jogging

So You Want to Be Jon Snow

winter-is-coming-

Well, it’s official. With the first snowfall (and the collective city-wide freak out—WE’RE GOING TO GET 16 INCHES, QUICK EVERYONE TO TARGET RIGHT NOW), winter has come to the Twin Cities. And it will likely never leave. I’m taking bets on the reappearance of the grass—April, or it didn’t count as winter.

If you live in the Twin Cities you know the unnecessary pride and extensive disgust that comes with surviving a Minnesota winter. You likely own several pairs of long johns, four different types of boots (going-out boots, why-am-I-shoveling-out-my-car-at-four-in-the-morning boots, last-year’s-no-longer-waterproof-step-around-puddles boots, and a pair of ankle boots to round out the look), and more winter coats than you care to count (yes, I do need four different peacoats, stop asking stupid questions). You know that your oven can double as a space heater, and that a heated blanket is pretty much a necessity. You take pride in the ridiculous temperatures (“I stood at the bus stop in -10 degree weather for twenty minutes this morning!”), but refuse to let it break you. Props Minnesota, for building a colony in America’s Siberia and refusing to back down. We’re all just a few steps into crazy here.

I’ve decided to take braving the Minnesota winters a step further; I’ve decided to keep running. And no, I don’t mean I’m going to get a gym membership. I am poor and unemployed, and the outside air puts hair on your chest! Let’s go running!

I recently completed the Couch to 5K program, and have since moved on to the 5K to 10K program. But I will not be deterred by the snow. I will not let 20 degree weather prevent me from working out! (When did I become this person?)

If you insist on being this crazy, you should take some precautions. As my Monday run proved, I am nowhere near prepared for this disaster. Just googling “running in Minnesota winter” results in a slew of articles, many questioning the sanity of the searcher, and all of them full to the brim with tales of caution. Suffice to say, running in Minnesota winter is an entirely different beast. For starters… ice.

IMG_0040

Guess what? The ice is slippery. And despite citywide laws, not everyone has shoveled their strip of sidewalk for you. Or they’ve iced too early, leaving an unassuming staking rink in its place. Just, copious amounts of fun.

Jon Snow doesn’t go tromping around Beyond the Wall with just a pair of sneakers. He decks out his boots with mini snow treads, and you should too. Enter YakTrax.

Yes, you look like a dork.

These babies will save you from falling on your butt in the ice. They’ll turn your terrible 11:34 (Monday’s pace without them—ie, running through ice and attempting not to fall), into something less awful. I’ve ordered a pair of these bad boys (sorry, couldn’t wait until Christmas, I would have broken my ankle), and I can’t wait for them to arrive. Sliding all over the trail, while a great exercise for your core, isn’t exactly going to improve your speed.

Another thing to note and accept about running in winter? Goals should probably be tossed out the window. While I’m still training in winter, I’m likely not going to fret over my pace. Winter is an entirely different beast, and it shouldn’t be approached with the same enthusiasm as summer running. Stay close to home when you’re out for a run, wear bright colors, and don’t push yourself. Because, in the words of The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy, “you’ll get hypothermia and die.”

Clothing is another beast to tackle in winter running. Monday’s run proved that I am also unprepared in that aspect. Layering is key, so break out the long johns, running tights, and swishy wind-resistant pants your mother insisted that you buy for your semester abroad. You never thought you’d wear them? HA. This isn’t a fashion show, you are trying to protect your body from failing you. Wear the stupid pants.

That also goes for hats, scarves, mittens, wool socks, and full face masks. Sure, stepping outside in 20 degree weather is fine for a few seconds, but running outside for 40 minutes is going to be dangerous. I’d rather we all look like weirdos and stay toasty than suffer from frost bite. Jon Snow wears four animals on his back, you can wear a balaclava.

Do you run in winter? What are you tips to staying safe and happy? Am I crazy?

Wait, don’t answer that last one.

I Accidentally Ran a 5K

Run!

Run!

Well over a year ago, I downloaded Zombies, Run! a running app that is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But thankfully this beast is more than just an app attempting to cash in on the current fads—it is actually a fun running app.

Zombies, Run! is primarily a story, where you are the main character, attempting to survive in a zombie apocalypse. The story is divided into missions, each a 1/2 hour or an hour long, depending on your preference. In these missions you collect items, explore abandoned buildings, search for medical research. The story begins with you crash landing in a helicopter headed for Abel Township, one of the last remaining zombie-free havens. After you survive the crash you must make your way to the township, conveniently about three miles away. Oh, and of course you have to run because your crash has attracted the attention of zombies. Who are closing in. Quickly.

