My nontraditional relationship with sleep

You could say I have an on again/off again relationship with sleep. There are stretches where I sleep like a milk-drunk baby for weeks and then there are stretches where it seems like I can’t get a good night’s rest if my life depended on it. Come to think of it, if my life depended on a good night’s rest, that would probably be too stressful for me to get a good night’s rest. That’s unfortunate.

Seriously, who would threaten someone for not getting a good night's rest? That's like telling someone not to think about purple elephants.
Seriously, who would threaten someone for not getting a good night’s rest? That’s like telling someone not to think about purple elephants.

But this is a running blog. So why are we talking about sleep? Because sleep is awesome. It makes me well-rested and keeps me from punching random people in the face (I’m looking at you, Jeff). Exercise also helps sleep. One, you’re less stressed, which makes sleep easier. Two, you’re so freakin’ exhausted you can’t help but pass out.

While I like option one for helping me go to sleep, sometimes it’s option two that does the trick.

I try to let ideas for posts emerge from life, so I’ll tell you how option two snuck up on me this week.

Sneaky like a ninja

It’s been a long few days from work and travel. I haven’t been great at exercise, but I have been trying. I’m finally getting back in the swing of things, so I decided to go to yoga the other night.

Class was great, nothing eventful. I went home, at dinner (a pizza ‘cause Fatty’s making decisions again; seriously, he ate three donuts today), did some laundry, and then goofed off on the Internet like a proud member of my generation.

It was getting close to when I was going to bed, so I shut down the computer, set it aside, and then passed out cold. There was just one problem: I hadn’t actually meant to fall asleep. I still needed to get up off the couch, shower, and brush my teeth. You know, actually get ready for bed.

couchupright
Seriously, look how many Z’s there are. That’s some serious sleep.

But no. I just passed out cold in my yoga gear. I was lying back on a pillow and I had a blanket over me, so I guess my body overruled my routine. I woke up about four hours later, noticed that I was on the couch and all the lights were one, and then went right back to sleep for another hour.

Oh, what's this? I've fallen asleep with all the lights on. I should probably rest a bit more before I exerting myself to flip those light switches.
Oh, what’s this? I’ve fallen asleep with all the lights on. I should probably rest a bit more before I exerting myself to flip those light switches.

On the second go, I did manage to get up and turn the lights off, but I didn’t want to have trouble going back to sleep, and sometimes a cold bed does that, so I just crawled back on the couch and tried to go to sleep. Of course, this time it took me a few minutes to go back to sleep, but I woke up about another 4 hours later ready for the day. Mostly. I still just wanted to be asleep. Hell, I still want to be asleep now.

Side note, Fitbit’s really good at guessing when you’re asleep. I usually set the manual timer so it tracks start and end, but I didn’t when I acted like a narcoleptic. But I did remember when I turned the computer off and obviously knew when I woke up, so when I synced the Fitbit, it was cool to see that it guessed when I went to sleep within about 5 minutes.

Of course, this isn’t the only time I’ve fallen asleep when I shouldn’t have (at least not per societal norms).

I’ve fallen asleep a lot of times in odd scenarios.

One time I was doing yoga at home and got to savasana (corpse pose [how delightful is that name; seriously, that’s supposed to be like the best part of yoga, and they call it the corpse pose]). 45 minutes I woke up on my yoga mat really confused and achy because sleeping on a yoga mat on a tile floor isn’t the best plan.

yogasleep
I like to think I was just in a really deep meditative state. I know, put my earmuffs on the cookie.

And of course, I actually fell asleep in a yoga class this week. I only drifted for a minute or two, but it’s still a bit jarring.

Same as before, just imagine waking up in a crowd of strangers who are dressed in tights for some reason
Same as before, just imagine waking up in a crowd of strangers who are dressed in tights for some reason

One of my favorites was falling asleep in the laundry room the first year in the dorms. I’d had a laundry basket stolen (roommate borrowed it and left it down there, so it walked off; roommate replaced it, so no harm no foul) and heard too many stories of people messing with clothes in the washer or dryer, so I just stayed down there. I didn’t usually take a book for some reason. No clue why. Maybe I was afraid a book would put me to sleep. One day, I laid back on a bench and then startled awake when I heard the toilet in the laundry room’s restroom flush. The thing that’s creepy about this is that I was initially alone. I never heard anyone come in. I was out like a light. Someone walked in, went to the restroom, and I never noticed.

Another time, I feel asleep on the edges of a concrete foundation for these little houses when I was working a summer job. There was maybe two feet of foundation that stuck out past the wall, and I laid down and passed out. My coworkers didn’t know where I’d gone during the 15-minute break. The best naps are the ones no one expects.

