Wednesday, January 21, 2015

grounded

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.


Five days after signing up to officially run my first marathon, I had a rude awakening. Simply put, I had a bad run. It does happen, albeit rarely. But it hadn't happened to me in a very long time. So long so that I had forgotten how frustrating a bad run can make me feel.

This particular run started the same as all the others. I left work a few hours early to be able to get in a mid-length mid-week run before the sun went down. The weather had been cold for months and the sun still set before 5pm. If I was going to run nine miles (for approximately 90 minutes), I'd have to set out no later than 3:30pm to beat the sunset. It was definitely doable.


A late afternoon run around the lake

I prepared to run the same as always; I taped up my toes (covering my blisters), set up my iPod, and drank a good amount of water. I had just hit the ground running, when boom, the problems started exploding from every direction. First, my running capris were too loose. And I really had to pee. Then my prescription sunglasses wouldn't stay on. And my headband wasn't tight enough. And then my knee brace wasn't tight enough either. And one of my running earbuds broke off. What was going on?

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my asthma flared up. I had used my inhaler before the run, as I always do. Yet there I was, less than 10 minutes into a 90 minute run and I couldn't breathe. If you have ever felt short of breath, it's awful. Imaging trying to run through the shooting side pain that then ensues. In case you're trying to imagine this scenario, let me just tell you that you can't run through this pain. You have to walk until the pain subsides (usually helped along for me with copious amounts of cold water and more use of the inhaler).

Things were going terribly. I kept thinking about the shortest distance to my car, where I could hop in, drive home, and wash away the horrible terrible run. After first finding the nearest bathroom, of course. But instead of running away (literally), I took the time to ask myself the following: Was it really worth just giving up completely? Or could I possibly find a silver lining somewhere in this crappy, painful Wednesday afternoon run? 

Immediately, I knew there were several lessons to be learned. So I first focused on the physical issues, the things right in front of me that I could control. I focused on breathing until the asthma was under control. Then, as quickly as possible, I ran to the nearest restroom, only one mile away. I wedged the broken ear-bud into my ear, and rolled over my pants so they became tighter. I pulled up my knee brace. Now I was getting somewhere.

Then I decided to focus on the things a little more out of my control. I started to think about what I could accomplish that afternoon, using the opportunity to test myself; to see how fast I could run one mile. Because the need to complete all nine miles was clearly a thing of the past. I also took the time to look around; it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon on the lake.



Having a bad run wasn't fun. I wouldn't call it a positive experience. Instead, it was humiliating, tough, and, most importantly, humbling. It put me in my place. For the past six months I had been slowly moving forward. What started as 8 miles soon turned into 13, then 16, then 18 and finally 20. It led me to believe I could and would run a complete marathon. 

But this bad run didn't deter me. A bad run can't stop me and doesn't set me back. A bad run grounds me; it reminds me that am human and I am allowed to have a bad day. I am allowed to take a rest and yet still be prepared. And the problems I encounter on a bad run only further prepare me for race day. 

This mid-week no pressure run was not an integral part of my training plan. It wasn't one of my precious weekly long runs. I've never had a bad long run (except that one way too hot morning in Mexico). In fact, I've enjoyed every single long run. There have been over 16 of them. And they've been nothing short of awesome; even the ones where all I could think about for miles was just putting one foot in front of the other and heaving myself to cover a new, longer distance.

Long runs have gotten me to the point where I could say it out loud: that I'm training for a marathon. They have been the crux of my training. But I can't forget about all the little runs in between. All the sprints on the treadmill. All the jogs through the snow in 30 degree winter. All the evening runs with only a flashlight. And every day at the gym in between. Because running is nothing, if not fun. 

Except on a bad day; a day that running has kicked my ass. But a bad day doesn't defeat me. It never will. Because I have already won. I have already run for longer than I ever thought possible. I have not only run 20 miles, but I have loved (almost) every mile of it. To a runner, this is a definite win.


Not too easy to find a running path in a city that's only 7x7

As a follow up, I'd like to mention that two days after this particularly bad run, I went out and ran the nine miles I had originally planned to complete. It went well. Then two days after that run, I went out and ran 22 miles. My longest run ever and my last marathon training long run. The pressure was on and all I can say is the run just felt awesome.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

commitment

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
-John Bingham

Some days I feel completely committed to my marathon training plan. Other days I feel I've committed a grave mistake. Only on race day will I know how it will all turn out. Because I've made a commitment; to run the Surf City Marathon on February 1, 2015. It'll be my first marathon. But it might also be my last.

