Saturday, November 21, 2015

Philadelphia Half Marathon Training: Fall 2015 Season Review

I hate shakeouts. Those short “easy” runs the day before a race. They get your legs moving . . . and your brain moving even faster. The fact is—at least for me—they almost never feel good.

“Are you kidding me?” my brain asks as I huff and puff my way through mile one. “This feels impossible. Do you know hard tomorrow’s going to feel?” “You’re fine,” I argue back. “You’ve felt this way before. It isn’t a sign of how the race will go.” We struggle through a few more minutes of agony. The watch beeps, and I can’t not look. “Ha,” my brain scoffs as my ego cowers in a corner. “And you think you’re going to average a pace exactly how much faster than that tomorrow?”

I’m pretty sure I’ve had this mental dialogue, in some form or another,  before every major race I’ve run. So clearly it’s not rooted in reality. I’ve proved my brain wrong more than once, and I fully intend to do it again. Tomorrow. But that doesn’t make today any easier.

Therefore, it’s time for a training recap! Because no matter what happens tomorrow, I’ve made some strides (no pun intended), and I’m very grateful for a lot that has happened between Timberman (August) and now.

Biggest change: Coaches. Well, not changing, exactly. Semi-changing? A change-in-process? About two months ago, GCR’s head coach Josh brought on an assistant coach, Allie, to begin leading morning workouts for GCR. And since I’ve only been attending morning workouts, that more or less makes Allie my coach . . . sort of. It’s all still in progress, the shifting of responsibility and trust, but it’s definitely the biggest change that has occurred between August and today.

Best workout: This one was fairly recent: a tempo on the track. 6x1mi, alternating 6:15/6:40, no rest. I nailed it, and shifting gears didn’t feel nearly as traumatic as I expected. Of course, I was with teammates, so that undoubtedly helped to keep my brain in check.

Worst workout: Another fairly recent one (or maybe I just have a short memory): 16mi including 2x2mi @6:00 and 15x60sec on/off @sub-6:00. Missed it by a mile—literally, because I got lost and ran 17 miles before essentially hitchhiking home.* The 2x2mi was especially demoralizing because I was trying so hard and just never made it even close to the prescribed pace. But hey, something to aspire to in the future, right?

Biggest triumph: The Dash to the Finish 5k—which I almost didn’t do. After the initial suggestion from my coach and some convincing by a few teammates, I agreed to fork over the $50. It was worth it. I broke 19 min.

Biggest inspiration: Yet again, my teammates. J___ and her irrepressible optimism. S___ and her ability to dig in and do more than her brain insists she can. And A___ and her stubborn refusal to give up.

*The story of that debacle, in case you missed reading it, is here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: The Interestings

The Interestings The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's about unrequited love. But not exactly. It's about art. Well yes . . . but no. It's about that elusive idea of talent. Yes, although not entirely.

Okay, so The Interestings is about all of those things, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Adolescence. Jealousy. Growing up. The pursuit of "happiness." Family. Parenthood. But in the end, it is about characters. The book jacket mentions six characters, but only four really hold the story together, and in fact, I'd argue that one of those four was somewhat superfluous to the crux of the story, which is the entwined and slowly transforming nature of these friends' relationships with one another as they grow from teenagers to adults.

If I'd read this story ten years ago, I'd have put it down within the first fifty pages and announced, "Snoozefest!" However, as a young woman turning thirty in a few brief months (in which case, do I still get to call myself "young"?), and as someone who has wrestled with--and continues to wrestle with--the ideas of "success" and "happiness,"I absolutely adored this book. I related to the two central characters, Ethan and Jules, on levels so deep that Wolitzer might as well have been writing about me. In particular, Jules' feelings throughout the novel--of relief at being accepted and transformed by this group of incredible, unlikely friends; of conflicted jealousy when people she loves become wildly successful; of dissatisfaction and powerlessness and frustration at her life circumstances; of excitement at the prospect of a new adventure--really hit home. I am that character, the one who has a perfectly fine life and yet cannot seem to just be contented with it, and there never seems to be that moment of "realization" or "enlightenment" for either of us, after which we can go on being happy and seeing life through rose-colored glasses. We are much too aware of the choices life presents, and our accountability as we make those choices, and the effects they will (and do) have.

