Thursday, August 15, 2013

Essay Consequence: Marcel Warren

Meet Marcel Warren, aged 13. Marcel has been coming to my running classes for approximately a year now. A Lacrosse player and goalie and a natural athlete, Marcel has been adding distance running to his training regime. Currently he's a part of my teen training groups and my Saturday Half Marathon Training Group. He makes us grown-ups feel a little sick because he makes running look so very effortless and easy. He likes to run a short ways ahead. We'll see him at the junctions waiting for us. Then, just when we think maybe we'll be getting a break he goes bounding off, and we are left to try to catch him. If all goes according to plan, Marcel will be taking on his very first half-marathon at the end of September, the Race For A Soldier Half Marathon. Recently he ran his first trail 10K, on the Wildwood Trail in Portland. He finished 4th in the age 13 to 19 division. Not too shabby. His intelligence is off the charts. His humor is quirky. Once he threatened to sue me. Thank goodness for those waivers. Another time, when I was flattering myself by trying to keep up with him in the woods (i.e. I was using him for a workout), he broke into a walk.

"What are you doing?" I gasped. "Why are we walking?"

"You're breathing too hard," he replied. "You need to take a break."

I comforted myself with the thought that at least the kid is listening to everything I teach.

Marcel is one of the gang on Saturdays, and we feel bummed when he's not there. His energy is infectious. Though he has yet to tell me this, and though he may never admit to it this is a kid who runs with pure joy. A very picky eater, Marcel has been known to under-eat in spite of his mother's heroic efforts. So guess what? Marcel's essay consequence is on the importance of running and nutrition.

Marcel's Essay
By Marcel Warren
When you are running, especially long distances, you need to have very good nutrition. Nutrition is very important because it gives you energy. The energy will help you in every way with speed and endurance. Also, if you eat right after 30 minutes, you will recover from your run extremely fast. 

Not eating nutritiously can lead to serious problems. If you are running a long distance, lots of carbs are needed, and also some good fats. Protein is definitely needed if you want to have big muscles, and to re-grow your muscles after a run. Protein is not really for energy, although you still need a lot of it. 

A week before a big run you need to eat almost twice what you normally eat so you will have tons of energy for the race. You also have to drink a ton. Now, on the day of the race, the time of the race will determine what you eat. The first meal should be something simple like a bowl of cereal. The meal after needs to be a lot of food so that you don’t have an energy crash later. During the run, you need lots of carbs. LOTS. If you don’t fuel with carbs, you will not finish the long race. Also protein and electrolytes are good too. If you're out of energy, feeling sick, breathing hard, being passed by people you already passed, you should eat. If you hallucinate, call 911 and get off of the drugs.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Tale Of Two Runs: By David Grear

A Tale of Two Runs
By David Grear 

IT WAS THE BEST OF RUNS, it was the worst of runs, it was the run of wisdom, it was the run of foolishness, it was the run of belief, it was the run of incredulity, it was the run of Light, it was the run of Darkness, it was the run of hope, it was the run of despair…  It’s not often running moves me to paraphrase classic literature.  That’s especially true when you consider that in my youth all of my book reports on the classics were actually book reports on the Cliff’s Notes of the classics (if you are under thirty ask your parents about Cliff’s Notes).  But I digress; my academic laziness is really not the point here.

I run with a training group on Saturday mornings that targets longer distance races, half marathons and up.  Our group run on Saturday is intended to be our long run of the week.  Ideally we form groups in which the members are similar in some combination of pace, energy level, stage of training, experience, and desire to be running on a given Saturday morning.  These groups tend to change a bit from week to week but in general we go in knowing who we are the most comfortable running with.  This allows us to run at a conversational pace, which is what coach Alexa so fervently desires for our long runs.  It is also a chance to connect with other runners and build community when we aren’t gasping for breath during a tempo, speed, or hill workout.  In other words we can talk and catch up.  That was exactly what I was looking for last Saturday, a chance to hang out with my training group, catch up, run at an easy pace, and log some quality miles on the trails.  That’s not what I got.

Our group is primarily women with a few token men thrown in the mix.  That’s not a statement about the ability of the group; these ladies are tough, dedicated, and QUICK!  I generally run with the kindest paced, or middle paced group.  For some reason, I think it had to do with some "boy talk" on the group drive to the trailhead, Alexa sent me out with the other two guys in our group.  I have enormous respect for these two men, in fact they are running role models for me and I aspire to achieve their ability someday.  Someday being the operative word.  Not today and certainly not last Saturday!  They have a comfortable pace that is easily 2 minutes a mile quicker than mine.  I knew in less than a half mile that I was in over my head.  My mind and body told me I should thank the guys for the warm up and double back and rejoin my usual group.  But I have discovered a new force that can act to undermine my running.  Pride.  I was proud to have been sent out with runners I look up to.  I was proud that I was holding my own even though I knew they were holding back so as not to lose me.  I was TOO proud to rejoin the other group and admit that I couldn’t keep up.  So I kept running. 

This trail system was brand new to me so as the miles ticked by it was becoming less likely that I would be able to find my way back to the main group or the cars.  So now, not only was I expending energy at an unsustainable rate I was in danger of getting lost if I fell behind.  That would have been another assault on my pride if my fellow runners had had to send out a search party.  So I kept running.

