Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Running For Yourself

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.” - William Blake
       "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle
My five year-old knows her mind. She know what she wants and does not want. She knows what she likes and does not like. She is never indecisive. Rarely will she be persuaded to do something she does not want to do unless you have really really good reasons to convince her otherwise. I admire her clear-headedness. In an important way, she is sure of herself - of who she is - though I doubt she's ever (yet) thought about that a whole lot. She simply is who she is.  What a wonderful thing to behold.

I, on the other hand, over analyze things - Who am I? What do I want? Am I REALLY doing what I want? I've heard that supposedly these questions are magically answered (or perhaps you're supposed to stop caring about them) when a women turns 40 (Sorry guys. Don't know when this is supposed to happen for you). But, in my experience folks, sorry, it just ain't so.

What I do know: I know I love to run. Okay, that's a start. I know I love my family to Pluto and back. I know I care deeply about justice and fairness and beauty and the good and the right. And that's about as far as it goes, sometimes.

It's not always easy figuring out what YOU want to do, even when it comes to running - something seemingly pure and simple.

Recently, there was a thread on a facebook running group's page about people who run races but don't actually "race" them, or at least claim not to "race" them but rather use these races as workouts. There were some runners who didn't understand this idea of running a race while not always racing it - as in, giving it your best possible effort. Some comments seem to indicate that this was simply inappropriate. That you either race or go home, and anyone who claims this is simply lying. There were many who clearly thought that this was a suspect (at worst) and an inferior (at best) approach to running a race and questioned the "real truth" behind such an aim/claim.

And this got me thinking about the influence of "social media" on running, and how we direct our individual running goals and how others may influence those goals - and this can be beneficial or detrimental. Don't I have the right to run a race anyway I want without someone questioning my motives and sincerity? And even if I am full of hooey, who cares? What difference does it make? Does that change your accomplishments?

I like to run races as part of my training for goal races. I will often plan to run shorter races while training for a marathon. It's helpful for me for several reasons: First, I tend to push myself harder when I'm racing, even if I'm not racing all out. It's easier to get a good tempo run, or lactate threshold run, or marathon pace run done this way. Second, it keeps me in "racing mode" so to speak - where I'm pressed to keep pushing it to the end even when I'm feeling tired. Out on a training run I'm much more likely to give in when the going gets tough. Finally, as a fairly solitary runner with a complicated schedule that makes it difficult for me to run with others, I like being around other runners, and take this opportunity to be more social.

I find this to be a good way to get my racing fix, without racing myself into an injury all the while keeping my eye on the prize, which is the goal race that is most important to ME. But sometimes I have a hard time not pushing it as hard as I can because that's the common expectation.

In places like facebook and dailymile, we have the opportunity to encourage people to pursue their goals, even if those individuals have few "real", as in not 'virtual', running friends they can find like-minded runners and a virtual running community. That's a great thing. But sometimes I wonder if encouragement and commiseration can have a dark side - at least when it comes to social media. Self direction can be challenging, but it becomes more challenging when you hear about all the fantastic and outrageous accomplishments others seem to collect each week, week after week. The miles they run...the PRs they set...the metals...the sponsors...the wins, places, shows...the Half Maniacs (and their numbers)...the Marathon Manias (and their numbers)...and on and on and on.

How many marathons did you run this year? how many miles did you run this week? This year?

For me, social media has brought me, literally, thousands of new, virtual running friends - some of whom I've met, and others I hope to meet. I have the opportunity to hear the tales of other's heroic feats and to some extent this exposure broadens my own horizons. My running world is so much bigger now. I see what others, who are not so different from me, are able to do.

But I must be mindful of my own goals, wants, desires, and needs. Your achievements are your achievements. My achievements are my achievements. My greatest competitor is myself.

