Archive for May, 2013

Where Do We Find Courage?

Posted on May 31, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


“I really like to run,” the woman at my elbow was saying.  I was only half listening.  The 3rd Annual Girls on the Run Cupcake 5K Fun Run, our annual fundraiser sponsored by Kate’s Frosting, was about to begin and we were gathered at the start line.

Was everyone here? Did they know where the start line began? Was the water stop ready?  Was it 8:00 yet? My attention was divided between too many things to listen adequately.

“I really want her to like running,” the woman nodded toward her 10-ish daughter who was pacing the curb, drawing a line on the pavement with her toe, “as much as I do.”

“Yes,” I murmured, still distracted.  Kate was setting up the tower of cupcakes at the finish line.

“You know I’ve run 14 marathons,” she said nonchalantly, as if she declared she’d eaten 14 cupcakes instead.

For perhaps the first time during our conversation, I looked straight at her.  She was shorter than me, the top of her head reaching maybe my chin.  Not muscular or runner thin.  Plump, to be precise.

I closed my gaping mouth before a fly landed in it, acutely aware and somewhat ashamed that—blink—just like that I had made a judgment about this woman and her ability or propensity to run. Unconsciously, I had observed and assessed her.  She didn’t look like a runner—whatever that means—to me.

Two seconds, Malcolm Gladwell contends, is all it takes for us to decide.  In the blink of an eye we make up our minds about what something—or someone—is or is not.

Fourteen marathons.  Four. Teen.  Never in a million years would I have guessed.  I must have looked as surprised as I felt because she smiled wryly and nodded.  “I’ve done a half Ironman too.”

“No way!” I blurted, no longer able to contain what by now had become excitement.

When I closed my gaping mouth I fortunately opened my mind.  Standing here in front of me was true inspiration.  If she could do these things, then why couldn’t I?

It’s been in the back of my mind for years that maybe one day I could do a half Ironman.  Maybe start with an Olympic distance tri.  I’ve still never run a marathon.  Trained for 2, but stopped by injury.  What was I waiting for to try again?

Inspiration.  Courage.

I have had neither, and didn’t even realize it until I met the marathon woman.  I haven’t lived up to the message that’s been posted on my refrigerator since January 15, 2009, the date on the tattered calendar square that states:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

–          Anaïs Nin

This square of paper has stared me in the face for four years in two different homes. The message travels with me, so that I don’t forget it. Some days I stop as I’m rummaging through the fridge and read it.  Other days I don’t see it at all, hanging amid the Mickey Mouse and bluebonnet magnets.

For the past 3+ weeks, however, I have seen it. Read it anew.  Each time, I think of this woman and her fourteen marathons, her half Ironman, and I see my own possibilities expand.

I am excited to try something new.  And when I think about this woman, I remember her daughter tight-rope-walking the curb and think what a lucky girl, to have a mom who can show her so many things.

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Reason #15

Posted on May 24, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

lily of valley

My friend Stephanie loves to run.  A poster listing 22 reasons why–hers specifically–has hung on a wall for a few years, no matter where her office has been.

Reason #15:  There’s no better way to explore a city or enjoy the spring flowers or fall leaves.

If I had my own poster, this would be on it.  I’ve been in State College, PA, visiting family.  Not only is State College, home of Penn State, a cool town all around, but the area it’s nestled in is incredible.  It’s been 13 years since I’ve experienced a spring in this part of the country, and although I thought I remembered how beautiful it is, apparently I’d forgotten.

Morning runs here have been spectacular.  Maybe a little dangerous, but spectacular nonetheless.  Trees grow much taller in Pennsylvania than in Texas.  During most of my first morning’s run my eyes were up, gazing at the towering trees rather than ahead watching for traffic, curbs, and road signs.

So what if I ran a couple miles farther than I planned. (Have they considered placing road signs in the trees for out-of-towners?)  And, thankfully, cars are apparently used to pedestrians cluelessly crossing the road when the big red hand is flashing.

