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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dirty Dude Essay: Benjamin Bugenig

Two Dirty Dudes: Benjamin and Skippy Bujenig
Meet Benjamin Bugenig, one of my 5K/10K students, and an all around great guy. He also happens to the son of our Skippy Bugenig (one very Dirty Dude!) Ben has a quiet humility about him that I find very refreshing. He's also a very principled person, which shows up in his thoughtful comments, the way he encourages others, and the way he listens with so much compassion. In addition to being a runner, Ben is also a writer. Though this old soul is only just in his mid-twenties, he has already written TWO novels! The relationship between father and son fascinates me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they are indeed two people. When they are together, while you see them double, it's kind of like seeing one thing manifested into two as happens when your eyes are crossed or when you've had too much to drink. Benjamin explores his relationship with his father in the essay below. Well done, Ben. Well done, Skippy.


It was last Spring when my dad bought me my first running shoes; a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12's, blue. I mentioned to him that I wanted to start running and that I had even tried to run in my Vans, which I failed at, miserably. I only went a little over a third of a mile before I felt like I was going to collapse. I wasn't pacing myself. I was wearing the worst shoes for running. I started by going up a hill. I was completely unprepared. I told him that not only did I need a pair of my own shoes so I could get better at running, but if he did buy them for me, I would feel a bit more obligated to start running on a consistent basis. I knew I needed to get into shape and I had so much down time during the day that I needed something else to keep me busy. My confidence was also lacking and I needed something to boost me up on an emotional level too.

Most of my family hasn't been known for their physical prowess. Nobody was ever great at sports or succeeded in any athletic arena, and we've definitely never been very competitive. The most I had ever done was recreational sports in elementary school and camping trips with the Boy Scouts, and even then I never felt completely comfortable or successful with those things. Seeing my father excel as well as he has with his time running has been a big eye opener for me. It's showed me that I can actually do what he's doing and maybe even do better if I push myself hard enough. I used to think that running was only for a specific type of person, but the more I do it, the more I realize that any one can, but it's all about finding your comfort zone and stemming off from that.

The first time I went running after I got my own running shoes, I ran until I felt myself starting to strain, and then I walked until I felt ready to pick up the pace again. I continued to do this until I finished my first 3 miles. I did this routine a few more days, and after a little while I was able to run a steady pace where I didn't feel like I needed to stop. Well, I wanted to stop, but my urge to keep going seemed to have been greater. Now the 3 mile route isn't as hard as it used to be. It felt good knowing I was doing betterand improving, something I wasn't used to. I eventually found a route that was 5 miles and I was able to complete that just as well, it was still tough on me, but I could do it.

Even after my dad bought me the shoes, he continued to be a big help; not just with his inspiring activities, but with his advice as well. He was telling me things that I wasn't even thinking about. He probably didn't notice it at first and he might not even notice it now, but he's my coach. He tells me what I may be doing wrong or what I need to do to get better. He told me to concentrate on my breathing, listen to the cadence of the way my feet fall, start slowly up hills and push harder once you get to the top. I used these bits of knowledge like weapons in my arsenal that I could use along my trails, and they've definitely helped.

I think ignorance is what keeps a lot of people from either starting a running hobby or continuing one. I'm sure there's plenty of people who've just assumed that they weren't good at it and decided that it just wasn't for them, but never understood that they were just going about things the wrong way. The same could be said for many other hobbies or even career choices, but I'll stick with the subject of running for now. Doing research is a smart thing to do with any hobby and the best way to get that knowledge is straight from an experienced person.

Most people run out of necessity or survival, some people run out of pure excitement because they want to get something as quickly as possible, while others do so because they're just running out of time. It comes as a surprise to most people when I tell them that my dad and I run for "fun." And it is fun. The more I do it and the more comfortable with my body I become, the more exciting it is, especially with trail running. I consider myself to be a full fledged nerd so I tend to plant myself in a slightly fantastical setting when I run through trails. Sometimes I imagine myself running from a vile beast, frothing at the mouth, while other times I like to think I'm hunting down a rotten enemy. This thought process then leads to my real passion, which is writing. There have been many times where my mind wanders as I set into my second mile, and I start thinking of plot devices and expanding the back stories of characters. There's something meditative about running, especially once you find yourself at a comfortable pace. Not only do you stop thinking about how exhausted or tired you feel, but you get your head together at the same time. Same could be said for running with a partner; having someone you can talk to can be a nice distraction but also helpful for you.

