Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sensationalism and its lingering effects

[NOTE: This post includes rants and references to controversial topics.  If you find that unsettling, skip this post.]

When I was in high school, I was on the newspaper staff for two years.  I thought very seriously about trying to become a journalist when I grew up.  For a while, it would have been my dream to work for the Chicago Tribune or National Geographic.

Fast forward to the present.  I have become very disenchanted with the news media and how "news" coverage has progressed, especially in the internet age.  I won't watch the news and I try to avoid reading newspapers or news websites.  This is because 99% of the stories are about murder, crime, disasters, corruption, economic doom, gossip, or speculation.  Negativity can be very commanding and I find that being surrounded by it can be very depressing.

I really feel that media sensationalism has gotten over the top.  I despise the headlines that are half-truths just to draw you in to reading.  It can be infuriating to read so many biased or one-sided articles - and I am NOT referring to the editorials.  The days are gone when the news media provided neutral summaries of just the facts.  Now the motto is, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Statistically, driving a car is much more dangerous than riding in an airplane.  However, the news media would have us believe that airplanes are incredibly dangerous.  This is because they rarely provide coverage of everyday car accidents, unless they are especially gruesome, but are all over any single plane crash for weeks at a time.  This is just one example.  I could provide hundreds of examples of how over time the media misrepresents occurrences.

Yes, I am embittered due to personal experience.  I worked for Arthur Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandal, and Adam is a Penn State alum in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.  Both of us have had to deal with unflattering media commentary which some then redirected to us personally, even though obviously neither of us had any direct involvement.  Even when only partial information was available, we have both come across people that absolutely believe that anyone associated with Arthur Andersen or Penn State is guilty by association and therefore does not deserve the time of day.  One would think that people would know not to make such narrow-minded and overwhelmingly sweeping generalizations, but not so.

I realize that it's nearly impossible not to impart some kind of bias into your writing.  We were even taught this in our journalism classes.  For example, there was a study done where a number of folks watched a video of a car going off the side of a cliff and were asked to estimate the speed at which the car was traveling.  When people were asked what speed the "car plummeted" or the "car careened" off the cliff, their average estimated speeds were faster than those that were asked what speed the "car fell" or "car drove off" the cliff.

In short, simple word choice can really impact the perspective of a reader or outsider.  Lawyers may be aware of this phenomemon in a courtroom, because word choice may affect the outcome of a trial.  Heck, I worked for years in a practice where we couldn't use the word "significantly" in our reports because it is subjective.  What is significant to one is trivial to another.

Where am I going with this?  I have been reading a LOT of runner's blogs and discussions boards about running over the past few months.  I am slowly becoming more and more certain that I am in the bottom 1% of runners everywhere.  I've lamented this to Adam several times.  He consoles me that blogs/discussion boards are self-selected and that typically runners will only blog or post about running when they are serious runners; most casual runners or nonrunners won't.  He reminds me that serious runners, by definition, have dedicated a lot of time and effort into their training and are therefore much more likely to be very strong runners.  Basically, the runners webisphere is not representative of the entire universe.

I know that I posted earlier about trying not to compare myself to others, to focus on my own goals and progress, and to not take anything for granted.  I try to read all these runners' blogs and discussion boards to learn from them and be inspired.  But it really does get discouraging sometimes reading so frequently about the incredible goals that others have for themselves and then thinking about what I myself am trying to accomplish.  Why is it so challenging to stop thinking this way?  I'm not even that competitive.  Although, sometimes I do wish that there was a stronger correlation between hard work and results (this goes beyond running).

Maybe it's time to take a break from the grind and start studying up on self-affirmations.  Or maybe it's just time for a real vacation.  None of this three- or four-day weekend garbage.  Let's talk about a minimum 6-month vacation, twice a year, every year.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Burned to a crisp

I was in Scottsdale, Arizona this past weekend for the NAAAP Leadership Academy.  The weather was gorgeous and I had forgotten how beautiful the desert can be, especially at sunset.
I got a 10-mile run in yesterday morning and enjoyed wearing shorts outside for only the second time in the last four or five months.  I even started getting some tan lines on my knees from my cho-pat straps.  It's a great look, I tell you.  When knee-strap tan lines start showing up on the fashion runways in Milan, remember that you heard it here first.

