Long Weekends, Long Runs

Hope you all had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend! I spent my time off balancing pure relaxation and pushing my limits. All in all it was pretty fun!

 

I’ve found that double digit runs have been very intimidating for me personally, even though I’ve done a few of them already. There’s reticence on my end since I usually have to prep a bit for it. A 3, 4, 5, or 6 mile run requires nothing more than staying hydrated beforehand and then eating immediately afterwards…and usually sunscreen 20 minutes before I leave.

However, when a run goes into 10, 11, 12, 13+ mile range, I usually load up my hydration pack and a few portable snacks since I get hungry pretty easily. Then comes the lag. I take forever to get dressed. I walk circles around my apartment — even though it’s pretty small — and make excuses and procrastinate. I start flipping through magazines or organizing my desk, cleaning out the fridge, fix my hair…pretty much anything except get myself out of the door. The last bit of procrastination usually includes me laying down on my couch for a bit and visualizing my run. I never really know what gets me up off that couch and out the door but it does and I get on with it.

It’s not so much the dread of feeling tired, or getting sweaty, or whatever other excuse I can come up with, that gets in the way. For some strange reason I’m always paranoid that I won’t finish my run. It sounds ridiculous because all I have to do is choose to end it — I can cut it short, I can take a detour, I can stop and enjoy a park, or I can extend it — so really, “finishing” is relative. Finishing a run is not really the same as finishing school, finishing a project, or finishing the course of a relationship. Or perhaps it really is the same, since we are all in control of our choices, our happiness, and how we manage the things that effect us.

There’s almost an invisible amount of pressure on me that I’ve really just fabricated. Being enrolled in a marathon training class is a little pressure, but it’s really the good kind. I’ve enjoyed it thus far but what I’ve missed the most lately is running just for the sake of running — not to train for something, not to qualify for a race, not to check in or check out, but just for the sheer fun of it.

Today I decided to take a different mental approach and re-run a very difficult course with the mentality that I was just running for fun. (I of course checked in to it!) I focused on a few things: 1) keeping my composure, 2) smiling a bit more at strangers, 3) enjoying the scenery and 4) maintaining a consistent pace. I ran through Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, Sunset Blvd/The Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and back to Miracle Mile. With that attitude, my run was an absolute breeze!! I enjoyed a beautiful sunset along the Sunset Strip, and enjoyed magic hour in Beverly Hills. It was night by the time I made my way though WeHo and back towards my home and when I ran through the final streetlight, I didn’t feel a bit tired. My knees were a bit achy, but my breathing wasn’t labored and my energy wasn’t shot. Los Angeles is so beautiful, especially on the tail end of a long weekend that vacates the city. With the wind this weekend, the skies were clean and clear. For once I felt like I had the city all to myself…and I treasured every minute of it.

Now that I’ve taken this route a second time, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for some interesting photos. Next time I run this same route, I’ll create a photo album so that you guys get to see what I see! After this weekend I feel confident that I will be able to successfully take on the 15K in Santa Barbara on July 4th without a problem. I’m so excited to make my way back to Santa Barbara again…I am positive that the course will be absolutely stunning.

To end an otherwise great weekend, I received this nugget of genius in my email box just a few minutes ago…

Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself. -John Bingham

Recent Read: Born To Run

I started this book today waiting for the Metro to take me home from my just-completed 13 mile point-to-point run from my apartment to the ocean. It came highly recommended by a client who also happens to be a triathlete.

I’m about halfway through it so far and I’m impressed — it’s linear insomuch that it reconstructs the chronology of particular chance encounters but also spins off into sub-chapters explaining the characteristics that each of the ultrarunners bring to the game. I’ve excerpted a few of my favorite passages below.

(Update: I’ve finished the book and it was great! I loved the storytelling aspect as the writer follows many different runners on their journey. The only part I didn’t like was that there was one small portion where the author was hypocritical: he makes a mention of an unsaid runners code of ethics, but then manages to slam another professional runner a few pages later. I wonder why the editor let that one slide by!)

Pick it up! My rating: 8/10

* * *

“Lesson two….think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooth. You don’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

* * *

Was Zatopek a great man who happen to run, or a great man because he ran? Vigil couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed — haven’t they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strands of DNA? We wouldn’t be alive without love; we wouldn’t have survived without running; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.”

