Thursday, December 24, 2009

Running as Art

The other day I got thinking about how running is like art. I recently read the Pose Method of Running and it really appealed to me because it structured running technique like mastering an art (dance especially.) I’m still experimenting with “Pose Method” running, but the technical side is another topic for another day. Instead, I am thinking about how running and the creative process share a lot in common. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love to focus on form. Like dance, Pilates and yoga often have you trying to construct an ideal pose with your body. So, in the same way running can be a performance in perfect form. My theory is that if biomechanically I can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible while emulating those who are really talented, it will make it easier to run faster and longer. Ideally, rather than killing myself to run faster I would like to make running faster feel more comfortable and as seemingly effortless as possible.

Of course in a sport like running this is only part of the beast. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of real quality running exercises like speed intervals and hill repeats—those are essential in improving cardio endurance. They also produce very tangible results when it comes to feeling more comfortable while running. The idea of running as a performance is more about the mental attack strategy.

I like to have the image of a champion in mind. Imagination is a very useful tool in running. It helps when you can delude yourself a little into thinking that you are performing spectacularly no matter what those horrible race photos show.

My mother is not a runner. Recently she was telling me about her attempts at running and it was easy to spot why she hated it without seeing her run. First of all she referenced how “all the pounding,” took its toll. Maybe this is something you get used to, but for the most part it sounds like evidence of a heavy untrained stride. Just having the image in mind of a light gentle stride could be a good way to start mentally training.

Also, the other interesting thing she said was that as she was running she imagined sports announcers commenting on her performances and saying things like “Oh man, she is really struggling! She is not doing well at this at all!”

This is very similar to the “
inner critic” that is sometimes talked about when trying to craft a work of art. Often the thing that holds you back from creating something that is really great is that voice in your head that tells you it’s no good. The truth is that most ideas are pretty weak when you first have them, there’s a process of things that happen before something becomes really good. Therefore you have to be forgiving of those early incarnations of an idea and just roll with them until you unearth their true potential. In essence you have to create this image or fiction first of what it is you are trying to do that is really great. Then you have to work your ass off to live up to it.

So basically, when you are just starting your run you have to imagine those sports announcers saying positive things. For example, “She’s really putting her heart out there under these difficult conditions.” Or “for some one who hasn’t run in several years she is performing at the top of her division.”

You may call it self delusion but a little of that is necessary to grease the wheels.

Then the next step is to have some clear goals that you are trying to achieve. Qualifying for the Olympics or writing the Grammy award winning song of the year may be a bit lofty. However, you can say today I want to run and not feel too much tension in my shoulders or get through the whole thing without walking. Those things are attainable. As you improve your goals will be higher, but it is important to know where you are and what you can do.

The last thing is to take that small goal and knock it out of the park. You can become a master of running for long periods of time without stopping or releasing tension in your upper body. You push yourself to make those periods even longer.

Virtuosity is the ideal of art. To become so good at something that people marvel in the beauty of it. The wonderfully open-ended thing about it is that sometimes you can be brilliant at something that is simple: like having a pure singing tone or writing a lyric that really resonates. It doesn’t have to be a grand unattainable thing.

That can also be the goal of a good run. That it is a performance to be marveled at. In a professional sense this would mean a world record time. For a normal person it could mean getting in 5 miles when you were so tired you thought you’d only be able to pull off 3. Or maintaining perfect form and not having pain after the run. You can define the goal and then when you nail it you get the euphoria of accomplishment.

That is the essence of a beautiful piece of art and a beautiful run.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Joe Kleinerman 10K Race Report

I had a great race this past Sunday! It was the second event that I participated in as part of Team in Training (TNT). They call it the "Fast Track 10K." If you don't already know about TNT, it is definitely an organization worth supporting in some way. They help people train for endurance events (usually triathlons, marathons and half marathons) while raising money for cancer research and patient services. It is specifically for blood cancers like Leukemia and Hodgkins Lymphoma but because of the nature of blood cancer the research is helpful for learning about all forms of cancer. I first got involved with TNT in 2008 when my aunt was fighting breast cancer and my grandmother (also a breast cancer surviver) was just diagnosed with Chronic Leukemia. Thank God, they are both doing well now.

