Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's in your MP3 player?

I've heard two schools of thought on your mindset while running, the first being to really concentrate on how the running is feeling, and the other being to dissassociate yourself from your running by distracting yourself by thinking of other things, etc. 

I am definitely one that prefers to distract myself with music.  Music is a big part of my running regimen.  It makes the time go by much more quickly, it really helps me to think, and I use it to set my mood. 

My musical tastes are pretty eclectic.  I thought I'd share a sampling of the more frequently-played songs from my MP3 player when I go running.  These are in no particular order.

80s Songs
Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi
Sweet Child of Mine by Guns and Roses
Don't Stop Believing by Journey
Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen


Songs that remind me of my beloved Blackhawks and their games at the United Center:
The Show Goes On by Lupe Fiasco
Let It Rock by Kevin Rudolf
Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis (I would lose all credibility as a Hawks fan if I didn't include this)


This isn't on my MP3 player, but I just couldn't resist...


Favorite Musicals
The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera
Memory from Cats


Movie Soundtracks
The Last of the Mohicans
Jurassic Park
The Cider House Rules (used in those beautiful "Pure Michigan" commercials and in my wedding)


Classical
Pretty much anything by Beethovan or Chopin. Favorites include:
Beethovan - Piano Concertos #1 and #3, and his Appassionata:


Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, his Polonaises, and his Piano Concerto #1:


Other Sports
The Superbowl Shuffle by the 1985 Chicago Bears (so funny!):



Intro by The XX (reminds me of the 24:7 Penguins/Capitals series on HBO.) 

By the way, for you hockey fans out there, this series is an absolute MUST SEE.  Here's one of my favorite scenes from the first episode:


Travels
Blue Moon by Elvis Presley (reminds me of Hawaii)
Soarin' (from the ride at Disney's Epcot)
Reflections of Earth (from the fireworks show at Disney's Epcot)
Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy (reminds me of France)
Volare by Dean Martin (reminds me of Italy)
Mambo Italiano (also reminds me of Italy)




Some Randoms
Pretty much anything from The Eagles (one of the greatest bands ever, in my opinion)
Many songs from The Beatles
Lots of songs from Frank Sinatra
Strange Condition by Pete Yorn

Monday, January 30, 2012

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

First things first, unrelated to running, I enjoyed being able to say hello to my alma mater this past weekend.


I got home from UIUC yesterday afternoon and decided to go for what was intended to be a semi-long run of 6 miles or so. 

Up until yesterday I had taken a a 2-week hiatus from doing long runs, and the weekend had been tiring.  Therefore, I wasn't optimistic about how the run would go.  However, I had done two fartlek workouts in the previous two weeks, and I could immediately feel the difference!  My endurance was stronger and I was able to maintain a faster pace more easily.

I ended up doing the easiest 10-mile run I've ever done in my life.  I had dreamed about someday being able to say that I did "an easy 10 miles" and mean it, so I was very happy about this accomplishment!

Now, shifting gears a bit...
Adam says he can see when my mental gears are cranking, although it doesn't look
quite like this.  I, for one, don't have a protruding bump over the top of my forehead.

What is starting to become a much bigger obstacle now is the mental preparation.  The thought of my long runs now taking upwards of two hours or more is getting more intimidating than the actual run itself.  That's the length of an entire movie!  The flight time between Chicago and New York!  Enough time to bake 2.67 Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas!


I do believe that mentally, the hardest part is just getting out the door and getting started.  Momentum plays a very big factor.  Usually once I get going, it's pretty easy to keep going.  But that first 10 minutes or so can be really brutal, especially in the wintertime.

What usually works for me is to give myself permission to just do a little bit and then stop.  I'll tell myself, I am just going to go out for 3 miles, and if I'm not feeling it then I can stop there.  Most importantly, I tell myself that thou shalt not feel any guilt if thy chooses to stop early.

Thinking this way takes some pressure off, because it's much more palatable to work on an incremental basis.  Best of all, once I get going, I rarely cut things short.

In general I know it's best just to take things one day at a time, whether it be marathon training or any big goal.  Looking too far ahead can be terrifying.  But in all seriousness, how does one consistently do these long weekly training runs over several months without being overwhelmed?  I have the luxury now to do whatever works that particular day.  Once marathon training is underway, though, I am not experienced enough to be that flexible unless I risk potentially undercutting myself - and that by itself is daunting.

This always helps.
There's a great question, "What would you do if you knew that you couldn't fail?"  The fear of failing has certainly held me back on numerous occasion.  I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head that I would have done differently if I wasn't worried about failure.  But failure is frequently much more about how we personally perceive things - failure to one person may be a great achievement to someone else.

So let's apply this consideration to my marathon training.  My worst case scenario with the marathon is that I won't finish because of injury or lack of endurance.

My level-headed response is:

There are many marathons every year and there will always be other opportunities.  If I can't finish this one, I'll still make the most of it.  I will enjoy the experience, no matter what.

Basically, my goal is to not think about the marathon as a binary success or failure.  This is in the hopes that thinking about it this way will make achieving this goal less intimidating.


I will definitely train hard for the marathon, but I am telling myself that I will not pressure myself to do more than I am safely capable of doing.  I am giving myself permission to stop short if I really need to with the marathon, both in training and during the race itself.  Obviously my goal is to finish and to finish strong, and I believe that I will.  But if not, it's okay because there will be other opportunities - and no matter what, I will be proud of myself for putting forth my best effort.

