Getting Squirrelly

Posted on November 16, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

My dogs made a new friend this fall.  A squirrel decided to vacation in the oak tree in my back yard. The tree’s branches stretch in a long line between my roof and the greenbelt behind my house, and the squirrel runs laps through my backyard on nice days.

It was the squirrel that befriended my dogs.  Befriend, terrorize, whatever you want to call it, the outcome is the same.  He sits in the branches and chatters loudly, calling my dogs out to play.  Then he plops himself down on the roof overlooking my deck, back legs splayed out like a butterfly and front legs daintily crossed, and stares calmly down at my dogs as they bark wildly.  They can do this for hours.

I’ve watched the squirrel get fatter, lazing about on the roof, as the weeks have progressed. It’s been a great year for acorns, and there’s loads of squirrel food on the ground. (I sometimes I have to remind my dogs that they’re not squirrels and shouldn’t eat acorns.  You know how it is. Friends mimic friends.  They see the squirrel root around in the yard and want to root around too.)

But I haven’t seen the squirrel around much since the time change.  My dogs keep vigil on the deck, searching the branches and roof for signs of him, but he hasn’t called.  My guess is he’s holed up with his acorns, getting ready to hibernate.

I know how he feels.  Once the time change hits, I want to do the same thing.

Seems like every year between Daylight Savings Time and Groundhog Day, my motivation to get out of bed early and work out dries up like the leaves.  I find myself sleeping in and foraging the pantry for all kinds of food I know I shouldn’t eat.  For me, that’s a bad combination:  zero exercise + loads of goodies = blah.  I end up feeling terrible by Christmas.

This year, I made a conscious decision to not be like our new friend the squirrel.  Instead, I decided to be proactive.  The only way I can get motivated during the coldest, darkest days of the year is to make a plan:

  1. Make a date.  I selected a race and a date:  Austin Half Marathon, February 17.  It was an easy race to pick—14 weeks out from the day of decision, and my friend is running it.  As I recently discovered, running a race is so much more fun with a friend by your side.
  2. Pen it in.  There are many great training plans to choose from. I follow Hal Higdon’s 12-week training plan.  Seeing my entire plan laid out on paper with my times penciled in as the weeks progress really motivates me, so I keep a paper copy of my training rather than an electronic one.
  3. Post it up.  I tack my training calendar on the fridge 2 weeks before my official training start date.  I need time to see it, absorb it.  Reassure myself that I can do this. I’ve done it before.
  4. Blab.  The best way I know of to commit to a race is to tell everyone I know that I’m going to run it.  To say it makes it so.
  5. Get moving.  Although I’ve been “pretraining” for a long time, “real” training begins once I mark my times in pencil on my calendar on Day 1.  This time around, I think the first week will be the hardest, partly because Week 1 begins the Monday after Thanksgiving and partly because the mornings are getting colder.  On the bright side, maybe my start date will prompt me to not eat enough to feed a family of 4 on Thanksgiving.
  6. Register.  I usually register for a race after I start training.  This time, I will likely wait until I’m about half way through training.  This race is a big one for me. I haven’t run a half marathon in over two years and, to be honest, I’m a bit afraid.  I haven’t run more than 6 miles since I injured my hip two years ago.

Isn’t that the way? Fear is the biggest deterrent I know:  Fear of injury, discomfort, cold.  Failure.  But not this time.

As much as I may be afraid that I can’t run a half marathon, my bigger fear is that I will become like the squirrel and find my way out of a hole sometime toward the end of winter, wondering where all my time—and training—went.

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The Best Wurst 5 Mile Run

Posted on November 9, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last Saturday I ran the Wurst 5 Mile Run in New Braunfels, Texas.  I shared the race with 994 other runners at beautiful Landa Park, home to Wurstfest, a week-long party celebrating German culture, food, and beer.

