October 04, 2012

PW report - Or Was It a PB?

The good thing with me is that I am reliable. It means that, when I said that I would post about my race, I will. It may just take two years… by which point nobody cares, if ever they had in the first place. It also means that, if I share my training plans with you and swear it is fool-proof, you can be sure it has been tried and tested, and it works. I am also opinionated, so when training for a PW, will stick to it, no matter how hard, no matter what it takes. So without further due (and only a week late), here goes the PW report.

Since I wanted to make sure I would not screw my attempt at a PW (you never do, the opportunity may not arise again any time soon), my pre-10K race week went something like this:

On Saturday, despite feeling already very flu-ish and immensely, IMMENSELY tired, signed up for the race. I was in town, getting a birthday present in the local running shop for a friend recently hooked on running. I had been hesitating for the last two weeks, but there, with the entry form on the check-out counter, I just could not resist: being there was a sign I had to (pun intended) sign up. Yes I was ill, yes I had probably slept the grand total 40 hours in three weeks. And for those already getting their calculator out, yes, that’s an average of 2 hours an night, and yes again, it is probably not enough to be qualified as a healthy living). Oh, and yes I know, even I don’t always make smart moves.

On Sunday, went for a flat run by the lake, trying to convince myself that sweating through it was the best way to get rid of my cold. Pace was OK but run confirmed what I suspected: kilometers are longer when ill. Oh, and in case that was not unfair enough, minutes are made up of more than 60 seconds, too.

On Monday and Tuesday, as a result of feeling too weak, no runs. And just in case that may have helped me to recover slightly before race day, I started my first “real” week of work as a freelancer (real as in : seriously-at-my-desk- with-my-computer-and-a-cup-of-coffee, instead of breastfeeding-with-my-daughter-on-one-knee-and-my-laptop-on-the-other), which meant even less sleep.

On Wednesday, I was supposed to go for a run with a local running club, something I had been thinking about doing for the last 4.5 years. Instead, ended up at home with a husband back from work early with migraine and had to deal with an incapacitated husband, two kids still too young to understand that when that’s the case, a quiet environment is requested, and my own frustrated self (admittedly by far the toughest of the four to deal with).

On Thursday, describing how I felt by saying “a bit low on energy” would have been a massive understatement, but I did feel compelled to go for a short run anyhow. Ended up running 40 minutes after the kids were put to bed, by the light of my headtorch.  Ran at a reasonable pace but felt I did not have much left in me when I stopped. Since my (by then already revised) goal for that 10K was a sub-40min finish, was hoping that the adrenaline on D-Day would help me stick to a more sustained pace for the same amount of time on D-Day, no matter how ill and tired.

On Friday, since N°2 was at home with me, decided to take her for a run with me, and noticed that the Chariot’s weight had mysteriously (and significantly) increased since the last time I had used it, so heavy was it to push. Did 40 minutes anyway, but felt very tired.

On Saturday, swapped the 4 miles initially planned for that day for a “is there any point in doing that race tomorrow?” session, on the coach.

On Saturday night, N°1 slept through the night for the first time in 3 weeks. Very well then – except N°2 did not… for the first time in 4 months. She woke up at 3am, I did not.
And that’s where you get the good news.

At the start on Sunday morning, I lined up by the 40min sign, thinking I may just be able to finish a few seconds below the shameful 40s. As soon as the gun went off and I started running, I could tell this was going to be hard. I just had no energy to push. Nothing. Zip. Today, there was no way I could hold a sub 4:00 min/km for 10K, so I decided to stick to 4:00, a pace I can normally sustain (for a while at least) while training. After the KM4 marker however, it became clear than even 4:00 would be too ambitious.

At KM5, as planned, Husband was waiting for me with Kids N°1 and 2.

Clearly thinking that, like the leading runner (who, in passing, will finish in an honourable sub-00:30:00), his mum deserved a motorbike escort, Kid N°1 started riding next to me on his push bike. Scared he would be knocked over, I shouted to him he could not come with me, the result being he was in tears and could still hear him cry several dozen meters after I had passed them. Today was clearly going to be my day, proving my skills at being both (and simultaneously, no less) a crap runner and a bad mother. 

From KM 6, I was running between 4:20-4:30, in other words, training pace, and there was no way I could go faster. It was actually a very weird feeling: it is not like my legs were hurting or my breath too short. No, I just had no energy in me, nothing at all to help me accelerate even a tiny bit, even if my mind definitely wanted to, even when I saw, from the corner of my eye, a girl about to overtake me less than 200m from the finish line.

Result : 00:43:24 –in bold so that those who came across this post only because they googled my name while trying to get confirmation I am an appalling runner will be spared the work of going though this (as usual rather) long post.

