Thursday, February 10, 2011

Getting the Clothes On Is At Least Half the Work, and Other Mental Games

So much of training for, and competing in, any sort of endurance sports (and probably other forms of working out too, like the gym) is mental. I have found that one nearly foolproof way of ensuring that I actually do the workouts I need to do is to come home from work and immediately (well, immediately after letting the puppy out) put on swimsuit or running/cycling clothes. If I do that, I am at least 90% sure I'm actually going to do the workout. I may have thoughts of skipping it after I get dressed for it, but those thoughts will bring shame upon me and I probably won't act on them. The thought of the defeat inherent in the act of taking off clean, non-sweaty workout clothes one piece at a time and folding them and putting them away, and then returning to whatever unproductive or less-important-than-the-Boston-Marathon thing has distracted me, is too much for me. I think I would not be able to stand myself if I were to do that. In fact, even though I said above that I will do the workout 90% of the time if I dress for it before doing anything else, I actually can't think of a single time that I have dressed for a workout and then CHOSEN not to do it. There have been a couple of times when injury, illness, or urgent circumstance have chosen for me, but I can't think of a single time when I blew off a workout for no good reason after getting ready for it. So one mental game to play with yourself in order to get yourself out the door, is to put on the clothes as soon as you come in the door from work. (Or even AT work, before leaving; that would probably be even better!) Do not, under any circumstances, sit down at the computer or, even worse, on the couch with a book and tell yourself it's only for a few minutes. It won't be. Once you sit down you'll be thinking about how tired you really are and how, gosh, you worked so hard today and you really deserve a little nap. Then you'll wake up and the sun will be down and the air will be chilled and you will know you're not working out at all and since you're such a lazy, fat slob you may as well go ahead and eat that Rocky Road ice cream in the freezer. In for a dime, in for a dollar! No, better all around to just put on the clothes and go do the workout and then feel great afterwards and eat that ice cream because you earned it and not as a consolation for being fat and lazy.

Another mental thing that helps me tremendously is to keep records of, not only exercise, but also calorie intake. If you are compulsive like me, what you should do is this: go out and get a free computer program that tracks both calorie intake and calories burned, and record everything. The need to get those two numbers in a healthy proportion (to me, that is a 3:2 ratio of calories consumed:calories burned, so if I burn 2000 calories, I should eat about 3000) will become a radical driving force and you will not be able to rest if you ate and didn't exercise. (Disclaimer: I use this formula only because it worked for me prior to the San Diego Marathon, and let me lose weight and not feel like I was dying of starvation the whole time. It is not by any means a scientific formula, or developed by people who actually know what they're talking about, like dieticians, or anything like that.)

The last thing that really helps, for those days when you have dressed for the workout and even managed to drag yourself to the site of the workout (the pool, or the park, or standing in your driveway holding the bike) and you just plain do not want to do it, is to tell yourself that you only have to do a minimal distance (a mile of running, 2 miles of biking, 800 yards in the pool) and then you can reevaluate and quit if you truly do feel lousy or are hating the workout. 9 times out of 10, knowing you have the opportunity to bail if you want to will get you moving, and when you hit your reevaluation point, most of the time you will just reason that you're already far enough in that you might as well just keep going.

I hate to work out, as everyone knows, and these three strategies have done a pretty good job of forcing me out the door for the last 5 years.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Men Wearing Tights: Yay or Nay?

Yay, says I. But first, some background.

Tim ran in shorts on Thursday night at WOG. That was one of our really, really cold nights. After that, he decided he was not going to run in shorts again in this kind of weather, so he visited the Running Shop for something warmer. He came home with a pair of tights, saying that that was all the Running Shop had in stock. (Guess he wasn't the only one who decided running in shorts with temperatures in the 20's was a bad idea.) Today he wore the tights to the group run on the Rillito River, which started at 7:00 with the thermometer at 28 degrees. Apparently he took some good-natured ribbing from the other guys present. (I missed out on this, as I was lagging behind everyone else feeling fat, slow, freezing, and cranky. Tim filled me in when he waited for me at the halfway point.) There was some discussion about men wearing tights after the run as well. Let me state for the record that I am unequivocally in favor of men wearing tights! Here's why.

