Saturday, February 27, 2010

Befriending Your Tready:
Top Ten Tips for (More) Successful Treadmill Running

So that's one way of making sure the streak of 50+ miles stops this week.

If you haven't heard, we (as in NYC - who else is there really?) were blasted with not one, but two storms this week, the latter of which was a gigantic Nor'Easter that resulted in record snowfall in Central Park again! Yeah, it's the end of February and we're still dealing with cold, slush and snow.

But while the rest of the city is still digging itself out of their igloos, I somehow managed to log 33 miles so far this week, even though only 6 of them were actually done outdoors. This means that I've actually run the full distance of a marathon in just 3 runs on the treadmill. For someone who've been humiliated by the rubber band carousel more times than I care to remember (see Exhibit A), this is a pretty incredible feat!

Now I know most runners hate the treadmill with a passion. They rather walk barefoot across a bed of burning charcoals than do 10+ miles on the motorized walkway. I know because I used to be a member of that rebel tribe that considers running without actually traveling anywhere scandalous runner behavior. But when life throws you curveballs - it's dark early, you've got kids to watch, or there's Nor'Easter in your city every freakin' week - you've got to settle for singles up the middle or you'll strike out and be relegated to the bench for the rest of the season. Catch my drift? And if you approach treadmill running with the right attitude, you can come to terms with it and it won't feel like death every time you go.

In the spirit of helping my fellow runners get better acquainted with their treadmills (or tready as I like to call it), here are my Top Ten Tips for More Successful Treadmill Running

1. Break up the long mileage.
Most tready haters seem to have a mileage limit above which they cannot tolerate the monotony. It's like their runner brain turns to mush and their shoes turn to cement after the digital counter goes up beyond a certain digit. If that's the case for you, then don't think of your workout as one continuous task. Instead break it up into a series of smaller workouts that you can tolerate. Literally turn off the machine after each workout and restart it again. For example, for my 12 mile workout yesterday, I restarted the machine four different times and incorporated three different types of workouts into my mileage.

2. Have a purpose for each workout.
Most runners run mindlessly on the tready, and then they wonder why they had such a mindless run. Don't be one of those people. Instead, have a game plan head of time for each section of your tready run. Give yourself something to work on for every mile or every few miles. Whether it be your pace, your breathing, your form, your heart rate, have some objectives and goals for the work you're putting in so that your workout can be more productive. If you approach it that way, at the end, you'll know what you've accomplished and feel more successful at it too.

3. Incorporate speed training
Alot of runners know that tready is good for interval training, but not a lot of them incorporate tempos and fartleks into their regular tready runs. This is a travesty in my mind because this is the perfect setup for learning how to surge or mix/match varying speeds at different distances. For example, do you know how you'll feel if you suddenly threw a 30 second surge after 1 mile of running or 5 miles of running? How long do you think you'll need to recover after a surge like that? Can you go back to your regular running pace or will you need to slow down for a period of time to recover? How about if the surge were for a minute or 2 minutes or 3 minutes? How fast can you surge and have it not affect your steady state running? All these questions can be answered easily and much more effectively on tready than out on the road because you can designate an exact pace and exact speed. Go ahead and experiment. Speed up or slow down as you like. Just don't run at the same pace for the entire duration of your tready run. I am shuddering just typing that last sentence.

3. Vary your incline
How many people never adjust the incline on their tready runs? How many set it at 0.5 or 1.0 at the beginning and never touch it again? If you raised your hand, you really have no right to call yourself a tready runner, much less criticize the tready as a monotonous machine. As a rule, unless I'm doing intervals, I always always adjust my tready incline every quarter to half of a mile. Not only does that simulate the undulations of the road as if you were running outside, it also allows the recruitment of different muscles which lay dormant when you're running on flat ground. You can think of it as running hills. If you can count up how many hills you encourage on your regular running route, that is at least as many times as you should be adjusting your tready inclines. You can speed up or slow down to maintain a similar effort but varying inclines should be a regular feature in your tready running routine.

