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!

Running away from Nihilism

I spent considerable brain power last year trying to find “THE MEANING OF LIFE”. Lofty, I know. I found no universal answer to share here, but I found an answer for myself, and thus emerged from a quarter life crisis which had stagnated my whole being in apathy for quite some time. At the end of the summer I read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. An insightful friend recommended I look into it after listening to me describe some of the things about life that left me feeling uninvolved with it, to put it mildly. A more descriptive account is that I was terrified that nothing meant anything, and it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, because the world would be the same regardless. I was accepting of being insignificant, but that acceptance became a larger belief that probably nothing else mattered either. Life would simply progress until it burned itself out, for me and for the rest of us.

 

As for the book, Frankl was a psychotherapist, and his book covers two main subjects- his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, and the mode of therapy he subsequently developed upon his release, that sought to help patients find meaning in their lives. One poignant thing he points out about living in the camp is that it was evident when a fellow gave up trying to survive, and that the people who did make it typically had something to live for, to keep them interested in their own survival. That spoke to me- I wasn’t feeling meaning myself, purpose is another word that works, and I wasn’t super thrilled about spending more time living with the feeling I described above. So I realized that I had this problem, too, that I had lost a sense of purpose in my life and maybe finding one would pull me out of my angst and despondency.

 

I thought for a while that my ego was the problem, because maybe I was craving attention or recognition, some outward indication about the significance of my existence as I was not finding validation internally. However, my behaviors did not signal attention-seeking behavior. In the same span of time that I was pondering and self searching while trying to come up with a new life plan, I was deleting my Facebook account, posting less and less on Instagram, and letting the blog go. When I did post I’d leave off the slew of hashtags that used to accompany every picture. I didn’t care about the quantity of likes I received. I was beyond caring if people “liked” my life, because I certainly didn’t. The only approval I was looking for was self-approval. For my life, it is at least a boon to discover that I have finally shed the restriction of peer approval when it comes to my choosing my actions and behavior. I’m not looking to go full-tilt sociopath and turn away from all social signaling, but I can live a little more authentically because in most cases, my opinion is the one that is going to drive me.

 

So, looking for clues to what gives me a feeling of purpose, I examined some aspects of my life, including my hobbies and interests, my career past and present (right now I’m studying to be a personal trainer), how I spend my free time, and how I participate in relationships- family, friends, and romantic. I decided to put a particular focus on my running life, because it is such a big part of who I am and what I do, and of all the parts of my life, that held the most information over the longest period of time. When you land on the handle “shestherun” for social media, you might find yourself asking what else you are.

 

Even before reading Frankl’s book I had a sense that running made my life feel more substantial. I felt it before I ran, as in a general push from the universe to do it, while I was running, like I was exactly where I should be, and after the fact, as I looked to see where I had made progress and where I needed work. I didn’t know if running actually made me feel purposeful, but the fact that I kept at it and would come back to it after many set backs seemed significant. It showed I did have perseverance, even in the face of hardship or difficulty. What I found was just acknowledging that characteristic of perseverance, could energize me into creating a life more meaningful as a whole.

 

I think by now most of us recognize, either thorough experience or through some saccharine quote that makes its way onto our Facebook feeds, that the process of working towards a goal is rewarding in itself. I’ve experienced this in my running life, and not always because of some obvious accomplishments, as in finishing a marathon or placing in a race. Sometimes just showing up for a workout when I know I was on the verge of bailing makes me feel like a pretty super human being. The opportunity and ability to experience progress is what makes running so fulfilling to me, and I can absolutely apply that concept to other areas of my life to create more meaning.

 

What I took from realizing this is that there if I want to progress, I have to do the progressing. I think since running came so easily to me, I didn’t concern myself with much else. As I plateaued in athletic ability, and didn’t add some variety to the mix, either in the form of new challenges or new activities altogether, I became bored. Boredom turned into apathy, and apathy turned into depression. I DO NOT want to go back there. I also don’t want to pursue goals just because they make someone else’s life more exciting. I haven’t found that to be very fruitful. For example, I used to think I’d like to be a good cook, and now I realize that I am perfectly happy making simple meals for myself, and leaving the gourmet cooking to someone more passionate about it. I do want to write, not just this blog, but literature as well, but by the end of the 2016 I couldn’t bring myself to sit and do it for five minutes because of that “pointless” feeling. But the pointless feeling disappears when the goal becomes to challenge myself. If I say the goal is to get published, and I’m not even sitting down to make an outline, then progress in that scenario would be to sit and write for a period of time daily. I don’t know if anyone can identify with this, but I now believe what I thought was apathy was actually fear, that since other things weren’t coming to me as easily as running was, I wasn’t supposed to be doing them. If I tried, and failed, then I’d really be in a lurch because that fear would be founded, I would be as one-dimensional as I previously believed.

