Finding a coach that speaks your language.

The period of time after a marathon and before you begin training again is a virtual no-man’s land. You may be running, but you’re not training. The differences are subtle, mostly mental.

Although nothing has been written into my new 2014 calendar, I have been contemplating next year’s running goals – what should I do differently, what needs more work, what will make me better? I let these questions and what I believe to be the answers percolate in my head before committing them to a training plan. The process tends to extend beyond running – into Kung Fu.

When I began Kung Fu a few years ago, there were 5 or 6 other new students in the class. We learned everything together. Through attrition, it has mostly become a classroom of black belts…..and me. Although these Fo Jiao Si (Black Sash classmates) watch out for me, it has been increasingly difficult to learn, memorize and practice all the new concepts….. alone.

Some nights I literally stand in the corner by myself practicing a form that may have little real world usefulness, while the black belts are learning something new together. I am torn between memorizing form after form alone in class and the desire to learn how to really defend myself and fight in a real world situation.

Finally, I have switched to a Kung Fu Wing Chun class.

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The name Wing Chun means “Eternal or Beautiful Spring”, implying freshness, creativity, innovation or modern. Although a traditional or classical system, the original idea was to have constant development and innovation keeping the system up to date and effective in the modern world.

How individuals learn is a fascinating topic. Courses are devoted to the subject, careers revolve around it. Yet, when it is you, the one that needs to do the learning, the rest of the world may as well be on its own. It is your situation that demands the attention.

The best advice I received as a Corporate Instructor came from my boss the week before my first class. He said, “It’s not the student’s job to learn, it’s your job to teach.” Sure, the student has responsibilities but it is the teacher who has the knowledge to be transferred to the student. If you simply throw that knowledge out there to see what sticks, you’re not really teaching.

Awhile back I contemplated hiring a running coach and researched the qualities of a successful coach. The research that stuck with me was from a high school track coach. He said, the runners who never reach their full potential are the runners whose coach did not believe in them. In other words, you could only be as successful as your coach believed you could be.

imageDuring the first Wing Chun class, Sifu told me fighting is a language…and he was going to teach me this language. He adapts the training to how I learn and he tells me he knows I will learn this. The confidence he has in his ability to teach transfers to a confidence I feel toward learning. This has been important to me.

After months of long slow runs, it’s exciting to do speed work at the track. After a few years of working in a start-up, you may be ready for another big corporate job. A change of pace is sometimes just what we need to re-energize and keep from feeling stale in running, learning, Kung Fu, maybe life.

The translation of Kung Fu is time and effort. There are no short cuts. The foundation of Wing Chun is to always move forward and aim for the center.

A common language in life as it turns out.

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Perfecting the “Twist”

Last Thursday while I took my belt test in Kung Fu, my new bike waited patiently in the back of the Jeep.

During the test, we demonstrated our knowledge of the 64 form, all the animal forms and arm locks. Sifu held the pad as we kicked and punched dozens of times while he yelled “HUP”. We did the required number of tiger presses and held the leg lift for extra long sets, ending with the horse stance.

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When I got back to the Jeep, my green sash tightly tied around my waist, I dreamed all the way home of the quiet, smooth ride I would enjoy Friday morning on that new bike.

My old bike is a beautiful, red Specialized model. But it is just that……old. The guys would see me at the bike shop and say, “Look at that old beauty!” and I knew they weren’t talking about me! The pedals were what cyclists call rat traps because you could get your foot stuck in them and topple right over, which I have done on occasion.

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My new bike has entirely different pedals – same result. I picked out the pedals, the kind you clip into, and the special shoes with the contraption on the bottom that makes a noise when you walk.  image

The guys at the shop showed me how to twist out of them and sent me off with the promise that it would only take a little practice to get the hang of that twist. They also smiled when they told me “Don’t worry, everybody falls”

I fell four times.

Friday morning, I took my bike to a large, church parking lot and set about practicing the twist. As long as I kept moving everything was fine. But when I practiced twisting out at a quick stop, I toppled right over.

After the second fall I jumped back on determined to get the hang of this. After two more falls, I was afraid I was going to wreck my pretty new bike so I put that bike and its funny looking pedals back in the Jeep.

As soon as I began Saturday morning’s run, I felt those falls all over again. I obviously had a bruise on my bum. We counted the bruises; four on my knee, two on my bum and two on my elbow.