The other guys were very kind to me.  They both at different times asked how I was doing.  My pride answered, “Doing great”.  They were also very encouraging, telling me I was impressing them by keeping up.  This just fed my pride even though all the empirical evidence said I should stop.  So I kept running. Mercifully we reached our turn around point.  I had paid enough attention to the turns that I thought I had a reasonable chance of getting back to the trailhead unassisted.  I was tired and feeling quite defeated.  Especially with the realization that this was the halfway point!  My pride had cost me my energy reserves, conversation time with my training buddies, the ability to truly take in and enjoy a new trail system, and finally, ironically, it cost me my pride.  So I quit running.

That’s right, I quit running.  With half the run left I was forced to stop, and let the guys go on without me.  I didn’t present it as quitting of course (maybe some of my pride was hanging around).  I told them that I sensed they wanted to pick up the pace, and that I was confident I could find my way back, and that I didn’t want to hold them back so they should go ahead without me.  Truthfully I couldn’t have run another step with them.  I was done.  I was tired. I was cranky. I didn’t want to play anymore. 

After they were out of sight I was seething.  I certainly wasn’t upset with them or Alexa for sending me, I was furious at myself.   Because I KNEW what I had just done to myself.  I have spent the better part of a year learning how to train smarter, how to listen to my body, how to keep unhealthy competition at bay, that to race fast you have to train slower.  And I threw it all away so I could be proud of myself for a short time.  In the end I got the opposite of what I wanted.  While I wanted a nice relaxing run with friends, I got a stressful run/walk back to the car alone.  Pride certainly does goeth before a fall.

Had this been the end of my weekend running I would probably still have been in a very negative place two to three weeks later.  Fortunately the weekend was far from over.  Sunday I received a text from Alexa asking if I wanted to run with her at yet another new to me trail.  Considering how I was feeling about the day before my knee jerk reaction was to decline and site tired legs or some other excuse.  I presented the text to my wife fully expecting that she’d rather I didn’t run two days in a row on the weekend and spend some time with the family.  She, never ceasing to surprise me, thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to go.  So I did.  Reluctantly, unconfident, still a bit defeated.

When I met Alexa she told me that this was not a training session and she was not in coach mode. It was to be simply friends running the trails.  Almost immediately my apprehension subsided.  We started off nice and easy.  Taking in the scenery, chatting, and generally enjoying a oneness with nature that is why so many of us love running trails.  With my pride out of the way I was able to relax and just let my legs go.  The running was almost effortless.  Not to say there weren’t times we were working hard but for some reason the perceived effort was less. 

The contrast with the day before was startling.  I was running with a partner who was running a similar pace with similar expectations and it made all the difference in the world.  The miles melted away and before I knew it we were back to the car.  Never was there a feeling of exasperation or dread that we were only x number of miles into the run.  In fact I almost didn’t care how many miles we were doing because we were well within our aerobic threshold, in fact with the exception of one hill climb we never really even flirted with it.  I felt like we stayed right where we were supposed to for a healthy long run.  In contrast to the previous day I didn’t feel like I was dragging myself back to the car thankful to be finished.  Rather I got back feeling like I had run plenty, but at the same time feeling like I could have done more and desiring more almost as soon as I got in the car.  I think that’s how long runs should feel when they are finished.  So with a lesson about pride learned both in the pain of a less than successful run and the euphoria of a run that was all I wanted it to be and more, I’ll keep running.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Susan Olive's Essay Consequence

Do you see that beautiful woman in the picture above, her hands thrown up in surrender? This is Susan Olive, one of my newer runners and a real inspiration to me and countless others! One of the great things about Susan is that the moment you meet her you feel like you've known her forever. You'd trust her with your life and your dirtiest secrets. This very special lady is also a breast cancer survivor. Like pretty much every woman I know, she struggles with how she feels about her body. Body image issues are particular close to my own heart, since in my teens and twenties I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. You might say I have an internal radar for women who are afflicted with the body-dissatisfaction gene! On a recent run, I listened to Susan make a number of harsh remarks about her body--which broke my heart, since she is so very beautiful and dear. As a coach, I understand just how much negative self talk can affect how you feel about your running and can limit your progress. To help Susan realize just how awesome she is, I assigned her the following essay. Look for her soon, strutting her stuff down the catwalk! This lady has the goods!

Running at the Mouth

By Susan Olive

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  

“She assigns essays for punishment," I was told.  

“She made me write an essay for complaining last class," they whispered.  

I had figured she’d cut me some “newbie slack”.  I was wrong.

So here I am, only 4 weeks after joining Alexa’s 5k/10k running class, and I’m writing my “punishment essay”.  I suppose I deserve it.  No, I know I deserve it.  To be fair, she assigns these essays not really for “punishment”, but more to help the offender self reflect and work through something that may be holding them back physically and/or mentally.  Alexa figured me out right away.  I use humor a lot.  It’s a significant part of my personality.  I would like to think that I always use it appropriately and that I’m universally hilarious to all audiences, but I know it’s not the case.  (I admit I get some eye rolling, or worse, the blank stares).  I also might be a little overly sarcastic and self deprecating with my humor.  And that’s what got me into trouble.

