Trying not to stop and walk

Often when I run by myself I end up just walking instead.
It's not physical. It's purely mental. It's extremely frustrating, because my mind seems to just forget why I wanted to run in the first place (to clear my head, or get a serotonin boost, or because I had too much energy) and decides to stop my body, and then I'm stuck walking back.

Tonight while running I got the urge to stop and walk about three miles in. I decided to focus on the feeling of wanting to walk to see what was causing it, and also as a way to keep me from walking.

I remember doing something similar while riding along the California coast on a bike. I had been taking short breaks every 10 miles, but I decided not to get off the bike just to see what it was like. It was extremely difficult not to give in and get off, but in the end I made it 60 miles without even stopping to pee, and the mental reward was tremendous.

The first thing I realized was that the desire to stop came when I was halfway into my run, and I knew I would have to start running back. Even though I was doing a loop and I wouldn't be retracing my steps, it was still in the direction of home. I realized that running "back" was a demotivator. It's really typical for me to walk when I reach the halfway point. Even if I were to decide to just run out and then take the bus back, I would probably still start walking halfway to the bus stop (wherever that was).

Everytime my mind would shift to think about being home or going home, I would want to walk. On the run out, I rarely think about that, but as soon as I start heading home I start to count the steps and look up to see how far away I am. Thinking about how much farther I have to run a real demotivator. In my ideal running state, I'm so lost in thought I barely realize where I am. But as soon as I look up and start to think "I have to make it past that stopsign and then run a mile down that road" my mind just wants me to stop and walk.

Running on trails is helpful because they twist and turn and don't give you good landmarks to go off of. The coast is similar, since the horizon doesn't serve as a mile marker. In both places I feel like I could run forever. Running at night helps somewhat too. The worst place for me to run is on a flat sidewalk or track in the middle of the day. There, you can't help thinking about how much farther you have to go, and it becomes pure torture.

I also realized that I wanted to walk whenever I thought about what I would be doing when I got home. This is especially true when I run before work or in the middle of the day, and I have to get back and do something boring. But it's also true when what I'm going to do is fun. I realized that's because it makes me think about how much time I have left until I get home, and when I think about time it demotivates me.

In fact, time is the greatest demotivator. Why do anything, when time will pass and make it irrelevant? Why run, when the time spent running is short and will be over soon? Why not just walk and take things slowly?

Sometimes to make myself keep running I check what the next mile marker will be, and decide that I have to make it at least to that marker. But that doesn't work 4 times of out of 5, and when it does work, it's because I've gotten lost in my thoughts again and forgotten that I set a goal at all. I used to be much more strict with myself about running. For eight years I had the same four miles that I would run each morning at 6am when I had to catch the bus, then at 7am when I started biking to school, then at 8am when I was in college. I enjoyed those mindless miles that I did as soon as I woke up. Maybe morning running is the trick to not stopping. Or running with friends. When I run with friends I don't stop because I feel ashamed of stopping. Also they distract me by chatting. But for long runs, my own mind is my greatest friend and distraction.

I'm not sure if there's a threshold of miles that I reach where suddenly I lose the desire to stop. Typically around five miles I start to feel good. But I've been struck by the desire to stop at two, three, four, and fifteen miles. Maybe the threshold is fifteen miles. Once you've run that many, you might as well just keep running until you reach your destination.

I wonder if I were to make a strict training schedule I would stick to it and finish my runs without walking. I kind of doubt it, and I suspect it might actually demotivate me.

Top 3 things I think about while running:

  1. Composing a blog post in my mind, usually about feminism or running.
  2. If I were a DJ and I were playing the playlist I'm listening to right now, what song would I mix in next, and would I be wearing?
  3. The art car I'm definitely going to build for Burning man next year

The Seattle Half Marathon

I hadn't run a half marathon distance since my unfortunate half marathons in May, so I had no idea how fast I could run one. I extrapolated, based on recent runs, what I could expect my time to be. Anything under 1:35 and I could be happy, I decided. The girl last year had won in 1:24. I thought that might be my stretch goal.  

I was surprisingly nervous the day before the race. In July, I had a pair of New Balance running shoes that I loved, but which had unfortunately not lasted very long, partially because I wore them once while climbing sharp, barnacle covered rocks by the sea.  They were super minimalist - more like socks with a bit of tread on the bottom than shoes really. You could literally roll them up and put them in your purse. They also glowed in the dark.

I searched for them in two different stores before learning that they had been discontinued. Thankfully, I found a fairly similar pair at NikeTown and bought those.


