Monday, November 28, 2011

NCR Trail Marathon

My inspiration to register for the NCR was Karen.  She wanted to run fast and she wanted my help with a plan to do it.  I was so honored to be asked to help her.  She is a dedicated runner, an amazing person, and good friend.

She too has a busy life, busier and more hectic than what most people experience because of some significant events.  With an unpredictable schedule and less time to commit to training plans, I devised something I thought could help her run fast, while also not take over her life.

I took my inspiration from a plan that emphasized cumulative fatigue and medium length runs along with weekly interval work that was pretty challenging.  This plan conspicuously lacked the "dreaded"  Long Runs that take up half the day.  What can a runner do on back-to-back medium runs at a moderate pace, in place of the usual long slow distance book-ended by rest days?  Is a PR possible?  How big?

Karen ran almost every planned workout at the prescribed paces for 18 weeks.  I can't say enough how much this fact demonstrates how dedicated and motivated Karen is.  The paces were selected in order to get her in somewhere between 3:30-3:40. The speed work was really tough.  As the weeks flew by and she was fighting to hit every pace as planned, I was more than impressed.  I really truly wanted her to see that 3:3x on the clock and I wanted to be a witness to her greatness, even though I knew I would not be running as fast at this race myself.  With her PR off a much higher mileage plan, a few years ago, and a 3:50 being her new BQ time goal, anything under 3:50 would be a success on this plan.  But anything within the 3:3x window would be super sweet.  She deserves super-sweet.

I wanted to help her in any way I could.  My plan was to pace Karen out to the 13.5 mile turn around at a pace that would set her up for a 3:3x.  I then planned to drop my pace down to a comfortable 10 min pace (hoping to cut down my own recovery and stay peppy for my 24 hour run this weekend).  

It was such a pleasure to run a race that had nothing to do with my performance.  I felt sorry that I was not able to suck it up and hang at her pace this whole race with her and see her finish.  As I enjoyed my comfortable jaunt through the woods for the second half of the race, I was dying to know how she was doing and whether this shockingly light plan could get her a good time.

I completed my own "workout" as scheduled and crossed the finish at 3:55.  A sub-4 hour marathon as training is really quite nice and I think I will be doing more of this in the future (if not too pricy).  Running a marathon with no pressure for time but for the benefits of a long run was just what I needed.   I don't recommend  trying to race a marathon, all out, at PR pace, if the training leading up to the race does not support such an intense effort.  In this age of runners having cardiac issues en-route, I felt I was being very safe and comfortable running 1:45 first half and then cruising in for a 2:10 second half since I have done little work to prepare for an effort much better than that. 

I dont want to give away Karen's story completely, but I can say that the lower mileage but more intense training plan I personalized to her lifestyle, schedule, and personal goals earned good marks.  She crushed her BQ time while setting a significant PR, although her "A goal" was not attained. 

I learned a lot from Karen as my guinea pig in this experiment.  In hindsight we both agree that even though the plan was set up for a 3:30-3:35 run, with the lower weekly mileage and the lower LR miles, it would be wise to train with those pace, but plan for a 3:35-3:39 with race day pacing and strategy set up accordingly.   Going out on 3:30 pace felt great but caught up to her too much in the later miles. This could also have been due to the warmer temps, the need for more fluids than available, or any other issue.  However, I feel that good solid training can help reduce the impact of other issues.  If I could pace her all over again, I would consider about 10 seconds slower per mile for the first half.

Now I need another guinea pig to test my theories.  Who wants to be my next experiment. :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gratitude Therapy : )

So tomorrow I have to co-lead a support group at the Cancer Center. The Topic is the Healthy Harvest, where... "Registered Dietician (Cheryl W.) and Art Therapist (me) will facilitate this demonstration on how to make pumpkin smoothies, and discuss how to make use of other fruits and vegetable from autumn's cornucopia."  

Ok. This has to beg the question: "What does an art therapist have to do with pumpkin smoothies?"  Well, anyone who knows me knows that I cant resist a good pumpkin anything.  In addition, I often just say Yes to things before I fully know what is going on.

For my part, I was planning to ask "the group" to make some Thanksgiving-related project while Cheryl whipped up the smoothies.  I found a simple pumpkin centerpiece that could be made by anyone with any ability.   However, this concept tends to move away from my style of practicing Art Therapy.

