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Answering the critics

Inevitably, they hit you.

The critics.

They can come from every which way -- strangers, friends, family members, co-workers. But they all have an opinion on what it is you are doing with your life and, more specifically, why you should not be doing it.

I go back and forth about answering the critics. In one sense, acknowledging them gives them power. In another sense, it can be a source of strength to defend yourself. Either way, there is a fine line between getting into a useless name-calling game and laying out the reasons why training is so much more than just a "hobby" or "vanity pursuit."

At times, it seems pointless to try to counter the critics because they will always be there. One of the effects of personal change is that it impacts those in our life, from intimate partners to social acquaintances. When you do something positive in your life, it changes the energy around you and hence for anyone that comes in contact with your circle. People who have known you for years often just don't get it. But not only do they not get it (the passive-aggressive critique of "boy, you've changed") but they get uncomfortable with themselves.

There are many of reasons why others in your life can react to your positive changes in a negative way and it usually has absolutely nothing to do with you. It has to deal with them and issues going on in their lives.

Intellectually, that's pretty easy to grasp.

Emotionally, however, it's difficult. In the book "The Four Agreements" one of the principles is to take nothing personally -- good or bad.

That might be the most difficult life principle to practice.

The critics have power because they reflect our own inner critic. They give voice to the doubts we already have about ourselves. Am I doing a good job at work? Am I making a difference? Does my life and my work and my passion have meaning? Is what I'm doing worth it?

Yes, the power of the critic is to feed the self-doubt that already exists in our heads. It's what keeps us from living our best lives, from discovering what it is we truly want and who it is we truly want to be.

For me, and for many I've met, athletics has been both the path of discovery and the identity. It is both journey and destination in many ways. Sure, running or swimming or biking can be your hobby. Fitness can be what you do in your spare time.

But for me, it's not just something I do, it's who I am. Not in a one-dimensional way but in a way that opens up horizons of opportunity, that allows me to expand my experiences, my circle and my life rather than narrow it.

I vented about my recent brush with critics to friend and fellow triathlete Sarah who told me, "You are invested in this. Every day. Your choice. Your time. Your heart. You are invested in this for you."

It was a reminder that I needed. Because this life is mine to lead, not anybody elses.

Do I need to answer the critics? Maybe only so much as to lower the volume on my own inner critic. Because in the end, you don't need to justify your life to anyone. Not even yourself.

You just have to live it.

So why not life it fully and the way you want to.


Finding a place in the community

Yes, it was a bit cruel. I was supposed to bring back sunshine and warmer temperatures and instead upon my return from Miami, Buffalo was hit with another round of what seems to be endless winter storms.

My apologies to my friends who were counting on the sun. I guess it was confiscated in my checked luggage. Next time, I'll be sure to pack it in my carry-on.

Getting back to reality from a few days away is always challenging, particularly for someone like me, who still hasn't fully unpacked from the trip. It's even more difficult when changing climates. What, I need hat and gloves to run outside? My footing may not be solid?

Yes, I know. Poor me.

But one of the great things upon my return is getting back in touch with friends.

I had coffee with Sarah after swim practice the other day. We met through our coach and during last year's training session at Lake Placid. She is amazing, having completed Ironman Lake Placid twice and recently setting a PR at Ironman Arizona.

Sarah kicks some serious butt.

This was the first time in a long time we got to chat in person and the conversation included details about my run in Miami and her recent Ironman triumph. Sarah was sure to remind me not to downplay my accomplishments -- an easy trap to get into, especially when you're feeling the pain of a half marathon and she, um, ran an Ironman in about 11 hours.

But we also talked about lifestyle. About how some days we have to forgo the night out because we have an early morning training session the next day. Or how we think more about what we eat, even if we've moved away from the OCD of over-the-top nutrition fears into an approach of more moderation.

