Dodging Hurdles, or the impetus to run

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

 

image from cutestlife.com

image from cutestlife.com

The first time I took up running it was because of a boy. A crush. I was starting junior high, seventh grade, and he was a year ahead of me. Naturally wavy blonde hair. Blue eyes. Athletic. I was tall and had long legs, and he suggested I try out for the track team. So I gave it a go.

The first day of try-outs, the coach looked at me, my height, the length of my legs and said, “You’re running hurdles.”

Hurdles? You mean my feet have to leave the ground and I need to open my body like a jackknife over that thing that looks like a traffic barricade?

The eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. I gave it a go.

How about the high jump?” the coach suggested as she picked gravel out of my bloody knees. My body was not built to open like a jackknife. It preferred a straight line. If I could simply run and weave around the hurdles, straight flat-out running, maybe it would be all right.

I kept a brave face, even though my knees stung and the skin hung from them in tiny flecks like shredded cheese.

But the eighth grade boy nodded vigorously. So I gave the high jump a go.

On the first try, I sailed over the horizontal bar. Never mind that it was less than two feet off the ground and I could have hopped it on one foot. The coach clapped her hands and raised the bar twice as high, level with my waist.

I stepped back to the start line, sweating, and eye-balled the bar. Surely I could do this. The eighth grade boy was watching, as was the coach, my friends.

I ran toward the bar, planted my foot at the base, and sprung into the air, landing on my butt in the sand trap on the other side. I heard a sound like a bell clanging, and my forehead stung briefly. I blinked sand out of my eyes, pleased that I had made it, for the split second I thought I’d made it, and tried to stand up.

But all eyes were on me, and all mouths were open.

“What?” I said, but before I could say more, my eyes were forced shut. Blood poured down the right side of my face, into my eyes and the corner of my mouth.

I yelped as my hand flew up, swiping at the blood. I looked toward the bar, but it was not held aloft on the pegs. My foot had hit it, dragging down the support poles, one of which knocked me in the head.

I sat on the curb in front of the school alone and waited for my mom. Several stitches and a concussion later, I decided that running was not for me. And maybe neither was this eighth grade boy.

It would be twenty years until I took up running again. The second time, I took it up because of me.

There would be no one to impress. No one to determine my ability based on my appearance.

No one to tell me how far I could go or how fast, or to place obstacles in my path.

There would be only the long-fingered mango leaves beckoning me down the road in the star-soaked, pre-dawn darkness of Guam.

This time, I more than gave it a go. This time, it stayed.

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Creating Order out of Chaos

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

Lawn-stripey-1mg1

My new training plan is posted on the side of my refrigerator, a black and white grid containing daily directives and empty white space awaiting my penciled-in results. I love a new plan. It’s challenge and promise weigh equally. It gives me a sense of purpose each day. A reason to get out of bed earlier than the birds.  And the direction and clarity to know what to do even after the white space is filled in.

That’s the key, really. The “after” part of completing the daily plan.

Sure, running is the reason for the plan. And, for now, for my new 16-week plan, biking and swimming is too.  It is the reward, the goal, the tool, the end in itself and the means to a greater end all rolled into one. There is freedom in running. There is joy and health and confidence.

But there is more.

Running helps me to create order out of chaos. And chaos is, after all, life, mostly.

It is a million different forces all pressing on us at once, vying for our attention, demanding action.  It is a million bits of information clamoring to be heard, absorbed, incorporated into the design.

It is a million blades of grass forming a raggedly blanket of a lawn that the HOA insists must be flattened and smoothed.

I get tremendous satisfaction in mowing my lawn.  Watching straight lines form in the grass behind my mower, leaving a wake of structure.

So it is with me in running.  The sheer act of physical movement, of allowing my mind the freedom to construct my day, week, month, story, life at the dawn of each day produces the structure for all else.  Without it, I cannot write, at least not well.  Without it, the organization I lead would not be led strategically, compassionately, or wisely, a goal I mindfully set each day, but instead would become like the field behind my house, overgrown with weeds.