4. Run barefoot (or with socks)
Although I'm not a fan of barefoot running for maintenance, racing or sustenance (for reasons I will NOT further elaborate so don't ask), they are nevertheless an essential form of strength training for your feet and lower legs. They can also help correct your form if you are a lazy runner (like me) and suffer from alignment issues. For those just starting out or at the beginning stages of making the transition to barefoot running, running outside on pavement in snow/ice can be quite challenging if not impossible. This is again where the tready can help. Just take off your shoes (leave the socks on) and go for a slow tready run. Your pace will be slower than it is for regular treadmill runs but you'll get good sensory feedback from your feet, knees, and ankles on where the trouble spots are with your form so you can work on those more individually. What I do is run a barefoot mile at the start of my workout as a warmup and one at the end as a cooldown. I find that it helps solidify my cadence and form and carries over quite a bit to my running and racing.

5. Try out shoes (new or old)
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I like experimenting with shoes. I like new shoes, I like old shoes, and I like comparing how I feel at different times with different shoes. One thing I know from medical science is that your foot structure differs from year to year based on age, training, and the surface that you run on. Therefore, it is always a good idea to analyze your gait periodically to ensure you're running in the right shoes. To that end, I will switch up and wear two or three pairs of new and old shoes to the tready and runs a few miles on each just to test things out. I find that different workouts go better with different shoes and can then use that information to guide my next shoe purchase.

6. Listen to a running podcast
Some people watch movies when they run. Other people pump themselves up with music. I like listening to running podcasts. It's all a decision based on personal preference but it's a good idea to have something engaging that will keep your interest when the tready workout gets mind numbing.

7. Test out fueling/hydration
This is also something good to do. Because you don't have to carry it outside with you or risk an emergency if your stomach doesn't agree with your new flavor of GU, the tready is a good time to try out new foods and drinks you are considering for long runs. Because everything can literally be right at your finger tips, you don't have to worry about carrying too much or not enough when you're trying things out for the first time. Heck, you can try a combination of nutritional items to see what works best or not at all. I tried Gummi Bears and Sports Beans on my tready twelve yesterday. The Gummis turned out too chewy for running and I went through a whole bag of beans and was still hungry. Lesson learned.

8. Examine your heart rate zones
If you wear a heart rate monitor (HRM) to the tready like I do, then you can not only incorporate heart rate zone training into your routine, but you can also test your zones to see what pace they correspond to. You can also study the effects of hills on your heart rate zones by playing with the inclines at different times during your run. And if you keep a good record of such things, then you can study the training effect over the course of a week, a month, or a year. The possibilities of what you can do with that information is endless! (Just make sure you're wearing an actual HRM and not relying on the pulse counter on the tready itself!)

9. Count your strides
Another exercise that can be easily done on the tready is to count your strides at different paces. Do you tend to increase your turnover or stride length when you run faster? Which is the first to go when you're tired? If you can steady your pace and count your strides over the distance of a half-mile or a mile, you can figure out your stride length. Then, there are specific workouts you can do to improve each of those areas. There are also websites with list of power songs categorized by cadence (or strides per minute). So for a myriad of reasons, this is good information to know.

10. Practice your mental game
If for some alien reason none of my tips work for you, and you find yourself in the middle of a tready workout unsatisfied, unenthused and unmotivated with miles and miles to go, well, that's kind of like how the marathon or half marathon is going to feel at some point. This is time to practice your mental game. What do you got? Mantras, songs, inspirational sayings, mind games...this is time to pull out the stops and practice what will get you there to the finish. I like to think about all the people who could only wish they were doing what I'm doing right now, and so will dedicate a strong mile to each of them. What will you do? Always plan ahead.

So I hope I've given you all a reason (or two) not to hate the tready when you find yourself having to climb on for a few miles, or five, or ten. Don't call it the dreadmill or similarly derogatory names neither. It's not tready's fault that the weather's bad or you got no time or you've got 101 other things to take care of. So lose the attitude. Understand the tready, learn to work with the tready and the tready will work wonders to supplement your training. You don't need me to tell you how many elite athletes do the bulk of their training exclusively on a tready.

Enough said. If you have a good tready workout you'd like to share, please by all means, enlighten the crowd in the comments. Otherwise, I'll catch you on the other side of a good tready run. Have a good weekend all!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fifty Mile Weeks

Houston, we have a problem.

Well, it might be premature to call it a problem. It might be, it might not be. I'm not totally convinced it's a major concern, but just in case it is or should be, I trust you all will keep me in the know one way or the other.