I have friends of all ilks and I cherish all of them, but the ones who end up staying prominent in my life tend to be the ones who are passionated about something. It can be running or triathlon or work or family, but there is something in their life that gets them out of bed in the morning. Connecting with Sarah over coffee in a post-swim workout haze helped me to see how many of those people I have in my life.

Of the many things that becoming an athlete has given me, a new circle of friends is pretty high on the list. Sounds obvious, but not always. I never was much of a "joiner" nor did I do well in groups. (I hated group work in school. I would much rather do a project independently.) The more I find people to train with-- either through happenstance or through joining an organized group -- the more connected I feel.

It's more than just about companionship on a long run, although I'm not knocking the company. It's about feeling part of something a bit bigger than yourself. It's about feeding off the energy of other people and having them pull you along when the doubts grow strong. It's about connecting to their stories and having a feeling that your story is finally clear to someone other than the voices living inside your own head.

I have a few more days of recovery left, which includes 45 minutes of light spinning and swim workouts. Then it's back to preparations for the Buffalo Marathon.

I'll cherish the stories that people tell me of their first marathon experience, or best or worst marathon experience for that matter. Hearing those stories, having those friends, means I'm part of a community now.

And I'm starting to feel like I belong.

Running in a skirt

One of my favorite parts of the movie "A League of Their Own" is the scene after tryouts when the women are introduced to the uniform they will be wearing in the new professional baseball league.

"It's a dress," one woman says.

"It's half a dress," another one says.

To which Mr. Lowenstein replies: "There are 30 girls with bus tickets home who will play in a bathing suit if I asked them to."

This scene struck me as I was putting away my racing gear, which now includes three running skirts. (I also have two bike-specific skirts but those aren't in the rotation at the moment.) In Miami, I saw many women wearing athletic skirts for the half marathon and full marathon. And it got me thinking.

Why do I like to run in a skirt?

There are some women who will never, ever run in a skirt, and I respect that. For some women, running in a skirt amounts to forced femininity. Not everyone wants to look girly. Not everyone wants to wear pink. And for some women, the whole skirt thing emphasizes them as "female" as opposed to "athlete."

I completely get this line of thinking. When we say "athlete" most of the time we think of men. Rarely do we hear someone say "male athlete" but "female athlete" is common place in our sports vernacular. There's no need to say "male athlete" because for most of American society, an athlete is by default male.

So in order to be taken seriously, many women put aside feminine things.

And yet, there are more and more options for things like running skirts and traditionally feminine athletic gear than ever before.

I'm not sure anyone has looked much into the "why" of that, although I'm sure there is a really good sociological thesis waiting to be discovered in that question.

I can only answer for myself: I like the option. I like being able to wear shorts one day and a skirt the next, And frankly, I find the skirt comfortable. Is there a vanity aspect to it? In a way, yes. I like the way the running skirts look, and if I think I look good, then I feel good and I'll have a better workout or race, because I'm feeling comfortable and confident and not self-conscious about how I think I look. Or how others think I look.

Should I be better than that? I wish I was. But we all do things that makes us feel better about ourselves, and for me in the athletic arena, I feel comfy and confident in the running skirt.

And, as an added bonus, it is way cool to wear in a race.There have been occasions in races where I was trotting along at my usual pace and came to pass a guy, who was taking a walk break. Upon seeing the fact that he was going to be passed not just by a girl but by a girl in a skirt he starts to pick up the pace.

Whether he finishes ahead of me or I beat him, the scene is priceless. It makes me smile.

I run in a skirt not to make some huge statement about femininity or sport or Title IX or the gendered power structure of athletics. I run in a skirt not to make apologies for being a "female" athlete. Not even to show solidarity with my fellow women runners.

I run in a skirt because I like to. Because it fits me and who I am.

And I celebrate the fact that I have the option to be who I am and that every day is an opportunity step further into the person I want to be and into the life I want to live.

On friends, pain and strength: Miami revisited

The good news is that I am starting to feel normal again. My legs are still sore from the half marathon, but I didn't groan when I got out of bed. Of course, shoveling that snow that fell overnight might be another story, but for now, toasty warm with my cup of morning coffee I no longer feel like an old lady.