My desk has always faced a wall. Until recently, the wall has been blank. Now, a corkboard hangs in front of me, the center space empty, all else tacked to the sides.  Whenever I look up, I see the vision of what will be that my mind’s eye projects there, like a movie on a screen, the endless possibilities a swirl of chaos.  Writing and leading an organization have this in common:  You must always keep your vision in front of you to make the right choices, choose the right ideas, to create order out of the chaos.

My new training plan started this week.  The Royal Empress and Mountain Laurel have just begun to bloom. Their fragrance rolls out before me like a red carpet when I run. There is so much promise in the newness of spring, its plan unfolding.

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Do You Recognize Improvement When You See It?

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

Picture of sand dune in the Sahara desert of Morocco.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, the steep half-mile hill with the false top three quarters of the way up, my hill-repeat nemesis, and stared up. It was cold that day. Windy. But it was the last day for hill repeats in this round of training, for this particular half marathon, and Carrie and I had just finished our series of repeats. I wanted to mark the hill in my head. Remember the grade, the cold and wind, the burning that did not transpire in my lungs or quads. Not this time. We had improved.

Improvement can be such an elusive thing. Often not because it doesn’t happen, but because it can be so slight it’s almost imperceptible. If we don’t pay attention, we miss it.

Take, for instance, this hill. We were finished and walking back to our cars before we realized some small things.

  • We did five hills—and chatted up and down the entire time.  Previous training days were silent affairs, the loudest and most extended sound often the gasping for breath.
  • Once we reached the top, we turned around and ran down.  Not so on earlier runs.  We breathed too hard, then, and had to walk a good quarter of the way down until we could even begin to run.
  • And once we hit bottom we turned right around again to run back up, no down time in between.  On earlier runs, I would have preferred to camp out at the bottom for awhile. Build a fire, maybe. Roast some marshmallows.  But there was no need to this time. We had improved. And we almost missed it.

Did it make a difference on race day? Training always does. We ran the Austin Half Marathon, the hardest course in my half marathon experience so far because of all the hills.

We finished the race knowing we ran well and could not have done anything different. That’s the best feeling after a race. When you’ve given it your all.

And the second best feeling is knowing that your all is an improvement.  Carrie PRed. I ran my second fastest half marathon time.  It’s the small things that matter. Put enough of them together and you get something big.

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Recovery Doesn’t Have to Keep You Down

Posted on November 22, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Courtesy 2milliondogsblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy 2milliondogsblog.wordpress.com

It’s been 3 years since I’ve run San Antonio Rock n Roll half marathon, and now I remember why.  The weather in San Antonio is fickle.  Last Sunday, race day, saw a record high of 89°F.  This Sunday, we’re expecting a high of 42. Go figure. Nevertheless, it was a fun race with a great route. I’ve spent this week recovering, including not running but doing some stretching, strength training, and core work instead. I’d forgotten how much Pilates hurts.

Because of the heat on race day, it was a hard recovery. But following these tips helped ease the pain.

Ice, ice, baby

I know. I can’t believe I said that either.  But an ice bath is the way to go.  Get in the tub, run a couple of inches of warm water, switch the warm to cold until your legs are covered, then pour in the ice. Bags of it, to the tune of 30 lbs.  You may need to wear your cold-weather running shirt in the tub with you. And you probably need to be clutching a very large cup of very hot liquid, but ice will ultimately make your legs happy. By the next day, they’ll be thanking you.

Hydrate

This was the first race where I hit every single water stop.  With all that heat, I needed it. Drinking the day before and during the race, however, is not enough.  I drink all day long after a race ends.  I don’t mean beer, although there’s nothing like an ice-cold beer after a hard, sweaty run; I mean water and electrolyte-replacing liquids. You won’t wake up Monday morning feeling hung over if you keep the liquids coming.

