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Friday, January 13, 2017

Over the Wall

It starts with a choice.

Then comes the commitment. 

It's been over 3 and 1/2 years since I've truly been a consistent runner. I ran the St. George Marathon in 2013 and shortly after that began to grow more sporadic in my motivation. The thing that kept me moving at that time was, of course, that I had qualified for Boston. And then my body decided to up the degree of difficulty by falling apart. I was fairly good at running for a couple months last year, and then slowly disintegrated in the months that followed. There have been any number of issues, but the big one has been that I haven't had anything in particular for which to train.

There is a great episode of The West Wing in which the President mentions the analogy of some young Irish lads on a journey who come across a brick wall seemingly too high to climb. Throwing their caps over the wall, the lads have no choice but to follow.

Within the next couple weeks, I hope to throw my cap over the wall. I'll register for a race and have no choice but to train.

In the meantime, I'm trying to make other life adjustments. 

First, I'm eating better and more consistently. I'm attempting (which is something wholly unheard-of for me) to avoid fast food this year. I've stocked my office with several healthy snacks to avoid temptation, and I've built a schedule of drinking water and eating small portions to stave hunger while keeping me fueled. Add in some light workouts during the day, and I've got a fairly healthy routine sketched out.

Next, when I run, I'm letting my body dictate the pace, not my watch. In fact, my watch doesn't even work anymore. Instead, I turn on my Map My Run app and go, letting all the breaks and slow downs be a part of the time, even if I'm forced to stop by traffic or what have you. I will hopefully learn how a certain pace feels and not force myself to stick with a time on a watch. Start slow, finish strong. I would love for this to be my first negative-split marathon.

Finally, I will stick with a slow building of miles and not force myself, at least this time around, to shoot for any particular goal in terms of finishing time. It's when I rush into training that I burn out, and I can't have that again. Especially if I spend the money on the race entry. No, it's time to take myself a little less seriously and a little more cautiously. It's a combination that can only lead to success, as long as I'm smart about it.

I'm looking forward to chasing my cap.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Often

When do you get to call yourself "a runner?"

It's been a discussion for many years, and of course, there is no right answer. For me, if you go for a run, you're a runner. I don't see why it needs to be an exclusive label. One of the best parts about running is how accessible it is for everyone. You don't need equipment. You don't need membership. You need shoes and road in front of you. Poof, you're a runner.

Still, there are some who think you need enter races or make a certain pace. Some think that if you walk during your workouts, it doesn't count. These are the extremes. A more moderate standard is simple: it comes down to how often you run.

As relaxed as my standard is in general, this last is the standard I have for myself. If someone asks, are you a runner, my answer depends on how often I've been running. If I feel food about the work I've been doing lately, it's an easy "yes." Even if my mileage isn't that high, as long as I know that I've been out as much (or close to as much) as I want, then sure, I'm a runner. If (as now) I haven't been out much at all, I'll usually say something like, "Well, I run marathons, but I haven't been doing much lately." When I know that I'm not performing up to my own standards, I hate to claim credit, so I have to keep my statements in check.

But do I? Let me ask another question by way of answer: does it rain in Austin in August?

A week ago, a year ago, three years ago, the answer might be no. In fact, it didn't rain a drop in 2010 or 2011, less than 2 inches in 2012, and under half an inch in every year since then. No, it never rains in Austin in August.

Except, of course, that I'm directing outdoor theatre right now, and as the fifth inch of rain this week falls outside my window, I have to say, it definitely does. And in this moment, as I scramble to find rehearsal spaces with roofs, the "truth" of summer rain in Texas doesn't matter all that much. The last six years' evidence doesn't matter. It's raining now.

That's the problem with absolute negatives. It does rain in August. Not much and not often, but it does rain. In the same way, even if I'm not running much or often, I'm still a runner. And I still smile like an idiot running in the rain, just the way I did this morning.

It doesn't mean I'm satisfied with the occasional run, and I'll still qualify that answer every time I give it, but on a basic, fundamental level, my "truth" is that I am a runner.

And this week, a wet one.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Boost and Bust

Not gonna lie, I'm a little tired today.

It's been four months since I managed to complete more than two runs in the same week, and most weeks have had 0 or 1. Today, I went for my third run this week, and the second that was achieved by waking up on time. With my current work schedule, "on time" is 5:00 a.m.

I should say, I'm not a morning person.