* * *

That fall, a photo appeared in UltraRunning Magazine. It shows Jenn finishing a 30-mile race somewhere in the backwoods of Virginia. There’s nothing amazing about her performance (third place), or her getup (basic black shorts, basic black sports bra), or even the camera work (dimly let, crudely cropped). Jenn isn’t battling a rival to the bitter end, or striding across a mountaintop with the steel-jawed majesty of a Nike model, or gasping toward glory with a grimace of heartbreaking determination. All she’s doing is…running. Running, and smiling. But that smile is strangely stirring. You can tell she’s having an absolute blast, as if there’s nothing on earth she’d rather be doing and nowhere on earth she’d rather be doing it than here, on this lost trail in the middle of the Appalachian wilderness. Even though she’s just run four miles further than a marathon, she looks light-footed and carefree, her eyes twinkling, her ponytail swinging around her head like a shirt in the fist of a triumphant Brazilian soccer player. Her naked delight is unmistakable; it forces a smile to her lips that’s so honest and unguarded, you feel she’s lost in the grip of artistic inspiration.

* * *

Ann liked to tell her friends that running huge miles in the mountains was “very romantic.” But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget that you’re moving. And once you break through that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up.

* * *

 

Back in the Saddle, Back in the Water

This was definitely a week of firsts!

 

I got on my bike three days this week — and if you count the two roundtrip courses I had to do, it was five! Even though I am still relearning a lot of the basics I thought that I’d manipulate myself into riding it a bit more seriously — so, I decided that I would ride to work on those few occasions. It was a bit tough — one of the locations I work at is only a mile or so from my apartment and the roads are relatively smooth, so the ride was fantastic. The sidewalks were wide open, there weren’t very many cars on the road, and overall it was a relatively simple ride. There is even a private lot that I get to park in so I don’t have to worry about locking it up. The other place, unfortunately, is in downtown Hollywood…and the ride there is incredibly intimidating, not to mention bumpy. The roads are poorly maintained, the drivers are pretty much insane, and pedestrians are slow, so I feel bottlenecked everywhere. I have to chain the bike to a fence on the ground level and my office is on the 9th floor, so every so often I’d have to peek out of the window to check to see if my bike was still there.

Overall I feel a little more comfortable on it. I still get pretty scared if a car gets too close to comfort. I have my instances where I just get off of my bike and walk it. Bumps in the sidewalk and street seem a little less insurmountable now that I’ve gone over them quite a few times. The starting and stopping is definitely getting better too, and I’m finally getting the hang of my handbrakes. (Thanks for the tip, Gabe!) Both days I was nervous (not to mention sweaty and icky!) as heck but in both instances I made it back safe and sound. This week I also bought a helmet and a bike pump. My next purchase will probably be a bell (although a fog horn would be pretty fun)…I’m noticing that people aren’t really getting out of the way, mainly because they don’t see or hear me…and frankly, I’d feel a bit rude saying “Hey! Get out of my way!” I’m definitely a bit sore so I stayed off my bike today, but hopefully my body will adapt to it as I ride a bit more and stay off those bumpy Hollywood streets. (It probably didn’t help that I biked in leggings on both days!)

As for swimming, it was also my first time back in the pool for awhile. A few months ago I did a late night swim with Shant but that was leisurely, so I don’t really count that. I’m trying to get over my dislike of water in my face…and up my nostrils…and into my goggles. Timing my breathing has been difficult and I seem to be gasping for air with every stroke, which I’ve calculated tires me out 3 times faster than the average person who is swimming in the pool with me at any given time. Today I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on a private swim instruction a few lanes down, so as the swimmer was being coached, I was trying to pick up on it and implement it at the same time while remaining cognizant of my abilities. For instance, today I began breathing out INTO the water…a start, I suppose.¬†Since swimming seems to be my weakest link I think I may consider a class at UCLA, LACC, or SMC to help me become more proficient and confident. Then I can progress comfortably to open water swimming. Despite all of that, I still made it in the water twice this week so it’s a victory which ever way you slice it.

Adding bicycling and swimming to my routine has been quite interesting. Running seems so easy compared to these other two sports. In running, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. It requires very little official training, equipment, variables, and constraints. It seems natural. I feel like these other two are pulling me in different directions. I overthink every action and I’m slow as heck because of it! The more I concentrate on it, the less confident I become. But, the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with my progression.

It’s interesting switching from one sport to the next — and although I haven’t done them in rapid sequence or anything — I can feel the muscle fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. One day this week I ran 4 miles before work, biked 4 miles to/from work, and then did a 0.2 mile swim at the gym. After my run, I felt energetic. After my first ride, I felt confident but a little tired. After my second ride I felt great but a little tense. Then, during the swim, I felt like I had weights tied to all of my extremities as I was flopping about in the water. I am sure it gets better with time and practice.

Relearning a lot of these basic skills has been an interesting journey thus far. I feel giddy every time I sharpen yet another skill set that helps me feel more comfortable on my bike or in the water. I’m trying to make it a point to switch up my routine a bit from all running to include these other sports so that I exercise all of the parts of me that’ll be needed for the triathlon. With all of the hurdles I’ve jumped through — and all of the future ones I’ll be dealing with — this is going to be one of the most challenging tasks I take on yet. In comparison to the Athens marathon I feel that the triathlon will be a lot harder, since it’s testing not only endurance but multiple skill sets and the transitions thereof. Eek!