It was the first time I’ve entered this race, and the first time in a while I’ve participated in a 5 mile run.  I have to say, it was the best race I’ve run in a long time.  Here’s why:

  1. Wurst.  What kind of race with “Wurst” in the title wouldn’t serve bratwurst?  Not this one. There was plenty.  I don’t usually eat bratwurst, and I’ve never eaten a wurst right after running, but after this race, I did.  Surprisingly, it beats bananas hands-down.
  2. Beer.  What’s bratwurst without beer? A half fulfilled promise. I couldn’t do one without the other, so immediately after crossing the finish line, I headed for the brat line, then the beer line.  Another first for me:  Drinking beer after a race.  I have only one word for all those people who’ve told me over the years how nice a beer is after a run:  Genius.
  3. Tuba.  Yes, a tuba.  You can’t really have a party celebrating all things German without a polka band.  You can’t really have a polka band without a tuba.  And I thought bagpipes were cool at a race, but a tuba?  Spectacular.
  4. 5 Miles.  For the past few years, I’ve run either 5Ks or half marathons and not a lot in between.  A 5 mile race is an enjoyable distance to run.  You’re out there long enough for the run to start feeling good, but not long enough for it to start feeling bad.
  5. Miranda.  My friend.  We ran the race together, blabbing the whole time. Except for the last mile, when we pushed ourselves hard to cross the finish line, running at a non-talking pace.  This was the first race I’ve ever run with somebody.  I’ve trained for and entered loads of races with people, but once the starting gun sounds, I’ve been on my own.  I absolutely loved passing the miles and the time during the race itself with a friend by my side.  So much so that it wasn’t hard for her to talk me into entering the Austin Half Marathon in February, so that we can run it together.

If you’re ever in central Texas in November, you might want to think about entering this run.  In addition to the food and the tuba, there’s lots of great people out having a good time, sporting their lederhosen and knee socks.  Next year, I will run with a camera.

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Utility

Posted on November 2, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A shiny new red lawnmower is sitting in my garage. I was forced to buy it last week when my old one finally died.  Old is the operative word.  The dead lawnmower was blessed with a long life, having been manufactured when I was still in high school, roughly sometime around the invention of the combustion engine.  Three years ago when I took it to Sears for its annual servicing I was told that they don’t make most of the parts to service it anymore.  I knew then that it was just a matter of time.

I borrowed my sister’s lawnmower to cut my grass while I waited for my new lawnmower to arrive.  My Chihuahuas disappeared somewhere in the long grass, and I couldn’t wait much longer.  Her mower is still in my garage, next to my shiny new red one. I am hoping she forgets it’s here, in case the grass grows a little more and needs one last cutting before fall decides to stick in Texas.

My mower is so shiny and red and new that I really don’t want to use it, to muck it up. I’d simply like to leave it sitting there in my garage, fresh and clean like a shiny red apple.

My friend chuckled when I told him about my new lawnmower holed up in the garage.  He suggested that I might be a bit odd.

He may be right.  It seems to be my habit to use items longer than they should perhaps be used and to delay using new items simply because they are shiny and new.

I have the same habit with running shoes.

I own 5 pairs of running shoes, yet run in only 2 of them.  I received my newest pair as a birthday gift in March.  I didn’t wear them until July, and even then I ran in them only on nice days.  When it rained, I wore my old shoes.  My new ones were so shiny and silver and nice that I didn’t want to muck them up.

The rest of my running shoes have graduated to other uses, like walking the dogs or mowing the lawn.  My lawn mowing shoes are relegated to the garage.  Once bright blue and white, they are now a dull green and brown, treads worn off.  But useful nevertheless.  They’ve cut many a lawn.

As I considered my lawn mowing shoes and my habit of holding on to things until they can’t possibly be used any longer, I remembered where those shoes had taken me.  They were the first pair I bought that were strictly for running.  They saw me through at least my first 2 half marathons and multiple shorter races.  More miles than they should have seen. Passed down from one use to the next.   And not ready to be retired yet.

So what’s wrong with utility?  Or with appreciating the things that are shiny and new?

I wore my new shiny silver shoes this morning to run in the fog.  They flashed in the dim light of each passing car, marking my presence on the road.  Seems my new shoes are not so new anymore.  They’re finally working their way into my comfort zone.

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Seeing Stars

Posted on October 26, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

San Antonio is the first big city I’ve lived in since I started running 13 years ago.  Before now, I’ve lived in small towns or on the outskirts of big ones, far enough away from neighbors that I didn’t have to worry about loud music or closed curtains.

I love San Antonio, and I’m glad to live here.  But one thing I miss about living away from a city is stars.

When I took up running, I lived in Guam. If you want to see how small you really are, live on an island for awhile.  I never comprehended how vast the sky is until I could see it unimpeded by buildings, light, or smog.   There were few well-lit routes to run, but the sky was so clear and bright, especially when the moon was on either side of full, that lights weren’t really necessary.   And the bonus? I regularly got the privilege of running under shooting stars and meteor showers.

