Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turkey Day Race Plans

I'm planning to run another 5K on Thanksgiving, which is less than 4 weeks away. Considering how hilly Saturday's race was, and considering that I managed to improve my time anyway, AND considering that the Turkey Day race will be a lot flatter, I can't help but want to improve my time even more.

I'm addicted. I know. I will stop soon.

I've come up with a training schedule adapted from Hal Higdon's intermediate 5K training plan. This week's schedule looks like this:

Monday: 3 miles
Tuesday: 6 x 400
Wednesday: 3 miles
Thursday: Rest
Friday: 4 miles fast
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: 6 miles

Running is a good distraction.

Things that knock the wind out of you

(Fall leaves during a post-race hike that I took yesterday)

My last post was so positive and self-reflective and optimistic. Funny how things work. The next day I got a call from my dad saying that my mom had been admitted to the hospital for severe abdominal pain. They did a CT scan and a colonoscopy and discovered that she has a tumor in her descending colon. She also had an associated infection. She's going to have surgery on Monday (a resection, which is where they cut out the tumor and surrounding colon tissue and splice the healthy tissue back together), at which point they'll send the tumor to pathology for further investigation.

It's frustrating to not know exactly what is going on - what the official diagnosis is, what post-surgery treatment will entail, what the prognosis is, etc. It's also frustrating to be so far away and not be able to talk to the doctors myself. I have a ton of questions.

I talked to my mom yesterday and she was in pretty good spirits - especially considering that she is on an all-liquid diet right now. That would drive me absolutely crazy (and make me hangry), but she's handling it fairly well. She has a roommate, which is good because she's very sociable. Better to have her sitting there gabbing with a new friend than being in there all alone.

I feel almost like I did the time that I climbed a tree in my friend's backyard, fell out, and slammed stomach-down onto the pavement below. I'm... overwhelmed. Discombobulated. Scared. Worried. Emotionally, I've been doing well over the past month, but now I'm starting to feel the pull of that familiar black hole of depression and anxiety. That scares me, too. I find myself feeling completely overwhelmed by school, and I have this urge to just not go, to just stay in bed.

*     *
In better news, I ran another 5K yesterday morning. It was foggy and freezing cold - literally. I could not feel my toes for the first two miles. I also discovered that the course consists entirely of hills; there was only one brief flat stretch. I thought I was running pretty slowly. But somehow I managed to cut a whole minute off my previous time. I think I came in somewhere around 28:10. Of course, now I'm thinking that wow, I'm so close to being in the 27-minute range... How hard would it be to cut another few seconds off, especially if it's a flat course?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To myself on my 33rd birthday

Dear Self,

You had a pretty awesome day today. You got a free latte at Starbucks (and an impromptu birthday greeting from the stranger standing in line behind you) and an awesome artsy-craftsy present from your favorite friend/coworker. You had a surprisingly helpful session with your new therapist at the school counseling center and learned a new calming technique* (one that actually works instead of exacerbating your anxiety). And then you had dinner with your family, followed by homemade cake and cookies that your son was so proud to show off. You capped off the day with a 50-minute speedwork session on the treadmill.

Things have not always been easy for you, and sometimes they still aren't. Sometimes it's hard to remember that the past really is in the past and that yes, this IS your life now, no-one else's, and it's pretty darn good. Not only that, but it is a life you deserve (you still don't totally believe that, but maybe one day soon you will).

Getting older is a little bit freaky, especially when events that happened nearly 15 years ago (like, say, high school graduation) are still vividly clear in your mind, still seemingly close enough to touch. But getting older is also something of a relief. Finally, you are starting to respect yourself; you are starting to commend yourself for the things you've accomplished (mostly personal triumphs that most others will never know about) instead of constantly berating yourself for your shortcomings. You are beginning to see that you are tougher, more resilient, and more capable than you have given yourself credit for. And you are starting to see yourself through your own eyes instead of assessing yourself through the eyes of others.

When you blew out your birthday candles tonight, you tried to think of something to wish for, but nothing immediately came to mind. You have everything you absolutely need and many things you want. There are no pressing voids in your life right now. So you wished for things to stay largely the same - except maybe your 5K time.

Happy birthday.


*Calming technique: Sit quietly and, one by one, identify the sounds close by and far away: the sound of a fan, traffic outside, birds chirping, footsteps on the floor above, etc. This calmed me almost immediately. It really worked!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Social anxiety

I'm feeling a little frustrated with myself tonight, as I often do after I've attended a function with a lot of other people. I really like socializing. I like joking around, I like talking, I like listening.