First, the obvious: tights let us see everything without having to work at it! I'll be the first one to admit, I love, love, love looking at men wearing tights. I guarantee that if I'm running (or walking, or riding, or driving, or doing just about anything really), and a man in tights passes me going the opposite direction, my head WILL turn. I can't help it! I don't want to help it! Why shouldn't I look? I know everyone says that they exercise for health, but isn't the REAL reason we run just because if we run, we look hotter, which increases our chances of... well, you know? I know that's the real reason I run. (The main reason, anyway. It's also nice to be healthy, and to impress and/or annoy sedentary coworkers with marathon medals and other race paraphernalia ostentatiously displayed at my desk.) Running pants, baggy shorts, et cetera are okay, but they make it hard to see details. With tights, everything is just sort of out there, and we don't have to squint or, worse, imagine.

Second: if you're wearing tights, you're a real runner and I will know it just by looking at you, and will treat you accordingly. (Please note that I'm not saying if you don't wear tights, you're not a real runner. I know lots of people who run 5 times my weekly mileage or more and do not wear tights. To those people: you're obviously real runners, but PLEASE! Go get a pair of tights, before the cold weather goes away!) Recreational joggers wear sweats or Nike shorts from Sports Authority. Someone wearing tights instantly commands some respect.

Some men think that they shouldn't wear tights. I think this is because they are either: suspicious that tights are maybe, possibly, just a little bit gay, and wearing them could send the wrong message; or else they think that they are too skinny (or possibly too fat) to look good in them. Tights are not gay, let me dispel that objection right away and move on to the second objection -- that you don't look good in them because you are too skinny or maybe too fat. In the first case, there is really no such thing as too skinny. Runners are skinny! Look at the runners who win big races -- they are all skinny. Skinny is hot. Besides, you're not stringy/wimpy/puny skinny. You are cheetah-skinny, as in the fastest land mammal on earth. Sure, non-runners might think you're too skinny, but what do you care what non-runners think? Wear the tights! In the second case, you probably are not too fat if you run enough miles to know that people run in tights and that you might want some. Tights do a pretty amazing job of compacting any little bit of extra mass you might have, and making someone of average build look like a real athlete. (Still impressive, though not quite as impressive as the cheetah-skinny men I mentioned above.) Now, if you really ARE too fat -- like say you are just starting to run and haven't lost the 40 extra pounds yet -- then, yeah, you should probably wait just a little bit to wear tights. (If the Running Shop can't order them in your size because it doesn't exist in tights, that's a sign you should hold off on wearing them.) As Tim said to me today, "Spandex is a privilege, not a right." But take heart! If you run enough, you'll be fitting in tights in no time, and then, by all means, wear them!

Lastly, if you keep worrying about people looking at you if you wear tights, you're right that they're probably looking. I know I ALWAYS look. Hopefully I will always care enough to look, even when I'm 90; when I stop looking I might as well be dead. But so what if we're looking! We're looking because tights compel us to look! It's a compliment! Take it as one.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two Nights of Brrrrrrrrrrrr

It's cold in Tucson, I mean really, really cold. Not just cold enough that you have to wear a jacket, although that is bad enough, but cold in the single digits (if you count windchill), cold that kills all your plants and makes water pipes burst and makes furnaces work so hard that Southwest Gas actually ran out of natural gas and a bunch of people in the foothills and the far southeast part of Tucson just don't have any gas tonight, the coldest night in Tucson in over a hundred years. THAT kind of cold.

Everyone knows I hate cold more than anything. I take it as a personal offense that it can even be this cold. This is like New Jersey cold (though thank God without the snow). And, worse, the cold arrived right smack in the middle of what was supposed to be my first full workout week where I do at least one workout every day. I could've skipped workouts because of the cold, and I was tempted to, but the other thing about this extreme cold is that the thought of working out in it made me feel extreme. (Yeah, yeah, shut up, East Coast people. I know you run uphill both ways through two feet of snow on your daily runs back there -- it's different here.) Like, if I can prove myself against the cold, I must not be wimpy, sick, out of shape, or anything other than Boston-Marathon-ready. That's what I tell myself anyway, and that's why I would not let myself skip either yesterday's workout or today's.