These are the things I try to tell people when they give me that narrow eyed look when I tell them that I run. I do my best to not sound like I'm preaching some gospel or even persuading them to start doing it themselves, my only goal is to educate and give just enough insight to peak someone's curiosity. If that curiosity leads to an interest, and that interest leads to action, then I feel like I've done some good. The best way for me to pass on the inspiration my dad gave me is to inspire someone else. I still consider myself a beginner, I've yet to run a half marathon or even a 10K, but I've only been running for about a year now and I want to take my time instead of over exerting myself. The world would be a healthier place if everyone ran just a little every day, people might even be happier, possibly even motivated to get more things done, I know I have.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Essay Consequence: Karen Grear

Meet Karen Grear. She's the one in the blue shirt and funny hat with the big smile on her face. Why is she smiling? Because she's running the Green Mountain Grinch, and feeling dang proud of herself (as she should). I can tell you this about Karen. No student of mine has EVER had a worse first class than Karen. This is a woman who in spite of having the stomach flu was DETERMINED to do a hard hill repeat in McCormick Forest. Can you say stubborn? Karen's determination has served her well, however. As a runners, and as a newer runner she has the added challenge of having Type 1 Diabetes. Learning how and when to eat so as not to experience a Diabetic Low has been a challenge of mind, body, and spirit. That said, she's running stronger than I've ever seen her run (even though she has yet to see this about herself). 

 “Why I Feel ‘Blah’ About My Running, and What I Can Do About It”

Let me begin this essay by stating two facts. First fact:  I am a science major.  I wrote a minimal number of essays in college. Another fact: college was a LONG time ago. With those facts in mind, here we go: 

Let me begin with a little history.  In elementary school and junior high, I played some sports.  Cross country and track were not among them.  I have vivid memories of ninth grade.  We had to run.  I did not perform well.  This is NOT putting myself down…this is a fact.  My teacher would move me to slower and slower time groups.  I still struggled to keep up, even with girls who were, evidently, in even worse shape than I was.  (Mind: I was little and petite and healthy in school…could do whatever else, just not run for any length of time).  In high school, I joined the drill team, which thankfully counted for my PE credits.  J  So happy.  Even my mother, who never let us “slack” on ANYthing, let me avoid any form of running.  So, with all this as background, I have always assumed that I “could not” run.  Just plain, simple, fact. And, sometimes continue to think.

Over the years, I have done all different kinds of exercise; walking, some biking, water aerobics,  normal gym stuff, Zumba.  I enjoyed them, but always lost my motivation, got bored and quit.  I have secretly (very secretly) wished I could just walk out my front door and go for a run.  I saw races advertised, and friends running them, and secretly (very secretly) wished I could do that.  OK, I admit…partially because runners are generally fit, thin, healthy-looking  people.  And, I have a desire to be a fit, thin, healthy-looking person.  I will just admit that now.  J

Six years ago (almost seven now) I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. With that, I received a whole new lifestyle of insulin dependence, constant contemplation of blood sugar levels and carbohydrate counting.  Now, being a health care professional, I am WELL aware of the complications that come with diabetes (and they are legion).  I am also well aware that I have the power to avoid, or at least delay, the onset of these complications, by watching my diet, taking my insulin, staying fit, and exercising. 

All that said, a year or so ago, my husband started running with Alexa and some of her groups.  He was having fun and losing weight, and had met all these great people.  I admit, I was a bit jealous.  I am usually the more social of the two of us.  He kept (gently) encouraging me to come and meet everyone and try it out.  He told me that the women weren’t mean (a valid concern, on my part…some women are just scary) and that they were really supportive and non-judgmental.  Humph.  I decided to see for myself. 

