Another Blog Origin Story

When I created the Running Soul in the Heartland blog two years ago, I began by writing a couple of essays that served as origin stories about the blog. The first post presented some reasons why I chose to resume blogging, and the second post presented some reasons why I chose to start running. I didn’t fully appreciate, however, that I was looking right past the minor crisis that was unfolding in my life at the time, and was more honestly the real reason for creating this blog. In hindsight, I can see more clearly what happened, so am documenting the story here as another essay.

In October of 2014, my employer announced to me and my fellow scientists in small molecule drug development that our current jobs would end in a few months. This is the employer for which I relocated to Indiana a dozen years earlier, at first to Lafayette and later to Indianapolis. I was worried, because I hadn’t expected to enter the job market ever again and I was remembering the many ways my life was disrupted after getting caught in a mass layoff of employees by my previous employer. I wasn’t panicking, though, because a few things were different this time around. For one thing, my current employer was offering some ‘new’ jobs for which we could apply and interview. The catch was that there were seventy-five fewer ‘new’ jobs than current jobs. This was simply the method that the company was using to downsize small molecule development. For another thing, if I didn’t manage to receive an offer of continued employment, I would technically enter retirement rather than unemployment, as one of the company’s available triggers for retirement was fifty-five years of age with ten years of service. I narrowly exceeded both criteria and could retire with enough of a pension to reduce the amount of financial compensation I would need in my next job.

After the shock of the announcement wore off in a day or two, I realized that navigating the process to receive one of the job offers was way more important than working on any of my research projects, and I updated my resume, practiced interviewing skills, and networked like crazy. Ultimately, I convinced management that I was one of their most valuable employees and their best option was to keep me around. I received one of the job offers and no longer needed to worry, but the experience challenged me in ways that were uncomfortable. I had confronted questions about what I would do if my employment was to end prematurely. Would I try to continue my career as a scientist and perhaps relocate again? Would I try to find a replacement job in Indianapolis, perhaps with part-time or contract work? Would I actually retire? I realized I didn’t have the answers.

Both during and after the employment process, I was wondering how I would spend my time if I wasn’t employed anymore. Creative writing was a hobby that had some appeal, and I speculated that I might write essays about spirituality, spiritual practices, and other topics that interested me. I was once a member of the worship team for a church congregation, assisting in worship services and occasionally writing and delivering sermons, and wouldn’t have minded having a blog as a new outlet to express some thoughts and ideas. As I reflect on the circumstances, I realize that my decision to train for and run my first full marathon also came out of the situation. I registered for the Monumental Marathon around the time that I started this blog.

My ‘new’ job had the same supervisor, same responsibilities, and same projects, and was in reality nothing more than a continuation of my old job. I relaxed and gradually eased away from trying to answer post-employment questions. This Running Soul in the Heartland blog evolved to become just another running blog like so many others on the web, with training logs and race reports and other running related content, which wasn’t my original intention.

Then yesterday, in February of 2017, my employer announced to me and my fellow scientists in small molecule drug development an optional repeat of the process. It’s voluntary this time, but I could use the process to enter retirement with thirty-four weeks salary as severance pay. No, I’m not going to volunteer, but there are those questions again, looking for answers. And there is this blog …

Training Log – 2016 Half 17,18

Comment:  Almost 5,500 marathoners and 10,000 half-marathoners will line up around the Indiana State Capitol building at the beginning of this year’s Monumental Marathon and Half-Marathon. The rapidly growing organization that is now called Beyond Monumental has been getting recognition as the operator of one of the best marathons in the country, and this year is expanding the field to admit 1,500 more marathoners and 2,000 half-marathoners than last year. The fastest runners will be assigned to several corrals near the starting line, and I’ll take my place with the remaining runners in a semi-organized crowd and begin my race about four minutes after the official 8:00 am start. This year I’ll run the half-marathon and expect to finish around 10:19 am.

Comments:  When I registered for the half marathon that is associated with the Monumental Marathon, I submitted a predicted elapsed time of two hours and fifteen minutes. I’m sticking with this prediction and creating a race strategy accordingly, but my strategy will be aggressive and set me up to finish even faster if I’m having a good day.  The weather forecast is for good running weather and I had a good training season, so I might surprise myself with some extra speed. I won’t care about my pace in the first mile, as I expect a lot of chaos among mismatched runners until the first water stop. After runners of different abilities get sorted, I’m going to set a pace that is near my 10:15 minutes per mile average of the Indy 500 Festival Mini-Marathon last spring.  If I can maintain that pace throughout the race, I’ll finish with something close to my predicted elapsed time. Around mile 4 or 5 or so, I’ll assess my condition and adjust my pace appropriately, and if I’m feeling strong, I’ll pick up the pace a little.

