Sunday, December 13, 2009

5 Miles

I'm a little stiff and sore from today's workout, five miles of walking (with a few bursts of jogging), in about an hour and 50 minutes. Not quite the pace I'd like, but that's not the point of these long days. Today was about finishing, and this was a victory I needed.

Before today, I had not attempted a long (for me) distance since the DNF. I had jumped on the elliptical a few times, and rocked out a couple of brisk miles a time or two. But today, I again had to confront the question of quitting head-on.

It happened realitively early, too. About a mile and a half into the walk, I started getting some inklings of doubt. Thoughts of what I'd rather be doing INSTEAD of what I was doing right then.

But I've learned a bit about myself in this process, and immediately banished the temptation to stop.

Then the thought popped up that I'm not going to be able to finish. But I realized (and argued to myself) that quitting now when I was just starting to get tired would mean that I'd ALWAYS quit. That I would KEEP quitting every time, and that I'd never EVER finish a race. If I was ever going to succeed, if I was ever going to finish, the battle had to be fought here, now, today, on this indoor track.

I had to decide today that I was a finisher.

Three miles down. Past the halfway point and feeling good. Starting to get tired, and a little tight around the hips. At one point, I stopped long enough to touch my toes, stretch out my calves a little, and flex my quads a little to keep them from knotting up.

And sometime during that fourth mile, I began to believe again. Began to really believe that I could do this. That I could become a distance athlete. I started remembering what it felt like to cross the 5K finish line, having gone the distance in previous races. And I started asking, "How much farther can I push myself this time?"

Then four miles were gone.

I had lost the use of my musical motivator back during the second mile. I keep forgetting to charge my iPod (one of those clip-on Shuffles), so the battery finally died today. For most of today's "run" (I'm gonna assume, dear reader, that when I use the word "run," you will understand that I mean the waddling, fast-walking gait I call my pace), all I could hear was my own ragged breath, the thud of my footfalls, and the sound of the other joggers approaching and then passing me. When I felt my steps slowing, I hummed a song to myself to make sure I kept my pace up. Unfortunately, the only useful melody I could remember was by Lady Gaga, but somehow between me and Gaga, I kept my legs pumping and one foot striking ahead of the other.

During the last mile, I had to focus on something other than my fatigue. Different people use different focal points: breathing, visualizing the finish line, observing the environment around them. Today, I started praying for each of my family members. I was able to get through all my immediately family during the last mile. I think I'll definitely use this technique in the future, because at the very least, it's a great chance to talk to God about what's going on, and focusing on something other than myself will definitely keep me from getting down on myself when I'm tired. Like I said, different things for different people, but that's what worked for me.

And then I was done. Five miles, straight through. The longest I've gone without stopping more than a few seconds. Even during the Turkey Trot, the roughly-five-miles was broken up by a couple of 10-20 minute breaks. This time, it was a continuous walk. And I finished with a feeling of accomplishment and renewed hope.

I know I have a lot to do between now and February 13. There are going to be a lot of long days and tough workouts. But today reminded me that I'm stronger than I give myself credit for. That's something I had forgotten.

Next Saturday? Six miles. And I believe I can do it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lessons Learned by Losing

So, the DNF. Here's what I learned, following my unfinished Turkey Trot.

1) Sometimes, you have a bad running day. I always hear about this, but when other fitter runners describe this, I always imagine a "bad day" for them being only 6 miles instead of 10. Oh, boo hoo, Mr. 2% Body Fat. The fact is, every run for me is difficult, or at least strenuous. So I wasn't sure what to expect. But yeah, it was a bad day. After the initial adrenaline-fueled push, I crashed immediately. No power, no energy, no enjoyment. It was weird. I just ran out of gas as I approached the end of Mile 2. This is partly a lack of training, because let's be honest: I've been ridiculously lazy. But it was also a bad day.

2) I gave up on myself. Once the fatigue began to set in, so did the doubt. I had the spirit-killing thought, "I'm not going to make it. I'm not able to finish." Instead of destroying this thought, banishing it from my head, I allowed it to hang around, and it began to fester. As I trudged through another mile, and then another, the thought remained. It became part of my rhythm, just like my footfalls and breathing. I'm not gonna make it. I'm not gonna make it. I'm not prepared to finish. I'm not gonna make it.

I convinced myself that I couldn't do it. So I finally threw my hands up and gave up, about halfway through Mile 4. The medics on bikes and the cops in patrol cars had been shadowing me for about a half-hour. I finally said, "When we get to the corner, I'm done." We got there, passing a cheering group of volunteers who then realized that I wasn't continuing, so they turned and started packing up. The medic radioed to the sweeper van, who said they were close. So I waited. And waited. And waited. The van wasn't close, after all.

The shame of quitting became too great, as I saw the side-long looks of volunteers. Finally, I told the guys, "I'm gonna start going, tell the van to find me." The van finally caught up to me about 20 minutes later, another half-mile or more further. The van guy then couldn't get me back to the finish, due to construction, so I still had to hoof it a few more blocks. And then a quarter mile beyond that to my car.

So apparently, I could have finished. Not quickly, not easily, but I could have done it. I just didn't believe in myself enough to gut it out.

3) I actually wasn't prepared. I could have finished, yes, but much slower than I should at this point in my training. I've been lazy, I've been stupid, and I haven't been vigilant on my diet or fitness. And as I'm now nine or so weeks from a half-marathon, I'm...well, terrified. I don't know if I'll be physically prepared to participate in February. It's going to take more willpower and commitment than I have in me right now. My emotions and mindset has been all over the map lately, and I am worried that I'm not physically or mentally strong enough to really buckle down and train. (I recognize this is an excuse.)

I was planning on taking part in a five-mile Jingle Bell Run next Sunday, but I'm just not fast enough to do it, so I didn't sign up. I'm going to cover the distance on my own, or as close to it as I can. Next week, I'll give 6 miles another go, but I really have needed to make running a daily thing, and it hasn't been. I've grabbed on to every excuse possible, and all it's gotten me is that much closer to raceday with nothing to show for it.

As soon as I can finalize a work document tonight, I'm going to ignore the hunger pangs and go to the gym. 40 minutes on the track. No compromises.

(Even as I type that, I'm imagining just going home, eating something easy and bad, and just going to bed. This is the battle I'm fighting right now--how much I even want to try anymore.)

I'll keep you posted.