Running’s Peaks, Ends, and Mindgames

Two weeks ago, I was crippled by a pretty trivial decision: run Huntington Beach, CA’s Surf City 10 Miler, the distance I had signed up for, or heed the warnings of both my physical therapist and my aching Achilles and drop down to the event’s 10K.

The two courses were pretty much identical – both out-and-backs along the scenic, flat Pacific Coast Highway. The 10K just turned back a little sooner. As I pondered this decision: to drop down to the 10K or not to drop down, I went into full-on nerd mode as the concept of duration neglect popped into my head. Based on this well-established psychological principle, if I wanted to have good memories of this race, the total distance or time spent running mattered less than did the emotional peak and the way in which it ended!

So, what did I want from this race? I certainly wasn’t running it for a prize. I wasn’t in competition with anyone. I just wanted to run strong, have fun, and not get hurt. So, I decided to downplay the distance, or the duration, and opted to ensure a solid peak and a strong end. That way, I would have good memories of this special seaside race. The 10K it was.

Looking back two weeks later, I DO have a positive memory of this event. I felt fit and strong the entire time. I ran a negative split and a big PR of 45:06: good for fourth place overall and third in my age group (a shout-out to the dominant 30-39 year-old ladies, eh??).

But, beyond these more objective markers of success are my memories of pride and exuberance: Getting faster as time went on. Passing person after person, without pain or fatigue. And then crossing the finish line, shocked that my sixteenth 10K was, unexpectedly, my fastest one ever.

Did I wish for a second that I had run 10 miles? No way! Distance had become way less meaningful than I’d expected. Duration neglect was alive and well on the PCH. I had a solid peak and a strong end. The miles I’d logged were unimportant.

But sometimes duration neglect can work against us.

Another decision I’m grappling with is whether or not to run the Richmond Marathon in a mere two weeks, given my Achilles pain and other mysterious and enduring foot aches. Here, duration neglect takes center stage again. When I look back on previous marathons, even recent ones, details of the multi-hour slog are all but gone from memory. What remains is that peak – the realization that I am going to do it. That singular sense of badassery and pride as the miles tick by. And then the end – the triumph of crossing the finish line, getting my medal, and maybe eating a massive burger.

I truly want to respect the distance, but it’s awfully hard to do that when my psychological makeup is designed to work against me. 26.2 is a vague notion, manageable – no, conquerable – in the abstract. (And maybe this is a good thing. Would anyone choose to repeat this experience if they could mentally recreate each and every painful step?)

So, to run the marathon or not to run the marathon? As it unfolds over three-plus hours, it will be so much more than a peak and an end. It will be 26.2 miles, a distance that is just plain hard to get my mind around in any kind of real way.

In trying to make a decision that does respect the distance, I consulted the race map, trying to imagine myself at each and every mile. Maybe this could undo duration neglect just a bit. Here goes:

marathon-map

Mile 1-3 – navigate the crowd, try to resist the urge to go out too fast.

Miles 4-8 – a nice straightaway, settle in to a comfortable pace. Enjoy some downhill. Have a gel around 8. Don’t speed up too much.

Miles 9-12 – Cross the James, go through some woods, hit a gradual uphill. Don’t even think about being done yet.

Mile 13.1 – Halfway…only halfway. Be happy-sad about that.

Miles 14-16 – Approach the windy, gradually uphill bridge I’ve heard about. Try not to get psyched out. Fight through. This might be the worst of it. Maybe switch from podcasts to Hamilton. Have another gel.

Mile 17 – Back to downtown, optional bail-out point. Don’t do it! (Unless your Achilles is sending you an unmistakable QUIT message. Then do it.) See Mark. Don’t do the math. Don’t kill people with cowbells.

Miles 18-20 –  Enter potential slog territory. Try to catch up to people ahead of you. Smile when hitting the 20 mile mark. Stop worrying that your toenail fell off. It probably didn’t, and who cares if it does?

Miles 20-23. Enter that boring section of flat and ugly. Just think about anything else. Crank Hamilton. You are not throwing away your shot.

Miles 24-25. You should know at this point if your BQ is likely. And if it is, you will feel so freakin’ amazing. Remember last year’s half, when you hit this section and felt so happy knowing you were going to finally break 1:45? Like that, but better. This is your peak. Bask in it.

Enjoy the massive downhill and cross the finish line!

So, does this pull focus from the peaks and ends from marathons past and give me a sense of the distance and challenge I’m up against? Yes. So why do I feel pumped up instead of intimidated??

Maybe that’s my answer. Bring it, Richmond!