In summary, there really is no failure in working towards any of our goals.  It's more about the way we approach our goals, and the anticipation of seeing what can be accomplished when we know we cannot fail.  My intention is to approach the marathon with exactly that kind of fearless perspective in the hope that it will allow me to break through my mental barriers, which loom much larger than the physical barriers.

Knowing that we cannot fail is the first step.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Randomness du jour

Mizuno Wave Rider 15 Review
I took these out for their maiden voyage run today!  These shoes are great - I love these shoes!  They are very responsive and supportive with an incredibly smooth toe-off.  They feel very lightweight and flexible, and the cushioning is spot-on.  I can definitely understand why people are huge fans! 

FAQ: Can I go out and buy another three or five pairs of these for future use?
Answer: An emphatic NO.  I swore off any new running shoes for a long time.  I'm a woman of my word.  Reluctantly.

I-L-L I-N-I
I'm headed to the dear old University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, my alma mater, for a MAASU retreat this weekend! (For those of you that aren't familiar, MAASU stands for Midwest Asian American Students Union, and I serve on the board of advisors.)

Over the weekend, all of us advisors and our new executive director will be staying with one of the advisors, Shane, who works at UIUC. The funny thing was that as we were working out the logistics and determining what to pack, you could easily tell which of us are the runners.  One of the other advisors, Julayne, and I both immediately asked Shane about his treadmill and the runnability of his neighborhood.

By the way, I thought "runnability" was a word that I had just made up.  But for all you competitive Scrabble players out there, it is a real word in the dictionary!

CARA Lakefront 10-Miler
I signed up to run this race, which is organized by the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) and takes place on April 28. This race is promoted as a fast, flat course, and many have said it's a great race to get a PR.  So imagine my surprise when I get an email saying that this race has now become the hilliest race in Chicago.  Apparently there is one giant hill in Chicago called Cricket Hill, and the course had to be rerouted to go over it because of construction on the original course.

How does this happen to the most flatland runner known to woman kind (that would be me)?

D-Day
Registration for the 2012 Chicago Marathon opens next Wednesday (February 1)!

Surprisingly, I'm actually not very nervous about pulling the trigger on what will be by far the most expensive, challenging, and training-intensive race I've ever run.

However, I AM visualizing staring at a computer screen that says, "Are you sure you want to register?  Are you really sure?  Is someone triple-dog-daring you?"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world.

The above is a quote from Bette Midler.  IT IS SO TRUE. 

I won't get into the specifics of all of the different types of footwear out there.  But to Bette's point, I always wear heels when I have important meetings or presentations.  The added stature gives me some extra confidence.

I used to chuckle to myself at the people who would walk around downtown in their business suits and sneakers.  But as I've gotten older, I've gotten less tolerant of uncomfortable shoes and I am now one of those goofs that will prioritize comfort over fashion.

Sometimes when I'm in the office, I'll wear my sneakers or flats while sitting at my desk, and will only put on my heels when I need to get up to see someone or go to the bathroom or kitchen or printer.  Then I might change out of the heels as soon as I get back to my desk.

Up until several months ago, I've always worn Nike running shoes.  I've actually heard some mixed reviews on Nikes.  In general, though, I think that no one brand works for all, and that everyone just needs to figure out what works for them individually.  So I was excited to experiment a little bit with different brands.

I got professionally fitted for running shoes for the first time in my life last November.  I specifically indicated that I would like to try something other than Nikes, so they gave me a pair of New Balance shoes and a pair of Asics to try.  I like a lot of cushioning and support (I'm not into the barefoot running craze) and I went with the Asics - the Gel Cumulus 13.

Speaking of barefoot running, I shudder at the thought of wearing things like these.

Seriously!?!?!?
The Asics have been really great so far and I was recommended Superfeet Berry insoles to go along with them.  I was told that I need neutral shoes, but that the specific neutral shoes were less important than the insoles. 

At the time of my fitting, I already had a pair of Nike Air Citius 2+ shoes with only 10 miles on them, and they are neutral shoes.  I went out and bought a second pair of insoles to add to them, and have been rotating them with my Asics.  The jury is out on the insoles because I sometimes experience a bit of foot numbness while wearing them.  However, the insoles certainly do offer great support.

I do have two other pairs of old Nikes that I have now downgraded to junk status, i.e. I will now only wear them to run in gross slushy snow or other circumstances where I don't care about what happens to my running shoes.  Speaking of which, I went out for a slush-ridden run this past weekend in one pair of the junk shoes and I paid for it with blisters the size of Saturn on both feet.

"Give a girl the wrong footwear and she can run herself into the ground."  - Me

Beyond this, all has been well and good in my running shoe world.  However, as most women will understand, you can never have too many shoes.  I was particularly excited to try Mizunos, as I've heard glowing accounts of them.  Descriptions like "They felt like an extension of my foot" seemed very common.   So I've really been wanting to try the Mizuno Wave Rider 15:


I monitored them on all of the online running stores for months, waiting for them to go on sale, even though I knew that the last thing I needed was another pair of running shoes.

Lo and behold, I finally found them on sale this past weekend for 33% off, no sales tax, no shipping cost.  (I LOVE AMAZON!)  Only, I wanted to be able to try them on before ordering. 