My training has hit a bit of a rough stretch over the past few weeks due to various injuries.  I have not been able to train as consistently as I'd like - I've had to skip my weekend long run twice in the past four weeks, and my midweek runs have been hit or miss.  Thankfully my conditioning still seems to be holding up reasonably well, and thanks to the miracles of physical therapy my knee wonkiness appears to have subsided.  However, I have lost a lot of mental momentum.
I am hoping to be able to break 5 hours for the marathon, although 5:15 is probably more realistic and I know I shouldn't even be thinking about a time goal for a first marathon.  Yesterday's 10-miler started at about 8:30 AM and took about two hours, plus time to cool down, stretch, etc.  Around 1:30 PM as I was heading to the airport, I realized that if I had been running a full marathon instead of just 10 miles, I would still be out running at that point.

Quite frankly, it scared me.  The 10-miler had not been my best, but it wasn't the worst I've ever had either.  The mental thought of having to do more than 2.5 times that distance in a single stretch all of a sudden become very tough for me to swallow.  Some doubts have started hitting and for the first time ever, I've started to regret signing up for the marathon.
I went to the CARA Super Clinic last summer and had the privilege of seeing Hal Higdon speak in person there.  I remember him telling us that a lot of people reach, say, half-marathon distance in their training and get overwhelmed by the thought of doubling that distance.  His advice was to not think about it that way because at that point in our training, we just weren't ready - but that later, with more training, we would become ready. 

It's great advice and I'm trying to take it.  But mentally I have lost several steps.  It's weird that a few weeks of cutting back have made me feel so mentally tired.  Shouldn't some time off make you feel refreshed?  I'm honestly not sure where to go from here.  Should I try to grind it out or do I take more time off?

I'm feeling lethargic in areas other than running, too.  I've been involved with NAAAP for almost 10 years and with MAASU for almost 5 years.  Working with the Asian-American community is a large part of how I define myself.  However, as nice as it was to see everyone at the NAAAP Leadership Academy this past weekend, admittedly my heart was not into the weekend's events.  Similarly, my motivation has not been high in dealing with everything that has been going on with MAASU, especially the dozens of emails flooding my inbox.  The time commitments are starting to feel burdensome.  It may soon be time to realign my extracurriculars.

Food for future thought - I have some friends that either have, or are working on, pilot's licenses.  I've listened to their stories with great admiration and envy.  It's always been a dream of mine to get a pilot's license.  If it weren't for the cost, I would do it in a heartbeat - but aviation school is very, very expensive.  I can't think of many other hobbies that would be more pricey than being a pilot.  But a woman can still dream, right?  Maybe someday.

This might be the closest I'll ever get to being a pilot 
(taking an air tour of the Na Pali Coast in 2006)
It's funny how burnout and mental fatigue can really ignite the passion for things that are seemingly out of reach.  In the meantime, suggestions and advice on recharging and eliminating burnout are always welcome.

For now, I'll be on the lookout for one of these:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coconut water spills and sidewalk spills

When traveling to tropical destinations, I've often seen sidewalk or roadside vendors selling fresh coconuts like this:

I'm all about eating locally grown produce, and on hot days these coconuts really hit the spot.

SIDE STORY: While on a Southern Caribbean cruise several years ago, my mom and I bought a whole coconut from a street vendor in St. Lucia.  We brought it back aboard the cruise ship with eager anticipation, but quickly realized that we did not have the necessary culinary tools to open it. 

I tried to use my bulging biceps - no success.  I also tried to toss it in the air and hit it with a spinning back kick.  No success again.
We ended up bringing the coconut down to the dining room and asking if someone in the kitchen could open it for us.  The staff happily obliged and moments later brought the coconut back, artfully opened, the coconut water inside glinting alluringly in the late afternoon sun.

ONE of us (I won't say who), then proceeded to elegantly trip and knock the coconut off the table onto the ground.  It started rolling away underneath the tables of unassuming onlookers, the contents spilling every which way.

It was horrifying.  Tears were shed.  Mass hysteria ensued.

Morale of the story: Always be prepared to handle runaway coconuts with care.  Have the appropriate resources on hand when coconuts are involved.  Consider keeping some of this in your back pocket:
I digress. 

On the topic of coconuts, I've heard a lot recently about the benefits of drinking coconut water, especially after long or hard workouts.  It is supposed to provide excellent hydration, along with supplying ample potassium and various other nutrients.