For my marathon training class tomorrow, I have a 13 mile run that I’ve dutifully plotted this evening. I try to set courses with as little turns as possible since I tend to forget. I hate listening to instructions and most of the time I have my earphones in — bad, I know — but I am notorious for missing turns on my runs. This one is simple enough and the only road diversion I’ll have to deal with is turning south on Cloverdale in Santa Monica. It won’t be too hard to forget since it’s one of the major streets that stick out in my mind. (I think it’s because it’s the street I can take to get to my acupuncturist’s office…)

I’m still feeling relatively enthusiastic about everything. I’m definitely a smidge tired, but a few days ago I bought a foam roller and have been using it on my legs and my back. It’s been helping with loosening up any tension and keeping me relaxed and out of the acupressurist’s office. Those usually run me about $40 a session with tip included, so this has definitely helped me save some money. That, and I don’t have to do any of the travel! For those of you who are curious about the types of massages I’ve been doing, here’s a video I watched to help guide me.

All in all, the alone time has been great. It’s been nice being able to focus on something outside of my silly worries, insecurities, school, business, etc. Everything feels so cathartic. Just a few months ago I was wondering how, at the age of 27, I could ever feel so low, sluggish, chained, and drained. Now I feel like a completely different person — happier, energetic, and a ton more sociable. To you I might be the same Amara, but in between these ears is a completely new environment. I love it!

More news soon…I’ve got to get some rest for my long run tomorrow. Broke in my new shoes this morning so I’m excited to do away with sore legs and feet for the second time. (Does anyone know where to recycle running shoes?)

A Few Observations From Today

 

On my run:

  • I ran the¬†Miles for Melanoma 5K this morning in Fullerton. Along the run route they had volunteers hold signs of people whom have passed from cancer. It was also very nice to see families and teams working together to fundraise for a cause that was so close to them.
  • The run route was pretty — a short trail to a small fishing lake. It looped around and on the run back I felt like I was going to either trip and fall over rocks or walkers. Both would have been equally painful in my opinion.

Regarding my timing:

  • I really do need to leave a bit earlier. I have a tendency to drill everything down until the last minute. I had the map to the race venue months in advance and still didn’t bother routing my drive there since I knew where the city was. I arrived with just enough time to check-in late and head to the start line!
  • In regards to actual timing of my run, I did pretty well compared to my last 5K. I ran a 9:23 mile compared to my 10:20 mile at the LA Big5K at the end of March.

On my bike ride:

  • It is easier to maintain momentum than it is to fight inertia. (I think that applies to a lot of areas of life.)
  • I’m having a difficult time turning and braking…pretty much anything that deviates from riding in a straight line. And even that I don’t do very well yet.
  • I get skittish with people around. I get especially nervous when there are cars around.
  • Nonetheless I’ve somewhat mastered staying on for continuous blocks and dips in the road.

In my personal relationships:

  • It’s easier to just speak your mind than it is to wallow in doubt.
  • Time spent with friends is time well spent.

In my work:

  • Spent the better part of the afternoon working on a visual overhaul for a friend’s website. It’s always difficult removing myself from the equation and making sure I design for someone else’s preference and their audience than for my own taste. I think that’s a challenge all designers face whether or not they choose to own up to that responsibility.
  • When working on weekends it is best to apply the law of diminishing marginal returns.

The ultimate/supreme catch-up blog entry

So I think the last time I *really* updated this blog on a regular basis was prior to SXSW.