So, I started at Alexa’s Wednesday night 5K class.  And, it hurt.  And, it felt awful.  It was NOT fun.  But, secretly (very secretly) I was kind of proud of myself.  I was running…not far, not fast, but I was running.  Farther than I ever had.  My diabetes reared its ugly head multiple times, and honestly, scared me a couple of times.  My feet would start to feel heavy, and I think, okay, I am tired.  Logical.  Then, I walk to rest and realize that I can’t walk straight, and am weaving a bit and shuffling my feet.  Like I am intoxicated.  Lame.  Apparently, running lowers my blood sugar dramatically. Control freak that I am, I was determined to find the exact formula that would make my levels stay under control while exercising.  This did not happen. 

Then fall came.  Daylight savings time ended.  It was dark.  I bought a headlamp, and more layers of clothing, but I was hesitant.  I just wasn’t sure about all of this.  My couch looked SO cozy and inviting.  Fireplace…warmth.  Running…cold (at least to start).  So, I kept coming to Wednesday nights, did the Turkey Trot, and the Green Mountain Grinch (yes, of course, I was naughty).  BUT…I was not running during the week.  After the Grinch came the holidays…and I was busy.  And I didn’t run for about a month.  And, I ate…and not like a good diabetic.   

Well, then I was just downright afraid to start again.  My usual self talk told me that I had lost all progress I had made.  Suddenly, I could only remember the icky parts of running.  All I could remember is that I “still can’t run an entire 5K without walking”.   In short, I am in the midst of the “blahs”.  This is my current status. 

What can I do about it?  Well, I can re-read the anonymous essay (see blog entry below) about positive self talk.  I can fill my mind with positive, strengthening things to meditate on, rather than icky, negative things.  It is getting lighter in the evenings, and honestly, the idea of going running after work seems slightly more interesting.  I know the light is lasting longer…soon it will be getting warmer.  I can continue to sign up for Alexa’s Wednesday night classes, and keep coming. I can continue to learn about my diabetes and accept the fact that there is no magic formula.  It is (and will continue to be) different every day.  And, when I do have to not run, or walk back, or sometimes stagger back, a bit like a drunk, because my blood sugars have plummeted, I will work on just accepting that as part of the deal and not viewing it as a personal failure. I can continue to attend Kris’s Thursday night Pilates class at the store, and strengthen my core.  And, I can set some goals and do my best to meet them.  Or, possibly even surpass them.  J  Then, maybe I can be proud of myself for running, and it won’t even be a secret.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Another Great Student Essay

The author of this essay assignment has asked to remain anonymous, and I will respect her wishes, but first I must tell you that this person is an absolute light, and her calmness, her openness, her kindness, and her running efforts inspire me more than she will ever know. She is teaching me how to be a better person and coach. Read on and learn from her soul searching and honesty! Great writing!

Essay On Consistent Running & Overcoming Negative Self Talk

Alexa assigned me an essay on "How to achieve consistent running and how to overcome negative self talk.” I know this is her sneaky trick to help me overcome my obstacles. My first thought is FEAR, although I don’t show it. My second thought is fear of what? If I knew, I would probably be a positive, self-talking, consistent runner and I wouldn't be stuck writing this essay. My third thought is how do I get out of this assignment? I need to come up with an excuse, but I can’t tell her I'm scared and afraid. Come on, this is scary stuff and the excuse is true. I finally came to the conclusion that an excuse is not an option because excuses got me into this mess. I decided to explore the question, work it through, and be mad at Alexa for giving me this assignment. She's lucky I probably won't see her again until it's due or I may just give her the evil eye.

To write this essay, I have to explore my second thought. Fear of what? For me it's change, failure, control, lack of motivation and getting rid of excuses that keep me from overcoming all of the above. Boy, I'm a mess. Now I'm really mad at Alexa for giving me this assignment because now that I know, I have to do something about it.

So, here it goes. I have been running inconsistently since January 2012 when I joined my first 5K group through Route 16. I have ran/walked two 5Ks. At the time I was not proud of myself because I had to walk part of the courses, even though three months earlier I could barely run the distance between two telephone poles. Fast forward a year and I am proud of how far I've come, but consistent running and negative self-talk are still obstacles.