However, I've found in the past that getting up and doing a workout is a great motivator for me. It gets the blood moving in the best way possible and puts me in a better mood from the get-go. Strangely, this wasn't the case for me on Tuesday, my other wake-up-on-time morning. I was happy that I completed the run, but I didn't get the same kind of energy boost that I've come to expect from early-morning runs, which is rather disappointing when you need that boost to carry you through a day you've started 90 minutes earlier than usual.

Today, I got the boost. It was killed by spending a lot of time in the car, but at least I felt it, and I can hope it'll be there if I get up and do it again tomorrow.

At the moment, however, I'm dragging pretty hard. This is something I've come to expect, of course. If I get up earlier, I'll be tired earlier. As much as I'd like to think that I'm just adding an hour to my day by getting up earlier, the reality is (most of the time) that I'm also removing an hour of sleep. Now, sometimes, that's an hour I don't need, like those days when I'm in bed for 10 hours just because I have nowhere else to be. But sometimes, like, say, after I spend an evening out at a concert and get to bed later than usual, maybe I just need the sleep.

So, I'll power through until an early-but-still-reasonable bedtime and see how it goes in the morning.

Or, based on how I'm currently feeling, perhaps early afternoon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


"Easier" is not the same as "easy."

I told myself this as I made a left turn this morning, changing my 4 mile run into a 3 mile run.

For the first time in far too long, I was embarking on my second run in as many days, and I felt really good about it. So good, in fact, that when my alarm went off, I almost thought I was still dreaming. Surely it couldn't be this easy to wake up so early after all the weeks and months I've spent hitting snooze. But it was. Alarm off, clothes on, quick pit stop and out the door. A total of 8 minutes from alarm to run, and I wasn't even hurrying.

My body has been craving this, and something in yesterday's workout must have opened the floodgates. I wanted to do four miles again. I wanted to see how I would compare in the cooler (but much more humid) air of the morning with a body that hadn't fully woken up.

Within half a mile, I could feel myself trying to push pace a little bit in order to enjoy the pseudo-breeze of the morning. It didn't feel "good," per se, but at least the air was moving and my skin wasn't baking. My watch found the satellites early and I found myself wanting to know if I was running fast enough. In short, I was building speed. Not a good plan.

I started thinking about all the other times I've gotten back into running and pushed myself too hard. And of course, of all the pain that came with that. I slowed down, and I turned left. Three miles is more than sufficient.

And still, I felt myself speeding up. It's only three miles, my legs told me. We can do this faster.

That's when the wisdom showed up. Easier is not necessarily easy. Yes, my run is one mile shorter, but that doesn't mean it has to - or even should be - faster. Sure, it's 78 degrees instead of 99, but that doesn't give me license to run my body into the ground over a training run.

I thought about what a faster pace or an extra mile would gain for me versus what it might cost. I remembered that the prospect of going too long, too fast, too early could only lead to trouble. Shorter run, slower pace.

Turns out, I was right. And I was rewarded.

At 1.5 miles, I hit a mini-wall very similar to the one I hit yesterday shortly before the turnaround point. My legs suddenly realized what we were doing and made their displeasure known. It was much easier to push through today, though, and one mile later, something wonderful happened. All the stress and strain in my legs released. My movements became fluid, and my pace quickened without any change in effort. In truth, it was probably slower than my last mile yesterday, but because I'd been smart early, it felt faster and I felt strong.

And there's a chance it'll get easier tomorrow.

Monday, July 11, 2016

If You Can't Stand the Heat

...then get up earlier.

It's an easy solution, really. Well, not easy, but simple.

Training outdoors in a Texas summer gives you only three options: heat, humidity, or some oppressive combination of both. Today, I battled the heat.

I've had a lot of trouble - and honestly made little effort - getting up early lately. As a result, I've gone for very few runs in recent months. With temperatures at or near 100 degrees in the afternoon and early evening, running after work hasn't really been an option for me. At least, not a sensible one.

This afternoon, I didn't feel like being sensible.

I had an overwhelming urge to go for a run today, and decided I would do so when I got home. As I stepped out the door, I could tell that it was going to be rough. The temperature was 99 with a heat index of 106. The most important thing was going to be keeping myself slow enough to finish.

The first half wasn't too bad, but as I neared my turn around point, the heat hit me like a ton of bricks, and as I turned around, I felt the sun on my face and my body heat went through the roof. I headed up a quarter-mile hill and at the top saw a stretch of trees providing some shade. For a moment, I considered stopping a moment and walking through the shade.