It all started about four weeks ago when I was totaling up my weekly mileage, and found that I surpassed 50 miles for the first time in 2010. Given that I had "only" 46 scheduled for that week, and my first fifty mile week of 2009 didn't come til mid March, I thought it was pretty neat. At the time, I didn't think too much of it, until it happened again the following week. I ran mileage in the fifties even though the plan only had me scheduled in the forties. For some, this might be a cause for celebration. For me it was giant red flag because I know I tend to get fatigued and injured if I run too high mileage too early on in training. So I made a pact to myself to take some miles off and run lower and slower mileage. But despite my best intentions, for a third week in a row, I ran fifty miles, albeit at a slower pace. Part of it was because I did not incorporate warmup and cooldown miles for speedwork into my training plan. The bigger part of it was that I could not bring myself to stop at 48 or 49 miles for the week. The push for 50 was just too overwhelming, the pressure too great. That's when I became cautious. That's when I got scared. Could I be turning into a high mileage junkie? Am I physically addicted to the 50 mile week?

Seeing as I am a medical scientist, I tried to answer the question in as objective a manner as I could. I challenged myself with the hard questions and even found time to CAGE myself (For those not in the know, the CAGE questions are a set of four simple questions used to screen for physical dependence to alcohol) To be honest, I had a tough time providing answers and scored positive on all the CAGE questions (as it applied to running...) And when I once again found myself over the weekend not being able to stop at 14 miles when I've logged 35 for the week, I reached my verdict and announced my predicament with a limerick:

I have an addiction I must admit
The 50 mile week so hard to resist
I've done four so far, on tap so many more
I see miles even when asleep.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But I really don't think there is a problem here, do you? Yes, I'm running many more miles than my legs ever bargained for and the mere thought of running less is enough to send my body into a panic attack, but as long as I get my run in first thing in the morning and last thing at night, it's not really all that bad. All I want is to log fifty miles for the week. Is that really too much to ask?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Take That, MTA: My Secret Unofficial Race

Today was supposed to be a special day. I had been anticipating today for a couple of months. I was supposed to run the Cherry Tree 10 Mile Race in Brooklyn as my first "official" race of 2010. Since I ran this same race last year, my performance in this race was not only supposed to give me a sense of my current level of fitness, it was also supposed to tell me where I am now as compared to the same point last year. In short, this race was supposed to be a big "fitness test" for me.

Maybe I should have informed the MTA before making such grandiose plans. Apparently on the weekends, two hours isn't enough buffer time to go from East Queens to Prospect Park in the middle of Brooklyn, a trip that would take an hour tops on the weekdays. Aside from "weekend construction" halting the F train randomly on the edge of Brooklyn necessitating a transfer to a shuttle bus for the rest of the trip, they left me high and dry this morning when it refused to even show for 40 minutes! C'mon MTA! By the time I found one and got myself moving into Manhattan, it was already too late. There would be no way I'd make it to the race in time. I was almost beside myself in annoyance and anger!

Since my chance at an "official" race was now shot, I made the executive decision that I'd hold my own "unofficial" race of one and rerouted my travels toward Central Park. Along the way, I thought about what my "unofficial" race parameters should be. In the back of my mind, I vaguely remember racing myself through two loops of Central Park a year ago in preparation in Boston. I remember pulling off an average pace of around 6:45 in that race simulation and afterwards feeling quite confident of my chances in running a good marathon. So I thought I would make that my target today to have a repeat performance as both a personal fitness test and a race goal.

Fifteen minutes later, dressed in my Saucony race jacket over a long sleeve tech shirt and race shorts that haven't been worn since last summer, I found myself at the foot of the Fred Lebow statue with a few dozen other runners but no other participants, anxious to start my unofficial secret race.

In retrospect, I probably should not have psyched myself so much in anticipation of this run because I made the same mistake I always do in races - I started out too fast. Mile 1 came in at 6:24, and Mile 2 (which included the gnarly Harlem Hill) came in at 6:31. By the time I was done with my first 5K, I was ready to throw in the towel. Somehow, I battled through, barely maintaining mile 5 and mile 6 at marathon pace (6:52) and finish the first loop (6.07 miles) in 40:29 for a 6:40 average pace.

At this point, it was approaching noon, I was sweating profusely and my heart rate (after passing through the gauntlet of Cat Hill) was through the roof. I thought about quitting seeing as I was in no shape to tackle all those hills a second time. But then I remembered that this was no ordinary workout nor for that matter an ordinary race. This was a secret race against me. No one out here knows I'm struggling. No one out here is passing me by. So technically I'm still winning! For some reason that was all the motivation I needed (after shedding my jacket and taking a sip of Gatorade) for me to start the second loop.

