Dude Where’s my Time?

The really gnarly part is that those metrics given by the timing system- of time and place- were so important because they would be how I explained my performance to everyone besides myself.

The finish line was over half a mile closer than what my watch and the description had given. Ok, fine. The woman ahead of me was in my age group and I might have caught her on a kick, but I didn’t feel that tore up about it. The race was a success in my mind for reasons I’ll go over later. After changing out of my wet running gear into dry clothes, I checked my phone and the live results link, only to find out the electronic timing system had not picked up my bib. I became pretty agitated once I realized that. Even though the race director assured me that his computer had clocked my finish time, I spent about half an hour skulking around the finish line and compulsively refreshing the results site, until I realized I was acting a little psycho and made myself leave the park. I knew my time, and more importantly what I did well and what I needed to work on. I was now doubling down on being hard on myself because I was letting rational thinking get overshadowed by my emotional response- that the lack of public statistical evidence invalidated the fact that I had run the race. The really gnarly part is that those metrics given by the timing system- of time and place- were so important because they would be how I explained my performance to everyone besides myself.

I wanted to come back to focusing on the outcomes I had set out to measure my race to. If you run competitively at any level, you will have goal places if you are a front runner, or if you are not, you’ll look to paces and times to measure your performance.  I didn’t really have aspirations towards either of those for this race. I hadn’t known much about the course, and trail is always tricky to assign pace to anyways, if not damn near impossible when weather hits extremes. I had placed well in shorter trail races a few years ago, but this one was eleven miles and that was long enough for me to become uncertain. My off-road training in the past few months consisted of one pitiful 30-minute jog on the anthills near my home. It wasn’t even a conditioning run, I just wanted to assure myself I still knew how to pick my feet up and not trip over technical terrain. For all these reasons, I decided I needed different kinds of goals to target in the race to keep me present in it even if I was dead last.

The week leading up to the race in Tyler, Texas, I created a three-point race plan. Forming the backdrop behind this list are two my weakest qualities when it comes to running: patience and grit.

  • I would go easy the first four miles, even if I felt good or nervous about being passed I would just hold a steady pace.
  • I would not stop running the entire time- I had checked the elevation on the course map and didn’t believe I should have to walk IF I paced myself ok in the first part of the race.
  • I WOULD KEEP MY NEGATIVE THOUGHTS IN CHECK.

This last one is capitalized because I think it is a huge opportunity for me. I get grouchy even before anything actually goes wrong. I start cursing race directors, the person in front of me, the person behind me, my own idiocy for picking this stupid sport (running sucks) this stupid race (should have waited to compete) this stupid distance (if I signed up for the shorter race I’d be done by now…) and on and on. It’s not like this every race, but I’d like to just not go there at all if I can help it- and I was curious to seeif I could help it.

Spoiler alert- if the they gave out medals for those three things, I would have swept the race. I didn’t risk expending energy chasing someone in the first 4 four miles. I didn’t walk. I turned away from negative thoughts and was able to really enjoy that this race. That morning the conditions were ones I would have avoided leaving the house in let alone running in. I am a wimp in cold and it was in the 40’s. That event consisted of 5 races happening concurrently, going in both directions on the out and back course. There were clumps and strands of runners and walkers to dodge around or let pass at every turn. I did a really good job of keeping myself focused on what I could do, and realized all the other factors were just circumstances out of my control but within my capabilities. At the very least it was a great two hour trail run, which I really missed since moving from Southern California.  If I hadn’t imagined myself holding a positive mental space before the race, I don’t know that I would have even thought to attempt it once I was out there.

A slower time or lower place does not mean I ran a good race, and by “good”, I mean a race where I grow. A faster time and higher place does not mean I ran my best- and that is what I am after this year. Eventually results from the race were posted, and I’m not going to go give them here. Finish times and the varying levels of placing tell only part of the story of a race, but they aren’t even the most important aspects unless you get paid to run (and if you are reading this blog I’m assuming you don’t!) Ideally, I see my performance stats not as a badge but as part of a bigger picture of how I can improve all around. Competitive racing is one of if not the hardest trials I put myself through. The opportunity to strengthen my ability to align my actions to my thoughts, with intention, under duress, is a growth process that I can take into more endeavors than just running.