I am currently at the heaviest weight I have ever been in my life.  I reluctantly admit, even heavier than the day I gave birth to our son.  I like to imagine that I’m still just hanging on to that pregnancy weight, but considering our “baby” is now an 18 year old college student, nobody’s buying it.  So four weeks ago I join Alexa's 5k running class.  There are many reasons why I joined.  Alexa’s classes came highly recommended, and it sounded like a good way to meet some new people. Plus, I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of being a “runner”…and, of course, I thought that maybe running would help me get back to a healthier weight. Flash forward a few weeks, and I am absolutely loving the class and doing so much better with running than I ever imagined I could.  However, Alexa is noticing that I point out, poke fun of, and joke about my weight/body a little bit too much for her liking.  She apparently decides that I need some tough love and proceeds to dole out the dreaded “punishment essay”.  It’s a doozy.  I have to write an essay on what I like about my body. You would think that would have gotten me to immediately shut up and stop with the jokes.  Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment, because a couple of self-deprecating jabs later she assigned me the second part of my essay.  Now, in addition I also have to write about the dangers of negative self talk. Damn, she’s good.    

I decide to take this assignment seriously and start really thinking about why I publicly poke fun of my body/weight.  After a little self reflection, I’m supposing it’s because I am uncomfortable, embarrassed, and maybe a little ashamed of my current size. I joke because I want people to laugh with me and not at me. Perhaps I do the public joking to address my size and have it be out in the open.  Like I’m pointing out the elephant in the room - figuratively and literally!  (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, Alexa. Please don’t assign me another essay!)   Clearly I’m dealing with a couple of different but related issues here.  I’m belittling myself AND I’m not embracing my body in its current state.  Intellectually, I understand the dangers of constantly putting myself down and making negative jokes about my body.  Being negative, even if I’m “joking”, is putting out negative energy.  It’s not helping me to move forward on this issue, and it’s not helping me to feel good about myself.  It’s common knowledge that positive thinking is beneficial to the spiritual and physical self.  I’ve read the books.  I watch Oprah.  I really do tend to be a pretty optimistic person, I swear! But I can work on giving myself more pats on the back.  I will work on cutting back the negative thoughts/jokes at my expense.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Now comes the hard part.  What do I like about my body? Sigh. Like so many people, I’ve had my ups and downs with my weight.  It’s been awhile, but I have had some good bikini days here and there.  Although I have to admit I never ever remember being 100% satisfied with my body. I suppose only a lucky few people get to 100%.  A quick trip to Google comes up with a 2011 poll from Glamour Magazine that reported 97% of women experience “I hate my body thoughts” on a daily basis. That’s a depressing statistic.   I can honestly say I’ve never hated my body. I’m usually just not happy with it.  I recently found one of those memes that sums it up pretty well, “I wish I was as thin as I was when I thought I was fat”.  That’s so me.  Two years ago I had gotten down (once again) to a comfortable weight, was exercising regularly and starting to feel really proud of my body again. Then I was blindsided with invasive breast cancer at age 43. Four surgeries, two years into a five year sentence of endocrine therapy, and an additional 40 pounds later, here I am.  I could play my “cancer card” and blame it for all the weight gain, which I would happily do if I was actually making an honest effort and not stuffing my face. But I don’t want to search for excuses.  I know exactly how to get to and maintain a healthy weigh--I am just having trouble following through again.

How on earth do I stop this vicious cycle?!  And if I don’t…how do I accept and embrace my current body/size?  Honestly, I don’t want to accept it.  I really don’t.   And it’s not just about the size (though it does annoy me to not be able to wear 1/2 of the clothes in my closet).  It’s about eating smarter and making better choices.  When I’m eating right (which usually results in a healthier weight) I feel better, I have more energy, my cholesterol is down, my blood pressure is good,  I feel more confident and strong.   I also know that eating right and being a healthy weight will decrease my unfortunately real chances of a breast cancer recurrence.  You think that alone would motivate me!    I’m thinking I need to (excuse my French) “shit or get off the pot”.  Put my money (not the brownie) where my mouth is.  Quit with the self abusing jokes and excuses and make a serious effort to eat healthier and get the weight off.  But if I’m not able/ready/willing to do that right now, then I need to learn to suck it up (and in),  live with it, and accept that this is who I am today, and that’s okay….for now. How does that saying go?  Have the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

So here I am thinking that I’m ready to wrap this essay up and that “this wasn’t so bad”, when I realize that I never did answer “What do I like about my body”.  Ugh.  Hmmmm…. Errrrrr….Well…. I do have decent looking feet.  My nose is certainly a respectable size.  I’ve never ever once complained about my earlobes.  I have admired my thumbs on occasion.  My elbows have never caused me any kind of embarrassment.  Admittedly, in the right outfit and a good pair of spanx, I will look in the mirror and think, “I’ve still got it”.  I don’t like to brag, but this was recently confirmed to me by some very playful winks and flirtatious smiles from members of the opposite sex.  Granted, they were near sighted residents of my father’s retirement home, but still.

I better stop before I get in trouble again.

Seriously, this “punishment” has been a very good exercise in self awareness.  It has made me really think about how I am presenting myself to others (and to myself), and why I should change that.  My body and I have been through a lot.  I think that I need to give it a little more respect for hanging in there and not giving up on me.  I need to stop constantly poking fun of it and treat it a little kinder and gentler, physically and mentally. And I need to focus more on the positive and work on quashing those negative thoughts no matter how well I think they fit into a great punchline.

