Running

By the Numbers

Posted on January 16, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

My brother turned fifty-one last week.  Fifty-one.  A big number.  Not so long ago, turning fifty sounded like an impossible thing, a feat maybe other people managed, but not the people I knew, my family, my friends. Yet here we all are, there or nearly there, in a place that sounds different than it feels.

I asked him the question my dad asked me on each one of my birthdays:  How does it feel to be fifty-one (thirteen, sixteen, twenty)?

His answer to me was the same one I always gave my dad:  Just the same as it did to be fifty (twelve, fifteen, nineteen).

But you know, he said on further reflection, this one makes me think a little more. It didn’t bother me to turn fifty, but fifty-one is different. It’s into my fifties, one step closer to sixty, and sixty just sounds, well, old. It’s when people retire. I don’t feel old, he went on, I don’t feel like my age sounds.

I know what he means.  Turning forty was nothing. But forty-one, well, that was different. Into my forties, one step closer to fifty. And now even more steps closer. Yet I don’t feel like someone approaching fifty.

Twenty-five, forty, fifty-one, they’re just numbers. And who’s to decide how a number is supposed to look, how a number is supposed to feel?  numbers

A couple of days after my brother’s birthday, mile sprints showed up on my training schedule again. It’s been several weeks since I’ve sprinted miles, and I went to bed the night before a little apprehensive. A mile. It sounds so long.

I trudged early into the gym bleary-eyed and grumpy, not quite prepared to exert the energy I’d need to expend.  You can always just run three miles, I reasoned with myself as I grabbed a towel off the shelf. No one says you have to run sprints.

I climbed onto the treadmill to warm up, trying to wake up, deciding what to do. A mile. It sounds so long, too long of a distance to sprint. I could always run 400s or 800s. I could start slow and build. Or I could just dawdle here on this treadmill and continue walking at a nice reasonable pace for the next three miles.

But no matter how I sliced it, a mile is a mile. And, I thought, if I made the effort to get this far, to the gym and on the treadmill, then I guess I should probably run.

I thought of my friend Ceci and a conversation we had not too long ago about sprints. If you have any energy left at the end, she said, if you can go a little faster or do a little more, you’re not doing yourself any good. By the time you reach the end of the road you should have given everything you have to give.

A mile. A long distance to sprint. But as I approached the end of my warm-up, I shut down the mental calculations, the slicing and dicing of time and distance, as if math could change the nature of a mile. If I made the effort to get this far, by God I was going to run, not measuring a mile by numbers, but measuring it by how I felt.

I inhaled deeply, held my thumb on the Up arrow—and ran the fastest mile sprints I’d ever run.

This week, I ran them just a little faster.

And it felt good.

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The Light of the World

Posted on January 1, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On the lawn of my neighbor four doors down stands a panoply of lighted yard animals. A couple of moose and two varieties of reindeer, what appears to be a bear, a snowman, and a Snoopy-like dog sporting a hat and a red and white sweater imprinted with “CANADA.”

I notice my neighbor’s lawn art on the nights I drive by, one of many ornamented yards. Most houses sport tidy rows of single colored lights strung from eaves, wrapped tightly around trees, draped symmetrically over bushes. Not my neighbor four doors down. Their gathering of lighted yard animals stand united under a canopy of multicolored lights, some strands blinking red, some dripping green, all run through with a shock of white light.

As conspicuous as my neighbor’s lawn art sounds, it wasn’t until I ran by in the mornings that I saw it clearly. My favorite time to run, holiday-season mornings. The world at peace, darkness punctuated by lights that herald the joy of the season, making my heart swell with excited expectation as I run.

You can tell something about a person, I think as I wind my way through the streets, by the way they string their lights. Are the lights single-colored or multi-?  Are they strewn carefully along some predetermined line or draped haphazardly among the shrubs? What it is you can tell, I’m not yet sure, but I feel I know my neighbors a little bit better by virtue of their lights.  Chritstmas Tree

I often wonder about my neighbors as I run by, what their lives are like behind those walls, their lighted lawns or darkened windows. Are they happy? Lonely? Do the holidays fill them with joy or with sadness or with something else entirely? With nothing at all?

