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Redefining goals

The list is on my refrigerator. I see it every day though some days it blends into clutter of posted schedules, to-do compilations and a few random pictures.

My goals list has been displayed since I created it with my coach back in October.

Today I checked back in with it.

The list is divided into three sets of goals: small, medium and large.

The large goals include my two big races: the Buffalo Marathon and Muskoka 70.3.

The medium list already has a checked accomplishment -- I ran a sub-2:15 half marathon in Miami in January. That sub-25 minute 5K goal though is looming, and perhaps most daunting.

The small list has things I can do every day, building blocks for those medium and big goals. That list is primarily mental:

Good nutrition, but no OCD.

Reduce negative self talk.

Keep it simple: Nothing hinges on one thing.

As big and scary as the big and medium lists can be when it comes to this set of goals, the small goals actually are the hardest.

Probably because they are the ones most in my control.

And they are the ones about lining up my attitude and beliefs with my behaviors.

My coach, who is training for a round of key 70.3 races this summer herself, recently began working with a new coach who gave her different definitions of goals.

Instead of small, medium and large this paradigm has goals, targets and outcomes.

Outcomes are what we all tend to focus on -- race times, winning and where you place.

Targets are tangible measurements but without the comparison to other people -- your pace for example.

Goals meanwhile are all things within your control. In essence, your goal constitutes your mental approach -- thinking that you will be strong, that you won't give up, that you will stick to your race plan. Because it only has to do with what you think, it is all in your control.

As I pondered these definitions, I realized that my small list was really my goal list. And that on that list perhaps the most important thing for me is realize that nothing hinges on one thing.

It even applies to the rest of the small list. If nothing hinges on one thing, then there isn't much room for negative self talk because suddenly nothing is catastrophic. Nor could I get all nutty over falling off the nutrition wagon because there is little chance that a small ice cream sundae with my running friends once every two or three weeks is going to cause much damage to my overall status as a healthy eater.

And so as I mentally prepare for my longest training run in my marathon preparation, I will realize that there is no point in thinking about the actual marathon during that three hour and 15 minute span on Saturday. I will think about my pace, but not obsess over it. I simply will hit it.

Most importantly, I'll be working on my real goals, the ones where I remind myself that I'm strong and capable. In the end, that's really all I can control.

Outside the comfort zone

Glancing down at my Garmin caused a smile and a gentle shake of my head.

The pace was about a minute too fast.

Not surprising. I picked up the second loop of Delaware Park with my friend Jessica. She is slender and speedy and telling me tales of the drama at her place of employment.

I felt OK at the pace, but was slightly concerned. So close to the marathon I don't want to be messing with my plan for no good reason. And while Jess is a very entertaining storyteller (and my own personal mix of Oprah and Yoda) causing me to want to keep up with her, I started to get concerned about running an easy run too fast.

Which really is kind of funny. Because when I do hit the paces my coach asks of me, I'm concerned about running to slow.

At some point, I am hoping that my thoughts and my actions match up. As in: I know I am doing the correct the pace. I know it is making me a better runner. I feel good about where I'm at.

There's the old saying "fake it until you make it." Or "don't just talk the talk, walk the walk." In more cerebral terms, it's called "acting as if."

Among my quote cards is one from Wayne Dyer: "Act as if what you intend to manifest in life is already a reality. Eliminate thoughts or conditions, limitations, or the possibility of it not manifesting."

At times, acting as if is a bit like white knuckling.

Because you are acting in a way that is outside of your comfort zone.

But outside the comfort zone is where real change takes place. And often where the magical happens.


Means to an end

It happened at masters swim practice last week. A new woman came to the pool early in the morning and started off in the slow lane with me (though clearly she was good enough to swim with a faster group).

We started chatting during breaks and in the locker room and I told her that I was training for my first marathon and also for my first Half Ironman.

"You are?" she asked with big eyes and and a bit of awe in her voice. "That's incredible."

It's a scenario that has played out several times in the last few months.

And my response is always the same.

"Well, I haven't actually done it yet," I say. "I've just signed up and started training. When I finish, that will be incredible."

It's a philosophy I still adhere to a bit. After all, my entire life I have heard people close to me say, "Oh I was going to do [insert activity here] but ...."

Often they never complete the sentence.

So what have I really done?

I would ask myself that question.

And then my friend Laurie got in an accident.

Laurie and I met through training with the Buffalo Triathlon Club last year and became friends. It was her first year of triathlon, too, but she went big time and signed up for Ironman Lake Placid.