Raw Data:  The following are the dates, distances, paces, and locations of running sessions. For some sessions, additional information is included. ** 25-Oct-2016, 3.1 miles, 11.0 minutes per mile, treadmill. ** 27-Oct-2016, 3.1 miles, 9.8 minutes per mile, treadmill. ** 29-Oct-2016, 6.35 miles, 10:35 minutes per mile, neighborhood to historic former town and back. I’m tapering for the race, and keeping all my runs short, slow, and easy. ** 01-Nov-2016, 3.1 miles, 9.9 minutes per mile, treadmill. ** The total running distance was 15.7 miles for weeks 17 and 18.

A Deadline Passes

The date and time was October 12 at 5:00 pm.  That was the deadline for registrants of the Monumental Marathon to choose to withdraw from the full marathon and transfer their registrations to a shorter race.  The date and time was marked on my calendar.  I thought about it a lot during that Monday afternoon.  I would only have needed to log into the Monumental Marathon web site and click the button.  I did nothing, and let the deadline pass.

I could have found plenty of excuses to change my mind about running a marathon.  After recent training sessions, I’ve suffered from an inflamed tendon in my left leg, gastrointestinal distress, and fatigue and exhaustion at distances way short of a marathon.  I lack athleticism.  I lack youth. And I’ve never run a marathon before, so I don’t even know if I can run a whole 26.2 miles.

Instead of excuses, though, I remembered the reasons I’ve been training to run a marathon.

  • I’m running for health.  I’m trying to improve my cardiovascular system, strengthen my muscles, and increase my endurance.  I’ve reached an age at which I’m experiencing a decline in my physical abilities, and I’m not going to go along with the aging process without putting up a fight.  A major fight.  Like, I can’t be old yet if I can still run a marathon, right?  And taking responsible care of myself is a first step toward caring for other people and the wider world.  Regular vigorous exercise of a form that is physically appropriate for me is a way of establishing right relations with everyone around myself.
  • I’m running for connection.  I am part of the running community, and am part of a group of people that are striving to do something amazing.  I am part of the outdoors and one with nature.  I notice the world around me, the feel of the weather, and the change of the seasons.  I pay attention to my body, feeling the exertion, rhythm, pain, and recovery of training and racing.
  • I’m running for achievement.  When I became a runner, I felt a sense of accomplishment for several years by running 5K races.  Then I upped the game for several more years by running mini-marathons.  While those will always remain significant achievements and I will always be proud, I now have a goal that seems almost impossible, and I intend to reach it anyways.  A marathon is widely recognized as one of the biggest physical and mental challenges that mere mortals attempt, and requires a huge amount of commitment and perseverance to even make a credible attempt.  Successfully completing a marathon places a runner into an elite group.  And if I can run a marathon, then I know that I can do almost anything.

Although not specifically a reason to run a marathon, I also remembered the main reason I run at all.

  • I’m running for transformation.  While I run, I become more centered and grounded, regaining perspective in my life.  After a run, I can clear my head and focus on what’s important.  Running helps me find that balance between the various parts of my life, and helps relieve the stresses that come with conflicts and hardships.  And whether there exists the so-called runner’s high, the production of endorphins, or just the simple joy of running, I certainly experience an elevation of my mood and a restoration of optimism after a really good run.  In other words, I find running good for my soul.

The date and time was October 12 at 5:00 pm.  That was the deadline.  I let it pass.  This is what I know:  For reasons I may not be able to articulate very well, I want to do this thing; running a marathon. I accept that I might not be able to make it to the finish line.  But I refuse to quit before I get to the starting line.

Finally a Running Watch

Since I began training for mini-marathons years ago, I’ve acquired data about my outdoor running sessions using a smartphone app. Eventually, I used four different apps on three different smartphones, and until recently, the Runkeeper app on my LG G2 smartphone stood out as the most accurate combination. When I used Runkeeper on a certified course, audio cues for each tracked mile were announced in my earbuds as I approached each mile marker on the course, so I also trusted the data on roads and trails where I had no way of corroborating the data. Runkeeper informed me at predetermined intervals of the current distance and pace during my running sessions, and recorded my paths and splits for review after I was done.  Unfortunately, the acquired data from Runkeeper became inexplicably inaccurate a few months ago, and I’ve needed to rely on other sources of information to estimate the distances and paces of the sessions.

