Saturday, December 21, 2013

The BIG Box

During a conversation about short-term goals in early December, I shared with my friend/coach, Corey, that I wanted to get onto the BIG box in the next 30 days.  To clarify, I meant that I wanted to graduate to doing box jumps on the 30-inch box.  If you are not familiar, a box jump is an fairly frightening exercise where you stand in front of a tall box and in one swift, explosive movement try to jump high enough to propel yourself onto the top without destroying your shins and knees or face planting on the other side.  This is the BIG box...

For almost a year, I had been doing box jumps on the 24-inch box and while the extra 6 inches doesn't seem like much, the difference is vast when you're (don't laugh) 5'2" tall.  

True story.
Needless to say, I've never been much of a jumper (shocker) and the thought of missing that jump by just a fraction of an inch, sending me crashing into the box (and the resulting damage to my shins) was downright paralyzing.  No matter how pumped up I got about landing that jump, when I stood in front of that BIG box, my legs flat out ignored the signals my brain was sending telling them to jump.  And for the longest time, I was okay with that- I mean, jumping is not really my thing and if I screwed it up I could get hurt pretty badly.  I was content to say that I can't do a 30-inch box jump...but no more.  Even though it scared the crap out of me, I was ready to commit to making it happen and to be sure that I took that commitment seriously, I was going to give myself 30 days to get it done.

So Corey developed a plan that was intended to make me feel strong enough to- as he put it- "jump over the box".  If I didn't have so much faith in his skills (the man is a genius) I would have been more skeptical but I couldn't help but wonder how he was going to come up with a workout that would rid me of crippling fear?  How can you turn a scared, vertically-challenged non-jumper into a box jumping beast?  On December 12th, he unveiled a laundry list of exercises (I'm using the term "exercise" here very loosely) of varying degrees of complexity and with that "Project BIG Box" was launched.  Since then, my jumping parts have hated me.

Almost, every day I worked on that jump. I worked and I worked, repeating the same exercises over and over.  The more I did it, the more I began to understand that this wasn't about building leg strength and power; the true purpose of this process was to develop the confidence to know that I was already strong enough to make that leap.  I had to learn to get out of my own way.  Then this morning, a mere nine days after I started, I jumped onto the BIG box.  Apparently, I CAN do a 30-inch box jump, with ease as it turns out- I just sort of floated to the top, piece of cake. 

But this is not really about the BIG box.  The BIG box is a metaphor.  I've heard it a hundred times: "I'm not a...", "I can't...", "I don't..."  I too have been guilty of this, over the years spouting off such things as: "I'm not a runner", "I can't swim", "I'm not built to jump high", "I'm not a sprinter"...all B.S.

What's the REAL barrier?  As I found out, it's usually not ability- we're capable of so much more than we know.  For me, most often, it's plain old fear of failure.  I let that fear drive the bus sometimes, deciding that inaction is better than trying and failing.  It's easier for me to say that "I'm not built to jump high" or "I can't swim" than it is to put the work into making things happen, especially knowing that in the end despite all my efforts I may not succeed.  What I'm learning is that when I avoid situations because I'm afraid to fail, I settle back in, staying where I am, doing what I’ve always done.  But while “where I am” may be just fine for now, it’s not where I ultimately want to be.  

Another true story.
Fear may stop you from getting hurt, help you avoid uncomfortable situations, and keep you from screwing up, but it may also keep you from being the person you want to be and seeing what you are truly capable of.  I look back now and think how different my life would be if I had continued to buy into my own B.S.  There's so much I would have missed.  Turns out, I AM a runner, I CAN jump high, and I AM a sprinter (the jury's still out on the swimming- but I'm working on it in 2014 so stay tuned).  If you open your eyes to other possibilities, you may just find (as I did) a whole lotta awesome stuff along the way. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2014 Personal Goals (and one shocking admission)

Goal setting for 2014 is proceeding nicely. Admittedly, this does not come naturally to me and it takes me a while to get the process started meaning that I really have to rack my brain for weeks before I nail down measurable and realistic goals.  Race time goals are the easiest to get onto paper so those are usually the first ones to roll out. It's interesting though that this year there are more non-running goals on the list than running goals but I was inspired after achieving my chin-up challenge target over this past summer.  Here's what I have:

1. Learn to swim "for real" (pool and open water)
2. Improve my stand up paddleboarding skills
3. Revisit rock climbing
4. Complete 15 road, trail, and/or obstacle races
5. Run one 1:50 Half Marathon
6. GoPerformance Assessment Score of 450 or above
7. Cut myself some slack & stop being so hard on poor little Alison

Number 7 is going to be the biggest challenge for me.  I would even go so far as to say that the other goals will be a walk in the park compared to Number 7. I'm going to let you in on a little secret (shhhh)...on the outside I hold myself out to be an independent, accomplished, and self-confident woman but on the inside I am constantly tearing myself to shreds.  

No exaggeration, I give myself grief every waking hour of every day.  I've struggled with poor body image and destructive internal dialogue for as long as I can remember. I have a hard time admitting it and I hide it very well (at least I think I hide it well) but no one in the world could ever be more critical of me than me. I could stand in front of a mirror for days and point out every flaw I see and everything I want to change but if you were to pose the question of what I like about myself, I promise you I would draw a blank. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I feel that I don't have value (I would never be cool with anyone else saying these things about me), but I am always so focused on the things I cannot do that I am totally blind to what I have accomplished and can't see the good in me.  I truly am my own worst enemy.

Now, I have gotten better about this over the years but I really need to cut it out effective immediately. I would never let anyone treat me or my friends/family the way I treat myself and that is no longer okay. 

It's time to evict the gremlin, finally make peace with myself in 2014 and (hopefully) accomplish a few other awesome things along the way.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Time to chase the turkey...

My baby sister, Elisabeth, and I have a tradition of turkey trotting on Thanksgiving Day.  She uses turkey and fixins as motivation, like dangling a carrot, and for me the goal is preemptive damage control to make up for my total lack of name is Alison and I have a pie "problem".  Typically, we do a 5k but this year she decided to step it up a notch and shoot for her first 10k on Thanksgiving Day. Ambitious, but we share the same DNA so I was not at all surprised.  What DID surprise me was that she was not at all deterred by this weather report...

I am a fairly experienced cold-weather runner and I have to admit that I REALLY was not looking forward to what "feels like 20 degrees" feels like.  The plan was to meet up with the Bard family. What a great crew, they made us feel right at home.  Simon showed us what he got for Hanukkah the night before and told us all about the family hierarchy (Grandma's the "number one boss" because she's a day older than Grandpa).  We suited up and readied ourselves to brave the cold together.
Good looking group of runners.

It was such an incredible honor to meet this young lady, Addie. 
Look at that smile.

This was Addie's first 10k as well, she is 12 years old.  Yes, you read that right, 12 years old.  I was blown away by her guts and determination.  This is one special gal, expect awesome things to come from her.

My sister finished strong in a very respectable 1 hour and 4 minutes.  Addie and her dad, Larry, were not far behind. It's always such a pleasure to be with a runner the first time they complete a new distance.  There is a moment when you can see in their eyes that their mind has changed and they realize that there are endless possibilities. Something inside's pure magic. 

Days like this make me feel incredibly grateful for everything that running has brought to my life.  I have seen the most amazing things and met the most amazing people, sharing moments that have changed their lives.  There is a bond that develops when we lace up our shoes and come together to run the streets.  There are no strangers among runners and today was no different.  I got to see two young talented runners hit a major milestone, spent the morning with the most wonderful family, and when I got home there was pie...
Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Summing up 2013 and looking forward to 2014

Not being a fan of setting myself up for disappointment, I've never been one for making New Year's resolutions (maybe yours don't turn out that way, but mine do).  However, I strongly believe that goals are extremely important, both in running and in life in general.  They are critical to improvement and maintaining focus and motivation.  Every year is a new journey and it always helps to start any journey with a clear direction.  So every November or December, while coming down from my last race high for the year, I start to think about what my running goals and focus will be for the upcoming year.  Last year, around this time, I set two running goals for 2013.

