Monday, April 7, 2014

Muddy Trails 5k: A Race Report That is Really About Goals

So I did this small 5k yesterday. My first 5k in about a year's time, actually. I'll begin this post with a very brief race report, simply because it was just a community 5k (with a total party atmosphere) where I ran an 'okay' time of 20:50 on trails that were about 80% sand, placed 3rd OA Female behind two HS runners coming off track season and won my AG. Luckily I had committed to jumping into the hurt box head first and not fearing the heavy intense burning sensation that a quality effort brings. This was useful because through all the twists and loose sandy spots, I could have easily gotten discouraged as my output didn't seem to match the performance. But I didn't, and I gritted my teeth, focused on getting a good foot strike going on the asphalt home stretch and let it burn.

The first mile I think I hit in 6:15, which may have been a little fast for the trails, but appropriate for the road. I also only wore my Timex and barely looked at it and this was a good decision. The race was well-marked and organized and more competitive in both divisions than in the past. I closed hard after adjusting my goals due to the energy drain of the sand and finished sub 21 instead of sub 20. After being more gassed than I've been in a long time, I quickly recovered and was able to run a nice 30:00ish cooldown after and my legs didn't feel too bad. I guess my inner Honey Badger decided to start resurfacing out there yesterday. So what if I really exerted myself out there, I can handle it! After getting my wind and wits back, I decided I wanted more. Let's discuss.

I'll take a step back to where I arrived as I processed some bigger insights from a small race. After winning in College Station but not feeling very mentally tough, I set a process goal to not give in, or at least bash myself for being uncomfortable. I was not going to be afraid to hurt, to feel my lungs wheezing while I refuse to let up. I know I beat his horse to death especially on the blog but I have had these internalized doubts that I am now 'fragile' and that I shouldn't expect as much from myself performance-wise. I have been doing some training lately where I simply push for an interval, say an 800 or 400 at fast/sustainable pace, jog a short recovery, and hammer again. No judgement and outside stimuli such as a GPS watch, just me working on my nerve and grit. I feel like I'm slowly getting that 'toughness' I prided myself in years ago-how I earned the "honey badger" title from my running friends. Honey badgers don't fear handling hard efforts!

This time around, I knew I would face discomfort and had decided to break the race down mentally as much as possible and run simply by focusing on line of sight. My execution was good, the terrain not so much-only so much I could do with running across a sandbox!  I left the race feeling happy with how I mentally stayed in it, how my body held up, but with an odd sense of uneasiness about what to do next.

So here's where I'm at today: The Chevron Houston Marathon in January I hope to use as a conduit to a BQ. There are a couple ways to enter the race-running a qualifying 10k, 13.1 or 26.2 time for early registration, running as an elite, veteran, or other special case, or entering the lottery system-which is kind of a risk. I had originally planned on running a qualifying 10k within the next few weeks. The CHM committee only asks for a 51:00. I wanted to go out and qualify by running a solid 10k. Yesterday I weighed the options; while I could very easily run a 51:00 and likely with a lot to spare, I realized that just running races to prove to myself that I can still run is getting old. I need more focus and structure to what I'm doing. I guess in full honesty, I am tired of feeling 'soft' and want to get more out of myself. I've basically been afraid to set hard goals because of being burned in the past. Injury history be damned-I tell my athletes to have specific goals wrapped in higher (but realistic) expectations all the time. I suppose it couldn't hurt if I do the same.

 For this race season, I have decided to nix the 10k qualifier and focus on something more specific and geared towards fully restoring my competence on the run. I drove away from Rob Fleming Park with a chimp on my back metaphorically pulling on my ears and poking my eyes and the only way to get rid of it is to work on lowering the 5k time. To many, this doesn't look like the process they'd take, but for a goal to be really motivating (vs. just clearing a soft qualifying time that is less gratifying) it has to have certain ingredients.

