Archive for August, 2012

Thoughts on Gallo-walking

This morning I went out for an 11 mile run. Like a crazy person I set my alarm for 5:45am so I could finish my two and a half hour work-out with minimal disruption to my family (amazingly my 3 kids were up, dressed, and watching tv while my husband had gone back to sleep, but I digress…). By 6:20am I was out the door with my gear in place: Garmin (GPS watch which, among other features, gives a real-time pace), iPod with running mix, Galloway run/walk interval timer set to current training interval, Spibelt filled with running gels, iPhone clipped to belt, water/Gatorade mix in 2 separate bottles, new running shoes (my old ones are at the 300 mile mark), and standard running clothes.
I chose a route which took me on the Northbound segment of the Bronx River Pathway. This lovely path runs along the Bronx River which, despite the reference to the infamous borough where I work, is quite lovely. The path was not crowded on this unseasonably cool and pleasant morning and I had plenty of time to ponder life, the universe, and everything. Or in my case, marathon training.
My husband and I share a Kindle account and, as he noticed today when he realized that I’d purchased yet another marathon training book, I’ve read obsessively on running. I’m intimately familiar with Galloway but I’ve read Bingham and Higdon. I’m familiar with Train Like a Mother and the FIRST system. I’ve considered various training choices and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each. And obviously I chose Galloway. Today I started to think about the philosophy of the various programs and what that means for the trainee.
At the time that I became a devotee of Galloway training, there wasn’t a deep philosophical understanding of what I was “agreeing” to do. His plans are 3 days per week with short mid-week runs and that was easiest with my work schedule. I’m never going to be able to commit to running 10 miles on a Wednesday (my OR day) like the Higdon plan wants. Even 5-6 miles during the week is hard at my pace and I sometimes feel pretty trashed after longer runs. I also am a big fan of run/walk/run but I think you can do that with any plan if you choose. The biggest criticism of Galloway’s plans is that he asks you to run longer long runs than any other plan (at least race distance if not further). The prevailing philosophy – in any non-Galloway program – is that 10 miles is adequate for a half and 20 miles for a full.
The epiphany I had today is that whatever plan you chose, you need to truly following that plan. Let me explain. Galloway has a lower mileage plan than most. My weekly mileage this week – with my longest run since starting ecoaching – was somewhere in the 16-18 mile range. The plan has you “make up” for this mileage deficit by running longer and longer long runs. You go the race distance before the event because you haven’t done the “grunt” miles week after week. The plan only works if you recognize that you can’t just stop with one 20 mile long run and expect to kick butt on race day (trust me, I tried!). You will be somewhat undertrainined because the plan accounts for the lack of base miles by giving you a 20 miler, 22 miler, 24 miler, and 26 miler. That’s where the endurance comes.
While training for many of my previous events I fell victim to the faulty thinking that I did a 10 mile or 20 mile run and that would be enough. In a Higdon plan it is because you’ve done so many non-long run miles. In a Galloway plan you may still finish but you won’t be well-trained. Using a minimalist plan makes it even more crucial that I try to finish each and every run. Missing an occasional day from a 4 or 5 day per week plan may not be critical. With Galloway it’s a bigger issue. I finally get it.
Since starting ecoaching I’ve done a good job of finishing every run. Hopefully I’ll continue on this path. But I know the importance of my weekend miles to keep me on target for race success. It’s one thing to finish and still another to finish feeling strong. I don’t even me PR. I mean that feeling that you put your heart and soul into preparing to do the best that you can. I plan to do that!