This is recovery week and yesterday was a pool workout. I swam about 2,600 yards (at least I think did. I lost count during one of my sets) and felt pretty good. Today is an easy 45 minute spin on the bike. I don't even run again until Sunday.

But I think I might be signing up for next year's Miami half marathon. Sue, who was disappointed in her time, is determined to go back and conquer the course. I want to move past the pain and get that 2:05 that I really wanted. Both of us want to enjoy South Florida during January again.

Still, that line of thinking is getting a bit ahead of myself, because for me, recovery week is also process week. I get to take in all that happened and reflect.

First step: Unpack.

I left with two carry-on bags and returned with an overstuffed piece of checked luggage and two carry-ons. I knew on the return I would be bringing back more stuff. The majority of it is swag from the expo and a few things I purchased, like a race beach towel and a new running skirt.

Which brings me to my very exciting expo news: I won a free running skirt. If you've never been to a race expo think "Erie County Fair" buildings only with more free samples and everything health and running related. Nearly every booth has some sort of giveaway for you to sign up for (in order for them to put you on their direct mail or email list). I only participated in one, at Atlanta Athleticwear -- a woman-owned atheltic appearl company where I bought my new running skirt. I received an email saying I won a skirt from their catalogue. All I had to do was go to their website skirtgoddess.com and email them which style and color I would like. I immediately fell in love with this company when I visited the page and noticed their tag line was "Does this skirt make my butt look fast?"

Aside from the swag, I'm remembering parts of the trip. This was my first long-distance trip for a race and my first time with this particular travel posse. I couldn't have asked for three better people to travel with. Granted, it took us until the end of the trip to reduce the time of divving up the restaurant bill to under five minutes, but we did eventually PR in that. While we all had different running backgrounds, different races and different goals, we all understood that the first part of this trip was all about the run. Sleep, rest and eating needs may be quirky but that was OK because we all wanted the entire group to do their best and enjoy the experience. I was the new person in the posse, but I felt included. I felt like I was with good friends, not new ones.

On to the actual running -- I couldn't help but look up my race results from the St. Catharines Run for the Grapes half marathon that I ran in September.

The numbers break down like this: In September I ran a 2:16.26 with an average pace of 10:24.

In Miami on Sunday I ran a 2:09.53 with an average pace of 9:54. And among all women runners at the event, I placed 1,456 out of 5,239. To me, that's pretty darn good.

On race morning, lined up in the corral waiting for the start, Sue and I were chatting. I can't even remember what we were discussing but she told me that I was a runner. Not in the well-duh way since I was lined up at a half marathon start, but in the deeper meaning way. I was a runner in my lifestyle, in my approach and in my soul.

To hear Sue, for whom I hold the deepest respect as an athlete and a person, deem me a runner made me feel somehow official. Like I had been baptised into my athletic persona.

That baptism felt a bit like fire between miles 8 and 9 as my quads started to get tight, to scream and eventually refuse to move any faster. There were plenty of times when I wondered about walking, when I questioned finishing, but the doubt was quickly replaced by positive thoughts.

At one point during the pain, I started to question whether I would be able to handl the 26.2 miles of the Buffalo marathon if I was struggling at Mile 9 of the half.

"NO!" I caught myself. "I am not running Buffalo today. No need to even think about it."

And like that, doubt be gone.

I realized that I can't eliminate the negative thoughts, the doubts, the second-guessing from coming into my brain. They are going to come. They are going to tell me what I can't do. They are going to try to scare me. They want me to be overcome with fear, anxiety and doubt.

Oh most surely, those gremlin thoughts will come.

How I choose to respond to them, though, is totally in my control.

When those thoughts came during the Miami race, I either let them slide from my mind without truly acknowledging them (because I know they're wrong) or I actively countered them with positive thoughts. I would tell myself that I could do this. I told myself I was strong. I made deals with myself that we would get to the next water stop, walk for 30 seconds to take some sips, then start up again. I would tell myself to just get to the next marker, then we'll see what happens. Once I got to that marker, it wasn't so bad and I was one step closer to the finish.