I often answer the question,"What is Art Therapy?" by describing a continuum where on one side is "Art-making for Joy" and the other side is "Projective Assessments that Allow Analysis and Insight."  Art-making for joy can be therapeutic, but in my opinion it is most effective at creating first order change (in this case, the change of mood of the person for the moment).   However, in my practice, I attempt to create interventions that at least have a shot at allowing for second order change (the lasting change that comes with the changing of a system). This could result from introspection and increased insight into the self as a result of creating some meaningful art product (even if that product is not very "good" and even if that product was made for fun.)  

What this means for me is that I am now scrambling to create some directive I can give to a group of unfamiliar people that would allow them to experience the joy of art-making, while also giving them the opportunity to change themselves... in one session.   What to do... What to do...

And then the light bulb went off.  I will ask them to create Thank You Cards.  But to who?  Maybe to themselves?  But that just seems so... first order.

I think people are so fast to see the negative, especially on a cancer unit.  Fortunately, John Gottman discovered in his studies about Positive and Negative Sentiment Override (in married couples), that what people focus on in the present has a huge impact on how they recall experiences of the past.  How the past is remembered will greatly impact how people anticipate the future.  If we focus on the positive in the present, we also tend to recall our pasts in the most positive light and therefore expect nothing less of the future.  If we focus on the negative in the present, we are more likely to remember the past in a negative light and expect the future to be just as bad.

As a result, there is some value is spending some time thinking about the people in this world that have positively impacted our lives.  In fact, a little Googling has uncovered that a man named John Kralick has discovered just how powerful thanking others can be.

I find his story fascinating.  In brief, Kralick was a lawyer who had practiced over 30 years in LA and had his own firm.  He found his firm was crumbling and his relationships were failing.  On a hike through the mountains, while on the brink of depression, he found the inspiration to write a Thank You note a day for 365 days.  One year later, he found that his life had completely changed for the better. He has since been appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to be a Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.  He has written a book that explains his story. http://www.365thankyounotes.

The part of his website that I find most fascinating is that if you click on About the Author, he has chosen to include two action photos of himself:  (1) one of him racing the Napa Marathon and (2) one of him racing a half marathon with a friend.   Both of these images are noted to be a depiction of some story described in the book.  Hmm, I am beginning to feel compelled to buy a copy :)

Well that is a lovely story, but is it therapeutic or even just wise to ask cancer survivors and patients to make Thank You cards to others during what is likely one of the worst times of their lives?  According to an article by Rita Watson in Psychology Today, published just last week:  "A blessing a day can keep the doctor away."  Watson shares that it is harder to count your blessings in sad times, but it can be life changing to do so.  A four step gratitude plan is shared and stated that it will open the door to more happiness in life.  I am not sure I agree with all steps of the plan, but I find this all quite interesting and simple to do.

The Psychology Today article mentions Kralick and concludes: "It was through thank-you notes that Kralik turned his life around. Kralik said: 'We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we lose touch...When someone receives a hand-written note they know it came from a person who evaluated their decision to write. Hand writing for me is greater admissible evidence of concern.'" 

Watson adds,  And it works in love relationships as well: Revitalize Your Love Life with a Three Day Gratitude Plan"

So now Thank You Cards feel so much better to me as a directive.  This interventions leaves me with hope that some people will at least have a shot at second order change if they continue on with this exercise in gratitude outside of the support group.

And now it is my turn and I will start with you.

Thank You so much for reading and following my blog.  It gives this endeavor so much more meaning than it could ever have if my words were never given the chance to reach anyone but me. :)

- Shannon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Friends2Friends Alexa's Thunder Run, 13.1 miles of trail.

On Sunday, I got to test out my new pair of Brook's PureGrits at the Thunder Run.  Friend2Friends puts on this race to raise money for free mammograms for women in who cant afford one.  As a breast cancer survivor who needed medicaid for treatment, I appreciated that goal of this race.

I was excited to try my new trail shoes, but a little nervous about racing a trail half.  I like to run fast on pavement.  I really like to run in the woods when free to back off the pace in exchange for not eating dirt.  I have knocked parts of my front teeth out 4 times or so in my lifetime. After 3 times, the novelty just wears off.  As a result, I tend to be a clumsy blind slug in the woods so I knew this was not going to be pretty.

