On Doubt

September 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I haven’t posted in a very long time, and thought I would attempt to start blogging again with a post on doubt, as I approach a half marathon on Saturday.  I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks because I was filled with doubt before my last half marathon in May–doubts about my training, about the time that I lost due to a nasty cold, about my own innate physical and mental abilities (or, more accurately, limitations).  My running was also mirroring all sorts of doubt I was having about my my dissertation, my chosen profession, and what I wanted to do with my life.  So, here I am facing the exact same doubt–telling myself after running 6 miles with 2 at GHMP on Tuesday that there’s no way I can sustain the pace over 13 miles, feeling that it felt too fast and questioning why my fitness doesn’t feel any different after five months of training, at a higher level of intensity than I trained before my last half.

But, I was also thinking, when I read this post, by the always smart, perceptive, and informative Cris, that my doubt actually helped me to run a pretty smart race.  I held back in the beginning because I was sure I didn’t have the fitness for a PR and was  afraid I’d burn out before the end, but then woke up to the realization in mile 10 that I totally had this race.  I’m not sure I’d recommend crippling self-doubt as the best way to excel in athletics, but it worked for me, in a strange way, in that race, at least. Somehow though, I’ve arrived back at self-confidence square one.

All of this, however, seems petty and self-absorbed when compared to a much more serious kind of doubt that has been on my mind these days–the doubt that surrounds the case of Troy Anthony Davis.  I won’t go into detail, because it has been analyzed and discussed elsewhere, but suffice to say that a man who is very likely innocent is (at the time of writing, still) scheduled to be executed by the State of Georgia tonight.  This has nothing to do with the half marathon I’m running on Saturday, except that it happened to be that the only time I could pick up my race number was just before 7pm tonight, the time Davis was to be executed.  I just remember standing in line outside in the rain, and then in the basement of a running store in the upper West side and reading people’s tweets from the protest/vigil outside the jail where Davis was to be killed.  I felt like I was going to suffocate in there, waiting for my race number while this man was about to die.  I felt like yelling out to everyone that we should all be deeply ashamed to live in a country that allows this barbaric shit.

And logically, I actually think the problem goes beyond abolishing the death penalty.  That is, the death penalty is the most horrific and cruel expression of a totally fucked criminal justice system that reinforces institutionalized racism and class inequalities.  But, practically, right now, I got emotionally wrapped up in following this particular case, of this particular individual, whose execution I thought could somehow be stopped.

That doubt makes me forget entirely about my own.  Instead I’m filled with intense anger, sadness, and shame, which has, for me, become synonymous with what it means to be an American.


Running in Turkey I: the high from a single run in Goreme is worth a month of NYC endorphins

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have now been in Turkey for a week and have run exactly once for 30 mins but i sit here in the lobby of our pension (guesthouse/hostel) in Goreme in Cappadocia drinking instant coffee waiting for things to get moving before i head out for my first more substantial run, hopefully of 7-8 mi, which will still allow me to get in a 2-3 hour hike afterwards. Running in Goreme is spectacular, mostly on low traffic roads and densely-packed flat dirt/sand roads and trails, among incredible rock formations. Before i left i was stressed out about losing fitness and being sure to get my workouts in but the incredible week i’ve had and the distance from other stressful things in my life (the diss, most obviously) has put rhings in perspective and i really could care less about my 5k pace right now. I think the less satisfies i am with other things in my life the more i unbalanced i am about running.

And with that I’m off!

5k pace is no longer theoretical

June 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I wrote this now two weeks ago but then got busy and never finished/posted it.  Today I ran the Riverdale Ramble 10k, but I’ll save that report for another day, or maybe even later today if I’m super productive.

I ran my first 5k this morning–the Great South Bay 5k, in Amityville.  Choosing it was pretty random; basically I wanted something more than two weeks after my last half marathon, and with some time before my first 10k.  I couldn’t sleep at all the night before, until about 5 am, which made getting up at 6:00 probably more brutal than if I had just not slept at all.  My first thought was that this was way too much trouble for a race distance shorter than my warmup and cooldown combined.  But, I downed my coffee and figured that if I hate it I’ll never have to run another.

It took about 40 mins to drive out there, which while I was thinking it was too far out for a random 5k, also realized that it would have taken me longer to get to Central Park.  It was misty and cool, and it took me at least a mile of my 2 mi warmup to get warm.  In addition to being my first 5k, it was my first race shorter than a half marathon, and the first smaller than 5,000.  (There couldn’t have been more than 250- 300 people there)

I really had know idea how to pace myself, and didn’t even really know how to judge how long I could hold on to a particular pace, but I was a bit overly focused in the first mile on making sure I didn’t set myself up to crash and burn.  I mostly focused on my effort and ignored anyone else around me.  Mile 1: 7:37.