But then I hear about all the great races others are running. Oooo, that sounds like fun. I want my part of that. I start signing up for races every weekend. I aim for PRs at every race. And, this is precisely what happened to me at the end of 2011. Add in a sponsor, and some teammates, and suddenly I'm a racing fool...and I've lost my path. MY path! And yes, it all came to a screeching halt thanks to an injury.

Given the number of years I've been running and the number of years I've been on this earth, I should know better then to get sucked into this silliness - and yet, I did. lesson learned - for a little while anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting Honest About Goals

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them." ~ Henry David Thoreau
"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."~ Vincent Van Gogh
There was a time in my life when I hoped for something for nothing - that is, I hoped that somehow, on just the right day, at just the right race, I would have a shinningly brilliant performance that would blow me away. I first noticed this tendency in my twenties when I wanted, above all else, to break 40 minutes in the 10k. Somehow the idea of running 39:59 - as opposed to 40:01 -  meant something of great importance to me. Somehow that arbitrary number would justify my commitment to running. Somehow, that magical number would make me a real runner.

I would often tell myself  "If you really want this give it all you've got, and it will happen". After all. it's only 6.2 miles - and it doesn't take that long, so if I just pushed with all my might - I could run way faster - just this once. But it didn't happen, and back then I felt that I was giving it all I had, except for those inevitable parts of races where you lose your focus just a bit, and slack off for those crucial moments. But my problem wasn't really my lack of will and fortitude during races. My problem was that I wasn't really training with that goal in mind. I just kept hoping for some unprecedented moment of speed, strength, endurance, and mental focus and resolve that would carry me to my moment of glory. But that never happened because I hadn't done my homework. And, each time I crossed the finish line with 40... flashing in front of me, I would literally and figuratively kick my weak self for days to come.

Then I decided that it mattered to me and I went to the track and I ran intervals. I did what I needed to do, and ran 39:21. It all clicked - I did my homework, I prepared, and I finally saw that 39...flashing as I went over the finish line.

And then I quit racing for close to 20 years. I couldn't take the pressure (I placed on myself) and I started hating racing. I was done. I wanted to continue doing the things I enjoy - running long miles - and not doing the things that would make me faster - dreaded speed work. Of course I dreaded speed work because I sucked at it and I sucked at it because I never did it (and, I suspected, because it's not my natural strength). I continued running 40-50 miles a week, year after year, for the pure running of it - but I said good riddance to my racing days, hung up my facing flats, and told tall tales of how I lost or permanently disfigured most of my toenails.

When we moved from Maine to Colorado and stuffed all our worldly belonging into our fairly sketchy Dodge van for the long trek west, the running trophies were left with the trash sitting in front of our empty apartment. Good riddance, I told myself again. And I never looked back...until I did.

And I never really let the lessons I learned soak in and gel, so to speak, until I returned to racing in my 40s - this time running marathons.

You really can't fudge the training when it comes to running marathons - and even when your training is spot-on, you can still have a bad day, and the whole thing falls apart. When it comes to marathon training I believe firmly in the value of sticking to a plan, doing the necessary key workouts, knowing where you're at and where you want to go - You do the work, then you're ready to run the pace you trained for - but there will be no rabbits pulled out of hats in the marathon - at least not for this runner.

So now, 52 days away from running Boston, I find myself in a very uncomfortable situation. As I've already bemoaned in earlier posts, I've had a couple tough weeks with a concussion and then the flu - both of which wiped me out and sent me off to bed for what seemed like days on end - and this came on the heels of dealing with a foot issue that kept me from doing my faster training.

Now I'm feeling better, ready to go, but I feel that I've lost so much. When I look at my schedule I'm pretty confident that I can do the long runs - endurance is my strength - but those tempo, and LT, and MP runs...? Hmmmm, what is my "marathon pace" right now, I wonder. I knew the answer to this a couple months ago - before my foot injury, head injury, and sickness. But now, I just don't know.