Bottled coconut water is on the expensive side - around $5 or more for a liter.  I've never tried it for this reason.  But, I saw it on sale at the grocery store last night so I thought I'd give it a whirl.  The verdict so far after one glass with dinner?  I am a huge fan!  It is very light and refreshing and it's not too sweet.  I think it tastes a lot better than sports drink. 

I'll have to give the coconut water a whirl after a long run to see how it works then, too.  It's too expensive to drink all the time, but maybe it can be an occasional treat after really hard workouts.
Speaking of coconuts and other things that can take a tumble... yours truly had an up close and personal meeting with the sidewalk yesterday while out running.

I'm used to running on uneven pavement.  However, that didn't prevent me from gallantly tripping over an unlevel area of the sidewalk.  I stumbled forward and tried hard to regain my footing, but no such luck.  All balance was lost and I went crashing into the sidewalk.

The brunt of the force was taken through my right elbow and forearm, but I took plenty of impact through my hands and my right leg.  I had to use a giant spatula to scrape myself off of the sidewalk.

Do you know how hard it is to scrape yourself off of the sidewalk 
when you're also the one lying face down in the cement? 
I thought for sure that I had ripped holes in my tights, gloves, or jacket on impact, but thankfully no clothing damage.  I was more embarrassed than anything else.  My spill took place about 15 feet away from a stop sign intersection, where a car was stopped.  I thought that the driver or passenger might roll down the window to ask me if I was okay.  However, the car just drove off without missing a beat.  Guess they already knew how tough I am!

To validate this point, I got back up and dusted myself off, then kept right on going.  I finished the rest of my run without further issue.  Unfortunately, I did sustain some major scrapes on my right elbow, which still hurt today.  Otherwise, though, all is fine.

Morale of the story: It's always fun until somebody gets hurt.  Appropriate gear is important to prevent possible injury.  Consider doing all future training runs with gear like this:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The need for speed

Cue obligatory quote from "Top Gun":

On a side note, I did a google search this morning for "the need for speed."  I ended up getting several results for "the need for speed run cheat."  Since Google can pretty much read all of our minds at this point, I thought I was being implicated with a targeted message.  Turns out that there's actually some Xbox 360 video game entitled "Need For Speed: The Run" with various cheat codes, i.e. codes that trigger a favorable event or effect for yourself as a player.  (I'll have to ask my nephew Reid or my niece Blair about this game since I'm too old to know about these things anymore.)

This is more along the lines of my video game familiarity.

One of the changes I've made to my training over the past year is to slow down my training pace.  I've read from many sources that you should train at a comfortable pace that allows you to converse while running.  From a numbers perspective, this is anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds per mile slower than your marathon pace, but that when in doubt you should run more slowly.  I've even heard that it's impossible to train at a pace that is too slow.  (Never fear, folks, if there's anyone that can train at too slow of a pace, I'm sure I can.)

Training at this slow of a pace feels very counterintuitive to me, especially because I'm so slow to begin with.  My fear is that my body will get used to running so slowly and that when it comes to race time, it will be that much harder for me to kick it into gear.  I know that this is what speed training is for, and I have been good about consistently doing my weekly fartlek workouts.  But building speed has proved to be extremely difficult.  I find it much tougher than building distance, and one of the most mentally-frustrating areas of my training.
Flashback to high school physics, put into direct application.
Speed training is incredibly challenging on a purely internal basis.  But then, my foray into the blogging world has revealed countless runners that are so fast and don't even think about it.  I read dozens of race recaps for folks that are disappointed that they didn't break whatever time in whatever race... but their so-called "disappointment" is so much faster than I could ever even dream of achieving.  Some of these folks literally run faster uphill than I can careen my tricycle down a mountain.  Yet, they beat themselves up over it.

I am amazed at the number of runners I read about that place at races, whether overall or within their age groups, as well as those that are so disappointed when they don't place.  Are you kidding me?  Do you know how thrilled I would be to even be entertaining the thought of contending for a race placement?  I would consider it a personal victory to even qualify for a starting corral at a race.  I read about folks working towards getting into start corral A, B, C, D, etc.  Maybe someday if I continue to work really, really hard I can qualify for this one:

I've also read a lot of derogatorily-toned articles, blogs, or comments about those 11- or 12-minute-per-mile "power walkers."  Certainly there are plenty of folks that can run much faster than that - and they deserve to be proud of themselves!  I also know that in today's world, it's difficult to say almost anything without offending someone.  But from someone who would love an 11-minute-per-mile marathon pace, it can be discouraging to read these things. 