Over the winter, we lost touch with our schedules. Then I got the email that she was hit by a car while on her bike.

I immediately called her.

A young driver backed out of a driveway without looking and turned right into Laurie. She didn't even have the opportunity to try and miss the car -- about a mile away after an impressive long ride.

In the final tally, she had a concussion and did muscular damage to her shoulder. She's in quite a bit of pain but all in all was a pretty lucky survivor and grateful that her injuries were not worse.

But then there's the question of if she'll be ready for Lake Placid. She's not sure. And a bit of sadness settles in her eyes when she talks about the possibility that five months of solid training may not see the glory of her first Ironman finish.

As we chatted, I pointed that all her work wasn't for naught. First of all, she looked great. Second, her health and strength helped her survive the crash with minor injuries.

Most importantly, the entire process will make her stronger.

It doesn't matter if she gets to Lake Placid this summer or has to defer that particular dream for a year.

She already is amazing. She has an incredible fitness base. She has gained knowledge. She has attracted everything she needs in order to succeed -- we just don't know exactly how the story is supposed to end.

The training -- that's not a means to an end.

It's an end in itself. One that brings its own fun and joy and incredibly unpredictable stories.

Getting to the start line, hitting your goal time -- those are all nice outcomes.

But the journey is so much more fun than that.

An ultra experience

The reality began to set in around mile 13. While the ultra-distance running event seemed by nature to attract friendly folks who smiled, waved and offered brief chats on the course, after two hours, I started to elicit comments about how strong I looked.

Usually, those comments are met by a voice of doubt in my own mind I call the diminisher.

"Looks can be deceiving," the diminisher would say. "Don't forget your legs are starting to really hurt."

And the diminisher would also usually point out that the comments came from my friends who, by some contractual law of nature, had to say nice things to me, probably just to help their own karmic cause.

So I would brush off those sincere compliments and encouragements.

On Sunday, that started to change.

My longest run ever took place at the Buffalo Philharmonic Athletic Club 6-hour Classic. And while my ankles are still sore and my thighs a bit unhappy at life, I am starting to see the possibilities of the marathon.

The race was done on a 3.25 loop on part of the Amherst bike path by the Pepsi Center. The race is considered an "ultra" event -- a title given to any race where you run further than a marathon (26.2 miles). In this race, runners went at it for six hours and whoever covered the most distance in that time won the race. But while it was a nice introduction to ultra running for some, for others it was a perfect venue for a long-run since you could run as much or as little as you wanted.

Some did just two laps. Others went for distance.

I went for time.

Three hours.

The first 2:30 was to be at an easy pace and my coach wrote, in bold all-caps, not to deviate from the plan. This was a major increase in my time and to avoid injury, we started slower. The final 30 minutes was to be at my marathon pace.

I held my paces. My final easy lap was the slowest, probably because I knew the tough stuff was coming. Once that final 30 minutes, I picked it up. And it was hard. But I kept that marathon pace for the entire time. A few of my fellow runners commented that I was really moving. They told me I looked strong.

And suddenly it started to click.

There are plenty of things I won't be able to control on race day -- like the weather for example. Perhaps I can't even control how my body feels physically or when the pain really starts to settle in.

What I can control are my thoughts.

So instead of letting the diminisher have a field day in my head yesterday, I decided that indeed I was strong. I was stronger than I thought I was. Didn't necessarily make my ankles hurt any less but it did make the discomfort seem not so catastrophic.

Because at this point, it really is all mental.

I have two more long runs before the marathon, including a 3:15 dandy this weekend.

My physical preparation has been solid.

Now, finally, the mental preparation is starting to catch up as I finally start to ignore the doubts and fears in my own head and fess up to the fact that I will not only finish the marathon, but likely be able to do quite well.

Finding my key words

In some photos you can see it -- black marker all over the backs of my hands.

For a few races, the markings included my race number, but on days when that happened, I became a bit peeved.

Because it ruined my happy place.

I'm not sure exactly where, how or why it started, but last summer during my first season of triathlon, I took to writing key words and phrases on my hand. My right hand contained a word of strength, often simply just the word "strength" as a way to bring me back to focus on what I knew for sure about myself in the midst of the chaos of the swim start and the drudgery of the final two miles of the run.

My left hand sported my "happy place" or words and phrases that made me smile, made me laugh, brought me back to reality when I started to take the whole thing a bit too seriously and needed to relax. Most common phrase last year: chocolate milk.