Some other non-statistical goals that come to mind for me are things like-

On the course:

  1. Repeat a mantra
  2. Go faster, even for a little bit, when you feel like slowing down
  3. Smile at random (I’ve heard it helps release feel-good hormones/chems)

Off the course:

  1. Shake the hands of the people that pushed you, even (especially) if they beat you.
  2. Help a stranger
  3. Check out others’ gear/shoes/tech and find out more about it

 

Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas about this or the topic of multi-goal racing!

On Training, Off Track

For a few months, I’ve been mostly flying by the seat of my pants when scheduling a running workout, deciding at most two days out what I was going to do and where I was going to do it. Even though I knew I wanted to institute a consistent training schedule, I found I was missing good opportunities to do certain kinds of workouts, or I’d do something else entirely (read: nothing) when I had sorta-kinda considered getting in a quality run that day. Now I find myself eager for varied workouts that address specific aspects of running hard and fast. I know I need to be keeping track of what my workout paces are , because I have only a vague idea of where my pace should be for a 5k, which is the distance I’m focusing on right now. The one 5k I competed in recently gave no indication of how fast I can run, as it was on trail and had ridiculous conditions (see previous post).

So, last week I sat down and created a training schedule. I plugged in my races on a year-at-a-glance calendar, and then took a monthly format and put my one race so far for February in- a 5k this weekend. Then I took a look at weekly obligations, and decided my best bet for speed work would be Tuesdays and Thursdays. Going further, I looked at what I wanted to focus on each training day, and even if I didn’t have a specific workout in mind yet, I at least typed in what kind of workout I would be doing, such as tempo, repeats or sprint intervals. One of the limiting factors for my workouts is that there is a dearth of 400 meter tracks in my vicinity that are decent and open to the public. There are tracks open outside of school hours that I could drive to, but the times I could access them- in the morning and evening, happens to coincide with the always spectacular Houston traffic.

I’ve been going to Memorial Park, a just-shy-of-three mile dirt loop, to do my interval workouts, even the sprints. I set my Garmin 620 to tick off distances and times for running and recovery bouts. It’s working well so far, and I’m not wasting time while I search for other options. Plus, I figure I’m not running any races this year around a track anyways, and being able to judge my pace without the markers isn’t going to hurt. The first two workouts I did this month, one of 400 meter repeats then another of 200 meter repeats, at least gave me an idea of what I should work on before I get better clued-in at my race this weekend. (Hint- its not speed I need).

For the 400 meter workout, I ran twelve repeats with 90 second recoveries. The recoveries felt a tad too long, but what I was really noticing was my complete inability to hold focus on what I was doing. Thirty seconds into the running interval, I would realize I was thinking about dinner, or some unfinished project, and glancing at my stopwatch I would realize I was completely off the mark- running too fast or too slow to hit the times I was aiming for. As a result, my times varied by about 15 seconds from fastest to slowest, which is pretty terrible when you are trying to hit the same mark every lap. A fifteen second spread isn’t even desirable for mile repeats. I need to work on holding my focus to my run.

The 200 meter repeat workout didn’t add much value to my training. I ran twenty of them a little faster than mile pace, and it was barely taxing even though I jogged the recovery bouts as well. After the eighth one I decided to use the running to focus on form, and, of course, focus on focusing. I love running fast, and I’ll probably throw in sprints every now and then just for fun, but really what I need to do are 500 meter and longer intervals.

Last year, I downloaded the Calm App, and the first set of meditations I did was on keeping focus. I’ve always gravitated towards multi-tasking, until I finally realized that trying to do even two things at once often leads to sub-par results for both tasks. I didn’t have running in mind when I decided my ability to focus could use a tune-up, I was actually aiming to be better at writing this blog and reading for longer intervals. I did pick up some good practices, though, I think I could use those same tactics to keep my mind on my running when I’m doing it. For example, I’ve worked on holding my attention to the same task without getting distracted by anything, for twenty five minutes at a time. As my fastest 5k is 22:56, theoretically I can keep my mind on my pace for the length of the race. Theoretically.

If anyone has any experience with keeping their mind from wandering, or useful mindfulness practices when it comes to running, I’d love to hear it!