Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mission: Accomplished!

I did it.

After a little more than three months of training, a whole lot of self-discipline, a slight bit of doubt (mostly from other people) and a touch of much-appreciated hype, I ran my first 5K on Saturday.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, "On a Mission," I decided in July that I wanted to start running. For pretty much the first time in my life (the torturous, forced runs in ninth-grade gym class do not count). Anymore, it seems the logical goal for non-runners who start running is to do a 5K ... so I picked one and ran with it (hardy har har).

When I walked out the door of my grandparents' house (where I was staying for the weekend) on Saturday morning to head to the race, it was cold. Really, really cold. About 35 degrees cold. And it didn't really warm up in the half hour or so leading up to the start of the race, but I was too pumped up about what was to come and too busy greeting lots of old friends who were there to run or walk the race to even notice.

My body wasn't prepared for the cold. My legs in particular weren't prepared for the cold. Even the official pre-race "warm-up" didn't do anything for my legs. All it did was make me winded! (By the way, I will never make the mistake of doing the official warm-up before a race ever again. Just doing my own thing would've been a better choice.)
Anyway ...

When we were called to line up, I slowly worked my way to the back of the pack -- not because I'm a pessimist, but because I didn't want to get caught up in the initial surge at the start of the race. (Can you tell I've been doing plenty of reading about running and lots of talking to seasoned runners?)

And it was there, at the back of the pack, that I found my friend Don (with me in the picture on the right, which was taken post-run), who signed up for the race after I put out a few calls on Facebook for people to join me. It was reassuring to see a familiar face at the starting line. It also was reassuring to know that at least one other person had NO idea what the guy with the bullhorn was saying (which is what happens when you put yourself at the back of a pack of nearly 450 people). As the "start" signal blared, we wished each other luck (he's been at this longer than I have, so there was no way I was keeping up with him!) and headed out onto the course.

Within 30 seconds, there already was trouble. My typically trusty RunKeeper Pro app -- which I've used to track and time all of my runs since I graduated from the C25K app -- did not want to pull in a GPS reading -- a problem that had never occurred before. And we weren't in the middle of nowhere or anything, so there was no reason for the app to fail. Not wanting to waste any more time fumbling with my phone (and having to run slowly to do so), I hit "Start" and focused myself ... until the first alert came on a few minutes later, trying to tell me that I had gone 1.9 kilometers. WRONG! I ignored it and kept going. A few minutes later, it said I had gone 4 kilometers. WRONG again! So I stopped the app.

This "technical difficulty" probably sounds like nothing more than an annoyance, but in having to kill the app, I took away my timer and my mechanism for knowing when to take walk breaks. So, I just had to wing it. In a way, it probably worked to my advantage to some extent, because instead of taking my walk breaks based on how far I'd gone, I took them based on how I felt. But because it was so cold and my legs just didn't want to warm up, I ended up taking several more walk breaks than I normally would have.

Sometime during the second half of the race, the sun began shining brightly onto the course, and things started to feel a little easier. I even passed some people (one of whom passed me for good shortly thereafter). I was getting warmer, in a good way.

And then I turned the corner to begin the final stretch of the race. Wanting to finish strong, I transitioned from walk to a pretty fast (for me) run toward the finish line. I felt great ... for a moment. Then I started feeling ... weird (for lack of a better term). At first I thought maybe I was nervous and excited about crossing the finish line and actually completing my goal. Then I realized something was actually wrong, physically, and I thought I was going to be sick. Not because I was overexerted, but because the sun completely disappeared when I rounded that last corner, and my body temperature must have dropped significantly when that happened.

All I could think on my way to the finish line was, "Don't get sick! Don't get sick! Don't get sick!"

And then I passed a group of my friends -- several of my former coworkers from my old job -- who had finished the race and were cheering loudly as I ran by. (They're at the far left in the photo on the left.) Let me tell you, few things will motivate you like having a crowd of people erupt into cheers as you run by them. It was just what I needed to make me forget about how my body was feeling and help me surge toward the finish line.

As I approached the finish line, I saw two things: First, I saw Tim with his camera -- and I tried not to pay attention to the camera (ha!). Then, I saw the clock (which I think is what was happening in the photo below). Given how challenging the run had been because of the cold, along with the fact that I took more walk breaks than usual, I had expected a time slower than my training runs. Instead, it was almost four minutes faster than my fastest training run. I know I said (okay, probably yelled) something to the volunteers at the finish line, proclaiming it to be my best time ever. Kind of funny, considering that I was the last person who primarily ran the race to finish it (everyone behind me was walking it, I think).

It was high fives, hugs and pictures all around after the race ended. It was so exciting to accomplish something that really was a challenge -- something that required me to focus, to change my ways and to be disciplined. Even now, several days later, I'm a bit in disbelief that it all happened and that the thing I worked toward since mid-summer is already over. I guess that just means it's time to start training for the next one. Dan thinks it should be a December race in Mount Pleasant, but I'm not sure I'm up for another cold-weather run ...