Goal #1 was to break 2 hours in a half-marathon.  I had been painfully close several times, but the sub-2 hour half-marathon continued to elude me...that was about to change.  On April 28, 2013, at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC, I achieved my goal, completing the race in 1:55:53 for which I was handed this little guy...
I've always wished that it was socially acceptable to wear my race medals around and now I can :)
Goal #2 had two parts: (A) to get to the start of a marathon feeling strong and injury-free; and (B) to finish that marathon in under 4:15.  In prior years, marathon training had not gone well for me and I was resigned to the fact that marathons weren’t an appropriate distance for me but even so I wanted to try again.  I set my sights on the Marine Corps Marathon and in June I began an 18-week training cycle with a focus on staying healthy.  I ran only 4 days per week (much less than previous training cycles), did conditioning classes 3 days per week and strength/stability training classes 3 days per week.  On October 27, 2013, I achieved the first part of this goal when I stood at the start line of the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA at 7:55 a.m. as the howitzer went off.  I had not missed a single day of training for injuries or fatigue/overtraining and I felt strong and ready to run.  I accomplished the second part of the goal 4 hours, 2 minutes, and 15 seconds later when I crossed the finish line.  I had done what I set out to do destroying my time goal and setting a new personal record.
Oorah indeed.
After MCM, I was feeling pretty strong and (in my post-marathon depression) signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon.  Initially, it was going to be a more relaxed race for me, no time goal, just relax and enjoy the ride.  A week and a half before the race, someone (we'll call him Professor Smallwood) said something to me that changed my mind.  To paraphrase, he very candidly told me that he was concerned that I would take it too easy and end up injured; MCM was so successful and I recovered well because I was focused and prepared.  It took a full day for that to really click with me but what I ultimately extracted from our conversation was that although the goal is different the second time around, the focus and intensity MUST be the same.  Then I did something that I almost never do, I set another goal…

Goal #3 was to run the Philadelphia Marathon in under 4 hours (only 3 weeks after MCM).  In retrospect, this was a pretty extreme and crazy thing to do (even for me) but on November 17, 2013 on Ben Franklin Parkway in the City of Brotherly Love a little after 11:00 a.m., I crossed the finish line in 3:59:39.  It was the most physically and mentally challenging fight of my life and I have never felt as proud as I did in that moment when I crossed that line.  This is evidenced by my finisher’s photo...
You can’t see it through my sunglasses, but I was in tears.   Best. Day. Ever.
In the past year since setting these 3 goals, I have run 12 races, nearly 1200 miles and 200 hours.  It’s been a very long road (literally and figuratively) but it was worth it.  Even more impressive is that through it all I remained strong and injury-free.  I credit several things for this:

  • I’m older now and more self-aware. 
  • I’ve learned that sometimes less really is more and that you have to rest and recover because strength comes from the re-building not the tearing down. 
  • Having suffered (and come back from) some pretty serious over-training injuries (ex. dislocated foot joint, fractured hip) in recent years, I no longer harbor delusions of invincibility.  I respect my body, what it can do and its limitations.
  • I have an incredible support system in my wonderful husband, mom, sisters, family and friends whose unwavering faith in me gives me the strength to believe that I can accomplish anything.  I am unbelievably blessed.
  • I have some of the most incredibly talented coaches and trainers (Corey, Luke, Byrd, Steve, and Randall at GoPerformance) whose guidance built the foundation that allowed my body to get stronger with every mile/class rather than slowly breaking down as it had always done in the past.  It’s also worth noting that with their help, I have racked up a number of pretty impressive non-running accomplishments this year as well.  This incredible crew has taught me that the person I thought I was is no match for the person I really am.

But it really all started with a few simple goals.  I drew a target on the wall and all year long I focused on hitting the bulls-eye.  There are a thousand excuses and I am very easily distracted.  So many mornings, I woke up feeling too tired and ____ (fill in the blank) but I was on a mission.  I have no doubt that if I wasn't fully committed and focused on my goals, I would be summing up a very different “year in review” and I know that because I've been there before more times than I care to tell you about.  I have learned the hard way that lack of focus is a very dangerous thing and without a destination you will only get lost.