00:43:24 : pretty bad, hey, for somebody who had initially hopes for something close to 00:39:00, then thought it more realistic to lower her expectations to 00:40:00! It is so bad in fact that, had I indeed finished in 00:40:something, I may have been tempted not to write about it in the hope that nobody would notice, but 00:43:24 is just so far from my worst expectations that it is funny… in a somehow masochist and perverse way.

And there you are asking : so where the hell is the good news?

The goods news is that I survived the shame and am here to talk about it and say: have a really bad PW and sure, you’ll have to live in hiding for the rest of your life, but you won’t die.

Only joking.

The real good news is that, for the first time in my running life, and maybe even for (one of the) first times in my life-full-stop, I accepted a situation as it was, no matter how sub-optimal.

Yes, I was close to a physical wreck. Yes, I would not be able to perform like I normally should. Yes, I had all reasons to feel very sorry for myself that, for my first race in a long time, I would not be where I wanted to be. Oh, and did I mention how embarrassing it would be that somebody happens to goggle my name, tumble across my poor performance, and think that I am that  slow a runner? A 40’ something 10K time for – gasp - the whole world to see?

Instead, on that Saturday night, I was feeling (kind of) OK with the idea that this would not be the sub-40’ 10K I had expected.  But since I had signed up (and paid for) it, I would just go, and at least get the t-shirt.
And in the end I did gain more than a t-shirt. By gain, I am not talking about prize money (since the female race record is 00:33:28, I am under no illusion it will never fall into my lap, even on a exceptionally good good day), but about benefiting from the crash course in accepting one is not always at the top of ones ability and conditions not always optimal. In a nutshell and as I was reminded recently by somebody who knows me well, we’re not (always) “living in the world of Care Bears”… and I better get on with it and start accepting that (admittedly distressing) fact.

Call me a masochist, but I actually felt good, mentally if not physically, last Sunday. I did not decide against going. I did not quit (my previous self would not have either, once decided to be on the start line, but may have walked when it became obvious my body was just not responding). I felt happy to have my two kids cheering me up on the side (even if my way to show gratitude was to make one cry). I focused on how I was going to finish, no matter how slowly, instead of on how hard it felt. And it was not like I see myself as a 10K runner, and this particular one was the key event of my season, was it? Indeed not, except I normally would have felt crushed anyhow.

Most of all, I focused on the fact I had chosen to be there. And I was there because I love running, and that this did not change only because I had a PW. I started the race determined not to let negative thoughts creep in, and, guess what, it worked!

I recently read “Born to run”, and if I had only one takeaway to remember from this book, it is about the relation between performance and enjoyment (well, Mc Dougall may have not formulated it this way, but that’s what I decided to remember from my reading). It definitely worked for me my best races so far (admittedly as somebody who does not race often), two trail races where I finished 1st and 3rd lady, were the ones I ran feeling happy to be there, and was able not to let negative thoughts settling in.

And there is, of course, the added bonus I got to run with my big boy for an additional kilometre, if not the fastest, at least the most fun of the day.

From here to saying my PW was actually a (mental) PB is a gap I am bridging… at sub-4:00 pace.

September 26, 2012

PW - The Unfailing Recipe

Look at the best way to get a PB (Personal Best, for the non-runner reader who somehow would have by some mysterious way landed on this blog) and you’ll find dozens of books, articles, websites, blog posts, coaches, dietitians, pseudo-gurus telling you how to do it (and ideally charging you a hefty fee for it).

Look now at how to get a Personal Worst, or PW, and you are left figuring it out all on your own. There is no way round it, when it really does matter, people are selfish and keep their secrets for themselves. Well, since I have today become a (admittedly self proclaimed) expert on the topic, I thought I would be a sport (ah ah) and share my newly acquired wisdom. For free - that’s how cool I am.

The first, almost unavoidable thing is that you need to have kid(s). One is OK, several is much better. Then you need at least one, but again, ideally several, of the following ingredients:

- Your kid starting school and being not quite ok yet with the idea. As a result, he will wake up several times a night, because he wants to pee, or the wolf is trying to eat his belly, or a truck has waken him up, or he wants to see the stars, or he just wants you to sleep next to him, or him next to you (the order does matter, as the result will be the same: you won’t sleep). Since he will wake up several times a night, so will you. The main difference between you and him is that he will (most of the time) quickly get back to sleep (until he wakes up again, that is), but you won’t. 

- That’s when having a second kid comes handy. Should N°1 fail to throw a tantrum in the middle of the night, N°2 will volunteer to help and decide to wake up, say, around 3am, when you find it most difficult to fall asleep again, and ideally the night before the race. If, like our N°2, she usually never wakes up at night, even better: it adds mental destabilization to your feeling of immense physical tiredness.