Why stop now?

Just keep going.

I wanted to kick it that last mile, but my legs said no. I pushed it anyway though that final stretch through the finishing chute. I felt like I wasn't moving at all, but I was wrong. I was moving pretty darn good that final mile. I may not have felt like I was finishing strong, but I was.

Sometimes your perception is skewed because you're in the thick of it. You're in the pain. You're battling those negative gremlin voices. You don't feel all that strong. You have no concept of pace or distance.

In that circumstance, you just keep moving forward.

Through all my training and racing, I'm learning how strong I really am.

The strength that came from Miami is knowing that I can quash the mental demons, that I can push through the pain.

That finishing strong is not about finishing pretty, or even feeling strong, but continuing to push forward in spite of those doubts.

Recovery week begins

My grandfather is slightly embarrassed about the way he moves. We keep telling him that in his 80s he doesn't have to move quickly or gracefully ... that moving at all is the key. But it takes him quite some time to get out of a chair. He has to push himself off with both hands and slightly grimace.

"Don't ever get old," he then will say.

I can add, or run an endurance event.

The technique that my grandfather used to get out of his chair? That was me the entire day after the half marathon. Pushing away from the breakfast table where I had my required post-race pancakes was a struggle.

And I'm not exaggerating.

When we boarded the plane and had that slight incline down the runway ramp? Yeah, my quadriceps were screaming.

"Sue!" I practically yelled. "OW!"

She laughed and shook her head in agreement.

Still, I didn't understand why I was so gimpy. I mean, I didn't feel this much pain after running St. Catharines in September. And I only did the half marathon, not the full.

Ok, Point One: As I was reminded by my travel posse I ran seven minutes faster than the last one. Yes, I did that because I am in better shape and trained for it, but I still ran seven minutes faster. That means I ran harder. Of course I'm going to be sore. That's why I earned that really cool medal.

Point Two: I need to stop qualifying. Because nothing is "just" or "only" unless you make it that way. I ran 13.1 miles. That's pretty darn far. Running a 5K can be pretty darn far. Heck, running a mile can seem forever. It's all about where you are at and what meaning lies in the run for you. We have different reasons for running and each one is valid to that individual.

I tend to qualifying a lot of things in my life. It's a safe way to down play my accomplishments, to allow myself to continue to think that the things I do aren't all that special. But running my first destination race and setting a PR by seven minutes? Well, that's something to celebrate and be proud of and not qualify with the "only a half marathon" tag.

So this week is about recovery with very light workouts.

Bu most importantly, it's about celebration.

Race report: Miami half marathon

If Sue was going to have a bad race, it was going to be my fault.

She wanted to use the bathrooms on site before lining up in the corral. I wanted to try and sneak in with her into her assigned corral instead of starting further back. (Note: This is not proper race etiquette. Do not follow my lead.) The lines were long, it was about 5 minutes until they were going to close off the walkways to get across the street, so we went into the mass of humanity known as the start line.

Sue kept thinking about having to go to the bathroom. I kept thinking that I was in awe ... in Miami, wearing a running skirt and short-sleeved t-shirt at 5:50 in the morning. I didn't have on six layers of clothes or a winter hat or gloves.

Whatever happens, I will just enjoy running in Florida.

The race began and we shuffled along until we hit the starting line. I then started my watch and Sue and I ran that first mile -- uphill over one of the causeways to South Beach -- together. I felt good. I was excited but trying to control my pace and not get caught up in the adrenaline of the race.

The plan was to run the first few miles at a 10:15-10:20 pace. I reached the first mile marker in 10:05.

A bit fast, yes, but I felt good. I also had the knowledge that I could back off a bit and still be OK. After that, Sue took off a bit faster as I settled into my 10:05 groove.

