Monday, April 26, 2010

Yesterday I ran the MORE women's half-marathon in Central Park. This race had been in the works for a long time - I think I registered in January - and as it approached and various events (and injuries) kept me from training properly, I began to increasingly dread it. It turned out, I was right to dread it, because it was pretty awful.*

The problems started before the race began, with the fact that it was raining. Not a gentle happy spring rain; this was serious water. Also, I was lazy about getting up, which means I didn't really have sufficient time to go through my full stretching / breakfast routine and was probably not as mentally prepared as I could have been.

The race itself seemed reasonably organized, but there is just no avoiding, in a race of that size, that you are going to be tripping over people for most of the first mile. The problem is exacerbated by people in groups and walkers who somehow have started in front of you. I can never decide if something like this is good in a long race because it keeps you from starting out too fast, or bad because you use up a lot of energy running around people and you get frustrated right off the bat. (In a short race, it's unmitigatedly bad because if you're running for time, the thirty or sixty seconds you lose in the first mile might not be regainable later and average out to a noticeable per-mile time increase.)

The first three or four miles were uneventful, and I ran at a comfortable pace and walked through water stations, but then we hit a big hill. I hadn't been expecting this because all the other races I've run in the park have taken a different path that avoids this. It is definitely the biggest hill on the course. About halfway up I realized that many of the people around me were walking, and that I wasn't going much faster than them, so I decided it would be better to save my energy and walk too.

Coming down the west side of the park, I was starting to get tired, and it was just so wet. My hamstrings were sore. I thought briefly about bailing on the race - I would say I seriously considered it, but we all know that my legs would have to actually fall off of my body in order for me to stop running a race in the middle - but then the leader passed us - there weren't a lot of elite runners in that race, but there were a few - and we cheered and I felt a little better.

And then I started to make mistakes. I've noticed that I lose the ability to think clearly when I'm tired. I needed to use the bathroom - expected in a race of this length - and ended up waiting in line for the port-a-potties by the entrance, which had no toilet paper (which was especially bad because all the tissues I'd been carrying were soaked). If I'd been thinking clearly, I could have waited another mile, perhaps saved a couple minutes of waiting, and probably gotten toilet paper.

I also failed to take my second gu. I took the first one at the five-mile mark and had been planning to take the second one at nine miles, but I just... didn't. They had gatorade on the course but I was only drinking water, because gatorade is gross. Everyone has their own amount of gu that they need, but I think if I had taken the second gu the last few miles would have gone a lot better.

The third thing that happened, which was not my fault, was that my left hamstring seized up at 7 or 8 miles. I had to stop and stretch it, and it hurt the whole rest of the way. I also took off my glasses around this point, because they were so wet and foggy (and I no longer had even wet tissues to wipe them with) that my inability to see was less ridiculous without them. It was also just so wet. I seemed to be getting wetter and wetter, which of course at this point was not actually possible. There were rivers of water running down the sides of the road at every hill, huge standing puddles, the cups at the water stations were overflowing with rain.

At about 9 miles was where it started to go downhill for real. Before that, the race kind of sucked, in that it was raining and I wasn't making great time, but nothing awful had happened. I was still trotting along at an acceptable pace. But then we hit the big hill for the second time (the race was two loops around the park, plus a little bit) and I was just not happy at all. I walked parts of the hill, but the race marshalls were yelling at us to get a move on (which they had no business doing because we were nowhere near the back of the race - the course had a time limit of 4 hours, and there was a long tail of walkers) so I didn't want to walk too much, and of course I had less energy than I had the first time around.

And then it just got worse and worse. Every mile was longer and harder than the mile before. I started having to walk more often, not just at water stations but also on big hills. It seemed like everyone around me was doing so much better, although I kept being passed by the same people over and over again (i.e. I would pass them while they were walking, then they would pass me) and of course I couldn't see how tired they might have felt. Even at twelve miles, when I'd gone around the park twice and just had to run the bottom edge, with no big hills, and finish, I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm. In fact, at that point I very nearly broke down crying because I was so upset that the race had beaten me. For the last mile, I was switching back and forth between a very slow run and a very slow walk every one to three minutes (I was actually counting steps, running 200 or 300 or 400 and then walking 100).