I enjoy how I feel after a run, not so much during, so what's the problem? I am a creature of habit, so consistent running is an unfamiliar change and it takes me out of my comfort zone. If I set a goal I could fail and then I wouldn't be perfect. I do know I'm not perfect and that really bugs me. I would have to find motivation to consistently run and that seems like a whole lot of work, so why even go there? Excuses are an easy option to stay in my comfort zone and boy do I have a lot of them. If only I could use that energy toward consistent running and positive self talk, but easier said then done. My husband is always telling me that I'm an athlete and a moose. He asks why I don't believe that about myself. I do have to explain, my husband’s use of "moose" is his way of telling me I'm physically and mentally strong while teasing me in a loving way. I just love that man. I started Pilates sessions about four months ago and Kris Tebb has told me, "You are really getting strong" and "This is how I train my athletes". Wow, what a compliment! Why don't I see that in myself?

Now the hard part, how do I change? To become a consistent runner and positive self- talker, I need to venture out into the unknown, throw away the excuses and get motivated to change by adapting a new mind set. These are going to be my "I will" affirmations.

I will set small goals to overcome my obstacles and celebrate each one on my way. If two days a week is my consistent running right now, I will embrace that and be proud, accepting it as ok and not a failure. I will let go of the control to be perfect by thinking I should be running further and faster by now. I will accept I'm not perfect and know it's ok. I will remember that a year ago I wasn't a runner and look at me now. This is where I am today, but not where I will be in the future because my next goal is to run three days a week and so on. Not being able to find someone who runs at my pace will not longer be a viable excuse. I will find a find a running partner(s) for the camaraderie, accountability and friendship they foster. I have lacked the self-confidence to join the Dirty Girls on Friday morning because I ask myself, "what if I can't keep up with the runners?” This is just another excuse fueled by the fear of failure, even though I know all the ladies are wonderful and would never think that of me. Do the Dirty Girls have a "kind pace" group? I will reshape my self- talk. My mind believes whatever I tell it, so I might as well make it positive.

The bottom line is I will make this change because I'm worth it. I do appreciate and feel blessed by the encouragement I am receiving along the way from all of the wonderful people in my life. I have to add, I probably would have given up if I didn't have such an inspirational coach putting positive messages of encouragement in my thoughts throughout out the year.

Thank you Alexa for this assignment. It was challenging to write, but very cleansing. I am a work in progress.

Also, I'm not mad at you anymore.

The Essay Consequence

So recently (by accident actually) I've added a new element to my training classes: The Student Essay. First, let me explain myself. Several weeks ago, four of my very favorite runners were assigned a "Comfortably Hard" Tempo Workout. Off they went. Sadly, however, there was a ringleader amongst them who got "off task" and set a cruel and inappropriate pace for the rest. The result of this pace was that three out of four of my students came back having caved to the peer pressure of "the fast guy" and ran themselves to the ground despite the fact that they all know better than to try to keep up with another's pace. As a joke (and worried about their running health) I told my students I was giving them an "essay consequence" and that they were to explain the difference between a "comfortably hard" pace and an "uncomfortably sustainable" pace and how these terms applied to their training. I never expected them to follow through with the assignment, but, to my surprise and delight three of the four troublemakers turned in their essays the following week. And they were great. Funny. Insightful. By delving deeper into the topic, my students learned the terms in a very firsthand way and have been able to apply their words to their training. FYI the ringleader will be writing a different essay, which I will post at a different date! Oh, and I should mention that the three students below are all adults. In case you were wondering...

Essay Number One: By Kelly Alsin

Comfortably Hard vs Uncomfortably Sustainable

Oh the joys of running and not listening to your coach.  One should listen to their coach or you to might get to write an amazing essay on the difference between Comfortably Hard versus Uncomfortably Sustainable. I will restate that I remember saying "I don’t really know the difference and I just run at 9:40 pace all the time." 

What is the difference between Comfortably Hard and Uncomfortably Sustainable?  I think to find those you have to know what an easy pace is for you.  I think part of my problem is that my easy and comfortably hard are one.  When I am scheduled for an easy run my times are very similar to my Comfortably Hard pace.  This pace is sustainable for a long period of time for me and doesn’t require a huge amount of fuel while running (couple hundred calories for an hr and half to 2 hrs).  Now what pace is it considered I don’t know.