Maybe I was more aware of myself. Maybe I was much more conscious of not overextending my pace. Whatever the reason was, the second loop went so much better for me. I slowed down. The pace became more stable and consistent and I didn't feel like puking even after sprinting in at the last mile. Woohoo! As an added bonus, I even negatively splitted each section by a couple of seconds despite the fact that my average heart rate didn't budge at all through the whole second loop. I finished the second six mile (6.07 miles) loop in 40:53 for an average pace of 6:44.

Altogether then, I finished my unofficial secret 12.14 mile race in 1:21:22, which is an average pace of 6:42 min/mi. When I got home, I saw that my race of similar distance last year was run in 12 seconds slower which meant that I captured the gold in this race of one today. Yeah baby! (On a side note, last year's race of one was actually done on March 12, which meant I am one month ahead of schedule even though my target marathon is two weeks later! Score and double score!)

So in the end, although I never got a chance to test my fitness in an officially scored race, I was still able to hold my own unofficial race and claim my own personal victory. I even learned and re-learned some valuable lessons that I can incorporate into future workouts. Not bad I'd say for recovering a good workout after missing a highly anticipated race. Take that, MTA!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Pitchers and Catchers" and Freezing Temperatures

I knew I was in trouble when I read a twitter feed for "Pitchers and Catchers" early yesterday morning and the first thing that popped into my head was "Who's hosting an English tea party?" Then as I was commuting on my way to work and found my favorite running trail still covered in snow, I literally almost wanted to cry. If you think I'm exaggerating, let me point out one simple fact. Exactly one year ago, the temperature outside was 48 degrees F. 48 DEGREES! (I keep a record of such things in my training log. Yeah, I admit it. I'm a total numbers geek!) By comparison, yesterday's high for the day was 34F. In fact, if you went back and tracked the weather history, you'd see that we only had one day so far this year when the actual temperature was above 40F. One whole day. For the rest of the time, we always seem to be caught in some wintry concoction of wind, cold, and snow. So much so that I really forgot what spring, sunlight and warmth feel like anymore!

As a marathoner who trained through the winter last year for Boston '09, I really have no right to complain about the foul weather. After all, you'd think I'd gained some experience running in the cold from that adventure. But when you consider the fact that average temps this year are generally about 5-10 degrees colder than they were last year, I think we're dealing with a whole another level of misery and nastiness this year. I, for one, has just about had it with the cold weather. In reviewing my training for my last blog post and previewing the list of 18-22 milers I have left to tackle before I hit the marathon starting line down by the Jersey shore in early May, I'm ready to throw in the towel, switch to the half marathon and climb back in my cozy bed. Seriously!

Dressed in my multi-layered clothing and long pants, I feel so heavy, so uncomfortable and so slow whenever I run outside. Patches of snow and ice causing me to slip, slide, and fall doesn't help matters either. And where I run where even pedestrian traffic is few and far between, I rarely encounter other runners sharing the roads with me, which often leaves me questioning my sanity by the end of my run. Yet, I keep repeating the cycle four or five days each week hoping that the conditions or my sentiments will change. They don't really, but I have faith that they will. After all, the calendar says its mid February and at this same point last year, I already ran a 1:26 half marathon in a race where the thermometer hit 56 degrees. So I ask again, how long will it be before we see 50 or even 45 here in the city? How long will it be before I can run along the West or East Side Drives without a winter jacket and not feel like I just woke up from anesthesia? How long do we have until Spring arrives? After all, it's pitchers and catchers this week. Pitchers and Catchers. And that is all I'm going to say about that!

Monday, February 15, 2010

NJM Training Update

Given that I'm five weeks into this training cycle and about to run my first official race of 2010 this coming weekend, I thought it'd be appropriate to assess and analyze how my training for the New Jersey Marathon has been progressing so far. For the purposes of this discussion, it might be helpful to refer to the training plan as it was originally designed. (see here)

For those who like things short and sweet, I'll give you the pictorial version:

For those who prefer a longer and more detailed explanation, I decided to bring things up in terms of the workouts I deem most important in terms of marathon preparation. In all the previous marathons I've run, I can almost always predict my successes and failures on the road based on the progress (or lack thereof) I've made on these specific workouts. Although the number and variety of these sessions have increased over the years, I think the general goal of optimizing aerobic fitness and improving running economy while incorporating speed, strength, and endurance have remained pretty much the same. Here then is how I've done on my key workouts:

Long Runs - 17 Miles & Up
Scheduled - 2; Completed - 3
Assessment: Since it's early (5 weeks in, 11 more to go), all my long runs thus far have been 18 miles or less. I inadvertently did one more than I was supposed to last week when I a ran a few more miles with a very fun friend (TK of pigtailsflying - read her report of our exploits), albeit at a slower pace for me. Overall, I think I'm doing okay in this department although I have a little trouble maintaining a steady pace in the cold and windy conditions I've been doing these in. I'm experimenting with fueling as I run these to get a sense of how to get the most "bang for the buck" in the later miles. (I want to find ways to avoid the energy-sag in miles 20-22 if I can). Going forward, I realize I need to practice LSDs on long stretches of flats because I think I tend to lose focus when there aren't uphills and downhills to break up the monotony (one of the pitfalls of doing most long runs in Central Park). As I have multiple 20-milers scheduled in next several weeks, I still have ample opportunity to work on this part of the mental game.

Tempo Runs (6M@6:30; 4M@6:25; 5M@6:25)
Scheduled - 3; Completed - 3
Assessment: Since I've been running tempos since my first marathon, I approach these sessions almost like visiting an old friend. Although they can be exhausting, especially when you blast off at the beginning and run the first mile at interval pace like I tend to do, I feel familiar and comfortable with these workouts. I love the feeling of being in the tempo zone where you're running much faster than you are accustomed to but not too fast that you feel you're about to keel over at any second. The trick is to sustain that effort for as long as possible before your mind starts to get bored or panic that the end is still too far away. Going forward, I know I have a bad habit of starting too quick, sagging in middle, and sprinting to make my time in the last mile. And this is sometime I hope to work on in the next few sessions

Speed Intervals (4x800's; 5x800's; 4x1M)
Scheduled - 3; Completed - 2
Assessment: This year, I'm trying to take emphasis off mile repeats, which I've been accustomed to for a long time and focus more on running 800s which I only discovered last fall. It is ironic then that I failed in my only mile repeat session of this training cycle session so far. In retrospect, I knew I wasn't ready to do that particular workout because I was coming off a double long double speedwork session a couple of days prior and sub-6 pace was a bit aggressive for so early in this training cycle. The two 800s sessions however were less of a struggle for me. I have been doing these on the treadmill exclusively because there really isn't any track close by to where I live. Maybe I will measure out a piece of road so I can run these outdoors in the future but for now, I like being able to set a specific pace and not have to check my watch for my split times while I'm running. Going forward, I want to get my comfortable running at 800 pace as I increase the number of sets gradually to 8.

Marathon Paced (6M@6:52)
Scheduled - 1; Completed - 2
Assessment: Again, because it's still early, MP runs have been few and far between. I ran a scheduled one in the second week of training and an unscheduled one in the fourth week when I mistakenly ran a progressive eight miler as a marathon paced six mile run. Since the objective here is to get the body familiar with moving at marathon pace, I think it's important to avoid fluctuations in speed for these as you're running. I have a tendency to run these 5-10 secs/mi faster than I should, which kind of defeats the purpose. Going forward, I must concentrate on maintain a narrower window in my pace and slowing down to a more suitable speed for these workouts.

Hill Workouts (4xHill, 5xHill)
Scheduled - 2; Completed - 1
Assessment: So these for me are completely new. I completely sucked it up for the first workout because I set my inclines way too high (at 6 and 7%) for a beginning getting started in treadmill hill training. The second workout went a lot better as I set my inclines at 4 and 5% which is about the grading of Harlem Hill and a little more. I was able to finish five sets without feeling completely exhausted. Although I am running a flat marathon, I'm hoping these workouts will help me build some leg strength and execute a good sprint in the later miles when I'll be doubting myself and fighting fatigue.

Easy/Recovery Runs
Assessement: I've been fairly successful keeping these low intensity workouts at the appropriate intensity and heart rate zone. Sometimes I get antsy that I'm dragging a bit and running paces that are so slow for me (7:40-8 min/mi) but I try to remember the overall purpose for these runs is for muscle building and repairing. Keeping my eyes on heart rate and not pace as I'm running has proven quite beneficial. Also, I should avoid thinking about what my average pace was for most of my runs at this point last year.

