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The long run: Plan B

Some days, more gains are made through struggle than through hitting your stride.

Such was the fate of my weekend long run.

The countdown continues for the Miami Half Marathon and my two-hour run had significant tempo intervals. These were paces I had not previously held, at least for any significant amount of time, in a training run. Yet my coach believed I could do it. More importantly I believed I could do it.

I entered the gym focused and ready to go, prepared with index cards and tape for the treadmill display (one with the breakdown of my workout, one with positive affirmations) along with my gels and water bottle. I settled into my warmup. I turned up the pace for my first 20 minute interval.

And it felt horrible.

I had something going on with the toes on my left foot (the same area which started bleeding during the Buffalo Marathon), my right arm was sore and a cramp was developing in my side where my heart rate monitor wrapped around my torso. I made it 15 minutes at the tempo pace before jumping to straddle the treadmill, taking a sip of diluted Gatorade Endurance and ripping off my heart rate monitor strap.

My 10 minutes of recovery was much slower than anticipated.

In fact, for the rest of the workout, I was well below the speedy tempo work I had intended to do.

About an hour into my run, my friend Sue arrived. I again straddled the treadmill to take some water and told her I wanted to cry.

Ah, but I didn't.

I refocused. A good friend of mine who lives in Texas (and also happens to be named Amy) was doing the same workout at her gym, giving me solidarity on the treadmill, even if we were roughly 1400 miles apart. She was suffering just as I was and that knowledge helped me through.

Among the options available to me were to (a) quit (b) start a conversation of negative self talk about the way the workout was going and (c) change my story. 

Choosing Option C made the run a success regardless of how fast my tempo intervals were. The run wasn't "bad" it was hard. I didn't quit. I didn't give in to the negative thoughts, the doubts that can easily creep into your head. We can do more than we think we can, and at that moment, finishing the workout was what was important.

In the end, I finished nearly 12 miles. But it wasn't the distance or the pace that was particularly important. Those are numbers and the numbers will come.

What I gained for Miami was another bit of mental strength, another experience I can rely on when the course gets tough. I know that I can devise a Plan B on the fly -- and get to the finish just fine.

--- Amy Moritz

Connecting fitness and charity

The ninth season of The Biggest Loser began last night on NBC with the heaviest group of contestants ever in the history of the show. The trainers are daunted by the task in front of them while the premier hinted at the possibility of a season filled with deep emotional issues. After all, most people do not get to be 400-some pounds just because they like food. And if the creators are true to their evolving mantra that The Biggest Loser is a movement to change people's lives and not just a game show for obese people, we should get to see some interesting and compelling story lines.

For those at home who have weight to lose, the show is again sponsoring its Pound for Pound Challenge. Those who sign up for the challenge, pledge to lose weight and for each pound they pledge to lose, a pound of groceries will be delivered to a local food bank through the organization Feeding America.

It's one of the connections that can help jump start many people's resolutions to live healthier lives. And for many women, the charity connection is key to starting and maintaining a fitness routine. It may be just anecdotal, but when races or fitness events have a charitable tie-in, women seem most comfortable participating. The reasons? It could be the non-competitive nature of those events. Or it could be that it creates for some women (and some men) a valid reason to take time away from work and family to exercise and train.

And if your journey to fitness and perhaps into athletics begins with a charity event, there are plenty available.

If you want to go big, this summer will feature Wheels to Wells, a cycling event to raise money for wells in North Africa to bring clean drinking water to 40,000 people. The event is looking for riders to bike the entire event -- a cross-country venture -- along with participants to cycle week-long portions of the route.

On a more local, and less intimidating scale, there are fundraisers in Western New York. The Ride for Roswell opened its registration for the annual fundraiser for Roswell Park Cancer Institute held this year on June 26. The event, which begins and ends at the University at Buffalo's North Campus, features eight different routes, from 3 miles to 62.5 miles, although the website suggests that a 100-mile route may be added this year.

Also on the bike, the annual Tour de Cure to benefit the American Diabetes Association is June 5 from Niagara County Community College. The six routes range from a 6-mile family fun ride to a 100-mile ride.

If walking is more your speed, the 14th Annual Hospice Buffalo Memorial Walk is scheduled for May 23. The 5K walk begins and ends at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.

Want to focus on running? The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is a 5K run on June 12 from the Delaware Park Rose Garden which draws hundreds of participants, including breast cancer survivors and first-time runners.