The Mizunos come in a limited-edition red color. 


Unfortunately, the red only comes in average widths - but I wear a wide.  I was disappointed because I would have loved to get the red!  However, this actually did work a bit to my advantage when I went to try on the shoes in person at the running store this past weekend.  I didn't have to face any sales pressure to buy the shoes at full price when the reds don't exist in my size.  But, I was still able to try them on in other colors for the right fit.

All in all, it turned out to be very worthwhile to try the shoes on.  My Asics are a half-size bigger than my normal shoe size, and based on this I had been recommended to get Mizunos a full size bigger than my normal shoe size.  However, it turns out that the Mizunos in the half-size up did fit the best.  I ordered them from Amazon in the white color above.

The Mizunos arrived yesterday in the mail!  As soon as I got the phone call that they were in the mailroom, I darted downstairs to pick them up.  I had already gone running yesterday morning, but was so excited to try the Mizunos that I considered going for a second run in the same day.  Ultimately I didn't (but running twice a day is fodder for a later discussion).  I have my improv class tonight after work so unfortunately I won't have time to go tonight, but I'm very excited to take them out for a spin tomorrow!

My kind of science laboratory.
It was a big self-indulgence for me to get these Mizunos when my Asics and my newest Nikes have a combined total of only 112 miles on them.  Therefore, I am now swearing off any more new running shoes at least until after the marathon this fall.  SWEARING!

Although, one must realize that none of my current shoes can stand up to precipitation.  NONE of them!  And running friends Molly and Julie have now gotten me thinking about Gore-Tex running shoes.  You see, Gore-Tex running shoes, on the other hand, are waterproof and therefore CAN stand up to precipitation...

Just sayin'...

Monday, January 23, 2012

My biggest competitor

Growing up, I was a huge Bulls fan during the Jordan era.  I was always enthralled watching Jordan take over a game at will.  I also admired his ferocious competitiveness.  I believe his competitiveness was much of what set him apart from all of the other elite players.

From Sam Smith's book, The Jordan Rules:

"Stories of Jordan's competitiveness were legendary around the Bulls.  When former teammate Rod Higgins beat him in ping pong, he went out and bought a ping-pong table and became the best player on the team.  He took up golf in college and was playing to a reported 6 handicap by 1990.  He'd play games of cards with the ferocity of Mike Tyson going for a knockout.  He hated to lose and took it personally."

I don't think any acting was required for this:


I wonder what the source was for Jordan's competitiveness.  Was it simply the will to win or was there more to it than that?

In my opinion, there are two types of competitiveness - competitiveness against others, and competitiveness against yourself.  I'd like to think that I have a healthy competiveness against others - my motivations are certainly fueled by seeing what others accomplish.  But on a much more prevalent basis I wage a very, very strong battle against myself and my own ego.  I am by far my own biggest competitor.  I am rarely satisfied with what I've achieved and I always think I can do better.

When I get performance reviews or any kind of feedback, it might be overwhelmingly positive but I will focus almost exclusively on the bad/constructive areas and disregard everything else.

When I make mistakes, I know I should just learn from it and move on.  Instead, I tend to dwell on those mistakes for a long time. 

In interviews when I get asked what my biggest weakness is, my standard and honest answer is that it's hard for me to NOT take constructive feedback personally.

I've seen many folks who are able to let their failures just roll off their backs.  Not me.  I am about as thick-skinned as a piece of Saran Wrap.
Sadly, even if you do nothing, somebody will still criticize you.
One of my guiding beliefs has been that hard work would always get you were you wanted to go.  Unfortunately, I have been scarred by some career challenges and various other incidents in which this belief was disproved.  At the end of the day, though, I almost always want to put forth my very best effort.  Admittedly I've wondered many times if my valiant efforts were worth it, but ultimately this belief prevails.

To this day, I am still learning to accept, albeit with a certain bitterness, that there are certain areas in which hard work and effort is not enough.  Obviously you can rarely, if ever go wrong by working hard.  However, no matter how hard I work I will probably never become a Nobel Laureate or a United Nations diplomat.  Likewise, as a runner I will never win a gold medal or national championship.  Heck, I will never come close to even placing within my age group at my local neighborhood race.

Yet, the internal competitiveness still rages on. 

I've read from countless sources that you should do most of your training runs at a comfortable pace, that even in speed training you shouldn't train at maximum speed, that you generally shouldn't increase your mileage by more than about 10% each week, that it's okay to cut your workouts short if things don't feel good.

One would think that these are all easy guidelines to follow.  However, I battle much more against training too aggressively than I do with not training enough.  My inclination is to push myself to the max at every single workout, sometimes to the point of absurdity.  This is because my ego tells me that I should be able to do these things.  When I can't or don't, I get frustrated.  I have to try to remind myself of the injuries or burnout that I've sustained in the past, which were even more frustrating.  But these can be easy to forget when you're unhappy with your progress.

I've debated to myself whether it's better to try something and fail than to just not try at all.  Ultimately I do think it's better to try and fail.  Although, sometimes the fear of failure can be overwhelming.  However, I believe and remind myself that the greatest are not defined by their successes, but by how they respond to adversity.  It's easy to want to give up when faced with challenges - and I believe this is a good thing, because it means that we're pushing ourselves.  I also believe that it takes the most courage to come back after the missed opportunities and to keep moving forward, no matter what direction you choose.  That is the biggest competitive battle of all, very much internally but also externally.