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Fresh Air, Lifetime, and a Shower Cap: What a Traveling Happiness Speaker Needs in a Hotel.

As an itinerant speaker for IBP, there are always a few weeks out of every year that I spend on the road teaching day-long seminars to a large audience of health-care professionals. Whether I’m in Maine, Arkansas, or California, the routine is the same: get up early, exercise, shower, and make myself presentable. Scarf down some breakfast, and get to my presentation site by 8:20 a.m. I talk from 9:00 to 3:30, usually to very nice people on some topic I love, but it’s still exhausting. I have yet to find a pair of shoes that looks professional while also keeping my feet from throbbing by 2 p.m. (these are my current faves, if I can get away with them. Otherwise, Dansko boots or Clarks won’t kill me).img_2453

After the talk ends, I hightail it. I drive at least an hour to my next location, zoning out to the sounds of a podcast while crossing my fingers for minimal traffic. I eat a really early, Yelp-recommended dinner, usually nice, always with wine, and then retreat to the quiet oasis of my hotel room, hoping to go to bed early so I’m fully charged for the next day. This is some of the hardest work I do, but also some of the most gratifying.

After 5 years of this gig, there are certain things I have come to value tremendously in my hotels, which are usually mid-range chains, like the Doubletree, Marriott, or Hampton Inn.

These things include:

  • a phone charger right by my bed (often built into the lamp) (yes, I look at my phone in the middle of the night.)
  • a king-sized bed. I am one person, averaged-sized, and this is totally unnecessary, but MAN, it is a treat!
  • Lifetime Movie Network. This is a rarity, but nothing makes me happier than unwinding to the histronics of a former Charlie’s Angel with amnesia, or the saga of a girl locked in a box.
  • a TV with a sleep timer, because I love to fall asleep to the frenzied sounds of the above (or, if not that, then some Criminal Minds or Law and Order). It’s some kind of antidote to the long days of talking about hope and happiness.
  • a shower cap. Because you sometimes want to skip a day of hair-washing.
  • a quiet HVAC system. No one wants to hear that thing turning on and off all night.
  • a window or sliding door that will let in some fresh air. So long as the temperature is above 50 and below 95, I firmly believe that natural, non-filtered air is a fundamental human right. I promise, I will not jump. I will not fall out and sue. I will close and lock the window when I leave. Just let me open my window and have my air.
  • a solid breakfast, which includes some high-protein options. Omelet bar is the best. No breakfast is the worst. A sad array of sweet breads is almost as bad.
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    No.

  • a real bar. JUST in case I’d like to take a glass of wine or bourbon up with me to my room. These are some long days, friends, and there are still emails to answer and clothes to iron before bed. Bonus if there’s a free happy hour (this happened twice this week!)
  • a Keurig coffee maker. I know, I know. They are terrible for the environment. But, when I wake up bleary-eyed and in need of immediate caffeine, they are just so easy.
  • a gym with a stability ball and a medicine ball. Because core.
  • a decent place to pop out in the morning for a run even when it’s still dark out. It needs to be well-lit, flat, and safe. I try my best to scout this out online, but there’s always a sense of the unknown when booking a room somewhere unknown.
  • legit blackout curtains. For early bedtimes much more so than late, lazy mornings.
  • I seldom expect this but am thrilled when it materializes: a robe!

    A nice, too quick stay at Temecula’s South Coast Winery.

Things that actually annoy me or that I care nothing about on these short stays: a pool, a concierge, valet parking, laundry, and free cookies (stop it, Doubletree!).

After a week on tour, I’m happy to say that many of these places hit the mark. The Embassy Suites in Valencia was a nice surprise. And I certainly cannot complain about Pasadena’s Langham Huntington, where I’m spending my last two nights. Treat yo’self!

Next week – lobster and coastline in Maine!
What do you want in your hotel?

One Small Thing That Makes Air Travel So Much Better

Like so many of us, I don’t particularly like flying. At best, it’s a necessary evil made bearable with a novel, a glass of wine, and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. At worst, it’s utter misery, as evidenced by stories like these.

But, really, when you think about it, flying is actually pretty amazing. Remember Louis C. K.’s epic rant? “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky,” he exclaims. Indeed, we are many miles in the air, traveling to another state, another country, or halfway around the world in mere hours. And we get to see some amazing things from up there. I’m always surprised when people in the window seat draw the shade, never to open it again. Why miss out on the sunrises and sunsets? The landscape of the place you’re leaving or the place you’re going?

