Friday, October 31, 2008

The opposite of me

Did any of you ever see that episode of Seinfeld - The Opposite? To summarise from Wikipedia "George, upon visiting the beach, (where many of the characters are seen having a major revelation), decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. Later, at Monk’s Café with the gang, he tells Jerry this, who convinces him that “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”. George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally. He suddenly begins to experience good luck, getting a girlfriend, moving out of his parents' house, and even landing a job with the New York Yankees."

I know that Jerry Seinfeld described Seinfeld as a sitcom "where no-one learned anything" and as such it was wonderful anti-dote to so many cheesy sitcoms with "useful life lessons". However, ironically, a few years ago I did learn a great deal from Seinfeld by doing the opposite of me.. I don't really like most self-help books or self-improvement stuff - most of the time I feel that they oversimplify people's personalities and issues and that the solutions offered are pat and patronising. However, I do realise that there are times when you need to change aspects of your life and habits and so, for a while, I did the opposite of me. You see, up until that point I believed that my ballooning weight and inability to exercise was just the way I was. I wasn't happy about it but I didn't believe that it was possible to change. Everyone knew (or so I thought) I couldn't exercise and I knew I couldn't stop eating. However, for some reason doing the opposite of me lodged into my brain and so I experimented with ignoring what I normally did and so believed I could exercise and could lose weight. I did and I did. And while watching what I eat and how I eat is still something I need to keep a check on I do know that I can be slim and don't have to hoover up everything in sight. And with 5 marathons under my belt now, I also know that I can exercise.

And the point of this history of me is? Ah I was getting to that. As many of you have realised (particularly those who have read my deeply stressed-out outbursts on Facebook) the past year of working as a marketing manager in a sollicitor's firm (law firm) has not been easy. There's been the predictable crises resulting from childcare and domestic issues but there has also been a great deal of work-related stress. Focusing on the marathon in the weeks leading up to October 12th, I put all that out of my mind. But when I found myself back from Chicago with no immediate goal in mind I really sank down. Hence my January in October post, and my overwhelming desire to just get my head down and run another race. However - I decided to do "the opposite of me". For some strange reason, when I'm under pressure, I tend to just pile on more pressure until I crack and everything stops. I then finally tend to admit that I have too much on my plate and only then do I re-evaluate. I didn't let myself do that this time. While part of me threw around all sorts of crazy ideas "the opposite of me" would not let me make any decisions until I knew that I knew. For sure. So I flailed around for a few weeks, listening to all your wise advice about whether or not to race (and I really appreciate all of that - I can't tell you) and a few of you offered advice that went a bit further than whether or not to race - ShirleyPerly sent me an incredibly kind and incisive email about the role of training and racing in your life. I didn't make any decisions(believe me, that is the opposite of impetuous me). I just let things percolate. On Monday evening, when I came back from work stressed out and grumpy , my husband begged me to give up the job, telling me that I wasn't even doing the job I was hired to do. And suddenly I tweaked. All this time I had been beating myself up for failing - failing to enjoy a prestigious job, failing to appreciate how lucky I am to be in a job at all in this current climate, failing to be good enough at this job. Adam's comment made me realise that the job I am doing at the moment is NOT the one I signed up for and not one I chose. It's just evolved.. Thinking that through made me realise that while I enjoy doing freelance project work, I hate going back into an office with its office politics, the way people check up on you as they do in offices, and the constant battle to prevent bucks being passed my way. So on Thursday I went to see my boss and I told him that while I would be delighted to carry on taking web and marketing-related project work I would, by the end of January, stop doing the endless admin side of my new role and would cease to work in their offices and be at their beck and call. They could go with that, or not at all. And guess what? They went for it.

Like so many people I find it difficult to actually, honestly, say what I think - particularly when I think people are not going to be happy to hear it. Making an effort, for once, to do this, has been the most incredible release. I asked for what I wanted, and I got it. Not only that - once I had made this decision I immediately received a request to do some freelance work for a different company. Completely out of the blue, completely unexpected, and yet perfectly right. I have been thinking for years that what I'd be good at would be the person who sits between the techies and the business hiring them and I've never been brave enough to do anything about it. When I finally dared to say it, it started happening..

I apologise because up until now this has been a non-running related blogpost. But strangely enough it is. Forcing myself to believe I could run, and then that I could run marathons, has slowly trickled its way into wondering whether there is more I could do that I never dared to confess to..

And the running is good. I'm not running a december race. I'm enjoying the downtime. For the first time I'm running a decent mileage without a goal race and relatively quickly after a marathon - I'm aiming for 20 to 25 miles a week. I'm paying attention to my stride, my pace, my body. Babying it when I'm tired and pushing it when I feel I want to. It's lovely and I'm enjoying it. My training for London starts at the end of December - I want to be fresh and ready. Removing this enormous blockage of stress about work should be a help.