Oh, and if you're wondering, my official time was almost 3 minutes faster than the clock time I saw at the finish line (though I'm still not sure why, as we weren't chipped or anything), which means I beat my best training run by more than six minutes! 43:43.6. I'll take it.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the last several months, from those of you who encouraged me during my training to those who donated to my Special Olympics fundraising. It has made all the difference!

(Photos by Tim Jackson)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On a mission

Yes, it's been awhile since I updated this blog. And I apologize. Taking a new job, moving to a new town, adjusting to the new town and dealing with being away from the place I called home for 14 years can take a lot out of a person.

It can, and it did.

At some point, I realized I was letting some of that get to me. I was coming home at night, making dinner, sitting down on the couch and not going back out again. And I wasn't paying much attention to what I was eating.

Something needed to change.

And one day in July, I just sort of woke up and decided I wanted to run a 5K. To anyone who runs, that probably sounds like nothing. But for me, it was a somewhat outlandish goal. Even
when I was in my best shape just a few years ago, running was not within my realm of capability. I tried -- I really did -- but it never worked.

But for some reason, on that day in early July, I got it in my head that maybe I could run after all. I posted on Facebook, seeking advice from my runner friends about the best way to go about it. The Couch to 5K Running Program was an overwhelming favorite, it seemed, so I downloaded the C25K app and decided to give it a try.

I did the one thing that I thought would motivate me to really do this: I started telling everyone. On Facebook, on Twitter, in face-to-face conversations, I told people about my intention to start training and ultimately run a 5K. Most people were supportive, but some people clearly didn't think I could do it (they were polite and all, but I could tell what they were thinking).

Then I did the other thing that I knew would motivate me: I picked a race to run. I settled on a particular one in mid-October for a number of reasons: The potential for others to join me in the race, the fact that I was already planning to go to related events that weekend, and, of course, the fact that it maximized the time for me to train.

On July 10, I did my first training run, which consisted of a five-minute warmup walk, 20 minutes of one minute running/one minute walking intervals, and a five-minute cooldown walk. Winded, sweaty and beet red, I didn't even make it through all of the running intervals. It was hard, and quitting would have been easy.

Somehow, though, I didn't quit.

Every other day, I did the next training run, working my way through run intervals that lasted 1, 1.5, 3, 5, 8 and 10 minutes ... then building up to being able to run solidly for 20, 25, 28 minutes. Last Saturday (Sept. 4), I finished the program, running 30 consecutive minutes. And in the week since, I have started running a full but slow 5K.

I tell you this not because I think I am doing something amazing or fantastic by running. I tell you this because we all have something we're thinking about doing -- something that might bring the satisfaction of completing a goal, could improve your health, might even change your life. And if you step up and do it ... well, the possibilities are endless. A bonus: If you share your quest with others, you'll be amazed how many people will tell you, sincerely, that you've inspired them to take action as well. That can be some great motivation right there!

So, October 16 is race day for me. And in the next (almost) five weeks, I'm doing a few things:

- Celebrating what I've accomplished so far.

- Building up to run a solid 5K (i.e. with no walk breaks) -- and to do it in a reasonable amount of time.

- Raising funds for Special Olympics Michigan, the race's designated beneficiary. I've set a goal of raising $500 through my participation in the race. You can contribute here.

- Recruiting others to run the race with me. If you're going to be in mid-Michigan that weekend and want to run my first 5K with me, drop me a line for registration information!

To everyone who has offered supportive words and advice along the way, THANK YOU! To those who thought I couldn't do it, I thank you as well (hey, you motivated me, too ... just in a different kind of way).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The gift of perspective

Last Monday wasn't the best day in the history of the world by any stretch of the imagination. It was just what that woman in "Office Space" meant when she said she thought Peter had "a case of the Mondays."

I might've let out an exasperated sigh or two and asked my wonderful officemate (who was having the same kind of day), "What is UP with today?!" but that's pretty much where it ended.

That's right ... I didn't mope. I didn't dwell. I didn't worry. I wasn't overcome with feelings of failure or inadequacy. I just took note of the issues (and determined whether they were anything within my control) and let things go.

And my Facebook status that night reflected it:

"Lindsay Allen thinks that PERSPECTIVE is the greatest gift of all. Even though today was what I'd call a challenging day, I didn't feel worried, scared or discouraged when I left the office, and I'll sleep just fine tonight. What a difference a year (or so) makes!"

So, what did I mean by that?

Simply put, I'm finding that being in the right place doing the right kind of work for my skill set has made a huge difference for me. And I have the perspective (and appreciation for my current situation) that can only truly be gained by being in a rather opposite kind of situation -- the kind of situation that has you feeling like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because your strongest skills are seen as less valuable or are perhaps even seen as a liability rather than as an asset. My uncle, Scott Allen, very eloquently wrote about this type of thing already, so I won't try to reinvent the wheel in explaining the phenomenon.