Are there any other penguin/slow runner bloggers out there?

A lot of people forget what a gift it is to be able to run, period.  There are thousands of people that physically cannot run or even walk, and thousands of other people that cannot afford shoes.  Similarly, my hope is that I never take myself for granted, either.

I am slow and I have been nagged by injuries throughout my running career, but I am privileged to be able to run at all.  These are little things to some.  But I believe that all achievements in life are worth celebrating.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In a flashback to childhood, topics for today will address chocolate milk, knee socks, and training-wheel bikes. 

Post-Run Recovery Fuel
Coerced by many suggestions to drink chocolate milk for post-run recovery, I finally broke down and bought a bottle of chocolate syrup.

Initially I tried to go easy on the amount of chocolate syrup I used in each glass of milk.  I quickly realized that diluted chocolate milk does not do the trick, so I went all in and souped it up (literally and figuratively).  One of the biggest benefits of being an adult is being able to use as much chocolate syrup as you like in your milk.

Now I drink a lot of chocolate milk even when I'm not in post-run recovery mode.  Just today I drank chocolate milk when I got back from going downstairs to pick up the mail (post-postal pickup mode?)
CEP Compression Sleeves
I was surprised at the number of runners I've recently seen wearing knee socks.  Not just white knee socks, but also black, hot pink, neon green, etc. 
At first I thought it was a throwback with a vengeance to the tube socks of the 1970s.  Now I've learned that these are compression socks, which supposedly help blood circulation for better endurance and faster recovery. 

Initially I wasn't sold on the idea of these compression socks, especially since I already have a couple pairs of rather expensive specialty running socks.  Then I saw compression sleeves, basically footless knee socks, which you can wear with your socks of choice. 

In continuing my mission to singlehandedly keep's stock prices as high as possible, I decided to buy a pair and see if they are helpful.

One might think these look even more bizarre than the knee-high socks.  But I figure if I wear white socks it'll probably blend in fairly well, other than the gap in between the bottom of the sleeves and the top of my socks. 

What would be even cooler would be if I wore the compression sleeves with my Cho-Pat knee straps on top.  Remember these bad boys?

Or maybe I'll just wear long pants so nobody will be the wiser.

Wonky Knee
I only ran once this past week, but my left knee still feels off-kilter.  It's a different feeling of discomfort than what I experienced when I went through physical therapy last summer.  Back then, I had pain on the front of my knee around the knee cap.  Now, it feels achy behind my knee and in my lower thigh just above the back of my knee.

I'm going to take some more time off and hopefully things will heal up.  It's frustrating because I had such good training momentum going, but I know the earlier you address your aches and pains the better.

Guess it's time to get reacquainted with the exercise quadricycle.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Improv classes and go Hawks!

One of the many great things about Chicago is that it is an epicenter of improv theater, the place where improv comedy was first cultivated.  Taking improv classes has been one of my burgeoning and favorite hobbies over the past few years - I absolutely love it!  Improv is lightning-paced, creative, and comical, and you develop an unparalleled ability to think and act on your feet.  You also get more comfortable playing harebrained characters or games on display.

My third level of improv classes at ComedySportz Chicago is wrapping up this week, and our student showcase is this Sunday.  Doing improv on the ComedySportz main stage in front of a real audience is always really exhilarating, but also incredibly nerve-wracking!  Thankfully the student performances are attended by a friendly audience.  =)

Here's a picture of my first class from a few years ago after our student show:

One of the concepts we learn in improv is that of perspective.  Essentially, no matter who you are - fisherman, second-grade student, aeronautical physicist, or whatever - you always find a way to bring things back to your own perspective.  We learn how to notice these perspectives and to use those details in the characters that we use in our acts.