As much as I enjoy being around other people (in fact I think I really NEED that interaction), I struggle with social anxiety. My visions of what parties and other gatherings are going to be like, and how I'm going to feel in those situations, never seem to match up with what happens.

Here's what generally hampers my ability to relax in big groups:

1. Noise: If the room is noisy and I can't hear what the other person is saying, or if I can tell that they can't hear me, I get kind of zoned out. Noise gets to me.

2. Dissociation: I dissociate a lot - not when I'm on my own, but definitely a) in stressful moments or b) when I am around a lot of other people. When I dissociate, it's like I float off. I watch myself from a distance. My body is there, but my brain is elsewhere. I start to lose my words and have a hard time focusing. My husband says my eyes glaze over. I try very hard to stay grounded, and I'm definitely getting better at it - but tonight I felt it happening with almost every person I talked to. When I try to pull myself in, I start to feel crushed by the noise, by the gaze of whomever is watching me, etc.

3. Self-consciousness: Even if I start out with confidence, I usually leave the gathering feeling like I said all the wrong things... like I embarrassed myself... like no-one likes me because I'm such an awkward loser. And then I spend the next two days analyzing what happened. It almost makes attending these functions totally not worthwhile.

It was kind of a rough day anyway. A bunch of things happened at school that, while they would probably annoy me on even my best days, made me feel angry and frustrated. And when I feel angry/frustrated, everyone can tell. I wish I could hide those emotions, wipe them off my face. But my expressions make me an open book.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

That's better: 1 hour run/walk

One hour workout tonight, and I felt pretty good. I alternated between running and walking:

-10 minutes walking
-5 minutes running
-5 minutes walking
-10 minutes running
-5 minutes walking
-20 minutes running
-5 minutes walking

Nothing wrong with walking!

The best part was that when I was running, I was in the happy zone, just gliding along and enjoying the exercise.

It's been 4 1/2 weeks since I quit therapy. After 1 1/2 years of seeing my awesome, thoughtful, caring therapist once a week or once every other week, this is a huge adjustment for me. I didn't necessarily want to end treatment, nor did I necessarily feel "done" with it. But I did it for two reasons: 1) it was getting expensive (he'd given me a massively reduced rate, but still, therapy is not cheap), and 2) I was starting to feel a little too dependent on it.

Is therapy addictive? I would argue YES. It's hard not to get addicted to having a whole hour every week to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about and have someone listen as if you are the most fascinating person on Earth (which clearly I am not nor ever could be, but my therapist did an awfully good job of making me feel worthwhile and interesting and cared for).

Don't get me wrong - therapy is also hard work. At times I felt worse after sessions than I did before. I guess it's kind of like running: if you want to improve, if you want to make progress, you have to push yourself. Sometimes it's going to hurt. But then you see yourself changing and feeling better about yourself, and you're inclined to keep forging ahead.

I miss my therapist. The whole concept of psychotherapy is kind of weird in that in order for it to work, you need to find a counselor that you're compatible with, someone you can fully trust. Then once you do, you spill your guts, your biggest and most painful secrets, to someone whom you're ultimately going to have to say goodbye to. And it's not like you can end treatment and suddenly become friends with that person. It's not like you can feel free to just call up every now and then for a chat. Goodbye is goodbye, unless you go back to paying them to listen to you.

I guess part of figuring out how effective therapy actually was is seeing how I handle life without it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nirvanaless Wednesday

All the way home, I looked forward to a leisurely 40-minute pre-dinner run/jog. I was feeling energetic and healthy (my cough is finally gone), and I figured the run would be easy. It wasn't. My back ached, my legs felt heavy, and I slogged along at a slower pace than usual. I did stick it out, but I didn't reach blissed-out runner nirvana like I thought I would. Sometimes you just can't tell how it's going to go. At least I did it. I think this weekend will be better. I'm hoping to get outside, run five or six miles in cool, crisp weather, and crunch through some leaves.

In staying-mentally-healthy-and-taking-time-to-smell-the-roses news:

I'm going to go try to finish Hunger Games tonight. I'd heard great things about this series, and so far I'm not disappointed. The pace, the writing, and the characters are all engaging. I love digging into the first book in a series and discovering that I enjoy it because then I have the next few to look forward to. I felt the same way about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (also awesome, albeit somewhat violent - but violent with a clear purpose... I don't know why it's received such meh reviews on Amazon).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life at warp speed

My life is a blur. A busy, intense, faster-than-the-speed-of-light blur. Get up early (5:45 at the latest), eat breakfast, pack lunches, get child in car, drop off child at preschool, commute to school, answer e-mails, do eight bajillion things over the course of the day, get back in car, fight traffic, perhaps stop at store for food, pick up child, make dinner (if it's one of my nights to cook), answer e-mails, think about all the things I forgot to do or could have done better, read books with my son, bedtime routine, try to do something relaxing for a few minutes, go to sleep. Wake up, repeat with minor variations. Occasionally vacuum and do laundry.