IMG_4917

The great thing about Zombies, Run! is that it takes your mind off running, and gives you something to think about. Sure, you’re thinking about imaginary zombies (and the rude doctor who says she’ll leave you outside with those flesh-eating zombies if you don’t get the medical records she needs so badly), but at least you’re not thinking about how your legs hurt and your lungs will explode soon if you have to run any further. The plot weaves through your music, keeping your attention just long enough to distract you, and the sporadic picking up of imaginary items (“you picked up a pair of underwear and three cans of food” the robot voice says) always feels like some strange success. The game works for the very reason most people hate running—it combats the mental angle for you.

On Tuesday I decided to try out this app I downloaded forever ago, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. After a successful Monday run, I figured I would just have fun with Zombies, Run and run/walk for the plot line. Thanks to the great pacing and entertaining story, I actually ran further than I’ve ever run—3.4 miles. I completed the mission, and then just kept running. Zombies be damned.

image1

My favorite aspect of the app, which I’m excited and terrified to try out, is the Zombie Chase option. If you turn it on, the app will randomly decide that you are being chased by zombies. If you don’t increase your speed by 20% for one minute, the zombies will get closer, and you will be forced to abandon items to distract them.

IMG_4913

I am so excited I downloaded this app. At a cheap $3.99, it’s well worth the investment. Today for Couch to 5K I ran 2.45 miles at a surprising 10:13 pace. This, I’d like to credit to the zombie chase I experienced on Tuesday. If not for the plot, I would have never been able to prove to myself that I could run a 5K, so today’s run was a breeze. Zombies, Run! is a wonderful proof of one’s abilities, and I highly recommend the challenge.

Zombies, Run! is available for iPhone, Android and Windows platforms.

Nora Ephron to the Rescue

Woo, Nelly. It’s been a rough patch of running. After a brutal Wednesday, I choked my way through a terrible Friday and an even worse Monday. I have been stopping to walk in the middle of my runs (sometimes for great lengths of time), and every time my legs started to slow, I felt like a failure. “I am not a runner! This is miserable, I’m miserable, why am I doing this?” I have thought very seriously about finishing with the whole endeavor, and never running again. I have never considered myself a runner—why am I allowed to take the title now? Especially after I’ve failed?

Today marked the second day of 28 minutes straight. I’ve been struggling with what to listen to to drown out the mental hurdles of running, and my go-to pop playlists are feeling drab. You can only listen to Britney Spears tell you to “work, bitch” so many times. After a while, Brit’s sage advice doesn’t feel genuine anymore. Sadly, I just don’t believe I will get a Maserati by running, Ms. Spears.

Today I tried something new—an audiobook that wouldn’t make me want to fall asleep (sorry, Margaret Atwood). Today, Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep joined me on my run with Heartburn. And it was mostly a success.

I did stop a few times, but ultimately kept running for almost the entire time. I felt great! I don’t know if I reached a runner’s high, but I certainly didn’t feel ready to be sick. The trade-off? I’ve lost almost 40 seconds on my pace. Even with the occasional walk on Wednesday and Friday, I kept around a 9:55 pace—my best yet. I slowed down dramatically today to around 10:27.

I like running fast, and I liked feeling like I was going somewhere with the fast pace. But I did feel like retching when I got to the finish line. For right now, I guess I can’t quite have speed and distance at the same time. And I think I’m ok with that. Besides, I’ve got a while to work on my pace.

Now, about that 5K to 10K app…

There’s a First for Everything

When it comes to running, I talk a big game. For the most part, I’ve been unnaturally successful on this journey—I have yet to hit the breaking point, to face the painful reality of quitting. Well, until today.

On Monday I started the first big week of running with Couch to 5K—25 minutes without breaks all week long. But after a few good Fridays with 20 and 22 minutes under my belt, I thought I was prepared. To keep my concentration away from the slow downfall of my lungs and heart, I put on an audiobook. Which was all well and good until the halfway point, when I wanted to scream at Margaret Atwood for not writing more action packed scenes. The mental battle shouted through the prose. “You’re halfway, which means you will be TWICE as tired when you’re done. Face it, you’re not really a runner, you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life, so let’s just bail.” I took a few seconds to change to music, but screwed up the Couch to 5K timer, losing all of the data I’d gotten for the first half of the run. I decided to run to where I’m usually allowed to quit, and hope for the best.

Today I finally had to face the full 25 minutes. And my subconscious chose to sabotage me. “You’re not actually going to be a runner. Once you’re done with this, you’ll probably stop running altogether. You don’t enjoy this that much, and you never stick to anything, so why are you doing this at all? Just, stop running for a second.” And that’s when I did it. For the first time on this whole adventure, I stopped running before the app told me I was allowed. I walked for half a block, mentally screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU BROKE????” I started to run again, but the damage had been done. For the next mile I stopped on and off, feeling the seconds stack up on my average time. I was a mix of dread and shame. “Am I a runner? If I can quit this easily, if I can talk myself out of it so quickly, maybe this is all in vain. I haven’t found the runner’s high, I am miserable the whole time I’m running. Is this all just a prelude to one giant failure?”