On a related note, I absolutely love this video for its indelible images of competitiveness, agony, and glory.


In short, I'll probably never stop teetering the line between motivation and insanity.  I will never win the competition against my own ego.  In the end, maybe that's a good thing.  But that will probably never stop me from trying.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fartlekking and a balaclava

Today we're going to pay homage to running lingo derived from Swedish and Ukrainian roots.

Fartlekking

[Pausing.  Go ahead and laugh.]

Fartlekking is a Swedish term that literally translates to "speed play."  Fartlek running involves randomly varying your pace throughout your run, alternating between fast bursts for unspecified periods of time, mixed with random periods of slower paces.  No rhyme or reason needed.  Doing this type of training is supposed to help to increase your endurance and your speed.

What's great about fartlekking is that it can be very unstructured.  Unlike other types of speed training, there's no need to monitor interval times or distances.

I am currently a much slower runner than I would like to be.  Therefore, I am going to start fartlekking maybe once a week.  I hear that in general it's better not to be building distance and speed at the same time.  Therefore, over the remainder of the winter I think I am going to dial back a bit on distance training and focus a little more on building speed.  Here's hoping that fartlekking will do the trick!

In the meantime, here is a great commercial featuring one of my favorite Swedes.



Balaclava

After posting about my winter wimpiness, I thought more about the full-face ski mask and how I believed that getting one would provide me an instant boost of added winter toughness.

Temps in Chicago have been in the teens this entire week - an especially rude jolt back to reality after the trip to Puerto Rico last weekend.  As such, per my standard operating procedures, I ran on the treadmill on Tuesday.  I was instantly reminded of how much I dislike treadmills.  I get bored very quickly, and when I get bored I start thinking I must be tired, and then lo and behold I AM tired.

On a side note.  In high school we had to do a senior project called an "I-Search" (as opposed to a research).  The I-Search involved finding ways to collect your own data, as opposed to looking up information from sources such as encyclopedias.  I conducted my I-Search on psychosomatics, which is the concept of the mind controlling the body.  For example, people are much more likely to get sick when they are depressed, and conversely are much quicker to recover from illness or injury when they are happy.  In short, psychosomatics can be a constant factor in almost everything that athletes do.  And I am a prime example when I am slogging away on the treadmill.  It's like I am enveloped in an instant cloud of doom the moment I step onto one.

Back to my winter wimpiness, I decided to call my own bluff on the full-face ski mask.  Anything to avoid the human conveyer belt.

I went onto Amazon to start looking for a ski mask.  It was then that I realized these things actually are called balaclavas.  The name "balaclava" comes from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine.  Apparently during the Crimean War, balaclavas were sent over to British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold.

One of these beauties is being shipped to me as we speak.

Balaclava = Instant Toughness.
Don't mess with me!  Otherwise, my glasses will
get fogged up and then I'll regret it!
Unfortunately, almost all of the balaclavas were only in available in black.  I was hoping they would have different colors because the black admittedly does look quite sinister.  The funny thing was that many of the product reviews included reference to the balaclavas doubling as Halloween costumes. 

In any event, I am looking forward to trying the balaclava out and hopefully further avoiding the human conveyer belt! 

And not to worry, I have no plans to hold anyone to a stickup while wearing it.  Unless of course you are carrying a lot of chocolate and/or a Chicago-style deep-dish spinach and mushroom pizza (Gino's East, Lou Malnati's, or Bacino's, please). 

But even then, not to fear.  The balaclava has no mouth opening anyways.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How NOT to Run

After much anticipation, I was able to go running in San Juan this past weekend!  Although, it would never have been possible without suffering all kinds of damage before, during, and after.  I have learned much from this experience and would now like to share with you my free, easy-to-use guide on how NOT to have a successful run.

Step #1: Be Sleep Deprived

Enroute to San Juan, have a flight itinerary where your first flight leg departs at 5:50 AM.

Get so distracted by everything else going on the entire week prior to your departure (e.g. work, improv class, Blackhawks games) that you don’t start packing until T minus 9 hours the night before departure.

Run around all evening like a madwoman trying to get things in order.  Don’t get to bed until 11:00 even though your alarm clock is set for 3:30 AM.  Then, have trouble falling asleep because your mind is still racing.

Wake up intermittently all night and then finally give up and just get up at 3:15 AM before the alarm goes off.

Step #2: Don’t Eat Properly

Have a very light breakfast before leaving at 4:20 AM even though you’re not hungry.  Feel nauseous from the combination of sleep deprivation and forcing yourself to eat at this hour.

On your first flight, don’t use the bathroom even though you need to because you’re in the window seat and don’t feel like disturbing everyone around you.   Don’t realize until it’s too late that the layover time between your first and second flight is only 45 minutes but has been shortened to 35 minutes because of delays.  Curse to yourself because you wanted to get food during your layover but will have triply less time to do so now.

During your layover, have no choice but to grab the first food option that is quick and has no line (Papa John’s personal veggie pizza).  Eat it at the equivalent of 9:00 AM CST.  Only have a banana and a hard-boiled egg between then and dinnertime. 