Uncomfortably Sustainable does not mean hands on my knees gasping saying I am dying (or at least I am pretty sure it doesn’t).  I have been told that Uncomfortably Sustainable is a pace that one should be able to do for short mileage, like a 5k or the last couple miles of a half marathon.  I do know that if you get into this pace too early you will regret it and will get to watch all the people pass you a mile before the finish line.  At this point the race has turned into just surviving it.  When I get into a pace within this category I personally run out of fuel quickly and no matter what I do I can not come back from it during the run. 

The easiest way for me to tell that I have run to fast for a workout is the next day when I wake up and go "crap I have to run today" and then hope the schedule says 3 miles and not more.  

Essay Number Two: By Lori Lynch

 We are being punished for running at an uncomfortable pace and need to define Comfortably hard and Uncomfortably sustainable. Uncomfortably sustainable is a pace that you would run for a  short distance.  A pace where you're breathing hard,  feeling like you may pass out, and definitely not talking. This pace is normally ran at Momentum Mondays class.
Comfortably hard is a pace that  is for longer runs.  A pace that you may chit-chat now and then. But if you want to  beat your opponent  ask questions so that they will answer and waste their oxygen making them run at a kinder pace while you still maintain a comfortably hard pace.

Essay Number Three: Pain Versus Torture By David Grear

The title of this missive would seem to indicate an external locus of control with regard to running effort.  It would appear that I will argue that pain is the feeling one experiences when running at a pace described as “comfortably hard”, and torture is what one would describe feeling during a run at “uncomfortably sustainable” pace. In actuality, what I have learned over the last year of training is that so much of my running experience is controlled within my own brain.  It’s in my desire, the way I talk to myself, the knowledge I have gained, the many times I have met a goal, the adversity I have overcome, and the sense of belonging I’ve developed running with like minded people who care about my progress and strive for the same peace running brings to so many.  In that light, pain can only be temporary and torture impossible so why, pray tell, choose a title that is sure to raise the eyebrows of both my coach and fellow runners?

 The reason is that the threshold between pain and torture lies with the messages we start getting from our brains.  Pain is uncomfortable, it hurts, and it’s annoying.  It’s also manageable.  A comfortably hard pace is all of those things as well.  Our mind readily tells us at this pace that we can manage this, it’s temporary, and we are getting stronger through this effort.  That type of self talk allows us to hold this pace and even grow to enjoy the effort. 

Torture is pain inflicted upon us with no way to end it.  In this state desperation and despair follow.  Eventually the mind and body shut down.  What leads to this shutdown is again the message from our brain that this situation is not temporary, cannot be managed, and is making us weaker.  Now, an uncomfortably sustainable pace doesn’t share those traits with torture, however, our mind says the same things to us at this pace.

Knowing how we talk to ourselves differently at these two paces is vital to our training for a number of reasons.  For one, if we know this we can listen to our thoughts and assess our pace without any other external information such as pacers, or maybe even fancy GPS enabled watches designed to aid the tech minded runner in his or her pursuit of greatness.  So, if tasked to run a workout at a comfortably hard pace, we can simply make listening to our thoughts a normal part of the bio-mechanical scan.  If our thoughts are telling us we are working hard but it’s a good thing, we are at the pace.  If our thoughts are about lunch following the run, we may need to pick it up a bit.  If we are convinced that our legs are about to break and we really have to stop for our own good, it’s time to bring it back.

It’s also important to note that our thoughts at uncomfortably sustainable, while very pessimistic are also largely incorrect!  The human body on its own is capable of amazing feats.  In fact the human body left unchecked will destroy itself in effort.  The brain engages to protect the body and that is generally a good thing.  The mind wants to preserve the body so sends messages in the form of thoughts to stop what it perceives as dangerous activity with plenty of cushion to avoid permanent injury.  For athletic endeavors this safety valve of the mind serves to limit our achievement.  The athlete has to train his mind as well as his body.  In the same way we learn to discern “normal” aches and pains from injury, we must learn to override our brains’ natural tendency to keep us safe from harm and danger. So when we are tasked with pushing into the uncomfortably sustainable realm, it is vital to listen for the messages from our minds telling us to stop.We need to hear them so we can recognize that we are at our desired effort level, and then suppress them so we can push through and reach the goal.  As we train in this way and learn our bodies and minds better, the threshold between comfortably hard and uncomfortably sustainable will tend to move toward quicker paces and new PR’s.