I started running exactly seven years ago. Most people don't have a life changing story; a day when they made a conscious decision to commit to running. But I'm not most people. And I have a story. It all starts with a conversation with my very sick brother in late August 2007.


My big brother and me enjoying lunch at Hot Dougs, 2006

In the middle of a typical daily phone conversation, a nearly wheelchair-bound Dave blurted out "if I had your legs, I'd run." I responded with a barely audible "okay," figuring I'd just shrug the comment off. Instead, at that exact moment, my running career began. A runner was born. After a few initial runs (I'd never run over 5 miles in my entire life) I signed up for the first race of my life; a half-marathon. Then I committed to a running plan. And most importantly, I kept to it.

Six months later, Dave and I had one final chat. It was January 25, 2008 and I remember the evening perfectly. I didn't know it at the time, but that particular Friday night conversation would be our last. With my mom holding the phone to Dave's ear, he asked me how I did in my race. I told him I hadn't run it yet. It was coming up the following Sunday. I was nervous, but I was also prepared. We then went on to talk about other trivial things, like baking cupcakes and turkey sandwiches. Later that night, Dave went to sleep and never woke up. I spent the week grieving with my family. But I was still in half-marathon training mode and because it was winter in Chicago, I had to run a little every morning at a nearby indoor track. But I knew Dave would understand.

One week later, on February 3, 2008, I completed my first half-marathon. Then I sat down with friends and watched the Super Bowl. I don't remember anything about the game. I do remember being so proud of my accomplishment, despite my completely broken heart.


I've run too many races to count over the years. 
Including my first, the Kaiser San Francisco Half-Marathon

But those events didn't turn me off to running. On the contrary, I knew I'd continue to run. I knew I'd have many more 13.1 mile races. And I have. But what I never could have known at the time was that I would eventually commit to running a marathon. That wasn't even in my wheelhouse as any kind of possibility. It wasn't an idea I ever passed around, not to others, not even inside my own head.

Then one day I committed myself to running 26.2 miles. And I was going to do it in front of my friends, family, and a ton of total strangers. All that was left was to actually say the words out loud, find a training plan, and think of a good marathon that was 24 weeks away. Easier said than done. Until I found the Surf City Marathon on February 1.

Seven years into my running career, I have come full circle. On the exact date of my very first race, I'll run my most ambitious. It's been a long journey. Running has always been tough for me. My feet are covered in blisters. I've had to sneak out of the office numerous times to head out on a run before the sun went down. I've cancelled plans too many times to count, given up alcohol, and spent countless hours on amazon shopping for gels, compression socks, water bottles, athletic tape, running shorts, and more. 



But I'm committed to running this race. I'm moderately scared, a little bit obsessed, and probably totally crazy. But I'm also incredibly determined. And strong. I can't remember ever being this strong, both mentally and physically. For the past five months I've gotten in to the habit of going out, spending hours pushing myself through every kind of pain, and convincing myself to do it all over again in a few days. This marathon training plan has forced me to muster up every bit of patience, fortitude, courage and commitment I never knew I had.

I never set out to run a marathon on my race day anniversary. I never meant to put so much importance on a specific time period (the week leading up to the Super Bowl). It's just how this year turned out; the date when my marathon training plan completed. The time has come for me to lace up my shoes and step up to the starting line of an actual marathon. Which I will complete. Because I've already committed myself to seeing my friends and loving, supportive family on the other side of those 26.2 miles.

The Huntington Beach Surf City Marathon is sold out, but you can come cheer on the runners if you live nearby. www.runsurfcity.com

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

habits

It's that time of year again: a time to make new year's resolutions. If you believe in that stuff. I just read an article entitled, "100 Inspiring New Year's Resolutions" - that's right, 100. I'm not going to have even ten resolutions this year, let alone 100. That seems extreme to me (and with a high failure rate, something I don't like to experience).



I have had the same one resolution every year for the past five years. I think it's a good resolution. I am mindful of this resolution most every day. It's a small, manageable resolution. Every year I resolve to eat fruit every day. I honestly try to eat some form of whole fruit (fresh, frozen, juiced, blended) every single day. And, most days, I complete said resolution. I like attainable, small goals. The ones where I don't feel bad about myself if I don't complete them. Instead, I simply feel a little better (and healthier) if I do complete them. Simple enough?

But back to these 100 resolutions. Some of the resolutions on the list? Practice an instrument more (or take up a new one). I'm going to absolutely pass on this one. As much as I love music, it's not in my plans for 2015. Maybe that'll change, but I'm not setting myself up for a resolution on the last day of the year I am not simply not feeling. Only 99 resolutions left to go. Go on a blind date. Should it be with someone I don't know? Can my significant other attend as well? I think I might skip this one as well.