But this year, I decided to up my key phrases game.

I'm going with the reminder band bracelet tacit.

Thanks to Amanda Cavo of the Canisius women's basketball team for giving me the idea in the first place. She had a batch of bracelets made for her team in the summer with the date of the conference championship on them to remind them through all the hard work, that's what they were playing for.

In that spirit, I had a bracelet made with my goal times for the Buffalo Marathon and for Muskoka 70.3.

Now, I'm thinking of using that same tactic with key words and phrases.

I asked for suggestions from friends and family members. So far, my brother has suggested "pants" because he thinks it's a funny word.

My coach suggested "If not today, when?" and "Not by might, by spirit."

And I'm pretty sure my friend Jessica will suggest "Warrior Goddess" because that has been prevalent in her text messages to me this week.

I know some runners who use mantras while running, repeating things like "the pain is temporary, quitting is forever."

At the end of the day, it comes down to whatever gets you through the workout or the race.

Because at a certain point, it has little to do with skill and everything to do with attitude.

All those "what ifs" I've listing this week come under the category of "fear." Collecting them in one place, labeling them and putting them away allows me to focus on the positives. Those fears? No need to worry about them. All packed away and being handled by someone else.

Now, it's time to laugh and remember just how strong I really am.

And if I need some inspiration, there are always the results of friends I know who just completed the Boston Marathon.

My friend Amy ran the race in 3:38.29 -- an 8:20 pace that literally had me jumping for joy in front of my lap top.

Former co-worker Sharon Linstedt ran a 4:15.07 while Jen Gwin, an assistant women's basketball coach at Canisius, blew me away with her 3:02.05 time, which ranked 81st among women.

Embracing doubt

This is my official week to have a complete nutty.

In fact, I'm under orders from my coach to have a nutty.

She wants all her athletes this week to let their minds go to worst case fears for race day.

And I have to say, I questioned whether she really wanted me to do this. Because I'm pretty good at worst-case scenario. And I'm even better at self doubt.

But yes. That was our homework. This week we are supposed to work ourselves in a tizzy with all the "what ifs" that could happen.

I have two "A" races this year -- the Buffalo Marathon and Muskoka 70.3. But with the marathon 32 days away that is my primary focus.

So while the panic about forgetting how to swim, asking for a water rescue or getting a flat tire certainly exist, the nutty this week is all about the marathon.

What if I start out too fast? What if I start out too slow? What if I lose my nutrition on the course? What if I get a sloshy stomach from drinking too much water? What if I don't drink enough water and I start to cramp? What if I bonk?

And then comes the deluge of self-doubt.

What if I can't run the marathon? I've never run that far before. Not even close. My longest run was 14.6 miles on Sunday and I wouldn't have survived that if my friend Karl didn't keep me company for the first five.

What if I fall completely apart at mile 16? What if I fall apart at mile 8?

What if I didn't prepare properly? What if I didn't do the workouts the right way?

What if all those people who think I can't do it are right? What if all those people who think this is an unimportant venture are right?

What if I let down those friends and family members who have supported me and believe I can do it?

What if I'm just not good enough?

These are the stories that play in my head ... if I let them.

My coach wanted me to go there and see how it affected my workouts this week. I can say for sure that my first swim in 10 days was pretty darn ugly and the 50-minute easy-paced run felt rather difficult.

I'm not so sure I want an entire week of this. Because I can see the nuttiness start to creep into other areas of my life. I'm pretty good at looking normal on a daily basis, but once the seed of doubt germinates, it's difficult to direct it where to go. Luckily, I have my self-proclaimed therapy-driven running buddies who forcefully (but lovingly) show me the forest through the trees. 

"Live in the moment and don't let your mind talk you out of it," my friend Karyn told me.

In the moment, I'm not worried about mile 16 (unless I actually am on mile 16). I'm not worried about what might happen or lamenting the things I did or did not do. I am only concerned with what's in front of me.

And right now, what's in front of me are a plethora of opportunities. What's in front of me, after all, is pretty darn good.

Boston Marathon Day

Today is one of those days where I will be constantly checking my laptop.

It is the 113th running of the Boston Marathon and one of my best friends will making her debut.

I was going to be in Boston to cheer her on and help her soak up the experience but life and circumstances got in the way. So instead, I'm in Buffalo sending her as much karmic positive energy as I can.

