Monday, March 26, 2012

30 Minutes or Bust

So. . . I ran my first race of the 2012 season on March 25, a 5K in Pulaski, School House to White House. Not only did I want to avoid familiar eyes (thus the 45-minute drive from home), but the race benefited a worthy cause--the efforts of the Pulaski High School marching band to raise enough money to play at the White House on July 4, 2014. Oh, and I did see a few folks I know--John and Brandi Ferrini--but that was it. I had to chuckle at the guy wearing the Ohio State sweatshirt, a day after the Buckeyes ended SU Orangemen dreams of the Final Four.
Realistic after surgery on both feet, but also eager to really break a sweat, I agreed with my husband when he asked if he should look for me at the finish in 28 minutes. That's a 9-minute mile pace, give or take, and a reasonable goal so early in my training. My warmup wasn't the greatest--the pinching at the "hardware" sight of swelling in my foot continues (not to worry, everything is fine; it's just scar tissue)--but it doubled as a half-mile fun run that I did alongside my 8-year-old. I popped a second Aleve before race time and was off!
It's hard to see, but the timer says 28:37.
This race was cool for several reasons--I always enjoy running in the villages of upstate New York, people on porches or in their driveways on lawnchairs are unfailingly encouraging, and, even though it was chilly and damp, crowd support actually was substantial. There are a lot of corners in this race, and you go into a neighborhood twice--to be expected, I suppose, because if you run in one direction for two miles, you've likely left the village of Pulaski!
Halfway through I was passed a woman I just knew was in my age group--hey, one thinks of these things when one is as competitive as this one is. I tried for a mile to pass her, but it just didn't happen.
Had I succeeded, I would have snagged second place in the age group (50-59) instead of third. Naturally, I looked at the first place age group finisher and I would have likely run that. . . a few years ago! So, I proudly placed third out of 13.
Now, I am more than happy with my finish, that I finished, and that I finished under my 30-minute goal. It's a far cry from my best 5K--22.21 at the Festival of Races. But, just the day before I had told myself I would probably never run an 8-minute mile again. Well, hey there, self: A 9:13 pace with a foot that was nagging me for 3.1 miles gives me hope that perhaps 25-minute 5Ks once again lie in my future.
So I'm onto the next: still contemplating a 5K on April 28 that benefits a daycare center, but all signed up for the 10-mile Mountain Goat Run, and just now registered for the Du the Lakes Duathlon (run-bike-run), May 12 at Green Lakes State Park.
I am thrilled that my race season has begun--I'm looking for a more satisfying year, certainly, than 2011 when my foot injury ruled the roost. And I'm looking for a half-marathon to run. Ideas?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stretch Armstrong

Over this past weekend, my unlimited month of yoga classes at O Yoga Studio, for which I paid $35 through Living Social, expired. I am in mourning. I love yoga more than running, and everyone knows how much running means to me.

I have had the privilege to explore yoga classes at a variety of studios in the Syracuse area--O Yoga, CNY Yoga, Fitness & Dance of CNY, CNY Healing Arts Center and Morningside Yoga. And I have been able to participate in a good number of these classes with my daughter, who is now 22. In fact, it was a character trait I noticed in her that led me to sign us up for classes at Morningside, on Westcott Street. When she was 10 or so I realized that she was stressing out over school. The upper grades of elementary school are always tough; combine that with a conscientious student, and you have a kid who needs some coping skills. I thought some calming yoga breathing would serve her well.

Fast-forward 10 years and I am pleased that she continues her yoga practice, realizing that it is an incredible stress-reliever. Besides, it's something we can do together, mother and daughter.

While I enjoy yoga for that reason, my main purpose in doing yoga is for the flexibility, which leads to improved athletic performance and less likelihood of developing injury. That's the overarching goal, but that's not what keeps me returning to the mat at least once a week (more when I have unlimited access to a trained yogi!). In addition to the flexibility benefits resulting from a regular yoga practice, the activity brings with it psychological advantages as well, mostly related to self-esteem.

No matter the studio, no matter the class, every yogi I have practiced with repeats variations of the same mantra: "Honor yourself. Do only what is available to you today. This is your practice; make it what you want. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing in this class: it's not a competition." Thus freed to modify the basic poses you'll feel incredibly liberated! If high crescent lunge is tough on your back foot, drop down on your back knee. If chaturanga feels incredibly challenging today, do knees-chest-and-chin instead. The strength will eventually come, if you continue to practice.

I also like the tradition of setting an intention for your practice--whatever it may be. You can use the 75 minutes on your mat as a chance to work through a particularly vexing problem, come to a conclusion about a difficult home situation, riddle through a work conundrum. I also use running to do that, so, paired with yoga, I often solve the problem even quicker (joking!).

There are several yoga poses I just don't like, mostly because I struggle in them--chair pose always burns my quads, cobra is so fussy with its rule that you have to keep your feet together. But here's another aspect of yoga that makes it so meaningful for me. The poses you struggle with are those whose benefits you need the most. Patience has never been a strong suit for me, but if I stay calm, work with my body wherever it is on whatever day I am practicing yoga, those poses take on greater meaning for me. I suppose it's like training for a marathon--some days it's a struggle logging those miles, but having crossed the finish line is a huge accomplishment. Being able to hold pigeon in a calm, beneficial way, being able to flow through a Vinyasa class from Warrior I to Warrior II to Dancing Warrior--all are steps in the right direction of greater self-awareness.

I urge everyone to try a yoga class--most studios have drop-in rates. While you may not like it, I guarantee you will step off your mat with a better understanding of yourself and your place in the world. Really! All from 60 minutes or so of stretching. I'm the first to look at saving a dollar here and there, which explains why the last three yoga studios I visited were the result of a coupon offer. Still, there's nothing wrong with checking some yoga DVDs out of the library, and seeing which works for you, or not. If you just don't like it, there's always Pilates!