Upon arrival, leave for dinner at the equivalent of 4:00 PM CST.  Take a long time finding and picking a restaurant, then order dishes that unknowingly take at least 45 minutes to prepare.  Consider eating your own arm.  Inhale the food when it finally arrives but still feel hungry afterwards.  Seriously contemplate going to a second restaurant and ordering a second entrĂ©e.  Deliberate for a long time, but eventually decide against it and just go to bed.

Step #3: Don’t hydrate properly

Even though the tap water is perfectly safe, drink only limited amounts of it because you think it has a metallic taste.  Be too tired and too stingy to buy bottled water or any other sports-appropriate beverage so just deal with not feeling very well hydrated.

Step #4: Don’t plan your schedule well

Stay at a hotel with free breakfast served between 6 AM and 9:30 AM.  Wake up at about 8:20 AM the next morning and decide to go just for a short 3-mile run so that you can be back in time before breakfast ends.  Try to get ready quickly but ultimately don’t get out the door until 8:45 AM.  Ignore the fact that you'll end up being rushed and therefore stressed at the end.

Step #5: Be way too ambitious

Decide to try to do more of a tempo run instead of an easy run in order to make up for lost time.  Be completely unaccustomed to the sunny, warm, and very humid weather after months of running in cold Chicago weather, but decide not to adjust your plans at all.

Step #6: Push yourself even more than your overly ambitious original plan dictates

Run down a big main street with several side streets feeding into it.  When various other runners turn onto the main street and end up pacing right next to you, speed up to pass them even though you’re already running uncomfortably faster than your normal pace.

Be unaccustomed to hills but be on a route with hills, in addition to the fast pace and hot weather.  Power up the hills anyways and feel so winded that you think you are going to vomit.

Step #6: Ignore the forces of nature

See clouds rolling in very quickly and start feeling some drizzle.  Initially welcome this as some relief from the sun and humidity.  But then, watch that drizzle quickly turn to a torrential downpour with water coming down in sheets and buckets.  Wince as the rain pours your sweat into your eyes, making your eyes burn.

Don’t even consider looking for some kind of overpass or other covered area to wait out the storm.  Prioritize the fact that time is running out on free breakfast back at the hotel, and consider that you only have about a mile to go at that point.  Keep going amidst the pouring rain.  Ignore all of the normal people who did actually try to wait out the storm that stare at you in stunned disbelief as you slosh past.

Make it back to the hotel completely and utterly drenched.  Before going inside, try to wring yourself out as much as possible, but realize that at a certain point it won’t make any difference.  Try to look nonchalant as you walk into the lobby and ignore the appalled looks from the folks working the reception desk.  Try to walk carefully on the marble floor, despite your shoes squishing with every step and leaving wet footsteps and a trail of water behind you.  See your spouse on the way up, bringing you a plate of breakfast that in retrospect, could have saved you the effort of trying to rush back in the monsoon-like conditions.  Feel grateful for having such a thoughtful spouse and simultaneously feel completely drained, sore, and miserable from what you just put yourself through.

Step #7: Forget that electronics and water do not mix

Upon getting to your room, focus on taking care of your dripping clothes and shoes and take a shower.  Then, mop up any area of the floor where you were standing in order to prevent anyone from slipping and breaking their skull.  Remember that the trick to drying out your shoes is to take out the insoles and then stuff the shoes with newspapers.  Don’t have any newspapers on hand.  Instead, make do by sacrificing your spouse’s entire latest issue of Sports Illustrated one page at a time (remembering to ask for permission first).

Completely forget about your MP3 player this entire time.

Realize much too late that your MP3 player had also gotten soaked.  Also curse yourself for using a carrying case for it that was also soaked and was insulating the MP3 player in residual moisture for the last 30 minutes.  Try turning the player on with no response.  Try using a hairdryer to dry it off.  Use your Blackberry to search for help and read that you shouldn’t try turning the player on OR using a hairdryer as a fix because both can potentially only cause further damage.  Curse yourself again.

Attempt to keep the unresponsive MP3 player on life support for the three days until you can get it home.  At home, try suggested remedies of burying the player in a bowl of uncooked rice and storing it with a silica gel packet.  Pray that either remedy will work.  In the meantime, feel completely resigned and unhappily start researching the cost of buying a new MP3 player.

Step #8: Make big decisions while still in the heat of the moment 

Vow to never leave the house again.  Ever.

This pretty much sums it all up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bypassing the frigidity, and travel runs

My best friend Vanitha is getting married this weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico!  I am so, so excited to help her celebrate!  I am obviously also super excited about a trip to the Caribbean, especially when Chicago is supposed to get hit tomorrow with its first major snowfall of the season.  I plan to take full advantage of being in Puerto Rico from a running perspective, as well - I'll be packing my running gear and have already researched running routes.

Chicago has actually had a very mild winter thus far (temps in the 50s yesterday and today!).  My plan was to maintain my training all throughout the winter to really solidify my running base before official marathon training begins in a few months.  I consider there to be about a 12-week period in which the elements could potentially be very harsh, which would be December through February.  I really dislike treadmills, so this means trying to still run outdoors and fight the elements at least once or maybe twice a week if possible.  However, 20 degrees Fahrenheit is the general line between when I'll fight the elements versus when the treadmill becomes a consideration.  I know that is probably wimpy to many people.  Maybe if I got a full-face ski mask it might help me to be tougher?