Bottom line: Even the hardest or most frustrating day at my new job (and there honestly haven't been many at all) has been more manageable and less stressful than most of the days -- good or bad -- at my previous job. And that has everything to do with being in the right place, doing the right thing ... and having the PERSPECTIVE that allows me to truly understand and appreciate the difference.

Being able to put the day behind me because I know the next day is a new chance is the No. 1 gift that perspective has afforded me. What are the others? In no particular order, here are the rest of my "Top 5 Gifts Provided by Perspective":

- Learning the importance of making sure you land at a workplace where your supervisors truly understand what your strongest skills are and are committed to focusing your responsibilities in those areas (while also providing opportunities to explore other skills that interest you).

- Recognizing the value of really being valued.

- Realizing that taking work home *every single night* is not healthy.

- Knowing that taking a lunch break helps prevent mental and physical fatigue.

It might sound simple, but it's the truth as I've lived it for the past seven weeks or so. And it's why I know I'm where I'm supposed to be ... and that I got here in the manner in which I was supposed to get here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

March comes in like a lion, indeed ...

Today is the anniversary of something that has already proven to have made an impact on my career -- and will long continue to do so. Oddly, yesterday was, too, as I realized last night. And so was Thursday. And Monday was a milestone career day as well, although in a much different kind of way.

So, that whole "March comes in like a lion" thing? Yeah, I buy it.

One year ago today, on March 6, 2009, I had a meeting that changed my career -- and, really, my entire life. In a matter of minutes, I went from being employed at a place where I'd worked for nearly seven years to only having a couple of months left at said job courtesy of an impending reorganization, kicking off what I referred to as "the ultimate PRofessional test" in a guest post I wrote for Rachel Esterline's blog a week and a half later.

On the surface, losing your job is a bad thing. (Note those three words: "on the surface"). But once you get past the surface and stop focusing on how you think you're supposed to feel or how others are telling you you should feel, you might find a whole new world.

Anyone who has gotten to know me during the past year knows that I chose to approach being unemployed as a professional and personal opportunity rather than as something bad that happened to me. It turns out that that benefited not only me, but also others. Just the other day, I was reminded of this by a friend who recently lost her job and was able to land back on her feet relatively quickly. In an e-mail, she said, "Whether you know it or not, all those posts you've been making for a year now really gave me a positive outlook when it happened to me." Wow!

But I digress ...

When I found out that my job was being eliminated, it came at a strange time. The day before, I'd had a really fun, creative shoot for "Inside Central," the TV show on which I'd worked for several years (my clip starts at the 20:28 mark; and yes, the way I did my stand-up was my idea). And the day before that, I'd achieved something very exciting for a PR pro: My first hit in The Wall Street Journal, which came without the aid of ProfNet, HARO or anything else. It was completely self-generated, which made it all the more satisfying to accomplish.

So, imagine the feeling of being on a huge professional high on Wednesday and Thursday, then losing your job on Friday. That's exactly what happened!

In an oddly similar -- and almost identically timed, which I failed to realize until yesterday -- twist, it was March 5, 2002, when my young career hit a scary bump. I was working as a print journalist at the time, and the day started out like any other ... but it ended up being the most frightening day of my entire professional life. It was the day that the worst crime in the history of the county occurred: Three people were shot and killed in the parking lot of the county courthouse.

Covering this horrible crime was terrifying and draining on so many levels. And I still clearly remember one of my bosses saying, "This is the kind of day that either reminds you that this is the job you were meant to do or sends you running in the opposite direction."

A few weeks later, I had a job interview downstate for an advertising copywriting job. I ended up not taking the job, but I did switch roles at the paper when an opportunity to transition to community news -- honor rolls, birth announcements, senior citizen card showers, military honors, etc. -- arose. Ultimately, I ended up leaving the paper (and the news business) altogether just five months after the incident.

So, the first week of March and I have a pretty bumpy history, but ...

The tide seems to be turning, and March seems to be coming in more like a lamb in 2010.

On Monday, I marked a truly happy early-March career milestone: 10 months after my first day of unemployment, I started the job I told you all about a few weeks back.

And the verdict? So far, so good. The commute (which I'll have to do for a few more weeks) tires me out ... but I come home every day with my soul intact, and that's more important than anything.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A confession ... and a humble request

So, I head back to work on Monday, March 1, 2010, after being unemployed since Friday, May 1, 2009.

And I'm a little freaked out about it.

The freak-out is not so much about the job itself, but is more about returning to the world of the working after being "out of the game" for awhile.

As I prepare to set foot into full-time employment for the first time in 10 months -- and in an agency environment for the first time in my career -- I ask ...

What advice do you have for someone who hasn't worked full-time in almost a year and is starting a new job?