More On Motivation

I have noticed a recent trend among the fitness blogs that I have been reading. We are all desperately waiting for spring to truly arrive. I think that with the official end of winter, our tolerance for cold, snow, sleet, and wind is at an end. I have further noticed that many of us are just venturing out and pretending that spring has indeed arrived. Last week, I went out in a long-sleeved shirt and wind vest thinking that I might be overdressed, since the thermometer looked like it was approaching the high forties (Fahrenheit). About a quarter mile into my run, I had the realization that I was pushing the season. There was more wind than I had anticipated; the sun, which had been briefly visible, was now behind the clouds and wouldn’t be coming back. It felt like the middle of January.

Around two miles, I was starting to bargain: “This is ridiculous. If I am doing this for fun, why am I still out here – this can hardly be called fun. Hey, I did something today and I’m keeping to the mantra of ‘doing something every day.’ I’ll just finish up with one of my short loops and call it quits.” The bargaining phase lasted for about half a mile and I soon found myself on a steady eleven mile run with a few surges thrown in. After three miles in the wind and cold, I warmed up and actually enjoyed the rest of my run. I’m still looking forward to running in shorts and short-sleeved shirt (sometime in June I imagine…), but my triumph over the elements has gotten me thinking about both the merits of warming up and the nature of training and motivation.

I find that if I can get through the first several miles on a cold and windy day, I’ll be able to finish an eight to ten mile run and actually enjoy most of it. I don’t think it’s a matter of merely warming up, although it does seem like it takes longer these days for my body to fully get into running. My better races are usually preceded by a two-mile jog, regardless of the distance, and when I am using the treadmill, I usually give myself a mile or two at ten minute-per-mile pace before I really start my workout. When I’m running outside in less-than-ideal conditions, I also feel that I need to get my head in the run. There are a lot of competing voices usually urging me to go back inside, even when I know that I will ultimately enjoy at least some part of the workout. I know that I’m not the only runner who loves to run, but also has to talk themselves into doing it – why is that? I remember reading an interview with Canadian masters runner Ed Whitlock – the first seventy-year-old to run a sub three-hour marathon and whose 2:54:48 at age 73 was an age-graded 2:03:57! – in which he admitted that he found his training to be “quite a bit of a drudge.” (http://www.runnersworld.com/elite-runners/interview-with-ed-whitlock)  Whitlock’s typical training day is doing 600-meter loops around a cemetery for three hours at a time, so I found it odd that he would spend all this time and effort merely to race well. He must find it worthwhile, but I get the impression that if he wasn’t racing, he probably wouldn’t be running. This might be almost the opposite approach of runners like George Sheehan and Bill Rodgers, who gave and give the strong impression that they would be out running even if racing had never been invented. I don’t think that this is merely an indication of their relative competitiveness, because both Rodgers and Sheehan were notoriously competitive when they were racing.

What I’m trying to get at here is an exploration of motivation. Would I be running if there wasn’t some future race on my calendar? I have spent years in the past running without training for a race, but I also didn’t improve and I found it easy to skip days. I felt a need to run, but I didn’t think too much about getting faster. I found a route that I liked and ran it day after day – never added too much distance and never ran it all that much faster. I told myself that I would start racing, “as soon as I got in shape,” but I never managed to convince myself that I was ready to race. It turns out that for me a looming race is a great way to keep motivated. I love running and would do it anyway, but I find that training for a race can be the necessary spur to get me outdoors on a really yucky day or that can get me on the treadmill (oh, joy). I have to admit that some of the motivation to train comes from the desire not just to run to the best of my ability in a race, but to avoid that horrible “I’m not quite in shape for this” feeling that can accompany a race. Every season I experience this to some degree. Last year, it was racing my first 5K of the season after taking a week off after HMRRC’s winter series races and then coming down with a series of colds. I didn’t realize I was undertrained until I took off from the starting line and kept waiting for the first mile marker. It took awhile to arrive. When you are desperately looking for mile markers in a 5K, it’s a really bad sign – you have stopped racing and are now surviving. This year, I have avoided illness, have remained injury-free, and have managed to keep my mileage up. During the last several months, I have idly wondered whether this is the year that I am going to experience problems associated with overtraining rather than undertraining. There have been times where I felt that I was on the verge of overdoing it – not just tired but kind of depressed – and wondered if I was getting a bit too close to the edge. I realized the other day, however, that you won’t know that you are overtraining until you are overtraining, especially if you are trying to stack up miles to get to another level.