As a runner, some of these improv concepts have made me realize that I am very guilty of always finding a way to relate things to running.  For example:
  • Talk to me about traveling and I'll think about the runnability of a travel destination and the opportunity to explore a culture with my running shoes.
  • Cite psychology research on motivation, the will to win, and positive/negative reinforcement and I'll automatically apply it to running mentalities.
  • Bring up product innovation (my career field), and when I'm not thinking about financial analysis solutions I'll consider the latest advancements in things like compression sleeves, headband flashlights, and shoe dogs (I am not making these up).
  • Mention certain high-profile people such as Oprah Winfrey or Sarah Palin or Katie Holmes and I'll think about their marathon finishing times.
  • Allude to The Mickey Mouse Clubouse and I'll obviously start thinking about the Disney races.  (Who wouldn't?!?)
Another great thing we learn in improv is to not judge ourselves when we feel like what we're being absurd.  We are taught to always throw ourselves completely into whatever we might be doing.  This is because our viewers can see it if we judge ourselves, undermining the performance from the very start.  Similarly, we learn to remember that improv is done as an ensemble of players - so no matter what seemingly dorky things we are doing, our troupe is doing it together.

These are more great concepts that can be applied to running - or really to anything, for that matter.  As runners, we might feel ridiculous wearing shorts in sub-freezing temperatures, taking a faceplant but continuing on undeterred, or using a telephone pole/bush/stop sign as our finish line and raising our arms in victory as we cross.  Regardless, we should throw ourselves completely into it because it is who we are!  Why deny ourselves?

Similarly, I've seen some really bizarre costumes being worn at races.  I mean really bizarre.  If it were any occasion other than Halloween or a themed race, people would think those costume-wearers were nuts.  But those bizarre costumes become fun and unifying when dozens of people are doing it together!

Case in point:
If you are looking for me, I'll be in the bright yellow Zentai suit (full-body) that is two sizes two small.
Speaking of faceplants and claustrophobia, how is anyone able to see, breathe, or use the portapotty while wearing those things?!?

SIDE NOTE: the Zentai suits appear to be the aftermath inspired by these infamous hockey fanatics out in Vancouver.


While we're on the topic of hockey and the teams that regularly have the Vancouver Canucks' number... my beloved Blackhawks broke a very extended overall losing streak last night in a game against the New York Rangers!  Woo hoo!

I had an epiphany that the losing streak would end last night based on how my run went yesterday afternoon.  When I started out, I turned on my MP3 player as per usual.  I always have it set to random shuffle mode and I have a few hundred songs on it.  Therefore, the chances of hearing any particularly defined sequence of songs are practically nonexistent.  However, yesterday I heard literally seven (7) straight Hawks-themed songs as I was running.  Statisticians and casino bookies, what are the odds!?!?!?  It was a sign, I just knew it!  (And yes, once again I always find a way to bring something back to my perspective.)

With that, I will leave you once again with the song that has inspired many a Hawks fan, the song that is my cell phone ring tone, and the song that has gotten me in trouble when I forgot to turn my phone to silent and it rang at the very moment my firm's CEO walked by my desk.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Return of the living dead, and an awkward self-portrait

Much to my horror, I've started experiencing some knee wonkyness again.  ("Wonky" is a highly scientific term, by the way.)  Things have been going swimmingly with my knees for the last several months, so the relapse of knee pain is frustrating and scary.

I skipped my long run two weekends ago due to non-knee injury, then this past week I added a fourth running day to my regimen for the first time.  These two factors probably didn't help, but I'm not sure if they are the root cause.  Either way, the plan is to go easy on running this week and to be really vigilant about doing physical therapy.

I got things off to a great start yesterday.  I did exactly zero physical therapy, opting instead to watch a DVR of the Hawks game last night.  Yours truly has been a very depressed Blackhawks fan for the last two weeks and last night did not help.  Before going to bed, I drowned my sorrows in a few glasses of orange juice.

On a much more positive note, I recently read a success story about the benefits of krill oil for achy knees from Amanda at Run to the Finish.  After reading dozens of glowing reviews, I decided to give it a try.  I ordered a bottle from Amazon, which just arrived on Monday.  We'll see how it goes.

Lastly, as promised, here is a picture of me trying to look as intimidating as possible with my balaclava and bug-eye sunglasses:

Notice the neon-green shirt I'm wearing?  It was a strategically chosen color to reduce the intimidation factor of this picture to manageable levels.  They say that neon-green is very soothing.

Note also that the picture was strategically positioned to crop out the remainder of the neon-green shirt.  EXPLANATION: The picture on the neon-green shirt, if visible, would have counteracted its soothing color, thereby defeating the whole purpose of reducing the self-portrait's intimidation factor.