The people are so nice and I really enjoyed the camaraderie of a common cause. In 2008 I ran the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon. Here is a video of a song I wrote for my fundraising. It was a great experience so I was really happy when one of the coaches, Jasmine Graham of Pace For Success, contacted me about mentoring for the Fast Track Program this year. This was my first time being a mentor and I was really thrilled to watch my mentees cross the finish line. It was a new kind of satisfaction. Now, I want to do it all again and be a mentor for New York 2010! I am psyched!

So, onto the race itself. I had some definite time goals. After doing a few half marathons this spring, summer and fall I had increased my fitness level and felt it was time to take my 10K time up a notch. So far I had been unable to get my New York Road Runner's bib pace below the 9 minute mile despite sub 9 minute performances in local 5 mile races. I ran the the Nike Human Race with the idea that it would be my "before" time and Joe Kleinerman was my "after" time demonstrating the effectiveness of having the training schedule and a support system of TNT. I was really hoping for a 8:50 min/mile at Nike, but alas, my "before time" ended up being: 57:25 with 9:14 min/mile pace.

The first couple miles were rough because the crowd was a lot thicker that I thought it would be and I started too far back in it. I know you are supposed to start conservative but I felt like I was running so slow I was practically going backwards! I managed to do a lot of weaving and zig-zagging in that first couple miles so it didn't hurt me too much. As usual I was completely stupid about time. I didn't bother wearing a watch after the last couple races where I managed to botch up hitting the button every time (I always forget about it at either the start or finish.) This time I was so worried about the crowd I forgot to look at the start time so I never knew how much to deduct. Annoying.

The weather was pretty cold but beautiful! Central Park was lit up in all its glory by the sun's rays. The day before had been so rainy everyone at the race was grateful for the sun. Despite making my nose run like a faucet (which was really attractive) the cold didn't effect me much and that was a good thing. I sped up pretty significantly through the middle miles of the race and managed to hold on through the end. Harlem hill was early so I was still weaving through the slow crowd at that point and it didn't impact me too greatly. However, Cat hill was toward the end, so when I got over that I really felt like I was done. Still, I knew I only had 1 to 2 miles to go at that point and I really wanted that PR. I stayed strong through the end with the purple TNT crowd cheering me on at the finish line (another definite perk of running with TNT.) I also love it when there's a song I like blasting at the finish, it always makes me ridiculously teary. This time it was "Run" by Ben Kweller, a definite favorite that I like to cover sometimes.

So, the time. I knew I had PR'ed but I didn't know by how much. The time on the clock was 56 something. So it was possible I PR'ed with a low 9 minute mile which would have been a bittersweet victory. Again, I was so annoyed that I neglected to look at the start clock. I am going to write it on my hands next time! Look at the start clock dammit! It wasn't until I got home and looked it up on the nyrr results page that I got my time:

Finish Time - 53:12 Pace/Mile - 8:34

HURRAY!! I was walking on clouds the rest of the day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

One Month to a New Decade

I can't believe it's already December. Actually, it is now December 4th, exactly a month from my dreaded birthday, sigh. Hopefully, I will have an announcement regarding some sort of birthday run/performance very soon (because how else would I want to spend my birthday but by running and playing music?)

Anyway, so far December has started off pretty well. On the first I was fortunate to participate in the first ever NYC "runners' tweet-up" (that I know of anyway.) I know a few twitter haters who don't see the point of it, but I have found so many like-minded, awesome people through twitter it's pretty unbelievable. To those who don't like or don't get it, the secret is that it's all about who you follow. Yes, it would be great to get thousands of followers but to have a good experience first you have to find smart people to follow so you have good quality news feed. You can also follow some good lists, that's a new way to do it.

The tweet-up was so much fun! There was such a talented group of runners at first I was intimidated by the talk of Boston qualifications, ultra-marathons, and people actually winning races (I didn't know that was possible among mortals.) However, that was easy to get past because everyone was just so gosh-darn nice and cool.

