Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 100% Rule for Running

Uh-oh…in my efforts to regain my running fitness, I think I may have made a grievous error (or narrowly avoided one, the data aren’t yet complete). Last night, my brother (who runs ultramarathons) reminded me of something I had forgotten—the 100% Rule. He said that most running experts agreed that a runner should not increase mileage by more than 100% per week.

What prompted this warning? Well, I had mentioned that I ran 20 miles in 4 consecutive days, something I have not done in quite some time. (Not 20 miles each day, mind you, but a total of 20 miles—specifically 5, 4, 4, and 7.)

Hmm, I have some questions about this 100% rule. When the percentage increase is calculated, is it always based on the prior week? It seems more useful to base it on some sort of rolling average, perhaps the average of the four most recent weeks. Suppose I ran weekly mileages of 10, 14, 10, and 2. If I based my allowable 100% increase only on the most recent week, I could only run 4 miles, far short of what I logged just two weeks ago. On the other hand, if I average these four weeks, I get a mean mileage of 36/4 = 9 miles. A 100% increase would get me to 18 miles, which seems very reasonable. Surely the experts would agree, right?

Another question: What if the prior weekly mileage (either for a given week, or for an average of several weeks) is 0? Then a 100% increase would put me at, well, 0. Even if the 100% rule were modified to something far more conservative (a 10% rule, for example), someone running 0 mileage could only increase it by … 0 miles per week.

Thus, there is a natural consequence to any rule based on a maximum percentage increase: no non-runner can ever become a runner. To become a runner, one must be born running, or must break the rule. There are no other options.

So, assuming the running experts actually want non-runners to become runners, there must be a mileage threshold below which the percentage increase rule does not apply. Rookie runners (or runners returning from injury- or dissertation-related layoffs) can dink around at the low end of the mileage continuum, until they reach the magic minimum mileage number—at that time, the 100% rule should be applied, to keep them from increasing mileage too quickly.

I wish I knew the magic number. Maybe the safest course is to assume I have already reached it,
and start limiting my mileage increases. My mileage for this week is 20 so far. Depending on whether I squeeze in another run this weekend, my next week’s mileage must not be allowed to exceed 40-48 miles.

I’m so glad I was reminded of this rule! I have really been enjoying my return to running, and I don’t want to risk ruining it by injury.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I’m PhinisheD!

It is PhinisheD. Yep, somehow I finished my dissertation, defended it, and graduated. And I’m back! (on my blog, that is).

To start, I must first apologize to my small but faithful cadre of readers. I should not have abandoned you. To write an (at least somewhat) inspirational blog post about the joy of spending Thanksgiving Day at McDonald’s, then to disappear without a word, for over six months—such behavior is unacceptable. Perhaps I can explain it, but I cannot justify it. No, scratch that….I cannot explain it, because I do not fully understand it myself.

Still, even if inadequate, an explanation is warranted. Here goes…

Words cannot describe the emotional, mental, and physical drain of my last four months of dissertating. (Keep in mind that “drain” is not always negative….intense joy can be draining too!) A few days after that Thanksgiving blog post, I set my dissertation defense date, for January 31, 2014. Driven by a fear of not finishing (two chapters had not been even begun, and the other chapters were extremely rough), I found myself able to work far longer and harder than should have been possible.

Once the draft was “finished” (no more unwritten sections), I turned to revising, trying to bring the rough sections up to snuff, in hopes they would pass muster with my committee. I revised until I ran out of time, and then I sent it off—hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I knew my paper still had very real flaws, and I knew my committee had very real standards. However, I was unsure of the seriousness of the flaws relative to the standard.

The process is rather like being in a dark tunnel and having to leap over an unseen rock wall, of unknown height. You know you need to jump high, but you don’t know how high. Until you jump, you don’t know what will happen—you might sail cleanly over the top; or you might hit the wall hard, hard enough to bruise and batter your body, and then fall back down the way you came. With luck, your head will not crack open and you’ll be able to try again another day. Or, you might jump almost high enough but not quite—just high enough to grab the top with your fingernails and somehow drag your body over the wall, scraping yourself up but successfully arriving on the other side.

As it turns out, I made it over the wall with nary a scratch. All the writing training, feedback, and hours of revision paid off—I only had to do a few tiny edits after my committee read my paper. A few more tiny edits (formatting) for the Thesis Office, and I was done. (Some of these “tiny edits” were rather time-consuming, such as paring my abstract down to the specified 350 words, obsessing over my Acknowledgments, and looking up doi numbers for my 128 references—these tasks were mostly enjoyable, not stressful.)

Somewhere in the process of finishing my dissertation, all my creative writing energy was drained away. It was as if someone opened a spigot and just let it all pour out onto the ground. Blog ideas used to constantly invade my brain. I didn’t always write them up, but I thought of them…sometimes I even started writing them, and stashed them in the archives for later polishing (nope, I still haven’t slain the perfectionism monster). But from November to March, no inspiration. It had been stolen away, maybe by physical exhaustion, maybe by the mental effort of writing, maybe by the intensity of emotion, from fear to overwhelming joy. I had no energy to do what I should have done—start writing in hopes inspiration would strike.

