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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I Tried

Posted on June 28, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Believe it or not, I survived last Saturday’s Gator Bait sprint tri at Lake Boerne, Texas.  Better yet, I actually enjoyed it.  Once I got there.

My day did not go quite as planned. But they never do.


For once, I don’t wake up before my alarm.  When it sounds at 4 am, I’m startled from a dead sleep and am so disoriented that I contemplate sleeping for another hour.  But then I remember the race.

I packed up my gear the night before, pinned my bib to my shirt, loosened my shoes.  You know, all that prerace stuff. All I have to do is drink lots of coffee, force my pre-run breakfast down (buckwheat, banana, honey, chocolate almond milk, and blueberries), shower (Yes, I know, I’m just going to get all gunky with lake water and sweat and dirt, so why bother? Because it wakes me up and helps me focus. Showering is my second most powerful think time.), and load my bike onto my car.

My plan is to leave at 5, but secretly I know I can leave at 5:15 and still be way on time.  Start time isn’t until 7, and it’s about a 45 minute drive.  I’m one of those people who get anxious if I’m not at least 45 minutes early to a race (10 minutes early for everything else), so I factor in plenty of time.

So I think.

Even though my plan is simply to enjoy the day and not stress about my time or drowning or anything else, an unusual prerace anxiety kicks in. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I don’t leave until almost 5:30.

I drive 70ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye in my rearview mirror. My bike rack, you see, is almost older than I am, and I rarely use it.  It’s one of those models with lots of straps and buckles and only one brace.  My worst nightmare is that my bike will fly off the back of my car and onto someone else’s hood.

(I’ve been procrastinating getting a new rack, simply because I don’t use it that often. For the most part, I bike from home. Although that would probably change if I had a bike rack I felt comfortable with, right?)

So.  Ten miles out from my exit, one eye in the rearview mirror, and I realize I can’t see my bike’s front tire anymore.  That can’t be a good sign.  I pull over at the next exit.  Sure enough, a strap has loosened and the rack has slipped.  My front tire is only inches from the road. I tighten up the straps, readjust my bike, and decide to take the frontage road the rest of the way.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), and vow to throw my bike in my car on the way home, ditch the stupid rack, and get a new one.

I drive 55ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye still in my rearview mirror.  Before I know it, I’m in the middle of lovely downtown Boerne, where the speed limit is 25, there are lots of stop lights, and the road is under construction.  Apparently, the frontage road doesn’t front I-10 for the whole stretch.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), turn around, and try to figure out how to get back to the highway.  Eventually, I do.  My heart rate is slightly elevated.

I arrive at the park at 6:30. Just enough time to pick up my chip, get body marked, and spread out my stuff in the cramped little corner area that’s left in transition.  Barely enough time to stand in the massive porta-potty line, where I meet a nice woman who says her husband told her she should just pee in the water while she’s swimming.  We agree that this is not an art either one of us has yet mastered, but if they teach it in triathlon courses, we may just take one after all.

The Swim

I decide that if I’m going to enjoy the race, I should be one of the last people in the water.  I haven’t been in the water as much as I’ve liked, and I really don’t want to deal with elbows and feet slapping me around.  I stand toward the end with a dozen or so first-timers.  We joke and laugh and I loosen up enough to have fun.

It’s a windy day and the water is choppy.  I try to swim slow and steady. Every time I turn my head for a breath, a wave slaps me in the face and I inhale water.  A couple of strokes in I revert to the breaststroke, which is my strong suit, but not what I have been practicing for nearly a month. I try at every turn to swim freestyle, but quickly switch to breaststroke so that I can breathe easy and see in front of me.

I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, but I don’t really care. I swim at a pace I can comfortably sustain, with my eye on the guy in front of me, who I secretly want to pass.  I do, finally, and am later stunned to find that my time is less than 20 minutes.

500m swim time:             12:17 = 2:27/100m


What can I say about a transition?  I don’t practice them. I was wet.  It was hard to pull on my shirt.  But I remembered to stick a piece of gum in my mouth.

T1 time:                                2:37       


The Bike

I love my bike.  It’s about 7 years old, bottom of the line.  It’s a hybrid, with slightly thicker tires than pretty much everyone else’s, has mountain bike handlebars, and is relatively heavy.  I don’t care.  It’s my bike, and it gets me where I want to go.