Yesterday's workout was my long swim -- 3600 meters. I decided to do it at the Ott Y, which meant I had a long trek across town to the east side. The Ott Y has an outdoor pool (heated, of course -- I'm not insane) and I felt like the depressing sight of the downtown Y's covered pool, and having to swim right next to the Silver Sneakers water aerobics class, would render me unable to swim even one length of the pool. I love the Ott Y and figured that it would be enough of a novelty to be swimming outside that it would keep me going through the whole 3600 meters. (3860 meters is how far you have to swim in an actual Ironman swim -- so I am almost there!)

I spent the whole day with half my mind on the lessons I was teaching and the other half on how much I didn't want to swim after work. The day got colder and colder. The air was cold, and also there was this violent wind blowing. Walking from the locker room to the pool was the coldest I can ever remember being in Tucson. There was steam rising off the pool and I jumped right in, expecting it to be warm. It was not warm. Well, maybe lukewarm, if I'm being generous. Definitely not warm enough that I wanted to stand there and bask in the warmth before starting my swim. I just wanted to get going and get it done.

A lot of people say that swimming in a cold outdoor pool is not bad once you get warmed up. I disagree; it was bad the whole time. I was consciously cold the whole time, every time I raised my arms out of the water and felt that frigid air on my skin. But I actually felt more sorry for the lifeguards. They're the ones that have to sit out there, motionless, watching my painfully slow progress up and down and up and down and up and down the lanes. For about an hour I was the only one in the pool, and I bet those lifeguards were just wishing I would either speed up or wise up and go home where it was warm. I know that if I was a lifeguard at that pool I would have been hating me, that's for sure.

I did, as always on a long swim, think about quitting somewhere around 2100 meters. But I didn't because I must, absolutely must, think of myself as being hardcore. Lately I have been such a wuss, skipping workouts right and left and blaming the Mysterious Female Troubles instead of the true culprits, my laziness and fatness, that it was crucial to my self-esteem that I stay in the damn pool the entire time. So I did. Somewhere in there I lost count of where I was, so gave myself 100 "penalty yards", the punishment I have devised for myself when I get distracted and think about something other than what I'm doing. So actually I think I swam 3700 meters, not 3600, which puts me within spitting distance of finishing the Ironman-length swim.

Getting out of the pool should have felt awesome, but really I was just 1) tired, 2) freezing, 3) in pain from goggles that are way too tight, and 4) sick and wondering to myself when will I learn that eating vast quantities of cheese before a workout is never a good idea, no matter what sport we're talking about.

Today was even colder than yesterday, and tonight's workout was a run to Reid Park. It was supposed to be seven miles. My mom got me this really nice white thermal running shirt once. It's long-sleeved and has thumb holes at the ends of the sleeves and is really warm, and I can never wear it here because even on a winter day it's too warm. But today was made for this shirt! I wore that shirt plus a long-sleeved cotton race shirt over it, plus a gaiter for my neck, plus a headband to go over my ears, plus heavy wool socks. I started out wearing a pair of running pants over a pair of running tights, but then when I took the dogs for a walk I decided really the tights by themselves would be fine, so I ditched the pants and just wore the tights.

This run was... miserable. In every way. My stomach hurt, I felt like I couldn't breathe because the air was so cold, my eyes were tearing, my nose was running, my neck was itching under the gaiter, my mouth hurt where I had the root canal two days ago, I had to pee, I was too hot with two shirts on and too cold when I rolled the sleeves of the cotton shirt up, my feet hurt, my calves hurt, et cetera, et cetera. By the end of Mile One I wanted to quit. Or cry, or maybe both. But instead I just walked for a short distance and pulled myself together and told myself I did not have to run fast, but I did have to run. So I managed to run the rest of the way. I felt like I was going at a horrendously slow pace, like maybe 11:00 miles, but when I looked at my watch I saw that I actually averaged 9:00 pace, which is slow for what I used to be but not bad considering how lousy I felt and that the run was uphill and I had to jog up to red lights waiting for them to change.

I have now survived two days of workouts in sub-freezing temperatures and am pretty proud of myself, but two days is enough. I sure hope the weather forecast calling for the 70's by Sunday is accurate. This New Jersey weather needs to get out of town!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Getting Back Into Shape... What a Drag.