Since I know you're all curious now, and even if you're not, I'll go ahead and show you the rest of the shirt. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brain cramps with a Mexico travel tangent

Vacation Planning (aka Brain Cramp #1)
Excruciatingly contemplative planning mode is currently in effect to select a weeklong fall or winter vacation destination. The contenders include either the Outer Banks or Hilton Head in the fall, or Cabo in the winter.  I've been researching all three and there are plusses and minuses to each, but at this very moment Cabo is the front-runner destination.

Vacations are serious business for me.  Therefore, I make travel planning way, way, way more complicated than it should be.  I do so much research and consider so many factors that I sometimes lie awake at night with my mind racing. 

I know it's counterintuitive to get stressed about vacation planning.  However, since there are only finite amounts of PTO per year, I believe each vacation needs to be maximized to the fullest.  I also believe that the more advance planning you do, the more effectively you can utilize your time while on vacation!

On a side note, I've mentioned on multiple occasion that I would like to be either Italian or Hawaiian since I adore both cultures so much.  However, I've started thinking that it would be nice to be Australian and partake in a walkabout.  Six months of soul-searching travel?  WHERE DO I SIGN UP?!?!?

Speaking of Mexican Travels...
I once took the border shuttle from San Ysidro (close to San Diego) to Tijuana.  
Circa 2003
At the time, I was looking forward to the opportunity to get a Mexican stamp in my passport.  Unfortunately, the border shuttle drove directly through the "Nothing to Declare" express lane without passing Go and without collecting $200.  No customs or immigration officers or anything = no passport stamp!  (I've since made up for it by traveling to Mexico via more traditional means.)

As you might expect from me, I am tracking how many of the Mexican states I've been to.  Seven so far - Baja California, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo (all the touristy ones).  Hoping to go to Guerrero and Veracruz in the near future.
My Tijuana sojourn has been the extent of my travels to the Baja Peninsula so far, so in visiting Cabo I'm really excited about the opportunity to add Baja California Sur to my list of Mexican states visited!  I will obviously be adding it to my list of places where I've gone running, too.  =)

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon (aka Brain Cramp #2)
I saw that registration opens up on March 13 and I know it fills up quickly.  As much as I would really love to do this race, registration will be expensive.  They haven't announced the amount yet, but based on other Disney races I imagine it'll be at least $150, maybe more.  Obviously there is also the cost of airfare, hotel, transit, taking a day or two off from work, etc.

I am really starting to consider whether or not the cost is worth it.  Do I splurge, knowing that you have to live life and that once in awhile it's nice to do something that you'll know you'll enjoy?  Or do I take the perspective of being practical and realize that you have to draw the line somewhere on how much to spend for enjoyment without going overboard?  Not to mention the risk of running a half marathon a month after running the Chicago Marathon - who knows where my health and mentality will be in at that point.

I have been debating back and forth and back and forth.  Devil on one shoulder and angel on the other. 
You would think this would be a no-brainer for Donald.
I haven't gotten to the point where I lie awake thinking about it yet, but never fear - the closer March 13 gets, the higher the probability that I will!

Balaclava Update (aka Brain Cramp #3)
The temps this past weekend were in the teens, so I took my balaclava out for its inaugural run on Sunday morning.  If I do say so myself, I look pretty scary when I'm simultaneously wearing the balaclava and my bug-eye sunglasses.  I'll post a picture later (the balaclava is in the wash right now).

The balaclava was helpful during the first ten minutes while I was getting warmed up.  Beyond that, I did start feeling claustrophobic.  I ended up folding it down over my chin so that my nose and mouth were open.  It was better than a hat alone, but I definitely can't wear it over my face for an extended period of time. 

I'm considering getting it tailored to create an additional opening for my mouth and nose.  However, I am not sure how it would go over with the alterations manager at the neighborhood drycleaner.

Note also that I purposely wore non-threatening colors when I wore the balaclava.  I didn't want anyone to drive by me and call the cops or anything.
I actually never dress head to toe in black but I do have black running tights, a black running jacket, and black gloves. That day I did wear the black tights but also consciously wore a turquoise jacket, red vest, and red gloves.  In the movies and on TV the thieves and robbers never wear red and turquoise, right?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Right-Side Muscular Dominance

I am very right-handed. My right arm is much stronger than my left arm, I have better vision in my right eye, and when I kick a soccer ball I really need to use my right foot otherwise risk embarrassing myself into a complete state of oblivion.