My expectations for Boston were high a few months ago. I rarely race at sea level, and so this is an exciting prospect for me. But given this training cycle, I just don't know what to expect. When I compare where I am this year with this time last year, I despair. When I ran the Colorado Marathon last May I knew what pace I trained for and ran it with confidence in the race. I loved feeling somewhat in control and capable. But my training this winter has been spotty and uneven and I've been forced to miss key workouts that address my weaknesses (because those are, of course, the most difficult ones for me).

So the next couple of weeks, assuming I stay healthy, I must work to assess where I'm at now, not where I wish to be, not where I was 3 months ago, but right now. I must make the best of the situation which is unfortunately not ideal  and set my new goals and expectations realistically.

I wish I could just magically will myself to run the paces I was fit to run in November. But much has happened since then. I'd like to feel that somehow this relieves me of some of the self imposed pressure I place on myself, and perhaps it will. But that hasn't happened yet. But I won't fall into the error of believing that if I fall short of achieving my desires, that it's due to a weak will. I will do what I can to set realistic yet still ambitious aims.

I will take to heart the lessons my younger self might have learned, had I been listening and paying attention to what my heart and my head tried to tell me. And, one of my biggest regrets is leaving all those trophies out with the trash and telling myself that they didn't matter. A little piece of me was left out on that curb with them. Luckily, I've managed to hold on to  the rest of the pieces so that I may, one day, puzzle them together. Perhaps.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

"Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

 And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life... 

 If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing."

While trying to recover from my recent concussion, my husband tried to comfort me with the often proclaimed "You know, it could have been much worse". This provided less than no comfort to me, because all I could think was "Well, it could have been a lot better - as in - it could have not happened". I never want to hear about when things "could have been worse". Many friends, after hearing the story of what happened to me, exclaim "Wow, you were really lucky!". Lucky? Lucky you say? I certainly don't feel very lucky. I know I could have broken my neck. I know that I could have been killed, but that just didn't seem to matter as much as the cold hard fact that it happened in the first place. I was in constant, unrelenting pain. All my plans were suddenly thrown into doubt.

Now, for those who haven't experienced a concussion (or "closed head injury") recently, the current recommendations are "complete cognitive rest" (lots of new information has been garnered from all the war vets returning with head injuries) - that is, no thinking! As a philosophy teacher I find this a difficult concept to grasp - after all the only really good (as in indubitable) argument advanced through all the thousands of years of philosophical pondering is Rene Descarte's "I think, therefore, I am": If I'm having thoughts, I must exist even if all my thoughts are mistaken. So here the doctors all tell me not to think! Yikes! Will I cease to exist?  

But of course "not thinking" is pretty much impossible. Yet I was forced to spend hours in a dark quiet room doing absolutely nothing - no reading, no TV, no computer, no music - absolutely nothing...except thinking. Lying there all day thinking just made me really really angry - angry that I was forced to do this when I had so many other things I needed and wanted to do, and really really really angry at the person who foisted this situation upon me. I could not seem to get one thought in particular out of my head: "Here I lie, trying not to think - and that jerk is living his life like normal. Not fair, not fair, not bloody fair" I screamed inside my head. And, quite honestly, I felt that I didn't know what to do with this anger I knew was consuming me.

Of course my husband, helpfully, mentioned the obvious -  that these angry thoughts weren't helping my healing - which only made me more angry - And there is the vicious circle. What could I do? 

Well, I tried, with all my might, to "Look on the bright side of life". I hugged my daughter and husband a little tighter - and it may sound trite, but I tried to count my blessings. This is not like me - it's not my natural response, so I had to work at it. But I did, to some extent, let it go. 

And, the fact is that my husband is really the one who has it right here. Climbing accidents are serious business. Lives are lost or changed forever in an instant: An instant of distraction, poor judgement, inattention.  I nearly missed a possibly life changing accident. But I'm focusing on my bad luck when I could accept that things very easily, in that instant, could have been very different - This moment could have ended my running days, my climbing days...my days.