That didn’t seem so bad, so I tried to at least hold that if not speed up a bit in mile 2.  Again, I didn’t really pay much attention to the people around me, except to start to get annoyed with a young gangly kid flailing around next to/behind/ahead of me.  Mile 2: 7:29.

For the last I tried to speed up some more.  I was tired, but not too exhausted.  The last half to quarter mile was when I started to pay attention to other people.  I passed a few and noticed that most people around me seemed to be running out of steam.  I was, too, but could still push the pace.  I turned the last corner and tried to sprint as fast as I could the last 150m to the finish line.  Embarrassingly, the announcer called out my name.  Apparently I was the 3rd woman.  Mile 3: 7:18 and last .1 in 41 sec.

Final time: 23:05

I’m pretty sure I could have finished under 23:00 had I pushed a bit more at the beginning, but probably not by much.  In any case I’m happy with it.  I guess that’s the great thing about racing a distance for the first time.  It kind of felt like a fun experiment.  I haven’t held any kind of (until now theoretical) 5k pace for longer than a few minutes at a time in the last year, and really had no idea what I was capable of, and I pleasantly surprised myself.  I’ve also done strides and fartleks as speedwork, with nothing at the track so far.  Hopefully that means that if my body holds out for more intense training, I have some room for improvement.

I Still Hate the Rain, but it Made for a Beautiful Run Today

May 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I thought I’d be forced into choosing between the treadmill and getting totally drenched, but I was able to squeeze in nearly 8 miles without any rain.  I had 8 x 1 min hill repeats planned so I ran to the nearest long hill, which is on a bike path through an actual forest, connecting Cunningham and Alley Pond Parks.  There are places where you can’t see any houses or roads through the huge trees, and it’s a great place to run.  The wet tree bark was extra dark brown and contrasted beautifully with the new spring leaves.  No one was out because of the rain and for a moment I was totally alone in the forest.  I was feeling all sorts of love for my local parks when I stepped on a mushy, not quite washed away pile of dog shit and snapped back to reality, which right now is filled with dissertation distress, seething hatred for the chair of my department, and general trepidation about the future and my ability to ever earn a decent living any time soon.  At least I got to contemplate these things in the midst of a forest (or “forest” for people who live near actual forests) rather than on the treadmill.

Happy May Day Half Marathon (or Long Island Half Marathon 2011)

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m pretty happy with the race I ran today: I PR’ed by 2.5 minutes, and beat my goal time by 30 seconds.  I ran negative splits, and my last mile was 40 sec/mile faster than my goal half marathon pace.  I definitely ran the last mile all out, but I wonder if I was too conservative in the beginning.  In the end, I ended up with a chip time of 1:48:32.

I haven’t raced any distance since a half marathon two years ago and since then have had to take a significant amount of time off for injuries.  My last half marathon was in the middle of the summer and was 80 degrees already at the 7am start.  I really suffered.  It was the first for which I had done any kind of speed work and the first that I really ran hard, but the heat made it nearly unbearable.  I went into this race remembering the pain from the last one, which made me a little nervous.  I had also missed a few weeks of training and a 10k because of a nasty cough that hung on for a while, so I didn’t feel like I really knew where I stood in terms of my fitness.  And, I did all of my last key workouts the week before the race while I was away for spring break at 4500 ft. elevation on pretty intense hills, so I couldn’t really test out my goal pace for the near sea-level, mostly flat course.

I started out the race with two crowded 8:30 miles.  The next seven are mostly a blur.  I was totally unaware of my surroundings, aside from noticing things like potholes, uneven pavement, and water stations.  They were all right around GHMP of 8:20, except for mile 4 with the water stop, which was 8:30.  I spent most of these miles questioning my fitness and stressed out that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto my goal for the whole race.  It got mildly windy at some point and I tried drafting off of different people, but that would inevitably screw up my pace and I could never find one steady person to follow, so I kept moving to different targets.  There was the woman for whom bun huggers were made, the wiry older guy in the short shorts, the tall skinny guy in the Vibrams, and the beefy dude in the basketball shorts.

The turning point in the race for me—when I realized that I would be just fine and really started enjoying myself—was when I approached this guy in a race shirt with an outline of the African continent on the back.  I couldn’t see what race it was but it made me think of all the great runs I had in Harare last summer, all the good friends I miss there, and how it’s hard to have people you love scattered around the world, especially when you’re prone to irrational bouts of hermitude and falling out of touch.  All of these thoughts coincided with a wave of endorphins—or something—and I got goosebumps all over my body.  I also became embarrassingly emotional and got a little choked up.  My throat and chest started to constrict, so I forced myself to think about less philosophical things like my plan for the rest of the race.  I reflected upon the fact that I had sped up a bit, was not hurting at all, and had much more energy than I had expected in the tank, so I decided to go with the faster pace.  My last 3.1 miles were 8:12, 8:02, and 8:27 (7:41 pace).  The only other thing I remember about those last miles is that there were a lot of turns, the path through the park was narrow, and I passed a lot of struggling dudes.  What I also remember is that those last four miles were kind of pure ecstasy.  I felt strong, focused, and absurdly happy.  I still feel like I should have been suffering more by that time, but I’m happy with the race, and it was a good confidence booster.

