Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thirteen Miles

Saturday was my longest training run on the schedule – 13 miles, practically a half-marathon, minus a measly 0.1 mile.

On the way in the pre-dawn to the starting site, my stomach flipped a few times with nerves while my mind ticked off potential pitfalls. Should I have switched out my shoes by now? Did I eat enough breakfast and should I tweak my standard meal (honey nut cheerios, soy milk, toast, peanut butter and chocolate soy milk)? Were there going to be any spectacular, humiliating bathroom emergencies along the way?

I huddled with a friend in her car until the last possible moment – the temperature was perfectly tolerable, in the low 50s, but a bitter and constant wind caught us all by surprise. And then the group directors lead us all to the ersatz start line and what had been a mass of people quickly stretched out into a ragged line along the dark road ahead of us. We cheered for ourselves, for the marathoners running 21 and the halfers like myself tackling 13.

Our route was mostly along an interstate access road, along a section that we’d never run before. This turned out to be a blessing, because without familiar landmarks, I couldn’t mentally calculate and analyze and countdown my progress – I just had to keep running. I expected to hang with my friend Amie, who has kept pace with me throughout the training program, both of us perpetually, and blithely, bringing up the rear. But from the beginning, we both kept pace with three other women in our group, sometimes chatting and laughing, sometimes thinning out into a pace line, which buoyed my spirits, as it felt like we were working in unison, lockstep in silent camaraderie.

As has begun my habit, I took an electrolyte caplet and half an energy gel after an hour. I’ve come to understand that my body is pretty regular – without fail, at mile 5 or 6, it’s time for bathroom break, this time at a chain restaurant along the interstate. I lost about 10 minutes here, and also separated from Amie, whose pace had slowed. I’ve wondered about this on race day – we’ve become friends, and I feel a sense of loyalty to her, but sometimes our pace is exactly compatible and other times it’s not. Should we agree to stay with one another, or should we each run our own races? It’s something to discuss.

Regardless, the group of three other women had pulled ahead at the bathroom break. I “sprinted” for about twenty minutes to catch up with them, on what I later realized was the most hellacious part of the route for most of the runners – a steady incline directly into a headwind. When I finally caught them at a water stop around mile 7, a gnawing hollow of hunger had opened in my stomach, a dive in energy that would dodge me through the rest of the run.

My group had pretty much run out of talk at this point. At mile 9 I took another electrolyte pill and finished the other half of my gel, grabbing some gummy bears and delicious orange slices from the water stop, along with some animal crackers. Still, I felt like I could sit down right there and eat and eat and eat for hours on end.

My energy solidified for a few miles, up more hills, still buffeted by the winds. The final turn was in sight, and the pit of hunger was back. The last water stop didn’t have any food, but I downed some energy drink and instantly regretted it as it bottomed into my stomach, twisting into a cramp. Now it was just me and one other woman running together. We had two miles to go, along a windy, gradual climb that seemed to continually round a curve. It was a cruel sight line: we couldn’t gauge when the finish would appear, and this proved to be the biggest mental challenge of the run. Another friend running the 21 miles told me later that she felt like a deep depression set in at this point in the route. My energy was completely gone by then, and only sheer stubbornness and the fact of running with another person kept me from stopping to walk or take a nap. My left hamstring had tightened up in the last few miles and the soles of my feet ached.

But then the finish appeared, with a few of the early finishers (including those who had already finished the 21 miles. Sheesh!) cheering. I was feeling lightheaded and my left arm was tingling oddly. A few steps more, and we were done, in almost exactly three hours.

I felt tired, and quietly satisfied. And hungry.

This is what I ate almost immediately following the finish: more orange slices, pretzels, a sausage taco, a slice of chocolate cake, a bagel with lox, tomatoes and cream cheese, and coffee.

Now I know this half-marathon is something I can handle. I also know that I need to fine-tune my fueling strategy, get new shoes and be careful not to drastically change my pace during the race.

And I think I’ve also found that I really like longer runs. Eight miles seems a perfect distance, a mileage that allows me to hit a rhythm while avoiding precipitous drops of energy. I’m thinking that after the half in Austin I’ll try to incorporate one long run per week into my cross-training plan. That would be an ideal, but I’ll have to work on the motivation aspect of that plan.

The best thing about this weekend’s training run is that I feel absolutely confident that I’ll finish the race. And that makes all the difference between anticipation and dread.

Update: The job decision has been delayed, so I have no news to report. But thanks for your insights. I still don’t know my own mind (or heart, or gut) regarding the issue, which has always been an eternal problem of mine when making decisions. I always seem to consult with everyone else except myself. But I did cry, which may not seem like a big deal, at least not until you consider that the last time I cried about anything other than a movie or book was five years ago. So, there’s that. An emotional breakthrough!

One thing that I’m always walking around telling people is that “I’m not ambitious.” I still think this is true, that the ambitions I have don’t mesh well with traditional ideas of career paths and professional success, but I also think I may be using this line of reasoning to not do much of anything, including pursuing some of those alternate paths. So look to this space for some musing on those alternate paths, which have always seemed so pie-in-the-sky, but are maybe more in reach than I’m willing to apprehend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Being True

I’m writing this entry about my job plans a little earlier than expected due to a curve-ball I got at work today.

My department director called me in unexpectedly to ask if I would take on a special project, of indeterminate length with indeterminate duties. I would receive a temporary pay increase of 10% as long as the special assignment lasts. The job description is vague, but it entails things I’ve never done before: coordination among different agencies, networking, creating social service plans, managing politics and personalities. It is not something on my own that I would ever choose or seek out.

I have until tomorrow to decide.