In high school, I was reading Tale of Two Cities for fun (because what 14-year-old doesn’t want to read Dickens?). The book was a slow starter. Once I got going, I loved it, but man those first couple of chapters were killer. I fell asleep while reading.  I had the book open, and just conked out. And then got made fun of because this was in the middle of a classroom.

And my last falling asleep randomly story may be the oddest. I was sitting on the end of my futon (‘cause I’m classy) and reading something for work or class. I was exhausted. I finished a section or chapter, and just leaned over so I could rest before continuing. I can’t even find a picture of what this looked like, so I’ll do my best to describe it (and I made a picture). Imagine you’re sitting, and just rotate down to the cushions, leaving your hips and legs where they are. Shoulders and head on the couch like you’re laying down, but your hips, legs, and feet positioned like you’re sitting up. And then I fell asleep for an hour. That was a weird wake up. Not because I feel asleep (I knew I was exhausted) but because of how I fell asleep and how long I managed to sleep like that.

I still don't fully understand how this happened and how I slept so long.
I still don’t fully understand how this happened and how I slept so long.

There are nights I can’t sleep without finding the perfect position, and then there are times where I’ll pass out at the first opportunity.

And this is my weird relationship with sleep. Even though all those odd instances jump out as abnormal in most contexts, I actually sleep better in new situations. I have no clue why; I’ve just noticed that it occurs.

Sleep is hit or miss for me. Sometimes I go to sleep immediately and sleep through the night. Sometimes I wake up intermittently throughout the night for no apparent reason. And a couple of times a year, I can’t sleep until about 3 in the morning randomly.

But when I’m having trouble sleeping, my hack is to move. The more I get used to something, the harder it is for me to sleep, so I sometimes just move to help me sleep.

I currently have 4 different places I will sleep the night in my apartment. I try to stick with the bed, but if I know I’m going to have issues sleeping, I just start somewhere else. If I can’t go to sleep within 30 minutes, I usually move my sleeping location. And I’ll move in the middle of the night if something is mentally waking me back up (ever have a dream so vivid and cutting to your core that you feel like you have to reevaluate things? Yeah, on those nights, I have to move).

And it all comes back to sleeping better in new places, beds, etc.

I’ve always noticed on trips that I slept really well. Partially it was fatigue from travel, but a lot of it stems from being somewhere new. Even if I just crashed at a friends house, I always slept better than I would at home.

I did it as a kid without realizing it. Sometimes I would get up and move to the couch (and freak out my parents in the morning when I got up and moved after they’d been up a while without realizing I was within 20 feet of them without them knowing it). Other times, I would just sleep on the floor in my room.

Comfortable beds don’t hold that much appeal for me. I sleep wherever I sleep.

OK, maybe this is a bit extreme.

I’ve even deliberately fallen asleep in two chairs (sitting in one, legs propped up in the other; if you angle them just right, you can kind of lengthen the surface so it’s not too cramped) because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor. I did this for 4 nights. I regret nothing.

So I have no real idea how this is relevant to running, but it seemed like a fun story to tell. And you know what? YOLO. Yeah, I said it. Deal with it. I’m impressed you made it this far. I wouldn’t have even made it this far if I wasn’t the one writing. Hell, I’m not entirely sure I did. Someone else may have finished this for me.

-Q

#ihaterunning

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Every day I’m hustlin’

It’s been a while, and this won’t be a very long post, but I think it’s good to check in.

Recently went to a conference where I made the worst food decisions, and they were DELICIOUS. Seriously, one meal was salad, a biscuit, cornbread, three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chocolate cake, ice cream, and a drink of the relaxing variety (Seriously, 2,000 calories for the meal seems like a conservative estimate). This was a byproduct of Pittypat’s Porch in Atlanta. There was nothing healthy about this experience. So don’t regret it.

Sadly, that wasn’t all. Add burgers, fries, catfish, more fried chicken, and more. I honestly can’t remember it all. My brain may be shutting down from all the calories.

That said, it wasn’t a total loss. I took my running gear with me. I also told a coworker they could punch me in the face if I didn’t run while I was at my conference.

I honestly think they would have taken me up on the offer. Really, how often do you get permission to punch someone in the face?

And so I ran. It wasn’t great, but it was something.

The hotel was actually cool enough to have a couple of routes mapped out around downtown Atlanta, but a couple of things prevented that. 1) It was raining the day I could run. 2) I thought I was coming down with a cold, so running in the cold and rain, seemed like even less of a good idea than it did under the best circumstances. 3) I didn’t really feel like running around downtown Atlanta when I don’t really know downtown Atlanta.