Next up: my first 5k (the race distance which most intimidates me).  Well, first recovery, then a 5k.

Oh, and workers of the world unite!  (the May Day part)

Halal Dynasty, Trader Joe’s Frozen Black Bean Enchiladas, and All-Nighters: How NOT to Train for a Half-Marathon (or any race)

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

That title probably requires no lengthy text to elucidate its meaning.  But here’s my chance to offer expert training advice!  At what paces should you run your short intervals, long intervals, tempo runs, etc?  I don’t know!  But I know that you are headed for trouble if your diet consists of Chinese/Malaysian takeout (or food from any kind of establishment who’s enthusiastic proclamations of “No MSG!” you believe might be suspect), frozen meals you “cook” in the microwave, and the majority of your “rest” hours are spent semi-upright, hunched over your computer, rather than stretched out horizontally in your cozy bed.

This training plan has likely caused the progression of what I first told myself was allergies, and then perhaps a minor cold I could run through, and then a minor cough that would go away soon enough, into some kind of nasty chest-burning hopefully-not-bronchitis illness, which I’ve apparently made worse by “listening to my body.”  That is, my body* said “I’m sooooooo super stressed and about to have a breakdown!  I need endorphins so you MUST go running! C’mon,  you can just take it easy.”  So I listened, and it felt good.  Oh so familiar and comfortable and good.  Then, said the body: “What? Not feeling a painful burning in the chest?  See, you can go ahead and do that speed work today!  No need to lose any more fitness.  And maybe if you run at 5k pace (still theoretical at this point, since I’ve never actually raced a 5k) you can pretend to outrun all your stress.  It’ll make you feel even better.  Just try it!  See? Feels pretty awesome…for now…”  And thus went the revenge of my endorphin-addicted body that I’ve been treating so badly for the past few weeks.  So, here I am with a nasty chest cold, which probably could have been prevented had I listed to someone other than my body.  I’m not sure if I’ll run the 10k on Sunday.  If so, I definitely won’t be racing it to the best of my healthy abilities.  I’ll eventually get back to half marathon training, but not after compromising at least some of the fitness I’ve slowly built over the past few months.

And have I learned my lesson?  Probably not.

*Some might point out that I’m conflating mind and body here, but I am in good company in rejecting the mind-body dichotomy.  (Though I’ll concede that the whole premise of “listening to your body” relies on this very dichotomy.  But this is a blog post, not a dissertation chapter.  So I’ll go with the contradiction for the purposes of creative license.  And, mind-body dualism is not the topic of my dissertation anyway.) 🙂

Grumpy update

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Well, at least I’ve been staying true to my blog title, but instead of (and sometimes in addition to) my dissertation, I’ve now found a new thing to procrastinate doing: blogging.  I just can’t seem to get over the strange feeling that I’m writing for no one and everyone at the same time.

This has been a somewhat shitty week in running, maybe because what I thought was allergies seems to be revealing itself as a cold, and I’ve been busy, sleepless, stressed, and anxiety-ridden.  Yesterday I was ambushed by an interview with an unexpected six people.  I felt like I was pretty well-prepared to handle one, but watching twelve eyes stare back at me was enough to totally throw me off and all of the answers I should have nailed retreated into some dark crevice in my brain.  And to make matters worse the weather was cold, rainy, and miserable.

I had a 5 mi run planned for the day, and since I haven’t run in Central Park in a very long time I had wanted to scope out the 10k course I’ll be running in just over a week.  But, at the risk of potentially making the brewing cold worse, or at least increasing the output of my snot factory ten-fold, I opted for the much hated treadmill.  While I really needed a nice mind-clearing, drug-myself-with-endorphins-so-that-by-the-end-I’m-feeling-better kind of run, instead I got to replay all the cringe-worthy moments of the interview in sync with the loop of the treadmill belt.  Over and over again.  Usually my treadmill runs are spent obsessing over each little ache and pain I might feel (or imagine) and peeking under the towel I drape over the screen to hide the time and distance, which seem to move at a speed that defies the space-time continuum.  But this time I had even more miserable things to concentrate on!  So I finished feeling pretty much the same as when I began.

Today was supposed to be cross-training, but miraculously I had a little dissertation breakthrough so I skipped trekking to the gym in lieu of jumping on the momentary epiphany before it, too, retreated back to one of those dark brain crevices.  Sitting on my ass all day, tensing up my shoulders and practicing bad posture might make for a crappier start to my 12 mile run tomorrow morning, but it doesn’t outweigh the guilt of not following up on an idea while it’s still fresh, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.  It might also be that my exploding sinuses and dripping nostrils are annoying enough that I don’t even notice my sluggish legs.  Here’s hoping?