People generally do what they need to do. They make it happen somehow. A lot of people have crazy schedules nearly identical to, or tougher than, mine in terms of intensity, multitude of activities and responsibilities, etc. But I have to admit that there are moments when I stop to think about all the stuff I'm doing and thinking about, and I'm surprised that I am managing as well as I am. In the past, I have crashed and burned when facing similar stressors. I'm trying hard to make time for myself, but it's tough - sometimes nearly impossible. The day is over minutes after it's started. The week whooshes by in a flash. The weekend? Pssh. It feels like a blink.

I'm also surprised I'm not feeling more anxious and overwhelmed these days. I think it's because running gets stuffed into the schedule. I've run five days of the past seven. I tell myself it's mandatory. It's not an option. It's just as important as the other things on my to-do list. Today I came home and hopped right on the treadmill for 30 minutes of speedwork. Short, but I pushed myself and it felt good. It's worth it.

There are other things I could be doing, and maybe other things I SHOULD be doing, but those 30 minutes in my running shoes, or 40, or 50, or sometimes even just 20, have a big payoff for me in terms of being able to cope with life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Running fever

I found out that I won first place in my age division last Saturday. Looking at the times of the other women in my group, it's clear that this was not a super-competitive race (that sounds kind of jerky, but really, no offense intended - some races draw speedier runners than others)... but I'm still excited.

When my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I started running together 13 years ago, I enjoyed it because 1) it was something we could do together and 2) it convinced me that I had far more athletic potential than I had previously given myself credit for. Our first run together lasted 12 minutes, and at the end I thought I might pass out. Our next run was a few seconds longer. Every day, we aimed to increase our time, even if it was only a little. Once we hit the 30-minute mark, we trained for a 5K. Then we realized that going five miles wasn't that much more difficult than going three... and going ten was tough but not impossible... and 10 seemed easier once we'd worked our way up to 13... We ended up running a marathon together a year and a half later, a week before I graduated college. It was a huge achievement for me. It was almost more important than the graduation itself.

Since those early years, I've run off and on. Sometimes I've been relatively serious about it; other times, I've been totally lackadaisical. But I've kept doing it. It's sort of like riding a bike: once you know you can do it, you can always do it (even if it takes a few weeks to get back in shape after a hiatus).

In the last few weeks, though, I think I've been falling in love with running all over again. It feels more like it did in the beginning: challenging, rewarding, difficult, consuming. When my alarm rings early in the morning, I don't hit snooze. I get up, get dressed, and turn on the treadmill. I know it won't always be this way, but right now I am having fun with it - mainly having fun pushing myself. I want to see what I can do, physically and mentally. How hard can I push myself? How much time can I slice off of my race pace? What's my limit?

That's really what I want to know: what my limit is. I have a feeling I haven't come close to reaching it. I think that's the case for most people. We underestimate ourselves. We think, I haven't done it, therefore I can't do it. These days, you hear about people (my husband being one of them) doing 40 milers, 50 milers, 100 milers. You hear about runners who do marathons every other week for the fun of it. You hear about people who sign up for lengthy trail runs at the last minute and complete them without putting in months of training, and they're fine. They push through. And yeah, some of these people are natural and/or elite athletes, but a lot of them aren't. They're regular people who have confidence in their ability to go the distance and prepare for it as best they can. Then they get out there and finish what they start. Or they don't finish, so they go back out later and try again.

At the moment, I don't have time to train for longer races. That won't always be the case, though. At some point I'd love to try another marathon - maybe something longer. And I'd love to pick a beautiful race and run there (like this one). For now, though, I'm signing up for another 5K in a couple of weeks. It's a Halloween run, and it looks like it'll be a good time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

40 minutes

Another busy day... I was up at 5:45, out the door an hour later, and didn't stop until right about now. My Ph.D. life is a whirlwind of papers and presentations and research and labwork and meetings and teaching... Somehow it all gets done, and when I stop to look up, two or three months have gone by. Part of me is a little sad that I'm already 1 1/2 years into my program. It is stressful and crazy, but secretly, I love being a grad student and would do this forever if I could.

Last night I ran for 40 minutes straight on the treadmill. Had it not been late, I would have run longer. It was one of those times when I felt like I could have gone on for miles and miles and miles without getting tired. It was nice to be able to do that the day after the 5K. Surprisingly, my legs didn't feel sore. I'm starting to think that as a recreational runner, I have untapped potential. Right now I am not putting THAT much effort into it. Mostly I do it for fun. If I added some speedwork, set some clear goals, who knows - maybe I could run a 5K in 25 minutes or less. That would be amazing for me.

