Autumn Whirlwind

It has been a busy and interesting summer and the same can be said for how the fall is going so far.

My pavement related and offseason training goals this past summer were all but shattered when I caught a severe cold bug from (presumably, not 100% sure) a friend who was in town to visit and the result was severe bronchitis – at one point we suspected pneumonia, but thankfully the X-ray came back negative – that kept me from training or even excercising most if not all of June.
I returned to basic exercise (i.e. anything that didn’t involve running) only the final week of June and running the first week of July. And this was after SEVEN weeks of not running – I had taken two weeks off after Broad Street and was planning on light training when I contracted the bug. So coming back in the thick of the heat after seven weeks of no running?

Ugly. Just it was hilariously ugly.

I struggled to even run quarter mile intervals on the treadmill and my first run back with City Sports was a nightmare in nearly every sense of the word. Thankfully keeping at it, by the end of July I was back to basic distance, but pace, I was still off (slower) by roughly a minute/mile pace, and I was slow enough to begin with by most people’s standards.

At the same time, with work burning me out, I had taken a few short holidays to recharge. I screamed for a European vacation, especially with both the pound sterling and euro falling dramatically, I could afford RT to Ireland for 550. Yes, you are reading this correctly. $550.

Strangely, at the same time, I was also concerned about my moving expenses going to DC – especially if I took on a new job, absorbing (in most cases) relocation costs. As a result, my longer holiday for the summer was spent in Quebec. Amtrak train trip was entirely free for myself, along with a few nights in a Marriott hotel, thanks to the points I’d accumulated from my own work travels. Canada was a double edged sword – it was an aggressive agenda, seeing both Montreal and Quebec City in 6 days, 2 of which consisted of the Amtrak ride through the Adirondacks. It was a scenic ride, but overall the trip meant we were constantly on the go. It was great for keeping me in shape, but my mother was more exhausted after that week (despite my multiple warnings about the agenda and pace of the trip – several times I offered her to prolong the trip to ease the pace, but she refused as she had a religious pilgrimage the days following our return). Still I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the sights, the food and everything in between.

But breathers aside, it has been a busy summer. I visited my friend Caroline in NYC, who is training for the NYC marathon, spent a few weekends with other friends exploring the city and just overall doing fun stuff. But now a lot of the fun is slowing down – or stopping altogether – as the fall gets even crazier.

Thankfully I did not schedule myself for any half marathons at all this coming fall, between my anticipated job search, a wedding that is taking place abroad and a few other things I would have to tackle personally, scheduling my long runs for the Philadelphia Marathon was tough enough.

Training for the fall came slowly and steadily, and strangely enough, I’ve been training conservatively enough that the chances of injury to my shin are very small compared to what I encountered in 2013 when I tried to train for the half and the full and maybe leaving out a half and structuring around it might have been the answer here. Although I have been trying to keep my runs to no more than three times a week and only in excess of 14 miles for my long run do I increase to four, but never five times as my shins need longer time to recover from the longer runs. This still gives me a day to do weighttraining and a day to rest entirely. And so far it’s been fine.

My family continues to use my passion for running and travel – nothing new – as a lightning rod and sadly that has not changed. It has made things more difficult for me mentally as I cope with other issues and stress in general. Somehow, that passion will carry me through the finish, through the end of the marathon, and my time altogether in Philly. Ironically this is my last opportunity to ever run Philly and see the city in its utmost passion neighbourhood by neighbourhood – although Broad Street has done a pretty bang up job of that as well. Looking ahead to next year, I am slated for the DC marathon in March 2016, but after that, I’m looking at a general focus on my body strength and less so on endurance. I am thinking 2 races ranging between 10-13 miles – easier to train for and a much easier ability to adjust for, as personal priorities shift with my scenery.