When I run, I experience tightness in my left hip muscles only. My recent knee problems have been on my left knee, and when I have heel pain it's on my left foot. However, one of my legs is slightly longer than the other, which I always thought was the cause for all the pains on my left side.

I came across an old issue of Runner's World which described potential muscle imbalances on one side of your body, which can make you more prone to injury.  They suggest a balance test which entails standing on one foot with your eyes closed and timing how long you can hold the position without toppling over. You then repeat the exercise on your other foot. Any large timing differences indicate muscle imbalance.
They must have read the same Runners World article.
I took the test with VERY clear results. I struggled mightily to stand on my left foot for 40 seconds, but was able to stand on my right foot comfortably for over 70 seconds and counting (I stopped at 70 seconds because the results were so obvious).

Without going into detail here, the article recommends various exercises to strengthen the less-dominant side (see the online version of the article in its entirety here.)  I am going to start doing the exercises and maybe they'll eventually alleviate me from my second career as a left-hip foam roller.

In the meantime, the article got me started thinking about all the things that I do with my right hand.  Off the top of my head, I came up with:
  • Brush my teeth
  • Drink from a glass
  • Zip my jackets
  • Use the remote control
  • Pour from a pitcher
  • Play rock, paper, scissors
  • Pick out all the marshmallows from the cereal box
  • Try unsuccessfully to flip pancakes in the air without using a spatula
  • Turn on the garbage disposal when fumbling for the kitchen light, scaring myself and waking up the neighbors' dog
  • High-five or wave at someone who's actually waving to someone behind me, then try to cover it up by pretending to fix my hair or scratch my head.

Yikes!  Do I do ANYTHING with my left hand?  It's a good thing that I type with two hands, at least.

I know that ambidexterity refers to equal skill in both hands, but I wasn't sure what the equivalent term was for someone who was equally skilled with both feet.  I looked it up and it's apparently called "ambipedal."

Incidentally, I recall a term called being "goofy-footed."  I learned this from a surfing lesson I took several years ago.  It refers to someone who surfs with their right foot in front versus with their left foot in front.  In other words, a goofy-footed surfer uses the left foot as the dominant foot.

Goofy surfing goofy-footed
NEW GOAL: Eliminate the muscle imbalance on my left side.

Steps to take:
  1. Focus on using my left side more by occasionally incorporating my left arm/leg into everyday tasks.
  2. Do suggested exercises from Runner's World to enhance ambidexterity and ambipedality.
  3. Be patient and realize that overcoming muscle imbalances will take time.
 LONG TERM GOAL: Work towards being able to comfortably surf goofy-footed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The placebo effect

I usually run three days per week (on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays).  I thought I'd try adding a fourth day in the hopes that it would better prepare me for marathon training.  In accordance with Hal Higdon's Marathon Novice I training plan, that fourth day would be on Wednesdays.

This week was the first week that I've added a Wednesday run.  The results so far?  I am proud to say that my runs this past Tuesday and yesterday were two of the most lackluster, cumbersome, and uninspired runs I've ever had in my entire running career.

During both runs my lungs and legs were in a state of incineration (comparable only to those visions we've all had of lighting our college textbooks on fire after finals are over).  I kept staring at my Garmin in disbelief and was certain that someone had stolen one of the digits from the mileage tracker and added that offending digit to my pace tracker.

I've never had consecutive bad runs.  Ever.

I fought hard not to be deterred by this, but it was frustrating.  I was torn between a) taking a running hiatus until my Sunday morning long run, or b) going again today as originally planned and trying to grind myself out of the slump.

I don't rest anxiety-free - in general, I'd rather kick and scream my way out of a rut than sit back and wait for the rut to pass.  Ultimately, I did decide to grind it out today but I decided to take a different approach.  The placebo approach!
I always knew that M&Ms were a form of placebo.
My placebo approach did not actually involve eating sugar pills or M&Ms (only because I don't have any, not because I didn't want to).  Instead, I took the placebo approach by trying to give myself some psychological boosts in the hopes that it would make me feel better, which would then help me run better.