Note to self: don't walk into a bank or store wearing this.
However, thankfully the elements haven't been much of an issue yet this season.  We're already through a good chunk of this period unscathed, I'll be in Puerto Rico this weekend, and I also have an upcoming trip to Phoenix in February for the NAAAP Leadership Academy!  So all in all, not too many more weekends to worry about (knock on wood).  Fabulous!

On that note, is it unusual that one of the biggest things I'm looking forward to for these trips, as well as all of my other upcoming travel plans, is the opportunity to go for a run in these destinations?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am all about keeping things diverse wherever possible, and traveling is a great way to do so.  I am on a mission to visit all 50 of the United States, and one of my hobbies is to collect stamps in my passport (I've gone to great lengths to do this even during short international layovers, much to the chagrin of my mom). 

Those blurry figures running through the line?  They are attempting death-defying
 acts of speed to sidestep the naysayers by triumphantly collecting passport stamps
during their 8-minute layovers.  (I've watched a lot of hockey, I know how it's done.)
I am all about traveling off the beaten path whenever possible.  Running is such a great way to do so; it allows you to observe glimpses of local life that you might not see if you stayed on the well-touristed paths.  So I thought I would start tracking places where I've gone running outdoors (treadmills or indoor tracks don't count)!

My list is pretty short right now, but so far I know domestically I have gone running in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, California, Utah, Hawaii, and Georgia.  Not surprisingly, running in Hawaii and California were among the best - I'll never forget the experience of running past lava rock fields and beaches in the Big Island, and of running down the Santa Monica pier and Muscle Beach in California.

I feel like at some point I have run in Massachusetts, Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Virginia, although I can't recall specific times right now.  Sadly, I haven't run in Pennsylvania yet, despite all my trips to Pittsburgh to visit Adam's family, but that will change within the next year.  I actually can't recall any times when I've gone running while traveling internationally, too - I'll be changing that soon!

As much as I dislike the long Chicago winter, there is definitely something to be said about how it changes your perspectives and makes you truly appreciate nice weather when you do have it, whether at home or on the road.  My junior high science teacher used to say that if you wanted BORING weather, you should live in Florida or California... but if you wanted INTERESTING weather you should live in Chicago!  And we certainly do get quite a taste of the four seasons here. 

In short, nobody will appreciate these warm-weather travels more than me.  And what better way to get motivated for a run than the chance to do some sightseeing along the way?  I am adding a new goal for myself to try to run in every new state or country that I travel to from this point on.

Puerto Rico, Arizona, New York, Spain, France, and Pennsylvania (in that order) - here I come!

Monday, January 9, 2012

One whole brain is better than a dozen half-brains

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."  - Sophia Loren

I absolutely love creativity.  I think that true creativity is a form of genius. 

While creativity can certainly be applied in nearly all pursuits of life, I have always had an especially strong appreciation for the works of those in the fine arts.  Throughout my childhood, I was very fortunate to have ample opportunity to experience a lot of creative outlets.  Most notably, I took piano and flute lessons; art classes; and gymnastics and figure skating lessons.  I was on the newspaper staff in high school.  My career aspirations included being a journalist, a psychologist, or a concert pianist.

Ultimately, practicality won out to maximize future job opportunities and in college I decided to be a finance major.  I did enjoy my business classes, but there was something special about my piano classes, my psychology classes, my literature classes.  They were a way for me to use different parts of my brain and they kept me cognitively balanced.  They also allowed me to relate to a larger variety of people.  Instead of constantly interacting with business majors, I was able to comfortably interact with, say, the music majors, and to go beneath the surface to understand some of their motivations and pursuits. 

Appreciating the diverse perspectives that different beings can provide.
 My focuses changed during the early part of my career, as I devoted myself to my profession.  For the first few years of my career I threw myself into my work.  The creative pursuits of my childhood took a backseat to navigating the fast-moving, competitive, and highly male-dominated business world, and for many years it was the unquestioned norm for me.  For many years I didn't even think about it.

I have worked for accounting and financial consulting firms my entire career now.  Up until a year ago, my roles have always been highly analytical in nature.  Translation: a lot of time spent sitting in front of a computer crunching numbers, then writing reports summarizing the results of those numbers.  Despite my appreciation for creative expression, I have spent a solid 10-plus years working in a field where creativity is not only discouraged, but illegal.


A few years ago, some of my roots starting showing (I think you can only evade your roots for so long) and my creative core began resurrecting itself in numerous ways (outside of work, of course).  Examples include a renewed appreciation for the fine arts, taking improv classes, dabbling at inventing my own cooking recipes.

More than ever now I also realize the beauty of giving yourself time to just sit and think.  It's truly amazing what our minds can produce when left to function unfettered and without being pulled into a dozen other directions.  After all, there's a reason why so many times we are suddenly hit with important thoughts or moments of true brilliance while standing in the shower.

Just over a year ago, I took on a new role with my current firm where I now work in new product development (NPD).  This has been a great career move for me because NPD is much more suited to my personal interests.  NPD's focus on innovation is a nice bridge to some of the more creative aspects of thinking that I so enjoy, while still effectively utilizing my previous career experiences.

