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January 16, 2009

"YOU CAN'T BUILD A HOUSE BY PUTTING THE ROOF ON FIRST"

That's my new favorite quote, courtesy of Personal Trainer Rick.

[Warning: this post is probably going to be lengthy and full of introspection on my past 3 years of running, as well as a detailed discussion of what the future holds for me and my running. You've been warned so don't gripe later when you realize it took you 30 minutes to read this post.]

But back to the quote: Rick made that statement to me bright and early this morning during personal training, while we were discussing plans that new Running Coach Sam has for me. It's stuck with me all morning long because that is exactly what I've done...built the roof on my running house without giving any real thought to the frame or structure of the house.

As most of you know, I went from no running to running a marathon in a little over 8 months. It was my goal to run one by the time I turned 30 and I did it. I'm good at things like that, setting my mind to do something and finishing it. So, I had my roof. And over the last 3 years I've been keeping myself warm and comfortable, and sheltered, under that roof. I didn't need doors or windows, or (gasp) a frame for that house because, well, I was perfectly comfortable just hanging out under the roof. The roof did it's job by keeping me warm and cozy. Why would I bother with a frame?

Well, last night I met with Running Coach for the first time, and in addition to opening up my eyes about my house frame, he and his wife fed me the best taco soup I've ever had! If this is what it takes to run smarter and faster, then sign me up!

We started off by going over the four phases that RC would like to see me follow. In a nutshell, there is the building the base phase, the intro to stress phase, the learning to deal with comfort phase, and finally the polishing and maintenance phase. He would like to implement the four phases over approximately 16 weeks, devoting 3 to 4 weeks to each phase. He also had taken my prior race history and completed a VDOT calculation to start from (mine is 35.91 - and if you know anything about VDOT you can easily tell that that means I'm slow), along with paces for the 5 types of runs I will work on over the 16 weeks (Easy/Long, Marathon, Threshold, Interval, and Repetition). Recovery pace is whatever my body feels like for that particular recovery day.

He also provided me with a printout of all of this, along with my target heart rates zones. AND he even laminated it so that I can carry it everywhere with me. Actually, he said wherever my Garmin goes, so does this sheet. Who loves organization? I DO! I DO!

Next was the hard part. What are my goals? What am I trying to accomplish by getting his help? How do I want to incorporate this method of training for maximum long term outcomes?What did I want to race and why?

Going into this, my goal was to run a sub-2 hour half marathon. In April. But, after my Tuesday night workout and preliminary discussions with RC about running in target heart rate zones, I realized that was a little too much strain to put on my body in such a short amount of time. So, I decided to make that goal for the City of Oaks Half Marathon in November. Plenty of time to train properly and stay injury free (main goal for 2009!).

But between now and then, what are my goals and what am I trying to accomplish?

This is the part where I have to swallow my pride and shout to the world that what I've been doing hasn't been working. And that I'm not proud of that. Because I'm always that girl who can figure it out and get it right and excel at it. That's just the way I'm wired.

Except, apparently, when it comes to running.

Over the last few weeks, I've come to realize quite a few things. For one, I'm maintaining my fitness level not by running, but by religiously attending Ricks FitCamp class and doing personal training. Running has just become an after thought. Something I do because I can, but not something that I thought I'll ever really be good at. So, why bother, right? Why bother going to all the trouble to build that frame when I've got a perfectly good roof to sit under?

I've read a lot of books about running. They all say something similar, and then have that one caveat to make their book saleable in the sea of all the other running books. And while I've read all of them, none of them have really hit home with me. I've never fully understood or retained what they were trying to say. I never had that "AHA!" moment.

Until last night.

Discussing the four phases of training and how, long term, improvements will come only with consistency and perseverance, I had that "AHA" moment. It all...all of a sudden...began to make sense. I realized, sitting in that chair in RC's office, that I don't have the innate desire to run 300 miles in a week, or 3 marathons in a month, or any of those other "endurance" activities so many of my crazy friends have the desire to do.

I have the sole desire to become better at running, irrespective of distance. I want to see results in times and pace and just general energy to get out there and do it. I don't want to come home and take a nap after a long run. I want to run up that hill in front of St Josephs Church and not have my heart rate sky rocket out of control. I don't want to walk during a race because I'm whipped and can't go anymore.

I want to lace up my shoes for each and every run and know that it has purpose.

So, I made the executive decision last night to make my goal over the next 16 or so weeks, about building that frame. And in doing so, I'm going to focus on the shorter distances. The 5ks and 10ks that are so abundant and can provide an immediate point of feedback. The distances that I have the time to focus on right now, as well as the distances that I know will help to build that important foundation for all other distances to come.

What am I saying?

I'm starting over. And doing things the right way, or the better way. The way where ever run is measured and tracked (again...LOVE the organization) and where every run has meaning to me.

Now, I know I'm going to get a gazillion questions about this. Especially the question of "Amy, if you can run 26.2 miles, why would you all of a sudden change your focus to something so short?" And here's my answer:

Because I KNOW I can run 26.2 miles. But, as I learned last night, being able to mentally put myself through 5 hours of running and completing 26.2 miles, is not going to make me see improvements on my time, or my pain tolerance, or my general attitude towards pushing myself to limits I thought I couldn't reach. I never fully comprehended, until last night, how taxing a marathon is. I mean, I knew it was tough. Believe me, there are very few things that mimic the toughness it takes to know that you've been running for 4 hours and you still have 5 miles to go. But, I never thought about the fact that I can't focus on my goals when I spending time recovering from really really long runs, or recovering from some injury because I pushed my body past it's limits.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm not ever going to run another marathon again. I'm will. But, I'll do it when my body is physically able to finish in what I am going to consider a decent time. I'll do it when I'm able to do it and get satisfaction out of the training for it, rather than just completing the race. I'll do it when the time, as well as purpose, is right for me.

For me, for now, it's time for me to step it up a notch and become the runner that I've always envisioned myself being. The runner who PRs on races she's run before. The runner who sees accomplishment in conquering a goal, rather than seeing herself in that physical therapist's office one more time. The runner who knows that she wasn't born to do this (and forgives her parents for having less-than-athletic genes) but who gets out there and does it anyway.

And, ironically, it all starts with a 30 minute EASY run!

I'm really looking forward to working with RC and incorporating Personal Training and FitCamp to build my overall fitness level to something that I plan on maintaining for the rest of my life. I feel hopelessly optimistic about all of this (running, weight training, etc) and I just can't wait to see what the frame of that house is going to look like!

Thanks for putting up with this unusually long post, and stay tuned for daily progress updates!

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