I haven’t seen or smelled peonies, lily-of-the-valley, dogwood, or sumac in what seems like forever.  Nor have I seen an overabundance of cottontail rabbits congregating in yards and on roadsides.  And, of course, there are chipmunks too.

If I hadn’t run through the streets of State College I would have missed all these things. The sights. The smells.  The way the breeze feels against your cheek, on the nape of the neck.  I wouldn’t have seen the high school cross country team practicing, wouldn’t have noticed the architecture of the church set back from the road.  Wouldn’t have seen west campus and the row of old buildings turned into warehouses.

Nor would I have had the same conversations with my brother, who accompanied me a couple of mornings.  We ran the same path, past the warehouses, cottontails, and sumac, yet I can’t say that I saw them.  Our relationship was exposed in a different way, made possible, I believe, by the vulnerability running requires.

Maybe it’s time to write my own running love list.  I would start with Reason #1:  There’s no better way to experience lilac in spring and the company of a friend.

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(Just Like) Starting Over

Posted on May 17, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Starting over

I’ve never been crazy about John Lennon’s music outside of the Beatles.  One song in particular (not coincidentally, the title of this post) drives me batty.  This is the song that wormed its way from out of nowhere and into my brain on Monday morning.

After 3 weeks of inactivity, I’ve been eager to jump back into my training schedule. I have a sprint tri coming up in a few weeks, and I’m a bit anxious that I’ve had so much down time.  I figured I’d ease back into training this week by starting small.

Monday:              Run 2.5 miles

I didn’t expect it to feel like a stroll through the garden, but I also didn’t expect to have to consciously remind myself how to run.  I had to coach myself through the first mile.

Keep your chin up. Relax your shoulders. Use your arms to propel you. Lean from your ankles, not your waist.  Point your right toe out more and take a longer step with your left. No, you’re not spontaneously combusting.  Those are your lungs.

Here’s the good news.  I only planned to run 2 miles, but at my intended stopping point I was at 2.37.  The voice that pushes me just a little farther piped up:  2.37?  Well that’s a crazy, uneven number. Go to 2.5.

So I did.

Tuesday:              Run 3 miles

Since I felt good by the end of Monday’s run, I thought I’d go out for a 4 miler, my usual weekday run.  I was surprised to find that the first half mile hurt even worse than the day before.  By the end of mile 1, I knew it was not a 4-mile day.  I was happy to get in 3.

Wednesday:      Swim 30 minutes

Nearly a month since I’d been in a pool.  I was nervous.  I stalled for an extra half hour before I left my house.  Made the bed.  Fiddled with some papers, yesterday’s mail.

I decided to do a few warm-up laps with the kickboard. Remind myself what an arrow feels like; to kick from my hips, not my knees.  I stretched out, face down, and pushed the kickboard out in front of me.  Pain spiked my shoulder.  My doctor gave me the go-ahead to swim and weight lift just the day before, so I ignored the pain, kept going.

I managed 20 laps—ecstatic at the end.  Ice packs are my friend.

Thursday:            Run 4 miles

Within just a few dozen yards, I was in my Running Head Zone (RHZ)—minus John Lennon.  My body only intruded a couple of times—upon approaching mile 1.5 when I realized where I was and thought maybe I should turn around, make it a 3-miler.  By the time I got there I forgot and kept going.  But the last 1/3 mile was all body.  Fortunately, my working parts are working, muscles and joints intact.  My lungs protested.

Friday:                  Rest day

I have to admit, I’m struggling with this. Fridays are rest days; on weekends I push myself hard.  But I feel like I haven’t done enough to warrant a rest.

Nevertheless, I’m sticking with it, especially after my doctor’s scolding on Thursday (When you feel pain, you have to stop! Oh.) and my still-throbbing shoulder.

My friend Stephanie, who happens to be a running coach, tells me that when people train year round, their bodies need a two week break at some point to rejuvenate.  Two weeks seem like a long time to me.  Three seem like eternity.