Thank you for being so patient while I've been away - I'm back with you all now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Runner's Roundtable and a promise fulfilled...

Before we ran Chicago, Drusy asked me whether Charlie, Maddy, Melisa and I would be prepared to discuss our experiences afterwards on the Runner's Roundtable and we all immediately agreed. It took some time to get enough hosts and 3 out of the 4 of us (Melisa, unfortunately, had to work - doncha hate how that interferes with playing?) on board but we did the show last night and it was a great experience! We talked about the race and meeting up but in the course of the conversation I realised I had made a glaring great big mistake - this film is not yet out there.

Charlie - the great CewTwo - has a fabulous party trick and I have posted it below. Two caveats - it's taken me over 24 and about that many attempts to get this film to upload to Blogger so apologies for the delay. And secondly - even though I've realigned the movie on my desktop it has uploaded it sideways. Any tips? In the meantime - just tilt your head to the right and realise that when it comes to party tricks - Charlie wins every time...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

January in October

The marathon is over, my birthday is over, I need to go on a diet and I've spent my piggy bank - yup it feels like January in October...

I knew it would come but it never fails to sock me round the head - the post-marathon dip. I won't bore you with the detail of my self-pity - you may stop reading this blog altogether - but suffice it to say I've been moping. I turned 37 on Sunday and celebrated with a big party on Saturday night. For the past couple of years my marathons have always been on or just after my birthday so I've never really partied - this year, for the first time, I could let my hair down. Or out. I borrowed a karaoke machine, got a couple of boxes of wine and beer (Janey Wine-box - that's me!) and invited 20 great friens. Fun was had by all, I even coped with my actual birthday without feeling too horrible but Monday morning - oh what a surprise! - came the smackdown. I'm still in it I think. I feel tired, bored, unmotivated and generally whingey. If you met me for a coffee, I'd whine at you. And why am I whining?

I guess that after the race and the travel and a late party I am tired. But that's not the full reason I feel that somebody has just switched on the strip lighting and I am seeing myself and my life for what I truly am - I think the real reason is that I don't have a plan!

Marathon training structures my life. I always have what I've run and what I've got to run in the back of my mind. I use it to plan my life around it and though I don't always follow it to the letter, it is very rare that I don't know at least what I should be doing. There's a plan - and there's a goal. Without it I am clearly a slightly podgy, grumpy undisciplined person. Or so it feels now anyway.

Obvious answer - make a new plan. And I will. But I'm still in that bit of the whinge where I haven't pulled myself together, kicked myself up my behind and sorted myself out. I went out for my first run this morning - 3M in the dark with my little headlight on - and that felt a bit better. I started weightwatchers online yesterday morning and although I am still struggling to stay within my daily allocated 20 points I can see that I've fallen into some bad habits recently and I'm feeling quite positive about readjusting things.

Running-wise I'm a bit in 2 minds. I am feeling really good physically and there is a little part of my brain which is wondering whether maybe I can just squeeze in another marathon before Christmas? I've been googling "7 weeks between marathons" and while neither Uncle Hal nor the Pfitz think this is the most sensible option known to man, they don't think it is totally crazy either, provided you listen to your body. Race options are few - the only real contender is Luton which is basically a dump, but they are hosting a marathon and it might just shake the whingeing out of me.. Ideas? Views? Is it mad? ShirleyPerly - what's your take?

As I write an e-mail from a friend pops into my in-box saying that she thinks I must be on a low after the race and the party and to "take it very easy" for a while... Hmmm. I can see where she would vote on the above brainwave..

Longish-term I have been given my place in the London Marathon for 2009 and I intend to start training for that over Christmas - so even if I ran Luton I could then take 3 weeks off completely before starting again...

You can probably tell I'm not quite sure about anything right now. I'll wait and see - get my eating on track, do some running and see how I feel over the weekend. In the meantime, I've cheered up just by sharing my misery with you all. Forgive me! And thanks for listening.

Oh and before I forget - big shoutouts to amazing Maritza and incredible Greg for their feats over the weekend in their marathon and ultramarathon, respectively. Well done!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chicago 2008!

What a week! I got back on Tuesday afternoon but it has taken me until this morning to get round to the race report - between work, unpacking and spending some time with my family it has been so busy. The jetlag is getting me as well - it's never bad on the way out to the States but on the way home - it is terrible. Yesterday at work I was just overwhelmed by the desire to sleep at about 12:30pm... I went outside and soaked up some rays and got my friendly barista to add an extra shot to my latte. This morning I woke up at 5am eyes wide open... But I spotted the opportunity for a post so here it goes.