Final Analysis:
Overall, I think I'm pretty satisfied with how things have been going so far. I haven't as yet missed a scheduled run, my weekly mileage is always a few miles more than what I planned and I'm definitely running more than I was at this point last year when I was training for Boston (despite it being about 5 degrees colder on average than last year!) I'm slightly anxious that I don't have any objective measure of my progress so far since I haven't as yet run any races, but this will change later this weekend after the Cherry Tree Ten Miler in Prospect Park. One thing I do note though is that my legs feel stronger and healthier than they've been in a very long time. No twinges, no pain, no feelings of instability even on my speedier workouts (Knocking on wood right now!). That's a very good sign heading into the bulk of the training plan where there will be more miles, more long runs, and more hills, tempos, and intervals to tackle. I'm cautiously optimistic to see what the spring may bring!
Now, if only the sunnier weather and warmer temperatures can get here sooner rather than later...that would be most fabulous!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

National Marathon Needs Your Help

Hey All! Thanks for leaving me so many thoughtful comments in my last series of posts. I think I may or may not have slightly indulged on my own feelings of guilt following the missed diagnosis. Well, I'm happy to report that Brenda has since checked into a residential treatment facility for ED and is on her way to recovery. Yay!

It's been a while since I've actually used this running blog to talk about running so I'm planning to update you all on the status of my marathon training. Look out for that in the next day or two.

In the meantime, I was made aware by a friend this morning that the National Marathon which is taking place in our nation's capital on March 20, 2010 is in desperate need of volunteers. They are a few thousand short! Wow...think about all the people that suffered and trained through the depths of this unforgiving winter. What would happen if they can't hold this race? Wouldn't that be so so horrible? As fellow half-marathon and marathon runners, I don't think we should let that happen. So if you are in the local area of Washington DC and have a free Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, please consider helping out! I know the runners will be so very grateful! I'm not running this event but I'm planning to travel down and help out (as long as I can rearrange my weekend hospital coverage responsibilities!) So even if no one there thanks you personally, I'll come by, say hi, and give you my autograph if you have something for me to sign. Haha! Who knows, if enough people show, I might lead a group run around the city.

The list of volunteer times and responsibilities is here. Please sign up if you can. If you can't, ask a friend who can. Then drop me a line in the comments and let me know so I can thank you more personally...maybe even with a gift? We'll see, we'll see!

Hope you all are having a fine week. I'll be back with an update soon!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Revealing The Impostor (Part II)

(Thank you all for the powerful and insightful comments in Part I. It definitely left an impression on me as I'm sure for most of my loyal blog readers as well. In fact, I would argue it is required reading for all who care for little girls. It's never too early to leave a life-saving impression!)

Although many of my colleague are quick to condemn Brenda for lying to them about her mysterious ailments and chronic medical conditions that seemed to defy a physiologic explanation, I for one, cannot bring myself to cast a similar stone. Maybe it's because I can see more clearly the good despite the bad afterhaving spent more time with her in the recent past than all the others. Or perhaps, more importantly, I have come to realize that my life as a sponsored athlete (at least for the first week) isn't in actuality all that different from hers. In my case, I am asked to excel both in my professional life and in my athletic pursuits. Because of my status as a sponsored athlete, I feel an obligation both internally and externally to do the absolute best that I can in my target races despite the fact that I know I am neither capable of winning a race or an age group award. So I ask you, as I ask myself multiple times in the past week, isn't that a form of self-delusion? To act the role and play the part despite all evidence to the contrary, isn't that the motto of an impostor?

Before you answer that and further incriminate yourself, I would submit that as runners, we are all impostors on some inherent and subconscious level. For what do we do in the hours, minutes, and seconds right before a goal race but visualize in our minds our victories at the line. We make plans, write down goals and conduct ourselves as if we know we'll ultimately achieve our goal. Whether we get there or fail miserably on race day isn't really the point. The point is whether we prepared adequately, trained hard, and fueled properly to delude ourselves into thinking we have a chance, because as everyone knows, winning the battle of the mind is 90% of the war. To some you might be an impostor. To others you are just one of us, a real world runner.

So I ask again, who's really the impostor here?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Revealing The Impostor (Part I)

My general pediatrician friend stopped me in the hallway, in the middle of my self-congratulatory sponsorship announcement to my colleagues, to ask if I remembered the patient Brenda I consulted on last week.