Feed your body well

My body always feels weird the entire day after a hard race.  I feel depleted and want to eat, but nothing sounds good.  I’m often tempted to eat pizza or Cheetos.  Racing is a nice excuse to offer myself that kind of reward, but there’s something about a greasy, cheesy slab of dough that just doesn’t sit right with me. Then again, neither does a steak. I can never decide. I find that I have to practically force myself to eat something, and I have to rationally choose the foods best suited to recovery, the right combination of healthy carbs and protein.

Fortunately, I survived the race—and the ice bath.   When’s the next race?

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Newton’s Laws of Motion

Posted on November 15, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

n3laws

Liar liar pants on fire.

That’s what I said to myself the moment I hit Send on an email a couple of days ago. I was explaining to someone that I wasn’t too concerned about this Sunday’s half marathon.  Since my training was interrupted, my intention was simply to go and have fun, run comfortably, not worry about time.

The truth is, however, that once I get there—heck, once I pick up my race packet on Saturday—I go into competition mode. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. The mental focus that blocks out nearly everything else.  The tightening in my stomach, not nerves (yet), but a physical focus that starts at the core and radiates energy to my arms and legs. (It’s better than coffee by far.) The sudden urge for only healthy food, fuel. No slip-ups with ice-cream or the stash of bite-size Milky Ways in my freezer.

I can’t seem to help it—it happens automatically.  And I’m not sure I want to.

I like competing. I love pushing my body so far that even I am amazed at what it can do. Racing is one of the few times when I am so attuned to my body that I can step outside of it, get out of its way and let it do what it knows how to do. It’s one of the few times I can be one and apart, alone and with others simultaneously.  It’s a joy I cannot describe.

But I don’t have to. Talking’s not a part of it. I just need to run.

Where did I put those matches?

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Dem Bones, or the Anatomy of a Writer/Runner

Posted on November 8, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Courtesy of the Jersey Shore Running Club

Courtesy of the Jersey Shore Running Club

Mrs. Morgan, my eighth grade music teacher, loved to sing songs that required us to move.  Tap a foot, sway, snap our fingers, something, anything to keep us from standing still.  I love music, but not necessarily that music. The sad part is, I remember most of the songs, particularly the anatomy song, “Dem Bones.”  Everyone knows it, even if they don’t know they do:

The foot bone connected to the leg bone.

The leg bone connected to the knee bone.

Etc., etc.

Yeah, that song.

Turns out, they missed a link, the one that connects the runner to…well, to everything else:  thought, creativity, productivity, organizational skills, and, for me, the ability to write.  No running, no writing.  It’s that simple.

Now I know this to be true—I do my best writing in my head during a run, starting around mile 3—but I sometimes forget the connection.  Until it’s lost. Like during my recent 5 weeks of not running.  No running, no writing.  Lord knows I tried.  I sat in front of my computer staring at a blank screen, and simply cried. I can’t do it, I thought. It’s just too hard. Maybe I’m fooling myself and am not really a writer after all.

But then the miraculous happened—again—the week I started running.  Day 2, mile 3, and I’m rounding the little hill in the middle of a cul-de-sac where I usually slow down to count deer, and it occurs to me that I’m not running slower, I’m running faster.  And I’m not looking for deer, I’m not looking for anything. My eyes are turned inward, and I’ve been writing, in my head, for the last mile. Not just half-baked thoughts but complete sentences, full paragraphs, developed ideas unfurling with the dawn.  And I smile, relieved, and think thank God, thank you God, the connection is reestablished. Apparently laces are the missing link.

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May I Have a Word?

Posted on November 1, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Thoreau

It’s noon on a Monday and I’m standing in my kitchen wearing the same t-shirt I slept in (one of the perks of working from home).  I’ve just hung up the phone with Carrie and my head hangs in shame. I’ve been listening to myself explain to her that I can’t seem to find the motivation to run.  I can’t do it. It’s just too hard.