Four miles into the long Sunday run, I was feeling the effects of everything from the week before – hours of the horse stance, the extra long sets of leg lifts that caught my abs a little off guard, the kicks and punches and now the bruises up and down the right side of my body. It was a pretty miserable run.

This week I’ll start practicing the butterfly kick – I know it’s coming next. And, Sifu has already told us to buy ourselves some punching gloves so we can begin free sparring, which includes throws. I am determined to perfect the twist so I can ride my bike to class Thursday night.

There are also two 3-mile runs, two 7-mile runs and a long run of 14 miles on Sunday at a 3/1 pace (3/4 run slow and the last 1/4 slightly faster). Now that I know I can stand still for 15 minutes at a time, I’m going to start standing meditation again. Sifu has encouraged us to do this every day.

Although I don’t want to lose the strength I’ve gained, I can’t honestly say yet how many tiger presses or minutes of the horse stance will make it into this week’s schedule.

These may remain optional a little while longer.

When you are the most competitive person in the room.

imageTrophies have marked victories since ancient times. The word’s original Greek translation generally meant ρόπαιον “of a turning” or “of a change”, and that from the verb τρέπω (trepo), “to turn, to alter”.

Several years ago, a reporter actually asked Tiger Woods why he continued to be so competitive when he had achieved so much. I immediately thought to myself, what a stupid question. He loves winning. And that’s exactly how he answered.

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to win. Name the topic.

It wasn’t a competition against other people so much as an exhibition of what I could achieve. And achieve I set out to do. I collected trophies.

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I still have the tags from when our neighborhood tennis team became the Atlanta city champs. When I was in sales, my commission check was a trophy of sorts every month. I would have died had I not made President’s Club every year.

My husband encouraged me to run that first 10k race in Chicago and he waited with me while they called off the winners. They didn’t announce age group awards so we went home. A few days later an envelope came in the mail. I had taken 3rd place for my age group. It may as well have been an Olympic medal.

My first sash in Kung Fu came during a camp out in the mountains. Several of us had started class about the same time and we all earned our yellow sash during the camp out. Then I moved to Ecuador and I missed almost a year of training.

The class went on without me and last summer my classmates all earned their green sashes. I was disappointed.

Weeks turned into months and I heard no word of being tested. If you’ve read my blog, you know I struggled during this time. I became frustrated, impatient. I thought I was ready. I overheard Sifu say during class one night, “Sashes aren’t that important.” I thought to myself, “What planet are you from?”

Caterpillars spend practically all of their time in search of food – for a life that spans 10 days to sometimes months. They mature through a series of stages where they moult, expand, harden and develop again.

Even after the metamorphosis, the newly born butterfly needs some time to spread its wings and begin to fly.

I remember the post I wrote where I committed to practice Kung Fu every day. It scared me to death to hit “Publish” because I knew then I was committed. The first week or two was a real effort.

Some days I dreaded that practice. I struggled to figure out what to practice and ended up doing the same things over and over. Eventually, it became part of my routine. I began to see my mistakes, where I was lacking, what needed more work. My attitude changed, I evolved.

My son sent me a text the other day and said “Mom! I have a new topic for your next post!” He wanted me to write about how to be motivated to get up in the morning and go for a run. It seems the heat index was preventing him from running in the afternoon – his favorite time to run. It had been hard for him to adjust to waking up early and going for that run.

I thought about it and couldn’t come up with an answer. I had no words of advice. I think now the problem has been solved.

Eventually your sport becomes a part of you so much so that you can’t imagine a day without it. At first, you may have to go through the motions: moult, expand, harden and develop again. Inside this process is an evolution.

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Today, my trophy is a Green Sash and it is a result “of a change.” It was bitter-sweet when Sifu told me I knew all but two things from the Blue Belt test. But, there is a year’s worth of metamorphosis that I do not yet have under my belt and I understand that.

For my son and the others that find it difficult to run at a time other than your favorite time, it is part of the metamorphosis. Hang in there.

Tiger Press and Horse Stance Optional

imageThe week has just gotten started and I’m anxious for it to end already. I’ve been preparing for a test in Kung Fu, which is scheduled for this Thursday night.

There are arm locks, head locks and the hammer lock to practice and memorize, kicks and fists, eight directional stepping and eight mother palms, Plum blossom hands, ground boxing and the dreaded animal forms. The 64 form needs to be perfect and Sifu says anything from the first day of training could be tested.

My husband lived and trained with the only Karate Dan level Red Belt in Japan many years ago. When I began my Kung Fu training, I would come home so anxious to show him what I had learned.