If I were to criticize this book in any way, I'd say that it is just too literal. It mirrors real life too closely, so that we, the reader, never get any sense of escapism. We don't get to be transported to some magical work where things work out for the hero and heroin and the soulmates get to be together in the end and everyone is happy. But I guess that's also what I loved so much about this book: Wolitzer "gets" real life. She understands what it feels like to be human and replicates that experience on the page with an insight and bluntness that I really, really admire.

I'll finish this review off with a quote from the novel, just so you can get a sense of what I mean when I use words like "insight" and "bluntness".

". . . trying to find closure, that impossible thing that no one had ever really experienced in life, because there always seemed to be a little aperture, a slit of light."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Generosity: The Virtue that Never Ceases to Amaze

Sometimes, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the generosity of other people. Truly.

Take R___, my fiance. He recently took part in this work event called a "Hack Day" where all the developers stay overnight and code feverishly (for fun, mind you) to create new company-related programs or features that they think would be cool. R___'s feature earned him an award where they gave him a mini bonus . . . which he then turned around and donated to a charity, since his company agreed to match the amount.

Is that not the textbook definition of generous?

But okay, maybe I'm a bit biased toward R___. After all, he is going to be my husband.

So let's take two of my teammates: S___ and J___. I first met S___ when I was working in Brooklyn and my coach told me, "Hey, there's this fast girl who lives and runs in Brooklyn near you. She has great form. You should see if you can hook up with her sometime--it'd be good for you. " He was right on all accounts (coaches are usually, annoyingly, right--kind of like moms): she was fast, she did have great form, and running with her was very, very good for me. But the best and most unexpected part came when, because I was about to leave my job and had to give up my local gym access (and therefore shower), she offered the use of her apartment.

Now let's face it: inviting an acquaintance into your apartment is kind of a risky thing. Our homes are small extensions of ourselves; inviting someone in gives them a rather intimate glimpse into your finances, habits, and priorities. Plus, on a more practical level, having another person around disrupts your life routine. (Although, I'd like to think, sometimes for the better.)

However, S___ seemed to have no problem with my imposing on her living space, and eventually this imposition turned into once-a-week routine where I'd show up at her door to drop off my stuff; we'd run to the track and do our workout; and then we'd run back to shower and eat breakfast together before she left for work and I headed off to the local library. In this way, we were able to spend time together and forge a real relationship--something we might have never done had she not generously offered me the use of her apartment.

So in a nutshell, S___ was amazingly generous to me. But then, not more than a few months later, our coach brought on a new assistant coach and moved our workouts from Brooklyn and to the East River track . . . twice a week at 6:30am. Now I had a whole new set of obstacles: I had to ride the PATH in from NJ, run 2 miles to the track, do the workout, run 2 miles back to the PATH, and ride the PATH back to NJ in order to shower and eat . . . and ride the PATH again if I wanted to come back into the NYC for any reason.* This was, to put it succinctly, a hassle. At our first workout, I made mention of what a hassle this was, and my teammate J___ piped up, "Well you can always come and use my apartment."

Now let me back up for a second. At this point in time, J___ was officially the newest member of our running team. I had met her literally two times before this: once at a casual long run where my coach (yet again) had told me to, "Come and meet this fast girl. She's really bubbly. She's thinking about joining," and once when I invited her to do a tempo run up the West Side Highway. That's it. Two meetings. And then, at our third, she offered up free, unconditional use of her apartment. Is that not one of the most generous things you've ever heard?

But okay, okay. These are my current teammates; maybe I'm biased toward them, too. So let me offer up my final, crowning vignette.

Last weekend, I went to the Poconos for a writing retreat. While the main goal up there was to write (obviously), I also had a 16-mile run to do on Saturday. Therefore, I spent Friday night mapping out my course, trying to create the easiest, most direct route possible. And what is the easiest, most direct route possible? An out-and-back, which is exactly what it sounds like: running in one direction and then turning around and running back. This being the Poconos, it wasn't going to be possible to run in a straight line for 8 miles, so the route had a few turns, but it was pretty darned simple: take a left, then a right, then another right, and keep going straight until my watch read 8 miles. Then, turn around and run back.