I did manage to run the last tenth of a mile, basically out of shame, and I finished the race. Afterwards my legs basically gave out, and stumbled to the grass on the side of the road, where I plopped down in the mud. I had been sniffling and whinging to myself for the last couple of miles of the race - it hurt and I had to keep going - and now I started to cry in earnest. Which was actually a good thing because it flushed a lot of the mud and salt out of my eyes. I also realized at this point how much easier the race might have been if I hadn't run it solo... on the one hand, everyone has their own pace and their own needs for rest, and running with somebody interrupts your rhythm. On the other hand, it might have relieved the isolation and boredom (my ipod died at some point on the course, presumably a drowning death) and helped me keep my spirits up, which might have led to a better endrace. It also would have meant I'd have had someone to help me get up out of the mud. My journey home, not actually a long walk under normal circumstances, was a lengthy, frigid, wet odyssey, and then I spent about half an hour in the shower trying to soak up enough hot water to get warm.

So, not my best race. But I did survive it. I was sore and hobbly all day yesterday, but I feel substantially better today (although needless to say I will not be going running). My finish time was a full minute per mile slower than I had hoped to run, a good deal of which is probably attributable to the rain, both directly and indirectly, as well as to the mistakes I've described.

It's easy to remember only the last three or four ignominious miles, when I let the race defeat me. But I need to also remember that I haven't run any distance this long since the marathon (and associated training) in 2007. Sure, the first half of that marathon was a lot easier than this half-marathon - but I had trained with much longer distances up to 21 miles. And some of it is just that runs are widely variable. I ran a 9-mile race three weeks ago, and I didn't feel as tired during any of it as I felt at the nine-mile point of this race... but when I did the full marathon in 2007, I felt far worse at 20 miles than I felt at any point in my 21-mile training race.

From here I need to take a short break and then resume training, because there is another half marathon in four weeks. I am hoping this race constitutes some degree of training for that one, and if I get the chance I'm also going to try to fit in one more long (ten-ish miles?) run. I'm also going to make sure to actually take my gu properly, and I'm going to hope that this time it doesn't rain.

* You might be one of those people who thinks that any half-marathon would be awful. This is true, if you are not trained properly. I was not trained properly, which was most of the problem.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why I will not end up like the lady I saw in the subway station coming back from the ballet, who had a sign saying "I am homeless and have five cats and AIDS":
  1. I am not homeless, yet.
  2. I do not have five cats.  I do not even have one cat.  I have three dogs, but they are stuffed animals.
  3. I do not have AIDS.
  4. Arithmetic.  I have a checking account, which contains enough money for me to live on for three or four months.  Also I have other monies, although they are hard or strongly inadvisable to spend, on which I could live for at least two years.  And credit cards; I could build up debt if I needed to.
  5. Right now, at least, I have a job.  I get paid once a month.  I am almost certain to get paid at the end of this month.  I am supposed to get paid  for three months after that, assuming I don't leave or get fired.  I think I will be fired when my boss finds a new researcher, but I think he is likely to give me a full month's notice.
  6. I have parents.  My parents have an indeterminate amount of money, certainly enough to buy groceries for me to eat, and a house with extra bedrooms.  It would be unpleasant to have to live with them, but preferable to living in the subway.
  7. I have friends.  In New York and in other locations.  Some would probably let me stay with them, or rent me a room in their house or apartment for far less than it costs to live in New York.
  8. There is COBRA, right?  So I would not get sick and die?  It costs a lot of money, but it is better than getting sick and dying.
  9. On a more practical level, I have a college degree.  I have a couple of degrees, actually.  Probably more degrees than the cat lady.  Also skills of some sort, I think.
  10. Yes.  Skills.  I can program a computer, kind of.  I am not a bad writer.  Technical things need to be written.  I was a receptionist one summer, and I am okay at answering phones with lots of lines.  I could be like Pam in The Office.  We have similar hair, and I actually really like her wardrobe in the first couple seasons.  Also, I know lots of useless things... I could be a tutor, or I could teach SAT prep classes.  I think I know someone who used to do that.  
There is not a real danger of me turning into the homeless cat lady.  A lot of things would have to go very far wrong for that to happen (although I bet the homeless cat lady would have thought so too, before she was a homeless cat lady).