But I considered what it would mean to stop for the first time. This would no doubt lead to more stopping, which would only keep me out in the heat longer. There is a simple truth that occurs to me in moments like this: the faster you run, the sooner you're done.

As long as you don't run so fast you have to walk.

So, I kept myself moving, and with each step, I made a promise to myself to get up early enough to run in the humidity, not the heat. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's better than the alternative, which in turn is better than nothing at all. Today, I faced the heat.

Tomorrow, let's see how I face the alarm.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Modus Operandi

A routine and a pattern are two different things.

I crave a routine. I thrive when I can get myself into a rhythm and do the same thing over and over. When putting something together, I almost always drift into an assembly line system. A couple years ago, when at my best in running, I ran for the first 100 days of the year. Of course, I hurt myself and missed my BQ by two minutes, but that's another problem, and one I've been better about addressing. My bigger problem right now is actually getting out the door.

The sporadic nature of the blog posts has been no accident. It matches the sporadic nature of my runs. Even in the midst of P90X, I was having to find time at all hours of the day because I just wasn't waking up on time. For a while now, I haven't been excited about working out. Perhaps it's because I don't have any particular goal toward which I'm working. Or maybe I'm just getting older and crawling out of bed is necessarily harder. Either way, the work doesn't call me, and I stay tucked away in the safety and (ever-increasing) warmth of the bed.

That is my pattern, and I think that's the difference between the two. A pattern is there whether you want it to be or not. I get super excited and ambitious about working out and all the amazing physical feats I'm going to accomplish. Maybe I read an article about a challenge race or a new season of American Ninja Warrior just started. Something has happened that makes me believe this will finally be the time that I stick with it and legitimately change my life.

And so for a couple weeks (maybe even a couple months), I actually do it. I work hard. I see myself get better and stronger. I pay attention to what I'm eating and how I'm living in general, and for that time, I feel great.

Until I don't. Until something else comes along that takes my attention, like late-night rehearsals or a slew of birthday parties. Maybe I get injured or I plateau in my results and get discouraged. Maybe I'm just exhausted. Whatever it is, something turns off, and that passion turns to degradation. I tear myself apart knowing that I could never have accomplished all the things I said that I could. Certainly, how could I have ever thought I could do it?

It's a pattern. It's my MO.

I think the way to fight a pattern is with a routine. Yes, streaking helps me too. Not running around naked, though I suppose that's another way to go. Streaking, as in running for 100 days straight or counting the number of days in a row that I've woken up on time. (It's one, by the way.) This is also very motivational to me, but only when I get to a certain point, and only for so long. No, I simply have to develop new habits, which comes from developing the routine that I keep writing about.

The trouble is, I feel that to truly commit to the routine, other aspects of my life must be removed, so I'm trimming the fat. Over the next 6 months, I'm removing a lot of the distractions from my day-to-day that keep me from being healthy and smart, and I'm going to do all I can to stick to the new routine. Earlier to bed, earlier to rise. Workout, eat breakfast, write. Work, work, work. Set to-do lists. Read. Earlier to bed to do it all again. Health takes discipline, and discipline takes sacrifice. I think I'm ready. I'm finally ready to change my MO.

And day one is off to a great start.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


And it feels so gooooooood.

After yesterday's decision to return to a run-based workout plan, the natural choice seemed to be for me to take a run this morning. I actually woke up excited to do a workout, which hasn't happened in a few months.

Originally, I'd planned to do 5 miles, but within the first few minutes, I decided to drop down to four. I probably could have done the longer run, but my hips were a little tight. Even though I've been working hard the last few weeks, it seems to have used my cardiovascular system in a slightly different way, because I was breathing a little harder than expected.

And I couldn't have cared less. The run felt fantastic.

After the monsoon season we've been experiencing the last few months, it was great to have a bright and sunny morning with a light cool wind to help me along. Sure, it was nearly 80% humidity, but mornings are always more humid here in Texas. Of course, if I'd been running this whole time, I could have gradually gotten used to the increase in temperature, but instead, I've jumped right into summer.

And again, don't care. It felt so incredibly good to run again.

It wasn't long. It wasn't fast. Really, there wasn't anything spectacular about the run, except that I was running. I couldn't wait to get out and do it, and I can't wait to do the next one. This is the only way to sustain a fitness plan: to love it.

It's good to be back.