Yesterday, holes in my goal-setting processes were exposed and knowing myself, I need to correct this in order to get that sense of mastery back. For me to feel most effective and successful, I need something specific and relatively immediate to work towards. I have to accept what  I've got here and now and go with it-ego and past performances aside.

Here's the really geeky part: I'm working my goals based on theory. I teach this stuff daily to my private athletes and students, why not apply it to get what I want? Lowering the 5k time comes from Harter's Competence Motivation Theory (1978, 1981)-in layman's terms, an athlete gains a sense of competence in what they do by a series of 'mastery' experiences where they are set up to be and feel successful. Therefore opening the door for more progress.

One of the bigger names in the international scene of Sport Psychology, Dr. Martin Hagger, takes the concept of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting to a different level. In a TED talk he introduces the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. acronym (perhaps a bit campy, but a good mental device nonetheless). I put my own spin on this for myself and my athletes in setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Focused, ENGAGING, and REWARDING. Notice the last two. SIDE NOTE: watch the TED talk linked to Haggers name, it's quite informative on how top athletes think.

While a BQ is obviously a specific goal, it is fairly lengthy in time scope and more races where I am set up to feel successful vs. just hitting a certain time is needed. With my performance yesterday (and don't get me wrong, it was a solid time), it was running a sub 20 5k again, nothing fancy, that I really found this engaging, and definitely attainable as I re-learned how to push myself recently. I even have one scheduled on 5/10 so I can focus on running the 200s and 400s needed to do so.

 Why do this? Simply to increase confidence, and to reap the benefits of connecting with short-term goals. From there, I will evaluate others and make necessary adjustments. As you will see below, I have another STG set up for running my first 15k in June.

 To put it all in perspective, I got a little geeky creative yesterday and drew up a "road map" of some possible processes and directions for my ultimate goal. I have this posted up in my bedroom to keep me focused, and also give me permission to challenge myself again vs. feeling kind of lost in the space in between now and January. For each race, I have written 'why do it' to further establish a sense of purpose for each event, even if enjoyment or trying something new is the reason.  There are also no connecting lines on this lovely piece of legal pad chicken scratch for a reason to allow for flexibility.

Try this at home. Or dont! 

So there you have it. Yes, I ran a race, but more importantly, it helped me really define how to get from now to Boston. I know there will be obstacles to overcome, but here we go..time to go to the next level!

Stay the course.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Short Course Trail Racing Tips Plus a Race Entry Giveaway

It's race week for me again!

Saturday is the Muddy Trails Bash in The Woodlands, a popular trail 5k/10k through a community greenbelt/trail system held in the afternoon. I'm excited for the challenge of running hard on dirt through the twists and turns of Rob Fleming Park and my legs and lungs burn a little already just thinking of it! I also don't know what to expect weather-wise as the race starts at 4 PM; can't control any of that but I can get ready for running uptempo on a surface that is far from technical, but still demands a little control to run it efficiently.

This season I am mixing up road and off-road events both for injury prevention but also for a fun challenge. Like I've mentioned before, 2014 is really all about maximum enjoyment and giving it my current best-whatever that happens to look like.

A fast 5k is challenging enough on pavement, and putting tree roots and turns in there you have to manage your pace and effort accordingly. As I plan ahead for how I should best approach the race (FYI, I have not done a 5k in almost a year!!) I thought I'd throw in some of my best tips for those taking on trail races. Since I haven't done an ultra at this time, I will stick to the shorter stuff that I know.