And so I was bound for the hotel treadmills.

They weren’t bad as far as hotel fitness centers go, but I was still on a treadmill. It’s actually been almost 3 years since I’ve used one.

That said, I did manage to find a 5K nature trail run.

IMG_1316

And this is what I stared at for 30 minutes. It was an overview of a nature trail. Seems pointless, but I still liked it better than watching me loop a track over and over again from overhead.

So I ran. It wasn’t great, but it was better than the run I didn’t take, so we’ll call it a win.

IMG_1317

Ignore the calories. Fatty plugged in his weight late in the process. Promise I burned more than that.

So not a full 3 miles, but it was something. And hopefully I can get back into the swing of things before the next 5K.

-Q

#ihaterunning

Fighting to Relax: Yoga and Running

I’ve mentioned before on here that I do yoga. I have been for almost six years now.

Initially, it was for pain management. I’ve dealt with lingering back issues, and they flare up more often when I’m being inactive. But while that’s how initially got into yoga, I’ve benefited from the other benefits as well.

Wait, you’re a yogi?

Not that kind of yogi

Yep. That said, I don’t know that I fit the mold of the typical yogi (by that I mean, I’m 190 pounds, and I definitely do not fit the mold of a typical yogi). But I also don’t feel like a fit as a runner (by that I mean I’m 190 pounds, and I look like I know my way around a pizza buffet). That said, with regard to fitness, the things you’re the worst are the things you should be focusing on. That’s how we grow. At least that’s what people keep telling me.

So yoga. Yeah, we’re talking about yoga. I still don’t fully understand how I got to yoga. I had back pain, saw a show on PBS about Pilates and how it helps with things like back pain, and then I decided to start doing yoga ‘cause I’m not doing frickin’ Pilates.

So what is yoga?

I guess this depends on the yogi. For some, it’s stretching and strength exercises. At it’s core, though, it was started as meditation. It can be something akin to a religious experience. And then there are people like me who might have even more specific expectations for what yoga is (e.g., pain management).

So how does this relate to running?

Lots of ways. Let’s start with pain management.

I started doing yoga for back pain. When I was doing it daily, I realized my back wasn’t really hurting but neither was my knee. That was unexpected.

When I’m running, that’s stress on my body, especially said knee and back. If you ignore that I’m at a healthy weight, I’m really just a fat kid who runs. I wheeze, I ache, and I hate it. Yoga’s a great way to keep those aches and pains from flaring up too much.

Yoga also benefits running as an extra workout. You’re improving flexibility, which is awesome. You’re improving core strength, also awesome. And, in addition to working big muscles, yoga hits smaller muscles that might not get worked while running. Basically, you’re getting a more balanced workout when compared to running. Where running leads to imbalances, that’s the antithesis of a yoga workout.

One of the benefits I never really paid much attention to until the last few months was breathing. For years, I did yoga on my own. While I knew I was supposed to be breathing deeply and slowly, I lapsed on effort there sometimes. In yoga class, they focus on breathing, so a couple of times a week I focus on breathing for an hour. When I’m running, I’m taking those gains from working on breathing deeply and using that while I run. I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t die at the 5K. I was really focusing on breathing, and that’s a direct benefit of yoga.

And of course, yoga is meditation and meditation helps relieve stress.

This allows you and your body to just be in better shape.

It’s easy to view meditation as some hippy thing that’s all about relaxation, but meditation is actually a very active process. When you look at monks who’ve been meditating for decades, their brains are incredibly active in the process. So even though you’ll be more relaxed as a result, meditation is still an active process. This isn’t too different than the effects of running for some people. Running is how some people sort out their days or how they clear their heads.

But for me, yoga more so than running is about forgetting everything. I have fewer stray thoughts in yoga compared to running. Getting rid of these thoughts helps my day feel less cluttered, which leads to less stress, which means it’s less likely I’ll con myself into skipping an afternoon run.

So yeah, that’s all I have to say about that.

Yoga’s pretty awesome if you can get past the weirdness of it. That said, if you’re reading this, it’s a good chance you’re a runner. No one’s chasing you and you’re still going. And when you’re in a race, remember you’re in a crowd of people who are basically wearing synthetic underwear as their entire outfit (if the weather’s warm). So who’s the weirdo after all?

-Q

#ihaterunning

I’m not losing to THAT guy

Anger is a healthy part of running distance races, especially for those of us who aren’t at the front of the pack. If it was something I was good at, I might actually like running.