My plan for this year has been to stay in my current position at least through October. The rationale for that decision is that in October I will be vested in my retirement plan, which means that if I left this organization anytime after that, the money could sit in the retirement account, earning interest, and when I turned 60, I could withdraw that money and the plan would match all contributions and interest at a 2:1 ratio.

Here are the numbers: if I stop making contributions in October that money plus interest would grow to an estimated $40,000 by the time I was 60. The system would match that amount at the ratio and I would have $120,000 available to me. I know that’s not a lot of money, and probably will be small change due to inflation in 30 years, but still, it would be some form of retirement, of security, if I decided to become a flunky and never pay into any kind of retirement plan every again, aside from Social Security.

I am not happy in my current job. I have found myself on an increasing basis feeling resentful, cynical and apathetic. But I decided I would stay at least 10 more months as part of a long-sighted vision for my own future. I did decide, however, that I would seek another position within the same organization, which I have done, and I even interviewed for a different position last week.

And now, out of the blue, I’ve been offered this special assignment. I’ve been a weepy wreck tonight, because I don’t think this is a job that would make me any happier than my current position. The truth is that I don’t really know, because the job description is so vague. I do know that it will be more hours, more stress and lots of frustration. I also know that as of this moment, I have no clue as to what sort of job --any kind of job -- would bring me satisfaction.

But I realized tonight that one reason this has brought forth such emotion is that whatever decision I make, I am still being an impersonator in my life, spending a great deal of my time doing work that feels duplicitous. I do good work and I know that I have the ability to do a good job with this special assignment. I have skills that I put to use in my work, but only because I have a work ethic and a sense of personal responsibility. Otherwise, I feel sometimes like I’m walking around with one of those carnival plywood cutouts – the one with the painted body of a character with your head superimposed on it. I’m not being true to myself, I’m marking time.

And yet, I think deciding to mark time in this case is a prudent, wise, rational, conservative, pragmatic, boring decision. I think I should look towards my future retirement. If this vestment issue were not a factor, I think I would be looking furiously for work outside of this current organization.

How do I make it through the next 10 months without feeling completely fraudulent? How can I feel that I am remaining true to at least some part of myself? How can I not feel like my daily life is akin to an out-of-body experience?

Everybody makes compromises in life, the question is, which compromise is too far? Which one will damage you? Is not our character, our moral fiber, made up of the daily decisions we make?

What will the decision I make tomorrow say about me?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blogus Interuptus

Big Brother was making some rumbles at work, and I got spooked and stopped my blog reading and writing. But now I’ve got a home computer set up, and so I’m back, though I fear having the Internet at home may cause me to develop a raging Ebay or porn addiction. I am, oddly enough, much more productive at work latey.

Here’s a random recap of the past few months:

  • I took an Amtrak trip to Dallas for kicks. It was long and slow, but I expected that. My seatmate on the trip up was a conspiracy freak who at one point got so excited that she yelled at the top of her lungs a diatribe about “whores and the blow jobs they have to give because of the patriarchy” followed by some choice words against George W. On the trip back the train was full of families catching the connecting route to New Orleans for Christmas. I also discovered a small town in Texas which is apparently the secret nexus for cute boys, as several cute boys deboarded and boarded at that stop. I fully plan to return for a more in-depth investigation. Also, the backyards of small-town America are filled with forlorn plastic toys, trampolines and above-ground swimming pools. At least one backyard in urban Fort Worth has a horse.

  • We are having a beautifully mild winter. Scootering everywhere has been a pleasure, and I have loved starting each morning with a brisk ride just as the sky is lightening and taking on a clear, sharp blueness. I’ve gone on a few more scooter rallies and really am stoked about being part of that community.

  • Except, that my scooter was stolen two weeks ago. From the exact same spot from which my bicycle was stolen. The rat fink bastards. Now I’m back to using my feet and the bus to get around, which in the grand scheme of things, is nothing to complain about. But damn, I’m really pissed about the scooter. I’m waiting for the news on my insurance claim and then I can decide if I’ll go for another scooter or grit my teeth and kiss my budget goodbye by getting a car. As for a new bicycle, the model I want to buy sold out almost immediately across Texas, but a new shipment is due in February, so hopefully I’ll have some sort of wheels by then.

  • There was a dark, foggy period during the holidays in which I was possessed by a slothful, cranky alter-ego. Attempts at runs were scarce and half-hearted. Three weeks ago there was a truly horrendous attempt at a long run, wherein I felt weak as a rag doll and had to quit running entirely after the third mile, and after which I bleakly considered throwing in the towel. But somehow the mental and physical cobwebs have cleared, and I’m back to a semi-regular running schedule. I’m definitely not following the training plan on my FIT calendar, but I’m running enough that I was able to finish 10- and 11-mile runs in the last two weeks, respectively, with energy to spare. Holy shit, I’m going to run a half-marathon in 5 weeks! My pace hasn’t increased at all, and may in fact have gotten slower, but I’m shooting for a finish time of three hours, give or take. I have concluded that I’m not enamored of running, but that after the half-marathon I will incorporate it into an as-of-yet-devised cross-training plan that will hopefully involve biking and dancing.

  • I walked in today's Martin Luther King march, which is apparently this biggest march in the country. We chanted peace slogans and sang songs. People held signs. Two young kids held signs that said "Dope Ain't Shit" and "We Still Poor". Why don't I do things like this more often? I loved it. I loved being part of a mass of people and I loved walking down neighborhood streets of my city, being part of a public activity. I wish everyday the street were full of people and goodwill, like they were today.

  • My New Year’s goal for 2006? To quit my job and move on. I have some more to say about that in another entry, but it’s time to walk a few blocks to Walgreens to stock up on cereal and cat food.

A happy (belated) New Year to everyone!