The first water stop was at Mile 3 and I took some water and made the turn around South Beach. By Mile 4 I had taken my first shot block of nutrition and put my sunglasses on as the sun began to rise. It was a bit cloudy, which was good. I checked my watch and it looked like I was doing about 10 minute miles. Good. On pace. Keep it loose and the plan was to pick it up around Mile 9.

I tried to take in some of the scenery -- the cruise ships parked in the harbor with their lights against the sky at dawn, the bright, colorful buildings and the general uniqueness of South Beach. I noticed an establishment which indicated you get both tattoos and sandwiches there. It made me smile, but then I bumped another runner who was passing me.

"Oh, so sorry," I said.

"You're fine," she replied with a smile. "Not a problem."

I was doing OK, trotting along, seeing who I could pass and smiling at those who passed me. But by Mile 5 and 6 I noticed that it was quite humid. And getting hot. But really humid. I could feel my hands starting to swell a bit. (Now I know that hot and humid sounds very nice to anyone in the Northern part of the country these days. And it is. But any runner will tell you, it's not always pleasant to run in ... particularly if you've been training in 20 degree weather or in climate-controlled gyms.)

Then came the 8.5 mile mark.

And suddenly, my quadriceps muscles felt like bowling balls. There probably is a better analogy, but that was all I had at the point. They were heavy. Really heavy. And feeling tight.

This was the point where the course turned through a residential section and a golf course. There was zero sideline support and I started to feel every bit of pain.

As we turned to start our journey back into the city, there were pockets of spectators cheering, which helped get my mind off my aching legs.

But they were still aching. I thought of one of the team cars in the Tour de France encouraging a rider by telling him to "settle into the pain." That's what I thought of. Settle into the pain. Apparently at about the same distance, Sue also started feeling the pain in her legs.

"I wondered, 'Is Amy suffering as much as I'm suffering?'" Sue would later recall.

The answer was a definitive yes.

There was still another hill to run since we had to go back over to downtown Miami and cross another causeway. Once into downtown, just past the 10 mile mark, were tons of people cheering the runners on. It was fantastic. My pace picked up. My legs didn't hurt so much.

Then ... nothing. The crowd didn't just thin out, it disappeared and we were left doing the bulk of that last two miles in desolate downtown Miami.

My legs were dying now and I was frustrated. My cardiovascular training could easily have picked up the pace but thighs were saying no way. I told myself to keep running. Just keep running.

I so wanted to pick it up in the last mile and race for my 2:05 finish, but 2:05 was out of reach.

The goal then was to be under 2:10.

Keep pushing. Keep pushing.

Finally, the break off for the half marathoners, who turned to the finish line while the marathoners kept going.

Finally, orange and white balloons.

Finally, a finish line.

I pushed as much as I could.

Final chip time: 2:09.53. My average pace time was 9:54.

I felt pretty darn good about that.

It was a PR from my half marathon in St. Catharine's where I ran 2:17.

Yes, I was seven minutes faster ... in only four months which included an off-seasons of little-to-no training, training in cold for a race in heat, training on a treadmill and not getting the pounding of the pavement, training through some emotional turmoil and self-created drama.

As I weaved my way through the finish chute picking up bananas, bagels and water (I missed the cookies darn it!) I looked for Sue.

I found her sitting down on a bench near an area of vendors.

She waived to me.

"Sue!" I yelled and waved back. I went to run over to her.

Then I realized that my quads had seized up.

The look on face when I went to run, then realized I couldn't, must have been priceless. Sue was laughing the rest of the day about it.

Sue's time, while completely respectable to me, wasn't what she was hoping for. Herm ran his marathon in 3:06 and was pleased with his run.

My coach was elated at my time and officially put me on a 24-hour vacation: no training, no thinking about training and no looking at my online workout account. (She can see when I log in and I'll be in trouble if I do!)

I am still absorbing this half marathon, because the physical recap is one thing, but the emotional impact is something entirely different.