One of my favorite things is to fly in and out of my hometown of Charlottesville. One flight path takes you right over Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Once, I was able to find my house. Sometimes, I try to pick out certain mansions that I know only by their imposing gates and fancy-schmancy names. For the few minutes it takes to take off or land, I am both creeping on and savoring my town with every ounce of my being.

But many times, I don’t know much about the places I’m traveling in and out of. Or flying over. So, the experience is made so much more interesting and meaningful when I’m told what the heck I’m looking at.

Where was this? Wish I’d known!

I recently flew from Fresno to Phoenix on a cloudless day at a fairly low altitude. For much of the flight, what I saw out the window was otherworldly. Brown and barren yet incredibly dramatic, with very few roads. But every so often, I’d see a lone house, or something vaguely industrial, or something that might qualify as a town in the middle of all the nothingness. What was it? Where was I? I guessed Nevada or very eastern California, but I would have loved to have known for sure.

Yesterday, on the other hand, I flew from Charlotte to L.A., and before we even took off, the pilot told us, “Today we’ll be flying over the Great Smoky Mountains (where we might hit a couple of bumps), then into Kansas (just south of Wichita), then over the southern part of Colorado, where you’ll start to see the Rockies. Those on the left will see the Grand Canyon as we get closer to the end of the flight.”

I count three natural wonders in that announcement (four if you count Wichita). Three chances to glimpse what people center entire vacations around, in the space of five hours. Given this, should we be so quick to conclude that flying sucks?

The Grand Canyon

As a further courtesy, this pilot (who I’ve decided loves his job and is just all-around awesome) would pop onto the P.A. every now and then to tell us to look out the window. “Those on the right can see Lake Tahoe right now, and those on the left can see the Grand Canyon,” he said, pulling my eye from my novel to the landscape below. A bit later, he was back: “Right now, those on the left will see Palm Springs and the Salton Sea,” he said, as we started our descent into LAX. I have to go to Palm Springs in a few days, so it was especially interesting to glimpse it from above, and I was grateful to be oriented to where we were.

If I had my way, these announcements would be a requirement on every flight (those lucky souls who can sleep on planes may disagree with me).

Is your pilot not sharing? Then maybe you’re lucky enough to have a built-in seat screen with a map option, so you can click away from your 25th viewing of The Notebook for quick checks of where you are in time and space. I recently had one of these on a SAS flight to Copenhagen, and even though much of the flight was spent over the Atlantic, way too high up to see anything, it still added to my experience to be able to tell myself, “Wow, I’m flying over Newfoundland right now.”

Even better: there’s a new app called Flyover Country, which uses GPS technology (not wi-fi) to tell you exactly what you’re flying over. It also links to related Wikipedia articles if you want to learn more. You need to be at a relatively low altitude and cloud cover must be minimal, of course, for you to be able to see and for the app to function optimally, but still – very cool. I hope to try it out on my way home next weekend!

The World’s Best Bagels…and So Much More

“Arriving in Charlottesville from the lush, rural Virginia countryside, you almost feel like you’ve stepped back into ancient Rome.” – The New York Times

“Just two hours from Washington DC, C-ville (as the locals call it) offers quiet country retreats and horseback rides in nearby Shenandoah National Park, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains, as well as a wealth of history that includes the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Its array of restaurants offer exceptional gastronomic variety.” – The Guardian

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Photo: static1.squarespace.com

Not to brag or anything, but my adopted hometown of Charlottesville regularly tops all the charts: “Healthiest small towns.” “Best college towns.” “Top places to retire.” “Best tennis towns.” “Best places for book lovers.” And even “America’s happiest city.”

Locals outwardly scoff and grumble about how each new accolade will bring even more people and more traffic to our ever-expanding town. But, deep down, I think we all like knowing that we’re spending our lives in a place that doesn’t suck. Hey, if Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, CNN Traveler, and so many others think my town is the greatest, I’ll happily use that knowledge to validate my life choices.

But it’s more than just validation I seek; it’s appreciation. Because as I sit in traffic, buy my groceries, and navigate my to-do lists, it’s so easy to forget that I live in a special place. So, for all of the cynicism that might accompany them, our “best-of” lists can really serve as a nice reminder of what we have going for us.

Just now, as I did my morning Facebook scroll, I came across yet another Charlottesville superlative. “The best bagels in the world are in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the piece began. True or not, I was reminded of how lucky I am to live within walking distance of some pretty spectacular carb-bombs.

I also love reading other people’s impressions of the area, for example, this piece from the Packed Suitcase blog. It’s fun to think, “People come to my hometown for their vacation.”

Need other reminders of Charlottesville’s awesomeness? For just a few, check out:

Now all this place really needs is a Wegman’s. Oh, but wait!