And then the flu hit...And the gods must have wished that I learned my lesson for sure. Yes, indeed, things could always be worse...


Thursday, February 9, 2012

February Is The Cruelest Month

 "Every mile is two in winter."
-  George Herbert
"Surely as cometh the Winter, I know
There are Spring violets under the snow."
-  R. H. Newell

Yesterday a good friend, who's also a (newish) runner (been running for a couple years), confessed her fear that she might be losing her running mojo. She worries that it's becoming such an effort and sometimes a chore. My response: "That's just February happening. And don't worry, it happens every February." At least it does for me.

Each year February comes along - It always follows January, which followed December, which followed November, which followed October - and this year October marked our first substantial dump of snow. Lucky us! It didn't dump in September, which it often does. And February, it seems, is always a test of commitment, of optimism, of resilience. So, at this point winter has been going on for a good long time and it can get wearing.

The daily challenge of winter is the ever changing situation faced each morning when you step out the door: What should I wear? where should I run? Are the trails runnable? From what direction is the wind coming (gotta run out against, and back with the wind or you may freeze some valued body parts)? Are the side roads clear, or do I need to stay on the main roads? After months of analyzing the minutia of running, I just want to throw on some shorts and a shirt and go where I want to go (Important note: come July/August I'll probably be whining about the heat;)

But there's always that tantalizing light at the end of the tunnel: Get through February, and it's gotta get better. I just gotta get through February. Of course, in Colorado, March is the snowiest month, but generally it's also warmer, and signs of spring begin popping out all over the place. But February? February just demands cold, hard determination to push on and tough it out.

But now, it seems, there might be a new wrinkle in my February malaise: February is fast becoming my month of Doom. It seems that the week or so before and after Valentine's Day is fraught with danger for me.

This past Sunday I stood in the local rock gym packing up my things to leave and chatting with a couple friends, when out of the blue a climber was lowed, at a high rate of speed, crashing into me. The result of that accident was a trip to the ER and a concussion which has left me unable to work, to drive, to run, and until today, unable to think very clearly.

But there's more to this story - much, much more. Last year on Valentine's Day I was attacked by a Tibetan Mastiff (a large beast of a dog that weighed 130lbs) while out running on a nearby trail that I run on regularly. I was in the middle of marathon training then, as now, and suffered some major muscle strains and a bit of PTSD. A few years ago, also during February, I sustained an overuse injury that kept me from running for 10 months. Ten years ago, a few days before Valentine's Day, I fell while bouldering (unroped rock climbing which tends to stay fairly low to the ground) and tore my Posterior Tibialis Tendon - 6 weeks in a cast and months of rehab followed that one.

Is this some sort of disturbing karmic trend, a pattern, a curse, or just unfortunate coincidence? It's difficult, at times, not to feel doomed by the fickle Fates. So, now I am beginning to wonder whether it might be best for me to just hibernate for the month of February. It's hard not to blame February for everything...and right now I'm leaning in that direction. 

And lest we forget, there's one extra day in this February. Oh, woe is me...

And yet, as I sit moldering away on the couch, zoning out in front of the boob-tube trying to rest my injured brain, all I want to do is go for a run. I want to be out there, in all that February has in store for me, good or bad or somewhere in between. I don't want to be sitting on the bloody couch watching other runners trot past my back fence! I am angry, so very very angry about what has befallen me, thanks to some jerk's careless and negligent actions - right smack in the middle of Boston training. I want to say that I hate February, but the fact is that what I really hate is this climbing dude who's messed with my life and then just gets to go along living his life like normal. Oh, I know, 'hate' does nothing for me - but that's how I feel right now and there's no use denying it. I'm just really pissed. But - this too shall pass...As soon as I can run again!

Dear February...I will be back out there, soon, I promise. 
Love, Chronic Runner

To all of you...go for a run, and be thankful you can!