Huh.  I thought that I had just joined a “running” class. I can already see that it’s going to be so much more than that. Me and my magnificent earlobes are looking forward to finding out what else we will discover as we travel down Alexa’s road.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tammy Brooks Tries Something New And Lives To Tell The Tale!

Tammy Brooks is a regular at Momentum Mondays, a class I lovingly refer to as being full of "grown-up juvenile delinquents". Tammy is our token good girl, and we love to tell her how perfect she is. She is the embodiment of patience, joy, and balance. She knows when to push herself and when to run at a conservative pace (unlike the rest of those hoodlums who grin wickedly when their coach pulls her hair at their "too-brisk for their own good" times) Tonight Tammy even showed up wearing an all-white jacket, which makes her an angel in my book! But secretly, she gets a kick out of hanging out with the trouble-makers--the ones like David Grear, and Kelly Alsin, and Lori Lynch whom are always running their workouts to fast and muttering snarky things about their coach under their breath! And lately, though she won't fess up, Tammy has even been ENABLING their bad behavior! Tammy, we love you. You truly define what it means to be a "self actualized runner!" That is the highest form of runner there is!

Tammy's Long Training Run In March (Aka the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon!)
By Tammy Brooks
Let me start my essay with a qualifier. For me, running on the other side of fifty isn't something I over think, so writing an essay makes me sort of chuckle. Honestly, I am content to lace up my Brooks running shoes, go outside and run happy. I head out the door with no running goal, no garmin and honestly no pressure. Just so you know, when Coach Alexa instituted a ban on running watches for the month of January, I concealed my grin and silently whispered my gratitude. The good news is that I am a compliant soul so I do put forth effort on Monday nights. Yes I am grateful for the hills once I get home and soak in the hot tub. Yes I am a stronger runner when I focus on my alignment and my breathing. Yes, I am inspired by the dedicated runners who show up every Monday with a positive attitude, good work ethic and words of encouragement for everyone in the group. Still, I am content and complacent in my own running nirvana. So why would I add on the stress of a half marathon in March when I can show up at the waterfront on Saturday morning, run with my girlfriends, and then slurp down a 16 ounce peanut butter-espresso yogoccino with no remorse? 

For the record March is way too early for a half marathon if you agree with my "run happy" way of thinking. When Alexa suggested that I sign up for Lake Sammamish and use it as  a "long training run", I was stuck on how to respond. I don't mind  a long run but I am not super motivated to wrap a timing band around my running shoes and steadily pace myself for 13.1 miles. I was caught off guard though, and Lake Sammamish seemed reasonable so I signed up. A few days later, the runner's registration remorse creeped in. I wasn't entirely confident that I could pin on a racing bib, ignore the timing band, and really treat it as a training run. Why was it, then, that I registered for this half marathon?

Well I will admit that I like showing up on Mondays to hear the weekend running anecdotes. There is also something motivating about joining the crowd and getting through the challenge.  The goal for me is learning how to join the crowd and still keep a reasonable pace.  Saturday was the perfect day to go out for a "long training run" along side 1700 runners. Who knew that in early March we would hit a sunny morning and enjoy such spectacular views along the lake? I managed to keep a steady pace, and I didn't give the timing band or the mile markers any consideration. Even better, I was running with two of my favorite people who were content to just be in the moment and run. So was there an "aha" moment at Lake Sammamish? Yep there was. (Keep in mind if I answer no, Alexa will make me rewrite the essay!) The payoff came near the end of the race. I finished Lake Sammamish feeling  relaxed and strong. The long training run was all about finding my own pace and being content to stay in the moment. I wasn't searching for the finish and it came sooner than I expected. This is a great lesson for any run of any distance. What are my plans for next Saturday? I will be running with my girlfriends and slurping on a 16 ounce yogoccino!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

David Grear is NOT Normal (Though He Claims To Be!)

David Grear Finishing the Fort Ebey 10K in Dirty Dude Style

The man in the picture above is called David Grear. He is, indeed, a Dirty Dude. If you doubt me, check out the shirt he is wearing. I met David about a year ago at Route 16 Running & Walking. He showed up for my Momentum Monday's class. He positioned himself very close to the door, and I had a feeling he might leave before the class even started. "I'm not sure why I'm here," he told me by way of introducing himself. "I don't even know if I like running." Flash forward a few months. Here we have David, post the Ruston Way 5K, being told that he CAN'T run due to a fracture (the result of a subversive tree root). All too sadly, the moment you first realize you love something is often the moment in whence you lose it. You can't run through a fracture. Period. After some wheeling and dealing, David agreed to keep coming out to Momentum Mondays, doing our running workouts on his bike instead, and doing his PT exercises in the company of friends instead of in the isolation of his home. He became a role model for other runners, showing them that even though it was hard work to commit to the recovery process, the act of doing so doesn't have to be an exercise in torture and banishment. Like all runners I know, David struggles with being hard on himself. The need to "keep up" affects him like crack. He claims he can't help himself. In response to the competition questions I recently gave to several of my students, David has written a brilliant essay on Healthy Versus Unhealthy Competition that shall become required reading for all my students!  