Monday morning and my quads still hurt like heck -- a sure sign that my body and my soul are still processing the fallout Miami.

Let's go to the Miami expo

Our flight to Florida arrived 40 minutes early.

Yes. Forty minutes. Early.

That had to be a good omen.

Friday's arrival of our Miami Marathon posse was smooth. Flight -- breeze. Transportation -- breeze. Hotel check-in -- breeze. And for someone like me who sweats travel logistics like it's her job, that is no small footnote.

After finding something light for lunch we headed over to Miami Beach for registration and the expo.

And I was all about the expo.

This is my first "major" race and I was looking forward to the atmosphere. While our friend Paula registered for Saturday's 5K, Sue, and I checked in and picked up our registration bags and collected our participant tshirt.

Miami_registration  

Then came expo time with a convention center floor filled with vendors and businesses either trying to sell you race goods, health and fitness goods or promote their races. And I found that journalists and runners have something in common -- we gravitate toward the freebies. Companies handed out bags with their logos, key chains, shoelaces and lip balm. Then I played my own person game of seeing how many free Lara bars I could scam from the sample booth. (It helped that we wandered through the expo for three hours, giving us plenty time to "discover" the booth yet again. I know, I lose some karma points for that. I'm OK with it.)

I had the opportunity to chat with New York Times reporter Liz Robbins who recently published the book A Race Like No Other detailing the New York City Marathon. We talked about the book, about running and frankly felt like old friends as two female sports reporters.

On to the pasta dinner. We decided to carbo load two nights before the big event and took part in the pasta dinner at the Miami Hard Rock Cafe. It was the "official" pasta party of the marathon event and after our fill of pasta, salad and breadsticks, we strolled around Bayside, getting a glimpse of both the cruise ships in the harbor and the setup for Sunday's finish line.

Back at the hotel, it was time to sort through the bags collected at the expo filled with magazines and brochures for future races. But the most precious thing to me in the bag, the thing I kept checking to make sure I didn't lose while making some souvenir purchases and hording free Lara bars, was my race number.

There it was. With my name printed on it. I know it's routine to many runners. To me, I felt big time.

Let the games begin. 

Leaving on a jet plane

I admit that I was annoyed with some of my friends on Facebook yesterday.

As I tried to get everything done one needs to before a trip -- packing, cleaning, running last minute errands, trying to do three extra days of work in one -- I got a bit frantic.

Would I get everything done before my early morning Friday flight to Miami? And don't even get me started on the anxiety of running the half marathon.

My Facebook friends left messages along the lines of "Boo-hoo. You're going to Miami. I'm so sorry for you."

And frankly, I got a bit defensive.

OK, then you can run 13.1 miles at 6:15 Sunday morning.

I admit, too, that my response was a bit harsh.

But this is a big deal for me.

It's not just about running a half marathon, feeling the most trained and prepared for a race in my brief competitive career.

It's about taking the trip to begin with.

My professional career as a sportswriter has always revovled around collegiate sports and college basketball in particular. I don't believe I have ever taken time away during basketball season in 11 years. I certainly have never taken a Florida trip in the winter. How could I? What would people think? Do I deserve a trip to Miami in January?

I'm working on that part -- on giving myself permission to take time for myself, to do the things that I love and that are meaningful for me. And running (and triathlon) have become not just meaningful but an intricate part of who I am. On one hand, who am I not to live up to who I am and take advantage of opportunities that come my way?

This trip includes a lot of "firsts" -- my first long-distance trip to a race, my first time traveling and racing at a destination with friends, my first race expo and my first experience at a major running event as this is the ING Miami Marathon, complete with three days of festivities and about 10,000 runners.

Why shouldn't I enjoy the experience?

I vow now to stop making apologies for running a winter half marathon in Miami.

I promise to try and bring some sunshine back with me.

The Zen of Waiting

On my list of things to do today is go to iTunes and download Tom Petty's song "The Waiting." You know the refrain which has become cliche: "The waiting is the hardest part."