I stood in the kitchen throwing kicks and fists at him until one day he couldn’t help himself and his automatic reaction took over….I almost got a bloody nose. That’s when he got me the body bag that now hangs in our garage.

This past weekend he even relaxed himself enough to let me perform the arm lock on his arm – minus the bloody nose. Every spare moment of the day is consumed with practice and study.

I’ve done 50 tiger presses every day and for the life of me I don’t think they are an ounce easier than the first one I did years ago.

The 15 minutes of holding the horse stance has left my legs and lower back sore. After standing there for about 5 minutes, everything from the waist down starts quivering until I think my legs will giggle right out from under me. The hardest part of holding the horse stance is holding myself still for 15 minutes. I just want it all to end.

Running seems to be the background noise in my life at the moment. It doesn’t hold that place of honor I typically like for it to occupy. Last Sunday’s long run was an escape from life’s infringements.

It was overcast and quiet and there was a steady rain from about mile 4 through 6 that made it pleasantly cool. I came across two familiar cyclists that waved hello but no dogs – a nice change of pace. But speaking of pace…..

Saturday’s run was to be at race pace. It wasn’t until the 3rd mile that I actually hit race pace – and then I didn’t hold it there for long. Finally somewhere after the 4-mile mark I gave up and said screw it, I’ll try again next week. After I had settled down into a comfortable stride for awhile, I took a glance at my watch. I was 10 seconds faster than race pace. There’s still a lot to be said about relaxing and letting your body, and your training, do the work.

This week’s schedule calls for two 3-mile runs, two 6-mile runs with Saturday’s run at race pace again, and a 13-mile long run on Sunday. My husband found a new bike for me with all the right components and a price tag that was just right. UPS couldn’t find our house last Friday so my new bike spent the weekend at the distribution center.

Today I pick it up and hopefully by Friday morning my reward for all this hard work will be a nice, long bike ride on my new bike. Tiger press and horse stance optional.

A “Step-Back” Week

This is the week. I’ve been given the directive that the house should be finished by the end of the week. Usually it takes me 3 weeks to unpack, organize and decorate a house from scratch. This one is going on for four now. I can’t say exactly why except that everything has to be re-thought.

imageSome spots are beginning to look normal, if you ignore the bird house sitting on the chair or the ladder propped against the wall.

I spent 2 hours yesterday creating a linen closet in the butler’s pantry…inspecting every napkin for stains, deciding what to keep and where to put it. Nothing is ironed but at least they all have a home.image

Today I must do the same with all the bed linens except, we don’t have a closet for the bed linens yet. Same thing goes for all the deck accoutrements. The deck isn’t finished because of all this rain.

So, bird houses, plants and baskets sit everywhere. Trees have been lying in the flower bed and grass is growing in between all the bricks. The pots and pans are sitting on the counter in the guest house, sheets are in stacks on the dining table…. and then the kitchen has to be totally re-organized. It’s no surprise that’s its been hard to focus on anything else.

Halfway through the long run on Sunday, my mind was still racing through decisions I left back at the house.

This is the first step-back week in my training program, which means the long run drops from 11 miles last week to 8 miles this Sunday. In the program I’ve selected, this happens every third week giving your body a chance to catch its breath before pushing on to higher and higher mileage.

Training this week includes two 3-mile runs, two 6-mile runs – one at marathon pace, and one 8-mile run on Sunday. After much practice, I can finally do the jumping block kick although it has left my legs very tired.

There are more of the kicks on the schedule this week and I also have to practice holding the horse stance for 15 minutes.image

In the Shaolin style we practice, our legs are wide apart as we sit low to the ground. It is used to strengthen the back and legs so that we are stronger fighters. For each sash we earn, a longer and longer horse stance is required.

My next test only requires 10 minutes at the man level (not quite a full squat) but I will practice for 15 minutes to be sure I can make the 10 minutes under stress. If my legs don’t hurt now, they will by the end of this week.

Twenty-six miles of running, power kicks and three hours of horse stance (15 minutes, twice a day for six days), two days of Core H and two days of a Better Myrtl, four hours of tai chi and kung fu class, a few more pots, pans and sheets, a little gardening and my week is a wrap.

My husband said he had meetings all day and I thought to myself, that might just be the next best thing to a day at the spa.

When Fear Takes Over

Last Thursday night in Kung Fu, Sifu had us start out with a few rolls. Although it hasn’t been that long ago that I secretly dreaded when he would drag the mat out to the center of the classroom, now I don’t mind it at all. Believe it or not, I can do that roll and wake up the next morning with no aches or pains in my neck. That’s progress.