My friend Amy and I have known each other since kindergarten. In high school, she was on the swim team and for a brief time on the track team. We stayed in contact through college and as she got married, moved to Texas and started her family.

She was a recreational runner for years and then decided to train for a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston.

There are 25,000 people who run the Boston Marathon all of whom need to qualify to enter at a certified race. Amy had to run a marathon in under 3 hours and 45 minutes to make it into the field and quite simply, I am so proud of her. I have been thinking of her during my longer runs the past two weeks, while she was enjoying her taper and I was amping up for my inaugural marathon effort. Over the years our friendship has had several key talking points -- our love of Canadian bands, our affection for Matthew Broderick movies, our similiar political interests -- and now we've added training and racing to our friendship repetoire.

Sometimes when you make a change in your life you don't just get new friends out of the deal. You get to enhance relationships which were already there.

Last time I talked with Amy, her goal was to enjoy the day. The hard work was in getting to Boston. This is an experience she wants to enjoy and savor, not necessarily race through. The race was what she had to do in order to get here.

Her attitude reminds me that race day is supposed to be fun. It's the reward for the training. Practice is supposed to be harder than the games. And the more you let go of outcome based thinking, the easier it is to actually end up with the outcomes you want. A bit ironic for a Monday morning, I know, but food for thought for the week.

For those interested in the elite runners at Boston, The Science of Sport Blog breaks down their winners for today's race.

Meanwhile, if you have family or friends you want to track, the official Boston Marathon website has an athlete tracker feature.

You can be sure I'll be checking in multiple times today.

  

New doors

I have decided that there is no such thing as a flat stretch of road in the state of North Carolina.

This might be a tad bit of an overstatement, some hyperbole for a Thursday morning, but really, if you want to find a flat place to run here, don't ask me. Even my four-loop residential run in Chapel Hill had rolling hills in it -- ones that I had to run, well, four times. And at tempo pace.

But here's the thing -- I held my pace.

Even running up hill, I was able to hold pretty darn close to my pace. In fact, when I hit a few flat spaces, I actually had to slow down and not work so hard.

For the record, I wasn't exactly running Chestnut Ridge or Mendon Ponds Park. I realize these really are pretty innocent hills. But that doesn't make them easier, especially mentally. So holding my prescribed paces for two runs on a hilly course, well, let's just say I was excited enough to throw my iPod on in my hotel room and groove to a mix of Great Big Sea and Beyonce afterward.

I was so excited I emailed my coach and told her how I thought I was getting better.

After her initial enthusiasm, she offered this food for thought:

"Getting better .... but you weren't sick. I'd say you are opening new doors."

Point well taken. And one that I'll need to think on during that long easy run today.

Improvement is something we quantify. How much faster can I run, bike or swim? How much quicker can I get up that hill from yesterday? Did I make more money, get better grades or win more accolades?

There are important measuring tools.

But if we get caught up in the measurements, we miss what they are trying to tell us.

And, as Mary pointed out to me, so often, those are tales of new opportunities. New windows to peer through. New doors to walk through.

What opportunity will present itself after a week of running camp?

Heck, what opportunities are coming around to me today?

Because if I'm too busy measuring my pace, there's an excellent chance I'll miss something worthwhile along the way.

Renewing friendships over six miles of hills

This week brought me to North Carolina for a bit of spring vacation. In the western part of the state, I'm visiting family along with my dad while the second half of the week takes me to Chapel Hill and a conference on college sports.

So what's a training triathlete to do?

Have run camp of course.

My coach is gloriously flexible with scheduling training around your life and so this week is completely focused on my running, which, after all, isn't so outrageous with the Buffalo Marathon about six weeks away now.

Monday was a simple recovery day from the Cats Half Marathon I ran on Saturday. Nothing but a 45-minute brisk walk. And it's really hard to keep yourself to a brisk walk when you've become used to running. But the movement felt good and all pain I had in my ankles and knees was gone.

Tuesday brought with it an hour-long easy-paced run and I convinced my friend, Scott, to join me so that (a) I could have company and (b) have help finding a relatively flat route in the Smokey Mountains.

Scott and I went to college together and he has become a rather strong cyclist. (At his house, he showed me a picture he had taken with Bob Roll. I thought that was way cool. His wife was happy he could show it to someone who thought so.) He has gotten into running in recent years and is looking for some duathlons to train for.

So we went out on our hour run and the first mile -- was all up hill.