To put it frankly, aside from focusing on my new job – wherever or whatever that might be – I will place a much heavier emphasis on my social/personal life – at my age, it is very difficult to meet new friends, although in DC, with many people my age, single, adventurous and ambitious, I won’t feel as out of place as I ever did in Philly. I remain optimistic I will find a crew of people with interests similar to mine (fitness overlapping or not) and maybe a few developing closer connections with. A stronger support network that I never really had living in Philly, that’s for sure. And even more critical now with my brother taking a position in Minnesota, much further away and moving further away myself from my own family, even as fractious as our relationship can be sometimes.

Things are complicated, but somehow I’ll sort it out.

For now, the pavement brings me peace, a peace that still, little else and only a number of people that I can count on one hand, can bring. Even on the upswing, with my first slew of interviews in November, the pavement helps me to calm the nerves before the storm.

One thing at a time. For now, the pavement helps me digest both the good things and the bad. One step at a time.

Ramping Up for the Love Run

The calm before the storm? Or the storm before the calm?

This winter has been brutal to say the least, especially considering the time since I finished the Walt Disney Marathon. We’ve had a few snow days, which thankfully have interrupted and cancelled several days of school now but with my capstone semester I have had little time to breathe, the absolute bare minimum time to train for the Love Run Half Marathon and zero time to blog.

It has also been difficult for me mentally, constantly being reminded of the world – and the people – I can no longer relate to because of my commitment to night school. With 47 days left until graduation, I have been making strides to not only manage a stressful workload but also take care of myself. However it has also been very difficult with lack of personal support. With the personal end continuing to deteriorate, last weekend, I decided to check in for counselling and I can only hope things can improve from here. Unfortunately I have reached that point where I don’t feel I can trust someone enough to talk to them without ridicule or stigma and that can be a tremendous problem.

At the same time, this is also where running comes in. On the scant Thursdays this semester I can make run club, my experiences with run club have been a lifeline. The running community on Twitter has been amazing and my interaction with fellow runners has helped me through and through.

Tomorrow I will be live tweeting my expo experience – race weekend could not have come at a better time. The Love Run this weekend will lift me in several ways well beyond running 13.1 miles and I cannot wait to share that experience again with you all. And pretty soon, I will be planning and picking my autumn races!

Are you racing this weekend or anytime soon? What are your training plans?

Fall 2013: Let the Season Begin

It’s that time of year. The autumn brings moans and groans from students across the nation, but moments of glee for us runners. The Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon is coming up again, and having run the race both in 2011 and 2012, I know exactly what to expect for 2013. My summer training took a hit with a knee injury through mid-August, and though I’ve since resumed training, I cannot help but think that despite conditioning and rest and such, my knees still feel a bit jittery after these longer runs. I need to build in a complete week of rest in somewhere, and it is likely to come after I run Rock n’ Roll.

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

In exactly two weeks’ time I will be heading over to the expo. The Nike Women’s Half Marathon all of a sudden seems ages ago, and nothing serves as quite the mentality booster as a running expo. A reminder that all of the hard work you have done is about to pay off, an area where you can meetup with other runners and network and mingle a bit. I am so looking forward to that feeling again.

Entrance to expo. 14 Sept 2012.

Entrance to expo. 14 Sept 2012.

In July, due to the excessive heat, Philadelphia’s Back on my Feet, a non-profit dedicated to using running as a vehicle to help the homeless ready themselves for the job market, postponed their initial 20in24 run to the weekend of 20-21 September. Last year, I ran 20in24, as part of the silver relay team, and had a blast like no other camping out and running the different legs all night. Even so, one of the most impactful elements of that race were the volunteers.

Coming home in the distance. 14 July 2012.

Coming home in the distance. 14 July 2012.

Last year, I was hesitant to run the west part of the loop by myself, especially at 4:30am, but the escorts kept us great company, and all of the volunteers gave quite an amazing atmosphere this year. Without a team to run with this year, though, I want to give back and be a part of that atmosphere, so that Saturday night, I’ll be out there, meeting other runners, and supporting them on their journeys. And I am psyched.