The question I wanted to answer as I began training for my first full marathon is whether the problem of inaccuracy was due to the new versions of Runkeeper that were released approximately weekly, with the new Android operating system version 5 that was released about the time that the problem started, or with the location service of the LG G2 smartphone itself. I performed a series of experiments that included using Google My Tracks as an alternate app, installing GPS utilities on the smartphone to gather more data, and wearing and configuring the smartphone in different ways.  After much careful testing, I discovered that the GPS chip in the smartphone itself was providing inaccurate readings, and surprisingly, performed worst when the phone was oriented upright, like when worn in an armband.  I could improve accuracy somewhat by holding the smartphone upside down.  Meanwhile, the accuracy of acquired data kept getting worse, and during a particular eight mile run on the Monon Trail, Runkeeper reported that I covered a total distance of ten miles, and examination of the apparent measured path on a map as recorded by the app and device showed a random zigzag around my actual path.

Regarding solutions to the problem, the obvious two were giving up tracking of my running sessions or purchasing a replacement smartphone.  I didn’t like either solution.  Gradually, I began thinking about purchasing an inexpensive (compared to a smartphone) running watch with its own ability to track my running sessions, and once the thought firmly lodged itself in my mind, I noticed that most of the runners on the Monon Trail were wearing running watches.  And most of the runners in the photographs of Runner’s World magazine were wearing running watches.  In fact, everywhere I looked, most runners were wearing running watches.  It suddenly seemed that I was part of a minority of runners out there without a running watch.  After reading reviews, studying a few user manuals, comparing prices, and doing what might have been too much shopping, I selected and purchased a Garmin Forerunner 220 from a local running store at a nice discount.

Wow, this is a really cool gadget.  The accuracy of the acquired data is phenomenal, and it’s a pleasure to be able to easily glance while I’m running at metrics like distance and pace and be alerted to splits in real time.  Why did it take me so long to get one of these things?

Developing a Training Plan

I registered for the Monumental Marathon way back on New Year’s Day, fully committed that 2015 would be the year that I finally attempt to run a full marathon.  More recently, around Independence Day, the anticipated event was only four months away, and I needed to start some serious training.  Mostly, I needed a plan.  There are several ideas that I considered.

I’ve done great so far with being my own running coach.  I avidly read the popular books and magazines and link to several news feeds.  I’m a veteran of eleven years of organized events and seven consecutive Indy Mini-Marathons, and have gained a wealth of personal experience and knowledge about running.  I’ve successfully executed plans that have fast runs for speed, long runs for endurance, tempo runs for fitness, and recovery days, all building up to a peak at the correct rate and then tapering at the end.  I know what I’m doing.  I could take my established mini-marathon training program and expand it a bit to prepare for the greater distance of a full marathon.  The problem here, to be quite honest, is that I fear the marathon.  It seems so huge, so difficult, so challenging, that I wonder if I really know what to do.  I’m not going to kid myself.  Running a full marathon is going to be much more than twice as hard as running a half marathon.

I’m not a fan of the idea of enrolling in a formal training program or hiring a personal coach, and haven’t done anything like that in the past.  Putting somebody else in charge would mean that I would give up a lot of the flexibility and control that I would rather retain.  Yet I understand that I might benefit from being involved with other trainees.

I decided on a hybrid approach to training.  I will continue be my own running coach, but I will give up my solitary Saturday morning long runs in my suburban neighborhood, and instead spend one running session each week with Indy Runners and their informal Monumental Marathon training program.  I will report to the running deck in the Broad Ripple cultural district of Indianapolis every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and follow their instructions.  I will receive distances and routes to run, find beverages along the way and snacks back at the running deck, and have the opportunity to try to keep up with fellow runners that are out there for the same purpose.  During the length of the program, I will run on the Monon Trail, on the Central Canal Towpath, in the rolling hills of Williams Creek, around the Butler University campus, and along various streets in Broad Ripple.

The Monumental Marathon takes place in Indianapolis each year on the first Saturday of November.  It starts and ends downtown and follows a course that makes a loop around much of the city.  The next event is scheduled for 07-Nov-2015.  Indy Runners is a non-profit volunteer-led running club with nine hundred members based in Indianapolis that holds running sessions and social events almost every day of the week.