The 13 mile ride is an out and back, with a turnaround on the top of aptly named Heartbreak Hill. We head into the wind.  A half mile out, three miles of road has been freshly graveled and tarred.  The out is slow-going, but breezy, and at least I dry off relatively fast.

I pass a guy as the sun peeks out from behind some clouds and shines on his backside.  He is wearing gray spandex, and as soon as the sun hits him, his shorts become less opaque than he is probably aware. I gasp and wonder if I should tell him later.  A guy passes both of us.  He is wearing black spandex.  The sun has the same effect on his shorts.  I make a mental note that they are both wearing regular old spandex and not tri shorts.  I chuckle, but then realize that so am I. This is no longer funny.

(Later that morning, I drag my boyfriend outside into the sun, bend over, and ask him if he can see through my shorts.  He cannot.  I am relieved beyond words.)

I start my way up Heartbreak Hill, giving myself a pep talk. I rode all the way up last year, dang it, so I’ll be danged if I’m going to walk it this year.  Two-thirds up my quads are burning, I am traveling at a speed of 2 mph, and I realize I still have to run.  I swallow my pride, dismount, and run my bike up the hill at over 4 mph.  At least I’m gaining speed.

The most beautiful thing about Heartbreak Hill is that you get to go down.  I do, feeling like that stupid pig in the insurance commercial as I squeal “Wheeee!!” all the way down. Seriously. It was fun. Plus no one was around.

Because I was one of the last in the water, much of the bike route has cleared and during most of my ride I am alone.   I hit a stretch of road with a breathtaking view of misty, rolling hills; birds sailing; flowers blooming; fingers of sun touching here and there.  I dawdle along, gaping, thanking God that I am here, until the little voice in my head screams that this is a race, dang it, not a joy ride, and I better step it up.

I do, and truly enjoy the entire ride, minus the gravel and tar.  Later, however, I will be disappointed in my bike time. It’s the nature of the racing beast, I guess.

                13 mile bike time:            54:32 = 14.3 mph


I approach the transition area with a little boy who’s maybe 10.  He’s in my way and I want to run him over, but decide that might look bad, as the spectators hanging around the area ooh and aah about a kid in the race.  I give him a wide berth and run to my space.  He pulls up next to me.  (Go figure.) I start to feel bad about the urge to run him down, so I make small talk.

“How was it?” I ask as I change shoes.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It was fun.  But not that bad.  I rode 56 miles last Sunday.”

The pummeling urge resurfaces, so I quickly look for the exit.

T2 time:                                1:54

The Run

I am a runner.  Have I mentioned that? This is the leg I am looking most forward to.

The run is several out and backs on 3.5 miles of trail. The trail is rockier than I remember, with steeper hills.  I feel like I’m running through molasses at first, and consciously make myself run faster.  I fix my eyes on the trail ahead of me, repeat a mantra in my head:  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I level at a pace I could maintain for hours.

There are no mile markers on the route, and I have no idea how far I’ve run or exactly how much farther there is to go.  The wind picks up, and my hat flies off twice. I run clutching it in my hand until I can finally keep it in place on the last stretch.

I feel good, and when we turn the last corner I am surprised to see the finish.  Surely we can’t be done already?  I turn to cross the field toward the line, and a runner comes up behind me, yells at me to pick it up.  Her encouragement lights a fire under me, and we sprint together to the finish line.

                3.5 mile run time:            29:19 = 8:22 min/mile

Post Race

I did it. I finished the sprint tri without drowning, twisting an ankle, lobbing my bike onto someone’s windshield.  I even came in under my goal time of 1:45.

                Overall tri time:                                1:40:40

I guess the bottom line is this.  I am a runner. But I love the heck out of training for tris.  I have my eye on an Olympic distance in August.  It will be my first.  At least it will prompt me to finally get a new bike rack.

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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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Anger Management, or how running could save the world

Posted on August 17, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts for a week or so.  Not physically—I’ve been doing a lot of strength training, circuits, and swimming—but mentally.  Emotionally. Spiritually. Whatever you want to call the blend of those other essences that make us who we are.  Something simply hasn’t been right.