So here I am again, mind still clouded with the euphoria of what I have accomplished in 2013 and it’s time to consider goals for 2014.  Not sure yet where the next year will take me but if one year from now, I am this satisfied with my 2014 performance, I truly could not ask for much more.  Bring it, 2014!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

Race report time (last one this year)! I set a new personal best time today 3:59:39 (9:08 per mile) which has me completely beside myself if I'm honest. 

Woo hoo!!
I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my solo drive home from Philly today. Most of the trip I was thinking that now that it's over I will admit that 2 marathons in 3 weeks is a pretty crazy idea. But it also occurred to me that I picked up a few pretty cool (and some not so cool) tidbits of knowledge during the weekend that I thought I'd share.

However, first and foremost a HUGE thank you to my friend Cara. Truly, this weekend would not have been nearly as successful as it was without you. You are the most gracious host, amazing friend and human being. I mean seriously, this gal made me a post-race turkey burger and sweet potato fries while I was showering. If everyone had a Cara in their life, the world would be a much better place. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel.

Cara and Maestro
Second, thanks to my trainers at GoPerformance who have guided me to be the well-oiled machine that I am. In the past 5 months I ran well over 550 training miles in addition to the two marathons with no injuries and I believe it was your programming and motivation that built the foundation to make it all possible. A special thanks to Corey, who said something to me a week or so before the race that caused a light bulb moment which lead me to push to beat or get close to my Marine Corps Marathon time from 3 weeks ago rather than taking it easy. Best advice ever Corey!

Last, but certainly not least, thanks to my wonderful husband who not only lived through my training and odd post long run rituals but he tolerated me in 2 separate pre-marathon tapers (which ain't easy). Both times he congratulated me (after MCM and Philly) I got really choked up. He is my super fan and I hope I make him proud!

So here it is "Lessons Learned in Philly":

1. Philly is a great city to run through. The rich history, colorful leaves, and grand scale made this an enjoyable course which I recommend to all.

2. The people of Philly are awesome too. During every race, I usually thank as many law enforcement officers and volunteers as I can- but in Philly each and everyone single one of them said "no, thank you!" Also, I have never seen so many unofficial "hydration" stations (read: spectators giving out free beer to runners). Apparently, the only thing Philadelphians enjoy more than drinking beer is giving away free beer to folks running past their front porches. Great people!

3. Salty licorice is gross. I like licorice and I like salt but together, not so much.

4. High fives from kids give you superpowers especially when they are wearing large foam hands.

5. Double knot your shoes even if you don't think you need to. Nothing is worse than having to bend over and tie your shoe 23 miles into a 26.2 mile run.

7. If you think PA roads are painful to drive on, you should try to run on them. Ouch...

8. In marathoning, as in life, when faced with doubt, fear, adversity, and/or pain, remain calm and keep moving forward.

9. When you're falling apart and can no longer fight the voices in your head, sometimes all it takes is the voice of a friend who is on the sideline cheering you on and believing in you to make you believe that you can do the impossible. (Thanks Cara, I needed you then more than ever.)

Time for a nap and a cupcake.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

As I sit on my couch eating a bag of candy corn (must eat ALL the food), it's time for the recap. All in all, it was an amazing day for a run around our nation's capital. I picked up two Marine hugs and more than 50 Marines high-fives (and approximately the same number from random children along the course). I was hit in the face by a licorice stick, well the guy was trying to be nice but it's hard to steer when you're tired from running the previous 23 miles. I unfortunately sacrificed at least 2 toenails to the marathon gods and I knew it since mile 13 (ouch)...note to self- tie your shoes tighter next time, Alison. I also have a bone to pick with the folks who measured that course because as you can see in the photo, my gps watch said it was 26.83 miles...hmmm.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people come out to cheer for total strangers on a cold October morning. These people, who I will never meet and therefore will never get to thank, kept my engine going especially in the last 2 miles when my IT band and foot blisters were screaming "for the love of God stop!" If it wasn't for that bathroom break at mile 7, I surely would have broken 4 hours but I couldn't be prouder of my 4:02 time.

Then, after I finished, I pulled out my phone to double-digit Facebook notifications and texts from many friends and my family wishing me luck and offering words of encouragement. I am truly grateful for each and every one of you.

Now if you'll excuse me it's time to eat lunch (again).