The trunk of the live oak that shelters my front lawn is wound with strands of colored lights. They burn incessantly, although I know you cannot always see them. No timer, no unplugging, just an unceasing rainbow sparkle.

Some days when I come home, I flinch in anguish and squint toward the tree, looking for the light I know must be there, overpowered by the light of the day. It’s not until I see a flicker of blue or orange that I am at ease, to know that my lights still burn.

I sometimes wonder if my neighbors wonder about me and my ever-lit, multicolored tree.

But what would I do, I think on those mornings I run by lighted yards and the smell of bacon frying, bread baking, laundry drying, fires burning, if there were sadness or loneliness or emptiness inside when I do not know the names or the faces of the people behind those lights?

But we are all our brothers’ keepers, I think as I run by. There is always something to do.

I ran again this morning by the panoply of lighted yard animals spread across the neighbor’s lawn four doors down.  One of the moose lie on his side beneath the ribs of a reindeer, blown over by the wind. I stopped at the yard’s periphery, a little anxious at trespassing, but I stepped in anyway, stood him up, and leaned him against the snowman. He may fall over again, but that’s ok. I’ll be running by tomorrow.

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Breaking Eggs

Posted on December 12, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs.

I was scrambling eggs to make an omelet when the proverb came to mind.  I had run the Shiner half marathon the day before, and I woke up feeling good. The race was challenging—intermittent rain and wind, unexpected steep grades (who was the genius that decided to put a hill at mile 11?), two miles of mud—but I met one of my two goals, finishing in the top 10 of my age group.

A great race ended, another goal met, and I tried hard to be in the moment to enjoy the accomplishment that comes from hard work, a job done to the best of my ability.

Nevertheless, post-race blues were sinking in and about to be compounded by holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four months of my work year, and a sick dog.

Maybe you don’t get post-race blues. It took me a few races to recognize them for what they are. When the thing I’ve focused on for 8, 12, 16 weeks or more is over and I look at the side of my fridge where my training plan hangs only to see a blank slate waiting to be filled, to start all over again. The promise of a new beginning, which is, and should be, exciting.

lemonmeringuepie_86114_16x9Yet any beginning emerges from an end. Creation is preceded by destruction. (Or as Wallace Stevens would say, “Death is the mother of beauty.”)

Before I let my emptiness cave in on itself—before Thanksgiving Day—I selected a new race, registered, and created a new training plan, ready to start December 1. But the long days of holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four work months of the year, and a sick dog cut into my plan. I am not off to the best start. (Although, thank God, my dog is getting better.)

This week I stood in the kitchen beating eggs again, remembering when my mom taught us to bake. For a time my favorite was lemon meringue pie. It wasn’t the taste I so much enjoyed as the making of the pie, or, at least, the end result. So many eggs broken, vigorously whisked into tall, stiff peaks strong enough to stand on their own.

It was the beating that gave me qualms. Before they can peak, the eggs fold in on themselves, all mush and formlessness, unable to hold anything together, much less themselves.

Me, the past couple of weeks.

But you can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs. Maybe it’s time to rise again.

 

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Why I Don’t Love Tapering

Posted on November 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s only four miles.

A dangerous thought. As if completing each quarter mile isn’t a miracle in itself. As if four miles is an easy run.

In the big scheme of my training plan, it is. My half marathon is this weekend, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past three-plus months.

But in the big scheme of my running history, there have been times when four miles may as well have been an ultramarathon.

As I’ve watched my mileage decrease over the last two weeks—8 miles, then 5, 5, 7, 4, 2—I’ve noticed a tendency toward carelessness creep into my thinking.

Sure, I can sleep just a little longer and wait to start my run. It’s only four miles.

But training is training, and routine is established for a reason. Throw one car off and the whole train threatens to derail.

Sure, I’ll have an extra cookie the night before my run. It’s only four miles.

But fuel is fuel and is important always. Extra cookies often turn into an entire bag, at least for me, an all-or-nothing snacker. Self-discipline in habit takes a long time to establish but can take me less than a week to destroy.