I don’t like it when something isn’t right and I can’t identify it.  I feel it in my diaphragm, mostly, that space between the stomach and the heart, both of which are inevitably effected, like someone has been playing lawn darts in there and abandoned them where they stuck, and I’m left walking around dragging daggers behind me.

I’ve spent so much time in the gym these past two weeks that until this morning I haven’t been outside to run—just run and nothing more—for nearly 10 days.  So yesterday, I set out from my house before dawn, alone.  My favorite time and way to run.  I always say that, always remember it, know it in my head, but I believe I actually forget the real reason why I love it until I’m out there running.

When I set out alone in the wee hours, I dragged the darts behind me.  The heaviness made me angry. I didn’t realize this until I was about a mile and a half down the road, looked up from my reverie, and thought, how’d I get here already?  I felt my legs moving fast and my body standing stiff and tall and I recognized that it was the quickness of anger that moved me.

But angry at what? is what I wanted to know.  It’s been a good week—all seems right with the world, on the whole—and I couldn’t place the anger.  So I kept running, letting my anger and the darts propel me down my path, until an amazing thing happened.

Somewhere between miles 2 ½ and 3, the darts fell away and my anger dissipated.  Why?  Because somehow, simply in the act of running, I found an answer.  The issue that had twisted me all out of sorts had a name.  Anger wasn’t the real issue, it was a symptom, and I could suddenly identify what it was that had been bothering me.  I didn’t yet have a solution, but the issue finally had a name.

This, I was overjoyed to remember, not only in my head, but in every limb and organ in my body, is why I run.  Alone. Before dawn.

There is nothing more therapeutic than pounding the pavement, letting whatever it is that ails you have the space to actually ail.  By the end of my 5 mile run, I knew what the problem was and how to address it.  What a relief.

And what a reminder.  I need to run alone before dawn more often.  Simply to keep clear and balanced.

Now, if we could get the whole world running, imagine what kind of problems could be solved.

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What Makes Us Ready to Listen?

Posted on August 3, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This week my boyfriend decided he likes running.  He never really liked it before now for a variety of reasons, including debilitating knee pain, which would make me not want to run either.  But this week he thought he’d give it another shot.  What motivated him to try to run?  Not me.  (I know, can you believe it?)  Nope, it was timing.

Robert has a longtime friend who he doesn’t see much anymore, though they keep up through Facebook.  His friend absolutely LOVES to run, and posts about it regularly.  A few days ago, this friend posted something that caught Robert’s attention.

He said he runs because he can, and one day he may not be able to.

Now, I know this particular message has been out there in many forms from many sources for many years.  It’s one of those things we hear repeatedly, and maybe don’t pay too much attention to. But then one day something clicks. We pay attention.  We don’t just hear the message.  We process it.  Why?  Timing.

I don’t know what else is going on in Robert’s mind that made him process the message differently this time.  But that’s the beautiful thing about our subconscious mind.  It’s always working on something, secretly, even when we’re asleep.  I’ve taken to thinking of this part of my mind as a little cellar, dark and dank and growing all kinds of stuff, with little elves running around in there, creating things, or at least tending to the heaps of things already growing.  When the creation is ready, the elves crack open the cellar door and hand it out to me. Then, it’s up to me to do with it what I will.

What Robert chose to do with his reprocessing was to run, to at least give it another try.  Because it finally occurred to him that right now, he can.  Maybe in a year or two or twenty, he won’t be able to.

Maybe he realized that ability is a gift, a present of the present moment.  How wonderful to use it as it’s meant to be used.

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Too Many Crutches, Too Few Legs

Posted on July 27, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last week I wrote about my sister’s legs, specifically how their tremendous strength has aided her in running and biking, and that because of what I have seen her accomplish I have changed my routine.

Even though running has been my focus for years, I have incorporated strength training into my routine in fits and starts. I’ll get on a weight lifting kick for a few weeks or months, decide that it’s taking valuable time away from running, and eventually peter out.  After a month or two of running, I’ll decide that I need to give strength training a whirl again, so I hit the gym once more in an attempt to work in a new weight routine.