Competition and Its Affect on Otherwise Normal People
By The Dirty Dude David Grear

Arthur Ashe said of competition, “You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy”.  This sounds great.  I just have to set my own standards, work hard to achieve them, and repeat.  The end result is reasonable growth in a chosen endeavor. The problem with this idea is that as soon as another person shows up to run with me, or near me, or generally the same direction as me, my own goals and standards go out the window and I adopt that person’s goal as my own. I don’t really know why I do this because I have never been an accomplished runner. Ever. What I am is competitive regardless of activity or even talent.  If we are playing a board game my desire is to crush you into tiny whimpering bits. If we are in a class together I’m going to try to set the curve and earn every point possible. And if we are in a training group together I want to make every run a full speed workout so that at some point I will be faster than the people around me.  

I don’t think that is a bad thing necessarily. Healthy competition can be a great motivator to push through to the next level. Competition gives us a reason to train, to push, to strive for more. The problem comes when this spirit of competition is unhealthy.  I believe that happens for me when I forget my own experience, my own ability, and my own goals and compare myself to others who have been running longer, are in better physical condition than I am, or are just more naturally gifted that I am. Then I am competing against an unbeatable foe. What happens next is over-training syndrome, injury, disappointment, and at its extreme, strained or broken relationships. The key to finding the real joy that Arthur Ashe spoke of is in the end of his quote, “when you reach your limits”. To stay healthy I have to compete within my own personal limits, push them of course, but recognize that my limits, and therefore my standard of success in my running, are not going to be the same as any other person I train with or run against.
So, how can we have mixed ability training groups and not have unhealthy competition develop?  This is possible but takes a certain culture within the group to achieve.  It starts with the leadership of the group. A good coach who recognizes the difference in ability amongst the runners and strives to group similarly abeld athletes together and design workouts tailored appropriately will keep the competition healthy. Creating an inviting, non-judgemental environment for new runners is key.  I remember my first meeting with Alexa at Route 16.  She let me know that “slow” was not a word we used there.  We talked about “kind pace” and perceived effort. I learned that my perceived effort running a mile in 13 minutes was exactly the same as an experienced runner running that mile in 8 minutes. Along with inviting leadership, experienced runners with a mindset towards helping new runners achieve their goals and become healthy enable successful mixed groups. When that is the culture of the group everyone from experienced to the newbie leaves the workout feeling the same sense of accomplishment regardless of pace.

So clearly, because I run with a fantastic mixed group with a great coach and helpful, caring, experienced runners I don’t struggle with unhealthy competition right?  Of course that’s not true!  I fall victim to unhealthy competition because I’m human, and naturally competitive.  It sneaks in under the radar. Very insidiously, slowly, almost unconsciously. I just can’t hold back and run a smart pace when a group is running faster.  I WANT to keep up, I NEED to keep up. It has been suggested by my coach that this need to keep up with the pack is biological, that we are driven to stay with the group because of an ancient pack mentality in which the slow (read weaker) become lunch for a predator. I’m sure there is some truth in that but surely human kind has evolved to a point at which we know there are no lions in Gig Harbor waiting to pounce if we run a 10:30 mile (though there have been some nearby cougar sightings). But I do think that the group plays a role in the desire to compete to keep up.  If I am to be a part of my running group I feel like I need to keep the pace or I don’t really belong.  In the back of my mind I’m being judged for my pace. I want to impress my group and show them that I’m strong enough and fast enough to run with them. As a result I push myself when I’m running with a group so that they will not see my need for growth (read weakness).

Another factor that leads to my tendancy toward unhealthy competition is comparing myself to other runners. It would be one thing if I compared myself to my fellow runners when they had the same experience as I do. But I don’t do that. I compare myself to what they are now and feel driven to push myself to achieve my friends’ level of success.  This is most unhealthy.  It’s ridiculous to think that this is even possible much less wise. And yet I do it all the time. It’s usually in the form of average pace.  I look at my average mile pace from a year ago and compare it to now and feel quite good about myself and my progress. This is healthy comparison. In the next thought I compare my current pace with that of my running role models and feel quite bad about myself and my progress. The next step in this unhealthy thought process is to push harder than my body can handle to run at their pace. Then, not only do I feel awful because I can’t run a 7:30 mile but I’m injured in the process and have just taken a backward step in my growth as a runner. The only way for me to combat this is to continually limit my comparisons to my own past performance. I think that way I continue to feel good about myself and see growth while remaining injury free. My hope is that if I continue to do that I will wake up one day in the middle of the results for my age group rather than the back.

I think that I have started to embrace a healthy view of competition over the last year.  It has been a struggle to keep my self-doubts at bay. I still struggle with not feeling like I deserve to be tired if I don’t run a certain pace, or haven’t “earned” an injury because I wasn’t working hard enough or running fast enough to have a “real” running injury. The good news is that I’m learning to view my running and training as a long term endeavor rather than something that has to come to fruition in a few weeks or months.  I still want to be competitive, but I want it to be a healthy competitiveness that allows me to enjoy the people I run with, have fun in the races I compete in, and most of all, reach my own personal limit and find true joy in my running.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kelly Alsin: On Competition & the Need For Speed!