Thanks Scott!

Actually, after that first climb, the rest of the route was beautiful with very gentle rolling hills. I was able to hold my easy pace for the majority of the run with the blips on uphills canceled out by the momentum of the downhill.

While the run itself was wonder -- good road, beautiful scenery, sunshine and temperatures in the 50s -- it was even better to chat and catch up with a friend.

Funny how running not only has brought me new friends back home, but reconnected me to old friends -- some of whom I would never have guessed would be running or cycling or entering triathlons.

I felt great after we knocked out six miles (even better since that final mile was all down hill!) and a little bit stronger for the run and the renewed friendship.

Race Report: Cats Half Marathon

There should be a version of the television show "What Not to Wear" geared toward fitness and athletes. First of all, perhaps the woman I saw at a gym wearing a patterned leotard, bright pink tights and a headband as if she came straight out of the Olivia Newton-John video for "Physical" would be able to move forward a decade or two.

Second, it could greatly help me figure out how to dress for outdoor runs and bike rides.

I arrived at Mendon Ponds Park outside of Rochester for the Cats Half Marathon in a running skirt and long-sleeved shirt. I saw the weather was supposed to get into the 40s with sun. I figured I should dress "20 degrees warmer" and thought I would be fine.

Shortly after registration, however, I had second thoughts.

The wind wasn't just a breeze -- it was strong at times. And it wasn't just cool -- it was cold.

My friend Herm drove up for the race and was wearing pants, a more thermal top, hat and gloves. He figured he'd be out in the country for a while and it was cold. Layers you can always take off.

I pondered this. I hate to overheat, but I didn't want to freeze.

What to wear?

Luckily I had brought a pair of capris and had two long-sleeved shirts. So I changed my clothes. Herm graciously lent me a pair of gloves.

Off we go.

Mendon Ponds Park is large and beautiful. We started by running outside the park, then circled on outer country roads before coming back through the park on the other side, running the outer edge again and returning up through the road we started on.

It was advertised as a hilly course. So the hills were not a surprise. And I have been running some at Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park. This, my coach told me, is nothing I haven't run before.

My goal was to try and hold marathon pace as much as I can, but not to get caught up in the pace. I would not hold that pace up some of the hills and that was OK. I was just to enjoy the run and know that the hills will make me stronger.

I started out easy, but then again most of the first part of the course was downhill and flat.

Then came the hills.

And the hills just kept on coming. And coming. And there was that 17-mile per hour wind which on the occasion it wasn't in my face was a strong cross-wind blowing me into the road.

This was not a fast day for me.

Which meant the doubts started around Mile 9.

I started to wonder about the distance of 26.2 miles. I started to wonder about my strength. About my fitness. About my endurance.

Then I stopped. I shook my arms out. I looked at the blue sky. I smiled.

As I came up on another runner and we exchanged pleasantries.

"I fell like I'm running a good race but everyone else seems faster," he said to me.

"Me, too," I said. "All that matter is how you feel you're doing."

Ah-ha.

So often when we talk to other people we are really talking to ourselves.

I cruised on ahead not all that fast but pretty steady.

The last big hill on the course featured someone who parked her car. She cheered on the runners while having her car opened and the radio blasting. Rusted Root helped get me up that hill.

At Mile 10 I started to feel sore, particularly in my ankles.

I turned the corner into the park and came to Mile 11. Herm was there, timing when he figured I would come by that marker. He cheered me on and asked if I wanted someone to run in with me.

Yes!

Thank goodness!

Because if he wasn't there I might have walked a bit those final two miles.

It was a rolling up-hill to the finish line and my ankles were pretty darn sore at this point. I was slow. I was no where near marathon pace. During the run, I didn't care. I just wanted to keep running, keep moving. In hindsight, I was disappointed with those final two miles. I couldn't have picked it up just a bit?

At the top of the hill were some of my Train This! teammates cheering for me.

I crossed the line in 2:15.10.

And while at home I would replay those final two miles to see if I couldn't have done a bit better, I am rather pleased with that time.

Slow? Sure.

But (a) it's faster than my first half marathon which had no hills and (b) I ran that hilly course on no taper. This wasn't a race but a training run for me.

My coach had no goal time for me. She was pretty pumped at my performance.

And frankly, so was I.

So today, I feel I've earned a few extra pieces of chocolate as I put some ice on my ankles.

I may have been slow on the hills, but I know it will make me stronger.

Well, it's just got to.

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