Later this fall, I will be running the Philadelphia Half Marathon as a prelude training run to Walt Disney Marathon in January. This will have been my third try and third go at this half, also having run it in 2012 and 2011. I debated doing the full marathon in November, especially with having been forced to pull out (or rather cut back to half) last year due to extended illness the month before. But with grad school dragging on, I decided not to risk it again, and now that we’re closing in on November, I am very glad I decided to just stick with the half. I’m confident I will be fit enough and prepared for January particularly since my finals are clearing up a week earlier than expected, so I can focus on my gruelling 16+ mile runs after finals end and not have to worry about studying or writing dreadful papers. Mentally I’ve checked out of the studying-exam drudgery given the toll it has taken on me.

I expect the long runs to continue through the holiday period before tapering would occur right around Christmas time. The marathon has me a bit nervous given my last experience with Marine Corps Marathon and that the calibre is more casual, that is, stocked with more beginners, who may not know all the rules, hindering, and possibly injuring others, as happened with me at MCM. At the same time, I’ve learnt a lot of things since 2011, I’ve submitted my latest PR times to the Disney Sport team so hopefully my assignment will give me a fair start. From what I’m told, corral assignments are enforced well at this race, so I shouldn’t have issues out of the game unlike, say the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, this past April. (And somehow, I managed to PR at that race, I still have no idea how it happened.)

But that’s where I stand through January. As I see old friends and Tweeps post their pictures on their race experience, I just tell myself that I will be doing the same. I plan on live tweeting any and all expo happenings and any post-race thoughts most of this fall. And even though I’ll be on a 6-8 month blackout on Facebook starting next month for personal reasons, I definitely plan on posting as many pictures here and on Twitter as possible. The Disney experience is one of the best out there, so I’m told, and I definitely plan on enjoying every moment of it. January cannot come soon enough.

The Art of Planking

With a little more work on my quads and calves in the weightroom, I am also working more on my core, but with weaker abs to start with, I was introduced to what is called planking.

How to plank.

How to plank.

Planking (above) is when you plant your hands or forearms and your toes on a surface (usually the floor) and hold the rest of your body straight and tighten your abdominal muscles. I tweeted about what core exercises to do one evening.

It was a certain @TufMotherRunner who responded with a request for a “Planks A Lot” challenge. Basically try and hold a single plank for as long as possible, and increase the time you planked each day. True plank workouts involve sets of 10 or so, but for a beginner like me this simple challenge was perfect.

The first few days were very easy, but it wouldn’t be like this for long.

Additionally, there is a separate core challenge at #plankaday and is monitored by @Plank Police but if you do not post your planks (and the hashtags) for 2-3 days, the @PlankPolice will check on you to make sure you do!

I did not pick up on this right away so at first when the Plank Police messaged me I was like “who on earth is this guy” ha!

When I started, I had a heck of a time getting even to 30 seconds, but over time I was surprised. Still it seemed often I was hitting a wall.

Other days I surprised myself.

I tracked my progress through Twitter, and others on the challenge encouraged me and pushed me, and vice versa. Always another reason I appreciate the Twitter community of runners and fitness folks.

Gradually, though I steered closer and closer to that two-minute mark. I took in the advice of thinking about music or day dreaming.

What further complicated things was the flu. But when I was up for it. I kept on planking. I couldn’t run, the flu had robbed me of a lot and given all the problems I have in life, my health is one of the last and only things I thought I felt I could always rely on. So when I get sick, it’s another blow, and not just because I’m separated from my training partners and so forth.

But I soon started to recover.

Eventually I made my goal. Many cheers to @TufMotherRunner and I look forward to her next challenge in February. In addition to completing the challenge, I had gotten some tips for more structured planking workouts, and I will definitely integrate this into my conditioning and muscle workouts.

I’d never heard of or done planking before but now it’s a very worthwhile (and low maintenance!) exercise!