If I was at the front of the pack, I imagine that Morgan Freeman would be narrating my race. In the middle, struggling along, it sounds a lot more like Samuel L. Jackson

Pain and anger are fairly universal parts of running. Pain is obvious. Some people strain muscles, others twist their ankles, and a few unlucky bastards deal with bleeding nipples.

Anger is less obvious because it’s internal. Usually, anyway. Some people evidently yell profanities while running.

Anger is that inner dialogue. It’s that f-bomb that drops when you see that stupid hill you always suppress in your memories of the route. It’s that creative French cuss word you learned in high school when you see those runners who are going much faster and appear to breathing just fine.

And sometimes anger shows up during a race. I think most people have the universal “that jerk” story from a race. Some of us have even been that jerk.

Some stories are fairly typical. The person who runs really fast and then walks is a common story (I know a thing or two about that). There are the people who run 3 wide. There are the ones who don’t move to the side. Sometimes they’re a bit stranger. It could be the way they’re dressed or just the way they act. But they’re insufferable, either way.

And what happens for a lot of people is that jerk is either right in front of them or they just got passed the jerk, and they can’t stand the thought of losing to that jerk, and they pick up the pace just to be beat THAT guy.

For me, it was a guy running in Vibrams at my 3rd 5K (which was really 2.2 with the wrong route business). He was trudging in front of me, and I couldn’t stand the thought of him beating me basically barefoot. I kept my pace up as much as I could. Unfortunately, I lost. Who knows, maybe when he passed me he thought the same thing about me. I was one of those jerks who walks in the middle of the race (but not in the middle of the road, thank you very much).

So what’s your story? When did you see someone and think, “I am NOT losing to THAT guy!”

Race 1: Frozen toes and hot chocolate

The first one’s in the books.

I’m not sure exactly how, but I came in under 31 minutes (30:49.9 if we want to be specific; 9:55 pace). I even got sixth in my age group, though I would have done much worse in every other age group near me; turns out men 20-29 don’t do 5Ks like other demographic groups. I’m optimistic that I’ll get to steal a medal because there’s no one else competing. I have zero shame about winning stuff.

So yeah, the actual run turned out about as well as I could expect. I honestly was just hoping to break 35 minutes, for many reasons. One, my training runs haven’t gone well enough for me to think I had a 10-minute mile pace in me. Two, I wasn’t feeling great in the days leading up to race; probably just jitters, but I had no energy. Three, I knew I was going to have walk large chunks, so that meant the actual running had to be faster than a 10-minute mile pace, but I’ll go into the more in-depth later. I thought 35 would be difficult enough. 31 minutes seemed like a pipe dream.

There’s a lot to cover, so sorry if this goes a bit overboard. If you want to stop now: it was cold, I ran, and I drank the second-best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. I also wore a Punisher shirt (turns out I’ve decided to try to wear a different superhero shirt for each race; this is going to end up being a very expensive joke.).

The Weather

The weather is the natural starting point. As soon as my weather app was making predictions, I was watching like a hawk. Leading up to today, there was rain in the area, but luckily it cleared. Unfortunately, when it cleared, the overnight lows dropped about 10 degrees, so the race was going to start near the freezing mark. The last little hiccup was the warning from the weather channel to watch out for black ice. The run is on a bridge. Bridges ice before roads. And there would be cars on the bridge with the runners. Nice.

When I stepped out of my hotel to make the drive, I was already running a bit later than I’d planned, though I knew I was probably ok as long as I was there by 8. I looked at my car, and it was covered in ice. So much so that the door was a bit stiff in opening. Luckily, I have an ice scraper, so I cranked the car, started blasting the defroster, and went to town with the ice scraper so that I wasn’t a complete hazard on the road.

That said, it really wasn’t that bad. It was very cold. But it was also sunny, and by the time that 8 a.m. rolled around, it was above freezing (by 2 degrees, but I’ll take it). Ice wasn’t an issue. It’s a busy enough road that traffic would have melted any, and they had salted the spillway. Again, it was cold, but it was manageable. More annoying was going across the spillway and the water spray that was coming up. Not pleasant in the low 30s. I still don’t know if it was on the road and picked up by the cars or if the wind was picking it up from the spillway.

Putting the Ducks in a Row

Segueing from the weather, we’ll turn our attention to the organization of the event. All in all, it was fairly well run. The biggest issues were in the promotion of the event.

I guess they assumed people doing the event would be local and know where things were (you know, as opposed to driving 2 hours to run for 30 minutes). The info said it was at Rankin Landing at the Barnett Reservoir. That’s nice except you can’t find info on where this place is located. I think I’ve got some decent googling skills, and I got nothing. It wasn’t until I ran across the people who were actually running the race (the people being paid to do timing, setting up the route, etc.) that I saw the route. They used a google map (or some lesser competitor’s) image, and so I was able to work backward from there to find where the race started. This at least gave me an idea of the direction I was going. I never actually had an address to go to.