I had a wonderful time in Chicago. This week proved to be about friends old and new. I stayed with Jeff and Brian, who had supported me last time around, and they could not have been more gracious, welcoming and generous hosts. Reconnecting with them - lying on their couch drinking diet coke and watching wonderfully trashy tv, going out for some fabulous sushi, shopping on Michigan Avenue - was just fantastic. And then, of course, there were my new friends - Charlie, Melisa and Maddy. I met Maddy for the first time on Friday morning, outside her hotel. A little late as I had driven into downtown myself and had got utterly lost in the tunnels underneath the Loop. (Note to self - satellite navigation does not work underground - remember this with a Garmin..). We set out for a lakeside run which was not as easy as it might seem - we ended up on the side of a highway and had to turn back on ourselves before we found the lake. Check out my wonderful "on-run" photography skills - you can just see the brim of my cap there.. And get some sense of the beautiful lake, and the sun coming out. Maddy had a full day of sight-seeing ahead and so after 3M we headed back to the hotel and went our separate ways, agreeing to meet up at the expo.

Which we did - later that day. The expo was great - for those of us who like shopping and running, these occasions just have everything! Just before leaving I had entered an online competition at the RunnersLounge to trial "The Stick" and won one of the trials, and so I headed over to their stand. The guy who runs this business is fascinating and we spent ages discussing running, injuries and how and where the stick would work. He would keep saying to me "now I'm not getting fresh with you here" and then demonstrate another slightly embarassing but very effective move.. While I was chatting to him, Tom from the Runnerslounge came on over and we chatted as well - what a nice guy! We settled on this particular Stick and I will be starting my review of this over the weekend over on Runnerslounge - though fear not, I have already started to use it!

At this point my iPhone conked out. And with it, I feared, my chances of meeting up with Charlie and Maddy (I had already received Melisa's message that we had missed her). However, meandering through the stalls I suddenly spotted Charlie - and seconds later Maddy and her entourage found us as well. Cue some more photo taking..
Charlie, myself, Maddy and her adorable daughter, Chase. Maddy and her family went off again and Charlie patiently waited while I dithered over which race tee to buy.. And then he took on the weekend's real ultimate challenge - to allow me to drive him back to his hotel! We spent some time driving around underneath McKormick Place but eventually found our way to his hotel - always staying on the right side of the road as well! He made it in one piece, as did I..

The next morning Charlie, Maddy and I went off for another early morning run - on another beautiful day. Just a quickie - I think we did just over 2 miles - and then Charlie treated me to a delicious breakfast. What a guy! A run and some breakfast makes me a happy woman!

That evening we all met up at an Italian restaurant which Maddy had booked for about 20 of us (well done girl - it would have been beyond me) and I finally got to meet Melisa and her family. As I suspected, Melisa was a hoot and it was great getting to know Bill (her husband) and her family as well as Charlie's brother and sister-in-law...

And then race day dawned. Jeff and Brian rose with me at 5:30 and had programmed the coffee maker (didn't I tell you these were perfect hosts?) and then drove me to Maddy's hotel. I got there early and dawdled in the lobby waiting for Maddy (even waking up her husband, I fear, when I rang up to check she hadn't overslept..). We then walked over to Charlie and Melisa's hotel where we chatted nervously for a while before heading over to the start and queuing for the portaloos... Oh wherever you go in the world some things are the same!

It didn't seem that long before we were lined up in our corral, singing the national anthem and then standing around, listening to Born to Run while we were still waiting to go through the start. I think it was nearly 20 minutes before we crossed the start line and I immediately realised that I should have applied Friday's navigation lesson to my brain - my Garmin cut out in the tunnels and between the tall buildings... Oh well. Maddy and I had decided to run the race together and we were aiming for a 4:30. The first mile came in at about 12 minutes, but I figured with the crowds this was not bad. We stuck at this pace for a few miles, trying to find Maddy's family (we missed them until much later in the race). At 8 miles, we saw Jeff and Brian (photos to follow) which was fantastic - in 2006 I had missed them at every point. We were slowing down by this stage as the heat was making itself felt. I could see that we were drifting off our pace and made a decision there and then that we were just going to finish this race, come what way, and that we were going to forget about any time goals.. Which we did. Maddy has written a fabulous blow-by-blow race report at her blog although she gives me too much credit - I saw she was having a tough time (and I was plenty hot and bothered myself, may I add) and cannot begin to describe how much I admire her for sticking with the race (and me). The upside of the weather (and yes there was one) was the audience - the people were just having street parties everywhere! Highlights of the race include:
- the people in Pilsen - they know how to party!
- everyone who hosed us down with their garden hoses
- all the people who shouted out our names and made us feel like superstars - especially that band in Lincoln Park!
- and for me, Maddy. This girl has grit and determination and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to run the race with her. I was quite convinced that she would sock me (especially after I made her cry at mile 20) and I am just thrilled that we managed a PB for her - there's more where that came from girlfriend!