For bigger fundraising dreams and the chance to train for and travel to significant half marathons, marathons or triathlons, try Team in Training or Team Cure Challenge.

Team in Training is the standard bearer for helping people through their first (or latest) endurance event while raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Based on the same model, Team Cure Challenge raises money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute and includes training for local events, including the 8K Shamrock and Turkey Trot and the Buffalo Half Marathon and Buffalo Marathon.

Meanwhile, most local 5Ks and regional triathlons have a charity tie-in, making the ability to connect fitness and athletic challenges with giving back to the community a pretty easy task.

It's just a matter of selecting your charity and event and completing the registration. If the cause is close to your heart, the motivation to do those workouts will never be difficult to access.

--- Amy Moritz

Embracing winter on snowshoes

A few years ago, I thought of a great Christmas present for my dad -- snowshoes.

I had bought a pair a year earlier and used them once or twice. My dad, who has been known to disappear for hours at a time on walks and cultivated my own love of hiking, could certainly use them on his winter walks.

But ever since we bought them, we haven't been able to get out in the snow together. Until this winter, that is, when Mother Nature decided to keep a steady stream of snow over Western New York. So last week, my dad and I went to Chestnut Ridge Park for some snowshoeing. We only got lost once and my dad only tripped himself up a handful of times. It was generally a fun time. No watches or monitors or time frames. Just time together playing in the snow.

Granted, all this cold and snow is not helpful for those of us training for winter or early spring races. But if we live in a snow belt we might as well embrace the winter. Some ski, others ice skate and still others, like me, get out the snowshoes. In fact, some coaches will tell you that you can substitute a run with snowshoeing in the winter.

It's different than running. There is definitely a learning curve. But it's not about getting the workout in. It's about having fun, trying something new and seeing where it takes you -- physically, mentally and emotionally. Even if you're just strapping on some rented snowshoes for a jaunt around a flat field, it can be an adventure and make the winter weather, perhaps, just a tad more bearable.

Jenny Hadfield offers tips on how to buy snowshoes and how to get started in an article at Runners World's online site.

And if you're so inclined to snowshoe in a group, there is a 5K snowshoe race at Chestnut Ridge Park on Jan. 24. You can race it or walk it, but you can definitely have fun playing in the snow.

--- Amy Moritz

Half marathon preparation

In 27 days, the ING Miami Half Marathon will be underway.

That numbers is pretty scary to look at it. Because it conjures up lots and lots of fear -- fear of not enough time, of not be ready, of not being prepared.

If  reframe that unsettled feeling in my stomach, though, it becomes not fear but excitement and anticipation. What will the next 27 days bring? What will that day be like? I wonder. (And as an aside, it can lead me into breaking out in the song "I Have Confidence" from The Sound of Music or The Family Guy. Either version actually makes me smile.)

There are two outcome-based goals for Miami -- one is hitting a specific time (which is super secret and known to only a handful of people who will spontaneously combust if they tell anyone else) and the other is a more relaxed time goal, one that just wants to beat the time I ran the race in last year (which was 2:09 for anyone who was thinking of looking up the race results).

But outcome-based goals are tricky because there are variables outside of your control. And if you base your entire existence on the result, you not only miss the fun and joy of the process, you set yourself up for huge amounts of failure and disappointment.

There are other goals I have for the Miami Half Marathon, one which showed in my long run over the weekend.

It was a two-hour training run which took place on the treadmill (because 15 degrees and patches of black ice are not part of my Florida race plan). Alongside three of my friends, I focused on getting through the run which included a warmup then three sets of tempo-pace intervals.

Those were hard. Very hard. And the gym's satellite radio station was playing Heart. Not that I have anything against Heart but "Magic Man" was not helping me solider through that second 15-minute tempo interval.

But I kept going. And the magic of it all for me was I didn't back off.

Last year when doing these types of runs, I would fail to keep the prescribed pace. I would quickly get frustrated and back off. This time, nope. I didn't give in to the doubts in my head, to the voice which suggested that it would be OK if I turned down the pace, or walked the last 15 minutes of my cool down instead of running it out at my endurance pace.

It wasn't about doing the workout perfectly. I'm trying to give up perfect for 2010. It was knowing that I would not break if I pushed just a little bit harder. It was about not selling myself short.

If goals are things which are under your complete control, then my approach and my attitude are the biggest measures of success I can find.

The countdown continues.

--- Amy Moritz

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