Sounds simple, right? It sounds so simple that I decided not to take my phone with me when I left at 7am that morning. I knew the risks--I could get a cramp or run into a bear, and I'd be all by myself, virtually in the middle of nowhere--but the annoyance of having to carry my phone in my hand and get it all sweaty and salt-encrusted ultimately outweighed those unlikely risks. And before you ask, yes, the possibility of getting lost did cross my mind. But was I really going to get lost? I mean, the route had three turns in it. I wasn't going to get lost.

Until I did.

Seventeen miles later, surrounded by silent leafless trees, with no sign of civilization in sight--never mind the specific house I should have reached a mile back--I started to get worried. It all looked eerily familiar while also being completely unfamiliar, and I couldn't just keep running in this random direction without knowing where I was going. So I stopped on the side of the empty road and waited. Several minutes later, a car drove by. They either didn't see my extended hand, or they ignored it. I waved more enthusiastically at the next car, and it slowed down. The driver inside rolled down his window halfway. He looked suspicious.

"Hi!" I tried to look friendly. "Do you know what road this is?"


River was not the name of any road I remembered from my map.

"Do you know where Upper Ridge Drive is?" He looked at me blankly. "Or . . . the ski lodge?" I knew the ski lodge was somewhat close to the house we had rented.

"Uh, well the ski lodge is down this road." He pointed in the direction I'd been running.

"Oh great! Like, maybe a mile do you think?"

He paused. "Probably a few." Then he drove away.

Now, I have talked to drivers before about distances, and when they say "a few miles" they typically mean at least five. So I aimlessly walked another quarter of a mile and then stopped, listening to the intermittent sounds of rifle shots echoing through the trees. This wasn't going to work. I couldn't walk five miles after that run, especially wearing a sweaty tank top and shorts when the weather outside was in the low fifties. As humiliating as it might be, I was going to have to flag down another car and ask to use their phone.

Two cars later, an SUV pulled up. A big maple leaf was drawn on the door, above the words "Park Services." My heart leapt as I trotted across the road. Inside sat a young woman, probably my age or a few years younger. She leaned out of the window.

"Are you lost?"

Yes. The answer was yes.

I asked to use her phone, but since she didn't have a data plan, there was no way for me to know where I was in order to call someone to come pick me up. After consulting a few useless maps she had in her glove compartment, she told me what she'd do. She needed to return this vehicle a bit farther up the road, and she couldn't take me with her because there were rules against having people in park-owned vehicles. However, then she'd have her personal vehicle, and she had a GPS in it, so if I could just hang tight for ten minutes, she would come back, pick me up, and drive me wherever I needed to go. Gratefully, I waved goodbye and then found a rock to sit on and wait.

And wait. And wait.

A lot went through my mind during what turned out to be a twenty-five minute wait. I thought about how stupid and lazy and stubborn I was for not taking my phone with me. (I thought a lot about that.)  I thought about how amazing it was that this random woman was willing to take the time out of her day to come back for me. I thought about the possibility that she'd forget me. I thought about what the other writers back at the house must be thinking, now that I'd been gone for 3 hours. I thought about how cold I was.

Then, I saw a small silver car slow down and pull over to the shoulder. The headlights flashed. My savior had arrived!

Even as I write this several days later, I'm filled with amazement and gratitude that a complete stranger, going about her day, would be willing to stop and help a lost runner get back to where she belonged. And what she offered wasn't just ordinary, casual "help"; this woman went completely out of her way to get her own vehicle, drive back to where I was waiting, and then drive yet another ten minutes out of her way to take me where I needed to go. I almost can't believe it. Would I do that? Would I be that open-hearted? I honestly don't know. I'd like to think I would, but if I'm completely honest, I'm not 100% sure I'd even stop my car. I hope I would. I hope, someday, I will.

*Note: for those of you familiar with these transportation systems who are wondering why I didn't just take the PATH to 14th street and then take L train to 1st Ave instead of running from 9th and 6th, that would have cost me an extra $11/week. And I'm not only a frugal person, but now I'm a frugal person trying to be a freelancer.)