I think for all of us, it was a much tougher race than we had anticipated. We didn't think it could get as hot as last year again, and it almost did. The race was fantastically well-organised - the last 3 miles felt like one continuous water station - but nonetheless, this doesn't do the running for you. It really was tough out there and it seemed there were a lot of people at the aid stations and bent over with cramp by the side of the road.

But Maddy and I made it across the finish line - hand in hand! We need to get that photo! What a relief to stop running... And then there was the long drag to the medals, the apples (?) and my bag. Maddy had to make a quick turnaround to get to the airport so we hugged farewell - there is nothing like running together to cement a friendship! - and then I wandered off to find Brian and Jeff (stopping off at the beertent to collect my free beer, which, I have to say, was one of the most delicous things I have ever tasted in my life - and I'm not a beer drinker). After running in the heat for over 5 hours, there was no need to ID me... When we hooked up the boys took me home, and then we partied! Champagne at the John Hancock, a fabulous mexican meal and then singalongs to showtunes in their local bar. Bliss! And all too soon, I was wending my way back to the airport and home to my wonderful family..

Overall it was a truly wonderful experience. Meeting with Charlie, Maddy and Melisa was incredible - the strange combination of feeling you know these people but yet, you don't... We got over that last bit very quickly and I really hope to be running with these peeps, and others, soon enough. Thank you Charlie, Melisa and Maddy - for coming along, for being game. I am so sorry for encouraging you to run a race that did not live up to anyone's expectations achievement-wise. Next time I'll let you choose!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Stress, preparation and Stan...

Oh come on now! You know 3 posts in a few days was just a fluke! I was never going to keep up that kind of pace was I?

Life has been STRESSFUL! Well - not life - but work. Very stressful. Pressure, deadlines, working into the evening, work creeping into family life, work creeping into all aspects of life. Really not what I had in mind when I started working at this job in November. Everyone said to me that part-time work is never really that. They were right.. It will happily creep into every aspect of my life. What to do about it though? Well as I see I have a number of options:
- learn to deal with the stress in a constructive way. HA! Easier said than done is alls I can say. Running helps but does not solve it. I know people who can work hard, be really engaged and then switch off. I know that I need to "put my stress in a box" and shelve it. I know that. I just don't know how to.
- make my boundaries much more apparent to my employers and colleagues. Yes another good one. Despite my general gobbiness (few of you actually know me but believe I talk the hind legs off the proverbial donkey) I am not enormously assertive about my boundaries and what I will not do. Saying "no" in other words. More to work on there..
- give it up. But I really don't want to. I really want to work this out, work this through, learn how to handle this job better.
So I'll be working on the 1st and 2nd points then...

Preparation. Race preparation. Travel preparation. Well what can I say - I'm ready! I went out for 4 in the dark (that happened quickly!) and I was chomping at the bit to burst free. However it's all about control now and keeping it IN the jar so I'm doing that. I'm doing 8 on Sunday and then it's really slowing down. Heading to Chicago Thursday morning via Humberside - Amsterdam - Detroit and then driving across town to stay with my friends. That should be fun - driving on my own on the other side of the road after a good 12 hours of traveling. You can see why I plumped for SatNav... And then Friday we've arranged to meet all the other amazing blogging buddies at the expo and we'll take it from there?

Stan. Is a spot. I never get spots. Didn't have acne as a teenager, don't spot over at my time of month - it just doesn't happen. But last week - probably due to all the stress (see above) I got a spot. And not just any old spot. This spot was gigantic! Enormous! No-one said to me "oh you wouldn't notice it was there" because that would be like ignoring a second head that was sprouting out of my face. This spot was of such epic proportions I really did feel it had a life of its own and therefore I named him Stan. Of course this was the week we had a big launch at work where I had to stand around covering my chin with my hand like a teenager and then I met a friend who I hadn't seen for 18 years (! the wonders of Facebook).. Anyway I'm not a very make-uppy kind of girl but this was a crisis so I went into a beauty shop and just pointed at my chin. The staff, again, didn't pretend there was nothing there but like EMTs rushing to an accident they whisked out all their magical stuff and by the time they were done I had a beauty spot. Not great - it kind of looked like a wart - but not as bad as Stan.

While there is still stress, Stan is shrinking, finally. I didn't take a picture - I just couldn't bear it. But take it from me - with one thing and another - I'm looking forward to getting on that plane next week and leaving everything behind for a few days.