More Motivation

More Motivation

Cupcakes

Additional Motivation

The problem, of course, is that the edge is different for every runner. If forty miles a week feels good, how would fifty feel? Sixty? I read somewhere that fifty might be the dividing line where breakthroughs are made. When testing limits, however, we also need to be wary of the breakdown line. I have the feeling that the two might be very close together. I guess I might soon find out.

 

Goal Number Two for the New Year: Lowering My 5K PR and Getting Down to My “Racing Weight”

This is picture of me (purple) that my Dad took at the first Frun 10K in November 2011.

This is picture of me (purple) that my Dad took at the first Frun 10K in November 2011.

New Year’s resolutions can be tricky things. I have discovered in the past that it’s often the specific resolution that gets accomplished. “I’m going to get the kitchen ceiling painted” gets done because it’s a specific goal with a readily observable outcome. “I’m going to eat better” often means a complete diet revamp for several weeks followed by what I like to call “mission creep” and a steady erosion of diet goals over the course of the year. I’ve always found it a bit unfair that since my late twenties, running no longer means I can eat as much as I want.  I found this out the hard way one spring when I was accomplishing some great running and noticed that I was gaining weight: “What the…” This was also around the same time that I read about how each pound is worth 1-2 seconds per mile.  “Well, shoot,” I told myself, “this should be an easy way to get faster.”  It might be easier just to tack on some additional mileage and do some more speed work.  “Ideal Racing Weight” is one of those phrases that I believe many (myself included) master runners use to justify nonspecific, wishful thinking regarding race performance: “Well, I’m not where I want to be pace-wise, but I just need to lose some weight and get nearer to my racing weight.”  “In the upcoming year, I want to get faster…” But, how and how much, exactly?

What I am getting at is the necessity of stating specific goals and then pursuing specific actions to achieve those goals. I have done fairly well, recently, about pursuing goals in the abstract: “Hey, I want to get faster.”  Around November, however, during the last several years, I hear a voice in my head that says: “You’ve gone about as far as you can go on this training – it’s time to change it up and it’s time to lose some weight (I know you don’t want to hear this…).”  I promised myself that when I started this running blog, I would put some of my goals out in public. For some reason, I think it might make me more responsible, more answerable.  This past year, one of my goals was getting under 20 minutes for the 5K.  I didn’t have a specific time in mind, and my training wasn’t all that 5K specific, either.  I unexpectedly broke twenty at a small evening 5K in the late spring after having consumed a fried fish sandwich and large strawberry milk shake for lunch.  It was a tough race.  By the end of the summer, I had managed to hit 19:25 and was fairly astonished that I was now closer to nineteen.  So, I am now going to declare a goal of 18:55 for next year. Writing it down looks a bit daunting, I have to admit.  To do this, I am also recognizing that I need to lose some weight.  Instead, however, of some general desire to get down to my “racing weight” whatever that is, I am going to state that my “racing weight” is now a specific number: 155 lbs.  There, I said it. It doesn’t sound difficult, but my body has a special impervious weight plateau at 164.  It looks like the year of ’55.  I am hoping that with some specific time and weight goals, I will be able to be better focused on the things that can allow me to successfully achieve these goals.  How will I accomplish these goals?  The specifics are for some future posts.  Have a happy New Year, everyone.

The Mustard Report and other Topics to Anticipate

Some of my favorites, now obsolete

Some of my favorites, now obsolete

I had many ideas for this blog entry and it was difficult to seize upon one topic.  I was initially excited to try to jump on a recent trend of the last several weeks and name my top five running shoes of all time.  It appears that around the holidays, or maybe this is entirely coincidence, various bloggers decide to make lists of their favorite running shoes.  I started thinking about this and realized that my attitude towards running shoes has changed a lot as I have gotten older.  When I was in high school, I remember being excited about perusing the pages of Runner’s World for the latest shoe releases and religiously (and it was a religion) reading the annual “shoe issue.”  Back then, the idea of buying and wearing the same running shoe model twice was unthinkable.  Now, however, if I find something I like, I dread the inevitable update.  I recently had to scour eBay for a pair of Nike Lunaracers when I realized that Nike was again updating.  Why must they mess with a great pair of shoes?  Nike tried this with the Lunaracers once before and there was so much outcry that they had to re-release them in their original form.  You are now probably aware that the Lunaracers would make my top five list, although I seldom race in it – too heavy and cushy.  It’s a great shoe to rotate into the mix when I feel like I need some additional cushioning on a long run or when my legs feel beat.  Running shoes are definitely on the agenda for some future blog entries.  I have some specific ideas about what makes a good shoe.  I am also increasingly alarmed about the cost of running shoes and I am willing to call companies out when I see shoes that try to justify outlandish prices based on ridiculous technology.