I’ve always gone in, however, knowing that it wasn’t for the long haul, that I’d probably be tapering off again soon. And I’ve always gone in with the intention of working primarily on my upper body, to keep it toned. Now, I like Batman, but that doesn’t mean I want big ole bat wings hanging under my arms, flapping around in the breeze (or causing the breeze) every time I raise a hand.

Focusing on my upper body means that I’ve laid off strength training for my legs.  Until the past few weeks, that is.  As I’ve seen my leg strength increase and, ultimately, my running, biking, and swimming improve, I’ve wondered why the heck I haven’t done this before.  I realize now how much I’ve rationalized leaving my legs out of my routine.  Here are some of the “reasons” I’ve given myself for not strength training:

  1. I am recovering from an injury and don’t want to aggravate it.
  2. My leg muscles get worked out enough when I run.
  3. If I work out my legs, I will be too sore to run for a day or more afterward.
  4. I already do sprints, which work muscles in a different way than simply running, so I don’t need extra strength training.
  5. I usually have to take a rest or easy day the day after sprints; I can’t afford to take more rest or easy days after strength training too.

Here’s what I now say to all that:  poppycock.

While it’s imperative to listen to your body and let yourself heal properly as you recover from an injury, at some point the fact that you were injured might become an excuse that keeps you from reaching your full potential.  At least that’s what happened to me. I was injured almost two years ago. And while I still experience pain from my injury from time to time, I have learned my limitations. If a particular exercise hurts, I simply don’t do that one.  But for the moves I can do, I now lift as much weight as I safely can, always pushing myself beyond what I thought was my limit. I have been shocked in the past few weeks to see how much weight I can actually lift with my legs.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to realize how much strength training has actually helped rather than hindered my running.  I still do sprints. And now I work my legs. I have figured out a way to minimize downtime:  I do sprints and legs on the same day.

This, of course, was my sister’s brilliant idea.  It actually has turned out to be pretty brilliant. On this combo day, I start with a couple of sprints (400s) followed by a leg circuit on six machines:  squats, calves, quads, hamstrings, deadlifts, and side step with a leg raise. Then I immediately do another sprint. I can hit the circuit 4 times, and I usually end up doing a total of 6 sprints.  I am getting faster on the sprints and am able to lift more weight each week.  And I only had down time the first week.  Now, instead of running the day after legs and sprints, I swim.

The thing I’ve found about rationalization is that it is often irrational. That’s where excuses come from, crutches, to keep us from reaching our full potential.  What drives the rationale?  Fear, usually, at least in me.  I now realize that I have 5 crutches and only 2 legs.  Somewhere, something became unbalanced. It’s time for me to lose the fear and gain the strength.

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Outpacing My Pace

Posted on July 13, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s official:  I’ve stopped wearing my watch during races.  Why time myself when there’s a chip and a big clock to do that for me?

Actually, I’ve decided to stop wearing my watch for a really good reason.  I run faster without it.

It might sound crazy, but it’s true.  I’ve always had this idea that I am a 9 minute miler.  My watch has been witness to this truth.  On good training days when I push myself hard, I may be an 8:45 minute miler, and on harder days when I’m still pushing myself, I might be a 9:13 minute miler.  Any way I’ve calculated it, I’ve averaged out to 9.

For the past couple of years I’ve been mostly ok with this. I injured my hip training for a marathon two years ago, and for too many months I couldn’t run at all.  When I started to run again, I was happy to slide back into 9.  Just like before.

I wear a Garmin to track my mileage and my pace, though I don’t really need to track my mileage. I know all the routes that lead from my front door and can turn around (or not) when I hit my mileage mark.  But I like to track my pace. Because I’d like to get faster.  (Which is why I started doing sprints again after taking a few weeks off.)

One recent morning I was out for a run, cruising along at a pretty good clip.  I felt good, like I could keep that pace for at least a couple more miles.  Since it felt faster than usual, I thought I should check to see how fast I really was running.  I was astonished to find that I was running—and holding—a 7:48 minute mile.

I was so astonished, in fact, that my mind made sure my britches didn’t get too big, running so fast.  Whoa, it said, slow down there, princess.  Who do you think you are running so fast? You’ll never maintain it. You’re a 9 minute miler, not a sub 8!