In a nutshell — well, in short status updates — here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Had a great time at SXSW. Well, the last two days at least.
  • Had an awesome ChevySXSW road trip experience, despite all of the scoring drama.
  • Made some cool friends with other ChevySX teams. Looking forward to seeing them again at BlogWorldLA.
  • Went on an awesome run around Lady Bird Lake with Barce. It was my longest run to that date!
  • Came back to LA with a landslide of opportunities that availed themselves to me.
  • Took on two more-consistent-than-usual consulting gigs that have invaded my usually sacred daytime but have enjoyed every minute of it.
  • Planned the Power Walk for Dress for Success. The event was met with great reception!
  • Ran my first consistent 10-miler from home to Santa Monica. It was an awesome experience.
  • Read two awesome books by Dean Karnazes — Ultramarathon Man and 50/50. I highly recommend them for runners!
  • Have gotten a handful of friends to start using Runkeeper!
  • Have been taking my vitamins on a consistent basis. (Believe me, that’s something worth mentioning.)
  • Finally saw my parents again for the first time since February at my event on Saturday.
  • Ran my best 10K ever at the Santa Monica Classic (today!), despite having to run backwards for a bit to retrieve my dropped keys.
  • Got my brain/life organized with Evernote…it was about time I downloaded my brain into something else.
  • Finally got an eye exam. Will be scheduling acupuncture treatment, dentist appointment, etc this week. I’ve come to terms that I’m not going back to Thailand anytime soon to get my health stuff taken care of.
  • My running has helped me discern when I’m genuinely feeling a certain way versus when I’m bullshitting myself.
  • Been doing a lot more reading now that I’ve subbed out driving on weekdays with riding the Metro.
  • Shot a fun, faux short film over a weekend. It’ll probably live on a hard drive forever.
  • I’ve cycled through two pairs of running shoes…about to buy my third.
  • Racing in the Triple Crown series over the next two months. Really excited!
  • Realized that most women’s magazines are trash. Swapped out for Runners World and it’s changed my perspective on a lot of things.
  • Went to a TOMS sample sale and scored three new pairs of shoes.
  • Decided that buying jeans were not worth the hassle. Resolved to wear leggings, dresses, and skirts for all eternity.
  • Learned to equate running with “me time” and to make it non-negotiable appointments in my calendar.
  • Put together my bucket list and have been planning on how to check the items off.
  • Instead of focusing on my insecurities I’m trying to really focus on helping other people. Fretting about things I’ll never come around to is pretty worthless, whereas helping other people reach their goals is pretty awesome.
  • Taking a leave of absence from school for a bit while I get re-situated with my schedule. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. School wasn’t particularly difficult…just tedious. And, since I loathe tedious work, I found myself stressed out for no reason.
  • Signed up for the Disneyland half marathon with Jon, a friend from the ChevySX campaign. Super excited to see him again!
  • Looking forward to the 15K in Santa Barbara on July 4th. Not sure if anyone will accompany me so I’m anticipating some me-time. I should start looking for fireworks shows, hotel, etc.
  • Been debating the Athens marathon in November. The only deterrence is cost at this point. It seems like it’d be well worth it! Not sure why I keep tiptoeing around the decision. I think the fact that the word “marathon” is in it probably has something to do with it.
  • Haven’t spent a lot of time catching up with old friends. Been spending more time making new friends instead. I’m hitting ‘refresh’ on the ole’ go-to friend list.
  • “A woman is like a tea bag…you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”
  • Been trying to see how many times/ways I can get away with random acts of kindness.
  • Trying to spend less time working and more time living, even if it means cutting down or eliminating some of my material comforts…which, I must say, I’ve whittled down quite a bit over the course of the last 6 months.
  • Clearly traded my blogging habit for a running habit and feels much healthier.
  • Lost about 15 lbs. and 4 dress sizes. Found myself.

#1: Start line at the LA Big5K at Dodger Stadium…my first 5K run ever!

#2: Start line at Victory for Victims at Lake Balboa…my first 10K.

#3: Runners flying colors to raise awareness of the Wounded Warrior Project at the Santa Monica Classic. Very inspirational!

#4: The happiest I’ve looked in a long time. Was taken right before my first 10K run. Decided to throw up the #isoasian sign.

#5: Friends from Border Stylo that joined me at the power walk.

#6: Kaylee and Shant at the TOMS sample sale. Uber windy!

That’s all for now. More soon!

The Victim vs. Survivor Mentality

Depending on how closely you stalk me on the interwebs, you have have gathered that I’ve been running a lot lately. I’ve been consistently running at least 5 days a week since the first week of February. In late March I ran my first 5K and this Sunday I will be running my first 10K. I’m crazy excited about it… not to mention sore.

My first 10K holds a near and dear place to my heart for a few reasons. One, it’s my first 10K (duh!). Second, it’s a fundraiser for sexual assault victims — specifically the Center for Assault Treatment Services. (CATS) at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. This center is the only 24/7 program for victims of sexual assault and abuse in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. CATS provides medical evidentiary exams, forensic interviews, case management and referrals to victims of all ages.

The race was aptly named “Victory for Victims.” While I appreciate the sentiment, the label “victim” wrongly shines a negative light on the person’s disposition. From someone who has fallen prey to sexual assault, I find that the label “survivor” is much more fitting — you’ve lived through it, you’ve experienced it, and it’s time to pick up the pieces and move on.

 

Throughout my childhood and into my young adult years I oscillated between positivity and negativity. I received a lot of love and care from friends and family but the most important part of my recovery was the self-healing process: learning to be comfortable with myself again, being able to look in the mirror without being hypercritical, knowing that it wasn’t my fault, and understanding that I was a thousand times a survivor than I was a victim.

I truly believe that the victim vs. survivor mentality can be applied to a host of mental and physical conditions, but whether or not you choose to heal actually comes from within. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on the psychology of change and healing and the consensus is out — it seems like if you can visualize yourself healed from whatever ails you, it’s possible to make it a reality.

How have you managed to turn your life around? When have you changed the paradigm and manifested your own version of reality?