Brenda (again not her real name) was the last patient of an otherwise uninspiring clinic the week prior. She was seeing me for a six month history of amenorrhea. Because she was heavily involved in sports, I remembered her well. "The basketball player. Planning to join crew in the spring. Real skinny girl. Yeah, what about her?" I asked.

My friend had that smirky half smile that smelled trouble. "I just got off the phone with her school principal. One of her teachers caught her purging in the bathroom after lunch today."

"Really?" I offered, somewhat astounded by the news.

"Turns out this wasn't the first time. Some of other kids on the basketball team have reported seeing her doing the same thing when they're out eating after away games."

"But she's such a good kid." I replied, flipping through my internal patient log to review what red flag questions I might have failed to ask that would have pointed me toward anorexia.

"They always are. They always are. They're imposters. They get perfect grades. They have perfect friends. Their parents sees them as perfect kids. And they also learned how to give perfect answers in doctors' offices too . Yet, underneath all that perfection, hides a little girl with a very dark secret and an eating disorder."

I nodded, humbled by own inability to make the right diagnosis.

"Don't feel bad, you weren't the first doctor that she's duped." My friend said, patting me on the shoulder as she spoke.

"But I spent an hour with her last week talking about her periods. AN HOUR! How could I not have seen it coming?"

"You see this?" She said as she holds up a chart the size of a medical textbook for me to see. "She's gone through everybody. Nobody suspected. Nobody knew. I'm got a psychiatrist to call and an eating disorder clinic referral to make so I'll see you later."

She walks away as I gave her a short wave. Luckily, my colleagues have all since gone way too, leaving me to wonder if Brenda had indeed fabricated the details of her life when she gave me her history last week or if I wanted to buy into her perfect life for more personal reasons.

Later that night out on the park roads as I was pounding out 5 sets of Yasso 800s at 2:55 pace with the omnipresent moon my only witness, I thought alot about Brenda and how, as an honor student and a star athlete, she must have felt so much pressure from all her peers, her family and her teachers to do the right thing from an early age. She must have gotten so used to doing the right thing and acting the part that she lost all sense of self she ever had. Maybe I am extrapolating, but her double life seems so sad to me. I can't help wondering if her anorexic symptoms was her body's way of letting go, all along a planned escape, a masked cry for help. Maybe getting caught and being forced to deal with her issues before she got really sick or done something worse IS the best thing that could have happened to her. I just wished I could have seen this coming, I wish I could have known. If I ever have the opportunity in the future, I would ask her if it was all worth it, to play the part of a perfect life but lose your sense of self in the process?
I want to know: What's life like living as an impostor?

(To be continued...)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Greetings, Goodbyes and A Secret Revealed

As a general rule, I hate goodbyes - long ones, especially. They do nothing but incite negative emotions, pointless platitudes, and meaningless half-truths from the parties involved. But because I have such strong mixed emotions about this first opening month of the new decade, I feel as if I need to give it a proper sendoff before welcoming on the new month.


Dear January,

Maybe we got off on the wrong foot. What, with the sub-freezing temps at the New Year's Eve Run in Central Park, and the three-day twelve hour weekend shift I had to work that long holiday weekend, I was seriously dreading what you had in store for me for the rest of the month. Although I was expecting some rain, some snow, and one or two colder days, the deep freeze you submerged me into for a couple of the weekends really threw a wrench into both my running and non-running plans. But despite our differences, particularly on what constitute normal weather for this time of year, you've turned out to be a tremendously successful month for me, and now I'm very saddened to see you go. Together, not only did we complete a 50+ mile training week on our way to 175 miles for the month (my highest January total ever!), we also met some new twitter friends, paced another to a PR in a half marathon, and attributed some non-running accolades as well (1st place in 16-team fantasy football, 2nd place in weekly pick'em game). But the achievement I'm most proud of is something that came as a complete surprise to me last week. It is an honor bestowed upon me by an awesome company (Saucony) at the recommendation of an astute runner/blogger (Thanks Dorothy). For as the calendar change to the month of February, I'm now a sponsored athlete.

The secret is now out. I'm an official member of the Saucony Hurricanes! It's been almost a week and I'm still a bit overwhelmed and not exactly sure how my running life will change as a result of this huge honor. I will definitely have more to say about this at a later date. For now, I must bid you adieu and farewell, January! You've been a friend and I've truly benefited from your company. Let's hope February and all the months after can take your cue and bring out the best in me as well. But whatever happens from here on out, this already has been a truly unforgettable year!


The Laminator
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