Topics also on the horizon include the efficacy of compression sleeves.  Do they work, or not?  Short answer: I don’t know.  I have, however, become completely dependent on CEP compression calf sleeves.  I have convinced myself that they provided critical support when I was recovering from a tibia stress fracture and I continue to run in them, even when experts tell me that they are only useful during recovery after a run, because they “feel” like they are allowing me to go further, faster.  This, of course, could just be due to the fact that I am getting in better shape, although I do seem to be less sore after my long runs. Who knows? I’ll do some research and report.

Next, I am planning on writing about pre race meals.  Earlier this summer, when I finally went under 20 minutes for a 5K for the first time since high school, I managed to eat at Gene’s Fish Fry about two hours before the race.  I consumed a fried fish sandwich (of course), French fries, and a large strawberry milkshake.  I was not optimistic that this qualified as a responsible pre race meal.  I ended up taking twenty seconds off my PR.  Was it Gene’s, or would I have gotten under 19 minutes if I had not eaten like an idiot?  I know much has been written on what to eat before a race, but I am interested in people’s specific pre race meal routines. I hope that in the near future we can get a useful and entertaining discussion underway regarding what to eat (and what not to eat…).

This brief mention of food brings me back to what I intended to discuss in today’s blog entry.  Remember, that I earlier promised to report on the mustard gambit as a way of preventing leg cramps.  After having agreed to use myself as a guinea pig, I didn’t actually plan to race again for over a month.  This past Sunday was the first race in the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club Winter Series.  I had the choice of 3 miles or 15 K.  I went with 3 miles and that was probably a drawback in figuring out if mustard helps to prevent leg cramps. I have only once had cramps in a 5K race and these occurred at the very end in extremely hot and humid conditions.  Cramps are usually not a problem for me in shorter races.  Remember that one of the theories is that leg cramps can be caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates muscles to work.  Mustard contains acetic acid, which stimulates the body to produce more acetylcholine.

A spoon full of mustard keeps the leg cramps at bay...

A spoon full of mustard keeps the leg cramps at bay…

On Sunday, I woke up about three hours before the race and had a can of coconut water to help hydrate and then about an hour later consumed a banana, a slice of toasted cinnamon-raisin bread spread with Nutella (I couldn’t find the peanut butter, which led to a full-scale refrigerator cleaning later in the afternoon, including replacement of the fridge light!), several cups of coffee, and (wait for it) a spoon of mustard.  I was planning to have a packet of mustard shortly before I ran, but I completely forgot – great scientific method.  It was a good race.  My main issue was being slightly underdressed.  I need to remember that the thermometer on our back porch does not account for the wind on the SUNY-Albany campus where the races are held.  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt during the race and I really could have gone with long sleeves.  I noticed about a mile into it that I was cold.  Ideally, you shouldn’t notice clothing problems during a race.  I also did a little bit of racing during the last mile, back and forth with a fellow runner, and managed to kick it into the downhill finish in 19:40 and 11th place overall.  I took 15 seconds off last year’s time – always a good sign – but finished just out of the bread.  The top two in each age group are awarded coupons for a free loaf of bread at a local bakery – awesome, but I finished third.

Anyway, I didn’t experience any leg cramps, but I didn’t really expect to.  My next opportunity to try out the mustard (that just sounds weird) will be on January 13, 2013.  I have the option to run a 10K, so I will have the mustard for breakfast and right before I race and then see what happens.  The last time I experienced leg cramps was about four miles into a 10K, so this should provide a good test.  I have to admit, however, that other variables have also been in flux.  I didn’t run in the various Thanksgiving turkey trots because I was concentrating on increasing my mileage.  Some steady training may also be increasing my leg strength and endurance, making me more resistant to cramps, perhaps.  After Sunday’s race, I will again be going for more than a month without racing and I have taken Running Times’  latest recommendation to run your easy runs easier to heart.  I am using the next month to do more mileage less intensely.  Again, this could have an effect on my cramp resistance.

Stay tuned for my upcoming report on mustard therapy, pre race meals, compression socks, and running shoes.  I also plan to write a blog entry on running goals for the upcoming year.  Putting them out in public might provide some additional impetus to realize them.