We met at Bethesda fountain. There was a brief handshake and stating of names and twitter aliases. This included pigtailsflying and nycbklyngirl who organized it, BrklnRunner, runanskyrun, SpeedySasquatch, NYCe, sclevine, MikeJOConnor, and agaliza.

As the group started off my immediate instinct was to stay with the back of the pack. I wanted to chat with BrklnRunner a bit because I enjoy her blog and she's been such a nice supporter of this blog so I was really excited to meet her in person. Then as the group started taking off I thought, what the heck, why not try to challenge myself a bit and see if I can keep up with some faster runners for awhile? I don't get this opportunity often. If/when I get tired I'll talk to the people behind me then.

To my surprise I was able to keep up the entire time. Although, what truly floored me was how easy it was! These guys were all running their fun run pace and we were chatting almost the whole time. As a result there was a real sense of ease about it. At one point, when I was in the middle, I had the feeling like I was in a moving car because I wasn't putting in the effort to run at all. I think it helped that I started off running and chatting with agaliza who was interested in playing guitar. First of all because he had the most smooth efficient running gait ever so he set a good example and second because when I was encouraging him about the guitar it got me so excited and energized I wasn't worrying about running fatigue.

As the group continued to spread out I found myself alongside pigtailsflying and NYCe and I just wanted to pinch myself. Earlier that day when I was thinking about whether to do the tweet-up for sure I was looking at their blogs, marveling how smoking fast they are and now here I was running with them.

When we reached the end of 5 miles it came out that we had run it faster than I had run my recent 5 mile race PR. Admittedly the last mile or two did not feel as easy as the first couple, but I held on and I made it to the end with the middle pack. At this point some people went back to the back pack people but I felt pretty tired so I was happy to stop running. I had been standing there for hardly a minute when runanskyrun asked me to join him on the bottom loop. The next thing I knew I was running again! He told me about how he had once run from his home in New Jersey to Yankee stadium which I thought was pretty cool. According to his Go Wagon the total distance for the run was 10.15K with time of 54:15 which is a 8:36 min/mile pace. He finished the 5 mile part a bit ahead of me so my result technically was a few seconds higher. Still, I was amazed that I had run that while talking most of the time. I was a bit disappointed with my 10K result at the Nike Human Race in comparison but I'm really looking forward to see how the Joe Kleinerman 10K goes this Sunday!

Ironically as I was traveling from the boonies of Brooklyn to Central Park I was reading Chapter 36 of Pose Method of Running: "Overcoming the Fear of Running." In it is this little gem of a paragraph:

At its core, fear is a reflection of personal uncertainty. What we do not know, or know very little about, creates an emotional void in our performance. When we try to run while dealing with uncertainty, that void quickly fills with fear...fear if running too hard, fear of not running hard enough, fear of injury, fear of success and fear of failure.

Runners habitually underperform because they fear performing better.

The chapter deals with some of the mental challenges associated with running. This is not to say running is all mental, but it definitely plays a role. The thing is I feel this sense of doubt clouding many aspects of my life. I know what I love. I have no problem doing training exercises, and spending quality time running just like I have no problem practicing singing, playing guitar and writing songs. In my heart these are the things I want to do. So, if the criteria for success is just doing what you love than I am successful. Still, I get so grouchy trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone. To get to a higher level I want other people to be able to appreciate what I am doing too. That, I struggle with that a lot. Perhaps it's my mid-western, middle class, Catholic background but it's really tough for me to be pushy. I know I need to be more assertive about setting up gigs and getting people to listen to my music but I really hate asking. I worry that people won't get it or won't like it and that I'm just not that good. I feel like the next songs I'm working on will be better so I'll wait until they are done (this goes for every song I write I always think the next one is going to be better. ) I have never found a stable career path or line of work that I can tolerate for long. It's always been about running (very recreationally) and music. I hate risking having this vision fall apart at my feet because it is what keeps me going. In short, it is fear as a reflection of complete uncertainty.

In music as with running I take it to a level I am comfortable with and luckily that level continues to rise little by little. It is a bit of a conservative approach and it works for me to some extent. Still, I would like to blast through some of my self-imposed obstacles and become the artist and runner that in my heart I know I could be. I definitely feel that stupid biological tick. I don't have forever.