I love the summer Olympics. I always have. As I child gymnast I fantasized about winning Olympic Gold. There’s even a book I wrote in elementary school which tells the story of my brilliant Olympic gymnastics career (I even came back and won Gold after having children!). Despite years and years of competitive gymnastics, it was clear that this was not my path to glory. As a teenager I began to race sailboats. I won Girls Champs of Long Island Sound in the late 1980’s and raced during all 4 years of college. My parents and I briefly discussed the idea of pursuing an Olympic Campaign in sailing but the prohibitive cost, combined with medical school acceptance letter, put that dream to rest.
And yet it was neither of the sports which gave me dreams of Olympic medals that most held my interest this summer. I have been following the paths of the American marathoners. I “watched” the Olympic Trials for both the men and women via twitter feeds. I follow several of the marathoners on Twitter and I’ve read several articles about these remarkable men and women before watching the event. This is a first for me. While I have watched parts of the NYC Marathon both live and on tv and I recall glimpses of Olympic marathons past, I’ve never followed the event as closely as I did this year. And what a year to follow!
For those who didn’t follow the marathons this year, I’ll give me brief but unofficial summary. The women’s race was incredibly tight with an Ethiopian woman beating out a tight field for a gold while setting an Olympic record. Two American women finished tenth and eleventh. When Kara Goucher crossed the finished line, she helped her friend Shalane Flanagan up off the ground and they walked together arm in arm. Such an incredible image of friendship and sportsmanship. The men’s race was as interesting. Watching the Ugandan man win the only medal for his country was such a joyous experience. Although 2 of the 3 Americans didn’t finish, the incomparable Meb Keflezighi came back from the mid-teens to finish 4th. What an inspiration he is! A refugee to the USA who became a citizen and is a 37 year old father who expresses humility and gratitude every time he speaks.
And so what did this teach me?
I saw the obvious lessons about drive and perseverance. Sportsmanship and friendship. All those wonderful Olympic lessons. And I will remember that when I’m at mile 20. One day after running a half marathon.
What I really learned is that I’m slow. Not slow in the way that my competitive friend meant. I mean I’ve already become faster in the past 2 months since I started ecoaching. I could probably run a 2:30 half marathon now. And I expect that I’ll run a 5:30 or better full. In another year or 2 I might even reach a sub-5 hour marathon. And someday I might dream of a 2 hour half. So what’s my point?
The Olympic marathoners are finishing a full marathon in a time faster than my dream half. My friend who thinks a 4:30 marathon is ok but not a 6 hour one? What’s the difference? We’re no where near the top anyway. The time difference between me and a 4:30 marathon is less than the time difference between a 4:30 marathon and an Olympic pace. Which really means that the vast majority of us are slow – at least relatively speaking – and that’s really ok with me.
The irony of all of this is that my ecoach is a former Olympian himself. A one-time elite marathoner. Who takes pride in helping snails like me and turning us into faster snails. Without judgment. So it’s the faster than mid-pack but far from elite runners who are most likely to judge. I think. But maybe, in the spirit of the Olympics, we should just cheer each other on and not judge. At all. Because I’ll never run as fast as Meb but I most want to emulate his spirit and enthusiasm and smile.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I enjoy social media. I post on Facebook and Twitter. I’m an active participant on various message boards, including some within the Disney fan community. While I am cautious in my posting (I realize that I’m still a doctor and a mother so I’m careful to only post things that would be appropriate for my patients or my children’s friend to read), I enjoy the interaction. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that a decent percentage of my knowledge of news and current events comes via my Twitter feed. I beat my husband to the latest Yankees trade because I follow the Yankees on Facebook and he still refuses to join. And yet the ways in which social media have impacted my running have amazed me.
I started running about 2.5 years ago. In the early days I posted training questions which were mostly answered by my seasoned running friends. The great part is that I know several marathoners who I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling on the phone but who were (and still are) very generous with support and knowledge. Family and friends have always been super supportive of my running. While I certainly know several runners who have encountered derision or disbelief upon telling people their running goals, I’ve encountered quite the opposite. Maybe people who know me also know my tendency to attempt the impossible – and sometimes even succeed (nobody would recommend spending 2 years in Baltimore working 80 hours a week with a 2 year old and a newborn while your husband works 50+ hours per week in New York, for example) – so it didn’t faze anyone when I announced my next distance race.
I’ve joined virtual running teams – all connected with the Disney fan community. For the Tower of Terror race I’m running with Team Studios Central which is raising money for a great organization called Give Kids the World. We have a team t-shirt and our own private Facebook page where we support each other’s training. Much to my constant amusement I’m consider to be one of e more experienced runners in the group. I still think of myself as a beginner. Another running group even has a private website dedicated to discussing runDisney events! Some of the participants have run more than 20 Disney races. Talk about a fountain of knowledge! The best part about these running groups is that runners range from Boston qualifiers to people struggling to go the distance within the time limit. They really tend not to be judgmental about ability. And my favorite part is that, although I’m a back of the packer in most non-Disney races, I’m really a mid-pack person in the runDisney world.
The most random running connection I’ve made through social media has also been amongst the most helpful. It happened as I started to figure out this whole Twitter thing. As I started Tweeting more about running and Disney, I began to connect with other people who also love running and Disney. Before I knew it I was part of some informal Tweet groups (no, there’s no such thing but I have a few groups of people who Tweet to each other about running and runDisney). My roommate for each of my next two runDisney events is someone I communicate with primarily via Twitter (that sentence was confusing – it’s a different roommate for each race).
It sounds completely insane (or maybe totally sane if you know me) but I have woken up early on a Saturday morning and immediate reached for my Twitter app so I could wish good luck in a race that someone I’ve never met is running. And they’ve done the same for me. We read with interest each other’s training plans and updates. We cheer each other on in races. We encourage. We commiserate. And we get it!
It was one of these connections that saved my weekend long run. I’ve been struggling with pacing on the long runs. If I go too fast I feel trashed for the rest of the day. Which is hardly fair to my husband and children. Mr. Galloway wants me to slow down. Which is hard, especially psychologically. So my friend Susan and I devised a competition. Whoever ran faster this weekend has to buy the first round of drinks after our September 10 mile race. I lost – 13:57 min/mike vs. 13:59 – but we both slowed down and approached our target paces.
The most fabulous outcome of using social media to talk about running is the way it influences others to run. I get messages every month from people who say that I’ve helped to inspire them to get off the couch. One woman just finished her first 5k. Another signed up to run the Disney World Half. And someone else will be running the 20th anniversary Disney Marathon. I like to believe that my enthusiasm for running – and bringing home bling – is helping to make the world a healthier place. Running has certainly made my life better and my new virtual friends are a part of the reason why.