It’s been 5 weeks since I’ve run.  Carrie and I are only weeks out from the San Antonio Rock n Roll half marathon, her first. I promised I would run it with her, train for it with her, because your first half is a big deal.  Every half is a big deal.  But smack dab in the middle of a 10-mile run, I landed wrong on my foot.  I tried to go on a little farther, but couldn’t. Carrie walked the 5 miles back to the car with me while I hobbled along feeling terrible about ruining her run.  She’s done awesome with her training since then. I’ve done none.

I think about my mom. Her words ring in my head:  “Because I said I would.”  This was her reply to me in junior high when I asked why she was going to do something she was clearly too overwhelmed to do.  Because she said she would.  Because your word is that significant. It’s what you are.

Although it’s noon on Monday and I’ve never run at noon, I lace up my shoes and go.  I run 4 miles.  Just like that.  On Wednesday, I run 6.  Friday, 8. This week, a repeat, with a 10-miler on Friday. I am astonished I can pick up almost where I left off.  Bodies are amazing.  Minds more so.  I am especially astonished at what I’ve talked myself out of. I wonder how many of those weeks spent telling myself that I can’t do it, it’s just too hard, were to protect something other than my foot.

So now I give my word to myself:  It’s not too hard. I can do it after all.

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I Need a Sign

Posted on October 18, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

steep-hill-sign

Life would be much nicer if we all carried signs.  Not road signs, but the kind spectators do in races:  “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Or “I’m proud of you, Perfect Stranger.”

My friend Jill manages the blog Best Race Signs.  People send her pics of race signs from all around the country.  Some are inspirational; most are simply funny. I read all of them because no matter what else is going on in my day, these signs make me smile.  They also make me wish life really were more like a race.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the metaphor they choose for life.  Is life really a race?  What if it’s a test or simply one big party?  My metaphor changes from time to time. Lately, I see life as an endurance race. However, there’s one thing missing:  The signs.

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk, driving in your car, or sitting on the subway and glancing up from your reverie to see a complete stranger holding up a sign:  “You’re the sh*t,” for instance.  Who wouldn’t be motivated by that and think, Well, heck, maybe I am. Maybe I can <fill in the blank> after all?

And wouldn’t it be nice if during our darkest hour we could lift our eyes from the road ahead, just for a moment, to find a sign of encouragement: “..let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” let’s say, or “The voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a liar.”

I can see how carrying signs might be inconvenient. Nevertheless, I think it would make for a much happier world.  It might make people achieve more or go for their dreams.  At the very least, it would make people smile. And on those days when someone feels like they’re running up a steep hill in the dark, what would be wrong with that?

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The Journey Up

Posted on September 20, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Angel Moroni stands erect, head high and horn to lips at the tallest point on Stone Oak Parkway.  I’ve marveled at this golden statue perched atop the San Antonio LDS temple for the past few years.  The temple itself stands at the pinnacle of one of the highest hills in the area.  You can see both the temple and the statue from quite far.

This hill has been my nemesis, my nightmare—my dream, my goal—for years.  Each time I’ve driven it I’ve thought that maybe one day, maybe one, if I was lucky (or crazy), I would maybe give it a run.  And, if a miracle happened, I would make it to the top.

Until now, I have trained for nearly every half marathon alone.  My friend Carrie is training for her first half, and we are using the same plan, one that calls for hill repeats as one of its two days of speed/strength work.  We are both trying something new:  Carrie, a half marathon.  Me, a running buddy.  We don’t run together every day. Just the hard ones. The longest of the long runs.  The hills.

The hills. We figured if we’re going to run hills, we might as well run Hills.  So we chose temple mount.

Last week, our first hill week, we stood at the bottom of the mount and looked tentatively up.  We couldn’t see the top from the bottom, could barely see a jutting temple corner and the Angel Moroni heralding the dawn.  Four to five short hills is what our plan directed.  Our goal was to get as far as we could, maybe half way, for each repeat.

For the first repeat, we counted five lampposts, about a third of the hill, and stopped, excited.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.  For the second through fourth repeats, we counted eight lampposts, somewhere around half way.  We struggled for breath, lungs searing, and made a fifth repeat, five lampposts.