I had to pick up my race packet from the Westin that evening, and I wandered around taking freebies. Then I went home and ate some Indian food, drank a couple of screw drivers, worked for a bit, listened to some hypnosis for athletic performance, and went to bed around 11pm (I'm mostly writing this for my benefit so that next race I have I can look back and imitate this. Especially the screw driver drinking part). I had set my alarm for 6:45, but then I realized that if I woke up and discovered that my bike was stolen I would have to take the bus, so instead I set my alarm for 6:30.

I'm glad I set my alarm for 6:30, because I had forgotten that I'd left my bike at WeWork the Monday before Thanksgiving, and never picked it up.  My Uber app wasn't working (and I don't know if I want to support Uber anymore anyway) so I had to take Tony's bike. There was no time to adjust the seat so it was way to big for me. I also didn't figure out how the gears worked for a while, so I was stuck in the lowest gear. It's only a 10 minute ride to Seattle Center, where the race was starting, from the condo, but when I got there I only had 15 minutes until the race start at 7:30. I couldn't figure out how to get into the corral with the racers. When I finally did, they were counting down four minutes to go. I rudely shoved my way through the crowd. With one minute to go, I caught sight of the 1:30 pacers at the front of the pack. I was going to follow them no matter what. And we were off.

The first half felt almost easy. I was running with my head up and my legs were loping along under me. It was fun to run on the closed down highway and through the tunnels. On the other side of the tunnel, Lake Washington was absolutely beautiful, sparkling a cold blue. I had been thinking the night before about what it means to run 'for yourself' and this was it. There aren't a lot of things I do just for myself. Writing is one of them. Sailing is another. Tinkering with arduino is another. Running is another.

Around mile 7, the course got hilly again. I'm not great at hills. Another girl caught up to me. A girl from the front of the race fell back. There were now three girls running around the 1:30 pace group, and we were oddly all wearing teal jackets. I mentioned it, laughing, and the pacer asked, "Did you all call each other this morning to coordinate your outfits?"

Around mile nine we all started to spread out. I fell back from the pacers. One of the girls stayed with them, and one stayed just ahead of me. My legs were starting to feel tired. I was glad about this, and also surprised. In the past when I've run, my lungs have always tired before my legs. Making your legs stronger is easy. Lungs are harder to exercise.

I kept reminding myself to smile. Smiling when running is an amazingly effective performance enhancing drug. It should probably be made illegal.

I kept considering taking my jacket off and running in a sports bra, but given the 30 degree weather, it never seemed like a good idea. Finally, I saw the sign for mile 12. Whenever I'm running and it gets tough, I tell myself 'Just one more mile. You can do anything for a mile." Also it was a downhill mile. I caught up to one of the teal jacket girls and passed her.

When racing, I have a bizarre downhill form that is probably extremely damaging to my body, but extremely effective. It's how I originally hurt my IT band. This race, my IT band was fine, but my right calf started to cramp up. Only half a mile to go! Even if my calf cramped up now, I could still run to the finish so I didn't care.

Only a quarter mile. You can do anything for a quarter mile. Only 0.2 miles. At 0.1 miles, I broke into a sprint to the finish. I crossed in 1:32:20.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 2.24.29 PM
Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 2.24.29 PM

Someone put a medal around my neck. I was handed a space blanket and a protein bar. I looked at the protein bar blankly. The last thing on my mind was eating food.

There was a sunny spot on the bleachers in the recovery area. A guy in an orange shirt was sitting there wearing a space blanket. I recognized him. We had run together the whole way, and he had finished a couple seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a bit. We had both been shooting for sub 1:30 times but hadn't quite made it. It wasn't a PR for him. It was for me. It was a 10 minute PR in fact. He encouraged me to find a coach. "At 26 you're just getting started with distance running. In a couple of years you'll reach your peak. I'll look for your name in future races." He also told me to check to see if I'd won anything, since he'd only seen a couple of girls in front of us.

I hadn't won anything - just 5th place in my age group which means that my name shows up on the "Leaders" page of the Seattle Marathon Results, so I'm pretty content. Maybe next time if I start practicing I can win. Speaking of winners, Iliana of the Least Slow Group took fifth overall in the marathon, which is seriously awesome. I hope to grow up to be as fast as her.

Running Update

I haven't written about running in a while.  

That's because I haven't run a race in a while.

The trouble started after my bike trip. I was feeling pretty fit and confident, so I decided to do something that I had considered doing for a while.

I decided to run a half marathon a day for 30 days. Five days in, I started to notice a familiar pain in my IT band. I ran with Club Northwest the first Sunday in May, and halfway into a 16 mile run, my IT band suddenly stopped working. I had to limp the eight miles back to Green Lake. Of course, I was only seven days into my goal at that point, so the next day I ran another half marathon. Then I ran another. And then, in a flash of genius (for me) I quit running and got a physical therapist.