The skies above Salado, Texas, where I moved when I came back to the States, were nearly as clear as in Guam. Minus the shooting stars and meteor showers.  Nevertheless, I ran in the dark, under starry skies, eyes always up in search of constellations.

Darkness has its drawbacks.  When you’re unaccustomed to your route you run the risk of tripping over roots or falling into potholes.  But if you tread the same dark path enough times, your feet learn where the sidewalk ends, leaving your eyes to pursue higher things.

Now that I live in the city, I am learning to refocus my gaze.  We all know the trick of running up hills:  Train your gaze a few feet in front of you instead of on the horizon.  Trick your brain into seeing a straight, level path instead of an incline.

My gaze has been cast down not so much to level the hills with my eyes, but in an attempt to avoid treading in the dog poop thoughtless people leave behind.  You run the same sidewalks enough times, you learn where to take the detour into the street.

I still love to run in the dark and am fortunate to have a few stretches on my route that fall outside the puddles of streetlights.  I find that when I’m running through the darkest stretches, my eyes automatically look up, searching for the pattern of stars that lets me know where I am.  I guess I’ve trained my eyes well after all.  And tomorrow when I set out on my path, maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to see stars.

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The Big Question

Posted on October 19, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

What do you do when you can’t run?  The obvious things come to mind:  Swim, bike, walk, join a gym.  But that’s not what I mean. Not exactly.

What do you do when you’ve been running for years, when running is as much a part of your day as brushing your teeth, when it’s become so rooted in your identity that you don’t know who you are apart from it. When losing the ability to do it feels like losing a loved one or a limb.

It sounds overly dramatic, I know. I used to be a non-runner and always thought there was something a little off about those people who lamented life when they were forced to stop running. Until I became a runner.  And then couldn’t.

When I injured my hip nearly 3 years ago and had to stop running, I lost a piece of myself.  I felt like someone I loved had died.  At first I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I cried daily. Sunk into a depression.  Sat at home alone, not wanting to see my friends or even talk to them on the phone.  I think I was startled as much as I was depressed. I truly did not know how much of my identity was tied to running until running was taken away.

Fortunately, I gradually worked through my injury and began to run again after more than a year.

But I was reminded of this loss lately.  A friend’s husband recently broke his leg so badly that, as my friend put it, his x-ray looked like the inside of a Lowe’s.  A lifelong runner, he now finds himself unable to run for at least the next 10 months. My friend’s eyes developed a distant look as she finished telling me his story, as if her husband had gone some place far, far away and she was trying to remember what he looked like.

Finally, she said, “What do you do when you can’t run?”  She didn’t expect an answer, and I’m glad. The only one I can think of is, you wait.

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Taking Time

Posted on October 12, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I don’t have time.

Can’t fit it into my schedule, don’t know how it will get done, it simply won’t happen, there is just not enough time.

If I could plant and grow a pumpkin seed for every time I heard time as an excuse for not exercising, the Great Pumpkin would be rising from its patch nearly every night.

But I don’t buy it. We all have time.  The same amount, every day.  What we choose to do with it is up to us.  We base our choices on our priorities, those people, principles, or things that mean the most to us.

When I’ve led a priorities exercise in workshops, I’ve found that two things are often glaringly missing from people’s lists:  their health and their God.  Even if they tell you in conversation that their health and their spirituality are two of the most important things in their lives, when pressed to list priorities, neither make the list.

Why not? I ask.

No time.

One reason for this may be the way people view time. They take time to do the things they want or need to do.  They take time, for instance, to attend a meeting. But while there, they’re not actually present in the meeting.  They’re busy checking email or texting or making notes about a dozen unrelated things.

They are subtracting time from their day, eliminating tasks one by one.

Maybe instead of taking time, people can learn to give it.  To add something worthwhile to their day, their sense of well-being. To their actual, physical well-being.   We seem to put emphasis—more of ourselves—into the things we give, so why not give something, a gift, to ourselves? Why not time?

There is always enough time.  What are you going to do with yours?

I’m going to run.

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Fall into Running

Posted on October 5, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I feel like I’ve become a vampire runner since I’ve lived in Texas.  For what seems like 10 months out of the year (but is probably only 5), I run in the dark, before the sun comes up. It’s not that I think my body will burst into a ball of fire or disintegrate into an ash heap once the first ray of dawn touches my skin, it’s that with the Texas sun comes heat and humidity, and I do not like running in the heat and humidity.  I’m kind of spoiled that way.