After I cleared the Thesis Office in early March, I started to feel normal again and vowed to restart my blog. The problem was, that after such a long absence and after an event so momentous as a Ph.D. graduation, I was convinced my next blog post had to be SPECTACULAR. It had to engaging, inspiring, and beautifully written. Anything less would be a disappointment and might even out me as a fraud. I made a few token efforts, but they all fell short.

Finally, I came to my senses and gave up. If my first blog post as a Ph.D. had to be good, my blog was doomed. I can’t let that happen. This little blog has been a creative outlet and a source of joy for me (plus, it’s great writing practice!)…. I’m not willing to let it go.

Onward and forward… a new chapter in my blogging life awaits.

P.S. Interestingly, I started this blog almost exactly three years ago, on June 22, 2011. I just missed my three-year anniversary. I thought of waiting three more days, until June 29, so this post could land on June 29, the anniversary of my first real post (rather than the intro post marking the existence of the blog). But I decided the risks were too great—if I suffered a perfectionism attack during those three days, my blog might sit idle for another six months. Better to strike now, while my courage holds.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Unexpected Joys of the Dissertation: Thanksgiving Dinner at McDonald’s

Today I did something I have never done in my entire life: I spent over 12 consecutive hours in a McDonald’s restaurant. To make the experience even more memorable, it was Thanksgiving Day.

As a writing venue, this particular McDonald’s had several things going for it. Most importantly, unlike most of my usual haunts, it was open. Also, since this was a college town, it had been designed to accommodate students who needed a quiet place to work. Like most McDonald’s (hmmm….what is the proper way to pluralize a possessive proper noun?), the main part of the facility had several televisions blaring and was not conducive to studying. But this particular McDonald’s, instead a playland for kids, has a large quiet study room, with a variety of seating options and plenty of electrical outlets. A glass wall seals the study room off from the noisy part of the restaurant.

As an additional plus, the service was friendly, much friendlier than I have found in my rare visits to a big city McDonald’s. I was pleasantly surprised by the food, particularly the Homestyle Burger…it was really good! So was the Peppermint Latte (I had two.)

The one drawback of the quiet study room was the temperature. It was freezing!! Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared. I had multiple jackets, sweatshirts, and blankets. (I learned that lesson last weekend, when I had to borrow a writing blanket from a friend who lives in town.) I also had a pair of writing gloves (gloves without fingers). I purchased the gloves last night, in anticipation of a cold writing session. In the last six months, thanks to a kind husband and total immersion in the dissertation, I have only made a half-dozen or so visits to grocery/retail stores. One of those visits was last night, and it’s a good thing I did it. I should have looked for an electric blanket too.

During the day, most of the McDonald’s patrons appeared to be college students. Some stayed quite a while (though I outlasted nearly all of them). I suspect I may have been the only one born and raised in the U.S.A. In the evening, the clientele changed…more teenagers and children. I wonder if they were getting ready for Black Friday shopping?

A friend heard I was in town to write, and invited me to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. The friend, also a graduate student, understood perfectly that I could not commit to a specific time, that I might show up anytime or not at all, and that writing my dissertation took priority over eating a holiday dinner. But apparently my friend’s mother was horrified that I was spending Thanksgiving at McDonalds’s. I think my friend had to forcibly restrain her mom from delivering turkey and stuffing to me.

Speaking of moms, my mom and my husband ate Thanksgiving dinner together at Golden Corral, eighty-plus miles away. Since I ate under the Golden Arches, we were all together in spirit.

A year and a half ago, I wondered if I could find joy in the dissertation writing process. Today, I did.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Important note: Only 56 minutes of writing time were used to create and edit this blog post.
(Those who know me well are aware that I am engaged in a constant battle with perfectionism. This note is to reassure them I have not relapsed.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Keep Calm and Write On

When I arrived at work yesterday, the sign pictured below was attached to my office door. So far, no one has claimed responsibility.

I have several suspects in mind, and have begun inquiries.

Regardless of who did it, I plan to obey.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I’m back!!

As my faithful readers have undoubtedly noticed, my little blog has been sadly neglected for the last few months.


That question is currently under analysis. The preliminary findings of that analysis have already emerged, and I would love to share them with you. Unfortunately, I am prevented from doing so by the same root cause that produced the phenomenon under investigation (an enthusiastic blog-writer vanishing from her own blog). At a later time, after the situation causing the blogger’s blogging hiatus has been resolved, I will post a detailed report.

In the interim, please be assured that I have not been completely idle. I have stopped drifting, and have kept myself busy by decorating, with the help of my investors.

(Yes, the links are safe …and relevant.)

In the coming weeks, I hope to revive the blog from its coma through a sequence of short posts at regular intervals. Very strict time limits will be imposed on the generating and editing of these posts. Without such limits, the patient is unlikely to survive; if it does survive, its long-term outlook will not be positive.