Like I'd been afraid of, my physical therapist Kelly told me not to run for several weeks. Of course I cheated at first, and was met with extreme pain. Then Kelly showed me a way to run by taking extra short steps that increased my cadence.  Running this way, I was able to do two miles a day without pain. She also gave me a set of exercises that were both helpful for my IT band and a good workout. Having Kelly as my physical therapy was like having a personal trainer and a leg massage  twice a week, except that I only had a $10 copay. I highly recommend her and Green Lake Physical Therapy. Gradually, the pain disappeared and by August I was able to run 6 miles at a time.

I even did a pain free 50K in September in 110 degree weather, but that's a different story.

A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit IRDeep
A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit IRDeep

I've increased my weekly mileage gradually this fall, and now I'm doing about 40 miles a week. I hope to get to 50 miles a week by the new year, but for the sake of my IT band I'm afraid of overtraining. Having a treadmill in my building helps a lot. I also try to run on Wednesday afternoons with the Seattle Running Club (unofficially, the Amazon Running Club because they're mostly Amazon employees). Then on Sundays at 8am (depending on the night before's activities) I do long runs with Club Northwest. I've run with them three times so far this fall and amazingly I haven't been dropped yet.

Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!
Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!

The Amazon group is a different story. There are two groups that run at noon from the Amazon buildings. They call themselves 'Least Slow Group' and the 'Less Slow Group.' I normally run with the Less Slow Group, and we clip along at an 8 minute pace around Lake Union. But recently, I've been working up to running with the Least Slow Group. They tend to do sub seven minute pace, and I've heard rumors of their killer hill runs. I went for a run with them the week before Thanksgiving. They were doing a loop around Queen Anne, and I asked someone how long it was. "About 8 miles," he told me. We chatted about the Seattle Marathon. The other female runner in the Least Slow Group, Iliana, was doing the marathon on Sunday. I realized that I would be around on Sunday, and figured I should sign up as well.

About 6 miles in, I couldn't keep up with their pace anymore, and they dropped me. I felt a bit discouraged that I couldn't keep up, especially when I reached the Amazon buildings an hour and ten minutes after I started. An hour and ten minutes to run eight miles? What was I doing, thinking of signing up for a marathon? I certainly wouldn't even be close to the front of the pack. If I'm going to pay $140 for a race, I at least want a time that I can be proud of.

Later that day, I decided to use MapMyRun to see how far the Least Slow Group's Queen Anne Loop was. I carefully mapped my tracks and realized that it was not 8 miles - it was 9.5 miles. An hour and ten to run that wasn't so bad, especially considering the hills at the end. Encouraged, I signed up for the Seattle Half Marathon.

Running Revisited

After going through hell at the 30K on Saturday (and not winning anything) I decided not to skip running practice anymore. That meant that Tuesday I went to "Getting Back on the Track" with the Antifreeze running group. It was pouring rain so there were only a few of us there. On a good day there are ten or fifteen people. We did six 800s. I've been getting queezy every time I run track. I'm not sure if it's motion sickness or if it's caused by my diet or drinking too much coffee at work or something else. It usually hits at about the middle of track practice, and I slow down because I feel like my guts are about to burst. I try to hang on, even though I fall to the back of the pack. I've tried running with my eyes half closed, staring at the sky, eating less at lunch and not drinking coffee. So far nothing has helped. Maybe I just need to do more track practices. I've been skipping for the past couple of weeks because things like Duck Dodge get in the way. If anybody knows any tips for not getting sick while running track, please let me know!

SSW (Matt Winberry's acronym) was there as always, keeping up a good pace. At the end of practice, he asked me and Tony, "Do you want to run Ragnar?" and we both said yes without a minute of thought. So now we're signed up for this. Something to train for. Which meant that tonight, even though I was exhausted from Wednesday night "tapering" (swing dancing in Bellingham most of the night and waking up at 4am to make it to work on time) I woke from my post-work power nap to get to Road Runner Sports "First Thursday Adventure Run" run by 7pm. This was my first time at a First Thursday, and I didn't realize what a big deal it was.  First Thursday Adventure Runs are scavenger hunts where you run from business to business claiming prizes and raffle tickets. I was ten minutes late, but there was still a huge crowd gathered outside of Road Runner Sports. They seemed to be a lot more festive than the usual Thursday group is pre-run. I realized that everyone had cups of beer and handfuls of raffle tickets. A large percentage were wearing blue "First Thursday" t-shirts. I managed to find Matt and Tony in the crowd and asked them what was going on.

"Hey guys, where did you get the raffle tickets?"