Sure, start the coffee, I’ll be right with you. I can get this run over with fast—it’s only four miles.

But every step, every quarter of a mile is consequential.

smart thoughtsI think hard about this new stealthy lackadaisical attitude during my four-mile run. It’s 9am, a good three hours later than I normally run, and the sun beats down on my back. A cold front has descended on Texas, and even at this hour it’s only in the mid-30s.

Noting before today’s run how my self-discipline has been slipping, I awoke early and worked for a couple of hours before stepping out for my run. I’m mindful, now, of my routine and how losing time, if only an hour, fills me with anxiety.

One mile in and I’m still not there, not yet in that comfortable space where my body is happy we are here. It takes a good mile or two until I settle into a run, three or four until it feels good.

This is why I don’t run many 5ks, I think as I chug up a hill. The race is over before I even know I’m running, before my mind connects with my body and we’re moving in synch.

Just after mile three I start to feel it, the ease with which my body falls into pace, into the right cadence. The corresponding peace. I smile with relief.

This is why I run.

And this is why I don’t love tapering–

There are twenty-four hours in a day. Only during one do I get to run, and then only three times a week. The other twenty-three hours, the remaining four days require extra vigilance to guard against the mental carelessness that would let me believe that four miles is a breeze.

I can feel every step.

 

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13.1 Things I’ve Learned from Half Marathon Training

Posted on November 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Only two weeks left to the Shiner half marathon, a race my friend Amy and I have been training for since the first week of August. There is always something to learn—or to remember that I’ve forgotten—as the result of training.

  1. Never get a pedicure on long run day. It is not a way to pamper yourself. It is not a form of pleasure. Sharp objects pushing at your cuticles, snipping away bits of skin. A tool resembling the cheese grater in my utility drawer scraping off mounds of dead skin. Sometimes this is fun. On long run day, it is not. It is a form of torture for sensitive post-run feet. Ice baths, on the other hand, are a form of pleasure. ice bath
  1. Long runs are so much better with a running buddy. It took me nearly 15 years of running to figure this out. Not only do the miles go by more quickly, but I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone than by running with them. You meet each other at your best and at your worst, and you talk about things you probably wouldn’t if you had to look each other in the eye across a wine glass or coffee cup. 
  1. Drive somewhere to do your long run. I learned this from my friend Stephanie. When I started half marathon training coming back from an injury over a year ago, I mentioned how nervous I was to do that week’s long run alone—5 miles, longer than I’d run in more than two years. She immediately offered to pick me up that Saturday and take me running. I was nervous—not only about the run, but about having to pack up and prepare for the run. Which is, of course, the point in going away, Stephanie explained on our drive to the park. It simulates race day preparation: getting up early, packing your stuff, fueling properly, and generally getting yourself together. Great training. (Stephanie’s kindness and friendship was also my eye-opener to lesson #2. And she is the genius behind the ice bath process.)
  1. I love running in the dark. I already knew this, but it’s reaffirmed all the time. There’s something soothing about dulling one sense and heightening the rest of them.  It’s peaceful. Thoughtful. Joyful. Plus I seem to run faster when I can’t see how fast I’m running.
  1. But I should probably get a head lamp. This was also reaffirmed on a long run with Amy and the local Fleet Feet marathon training group, who’ve let us crash their early-morning parties a couple of times. New route, new potholes. Not very smart without light.
  1. Don’t short yourself on speed work days. I’ve taken to doing all my speedwork on the treadmill so I can’t slow down. 800s and mile repeats used to scare me, but now I embrace them.  They truly do make you faster.
  1. I don’t love tapering. That’s the phase I’m starting now. It’s hard to run fewer miles when you know your race is right around the corner. It takes a lot of mental discipline to rest, but it’s so necessary.
  1. I can go seven weeks without drinking. Not that I drank a lot, but I enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner, a night out on the town, a martini at the end of a long day. This current break started during the first of two high mileage weeks, when it occurred to me that it would be easier to get out of bed and run without any alcohol in my system. It was, so I did it again the next week. After two weeks, I didn’t want to break my streak. It’s been awesome to train alcohol-free.
  1. But I can’t go seven weeks without chocolate. I mean, really. Isn’t alcohol enough? Something’s gotta give.
  1. I am a genius. Just in this one thing: I chose a race that begins and ends at a brewery–before I ever thought about not drinking during training. Not just any ole brewery, but the Shiner brewery, some pretty awesome Texas beer. Knowing this is waiting for me at the end of the line makes lesson #8 a happier thing yet. shiner-spoetzl-brewery
  1. I am stronger than I feel and faster than I think. I only wish I could stop myself from feeling and thinking, at least about my perceived limitations.
  1. But that’s what Girls on the Run is all about: pushing yourself past your mental limitations, outside of the box you (and your surroundings) have trapped you in. I see the girls in our program differently during training. They always bring me joy, but during training they inspire me to make the seemingly impossible possible.
  1. There’s no reason I can’t run a marathon. I never have. But I am willing to try. Again. See lesson #12.