I was born and raised in Michigan, where we have four distinct seasons. I love the fall. And I really miss it.  So I was absolutely THRILLED this week when fall began to sweep its way through central Texas.

To my horror, I almost missed it.

Fortunately, I got to run a lot this week.  I say “fortunately” now, but I didn’t feel so fortunate when the week began.  I’ve been diligent about maintaining a strength training program for several months now, which means I’m in the gym 3 mornings a week and running only 2 or (during good weeks) 3.   But this week I suffered from a puzzling injury that caused a great deal of pain when I raised my arm even just a little.  There went strength training out the door.

I solved the puzzle after only 2 days, but have had a hard time reducing the pain. The source of the injury?  Stress.  Seems I carry my stress in my shoulders and neck.  My muscles twist and strain like chords of twine worked into a braid, then bunch up into what feels like a knotted ball.  Literally. I could actually hear something in there bounce earlier in the week.

But rather than whine, I rolled out of bed and ran.  To my very pleasant surprise, outside felt like Michigan.  Cool, crisp air. The smell of early fall.  It changed my outlook entirely.

I even ran one morning after the sun came up.

And I didn’t explode.

Maybe by next week I can smooth out the lumps and put away the fangs for good.   Fall will likely be here, full head on.  I can’t wait.

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(It’s a good thing) Old Habits Die Hard

Posted on September 28, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last week I fell into the black hole of despair. My fitness routine fell in right after me. You may know how it is.  First you skip a day or two of workouts to a lie in bed and think. Then you start eating all the wrong things. Which, of course, makes you feel terrible when you wake up in the morning, so you shut off your alarm and go back to bed for another hour.  Or two.  Before you know it, a week’s gone by and you haven’t done anything healthy for yourself.

But one morning you notice the empty family size bag of Julio’s in the trash (which would be fine, if you had a family).  And, maybe worse, you notice something sparkly on your shoelaces when you accidentally kick a lone running shoe that got wedged under the couch—and the sparkle is not a diamond but the intricate web of a spider that’s taken over your shoe.

OK, you tell yourself.  Crawl out of the hole. It’s time to run.

This week, I got back into the swing of things.  My goals were small:

  1. Do NOT hit snooze. Get up at the usual time:  5 am.
  2. Do something strenuous every morning.  Moving the party size vat of ice cream from one freezer shelf to another does not count as strenuous.  Either run or strength train.
  3. Remind yourself why you make healthy choices in the first place. Because it feels good.  I promise.

The hardest part about resuming a habit is in the mind.  It takes more effort to convince myself to move than it does to actually move.  Mentally, I have to argue with myself every morning, find the right argument to ignite the chain of events that become exercise.  Physically, my body knows what to do. I just have to set it in motion, and it goes.  The force of habit propels my joints, muscles, limbs to perform familiar actions.

Thank God for muscle memory, for the pattern of movement we build into our bodies.  If my feet didn’t know their way down the road, I’d likely still be lying in bed.

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The Worm of Doubt

Posted on September 21, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This morning we lost Jingle Ball in a freak incident.

My dogs and I were trying to get back into our usual routine:  Wake up, pour coffee, sit on floor, throw Jingle Ball across the almost-empty dining room, through the kitchen and against the far wall.  Sip coffee while one of the dogs runs back with the ball, the other following.

Jingle Ball is not exactly aptly named. It is my dogs’ first ball, turning 11 years old this month.  It’s more like a half moon than a ball, the once bright green rubber faded mostly to a dingy brown, its surface dented and scratched.  The jingle bell for which it’s named disappeared years ago.  Still, my dogs love it; it’s the first and often only toy they choose from their overflowing box any time they want to play.

This morning it disappeared into a hole underneath a cupboard.  Not a visible hole, but a hole I didn’t even know existed.  Part of the design where two cupboards meet in a corner.  You can’t even see it until you’re lying flat on your back staring above the molding along the floor. I threw the ball straight and hard, but rather than going straight, it bounced sideways on its jagged half moon edge and disappeared through the phantom hole.

It took a few moments to comprehend what happened.  Once I understood, I panicked.  How were we going to get a ball out of a space whose entry I could barely get my arm through?  We had to get it. So I shoved my arm through the hole up to the elbow, twisted and turned it in an attempt to feel around.  When that didn’t work I opened drawers and closets to find whatever tool might help.  A wire hanger. Salad tongs.