I don't mean to complain, really, I don't. I am well aware every single day how lucky I am to be alive and (relatively) healthy and even able to work out at all. It's just that I basically did nothing for almost a month, and now I am paying the price. I didn't really have a choice for that month, given how lousy I felt, but if I am ever again in a situation where I'm thinking to myself, "You know, maybe I deserve a month off just to relax and chill out," I will remind myself, "NO! Don't do it! Remember how it feels when you have to get back in shape afterwards!" (Besides, endurance sports will always present me with plenty of opportunities for rest by way of injuries; there's no reason to go gifting myself with rest breaks. I should just wait for them to come along naturally.)

I am 15 pounds heavier than I was when I qualified for Boston. I know I was too skinny then, but I also know I am too fat now. Oh, not fat by normal people standards. I know I'm not that. But by the standards of someone who wants to get a not-embarrassing time in the Boston Marathon? Trust me, I'm fat. When I first started running again, on New Year's Day, I did 3 miles at a 10:00 pace and it felt hard. It's gotten better since then. I have been trying not to push too hard because I desperately do not want to injure myself again. On the plus side, my presumed stress fracture hasn't given me one iota of trouble. On the minus side, besides being fat, I first forgot how to forefoot strike. What that means, in case anyone who doesn't run is reading this, is that I had trained myself to land on the front of my foot each time my foot hit the ground, rather than the middle of my foot or my heel. The forefoot strike gives you faster turnover (I think) and puts a bounce in your step and just feels better, once you learn it. The midfoot and heel strikes are clunky and uncomfortable. But, I swear, I just plain forgot how to forefoot strike. After a couple weeks of plugging along, I remembered how to do it. Then I realized that there are calf muscles involved in forefoot striking, and that mine had completely atrophied since the Mt. Lemmon Marathon. I was able to do short runs (4 miles or less) and forefoot strike almost the whole time, but my calves were then in so much pain that I could barely walk for the two days following the workout, forget about running.

That, too, is getting better, though. I just did a run with Tim -- and I can't believe I'm bragging about this but I am -- where we did 5 miles at 8:00 pace. It seems like nothing when I think about how I did a whole marathon at under 8:00 pace, but I have to remember that I did that once and I can do it again if I really want to. Anyway, it's definitely an improvement over a couple weeks of being sure I was going at my top possible speed and then looking at my Garmin and realizing that my "top possible speed" was 9:30 miles.

I am back in the pool, too. My last long swim prior to onset of the Mysterious Female Troubles was 3400 meters, and that was over a month ago. (I hadn't been in the pool since then.) So one day I rode to the pool and told myself I was just going to swim until I got tired. Then before I knew it I had done 1500 meters and decided I was just going to keep going till I got to 3400. Then I decided I can always do another 100 -- just like you can always ride another mile on the bike no matter how tired you are -- so I did the 3500 and felt fabulous. I didn't lose any ground at all! Then two days later I got back in the pool and swam 150 meters and had to get out because my shoulders were so sore I couldn't lift my arms out of the water. Apparently my arms did not like going from 0 meters to 3500 meters. Once 5 days had passed, I was able to do an easy swim, and then yesterday I was able to do intervals even though they hurt, and I am planning to do 3600 meters on Wednesday.

I don't seem to have lost much ground on the bike, either -- I did 55 miles with Tim a week or so ago, and felt pretty good. I am still not back to bike commuting, though, partly because I want to ease my legs back into the major strain I was putting them under when trying to Boston Qualify, partly because I sometimes have to come home at lunch to let Zsiga out, and partly, I admit, because of this beastly cold in the mornings. I will go back to bike commuting once I am able to manage workouts 6 days per week without discomfort, no sense adding more miles until then.

The Mysterious Female Troubles, by the way, are still troubling me. I had a sonogram and the word from the doctor was that I had a cyst on the left ovary that appeared to be self-resolving, and an endometrial polyp of the type that is usually benign. That is all well and good, doctor, but then why is the pain on my RIGHT side? And if it's resolving, why am I still so bloated and full-feeling regardless of what (or even whether) I eat? I am still spending way too much time walking around bent in half pressing a heating pad against my lower abdomen. Today all I drank the entire day was a mug of decaf coffee at 5 a.m. and 6 ounces of water throughout the day at work, but yet on my 5-mile run, my stomach was sloshing like I just slammed down a gallon of water before my run. I see the doctor again on Thursday and am not leaving until I get an answer.