When did this whole resolutions nonsense begin? I'm assuming it's because many people like to wipe the slate clean on the first day of a new year. But what happens if you mess up on January 1? Do you throw in the towel and consider the entire year a failure? That's 364 days you must endure knowing you are a failure. Not striving for that broken resolution, living sad and broken. And what if the same thing happens again the next year? Another 364 days of sadness? This vicious cycle sounds awful to me.



Instead, I think day one of a "resolution" starts on the day you want it to begin; on the day of your choosing. Maybe I've been watching too many diet and exercise shows, but I know that the race training begins with your own personal day one, whenever that might be. For many people, I guess it starts January 1. For me, it will begin when my Vitamix blender arrives. That'll be the day I begin juicing. Unless it's not. Because maybe the item will sit unused on my kitchen counter for a month. But then one day I'll use it. And voila, thus will being my day one. With a specific activity. use Vitamix machine every day. This is actually no longer a resolution; I plan to develop a habit. A resolution is "use vitamix," but a habit is "use vitamix one time daily." There's a slight difference.

I've heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. I'm not sure this number makes sense to me. I definitely did not run for 21 straight days before I made running a habit. I cooked a lot more than 21 times; I read a lot more than 21 books. I took a gym bag with me to work about three times before it became habit. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve on this one activity?


The web is now filled with 21 day habit apps. The funniest to me is the web app 21Habit



There's nothing wrong with writing down your goal. I also like how the day one starts when you decide it will (good minds think alike.) And I don't even disagree with the next part of the app, where you pay $21 at the beginning of the month and for every day you do said activity (or not do said activity if you are trying to quit) you receive $1 back to you. 



I have heard pretty strong evidence (and seen it myself) that human behavior is stronger when a financial commitment is involved. Even if it's just $1 (although I've never seen it work for less than $5, it just might), it's frequently enough for a person to commit and follow through. What I don't understand is how the accountability works. 

In my experience, accountability makes all the difference. If you don't have to answer or pay a price for something, you will (or won't) do it. It's a completely internal compass you possess. You know right from wrong (or at least you should) and will act the way only you can control. So would I use this app and then lie to get my $21 back? Depends on how badly I want to a. achieve my goal, b. have the money, and c. not feel guilty about cheating. I would venture to say that the majority of the world's population would lie and get the money back. Haven't we all fibbed once or twice before to cancel an unwanted hotel reservation or get something for free? I know I have.

But back to the 21 days. Thanks 21Habit (and 42GoalsBeeminderChains.cc, and Go F#^ing Do It) for organizing my resolutions and turning them in to habits. I don't think a single one of you will work. But at least Go F#^ing Do It uses accountability in its metrics.

The projected likelihood of continuing a behavior, such as meditation

But I'm back looking at the beginning of my 21 days. Okay, I'll give it a shot. 21 days of Vitamixing. But I'm not starting on January 1. I'm starting when I decide to start. I just don't know when that will be exactly. But once it is, I'm sure to form a Vitamixing habit. 


Because 21 days is all it takes, right?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

balance

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.
-Rumi

Meaning different things in different contexts, balance is an interesting word. Imagine yourself on a balance beam. Then think about your bank account balance. Then start thinking about the always present "work-life balance." Already this word is all over the place, infiltrating itself into everyday life.

There are a few instances in which my balance is right on. I'm great at balancing my checkbook. I love spending time with my friends and alone. I'm slowly getting better at the tree pose in yoga. Maybe some day I'll be able to hold a headstand or walk a tightrope.

But there are other places where my balance is way off. I often get my diet out of balance; I'll eat whatever is in front of me. And my work can overpower my personal life; my habit of working evenings and weekends throws my personal life well off balance.



But nowhere am I more out of balance than when there's movement involved. Inevitably, I'll get motion sickness. I have found that most people fall somewhere inside one of two categories: those who suffer from motion sickness, and those who do not. I know a few people who have no motion problems. They're happy to sit backwards on trains, read in the car, and rock on any boat (even in the most choppy of waters). To these people I say the following: you have absolutely no idea how lucky you are. Try, just try, to think about what your life would be like if every time you moved you felt queasy. Doesn't sound fun, does it?