For the last five blocks I ran without stopping, vowing to reach the end of the song to prove that I wasn’t a complete failure. And, thankfully, the 25 minute mark came first. I genuinely almost threw up when I stopped. I got so far as to plan out where I would do it, should the opportunity strike. Those bushes? That trash bin? The street? Which place would cause the least amount of stress to the neighborhood?

I hated feeling like a failure, so I pushed myself a bit in the cool down, running a short half block, and sprinting a half block to my apartment. These don’t change my running average, but to get over the mental hurdles, I needed to prove that I could do more.

I dreaded looking at my pace. I imagined something in the 11-minute range. I walked, which immediately adds minutes to my average, right?

To my utter surprise, today I averaged 9:51 over 2.54 miles. This is my best pace for straight running.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the questions still hang in the air, and now that I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of negative thought, it’s pretty difficult to close. I’m proud of myself for getting such a great pace, but I worry that the damage has been done. I know, objectively, that running will get easier with each day, but in the moment, as my stomach cramps, and my lungs feel like they’re going through a paper shredder, success doesn’t feel real. I guess I’m not done with the mental battle yet.

Achievement Unlocked

When people find out I’m a vegetarian, they often ask why I made the decision. Sometimes, I spout off political and economic reasons, but if I’m being honest, I just thought vegetarians were cool. Most of the vegetarians I knew had a sense of confidence I lacked, thought more about politics (which, barely registered for me), travelled the world, listened intently. I wanted to be all of these things, and I figured being a vegetarian would be the gateway to that.

I did not get any cooler simply by being a vegetarian. And I definitely didn’t get any healthier. I ate fried foods almost exclusively (mozzarella sticks, potato skins, french fries), and didn’t really pay attention to the impact these foods had on my “political reasons” for changing my diet. I was not (and I’m still not) a great vegetarian. Now, it’s just far too complicated for me to try to teach myself how to buy and cook meat. No, becoming a vegetarian was not a life-changing experience I thought it would be.

Instead, vegetarianism taught me less about my health, and more about my stamina. As a kid I never liked challenging myself. I felt embarrassed when I looked like a fool in front of my friends (sports coordination was not my forte), never felt any sense of accomplishment if I failed. Trying didn’t really count as effort if it didn’t succeed, so I just sort of bailed on the whole thing. Until I became a vegetarian. With every month I stayed a vegetarian, the more I felt like I had accomplished something. For the most part, changing my diet was a big deal—getting rid of meat was difficult and complicated. But when I could answer “I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now” I felt both surprised and elated. I had changed some huge aspect of my life—I had actually changed and stuck with it.

When I started to get healthy, I took the achievements of being a vegetarian as proof that I could do it. And within a year I had lost almost 40 pounds. With the knowledge that I could actually make a change and stick with it, I was able to actually get healthier.

About a month ago I went on a pretty mediocre date. There was nothing wrong with the guy, but there was clearly no real connection—we scrounged for things to talk about, stumbled through back stories. When I got in my car to head home, I felt a sense of failure. What was wrong with me? How was I so boring?

The next day I spent in my TV chair, plowing through episodes of Teen Wolf. I ate poorly, felt like a boring, old sad sack. I let the crappy date explain my entire life up until that point. I was a boring, mediocre person, and I could very easily fail at everything. You’ve had those days, I’m sure. Where everything seems to go wrong, and you just sort of let it.

That night, I vowed that I would try to get more interesting. I would start running the next day. That way, at least I had something to talk about on a date. My hobbies include writing and running. Now I’m interesting.

I took the success of being a vegetarian and was able to bring it to my running. I had changed my diet for five years, I could most certainly run for a minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Five minutes. Eight minutes.

Today I ran 20 minutes at a 10:10 pace. I am still in shock that it happened—that my legs and my lungs actually survived the whole process. On Wednesday I thought two sets of 8 minutes was rough. But today I ran 20 minutes without stopping. (I can’t stop thinking about high school me, and how she’d just stare with her jaw to the floor if I passed her now.) And how did I do that? By proving to myself, again and again, that I could do these little things that initially felt impossible. Every time I kept running through the full length of time, the more I felt like I could challenge myself to do it again. I could do it. I can do it. I just needed a little bit of a push.

Do you challenge yourself? Have you always tried new things, or is it something you’ve struggled with? How have you learned what you can accomplish?