(No, my mind doesn’t really call me princess—it doesn’t call me anything.)

And what did my body do?  It obeyed, and slowed me right back down to the “right” pace.

A couple of days later the same thing happened.  I felt like I was running faster than usual and verified my pace: I was running an 8 minute mile.  This time, however, when my mind told my body to stop, I intervened.  When my mind said you can’t maintain this pace, I said why not?

As it turns out, I can.  If this is true, then why haven’t I?  It seems I have done in running what I do in life—what most of us, I would argue, do in life.  We tell ourselves that we are (or are not) a certain kind of person or that we do (or don’t do) a certain kind of thing. We often unconsciously create an image of ourselves—good, bad, or indifferent—and we become that image.  We set the standard, the pattern, the status quo, the place we “belong,” and allow that space to become our comfort zone.  Often, we stay there.  Rarely do we stray.

We are what we think.  We do only what we believe we can. No more, no less. In other words, we are limited by our minds.

I have run only two 5Ks in the past year+, 14 months apart, one with training preceding it and one without.  For the first 5K I forgot my watch and kicked myself during the whole run.  I must have kicked myself pretty hard, because I ran an 8:07 minute mile.  For last weekend’s 5K, I intentionally left my watch at home.  I ran an 8:12 minute mile, proof to myself that I am not what I thought I was.  Happily not.

Now my task is to figure out how to monitor my pace to become faster without actually monitoring my pace.  I’ll have to learn to run with a watch but not look at it.  Maybe I should strap it to my ankle.

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Running to Freedom

Posted on July 6, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In honor of the 4th of July, I’d like to share a story about my dad, who loved America and, consequently, loved the 4th of July.  It’s not a story about running in the literal sense, but it is nevertheless a story about running.

My dad was a Freedom Fighter in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.  Hungary at the time was Communist; the revolution was designed to overthrow Communism and establish democracy.  Like most revolutions of its kind, it was short lived, lasting only 10 days, and it was led by the country’s youth.  My dad was one of them, barely 16 years old, when the tanks rolled in to Budapest to squelch the uprising. It didn’t take long for the Communist army to put down the revolt.  By the end of it, if you were one of the organizers, one of the fighters, you had a choice:  Spend the rest of your life rotting in a horrible prison (that is, if you weren’t killed) or run.  My dad chose to run.

He left his home—his mother and little sister—in the middle of the night.  He didn’t tell them he was leaving.  He knew his mother would beg him to stay and he’d not be able to resist, so he wrote a letter instead and left it in the mailbox.  He didn’t say where he was going, exactly, partly because he wasn’t quite sure and partly because he realized that the less his mother knew, the better.

He took most of the money he had saved, leaving a good chunk for his mother, and wheeled his bicycle quietly away. His girlfriend, Marika (which is, coincidentally, my sister’s name), who was even younger than him, waited in the shadows outside her own house. They stole through the side streets and alleys, out of the city, and into the open fields in the general direction of a train they hoped would take them to Austria, where they could begin to find freedom.

My dad’s flight out of Hungary was harrowing and with enough drama to fill a book.  In a nutshell, although he made the train, he was forced from it in the middle of nowhere, where his money was stolen and his girlfriend betrayed him.  He was left with virtually nothing, but eventually managed to make his way to Michigan, where he tracked down his father.  My grandfather too had been forced to leave Hungary, right after WWII, and my father hadn’t seen him, his own father, in a decade.

My dad told me his story of escape more than once before he died in 1993.  I think of it often, yet there are two images that stick with me.  When he was forced from the train in the dead of the night, my dad found himself in a field pretty close to the Austrian border.  Hungary at the time had a vested interest in keeping her citizens to herself; the borders were surrounded with armed soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders.

So when my dad left the train and trudged through field after field and finally saw the border, when he knew that if he made it, he’d made it to freedom, he ran.  Of course the soldiers did what they were ordered to do:  They fired.  This is the image I carry with me.  A young boy running across a field as fast as he can, supported by thin, tired legs nearly spent from lack of food and water, but suddenly so wired by adrenalin that they do what human legs are designed to do.  They run.  They carried him away from danger, away from the machine guns exploding around him like a string of firecrackers and toward safety.