Because it's not; in fact it's debilitating at times. And, unfortunately, most of the people I know fall somewhere on the motion sickness spectrum. I would venture to say that growing up I was probably at about a 5 on the motion sickness scale from 1-10, 1 being mild, infrequent sickness, and 10 being daily all consuming sickness. When I was a child, I thought I had it bad; I had to sit in the front seat, facing forward, looking out the window. I had to chew mint gum and once in a while take dramamine. But I could (and would) travel no problem, taking a plane, train, or automobile without giving it a second thought. I could enjoy a good roller coaster ride just fine, depite having a few motion sickness limits (like no reading in the car.)

But now, I can definitively say my motion sickness level is at a 10. Yes, that means it's a daily disability. If you were to ever travel around with me, you would notice the following: I drive. Always. I take dramamine every day, if my driving is not a possibility. I don't go on roller coasters, let alone boats. I have to sit forward on the train, at the front of the bus, and will throw up if I'm not able to control the motion sickness. I won't even go to a 3D movie. I have prescription motion sickness medication, both pills and skin patches. I even have those sea calm bands, although they don't even work for me on BART. You're lucky if they work for you.


The scopolamine patch pictured here causes blurred vision. 
I learned this while traveling in Cambodia.

Why do I have such horrendous motion sickness? As much as I want to blame my inner ear, I only put the blame squarely on my parents. Both my mother and my father suffer as severely as I do. It's a running family commentary about the places we have thrown up, which between us covers just about everywhere. Some of my top motion sickness travel destinations include Peru, Alaska, Israel, and even on my way to work (in the car driving down 280).

As I previously mentioned, I often get my diet out of balance as well. I think this is somewhat related to my motion sickness issues. If I'm eating too much rich, fried, heavy food, I'm much more likely to get ill while moving. If I eat unhealthful food for more than a day, I'll feel ill. If I drink alcohol, I'll get sick and throw up. Perhaps this is my body's way of keeping me healthy; because I don't drink. And I try to control the amount of junky food I consume (even though I love it so much). I'll never understand how my friends can have alcohol while flying. Alcohol is the most potent cause of my vomiting I've ever experienced. And then you put those two together? Talk about a toxic cocktail. The only thing I want while on an airplane is a little ginger ale and to crawl up into a ball, throw up, and get myself off the plane as soon as possible.



The other kind of balance that comes to mind when using this buzzword is the "work-life balance." I'm not sure who coined this term, but it's come up in a few (or all) recent job interviews. I always answer with honesty; that I'm always working on my work-life balance. I still believe in something I discovered in college about human beings; we are always managing work, love, and housing. And at least one of these always seemed to be in flux, needing my full attention. Plus, I only felt I could tackle one at a time. As I've gotten older, it's become more about the balance between work, family, and money. And I thought I had it rough when I was in my 20s. I had no idea. I feel like I am always focusing on these three items all at once.

Here are some interesting statistics from the OECD better life index that make me feel a little better about the fact that I don't have my work-life balance set.

  • People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work.
  • Women spend 248 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring. 
  • Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress.
    http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/
While I see that life balance is a struggle for most people, especially women, I don't know how to not work every single day until the job is done. I don't, "work hard and play hard." I work hard and play at a normal level. I don't know any other way.

A new colleague told me she keeps normal work hours by accepting that, "there will always be work; but there will always be tomorrow." I don't have such discipline. But I'm trying. Because I love work. And I love life. As long as work and life aren't asking me to drive a train or man the sails. I prefer to stick to solid ground as much as I can. It helps me with my balance.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

funemployment

My unemployment by the numbers

- 1 lay-off

- 7 months unemployed

- 1 month severance

- 3 trips to Mexico

- Hundreds of job applications submitted and cover letters written

- Rounds and rounds of interviews

- 1 visit to the unemployment development department

- 4 consulting gigs

- 2 phone calls from the EDD to explain my consulting income


- 3 family visits

- 2 seasons of Criminal Minds and House of Cards completed

- 1 matinee (Rosewater - see it!)

 
- 1 hair donation

- 5 references (and 1 thank you lunch)

- 1 scholarship awarded

- A handful of days spent in only my pajamas

- 1 major house cleaning completed by yours truly

- 1 bout of gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

- 1 garage sale

- 1 marathon training plan nearly completed

- 1 SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) diagnosis

- 30 blog posts written

- Numerous books read - too many to name (and not nearly enough)

- 1 freelance writing gig completed (and 1 story published!)

- 1 dinner at State Bird Provisions


- 3 Bingo nights

- 1 social media campaign launched

- 1 laptop purchased and repaired

- 1 iBook written

- 2 races run

- 2 serious job offers

And, finally

- 1 job offer accepted