Kelly Beating Her Kid
Notice the woman in the picture above? That's Kelly Alsin. The boy she is outrunning is her son Cole. Poor chap. I've been coaching Kelly for over a year now. She has come a long way with her training, though Kelly still loves nothing more than making her coach pull her hair out in frustration by "accidently" running her workouts way too fast. She drives in a similar way, fyi. As Kelly would say: "Oops!" All teasing aside, Kelly is one of my very favorite people, and one of my favorite trail running companions. She's savvy about the outdoors, knows her way around the wilderness, and even when the chips are down her sarcastic quips save the day. Kelly is fiercely competitive with herself, but she at least has the good sense to know this. She doesn't like to sit still, and when she's not running or working or being a mom, she's riding her crazy horse either on the mountain trails or around a bunch of barrels. Yes folks, our little Kelly is also a rodeo queen! Surprise! Read on to hear Kelly's extremely charming take on her competitive side! 
How would you define "healthy" versus "unhealthy" competition?  Defining unhealthy versus healthy competition is a hard one for me. I am very competitive by nature. I grew up playing soccer, basketball, volleyball and competing on horses. I played volleyball in school and when I stopped playing for the school I moved into a co-ed team. Co-ed sports are much more aggressive and competitive, I feel, than any girls or boys only team.  You have boys who refuse to be shown up by a girl and you have girls that want to beat the boys.  It can get aggressive and mean at times. Trust me I have taken a few spiked volleyballs from guys to the face but that didn’t ever stop me. In horses, winning get associated with money. You will never go to any horse competition and not hear someone say something along the lines of, “ if I had a $30,000 dollar horse to ride I could win”. This isn’t always the truth as I have seen people take horses that were only a couple thousand or less and turn them into winners, and I have seen people with $30,000 dollars horses and they cant even stay on them but competition does funny things to one's mental ability to process. I love competition and for me it keeps me going.  Most people would say that my level is unhealthy yet for me it works. It keeps me working to be better and push harder. Are there workouts that are more destructive then positive for me? Absolutely. I am my own worst critic and enemy. Mine is a mental game. I think for most people if one becomes so obsessed with having to win that it is destroying relationships (friendships and loved ones) than it has then become unhealthy.
In what ways do you see unhealthy competition manifesting itself in running and running communities?   I see unhealthy competition stopping people from running. If you are always comparing yourself to others and feeling discouraged about your workouts why would you keep going? I wouldn’t.  You have to find the line between competing that makes you a better individual and it being destructive or harmful to you physically or mentally.
Do you believe it's possible for athletes of all ability levels to be able to do a workout at the same time... and for all to walk away feeling good about themselves? What does it take for this to happen?
If you had asked me this last year I would say "no".  But a year later I say "yes".  I think when someone is new to a group they judge themselves against others.  Whether it is a lack of self confidence or what I don’t know. I know when I first started running with some of the groups I felt like I was the weakest person out there. I would go home and say I was the slowest runner out there. My internal drive kept me coming back but not everyone has that. I now am fine with being where I am at once I have gotten to know everyone and just enjoy running with people and talking. I no longer look at workouts as a competitive thing.

The Rodeo Queen Strikes Again!
Is unhealthy competition something you have struggled with? How has this manifested itself in your life and in your training and in actual competitions? What impact has it had on your relationship with others and with yourself? What has changed/shifted for you over time? What would like to see change for your own betterment of body and spirit?  
I have struggled with unhealthly competition. It drove me to run more often and to push for faster times. I would run on the treadmill or on the loop around my house, and if my time wasn’t the same or faster then the previous run I would be angry. My competitive drive has not affected relationships that I know of. I am well aware of my desire to compete. I won’t coach any of my kids teams for this reason. I don’t set myself up to allow it to ruin relationships or friendships. In competitions I get frustrated with my times (especially in short races-- I can't mentally wrap my mind around the fact that just cause it is 3 miles you can't run it 1 or 2 minutes per mile faster.  I think I should be able to but (alas) I cannot) Over time I just stopped running the short races. They make me unhappy with my times so why do them is my theory J
So many people fall victim in running to comparing themselves to other runners. What impact do you think these comparing games have upon both individuals runners and running groups? What can you do to keep yourself from getting pulled into the comparison trap?
I think the comparison game can be destructive mentally.  If you are always comparing yourself then you will never be happy or satisfied with what you have done. If I knew how to prevent it I would tell you. I honestly don’t have any answer for that. It might just be as simple as you have to want to do something to make a change.  If something is not making you happy then you have to change it. 
Is comparing yourself to others something you have struggled with personally in your own training? If so, when did you develop an awareness of it, and what steps have you taken develop a different and healthier relationship to competition and to runners of a different ability level than yourself?
Have I struggled with comparison? Yes. Do I still do it? Yes. I have been aware of it most of my life--it is just part of my personality. To where I am extremely competitive I am also able to keep it somewhat under control.  For me I just don’t enter short distance races. I suck at them and I have never been happy with how I do in them.  For me I am happier running a longer distance, and even though I still compare myself to others it doesn’t affect me to  know I got beat by an hour during a half marathon.  I don’t know if just completing the longer distances is enough of a physical challenge to keep myself content or what.
How do you feel about where you are at with your running and training right now?
I am pretty happy with my running right now. I am running longer and farther then ever, and have done two of the hardest races I have ever done this year. I felt great at the Orcas Island 25k. I felt accomplished for just doing that race. Other then when I completed my first half marathon, I haven’t had that feeling before. This last weekend at Whidbey I had a mental breakdown during that race. While I am still not happy about the course I still look at it and say, "Hey, I completed that!"  I like the challenge of the trail courses.  I am a glutton for punishment J  Am I trail runner only? Nope.  I still like the roads because it makes me feel faster :p