"Monica, where have you been? We got the tickets on the run of course. They hand them out on the scavenger hunt"

"The run? You guys ran already?"

"Yeah, this started at 5pm"

Wow. I was two hours late. Tony went to get another beer and handed me his tickets. The organizer was rapidly reading out the raffle winners and I tried to keep up. They were giving away t-shirts, backpacks, shoes and all sorts of sports goodies. I felt pretty disappointed that I'd missed out on all this awesome. I would have to wait another month for the next one. Suddenly I heard the announcer say "Monica...Monica Simone..."

"Hey, that's you!" Matt nudged me. They had drawn my name from a hat. Somehow I had won something even though I was two hours late and hadn't participated in the Adventure Run. I squeezed through the crowd and claimed my prize - $160 towards a new pair of Asics, $25 at Irwins Coffee Shop, and entries to six summer races! Apparently since I had RSVPd online they had drawn my name from the pool of RSVPers. Now I get to run six races AND Ragnar!

Sometimes just showing up is the whole battle.

I did go for a five mile jog later that night - just me and the lake breeze and the shadowy figures of lovers strolling around Greenlake, whispering in the trees. Running, I've missed you.


Rothrock Challenge

Everything ached as I threw one leg after the other in front of me in a lopsided shuffle-run. "Monica, the faster you run this, the faster you can take a nap at the end," I told myself. I sped up, despite the forty-five degree angle of the hill. Then I stopped, gasping, and walk lopingly up the remainder of the hill. I had lost my fellow Rec Hall Regular, Jim, on the first painful 1,200 foot climb at the beginning of the race, and Meira Minard, reigning champion of Rothrock Challenges, was already in the lead, so I found myself in a pack of random runners. I imagined Jim and Meira soaring ahead of me and I felt like crying with frustration. The alternate joy of knowing I was doing my best and anguish of knowing that my best wasn't going to win me a medal today was messing with my head. I hate not winning. I had entered this race hoping to win at least something, but exhaustion from jet lag had worn me out. At least that's what I told myself. I jogged along, making a thousand excuses for my poor performance. I didn't get any coffee this morning. I hadn't carb loaded. I was wearing the wrong shoes (I'm not even sure what the right shoes for a race like that are). I hadn't trained. Wait, that's not an excuse. I could have trained. As my mind wandered I began to mentally make up a training program. I realized that running was fifth on my list of priorities. No wonder I hadn't trained. I need to put running and sleeping enough at the top of my priority list. I know, I will cancel all of my dates, tell my friends I don't have time to see them, and run twelve miles a day every day...

Suddenly I soared into a patch of sunlight which glinted off the wet leaves of the mountain laurel. The sunlight brought me back to the present, to the beautiful day, and to the soreness in my feet. The weather was as bipolar as my mood. A hard rain last night had left the course slippery. I had already passed through waist deep water in one part of the course. The worst spots were the technical spots right after the creek, when my shoes were full of water and slippery and I had trouble balancing as I leapt from rock to rock. And yet, I love technical. I love the absolute focus that it requires. My mind goes completely blank as I focus on finding the next best foothold for my airborne feet.

It was humid. At each water station I dumped a cup of water over my head. A couple of times I found myself running completely alone, the ferns brushing gently against my legs. I got lost twice. At the last water station, the lady told me "you're at mile twelve," but I knew she was lying when, three miles in, a man on a bike called out "only five and a half more miles to go!" There were two more climbs and descents in those last five miles. Another woman passed me and I felt frustration again. The man ahead of me had perfect balance and owned the technical, but his love handles suggested that he wasn't a regular runner. I felt angry about being behind him and not being in the lead. Then suddenly, I noticed the view and realized that I was running in a beautiful forest on a beautiful day and I smiled a huge smile and just ran for the pleasure of running. I realized that it didn't matter that I wasn't winning - being out there, running my best and being humbled by this terrain were the point.

I flew down the last hill like only a skier can run, passing a dozen runners on my way down. The last runner I passed was a guy who I'd been playing leapfrog with all day, and as I pulled away from him he yelled at me "Nice job! You're awesome by the way!!" That was the only push I needed to finish the race running. The rest of the way was mostly downhill. The final half mile was the one stretch of pavement. I closed my eyes and felt thankful for having the life to run and feel this pain and joy. I passed the finish line at 4:11 and ran straight to the pond to jump in. Jim was there with his hand out to give me a high five. So was Tom Cali, who had run part of the race to help encourage Meira. I was 10th woman overall. No, I'm not happy with my place. But I know that I will train harder from now on. Also, never run a race when jet-lagged. Unless it's reverse jet lag. My next race will have to be in Hawaii...