- Make sure you choose children whose weak point is ENT. That way N°1 has a runny nose after half a day of school despite the fact he has not been ill for the past two (spent at home) months, N°2 follows two days later, and dutifully makes sure you end up ill as well. Except that, unlike your children who seem to get better in less than a week, you end up, three weeks later and on the eve of the race, still ill, still not able to breathe properly, which –isn’t that weird - is less than optimal for running. 

- Oh, and make sure you’re still breastfeeding too, so that you can’t take any medicine to help getting rid of that cold. And by “not any”, I mean just that. The nose spray the pediatrician gave N°2, which you (clearly naively) thought made it safe for you to take (if she inhales it directly, it should be ok to get a micron of it in breast milk, right?), reads on the notice : “avoid taking while breastfeeding”. Homeopathy? Shame that what is most efficient for colds is also what works best if ever you want to dry her only source of food, your boobs, out…

For good measure, start your business at the same time kids are starting school and day care and are ill. That way, even if you had a bit of time and energy left for any training runs, you’ll make sure these are the shortest runs and best junk miles you’ve ever done.

Also, do NOT do any specific training such as speed work, intervals or tempo runs. And to make sure you stick to this plan even though you may be tempted to train properly, make sure that you almost only have time for runs after the kids are in bed and it is pitch black outside and you live in the countryside with no street lighting but plenty of crazy drivers. If you can live somewhere mountainous with no flat stretch longer than a few yards, even better : it is the worst terrain to train for a flat 10K.
Of course, you can try for a PW even if you’re child-free. But let’s face it, sticking to the plan will be harder. You may for instance try to go out every single night for three weeks prior to the race to make sure you’re a wreck. You may lock your running shoes for the same period so that you don’t get any proper training done in the hope your legs will feel like lead on race day. But let’s face it, you’re very likely to cave in to the runner’s most basic instincts, and sooner rather than later start getting enough sleep, eat healthily again and start lacing up your running shoes to sneak one in every other day. That’s where having kids comes handy, as a kid is the best – as in, toughest - personal trainer, who will show no pity and unlimited personal commitment when it comes to helping you achieving your goal of a PW. 

Still doubtful? Still in need of some evidence the recipe works? Wait until the next episode, where, strictly for the benefit of science, I put the method to test…

September 15, 2012

It Is a Tough World Out There

Shame they don’t tell you before you have kids how the first days (weeks? Years?) of school are going to be like, because I would have enrolled on a training camp to toughen up. Or, better still, decide to hibernate, leave the husband deal with it, and wake up when it is time for summer holiday again. I may not have opted for the smartest thing to do when one is so bad at handling the drama involved, namely not to have a kid at all, but that’s only because I am not wise enough. 

To cut a (few days) long story short, things have not gone too well, school-wise, so far.

We did everything right, that is, before school effectively started and everything went pear shape. The list of things to bring had been carefully read, stuff bought and items crossed. Clothes had been tagged (admittedly in the night prior to the first day of school, but tagged anyhow). Cheerful comments about how big a boy N°1 now was and how excited it was that he would now be going to school. Visit to the hairdresser done. We even managed a shot of the four of us by the house, cheerfully leaving home for school on that first day.

and also a shot of the two of us looking relax and happy (I am the queen of faking)

A few minutes later, "cheerful" was a word which had been crossed out of our home dictionary.

I am lying a tiny bit since first school-day was actually OK (ish), but that's not saying much since the first day was actually one hour, half of which I spent at school with n°1.

On day 2, The Dad called me after having dropped Kid n°1 at school, to let me know n°1 was crying his head off when he left, and had said, unprompted, on the way to school that “really, he did not mind being left by himself at school”. If something should have raised the flag, I guess that was it.

On day 3 and 4, I took n°1 to school, and both mornings he tried to dive from the teacher’s assistant’s arms, through the glass door and in my arms, and I could hear him shout from the end of the corridor that he wanted to go home with me.

In between, I’ve had n°1 telling me he did not want me to start working again, as if I did not manage to build up enough guilt on my own.  He’s also been waking us up up to four times a night, something none of our kids has ever done, not even when they were only a few days old, or when n°2 was born, or when we moved home (I knew we would pay for that luck, sooner or later). And if you ever wondered whether sleep deprivation helps seeing things in a brighter light, I can ensure you, it does not. And what to reply to a little boy who is telling you he is “a bit scared” because there are “too many children” at school? “Wait, you’ve only met 28 of them out of 350”?

I know it’ll get better. At least I hope it will. In the meantime, the silver lining of this drama (if I really must come up with one) is that his sister is meanwhile starting day-care, all smiles and cute, funny noises, and I don’t even have time to realise that, starting next week when she’ll go to day-care three days a week, I will miss 42% of those smiles and cute, funny noises.

In the midst of all this, I have decided to sign up for my first 10K in... ages. I may not do too well, but at least, I now have "sleep deprivation" and "unlimited stress" to add to "lack of specific training" on my list of excuses when it is time to justify my appalling performance.