Fortunately, we have muscle memory and it doesn’t take long for our bodies to remember what they’re supposed to do.  Even better, we have the RHZ, the space that obliterates pain and discomfort, allowing our bodies the liberty to move.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be a better day.  Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get in 6 before my lungs implode.  And at least I’ve left John Lennon behind.

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A Breath of Inspiration

Posted on May 10, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


One important fact I confirmed this week:  Breathing is essential to running.  I’m not talking about breathing technique. I’m talking about the simple act of inhaling and exhaling a single breath of air.

Sometimes it’s not so simple.

The upper respiratory infection I’ve been fighting for over a week is almost gone, thank God.  I think I might have been a pain about it.  This is the first time in 7 years I’ve been sick, have had to take antibiotics, have closed up shop and hung out on the couch watching endless reruns of The Closer.

Finally, it has run its course.

Now that I feel like a lump of, well, something not so good, I need inspiration to hit the pavement again.  Thought I’d share with you some of the quotes that remind me why I run.


It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.   ― George Sheehan


No matter how slow I run, I’m still faster than my couch.   ― Anonymous


Even though I can’t tell others whether they should chase their marathon dreams, I highly recommend they do something completely out of character, something they never in a million years thought they’d do, something they may fail miserably at. Because sometimes the places where you end up finding your true self are the places you never thought to look. That, and I don’t want to be the only one who sucks at something.   ― Dawn Dais


The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.   ― Christopher McDougall

man walking

The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you’re not in shape for it, it’s too far to walk back.   ― Franklin P. Jones


People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any runner.   ― Dean Karnazes


Jogging is very beneficial.  It’s good for your legs and your feet.  It’s also very good for the ground.  It makes it feel needed.   ― Charles Schultz

boston marathon

If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.   ― Kathrine Switzer


There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.”   ― Kristin Armstrong

Have an awesome week.  Breathe easy; run hard.

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(Temporarily) Unstoppable

Posted on May 3, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


“With an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train barreling toward a city, a veteran engineer and a young conductor race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.”

When Unstoppable came out in 2010, I wondered how anyone could squeeze an hour and a half out of a story about a runaway train.  I skipped the movie and promptly forgot it.

Until this week.  It seems to be cable’s movie-of-the-week and I can’t get away from it. Believe me, I’ve tried.  It finally caught up with me one brain-dead night, and I decided to give it a shot.

Half an hour was all I could stand.  And that’s 30 minutes of my life I will never get back.

Still, this week seems to be a fitting time for Unstoppable.  My training has derailed.

No swimming or weight training until further notice.  Doctor’s orders. Which is fine, considering my shoulder doesn’t want to move too much anyway.

I didn’t bother to ask him about biking or running. I figured I’d do it anyway, so why ask?

The thing is, I just don’t feel like doing it.

Between healing and then coming down with some kind of virus, it’s been 10 days since I’ve done much more than walk my dogs.  Although I’ve walked them a lot (one now hides at the sight of her leash), my energy level won’t move into overdrive.

Ever have those days when your head really wants you to be out there doing something, but your body refuses?  Each morning, I set my alarm, planning to get up and run.  Each morning, I shut it completely off thinking maybe I’ll bike later (I don’t) or run tomorrow (I haven’t).

I catch myself instead staring wistfully at my training log as I mark another X through an unachievable workout, distraught by the momentum of nothingness that seems to be building.

I am hoping this lag in training is not unstoppable.  I’m not quite sure what to do to get back on the right track.  If I know my body, it will start one morning on its own, without telling me.

(Sort of like the jack-in-the-box you had when you were a kid, and you kept cranking and cranking and thought you were getting nowhere and then Pop! goes the weasel, and you jumped about a mile out of your skin.  Stupid toy, scaring kids to death like that.)

I just hope it doesn’t take catastrophic explosions, the destruction of small towns, or Denzel Washington to get me re-railed.

Well, maybe Denzel Washington.

Any suggestions?

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