  • First and foremost-do some off road work before attempting something with 'obstacles' (or just simple terrain changes). If nothing else, it's nice to have a familiar feeling while you race. 
  • Get used to running more by feel than pace. Especially for races where there are numerous hills, turns, and my "favorite"-tree roots. If you try to maintain a goal pace-you may end up frustrated and disappointed. Go with what the course gives you: accelerate in open spaces or straightaways, adjust and manage effort and energy for the landscape. I tend to go for effort and placing vs. running a PR... That would be really hard.
  • Just like in cross-country running or cycling-pick a 'line' in front of you and let it guide you through the course. I like to have my eyes slightly down, to where I can see in front of me but am constantly scanning the ground. 
  • Keep your stride underneath you. It's so much easier to adjust to the surface if you're in control of where your legs are going. 
  • A little core strength (or even better a LOT) goes a long way and saves energy. There is considerable lateral movement whether you are dodging trees or trying to pass others. Working on lateral strength stabilizes your movement considerably. 
  • Shoes. Choose wisely. If the trail is more dirt and dips with minimal rocks and climbing, a racing flat for efficient runners may suffice. I think I am going to go with my Saucony Virratas this weekend because they are light, responsive, and seem to grip the ground well on light trails. Bottom line-wear a familiar pair that you don't mind getting a little scuffed or muddy-or both. 
  • Lastly, enjoy running in one of it's purest forms. Get lost out there (ok not really!) and take in a more natural setting. Trail running is challenging but can be one of the funnest race formats around. 
There you have it. More pseudo-wisdom from Adrienne! Now about that giveaway....

Ok, in full disclosure this is a type of event I have NO experience with, but I know people who have done Spartan Races in the past and have really dug them. So when the Spartan crew reached out to me the other day with a FREE ENTRY to give away to one of their events, I was happy to pass it along.

Here's the deal: I'm holding an "epic race experience" contest over the next two weeks and will announce the winner on Sunday, 4/13. All you have to do is post a comment providing a tale of your craziest race experience to date. It does not have to be a trail or obstacle event, just something entertaining or unexpected. Be creative, but honest! Our judges will decide which story is worthy of the prize (ok, yours truly, but I'm trained in psychology and can spot a lie a mile away... ;)). 

For more info on the Reebok Spartan Race Series, it's various locations and distances, check out this link

Go big or go home in Spring 2014! 

Stay the course.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

All Day Every Day

Because "a day in the life" revisited would be boring! 

I am borderline obsessed with managing my time. This does not mean that I am exactly good at it, just very mindful of where it goes and what it means (or doesn't mean). There are calendars posted at my office, my kitchen, and I am never without my planner (okay, I get anxious if I can't find it; and no, I have no real interest in using electronics for something so basic as planning).

This is nothing new and I see this fixation as one of my personal strengths-one that has to irritate my friends and family sometimes-but it has enabled me to do a lot of things relatively proficiently at or near the same time.

The inspiration for this type of post that is rather common in the blog world came from several activities and moments from the previous week. . That and I was the subject of a Kinesiology 101 student's career interview that contained the inevitable "day in the life of_______" question. I honestly needed some time to stop and think about how to answer a fairly straightforward question. Really, no two days are really the same, and a lot of this is by my own design and choosing.

 There are some patterns and constants, however, and I think that creates a nice balance for me without wearing me out-another thing I get asked about a lot and get weird looks by telling them usually 'no'.

Disclaimer: forgive me if this post comes across as 'preachy'-I'm simply processing what currently works for me. 

Besides the interview, this week I did a FaceTime guest lecture at Montana State U.-which was pretty cool, and helped at two coaches clinics in the evenings. Close it out with a long run and then watching some athletes run at a track meet it was a busy week, but a good one in the life of a running sport psychology consultant.

So why was I so stumped to answer the undergrad's question the other day? Let's break it down a bit, this may be good for me to look back on from time to time when I feel like things are just careening randomly around.

First, I've been in a nice rhythm of training hitting miles near 50 per week; balancing high and low intensity. Besides my usual Thursday rest day, I start the day out running or the day runs me. That's the way I see it, at least. My thoughts gravitate towards nothing to races to upcoming projects to random questions about the artists on my iPod. That or telling myself how good I'm getting-perhaps my fave! LOL I have to set aside some time to do my drills and core. Or weights. For me, it's get this stuff in or else; its just as important as actually completing the run.