“Wow! That IS slow!”

Those are the words I heard last might at dinner after being asked my marathon finish time. It was a work-related dinner and I was sitting next to someone I’ve known for years but don’t see often. She has recently lost about 30lbs and looks fantastic. I’m struggling to lose 10lbs. The conversation turned to diet and fitness and we were comparing stories. She runs recreationally (I think she’s run a few 5k races) and I’m training for my 2nd marathon. I was talking about my training and mentioned that I’m pretty slow. Then I was asked my marathon finish time (which, interestingly enough, is a question I’m seldom asked – apparently most people are properly impressed that I’ve started a marathon much less finished!). I told the truth – just under 6 hours. I was quite surprised by the response, “Wow! That IS slow!”
Let’s put aside for a moment the question of whether or not this is a polite or acceptable response to my marathon finish time. There is no question that the Olympic runners will finish a full marathon in less time than I run a half. And I’m currently in no danger of any age division prizes (unless the give a prize for biggest smile or best attitude!). However, I consider agreeing with someone’s assessment that he or she is a slow runner is somewhat akin to agreeing with someone’s comment that he or she looks fat. Whatever the intent behind the comment (and I’m willing to consider that this was not meant in a mean way at all), it gave me pause.
I’ve definitely talked before about my ambivalence about speed. The part of me that was a competitive gymnast, straight A student aspiring to go to an Ivy League school, and medical student applying for a super competitive residency wants desperately to be fast. Or at least faster. And obviously part of me signing up for ecoaching is wanting to achieve that. But trying to be faster has some serious downsides and I worry that the competitor in me will “ruin” running for me.
What are the positives to trying to run faster?
For me I like to have a goal. I’m not looking at a crazy “go from a 6 hours marathon to qualifying for Boston” goal. But I think having some realistic and achievable goals helps keep things interesting. I’d like to run a 2:30 half marathon. I think I can do it. Obviously not during the Donald but maybe in my October half marathon or next year’s More Magazine Half. I’ve started thinking about a 5:30 full marathon. I don’t know if I’ll have the juice during Goofy weekend but it’s definitely something that I think I could do. On those days when I feel tired or sore, having a definite goal gets me out the door! A new distance (Goofy for me) or new time challenge seem to work.
Running faster would shorten the amount of time it takes to train. My long runs – or maybe I should specify that they are long SLOW runs – take forever. Shaving time off my pace means I’m home sooner. Not a small issue with 3 kids worth of weekend activities!!!
And then there’s the worst reason I have for wanting to run faster – ego. I’m trying to avoid this one. It fits in so nicely with my personality. I competed in gymnastics for 12 or more years. I raced sailboats (most people think of sailing as relaxing with a drink in hand but the small boat racing that I did was all adrenaline rush – until the wind died). I played on varsity teams in high school. And, let’s face it, I’m a surgeon. I don’t think that needs further explaining. I consider running faster for pride to be a foolish path. Because it automatically means that you’re running against others instead of against yourself. And that takes all the fun out.
Why not go faster?
Worrying about time goals changes running from my escape to yet another source of stress. It all matters more, rather than being a fun side activity. Time goals require more time commitment and more risk of injury. Injuries are definitely NOT fun!
So what’s the answer?
For me it’s about balance. I guess I’m a true Libra after all. I’m running for fun and to finish as my primary goals. But I’m also keeping achievable time goals in the back of my mind. Not so I’m at risk for failure but so I can watch myself improve a little at a time,