perhaps I will be lazy the rest of the day.

Picture via starwars5.com