 

Running had such a central position in my life, which did serve a purpose and still does. When everything else seemed to be going awry, if it was going anywhere, here was this one thing, that no matter how difficult or arduous, that always revealed a reason why I had picked up my feet in the first place. Nothing else made sense, but running gave me the opportunity to experience progress, even when it was just in circles around the track. So now the challenge to myself in 2017 is to keep that idea of progress in mind, to find new ways to add layers to my life, because the meaning I was looking for seems to be just to create a better version of myself.

Trail Run in California: Joshua Tree National Park

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home.

I just got back from a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I had a few days off of work and saw it as an opportunity to go run somewhere new. I’m not a camper (yet!) but I found an inexpensive place to stay on the east side of the park on AirBnb. I enlisted my runner friend Annie to come with me. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it out till later the second day I was there, but we still got some good runs and an awesome sunset in.

The first night I was there I stopped in at a backpacker/camping outfitter store- Nomad. The official visitors’ centers for the park were closed and I figured an area retailer would have the information I was looking for. The staff there was super friendly and recommended we check out the Boy Scout Trail. It is an out and back (or point to point if you use two cars). They also recommended Stubbe Springs Trail for running, which we didn’t get to, but I thought I’d mention it here in case someone wants to give it a try.

The winds were intense on our first running day, so waiting for Annie to arrive was fine and gave me a chance to catch up on reading and work on some writing. I also stopped by the Visitor’s Center to see if there was any further information to gather. The staff there recommended Pine City Trail as a nice run. Once Annie arrived we booked it out to the trail to get a run in before the sun went down. It’s a relatively short trail for a run, maybe 3 miles round trip, but we made it longer by parking at the lot on Geology Tour road and running north on the road to where the trail begins, which added on about a mile (each direction). We ran a total of five miles, out to where the namesake trees began, and where there were also some large boulder formations. The trail itself is pretty flat, climbing maybe 200 feet and not technical. We snapped some pictures and ran back to the car to catch the sunset.

 

I had overheard one of the park Rangers at the visitor’s center telling a couple about a lookout called Keys View, so we headed there, making it just in time to watch the sunset. It was windy and cold but so beautiful. After a pit stop at the pharmacy for some toiletries and barbeque from The Rib Co., we retired pretty early. I turned the light out by 11, but I probably didn’t fall asleep till 3 in the morning. Ever since I was burglarized last month, I’ve had a difficult time falling asleep, and adding to the fun was Daylight Savings Time fallout, and the fun discovery that Annie is a hardcore kicker in her sleep (we were sharing a bed).

 

The plan was to do 15-16 miles on the Boy Scout Trail the next day. The trail is about 7.5 miles out, with the option of leaving a car at the other side, but we planned on doing the out and back from the trailhead on Indian Cove. I had done some more reading on the trail in a book I have, 50 Trail Runs in Southern California, and found out that part of the trail was composed of loose sand. It was more than part- at least 75% of the ground we traveled resembled a beach.

The trail stars out in open desert then climbs through hills of rock formations. I found every part of the run visually and physically engaging. As we were we were running on sand most of the time, our pace was slower than we anticipated and we didn’t make it to the other side before needing to turn back for the day. Despite the fact that we kept up as good a pace as we could and didn’t stop for long, it still took us over an hour to run 4 miles. I would look down at my watch, expecting to see 12-13 minutes per mile, but find we were running closer to 15 minute miles. We re-evaluated our plan at the four mile mark, decided to run one more mile, to where we could see over the other side the rock formations we had climbed up. I will add that there was also about a mile and a half (3/4 mile each way) on the trail that required more hiking and scrambling than running. According to my Garmin, the trail climbs steadily from about 2,900 ft at the head  to 4,100 ft at the five mile mark, with most of it runnable. After the run we grabbed lunch at Natural Sisters Cafe, where I had a very tasty black bean burger. I’m not usually a fan of vegetarian fare, to the point where I sometimes get suspicious of it, but seriously, that sandwich was delicious.

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home. It was a bit astonishing for me to realize how much I’ve strengthened my legs since last year. Running on sand felt natural and I enjoyed it. I have been hitting trails and hills often on my runs, and now I see how it serves me to keep at them regularly, so I don’t have a mental block about running off road when a good opportunity to run somewhere new and exciting presents itself.

I haven’t mentioned any routes on here that you will have difficulty finding on even a basic map of Joshua Tree. Everything was easily accessible from the road & parking lots. Natural Sisters Cafe and The Rib Co. are both on Twentynine Palms Hwy.