Unfortunately, I did come down with the cold that's been going around our house. I didn't run today and probably won't tomorrow, either. Working out while sick never seems to help me out much in the way of recovery (though I have heard it's the opposite for some people).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Successful 5K

The 5K was a success. I managed to run it in 29:10, which - given that I usually jog on a treadmill at a pace of ~11 minutes/mile - I'm proud of. From the moment the gun went off, I tried to push myself. I identified people who seemed to be holding steady and stayed near them. Every few minutes I'd pick someone who was just a bit faster and follow them.

The course was fairly flat, and most of the inclines were downhill. It was kind of hot for mid-October, though. By the middle of the race, the sun was blazing down and temperatures were ramping into the 70s. I'd much prefer running in cool, cloudy, 40-60 degree weather.

By the last 0.2-0.3 miles, I was pretty worn out and had that worrying "It's possible that I could throw up any second" feeling... But I focused on breathing and tried to maintain my speed. As soon as I saw the finish line, I broke into a sprint. I like sprinting at the end. It makes me feel like I've truly given the race my all.

My immediate thought upon finishing was, Head towards the bathroom in case breakfast comes back up. Puking four feet from the finish line in front of dozens of people seemed like a non-option. But my queasy stomach settled quickly, and I walked over to the tents to check my time and grab a post-race banana.

I'm already planning the next 5K. There's a big one about a month from now that looks like a lot of fun. In preparation, I think I'll work on ramping up my base speed. I'm also going to do some casual speedwork once a week. I'd love to break 29 minutes in the next race.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's been a while...

My last blog post was in January. I stopped writing when things got too busy... and when things got too busy, I also stopped running on a regular basis. I hit the road or the treadmill maybe once or twice a week - that was it.

It was a rough spring. I've always had sporadic issues with depression and anxiety, but earlier this year they ramped up to a whole new level. I felt like I was drowning, like I couldn't breathe. I was tired all the time. I was lonely. At times, I felt nearly suicidal. The only thing that seemed to mitigate the symptoms was school, so I'd go in early in the morning, work nonstop until 5 or 6, and then drive home. My symptoms seemed to worsen in the evenings, on weekends, and whenever I had a break. Not ideal for the mother of a preschooler (and definitely not ideal for the preschooler). I did my best, but it was like trudging through taffy.

I saw a therapist every week. Therapy helped me work through some painful experiences and negative self-perceptions, but it was hard work. Sometimes I'd leave feeling much worse than when I walked in. Still, I slowly improved. I gained some valuable tools for coping with tough emotions. I learned to remind myself that "I won't always feel this bad. It will get better." A few weeks ago I decided I was ready to venture out again sans therapist. At my last session, I asked him to identify one thing that he thought would really, truly help me manage my moods. I thought he might recommend yoga, or meditation, or medication.

Instead, "Run. Run often. When you talk about running, it's clear that it's a positive thing for you. And enter races - compete. It'll give you something to shoot for and something other than school to focus on."

And so for the past 3 weeks I have been running nearly every day. I've tracked my feelings and my moods, and while the anxiety and sadness still crop up, they've lost their oomph and their edge. I feel better about myself and more confident around others. Challenges, obstacles, and criticism seem less daunting somehow. When I received some (what I felt were) unfair comments on a recent homework assignment, I didn't go home and cry the whole evening as I would have in the past. I felt disgruntled, and I thought, "That sucks. That's uncalled for," but then I went on with my day. It was just a blip. It was a small drop in the huge ocean of experience, a drop that became increasingly diluted until I forgot about it entirely.

In the past, I've always run for fitness or to work off extra calories. But now I want to run for my mental health. Like I said, I've always struggled with roller coaster moods and emotions, and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of feeling lousy. And I don't want to go through what I went through this past spring. It was just too scary. If running 5-6 days a week will give me a brighter outlook on life, then that's what I'm going to do.

So I'm going to start writing here again and logging my miles (still mostly on the treadmill), but I'm going to change my focus a bit. It's less about the distance and exercise now, and more about managing my emotional well-being. I want to see if I can tame my moods simply through exercise and healthy living.

I'm also planning to enter more races, as my therapist suggested. I recently ran a 6K, and this Saturday I'll be running in a 5K. I like short races. They don't require a ton of training, but with some effort I'm pretty sure I can improve my times. And I do enjoy being around other runners, feeling their energy, and moving together towards a common goal.