.1    I still have a lot to learn.

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Ginger

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“God,” I say staring up at the ceiling in my shower, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I quit.”

I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “this.”

My job? Long days, into evenings and nights. Saturdays. As much as I swear to myself I will not work on Sundays, there is inevitably a phone call. An email. Something.

My living situation? Seven weeks now with my sister, who temporarily moved in when she sold her house unexpectedly fast. With her three dogs. Added to my two. In a home office.

All of it. None of it. I don’t really know. Sometimes, as much as I am grateful for all I do, all I have, “this” can seem so weighty.

I wash my hair and wait for God’s reply.

dog listening

I used to think God’s distinct voice would sound something like a cross between John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Gandolf, but I’ve never actually heard it, distinctly. It comes across, rather, in the words, actions, and eyes of people I know, and many people I don’t know. More often, it comes across as an unclenching of my gut. A certainty that something is or isn’t so.

By the time my hair is conditioned, I get my answer:  “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” like my favorite Far Side cartoon. I imagine God rolled His eyes when He heard me, said here we go again, and I sounded something like that.

I translate His answer to mean, “You’re not done yet.”

“OK,” I sigh as my gut relaxes just a touch. It really doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want to do, or what I think I can or can’t do. What needs to get done will get done, regardless of me. Despite me. Sometimes, if I am listening, because of me.

Out of the shower and dressed, I survey my training log tacked to the side of my fridge and my gut unclenches completely. At least tomorrow I get to run. This is something I can do.

 

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Running Buddies, Part II

Posted on October 24, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“Can we walk up this hill?” she asks, slightly out of breath, motioning with her chin to the incline ahead. “No wait,” she says before I can reply, “I’ll walk. You go on ahead.”

“OK,” I say, knowing I won’t. I’ll walk when she walks, stop when she stops. Run when she runs.

Not so long ago, I would have gone on ahead. Or, more likely, would have been out here alone instead of with a friend.

“No,” she says before we reach the hill, “I’m not going to walk. I can make it. I can push myself.”

LeonCreekSouthPearsall

“OK,” I say as we run up the hill.

We’ve been pushing already, closer now to the end of this road, closer as well to the half marathon we’re training for, the Shiner.

We stop at the top of the hill for water, nearly done with our twelve-mile run, less than two miles to go. The sun is up and the heat settling in, even though it’s nearing the end of October. But this is Texas. Fall won’t feel like it’s here for awhile.

We’re both tired, elated, spent, happy to be out here running, getting stronger, faster with each passing week, following a training plan that started nearly three months ago. I can’t imagine, now, having had to run all the long runs alone.

This is what long runs are for. Endurance.

I think about the girls I observed just a couple weeks ago, preparing to run in circles around the playground, who threw their arms around each other at the thought of running with a buddy.

They instinctively knew what we so easily forget. The road is easier to endure when you’re on it with a friend.

 

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Meditations under a New Moon Sky

Posted on September 19, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The girl with the blonde ponytail started to cry and couldn’t seem to stop. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, plopped silently onto her desk. She tilted her head, tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming nevertheless.