I have been waiting to find a light pair of trail shoes that have some substance to them and the Grits did well.  I didn't have a chance to run any trails in the Grits until race day, but I attempted to "break them in" a bit by wearing them to my mediation class the day before. :)   Sitting at a conference table for 8 hours is like running trails, right? 

What I did learn from my casual wearing is that my orthotics take up so much room that the strap across the top digs into the top of my foot.  This did not feel good and I contemplated cutting the strap off before the race, but I decided to see what happened on race day.  I have also decided I need to lose the orthotics at some point since after about 50 miles of running, they bruise my feet.

This race was so well done that I am going to try to get to the rest of the series.  First, the RD made point to leaf blow the entire 13.1 mile course.  I never heard of  a race doing this, but I can say that the result was that the race was much more runnable than it could have been.  People still fell down all around me, but for some reason I stayed on my feet. I believe it was because of two reasons: my cautious pacing, and the fact that I could actually see roots, rocks and holes that would normally be covered by leaves this time of year.

In addition to blowing a 13.1 mile line into the forest, the race was also marked with arrows and flour and managed to cart out water to 6 points on the course.  They even posted mile markers! Who does this in a trail race?  I have been completely spoiled.  :)

Regardless of the efforts by the RD to make running this race as mindless as possible, my brain still hurt from trying to focus on the ground the whole time.  This is my problem and I am sure many others would have just flew through this course. When running fast in the woods, I lose my ability to find my zone, I pay too much attention to each step and I miss being lost in thought.  The tediousness of each step becomes to apparent and I start to crave mindlessness even more.

I started this run a little aggressively because I noticed the tower on top of the mountain that we would eventually reach in the last 2 miles.   I haven't run enough hills so this was going to kick my butt and it did.  I must admit I spent the first 3 miles miserable, sucking wind as my chest felt completely inadequate in its ability to extract enough oxygen to propel me upwards.  At some points my feet felt odd and I was not sure if I liked the Grits.  After two hills in a row, my chest was so tight a guy hearing me wheeze became concerned.  I decided that if I got to the S/F line at 8.5 and I was not yet having fun, I was going home.

Fortunately by mile 4.5 things felt better, the course had very long runnable stretches where speed I lost on the hills could be made up.  I loved being able to close my eyes and run as hard as I felt I should.  When I hit the single track again, I slowed it down, especially after hearing people hit the dirt both in front of me and behind me.

At the 8.5, I didn't think twice about stopping.  My feet felt great, I was finding my stride, and I could breath.  There was huge out and back stretch on old rail trail that allowed me to make up time I would later loose on the climb up to the tower. I was running with a pack of guys until we hit that rail trail.  I did manage to pass them all and put a great deal of distance on them on the way back, so much that when I looked back I saw no one. When I looked ahead, I saw know one.  At this point panic set in and I thought I possible missed a turn while running inside my head. 

At mile 11, I saw an aid station and then began the climb up the hill. I was happy to be able to catch up and pass two more people. I was actually surprised because I felt just so inadequate on those hills.  One guy flew past me, but no one else caught up. I think knowing that once I got up that hill, I could race down to the finish propelled me forward.

The downhill was so steep that I actually took it cautiously.  A group of guys in hard hats and packs were walking on the trail that I was about to enter.  A course marshal warned them all to move over and they did.  He called out that I had half a mile to go and I got excited!  I picked it up and just as I ran past this crowd of guys, my right calf spasmed like it does when I try to take off one shoe after a long hard race by pushing on the back of it with the other foot. This is the fastest method I have learned to send my calf into contortions that normally drop me to the ground.  This has never happened in a race, but here I was with .5 miles to go and about to buckle in front of a crowd!  I managed to stay on my feet, but I did slow down a bit until I was sure the cramping was over.  Finally, I popped out of the woods and headed towards the finish, where the timer called out each finisher by name. 

Chicken soup and rolls were handed out while the band played. The RD called out raffle ticket numbers and I scanned the posted results.  2:12 for the 13.1 miles.  Although my last half was about a half hour faster, I predicted a 2:15 for my finish time based upon what runners ran last year and their own road times.  I was happy with 2:12.   I was also really happy to see that I was 9th female and 3rd in my AG.

My calves still feel abused but it is the good pain, not the bad pain that comes from leaving early. :)