I was able to come into town the night before early enough to pick up my materials early, so in those materials was parking information because it turns out you can’t park at Rankin Landing during the event; you actually have to park somewhere else (it was basically some abandoned parking lot that I can’t remember the name of). But if you didn’t pick up your packet early, which many didn’t, you wouldn’t know this. You would just show up and there would be cops directing traffic. There wasn’t any signage, so it wasn’t the best planning for directing runners to the right parking. Knowing where I was supposed to park based on an educated guess from Google Maps, I still had a bit of trouble getting where I was supposed. I feel bad for people just trying to pass through.

Now all that being said, the actual event was run pretty well. I knew where I was going, so that wasn’t an issue. The cops that were directing traffic were awesome at what they were doing, and surprisingly cheery considering it was early on a Saturday and close to freezing. The route went over the reservoir’s spillway, with one lane of traffic blocked off and the shoulder acting as the route. It was a pure straight shot up one way and back. I wasn’t sure how I would react to this, and I’m still not sure how I’d react in a situation when I wasn’t freezing my ass off. We were just running in a straight line, reached the end, and they literally had someone holding a sign that said, “Turn around.”

It was a little funny. The oddest part is that there wasn’t a real point to go to and then turn around, like a cone to run around. People were just running up the edge and turning around when they wanted. It was a weird moment of having to police yourself. Maybe if you didn’t go far enough the people making sure you didn’t go too far would heckle. Who knows.

And then you run back. Between the sun coming up and the reflection off the wet road, it was hard to see the other people, which worked, though I did see at least two of the walkers wearing tutus.

Running

And now we’re at the actual run. It’s amazing how much more time is spent on the other stuff instead of, you know, the run.

I will be eternally grateful to organizers for starting on time. I was scared to death they would start late to accommodate anyone running behind because of the cold. But they started right at 8, and I wanted to buy them a cake for that.

The start was a bit odd, but they always seem to be a bit odd. There was a decent enough number of people (a bit more than 300 including runners and walkers, though I was afraid more would be there because a news story on last year’s said more than 800; I’m guessing that was a mistake, but still it was a decent crowd.). So they have all us kind of crowd around, and it would appear that no one is going to obey the courtesy of fast in front and slow in back, including me.

We start as basically a waterfall, funneling from the parking lot to the roadway. This would be fine if people were obeying common courtesy. Near the very front, there was one of the power walkers. Now, I respect their right to walk instead of run. That said, don’t get in front of everyone. I was running with a friend of mine, and even though we weren’t intending to run together, we were immediately split because I got caught behind a hypercompetitive power walker.

It took enough time for me to get around her and similar folks that by the time everyone’s paces had evened out after race jitters settled, my friend was about 30-60 seconds ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, my friend finished a solid 3 minutes ahead of me, and I wasn’t going to catch her, but it’s still rude to get in people’s way.

Once everything settled down, it was down to running. Not exactly the easy part, but it’s at least the simple part. I’m a big wuss when it comes to running in the cold, in large part because the cold air is hard to breathe, but luckily, that wasn’t really a problem (I have no idea why; it usually is).

My feet on the other hand didn’t do so well. I was wearing the same shoes and socks I wear in the summer. I had seen recommendations to adjust for cold weather, but I thought my feet would warm up soon enough. I was wrong. It took about half the race before my feet and toes were no longer frozen (or they were so frozen I no longer noticed; either way, I stopped noticing them, so it was a win).

As I said earlier, I knew I was going to have to walk large chunks of the run; I just didn’t know how long it would take before that process started. And so around eight and half minutes in, I had to start mixing in walking. And this means I started yo-yoing my pace and I became THAT guy.

Everyone hates that guy. The one whom you’re about to catch and then they start running again. Or they pass you and start walking. And repeat. For 3 miles.

I’m not intentionally that guy, but I know other people could easily think of me as that guy. I feel bad for the first person I was yo-yoing with. It was a larger guy who wasn’t jogging quick at all. What ended up happening is that I caught him and not long after, I hit my first walk. So when I walk, I count off 60 seconds, and I start running again. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, it’s enough time for me to catch my breath. Two, it sets a limit that keeps me from getting lazy. Three, it gives me less guild about being that guy. I know that I’ll run at 60 seconds, regardless of who’s around.