Sometimes when I am running, my mind takes me to this place, this field showered by machine gun fire and a boy running for his life, and it leaves me breathless. I am thankful it is I place I can only imagine and not a place I have lived.

The other image I carry with me is this.  My dad lost everything on his journey to America. When he arrived here, all he had was a paper bag containing a tie and 2 oranges.  He was so happy to be here that before he stepped onto American soil he put on his tie and gave away his oranges.  I picture my dad, a gangly pimple-faced kid in crumpled clothes, adjusting his tie, smiling huge at all the strangers passing by.  It makes me smile too.

I am thankful that my dad’s love for America was contagious.  I suppose it is no wonder I would become an English professor who taught American literature.  It is stories, after all, that make us who we are and shape us into what we will become.

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Between Goals

Posted on June 29, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Last Saturday I participated in the 2012 Gator Bait Sprint Triathlon at beautiful Lake Boerne, Texas.  The race was capped at 300, and for the third year in a row it sold out.  Redemption Race Productions puts on the race, and this is the first one of theirs I’ve done.  They’re a lot of fun and well organized, and they put on some interesting races—like a duathlon that starts in a cave.  You better believe I’ll enter that one.

The Gator Bait started with a 500 meter swim—a big triangle out into Lake Boerne, followed by a 13 mile bike up Heartbreak Hill, and ended with a 4-ish mile run through the park.  (The run was 4-ish because the park layout recently—and apparently surprisingly—changed, so Redemption wasn’t quite sure how long the run actually was.  Relieved is what I was. We guessed it was about 3.5 miles.)

Heartbreak Hill is aptly named—about ½ very steep mile right before the turn-around point.  I promised myself at the beginning of the race that I would NOT get off my bike to walk it up. Thankfully, I made it, moving so slowly at one point that I was sure I was going to roll backward down the hill.

I am happy to say that I finished the race under my estimated time, and at a personal best.  Yay!

It’s been two years since I’ve done a sprint tri, and I had forgotten how nice it is to hang out for a few hours with triathletes. Everyone was kind and supportive, and it was inspiring to see so many people in such great shape. It made me want to do more triathlons.

But I have spent this week laying low, focusing on strength training and core work, getting  ready to hit the cardio hard again next week.  It’s nice to be in limbo, on the Nonplan Plan, for one whole week.

But I know it will be even nicer this weekend to pick out the next race, set the next goal, and get focused once again on running.

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Keeping Time

Posted on June 22, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This Saturday is the sprint tri for which I’ve been training for the past 8 weeks.  I’m pretty psyched about it and feel both mentally and physically prepared.  The tri legs are a 500m open water swim, a 13 mile bike, and a 4 mile run. I would be happy to finish it in under 1:45, which would be a personal best.  I think there are some pretty serious triathletes—like training for an Iron Man serious—in my age category, so I don’t expect to place. And I’m good with that. It’s been a great experience simply training, and I love being in the race itself.

What I love about training and racing is that when I’m in the moment, I’m truly in the moment. It’s one of the few times in my day when I have learned to be present.  I don’t think about what’s coming next or what’s come before; I can simply be.  My mind is laser focused, and, if what my latest fortune cookie tells me is true, a focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.  I believe it.

So I was a little bit surprised last week when I had a moment of fear during one of my runs.  I realized that race day was almost here and my training would be done.  Then what?  Go back to sleeping late, eating the Girl Scout cookies still hidden in my freezer behind a wall of vegetables and chicken, regrow my toenail? For the first time in weeks my mind strayed into “what comes next?” mode, and it wasn’t pretty.  I lost track of what I was doing—my breathing, form, and pace—and when I came in I actually got out my calendar and got on my computer to see what sprint tri or half marathon might be coming up in a month or two.

Thankfully, reason dawned.  There was no need to panic—there are loads of races all the time.  I had no business looking for one then; there was still 10 days to this race, and this race was all that mattered.  More important, perhaps, my run that day—or any day—is all that really matters, because that’s all there is.  We aren’t promised the race or the finish.  We are given only the day.  All we can be sure of is the moment we are in, so we need to make the best of the moment, focused like a laser.

So I am ready for Saturday’s sprint tri.  Now, if I can only apply that kind of focus to the rest of my life…

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