But there is a real danger of other things.  Like of not having a job.  I have never not had a job.  I have never really had a job, either.  But I've never had nothing.  There is a danger of failing.  I have lived my life in such a way as to minimize that danger, or at least minimize my perception of that danger.  There is a danger of screwing up, of disappointing people, of getting rejected.  There is a danger of being a failure.  I am not supposed to be a failure.  You do not think this because you know me from my blog, where I am a failure all the time, but actually there are a whole group of people who think I am smart and competent and successful, or at least there used to be.  There is a danger that I will not be able to convince anyone else that this is the sort of person I can be.  There is a danger that I am so unlikeable that nobody who interviews me will want to hire me.  I could turn out to be too fat to work in the private sector - every single professional woman in this city is a solid two dress sizes smaller than me, which is actually quite a lot of dress sizes considering that I am not huge - or not know how to put on makeup properly (I cannot even curl my eyelashes without a major incident).  My programming skills could not be good enough.  Somebody asked me at an interview what is my favorite kind of math, and I don't know any math.  I said differential equations, which used to be true, but I have forgotten them.  Also topology.  But this was years ago.  What if I am just not as smart as I used to be?  What if my mother is right and I'm not cut out for a real job?  What if the private sector is for men and women who know how to deal with them?  What if the problem is that I don't wear nail polish?  Am I supposed to wear nail polish?  How do people learn how to shake hands?  Maybe my suits don't fit right, or I'm wearing the wrong tops and accessories with them.  I do not know what a hash table is, and I think I am supposed to.  I have business cards now, but who do I give them to?  What is the reason any company should hire me?  What on earth do I have to bring to the job?  No company has ever hired me.  Maybe I interview badly, or my cover letter is awful, or I am secretly giving off "don't hire me" vibes.  Obviously I am.  I have no more interviews lined up.  What if I am doing something wrong, and I don't know what it is?


I know what that feeling is now, the one I've had in my throat and
stomach all week, that gets worse every day and makes it hard to walk
and breathe and sleep and eat (usually nothing makes it hard for me to
eat), that makes me pick fights with everyone and cry for no reason,
that makes me think I will die from misery if it gets any worse and
then it does get worse and somehow I do not die. The feeling is
uncertainty, and I do not like it.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, April 12, 2010

What I've Been Up To

Not blogging, obviously. Fortunately, I have many devoted readers (read: two, or possibly three) who all subscribe to my RSS feed and will be thrilled to see that I have something to say, except that at least two of them are the people I talk to most and therefore have heard it. But for the 0.5 average remaining readers, this will be a news-filled post.
  • I've been running a fair amount. Except I'm going to have to stop that for a little while, because now I have what seems to be "runners knee". The causes of this, according to my running book, include weak quadriceps [my quads have been sore for about a week, so this seems likely], overstriding [meaning, in my case, trying to take proper running steps rather than little old-lady shuffles so that, in race photos, you look like you have both feet on the ground at all times], and overtraining [so, um, running]. So basically, I've been getting cocky, doing speed work during medium-length runs instead of proper long runs (which is what I'm supposed to be doing to train for the half-marathon I'm running in less than two weeks), and yesterday - when I was already pretty ripped up - I decided that, with the good weather and so forth, it was the time to set a less-ridiculously-slow pace so that I'd hopefully be in a decent corral in future runs, and I did - yay! I beat my own personal race record, and as far as I know my personal training record for 4-mile runs (I've run a 5k at a faster pace during training), and I was very pleased - and now I can barely walk and have to go down stairs like the old lady I am apparently destined to move like. So I am making friends with my ice pack.
  • Traveling. I went out of town four times in the month of March. (1) Interview trip to North Carolina, which was quick and super-busy but not actively bad. (2) Conference trip to Portland, Oregon, which was weather-ridden but pleasantly social once I got there. (3) Passover trip to my parents' house. Predictably familial. Nobody killed anybody else. (4) Fun weekend in Boston, in order to decompress from trips (1)-(3).
  • Applying for jobs. Basically any jobs. This turns out (surprise, surprise) to be a bit of a challenge, since (a) we are still in the middle of a recession, at least as far as employment goes, (b) I am undertaking a significant career shift, which means that I have to find ways to make the last ten years sound like it was not a waste of time and/or irrelevant to anything a given company might pay anyone to do but was actually important and enriching training for my ultimate employment as a productive and valued professional, and (perhaps most importantly), (c) I have never seriously looked for a job before, or rather, I have never continued looking for a job long enough to find one, instead electing to continue my education or current employment, or taking positions that more or less happened upon me through my connections (none of which are of much use outside of my immediate field). So it is ... well, tough, and I have no idea how it will turn out, which is an attribute I generally avoid, which makes it tougher.
  • Watching a lot of The Office. It's on quite frequently, and if I'm home and not doing anything terribly engrossing (reading about jobs I am not qualified for is not terribly engrossing) I generally have it on as background noise. It's an excellent blend of optimism (since Jim and Pam eventually get together) and nihilism (since, well, everything else). And even their jobs would be a step up from my current gig.
  • Making coffee. My new coffeemaker is basically the best thing ever. I had a coffeemaker before, but my old roommate appropriated it. Now I have my very on, and it is silvery and pretty and I can make coffee every morning if I want, and if I run out I can make more. It is probably a tiny bit sad that a coffeemaker makes me so happy, but since I cannot wear my new running skirt as my knee hurts too much to run, there it is.