Problem is about 5-10 seconds before I’m going to start running, the guy passes me, still jogging. And then I start jogging, and I pass him. And then I start walking, and right before I’m going to start running again, he passes me. It only happened two or three times, but I really wanted to apologize just so he knew I wasn’t doing it on purpose.

But the first half goes fairly quick. I check my watch, and I’m only at about 15 or so minutes at the turnaround. This is good and bad. It means I’m on pace for a good time (one that I’m happy with, anyway), but it also means I’m running faster than I meant to because I walked at least twice on the first part for a minute each time.

The way back was a much more frequent mix of running and walking. I walked at least 4 times, but it could have been more.

The strangest thing that happened during the race (keep in mind that I saw people walking in tutus) was when I started to walk one time right after passing this lady in her 40s or 50s (again, I’m sorry about being that guy. I’m not doing it on purpose; I swear). She turned around and kind of grabbed me, and told me she’s not running that fast and that I could run with her. I was so tired at that point that I barely knew how to react. I’m sure she was just being nice/encouraging, but I just kind of smiled (or at least tried to; again, very tired. Facial expressions aren’t my specialty even when I’m not cold and tired), and shook my head. She kept going, and I didn’t see her again. I’d kind of like to think she was someone I knew in the future who traveled back in time just to mess with me knowing that would bug the crap out of me.

But I kept going. I was still yo-yoing, but I think I might have accidentally picked up my running pace on the way back (seems like a good guess given I arrived at the finish at about the same pace I hit the halfway point, despite walking at least twice as much). I never saw the guy I was yo-yoing with on the way out, but I found new people to do this to (I realize there is some sort of runners’ hell where I’m going to pay for doing this, even if it was an accident).

The last 3 times, a teenage girl was one of the people I was doing this to. I know it’s obnoxious, so on the second time, she turned around and said something, so naturally knowing I was doing something people consider obnoxious and I already had someone unexpectedly interact with me, I thought she was heckling. I had an earbud in and music going, so I didn’t know what she said. The third time it happened, she said something, but this time I heard it. She was asking if I had the time. I really should stop thinking the worst of people. At least at 5Ks. It was 28:30 into the race once I realized what she’d asked. Of course, she was running ahead of me and I was walking, so I had to shout it.

And then this is where I became a competitive jerk (though I’d like to think I would have done the same had there been no one around).

On my next to last walk, I could see the landing and the finish line, so I thought I’d just run the rest of the way. Early in the next running segment, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I started walking (this is when I got asked the time) so that I wouldn’t have walk so close the finish line or risk puking. After my last walking segment was done, I started running again. And because I knew how close I was, I picked up the pace a little. My lungs are what fail me, not my legs, so I know I can get away with going anaerobic at the end like this. As I got in the last couple hundred yards, I started lengthening my stride and pushing the pace. The girl was picking up her pace too, so as we’re coming to the finish line, I’m basically doing my best to beat a teenage girl to the finish line. And I did. By a bit more than a second. I really should stop doing things like that.

But I made it, somehow, someway.

After the End

There was a lot of walking after the finish line so that I could catch my breath. Because it was cold, a lot people had already cleared out, but the ones that stuck around seemed a bit too cheery. I kind of hated them. I was not cheery. Not at all. I was exhausted. And hungry.

So I grabbed snacks and drinks and talked to my friend as we came down from the rush of the race. She was excited and had a great time. I kind of hated her too, but it was good to have a friend there. Made dealing with a crowd of strangers easier.

And the snacks were delicious. That may be the best part of races. The food and drinks always taste like ambrosia and nectar afterward. I inhaled a half-sized bottle of water, stole a Dr. Pepper for my morning caffeine fix, and grabbed a cup of hot chocolate. That was the second-best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, right behind the one I had after wading into a freezing cold river for class in high school.

And I survived. I went to the hotel, made the mistake of sitting down, eventually stood back up, got cleaned up, and then made the drive home.

And I wrote this. It may not be very coherent. I’m still tired. It could be in Klingon for all I know, but I ran the first 5K of the Super Awesome Year of the 5K. And now I get to recuperate for a week.

-Q

#ihaterunning

The Final Countdown (of the 1st race)

So as we get ready for the first race of the Super Awesome Year of the 5K, we have to talk about prep. I have done 5Ks before, so this isn’t my first rodeo. That said, I’ve only done 3 (4 if you include a mud run). It’s not like getting up and rolling out of bed. No, it’s like getting up, rolling out of bed, milling around with a crowd of strangers, and then running 3.1 miles for a t-shirt.

My first 5K was a small affair, so it was low stress. My second one was a bit bigger, but it was on a route I knew, so not overly bad. The third was just obnoxious on many levels. It was in a place I’d never run before. There was WAY more people. The route wasn’t marked right, so everyone ran the wrong distance.