Watch Out For Kelly!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Q & A With Aimee Decker Allen

Do you see that adorable woman in the picture above? That's Aimee Decker Allen. This Sunday, Aimee ran and completed her first trail half marathon on Whidbey Island. Yay Aimee! We first met Aimee this past fall at the Saturday morning training group. Pretty instantly, she was a part of our running family. In addition to being a fantastic trail running companion, she is a Montessori teacher, a writer, a blogger, a baker of no-bake cookies, mom to two amazing kids, and so much more! She is a fairly hilarious person. Her refreshing honesty combined with her wit and self-deprecating humor make her a joy to be around in any situation. Aimee was kind enough to volunteer herself to be the first to answer the "competition" questions. 

1) What do you think makes a running community feel safe and supportive? 

The leadership makes a huge difference. Whether it is a group with a trained coach or it is just a group of friends, someone (or a few people) will set the tone for the group. Hopefully the leader or leaders will send a clear message to its members about the culture of the group. We are welcoming, we are valuable and we are all here because our health is important to us.  It’s also important to take into consideration personal well being, emotional state, experiences, etc. rather than just the physical act of running. If the culture of the group is to interact, share and recognize each other’s value in the community, it’s bound to be a safe and successful group.

2) How would you define "healthy" versus "unhealthy" competition? 

It is like anything else with healthy/unhealthy- if it makes you feel bad, if it’s all you think about, if it takes away from the fun, if no one wants to play with you anymore-then you’ve probably gone too far. Everyone has their own meter, though. One person’s healthy workout schedule is another person’s obsession.

3) In what ways do you see unhealthy competition manifesting itself in running groups and running communities? Do you believe it's possible for athletes of all ability levels to be able to do a workout at the same time... and for all to walk away feeling good about themselves? What does it take for this to happen? 

When people tell stories, just little anecdotes even, about other people’s failures, it makes me uncomfortable. I am also turned off when people make blanket statements about time or distance. For instance if someone says, “Oh my friend so and so is really slow. She is built like a runner, but she can only run a twelve minute mile.” Or “I don’t bother to run two or three miles any more, if I can’t get at least five in, it’s not worth it to me.” I feel like these are thinly veiled ways of saying, “If you can’t run faster than a twelve minute mile or further than five miles, you aren’t valued here.” These little things are really the things I have to be careful not to internalize. Just because someone says it, it’s not something I need to measure myself against. I do think that it is possible for all abilities to do a workout at the same time, but only if the safe and welcoming community is in place. How many of us stay away from the gym because it just oozes the spirit of unhealthy competition? I know I do.

4) Is unhealthy competition something you have struggled with yourself? How did this manifest itself in your life and in your training and in actual competitions? What impact did it have on your relationship with others and with yourself? 

I am not being self-deprecating nor am I exaggerating when I say I am one of the most unathletic people I know. However, I was given an amazing gift in my childhood and that was a lack of self awareness- at least as far as my (lack of) physical prowess went. I always had a great imagination and a great ability to make friends and be a friend. I think because I was so well liked I escaped a lot of teasing that many people with my lack of coordination would not have avoided. I was always picked last in gym class, but I didn’t care too much because no one made me feel bad about it.

When I hit puberty things went a little awry. Now suddenly, it seemed like all my friends and I ever talked about was what we didn’t like about our looks and our bodies. I had a lot of boy friends (as opposed to boyfriends) and I would listen to them talk about the pretty girls and realize I wasn’t even on their (the boys) radar. I also watched way too many TV shows, movies and so on that helped to develop my confusion over what it is like to be valued as a woman. Even now, I occasionally find myself wishing for the same things I wished for at 14-bigger boobs, thinner thighs, a prettier face etc. The only reason it has yet to become an unhealthy obsession is that I am loved for who I am by so many, and I am educated on how detrimental these thoughts can become. Sometimes I hear those damn SonoBello commercials on the radio and think Ooh I should go in and get some boobs or get my thighs sucked or whatever my thought is that day. Then I think “how would I explain that to my son or daughter. What message would that send them about girls and women?”

As far as running goes, I can get down on myself, as you know, but it happens most often when I allow myself to fall into the trap of judging myself based on the performance of others. (see below)

5) So many folks (and I am no exception) fall victim in running as in life to comparing themselves to other runners. What impact do you think these comparing games have upon both individuals runners and running groups? How do you go about helping the kids you teach to not get pulled into the comparison trap? 

I definitely fall into this trap. I can’t help it. I understand that there is physiology, time and training, lifestyle, genetics and other factors that determine how fast and far we run. Still, I have my moments, sometimes many moments, when I wish I could run faster. I find it especially unnerving when someone just starting out can run faster than me. It’s like “I’ve put in more time and effort and look at her!” I’m not sure why the distance bothers me less than the speed, but when someone says they have run 100 miles I think it’s cool, but I have no desire to do the same.  I think it’s also important to note that I never compare myself to the men. It never even crosses my mind to be jealous or envious.