After the run it's breakfast or part 2 of breakfast ALWAYS within 30-45 mins and an amino acid drink immediately after. Breakfast is typically oatmeal, fruit, greek yogurt (or some combo of). Honey Stinger waffles have entered the rotation too for pre-run and are a-mazing!  Seems to help me focus and recover even faster. Getting ready includes foam rolling to the cook time for oatmeal or coffee brewing and not to sound like too much of a robotic nut I stretch my calves using a rocker apparatus while putting on makeup. Seriously girls, don't knock it until you try it. My calves are rarely sore anymore.

Chances are there are emails to return, presentations to work on, or a client to see mid-morning (thank goodness I have some control over my hours) so it's either off to the 'real' office or to Sbux to get in a groove. Sounds relaxing, but in reality I'm typically banging away at my keyboard oblivious to what's going on! Don't worry though, if you come by and say 'hello' I'm happy to stop and chat or a bit!

I also take this time before the storm of athletes hits to work on the book I'm co-authoring "An Elephant for Dinner" (feel free to check it out on Facebook!).  Seriously, my wrists and forearms seem to have gained some muscle definition from all the writing I do! That or my grip on life is a bit too tight, but whatever!!

The office has been designed to be more like a 'living room' than anything else. Recently I have acquired a microfridge because I typically have to take food and water with me. A lot of therapists tend to sacrifice their nutrition, eating sporadically or not the right things because they're 'too busy' but I disagree with this. Even though it does not pay my bills, operating as a full-time athlete is important to me.  Just like recovering from a run, I have to stay sharp for my athletes; self-compassion in my book equals other-compassion. Especially when I see up to six per day, plus any administration work that is needed.

Being a one-woman show right now, it gets time consuming and my planner is always full of scribbles of 'to do's.I'm learning now to attack one thing at a time and if something does not get accomplished-the world will not stop spinning. I know I nailed the day when I leave knowing I did my part to help somebody move just a little further forward. It doesn't always feel like that, but I have to always review on the drive home what went right that day. For me it's a struggle to not focus on the things I should have said, done, not said, and on and on. Thinking like that does not add any time to my days, or my life. It's hard to break the habit of always trying to go above and beyond with seemingly EVERYthing, but I'm human after all.

Evenings are as random as they get. Sometimes there's a track workout, sometimes a game to go watch; sometimes a class to teach, or a workshop to give. Sometimes there's a drive involved: typically 30 minutes north to Huntsville, or anywhere from 30-60 minutes south into parts of Houston. With the exception of my Monday Sport Psych class, I could be anywhere or just at home, reading with my feet up or trying to keep a somewhat clean living space. Ok, the latter gets lower priority, but no use micromanaging. Despite always having to feel like I'm being productive, embracing rest is important. And it's possible to do if you incorporate a mindset of "recovery" for both training and life.

At the end of the day, I am trying to look at what I was successful on, got done, or made progress on.-I glance at my schedule for the next day, get out all my workout gear and do any needed meal prep, and reset to keep the "rhythm" going. I do a lot of simple 'multitasking' for the little things, such as getting ready and stretching, but some things seem to demand my immediate attention. It's knowing when to compile and when to separate that sets the tone of calm or chaos for me.

Ultimately, the goal is to not be thinking (or at least over-thinking) about tomorrow when it comes time to crash for the day; that or still trying to work through the previous day's questions.

Even in a constantly changing career and schedule, I noticed the small things that I can control seem to set the tone and help me feel ready to take things on. What about you? What are your daily constants? What helps you maximize your days and, well, yourself?

Life is both an art and a science and often feels like a race or a sport; meant to be enjoyed and purposeful. Bottom line, be mindful of what stressed you out, what you're passionate about, and what takes priority for the time being. Sometimes, even if our calendar is maxed, it can be that simple.

Stay the course.