Part of my NPD work entails trying to read up on innovation techniques.  I just finished reading Breaking Away by Jane Stevenson and Bilal Kaafarani, which has a section devoted to whole-brain versus half-brain thinking.  I love this concept.  In short, people are all much more effective when they have fluid use of both sides of their brain (the left side considered analytical and the right side considered creative). 
I generally believe that analytics are teachable, but creativity cannot be taught; that creativity has to come from within.  Comparatively, Breaking Away claims that both sides, including creativity, are innate within all of us, but that as children we are generally nurtured in school towards the more analytical pursuits such as math and science.  The book then suggests various ways to develop your less-dominant side.  For example, left-brainers can focus on experiencing things, such as riding in an airplane, with their non-visual senses; right-brainers can focus on developing structure by making lists of key observations during meetings.

On that note, running can be extremely analytical.  My mom read the marathon training charts on my previous post, and she remarked to me that she didn't realize how scientific the process was.  Indeed, there are all kinds of ways to crunch numbers in running - looking at paces, heart-rates, calories burned, distances, splits, VO2 max, elevations, miles, kilometers, temperature, humidity, training weeks.  The list goes on and on.

Am I analytical with my running?  Yes.  I keep training logs that analyze my running numbers. I look for patterns or trends and other figures that show me what areas I can focus on.  I agonize over the lack of improvement in certain numbers versus surprising improvements elsewhere.  I look at averages and year-to-date figures. I try to forecast where I might be next week or next year, and I conduct many variance analyses where I attempt to determine causalities for why I wasn't able to achieve my projected numbers. 

In short, marathon planning has done quite a number on me (no pun intended) because I have spent hours studying training charts and applying the associated goals to my calendar.  I am as much a fan as anyone on measurable goals, and analyzing all my numbers in every way imagineable (again, no pun intended) really does provide a lot of insight into where things are and where they are going for me. 

However, one of the reasons that I really enjoy running is because it is one of those times when I can be in my own little world to just think, no rhyme or reason needed.  There is great beauty in being able to run without being encumbered by time goals or other measurements.  I enjoy being able to crank up my MP3 player and listen to whatever I feel like.  Similarly, I've read many accounts of runners who have done their best in races when they ran by feel, as opposed to when they monitored their elapsed times or splits or whatever.


As excited as I am about achieving my marathon goal, marathon training has made me fear the prospect of training without analyzing the numbers.  Now I can't bear the thought of going for a run without entering the details into my training log and seeing how the numbers stack up.  I have become vigilant in sticking to my training patterns and have qualms of straying too far off base.

This is not a path I want to keep taking over the long-term. 

Basically, I'm starting to become very left-brained with my running.  My ideal, however, is for my running to occur on a whole-brain basis.  So what to do?

I want to implement what I'll call non-numeric goals for myself, which will include running just for enjoyment on a periodic but nondetermined basis.  No Garmin, no timing, no analysis of splits, nothing.  Just going running because it's a time for me to let my mind wander and to get some fresh air and scenery.  Maybe even taking pictures along the way without even considering about how much time it's taking away from my pacing.

This all sounds great and easy, right?  But I have to admit there's anxiety in allowing myself to completely let go, which can be very counterintuitive.

I am reminding myself that keeping things diverse helps me to be at my best in all aspects of my life, including running.  Running, in turn, helps keep me at my best to be more creative and thereby also helps keep me at my best.  It's a great cycle - but yet it's so easy to get so immersed in a goal that you lose focus in other ways.  But still a healthy reminder of what is important, yes? 

Here's to a non-numeric goal of unencumbrances.  Here's also to a whole brain, instead of a half brain, in both running and in life.

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.”  
--Rita Mae Brown 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Going all in... or proceeding with caution

When I took driver's ed many moons ago, we split our time between classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel time, and driving simulators. 

What the heck is a driving simulator, you ask?  Since words don't really do a driving simulator justice, here's an example:


Basically it's a room full of seated consoles that are designed to look like the dashboard of a car, complete with gas and brake pedal, steering wheel, speedometer, gear shifts, and rear-view mirrors.  The room lights are dimmed and in the front of the room is a giant screen on which a video is projected that is supposed to look like the view from a car's steering wheel.  You were then supposed to follow along and "drive" the consol according to the video.  Consider it to be a more hands-on version of a video game.  Only, the instructional videos were from the 70s and always included very unrealistic obstacles such as a random man hurling his briefcase onto the street in front of you (in which case you were supposed to apply the brake firmly, without causing your wheels to lock up).

The consols would beep at you if you did something wrong, and I believe we got scored based on how many or how few beeps we initiated.

One day I'm in my consol "driving" along, and no matter what I do the consol is beeping at me.  Even when the video had us sitting at a red light with our feet on the brakes, the consol would still beep.  I was bewildered as to why this was happening, not to mention I was embarrassed at the incessant beeping.  I went through the entire class like this!

At the end of the class, the instructor finally turned the lights back on and dismissed the class.  Thank goodness - the beeping couldn't stop soon enough!  Only then, I looked down... and realized that I had been driving in reverse gear.  The entire time.


I know you're all terrified of me behind the wheel of a car now.  But please know that when I'm driving a real car, I can tell pretty quickly when I'm in reverse gear.  Trust me.

In short, though, there really is no substitute for the real thing, is there?  You can read or study or simulate topics until you're blue in the face, but the best way to learn is to get out there and experience it firsthand.  When it comes to training, the same theory applies.

This comes into play because I've been going back and forth on what kind of marathon training plan I will use in the spring.  I am debating between Hal Higdon's Novice 1 plan, versus Jeff Galloway's "To Finish" plan.