Fruitless. After 40 minutes of trying, I was overcome with despair and I sat on the floor and cried.

Despair has pervaded my life over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been penetrated by that insidious worm of doubt that bores holes through the good in life and renders it unstable.

I can’t really say what initiated it, but I can see its effect.  I’ve stopped writing.  Have taken to lying in bed most mornings staring at the ceiling, willing myself to get up.  Wondering what my purpose truly is and if what I am doing really makes a dent in the world.

This week, I even stopped running.

I should have seen that coming. Writing and running are so alike. The principles that apply to one apply to the other.

It sneaks up on you, this worm of self-doubt. Others don’t really know it’s there. To them, you appear a shiny apple on the outside. But they can’t see what’s eating you.  Often, neither can you.  It wasn’t until my boyfriend called one morning that I really noticed how much it affected me, and that I had stopped running.  When he asked how my run was I told him it wasn’t, I had decided to lie in bed instead. Couldn’t think of a good enough reason to get out.  He was silent for a moment and said, But isn’t that why you run? To give you purpose and make everything clear?

Today I attended a volunteer fair at a local university.   I smiled and chatted and took down lots of names.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Jingle Ball, stuck there in a dark corner I hadn’t even known existed.  I worried that I wouldn’t get it out. That my dogs would be sad.  That it would be stuck in a deep, dark hole, just out of reach, forever.

A woman at the fair asked how Girls on the Run started, and I launched into the organization’s history.  I told her about the founder, Molly Barker—how even though she had done extraordinary things with her life she struggled with self-doubt, but one day while out running something clicked.  She saw with great clarity the relationship between running and self-confidence and Girls on the Run was born.

Midway through, I teared up.  I suddenly saw where I was:  Stuck in a hole I had no idea existed.

I left the fair a little early and came straight home, determined to find Jingle Ball, not for my dogs but for me.  I lay flat on my back on the floor, grabbed a pair of salad tongs, and stuck my arm in the hole as far as it would go.  I closed my eyes and felt around the space, leading my hand not by sight but by faith.  After nearly half an hour and a bruised and scratched arm, I found Jingle Ball, guided it safely to the entry, and gently eased it out of the hole.

My dogs and I danced around the kitchen in celebration, their half moon, jagged-edged, dirty, pock-marked ball returned.  Their ball, my hope.

Tomorrow I will cover the hole with duct tape.  And then I will run.

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When Running Isn’t Enough

Posted on September 14, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Running is the only thing I have to look forward to right now.

That’s what a friend of mine told me over coffee this week.

If I can make it out the door, she said, and run the 3 or 5 or 7 miles on my plan, I know I can do anything.  It gives me strength.  Purpose.

I nodded intently over the heart-shaped foam skimming the top of my cappuccino.  Yes, I reassured her, I understand.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been there. If I can just get out of bed and lace up my shoes.  If I can only make it to that Stop sign.  At least I will know that I can set a goal and reach it.  I’ll know that if I can do this, I can do anything.

It’s that feeling of accomplishment and strength that keeps many runners motivated.  Reaching the point of self-motivation—the muscle memory (body and brain) of the calm and happiness that lies on the sweaty and alert side of the run—takes time to cultivate.  Even though I’ve been there for a number of years, I still have those stretches of life where I need motivation from without.  I need someone else’s words to help me find my strength and purpose.

Often, for me, that person is Henry Thoreau.  I won’t go into all the reasons why; this isn’t a blog on literature or botany or limnology or natural history.  It’s a blog on running.  And more.  But I thought I’d share with you a couple of Thoreau’s quotes that have helped move me when running wasn’t enough.

 

Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.   Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. (“The Dispersion of Seeds,” Faith in a Seed)


 

Jan. 5. P. M. A man receives only what he is ready to receive, whether physically or intellectually or morally, as animals conceive at certain seasons their kind only. We hear and apprehend only what we already half know. If there is something which does not concern me, which is out of my line, which by experience or by genius my attention is not drawn to, however novel and remarkable it may be, if it is spoken, we hear it not, if it is written, we read it not, or if we read it, it does not detain us. Every man thus tracks himself through life, in all his hearing and reading and observation and traveling. His observations make a chain. The phenomenon or fact that cannot in any wise be linked with the rest which he has observed, he does not observe. By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot receive now.  (Journal 13, December 1859 – July 1860)

 

Strange passages to find comfort in, I know.  Nevertheless, I do.  Are there certain authors or quotes that get you motivated?

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