We went home thrilled with ourselves (though we would barely be able to walk the next day), determined to come back and try again.

This week, we met at the bottom of the mount.  Three to four long hills, our plan said.  Long.

Let’s start where we left off, I suggested.  The first repeat to lamppost eight. Then we can shoot for the top.

Carrie looked at me sideways, hands on her hips, looked up the hill.  I think, she said confidently, that we should go all the way up the first time.  Get it over with.  Then if we feel like it, we can do it again.

So we took a deep breath and began.  We started up the hill in complete silence, eyes dead center on the cement in front of us.  At lamppost eight I was breathing hard, lungs tight but not searing, and we kept going, up and up. Before we knew it, we were at the top, over the last steep hump, the end in sight. I eyeballed a fire hydrant where the sidewalk leveled out, my stopping point.  Carrie bounded past me by two cement squares and stopped at the crosswalk.

We smiled, barely, and looked out and around.  Lights twinkled for miles in the distance, the sky predawn gray.  We sucked in air, high-fived, and jogged back down the hill.  It seemed to take much longer going down than coming up.

The thing about doing something hard once is that in having done it you have proof that you can.  It doesn’t seem right after that to not do what you just did and what you know you can.  It seems that if you do not put in your best effort and repeat your success, you are only cheating yourself.  And if you have a buddy, you are cheating her too.

Eight lampposts thus seemed like a silly goal for the second repeat. It was all or nothing.

This time rather than keeping my eyes trained straight in front of me, I glanced up from time to time, looking for the angel with his horn.  I could see him at the peak, gold and shiny, beckoning me.  I ran and glanced and ran some more, and before long the sidewalk leveled out and the fire hydrant appeared.  Carrie bounded two sidewalk squares past me again.

The third time, I didn’t count lampposts, nor did I seek out the angel.  I paid attention, instead, to my legs that did not hurt, my lungs that worked hard but were not searing, and my arms and hands and head that felt light as we ascended, and I thought how strange, it’s almost as if our altitude is increasing, like in the mountains, but my ears did not pop.  And I remembered the hill at mile 12 of the Austin half marathon, how I cursed the idiot course planner for the giant, steep hill right there, and how this part of temple mount felt like mile 12 then, but now I was not cursing and thinking, as I was then, who does this kind of thing? Who actually pays to torture their body and run like this when they could be in bed with coffee and the newspaper?  No. Instead I was running up and up and again, nearing the top, across the last stretch, fire hydrant in sight. And then I bounded past it, with Carrie, to where the sidewalk ends.

On the way down, that again seemed so much longer than going up, I told Carrie that if it wasn’t for her I would never have made it all the way. I would have quit near the top, would not have pushed myself until my arms and hands and head went light as a feather and I flew the rest of the way.

This is a much better plan than all my previous ones.  Hills are so much easier to ascend with a running buddy.

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The Tortoise and the Hare

Posted on September 6, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from News to Swallow, meghanandtommy.com

from News to Swallow, meghanandtommy.com

My friend Lissette turned 50 this year.  From her friends and family, she requested a unique gift:  Run the San Antonio Rock n Roll marathon with her.  Her goal is to recruit 50 family and friends to run this November race.  The half, the full, the relay; run, walk, skip, jump, she doesn’t care what they do or how they do it, only that they try.

Many months ago when she told me about her request, I promised to be one of those 50.  Last month, I registered for the half.

I made out my training plan then, deciding to try something new.  The plan I’ve used for years requires 5 to 6 days of running a week.  My new plan requires only three:  Two days of intense speed work and one long run, plus three days of cross training and one day of rest.

Two weeks into my plan and I can’t decide if I feel like the tortoise or the hare.  Not that I’ve ever run as fast as a hare (or would consider napping in the middle of a race like the hare).  But I’m finding the speed work days to be not just intense but also fun.  And on the days that I run long, the tortoise mantra paces me:  Slow and steady, slow and steady.

It seems that I’ve found the plan that will get me there, as one among the 50.

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