And, if anyone out there wants to cheer me up, don't forget, I've launched my fund-raising for Girls Education International - http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/caolan-macmahon/bostonmarathon2012 -ANY donation is greatly appreciated!

"The day is ending,
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red."
-  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Afternoon in February

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chronic Contest #2

Because Every Little Bit Matters...
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
 The Boston Marathon is 10 weeks away. I have pledged to run two marathons, Boston and New York City, to raise money for Girls Education International. I have chosen to run for this organization because I believe in the power of education (I am an educator, after all) and in particular, the education of girls, especially in areas where that option is simply not available, as (perhaps) the most effective way to creating a better world. And I've chosen to raise money for this organization because it is a small organization with very little overhead/administrative costs. They work in very difficult areas of the world, and they work directly with local educators, getting the help directly to the girls. Money that is donated directly benefits the girls, not a top heavy organization.
  • $1,000 pays a Liberian girl’s 4-year college tuition ($250 per year).
  • $165 sends a Pakistani girl to school for one year.
  • $200 sends a Liberian girl to school for one year.
  • $25 buys school uniforms and shoes for one Pakistani girl.
The most effective way to combat poverty, desperation, fanaticism, hatred, violence, and hopelessness is through education. My aim over the the next several months is to raise $5000.00. You do the math...

...How many girls can YOU help send to school? How many lives can YOU change? When we act together, as individuals, amazing things can happen.


Back in September I wrote a post arguing that running could make the world a better place to live - a more just and happy world - and this benefit is both self regarding (what running does for ME) and other regarding (what MY running may do for others): I close Running To a Better World with a call to action:
"Recently I was told that I am idealistic and unrealistic (and perhaps naive) because I believe runners should sometimes run races for charity not because they gain entry into the Boston Marathon or the New York City Marathon, but just because it's a good thing to do. I was told that people just don't do that. I don't buy it.  I believe that running has the power to wake us from our dogmatic slumber as we realize that we are part of the world community, part of the natural environment, part of our town, neighborhood, country -  and we have the ability to do some good in a world that sometimes feels so big, where we often feel so powerless. 

Running makes you feel alive. When you are running you are alive, and, you know it. You have energy and power, and sometimes you may even feel that you can change the world. So now, let's go out and do some good in the world...

(Addendum: I posted the video above because I think the sentiment is spot on. I hope NIKE will practice what it preaches and promises here. Thus far, the company's record is has not been a shining beacon of hope. We runners might want to encourage NIKE to do the right thing around the world - pay living wages, provide safe working conditions, and refrain from sponsoring athletes (ie. Micheal Vick) who contradict the message they're making above (can sport please kick the ass of animal abuse too?). Let them know what you think...@  http://www.nikebiz.com/contact/") "
So, in an attempt to encouraging you to do the right thing, (nudge, nudge) I am launching the 2nd semi-annual Chronic Runner Contest. From NOW through noon (EDT) on APRIL 16th - Yes, that's Patriot's Day in Massachusetts:
1) Either pledged a contribution by emailing me (cqmacmahon@hotmail,com) for any amount - EVEN 1 DOLLAR! or made a charitable donation through my fund-raising page (http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/caolan-macmahon/bostonmarathon2012), and;  2) is also a fellow "Peripatetic' of this blog:
You will be entered to win, the always coveted,  "I RUN - Get Chronic" t-shirt or one month free online coaching (including a detailed analysis of where you are now and how to get where you want to go). There will be two lucky winners!
Don't wait for someone else to do something...don't tell yourself it's okay if you don't do anything, because someone else will...don't tell yourself what you can do doesn't matter...EVERY DOLLAR matters. One Dollar...I DARE YOU.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I Dare You To Do Something

 “There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.”– Kofi Annan

I teach college ethics, and my education and training focused primarily on the study of ethics. Today, my concerns continue to return to questions of ethics - How SHOULD we act? What SHOULD we do? Where do our DUTIES lie?