In short, I like to worry.

One of the ways to combat anxiety over a situation is to unravel it to understand what’s going on. My way of doing this was to (re)read race prep material.

It breaks down into a few different sections. You’ve got the prep that actually starts days before (excluding the whole, you know, running thing). Then you’ve got prep that discusses how to dress, which is more in-depth for cold-weather racing (we’re looking at 32F [0C] as the starting temp). And of course the actual running of the race.

So let’s take a look at all of this.

Pre-prep Prep

There are three big pieces of advice the show up.

1st is to relax. You cut down on your exercise so you’re body is rested. You also just need to take a chill pill

The gist of this is trying to get your mind right so you’re not keyed up and basically psyching yourself out. Think of it like test anxiety. You can do everything you’re supposed to, but if you aren’t mentally in it, it doesn’t mean jack.

2nd is getting enough sleep in the days leading up to the race. That’s right, I said days. Evidently, the night before doesn’t really matter. The days leading up to the race, however, are important. It makes sense. You’re body is built to overcome short-term hurdles, but long-term ones are problematic. Not getting enough rest one night is obnoxious, but if you do it several days in a row, you’re body will stage a coup.

3rd is carbs. This is one of those murky areas that a lot of people aren’t always on board with. If nothing else, you need to be eating easily digestible food so you’re not running on an upset stomach the next day.

Combatting the Cold: Frosty’s Revenge

The cold is an added hurdle I’m neither amused nor adequately prepared for. I have clothes, but I completely lack the willpower to run well in the cold. I don’t like running, much less when you throw in extra crap that I’m not really prepared for.

So first, let’s talk about the effects of the cold. You’re body reacts differently to the cold than it does in the warmth. In short, you burn more energy trying to stay warm, which adversely affects your ability to run as well as you normally would. So what’s happening? Relative to warmer temps, you’re body is doing a few things:

  • Burns more carbs than fat,
  • More oxygen is needed to maintain the same pace, leading to increased lactic acid build up, and
  • Fast twitch fibers are being used more than slow twitch muscle fibers, which isn’t how a distance runner wants things to go.

Now all that said, this is going to be the one time I have the advantage over the skinny little twigs running with me. My body fat will finally make itself useful and keep me warmer. I hope they shiver like Chihuahuas.

So it’s cold and our bodies don’t like it. Now we’ve got to alter how we dress (or become polar bears; no one seems to mention this option). The big thing is layers. When in doubt add extra layers.

The worst case is that you get too warm in the run and you ditch material as you go.

These layers should be synthetic so it doesn’t trap whatever you sweat. You may also look into gloves and a hat if you’re feeling extra cool.

And lastly, warming up is different in the cold. It takes longer and you also don’t want to stop until the last minute because you’ll just get cold (and try to avoid sweating, ‘cause that’s just going to make you have to right back to the start).

Are We Done Yet?

So we’re relaxed, we’re dressed properly, and we’re warm. Now all we have to do is run 3.1 miles.

This might not be the easy part, but at least it’s straightforward.

Don’t drink too much right before. You need to be hydrated, but that’s in the hours leading up to the race, not the minutes. No one wants to slosh around, and no one wants to hear you sloshing around, so go easy on the drink.

The big thing as you’re running is to run your race. It’s easy to get excited by the race, by the crowd, by the hot chocolate waiting at the end, and then run so fast that your final time is slower than it should have been because you burned out.

If you have gadgets that tell you your pace, use them. If not, be mindful of how you’re running. It’s easy to get carried away. I’m a hypercompetitive person, so this is really the most difficult part for me. For a few hundred yards, I look like a champ, but I know I don’t have the conditioning to keep up a fast pace. I have to force myself to run a slower pace than I really want to.

That said, be within reason. I already know I’m going to have to alternate running and walking. It is what it is. I actually clipped out a 10-minute mile average my first 5K despite walking VERY large chunks of the route. I found it do hard to go slowly, so I trailed a runner who had a comfortable pace until my (lack of) conditioning finally caught up to me. After that initial stop, I was just walking until I caught my breath and running until it was no longer feasible. That’s probably what I’ll end up having to do for the 1st 5K. Hopefully, I can at least crack 35 minutes. That seems vaguely reasonable based on what I’ve been running when the zombies have been chasing me.

But who knows. Good or bad, the 1st 5K is happening. The point is to do it. That’s all that really matters. And then fatty can have his hot chocolate.

-Q

#ihaterunning

When you’re satisfied with progress, you need to quit. You just need to be satisfied with the process.

