It’s been a roller coaster of a fall. I checked the date of my last post (June 30th) and all I can say is that since then, a lot has happened. In July/August, I spent three weeks in Baltimore as a TA for a youth academic camp, during which I did a little bit of running and lot of walking. I ran 3-4 days a week. My MCL was really bugging me and walking around in flip flops my first few days at the camp re-aggravated my old peroneal tendon injury, so I was content to get any amount of running in.
Next, I spent a week in Providence at a math workshop, where again I did some running but not a ton. Providence was lovely, and it’s one of the few places I’ve visited and thought to myself, “I could really see living here.” I then returned to Philly and had about three weeks of down time before the new semester started. The most notable thing that happened from that period of time was that the long distance relationship I was in ended. That wasn’t my choice, and it certainly put a damper on the beginning of fall.
In addition to that personal hardship, I struggled with the decision to quit or continue with my Ph.D. program. Researching over the summer was very hard for me and I felt as if I had made no progress and worse, had no direction for moving forward. I gave myself a few weeks of the semester to see if getting back into a normal routine would alleviate those bad feelings, but nothing really changed in that regard. I felt better for being busy again (I began tutoring A TON, for me) but I still had a huge block about researching. (To catch everyone up, I am at the stage in my program in which I have to research for and write a dissertation. I am also TAing, but writing a dissertation is the main focus.)
Amidst all of this, I began training for the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. I had been slowly building up my mileage and strengthening my knees and hips, and by the middle of September I officially started a hybrid of two training programs – the Intermediate and Advanced New Balance Half Marathon programs. I took the track and pace workouts from the advanced plan, and I did the long runs and easy runs from the intermediate plan. As usual, I ditched one day of running to completely focus on strength training. This meant I ran five days a week and strength trained for one. It worked out beautifully because I was the most consistent I’ve ever been without a coach.
The training consistency helped keep me sane during September and October when I felt so lost. Luckily, I got a week long break in October and I went home to Arizona to spend it with my family. Being in the warm, dry, sunny climate with my family was unbelievably therapeutic. That trip reset me, somehow, and without it I know I would have dropped out of my program. (I didn’t.)
I did a track workout on my high school track while I was there that really boosted my running confidence as well. It was one of my favorite workouts of this training cycle, dubbed “Fatigue-fighter Intervals”, in which you run a mile warm up, 2x[400 SI (100), 1200 CI (200), 2400 PI], and a mile cool down. Remember that SI = speed interval @ 5k race pace, CI = cruise interval @ 10k race pace, and PI = pace interval @ half marathon race pace, and the numbers in parentheses indicate the allotted rest between the next interval. Anyway, it was the first workout of that type that I had done from the Advanced plan, and it was exciting to have it go well.
When I got back from Arizona, November was right there and I kicked it off by running a 10k, namely, the Run the Bridge 10k. My roommate, Sam, was the one who told me about it, and I liked the sound of it because it has you run over the Ben Franklin Bridge. Kind of a cool thing to do, I think. At any rate, I hadn’t raced a 10k in over a decade, I had never trained for one specifically, and it was the windiest day of the year (and cold!) so I didn’t have any expectations going into it. I also drank too much two nights before celebrating Halloween, so…yeah. It was low standards city for me.
As usual, by having absolutely no expectations I surprised myself and ran pretty decently. I ran a PR of 44:19 (7:09 pace), and that was with starting wayyyy too far back and running a 7:58 first mile. I somehow managed to run 3 whole miles under 6:50 pace, in a row, which is only the second time in my life that that has ever happened. Sweet. I’ll take it.
The following weekend I ran 12 miles – my last two digit run before the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 23rd. This was the longest pre-half run I had ever done; I normally run one or two 10 milers and call it good. I really didn’t want to do it, and it was lonely and boring if I tell the truth. The upside of that run was that I didn’t experience any long distance pain, which meant I had built up some solid endurance for the half. As you dear readers are aware, it’s the long stuff that does me in so this was very encouraging.
During the week leading up to the race, I had something wonderful and unexpected happen, completely unrelated to running: I proved a result. That is, I finally did some original math research and finally had something to show for my countless hours of effort. I met with my advisor and explained the argument, and he concluded our meeting by saying, “You should write this up. Well done.” Sweetest words I’ve ever heard. Professionally, that moment felt like a PR. It may not be official until I write up my proof and submit it as part of a much bigger body of work, but it’s there. And just like an unofficial PR in running, it let me know I have the ability to do it for real. Which is major.
Then of course, came the half marathon race I’d been training for. I think I’m going to write a separate race report on this with more detail, so for now I’ll just say that the day went according to plan. I had been training to run between a 7:20 and 7:30 pace, and I ran a 7:27 pace. This made my time 1:37:49 – a new PR in the half marathon distance. Again, I’ll take it.
As I sit here and type I realize that the last few paragraphs are all about my new successes and I hope they don’t come across obnoxiously self-congratulatory. The 10k PR was, truly, a happy accident, but the research and the half marathon successes feel merely like evidence for hard work I’ve been putting in. The research especially. With that, I actually didn’t even know if my hard work was ever going to amount to anything because I simply didn’t know if I had it in me to do it. So more than anything, I want to communicate that I am incredibly thankful and relieved that I have something to show for all my efforts the past few months, both with running and with school.
Running and dissertating have the habit of making great metaphors for one another, but the underlying message with either is always just keep going even when it sucks. And the underlying understanding is that it will be worth the time, the effort, and the frustration.
I hope this explains my absence from the blogosphere. I had too many things on my mind to indulge in blogging (and yes, it weirdly feels like an indulgence), but I’m happy to be back. I finally feel like myself again. I am looking forward to Christmas and some shorter runs as the winter sets in, and I am SO excited for what 2015 may bring.