After we rolled a dozen times or so, we learned a jumping, block kick. Maybe it wasn’t called that at all – it may have been a “jump, block while you turn your body 180 degrees in the air kick”. It doesn’t matter – I couldn’t do it.

imageAll the boys laughed and said, “But you’re a runner and you can’t do this?!” Are you kidding me? What on God’s green earth does running have to do with being able to jump, kick and turn mid-air like a monkey?

When my marathon training took me to that first 16-mile run, I was so nervous I stood at the front door in a panic. I told my husband, “I’m just so afraid.” Of course, he gave me a kiss and shoved me out the door saying, “You’ll be fine.”

The same feeling was there on the starting line of the first marathon, and when I got to the first big hill on my bike.

Wouldn’t you think as a mature adult you could convince yourself there’s nothing to be afraid of in life? Even if you don’t succeed the first time, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever succeed at that new something. But this fear and uncertainty seems to be a natural reaction.

I read an article this morning from Coach Joe English where he talks about runners who are cowards. Maybe that’s the lesson for us – you may be afraid to try something new but don’t let your fear prevent you from at least trying.

This week’s schedule includes a 60-90 minute bike ride for cross training today, two 3-mile runs, two 5-mile runs and a 3/1 long run of 11 miles on Sunday. And for the next two days, I’ll be in the garage with my back towards the punching bag, lifting my body up and around, left leg bent into a block, hands guarding my head, right leg throwing a big deadly kick to that bag while the momentum of the kick turns me full circle and I land in a solid stance back where I started. Oh boy.

The Training Plan 2013

Some people finish projects well ahead of their due date while others of us seem to flourish under the pressure of a looming deadline. Running is more fun for me when there’s an event approaching, a goal.

My next event is now just 18 weeks away. And, there are thousands of runners all over the country beginning their 18-week journey the same as I am.image

I have decided on Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 marathon training program which peaks at 50 miles/week and three 20-mile runs. I have never done so many 20-mile runs and this part of the program scares me just a little. No matter how intimidating that first 20-miler, you know there’s the reward of the taper as soon as it’s over. This summer it will take me five weeks to get through the 20-mile runs.

Monday’s are cross training days and Friday is always a rest day. Every other Saturday is a pace run and the first long Sunday run this week is 10 miles leading up to the first 20-miler in week 11.

Interestingly, there is no speedwork in this plan which suits me just fine. Once every three weeks, 3/1 training is encouraged. This means you run the first three-fourths of your long run (say the first 12 miles of a 16-miler) at an easy pace, then do the final one-fourth (4 miles of a 16-miler) at a somewhat faster pace–though still not race pace.

Four days/week I will continue the core strengthening learned during base building – two days of Core H and two days of a Better Myrtl. These sessions only add about 10 minutes time to the running part of my day and are well worth the effort.

The part of this training plan that has given me the most angst over the weekend is my commitment to practice Tai Chi and Kung Fu each day. Angst may be an understatement.

As I sit here still amid chaos, I can’t imagine carving out even more time for training. There are eleven boxes I can see from where I sit, pictures still leaning against the ottoman that have no wall space left to be hung onto and we won’t even discuss the state of affairs in my closet.

Nonetheless, I’ve put together a tentative schedule for Monday – Friday leaving Saturday and Sunday to focus on running.

Tai Chi is easy to practice. The forms can take up to 10-15 minutes to perform and no matter how many times I repeat them, there’s always something that needs more work. For Kung Fu this week, I’ll work on the 12 animals, the circle of 8 animals, five element fists/kicks, and 15 minutes of walking the circle. I’ll spend some time with the punching bag in the garage to practice putting all of my body weight behind the hits and kicks.

We met several couples over the weekend that were preparing to retire to our area. They were all a bit worried about how to fill their day and asked what I did to keep busy. Their eyes got wide when I tried to explain there were never enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted. When my husband told them I don’t even make it to the shower before noon they were a little skeptical that I’d be much help with their transition.

I read the book, Jackie after Jack, by Christopher Andersen. When Jackie took the job as junior editor at Viking, the cab driver recognized her one morning and said, “Lady, you work and you don’t have to?” She simply said, “Yes.”

When you find something you enjoy doing, you should just go do it. Everything else will fall into place somehow…. hopefully this includes the boxes and pictures in my family room.