I wore my new Mizuno running shoes.  I love them but have only worn them once so far because I wanted to "save" them while I put more miles on my other two pairs of running shoes first.  However, they felt so great that one time and I had a really terrific run that day.  I thought I'd give myself the opportunity to recreate that feeling.  No savings today!

Next, I truly believe that you feel better when you dress better.  Therefore, I wore one of my favorite and most comfortable running outfits today.  It's an outfit that just makes me feel speed-inspired.

On a tangent, my improv classes focus a lot on character details - we learn how to observe traits, actions, and interactions.  Ultimately these are all inspirations for the personalities we play during our improv scenes or games.  Now I need to find a way to work a Road Runner-inspired character into some upcoming improv.  Maybe vicariously enacting a Road Runner character will help me to run faster by osmosis.  How's that for a placebo?!?

I also decided to change up my usual running route by doing it in reverse.  Wow, who knew how different everything would look and feel!  I noticed a plethora of things that I'd never given a second glance at before, like different storefronts, different signs, different potholes in the road.  I also had to really think about the route to ensure that I was doing it correctly.  I even made a wrong turn and had to backtrack - but this was a good thing because it led me down a street that I don't usually run through.  Doing my route in reverse definitely shook things up in a positive way.
By the way, just to clarify for those of you giggling out there.  When I said I ran my usual route in reverse, I did not literally run backwards either knowingly or even unknowingly.  I meant that instead of running from point A to point B, I ran facing forward from point B to point A.  =)

I did ending up having a pretty good run today.  It wasn't the best run that I've ever had.  But it was enough to get me feeling like I was back on track.  What's important is that I am rejuvenated and excited again for my next run.  The placebos did their job for me - and with no side effects, as stated!  I do highly recommend placebos in any form, whether they be mental, physical, or chocolate-flavored.

This experience was actually quite valuable in other ways, as well.  It reminded me that we are never as bad as we think when we're at our lowest points, but we are also never as good as we think when we're at our highest.  I am reminded that the very best runners then must be not just talented, but resilient - and not just hungry, but focused.  The sport demands it.**

**Adaptation from Episode 1 of the 24:7 Penguins/Capitals series on HBO.  (Hockey fans, go see this series now - it will change your life!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lunchtime runs and the procrastination ecosystem

On weekdays, I like to do my runs right after I get home from work.  On those days when I have evening events, I try to go running over lunchtime instead.  I am very fortunate that my office in downtown Chicago is just blocks away from Millennium Park and Grant Park, as well as the lakefront path.  It's beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately it's less scenic in the wintertime.
Lunchtime runs create other complexities, though.  It feels like a bit of a waste to shower at home before going in to work, only to need another shower right after lunchtime.  I don't have the luxury of taking my time since I don't want to be away from my desk for too long.  Also, for some reason my lunchtime runs rarely go very well - my pace is usually slower than normal, and I just don't feel as good.  But I figure that a lackluster run is still better than nothing.

For the record, even on days when I don't run I don't just sit at my desk.  At minimum, I make it a point to still do frequent laps in between my desk and the office candy jar.  That has to count for something, right?
OK.  But only if you insist.
It is difficult to get myself motivated for a lunchtime run.  You would think that I would enjoy the opportunity to be away from my desk and get some fresh air and scenery - but I usually have to drag myself out the door.  I am not one of those people who is energized after doing a lunchtime run, either.  For me, it's more just pure relief to have the run taken care of when time wouldn't permit otherwise.

When I'm home and don't feel like doing something (working is the most typical example), I generally procrastinate by cleaning.  Then on weekends, usually I want to go running before doing anything else, including cleaning and working.  However, when I'm in the office, all of a sudden I procrastinate on going for a run by working! 

It's a very convoluted procrastinational structure with a delicately intermingled ecological balance.
I really do love running... just not during lunch.  And I can't pinpoint why or how to make it better.  However, I do have several hypotheses:

Is it just the whole "grass is greener" idea where no matter what you should be doing, you feel like doing something else?!?!?

Am I perhaps enacting a self-fulfilling prophesy based on my history of consistently lackluster lunchtime runs?!?!?

Is it a case of misaligned psychological motivations, in line with the scientific theories of A. H. Maslow?!?!?

Do I need to improve my warm up and pre-run fueling routine with more trips to the candy jar?!?!?

Any other hypotheses???