I do have to say that if you are part of my running circle or one of my running partners, I will always be happy for you when you have a good race or set a PR. I don’t feel the same kind of jealousy when I watch where someone starts and see their effort and where they end up. It’s the people on Facebook, or the acquaintances from races or the community. If I see the same character at a race and once upon a time she was running in my pace group and now she is doing a half in 1:45, I get really jealous. I also have fewer feelings of warmth and camaraderie for arrogant people. I think sometimes it’s just about the person.

 Also, I run with my coworker at least once a week. She is really fast and I do wish I could keep up with her. I sometimes feel like she is taking pity on me, it’s my tempo run at a 9:00/9:15 minute mile and it’s her easy run. I need to remind myself that on those days she’s in it for my funny stories and my company, not the pace. And she’s still sweaty when it’s all done, so it must be a workout. Still there are the days when I feel like I am not worthy of her time. That’s all about me, though, and not about her.

As far as the young girls who I run with, I think that is an easy one. First of all, they know me as a teacher and are either current students or are a little older and are former students. They know that my philosophy in everything, not just running, is that everyone has things that they are naturally good at and things they need to work on. We talk about it in class A LOT. I’ve also been able to share with my students my love for how the brain works, and as I get more knowledge I am able to articulate things better. I use the rubber band analogy which was created by JoAnn Deak. In a nutshell everyone is born with a set of rubber bands of various sizes. While I might have a large rubber band for language, my rubber band for kinesthetic movement, like skiing is small. I can stretch my already large rubber band for language without much effort. My rubber band for skiing can be stretched too, but it takes more effort. The harder I try, the easier it is to stretch. (I also have a great hiking analogy for this brain stuff…I can share it some time). Bottom line with all my students is that we value each other’s strengths and respect each other’s challenges. When we see we can use our strengths to help someone’s challenges we go for it!

Also, I tell the girls a lot of stories when we run. It’s always been a great distraction technique for me as a runner and it seems to work great for the girls as well. Finally, I pick an “issue” to focus on in each running class (similar to what Molly Barker does in Girls on the Run) and we chat about it, I try to use my own personal stories and mistakes to enhance these chats.

6) Is comparing yourself to others something you have struggled with personally in your own training and life? If so, when did you develop an awareness of it, and what steps have you taken develop a different and healthier relationship to competition and to runners of a different ability level than yourself? 

I have high expectations of myself in life, in general. In many areas I am not a perfectionist, but in people matters I am. I don’t want to be a good mother; I want to be the best mother. I don’t want to be a good teacher; I want to be the best teacher. I don’t want to be a good wife, a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend (etc. etc.) I want to be the best. I don’t want to fail at these things, especially. I feel like these areas are my strengths, but sometimes I feel like they are my biggest challenges. I know that there are some people who respect me so much in the particular areas and I don’t want to let them down.

Similarly, as a runner, I have many people who look to me for inspiration and I don’t want to let them down. I feel like they have an image of me in their minds as a fit and fast runner. I don’t want to disappoint them. Every time I go back to Boston my friend Jenn and I talk about doing a run and then I do what I can to sabotage our plans. Jenn’s beautiful, fit and totally dedicated to the run. I avoided running with her for years, but finally gave in three visits ago. I was so nervous to run with this girl who has been my friend since childhood-this girl who knows all my secrets and has seen me through good and bad- because I didn’t want her to think less of me when she saw how slow I was. Of course we had a great run and we laughed so hard I had to keep stopping from fear of peeing my pants. I run with her every time I go back now-it’s one of my highlights.

I have no idea if I answered your question here, but I think I compete with my imagined expectations that others have for me. I don’t think my competition is based in reality. It doesn’t happen to me every time; it just sneaks up on me. Putting it into perspective and getting a grasp on it is my personal work, I know this.

7) As you ramp up your training, what will you do different this time, both physically and mentally? And what makes a workout or a race feel like a success to you? If a race or workout doesn't go the way you were hoping, how can you put this into a healthy perspective?  

I will continue to work on consistency and education. I used to read about running like crazy, but I burnt out on it. I think I am interested again. I also noticed I was becoming a weekend warrior and I didn’t like it, so I found a way to make myself accountable by joining your groups and starting my Miles of Motivation Club.

When a race doesn’t go my way I just air my grievances and look immediately for the good. I always try to look on the bright side. I can’t walk away from an event in my life and totally write it off as a failure. It never is. There are always lessons to learn. Even when I was down and out yesterday at Ebey, I was trying hard to climb out of my pity party and find the good. (I have a large rubber band for optimism).

8) As runners we often have time goals. Do you have time goals for yourself? Do you use these time goals in a healthy way, or do you use them to validate your sense of self worth? Why does running a certain time matter to you as an athlete? What are you deciding about yourself based upon the times you run?
 I don’t know why time matters to me!! I wish I knew. It’s funny because my Miles of Motivation page for me is all about getting out there and inspiring others to get out there. I’m excited for everyone whether their goal is 6 miles or 160 miles.  However, I find that sometimes when a member writes about his/her time, I get a little bristly, thinking “that’s not what this page is for.” Then I remember that they are using the page for their own growth. They are not putting the times up there to make me feel slow, I am doing that to myself. This whole internal dialogue takes place in a flash. It doesn’t take long before I get over myself and feel happy for them that they are finding their own success.

 I do wonder why I care about time so much. I might need to investigate that further. Having said all that I still want to try to get a little faster, so please don’t put me on watch restriction. ;)

For more of Aimee's wit and observations, please check out her own blog at