Yes, I know it's a bit cliche, but the song is stuck in my head and often the only way for me to unstick it is to listen to it a few times and satisfy my brain's craving for this particular jangly lament.

In part, waiting for the half marathon to begin at 6:15 Sunday morning seems years and years away.

On the other hand, my posse and I leave tomorrow morning and packing, well, I think I know where last I left my carry-on bag.

While pondering exactly what gear to pack and how many packages of Clif Shot Blocks I should shove into my suitcase, I was flipping through the book "In Pursuit of Excellence." It's a sports psychology book by Terry Orlick which I have never read from cover to cover but instead use it as a guide to life and athletics when I feel I need a kickstart in my performance or approach.

As if the book binding already knew where I wanted to go, it flipped open to the chapter on Zen experiences.

This is perfect for the Miami half marathon.

Zen is about connecting to what you are doing at the moment. It's based in the "doing" not in outcomes. In Zen, you win by not thinking about winning. The key phrases include things like "focus by feeling, not by forcing" and "let your intuition lead you." The other key point for me is to "stop judging along the way. Focus on the doing."

I've read some great accounts of great runners and the more they try to stick to a regimented race plan, the more they struggle. It's not that they throw the race plan out the window, it's that they listen to their bodies and are in tune with the moment. For me, the minute I start doing math in my head and calculating if I'm running fast enough to finish in my goal time, I'm done. At that point, I've become consumed with the finish and have lost sight of the moment, lost connection with what I'm doing and feeling and what I know works for me. Getting caught up in a fast pace at the beginning of the race, for example, is not beneficial for me. (And actually it is not part of my race plan, either.)

My coach told me once that last year, my first year of endurance sport, training and competition, was about experience. We'd throw me into anything, just so I could get the feel of racing and learn from mistakes. This year, she told me, is about performance.

That thought scared me.

Performance? Granted, I wanted to do better than "just finish" but focuse on performance?

This week I realized I was collapsing the ideas of performance and results. We all do that, collapse ideas and theroies and feelings into one gigantic theme. Having a great performance will often yeild good results but it's about focusing on the "doing" on the performance, on the actual running that's important. The race, the the split times and the final placings, those will all take care of themselves. That's not my job.

My job is to run the best race I can on Sunday morning.

And if I do the little things with care (see this posting on the power of the gradual on ZenHabits) it will add up to a fantastic finish. 

Falling in love with taper week

I would to amend my earlier thoughts on taper week.

I now love it.

The fear was that tapering -- or basically reducing the volume and intensity of your workouts leading up to a race -- would drive me a bit nutty. And regular readers of my blog understand I don't have far to go in that regards.

But yesterday's 30-minute easy paced treadmill run was ... well ... easy. Not just easy. It was relaxed and enjoyable and practically pedestrian.

My easy pace can vary but lately it's be a 10:20 mile. I felt like I was lightly jogging. The only thing that got me slightly out of breathe was talking to my friend Sue who was finishing up her workout next to me. And the 30 minute time limit? Well, I felt like I had just warmed up. When was the run actually starting?

This, as my season-runner friend Sue pointed out, meant that I was ready for the Miami half marathon. It meant I had trained properly.

For the first time, I was really excited about my weekend in Miami.

And this is what excited me about the race: The ease at which I could run that 10:20 pace. My goal from the beginning of the year was to run this half marathon in under 2 hours and 15 minutes. To run a 2:15, I have to run a 10:20 pace.

Um, that's my easy pace. My fall back pace. My safety net if you will.

That's all I have to do?

I can do that.

Which means, I can do better.

The expectation is that I will finish anywhere between 2 hours and 2:15 depending on how the stars align that day.

My goal? To run as close to 2 hours as possible.

Can I do it? Who knows. But why not try?

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from monk and author Thomas Merton: "The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little."

I thought of that quote yesterday when, getting into the pool for my master's swim practice I noticed this quote posted on the wall from Michelangelo: "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

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