This is not simply some academic concern I leave in the classroom - I live it. Since running is an important part of my life, ethics inevitably enters into that part of my life as well. I've argued in earlier posts that runners should use their talents for something beyond themselves - to make the world a better place. Running need not be the self-centered, selfish pursuit many see it as. This is my attempt to walk the walk...

In almost all my ethics classes we cover a section called "Near and Distant People". The issues and principles we explore concern if and when and why we may or may not owe certain considerations to those close to us or those far away from us.  Most of my students, over 14 years of teaching, try to argue that we owe more to those close to us then those far away. Why? Because we see them? Because they are "one of us"? Most respond with a shrug and a "well just because we should help our neighbors first". Why?

It seems, that if there is any duty to help, the scope of that duty must focus on those in greatest need first. Whether someone is near or far makes no difference (ethically, though logistics do change). If you have two people in need, and you have the ability to help one (ability is important because in ethics "ought = can".  If you can't help, then there's no duty because you can't do any good) wouldn't you help the one in greatest need regardless of where that person might be?

There are many misconceptions and bogus 'facts' tossed about, used to form opinion in the United States concerning population and prosperity around the world. Ethicists debate the efficacy of 'helping' those around the world who are in need - those dying everyday, every minute, from easily preventible conditions and diseases. Some argue that the right sort of help will aid in lowering birth rates and improving opportunities in the long term. Others maintain that help will result in nothing more than more people, more mouths to feed, and more death and suffering in the future.

We tend to accept the views that: a) Are consistent with the way we now believe the world to be, b) appeal to our intuitive/common sense ideas of what probably works best, and c) don't require us to make sacrifices or change the way we want to live.

An example of these types of reasoning: Most Americans support the death penalty because they believe it is a greater deterrent then life in prison. Common sense would lead you to believe this. However, the data DOES NOT SUPPORT that view. According to the data the death penalty and life in prison are equal in their deterrent effect. But, we say "that just can't be. I just don't buy it." And we go on believing something that cannot be supported - and we don't really want to make the effort to change the status quo. You can support the death penalty for other reasons, but citing greater deterrence as a reason is a bad argument.

Likewise, we tend to believe that if we feed starving people, more people will survive, which will result in more hungry mouths, and the birth of more hungry mouths, leading in the end, to mutual destruction for all.

So what's the way out of this vicious circle? EDUCATION, and most importantly, EDUCATING GIRLS AND WOMEN.

The most recent demographic data clearly supports this claim. In countries dealing with poverty, famine, and over population, educating girls and women has made THE DIFFERENCE between breaking out of the cycle of poverty and falling back into it.

I am running the Boston Marathon 2012 and The New York City Marathon 2012 to raise money for Girls Education International. For more information on Girls Ed go to their website and watch the video below. You may contact me directly at cqmacmahon@hotmail.com or go to my fund raising page: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/caolan-macmahon/bostonmarathon2012

I Dare You To Do Something Good :) 


So, in an attempt to encouraging you to do the right thing, (nudge, nudge) I am launching the 2nd semi-annual Chronic Runner Contest. From NOW through noon (EDT) on APRIL 16th - Yes, that's Patriot's Day in Massachusetts:
1) Either pledged a contribution by emailing me (cqmacmahon@hotmail,com) for any amount - EVEN 1 DOLLAR! or made a charitable donation through my fund-raising page (http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/caolan-macmahon/bostonmarathon2012), and;  2) is also a fellow "Peripatetic' of this blog:
You will be entered to win, the always coveted,  "I RUN - Get Chronic" t-shirt or one month free online coaching (including a detailed analysis of where you are now and how to get where you want to go). There will be two lucky winners!
Don't wait for someone else to do something...don't tell yourself it's okay if you don't do anything, because someone else will...don't tell yourself what you can do doesn't matter...EVERY DOLLAR matters. One Dollar...I DARE YOU.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...