Every once in a while, I say something that actually sounds somewhat intelligent. I don’t know how it happens; it just does.

A friend of mine is a runner (like actually runs long distances, half marathons and all that jazz). I made a comment about not making very fast progress, which I’ve discussed before. She replied that she’s been at it since 2011 and still isn’t satisfied with where she was at.

I understand that. I’ve never been happy with where I was at. No competitive person is, so I responded with this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 7.46.07 PM

Originally, that last sentence wasn’t going to be there. My initial thoughts were summed up in the first two sentences, but I had that “well, that’s depressing” thought. And I knew this wasn’t the full extent of my beliefs. Satisfaction is wonderful. The person who is at peace with their place in the universe is much better off than the person who is constantly unhappy with their situation.

That last sentence takes the competitive tinge out a bit and instead focuses on growth. And this is closer to my true beliefs. No matter what, I want to get better. Even if I achieve everything I want in one aspect of my life, there will always be somewhere else for me to grow. Even if I could run a marathon (never happening, by the way; just an example), I wouldn’t be satisfied with something that is a pretty awesome achievement. I would instead turn my attention to finishing within a certain timeframe. I might change race distances. I would do something so I could keep growing. The process means growth has to occur.

Of course, I realized what I had said was actually somewhat useful as something to carry around with me, so it had to make its way into this blog post. And if I ever become a motivational speaker, this will be my fallback line.

And now, the rest of the story

Yes, I did just rip off Paul Harvey. Good day.

Being satisfied with progress is different than being satisfied with the process. Honestly, being satisfied with progress is something I see more as happiness (i.e., I’ve got what I want) and being satisfied with the process is something I see as true satisfaction (i.e., I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing).

An article by the Atlantic covers the difference between happiness and meaning fairly well, though I sub in satisfaction for meaning, fairly well. I really recommend reading the article, but in case you just want a synopsis: Happiness can be viewed as selfish (e.g., happy people tend to take from others more than they give). Meaning on the other hand stemmed more from selflessness (e.g., meaning was derived from things like charitable acts or other service). Meaning often comes at the expense of happiness, but it gives us something more permanent and more worthwhile to attain.

As I said, I use satisfaction as a synonym for meaning, at least true satisfaction. The difference between satisfaction and happiness is the difference between eating healthy food and eating junk food. Junk food tastes better and feels like the better option in the short term, but healthy food, despite not having the immediate gratification, pays off in the long run. You sacrifice the easy choice so that you can have something worthwhile.

This has been a common theme for this blog.

When we look at satisfaction with progress versus satisfaction with the process, we’re seeing happiness versus satisfaction.

A person satisfied with their progress is happy and takes a day off. A person satisfied with the process has meaning and they come back for more the next day.

Satisfaction with progress doesn’t gel with my makeup. I’m a hypercompetitive person. If you’re familiar with StrenghtsFinder, you could take a guess that my highest strength is Competition.

I want to be the best, but more importantly, I want to get better. I truly believe when we stop growing is when we start dying. I fear the day I don’t learn at least some new piece of information.

Growth is something I value, and growth is a process.

I’m not a believer in fate. I don’t believe things work out the way they’re supposed to. I believe people make decisions. I believe people can make good and bad decisions. I believe if we keep making the right decisions and we keep doing what we’re supposed to do, success will eventually occur, even in the face of monumental failures (and believe me, I’ve failed spectacularly many times).

Perseverance, basically.

My biggest successes have been results of perseverance. I’ve been absolutely floundering (i.e., hating my progress), and then things finally took a turn for the better (i.e., believing in the process). From the outside, it looks like things just clicked. It looks magical, like I just happened to find the rhythm of the universe.

But much like the flywheel concept from Good to Great, all my successes were works in progress long before anyone paid attention. It was the process all along, even when the progress wasn’t bearing fruit just yet.

So what is this process? It’s not a secret. Never has been. We generally know what we’re supposed to be doing. But like Ben Harper says, “it’s so hard to do and so easy to say.”

For me, the 5Ks are just a part of the process. They’re not a real goal. They’re an objective. They’re just another part of the process. There are many other parts. Maintaining a good work/life balance, eating better, getting enough sleep, going to yoga, etc.

It’s a lot of little things that hopefully keep me going in the right direction. Hell, this blog is a part of the process. It keeps friends in touch with what I’m doing (as well as some strangers who evidently think this could be worth reading), and it keeps me mentally engaged in a physically exhausting journey.

Believe me, it’s a lot easier to sit around watching TV and eating pizza than it is to put in 3-4 miles.

But I keep going because even though I’m not satisfied with my progress, I am satisfied with the process.