Here's Hal Higdon's plan:

Marathon Training Schedule: Novice 1
Week
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thur
Fri
Sat
Sun
1
Rest
3 m run
3 m run
3 m run
Rest
6
cross
2
Rest
3 m run
3 m run
3 m run
Rest
7
cross
3
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
3 m run
Rest
5
cross
4
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
3 m run
Rest
9
cross
5
Rest
3 m run
5 m run
3 m run
Rest
10
cross
6
Rest
3 m run
5 m run
3 m run
Rest
7
cross
7
Rest
3 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
12
cross
8
Rest
3 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
Rest
Half Marathon
9
Rest
3 m run
7 m run
4 m run
Rest
10
cross
10
Rest
3 m run
7 m run
4 m run
Rest
15
cross
11
Rest
4 m run
8 m run
4 m run
Rest
16
cross
12
Rest
4 m run
8 m run
5 m run
Rest
12
cross
13
Rest
4 m run
9 m run
5 m run
Rest
18
cross
14
Rest
5 m run
9 m run
5 m run
Rest
14
cross
15
Rest
5 m run
10 m run
5 m run
Rest
20
cross
16
Rest
5 m run
8 m run
4 m run
Rest
12
cross
17
Rest
4 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
8
cross
18
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
2 m run
Rest
Rest
Marathon

CARA uses Hal Higdon's plan for their group marathon training program (the one that meets every Saturday at 6 AM for group long runs), and Hal Higdon's plan is incredibly popular in the running field.  I understand that his plan has an extremely high success rate.  He is considered a living running legend by many!  However, his plan still looks aggressive to me - the buildup of miles over 18 weeks seems very challenging!

Comparatively, here is Jeff Galloway's plan:

Week
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday (p)
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
1
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
3 miles
2
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
4 miles
3
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
5 miles
4
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
2.5 miles/MM
5
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles
6
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
3 miles
7
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
7.5 miles
8
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
3 miles/MM
9
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
9 miles
10
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
4 miles
11
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
10.5 miles
12
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
4 miles/MM
13
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
12 miles
14
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
4 miles
15
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
14 miles
16
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
5 miles/MM
17
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
17 miles
18
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
5 miles
19
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles/MM
20
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
20 miles
21
off
30 min run
of
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles
22
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles/MM
23
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
23 miles
24
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles
25
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
7 miles
26
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
26 miles
27
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
7 miles
28
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles
29
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
7 miles
30
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
MARATHON
31
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
7 miles
32
off
30 min run
off
30 min run
easy walk
off
6 miles

Jeff Galloway's plan advocates a run-walk method, whereby you take frequent walk breaks at specified intervals.  The theory is that when you run nonstop, you use the same muscles continuously and thereby fatigue those muscles quickly, which cause you to slow down at the end of a long run.  However, by adding frequent short walk breaks, you distribute the workload across a variety of muscles, allowing you to stay fresher for longer periods of time.  This alleviates the need to slow down at the end. 

Jeff Galloway also advocates that his plan results in fewer injuries, and I can certainly see why based upon the much more gradual increase in mileage.  I understand that his plan is highly successful as well.  However, his plan has you doing long runs of 20, 23, and 26 miles in your training, whereas I've heard from many sources that going above 20 miles in training is not recommended due to the strain it causes.

I am torn between the two plans (both plans have group-training offerings).  One plan seems a bit more aggressive than I would prefer.  The other seems much more palatable but, save for the very, very long runs towards the end, is so much lighter in overall mileage that I wonder if it's almost too light?  And I've read many instances of folks who oppose the run-walk method basically because they feel that pure running is just that - not run-walking.

The only way to know which plan works best or better for me is to try both, of course.  Learn from experience and from going out there and just doing it!

But there are so many variables that come into play.  All else equal, most people improve their race results over time simply because they know more of what to expect and become better runners over time.  So if you do one method one year and the other the next, who knows if how much of the improvement is due to experience versus the different training plan?  And you obviously want to do as best you can the first time around... but what happens if the first experience was so draining that you lose the desire to try again?  You might never know what you're missing... but at the same time maybe the first reaction is usually the correct reaction and there's a reason for that.  I know I'm getting ahead of myself here.

At this point, I am leaning towards using the Jeff Galloway plan and training by myself (although, if you ask me again in a few minutes I'll probably change my mind).  The last thing I want to do is get injured in training, and I feel like the lower mileage and overall easier approach in the Galloway plan is much more manageable and leaves you much less susceptibile to injury.  Those 23- and 26-mile runs are up for debate, though - so I might do a bit of a hybrid between the two plans, though, where I do stop at a maximum long run of 20 miles?  I am very interested in hearing about peoples' personal experiences using either plan or both.

To get philosophical again, there's a common saying that life is not just about the end destination, it's also about the journey.  At the same time, sometimes the end result is NOT worth the blood, sweat, and tears to get there... but other times it is MORE than worth it.  Since we never really know when venturing into uncharted territory, I say that the worst possible thing we can do is remain motionless.

With that in mind, regardless of which plan I ultimately end up using, I hope to live by the standards of simply always trying to stay in motion.  No matter which path I take, I will try to move forward confidently, always give it my all, and have no regrets along the way. 

Unless, of course, I am unknowingly in reverse gear and I have a driver's ed simulator beeping the living daylights out of me.