There is truth with a small t, the professor had been saying, and Truth with a capital T.

He drew a giant T in the center of the blackboard and surrounded it with small t’s, then connected them to the giant T with thin, white lines.

We go through life thinking our individual truth is Truth, he continued, but it is not. Truth is what we all seek, and it’s here, at the center of things—he jabbed his chalk at the capital T. We spend our whole lives searching, but it is elusive and we cannot see it clearly, maybe will never see it at all.

I had stared at the girl with the blonde ponytail, crying, and then at the wagon wheel of t’s, the capital T at the center tethered to so many small t spokes, and imagined it rolling away.

***

I ran up the road, my usual out-and-back, under the morning’s new moon sky. New moon—no moon—invisible for a time, awaiting rebirth behind a black made blacker by rain clouds unfurling across the sky. Last week’s super moon generated such light that even the predawn hours seemed torch-lit. Now, in the new moon black before dawn, the only light shone sideways from intermittent homes, the few passing cars, or down from the occasional streetlight, wreaking havoc with my shadow.

sneaker-shadows-via-dimitridze-j1

At one turn, I chased my shadow as it grew longer than me, stretched out on the path ahead. Then, just as it gathered into a pool of blackness so distinct it seemed it would peel off the road, run away on its own, a pair of headlights sliced it open. Where there was one of me there were now many, a community of Peter Pans running from their shadows.

I turned a corner, stepped into a crosshair of light and my shadow exploded around me, each silhouette tethered to my foot as it fell, a wagon wheel of tiny me’s stretching out toward the darkness, where they disappeared into the new moon/no moon black.

He was wrong, I thought as my shadow wheel rolled, Truth with a capital T is not at the center. It is outside the wheel of ourselves, where we alone are the center, our tiny, small t that thinks it is a T. We cannot see the Truth because it resides beyond the arc of our wheel, beyond the arc of blackness, waiting.

I startled a deer as my feet hit hard under the shadow line of trees, scared a Chihuahua and its owner ambling down their drive for an early morning walk, nearly tripped on the darting dog as it leaped over my approaching shadow.

I’m sorry, the owner said. We didn’t see you.

I was wearing neon green, a green so bright I had to shade my eyes from myself in the glow of my own home.

How strange, I thought, under this new moon sky, my shadow is more visible than me.

 

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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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Mental Preparation for an Uphill Battle

Posted on July 25, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In the thick of a Texas summer, even the angels appear to sweat.

The Angel Moroni still stands high atop the Mormon temple at the pinnacle of Stone Oak Parkway, heralding the dawn. Temple Hill, I call it, the tallest, steepest local hill for serious repeats. My friend Carrie and I tackled this hill in our training for two half marathons, a couple of 10ks. She moved north in June.  temple-moroni-trees-758837-wallpaper

I haven’t been here since. Never been here alone.

Training for my fall half marathon begins officially next week. My plan has been tacked to my refrigerator for the past two. Mental preparation. I like to see what’s coming, think about it, visualize it, prepare for the way my body will feel. This week, I’m preparing my body in person. It needs to remember hills like this.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance and realized I had forgotten how blasted long it is, the sun was just about to rise. Not in stunning pinks and oranges, but in the hazy yellow-gray that amplifies the heat, the heaviness of summer. The air felt thick in my lungs. The Angel Moroni shimmered in the distance like a mirage.

I spent a lot of time this summer running with others, as a mentor, a friend. Keeping the pace and marking distance, chatting, encouraging. Or simply running side by side in silence, listening to the synch of others’ cadence with my own. Breathing in unison. Resting in the knowledge that we didn’t have to tackle the road or trail alone.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance, I didn’t feel alone. My body remembered what it was like to run this hill with a friend, and I ran faster. Did one more repeat. Ran up and up until the angel stopped shimmering, reflected the sun in burnished gold.

Muscle memory. Of friends, community. It sets in. Pushes you to give your best, be your best, not give up. Even when you’re alone.

 

 

 

 

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