Finding My Pace with Emerson

Posted on June 12, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Charpentier/Leaf 2007 trip

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. So said Emerson. I know what he meant. I have been consistently cheating myself by running sprints on a treadmill, persistently thinking that the treadmill was pushing me to do and be my best. I ran as fast as the pace was set, and ran consistently, just a mite above my comfort zone.

But stepping onto a treadmill is like stepping into a river, a riptide. An average day of work. You get swept along by the current. The only decision you make is whether you will try to keep up, panic and flail, or step out.

All that you really learn about yourself is how long you can stand the ride.

So on Tuesday when Stephanie and I stepped onto the track to do our weekly speed work, I was nervous. 800s, five times, at just a touch faster than our mile pace. I established my mile last week, but didn’t know if I could sustain it—at a mite faster—for five half miles.

We warmed up, picked a lane, chatted about this and that, and then, in all earnestness, said go! I pushed my watch’s little red button, and I went. Fast. Thirty seconds too fast, a pace I could maybe sustain for one 800 but no way for five. So I slowed down. But too slow. Thirty seconds too slow, so that by the last 100 I had to pick back up into a sprint.

We went again. Same result. Too fast. And then too slow.

Each time we stopped to recover I was perplexed. How can it be that in all my years of running I don’t yet know how to find and maintain my own pace?

My focus has been on running long, where you can start slow, dawdle some, pick up the pace at the halfway point, give your muscles ample time to warm into what passes for a sprint in a distance run. That’s not the same as running short and fast, where you go and then you stay the course. All of your own accord. It requires an awareness, a mental and physical balance that I don’t usually step into until mile four.

Always do what you are afraid to do. That Emerson was a genius. I can’t wait until next Tuesday to do it again.

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Focus

Posted on June 5, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

A focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. So says the fortune tacked on the corkboard above my desk.  I believe this is true, which is why the tiny slip of paper is pinned there, a reminder.

If only I could remember to focus on it from time to time.

Geyser_SprinklerSo many projects, events, demands on my time and energy, so much noise in my head, that my mind often feels more like one of those crazy sprinkler toys you hook up to the hose than a laser. The head space required to work toward a goal is hard to find, more difficult to maintain.

For me this is true in running as much as it is in writing, work, the rest of life. The less progress I feel I make toward a goal, the worse I feel about myself.  The more I settle for what feels like mediocracy. I start to believe I am something I’m not.

My running plan ended in April. For nine months a grid containing my current race’s plan was tacked to the side of my fridge. Every morning I knew what to do, how to start my day. Where I was headed. From November through April I ran three half marathons, one 10k, and a ten-mile trail run, the most racing in the least amount of time I’ve ever done.

When the last race ended, I was almost relieved. My body was tired, my store of self-discipline nearly expended.  It was time to shift focus, away from long runs, toward building strength and speed.  But how?

For several weeks the side of my fridge was a blank white slate. No plan, no specific goal, no race. No focus. I took a stab at weight training, trudging early to the gym. Splashed around in the neighborhood pool a few times. Ran, some.

But without a sense of direction or a specific goal I’ve found it difficult to follow a routine, to regain the self-discipline required to wake up early and push myself to my limit. My pace slowed tremendously, and I before I knew it I accepted this as normal. I’m just slow, I conceded. I can’t do any better than this.

This is all I have, all I am, all there is.  fortune

Often when I sense self-defeat creeping in, I try to fix it on my own.  Surely I can pull myself out, change direction, self-motivate, self-charge, self-something. But that’s not how it always works.  Life is not self-contained.

On Tuesday morning two friends and I went out to the local high school track to do speed work. It wasn’t my idea. I hadn’t done speed work on a track since summer 2010. When I moved to San Antonio, a strange place where I didn’t yet know the lay of the land, I joined a gym and began speed work on a treadmill.

You know how it is. Once you get into the habit of doing something one way, you forget that there might be other—better—ways to do it. And sometimes you get bored, distracted, overwhelmed with other things and don’t do it at all.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to alter your environment such that you can change your sense of self.

I was nervous when my friend suggested speed work on the track, but at the same time excited. Relieved that here was someone who could show me a new way, someone who knew what she was doing. Someone to motivate me out of bed.

She set the day’s plan. A ladder, starting with a magic mile to see where we each are at the beginning of summer, then progressively shorter sprints with a progressively faster pace.

In theory, I said. Faster as we go shorter, in theory.

If I gave a mile my all, whatever that looked like, I didn’t think I could run faster as the distance decreased. I didn’t even know what “my all” meant. I was used to treadmills, where I thought I was running as fast as I could because there was no “cheating,” no slowing down.  Plus it had been a while since I’d done sprints even there. And I was slower. Out of practice. You lose so much so fast when you lay off running for a while, I thought.

But when she said “go,” I went, Tigger’s theme song bouncing through my head as I sped along the springy, flat track, focused on nothing but my form, my breath, and the next five feet in front of me.

johnson trackI ran my fastest mile. Ever.

I was stunned. This couldn’t be me. Couldn’t be my legs, my body, my breath pushing me along.

In amazement, I ran again, a 1,200, focusing on each stride, my pace a little faster than my mile.

I ran again, 800, faster and more focused, so that by the time we ran a 400 I felt like I was flying.

No matter that my legs turned to Jell-O from the kneecaps down and knotted braids from the kneecaps up. No matter that when I stopped my stomach clenched like a fist and nearly punched its way up through my throat.  I was elated, stunned, spent.

I walked away from the track rethinking not only my running, but my writing, my work, every area of my life. I’m not what I thought I was. I’m more. And I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been shown a new environment, a new plan, a different approach on which to focus.

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What’s Your Attitude?

Posted on March 6, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“It’s so cold and miserable outside I have to go to the gym, do hills on the treadmill,” I complained to my boyfriend on the phone yesterday morning. “I hate the treadmill.”

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot lately. So much so that I began to keep a gratitude journal last month. Each night before I go to bed I record five things from the day for which I am grateful. The next morning, I read that list to set my mind right.

Although I’ve always tried to practice in real time a recognition of “good” things that happen throughout the day—a stretch of green lights on my drive home, an item on sale when I didn’t know it, the rain letting up long enough for me to run errands or get gas—I am not always successful at maintaining a positive attitude. My negativity sometimes spills over onto others. My boyfriend. My mom.

It was at her suggestion that I began the journal-keeping.   struggle-gratitude

Last night after I jotted down my five, I quickly drifted toward sleep. But before I could get there I found myself wide awake, thinking about my attitude toward my morning’s workout.

If I am cultivating a mindset of gratitude, here’s what I should have thought instead:

  • I get to drive to the gym (in my own car, 10-years-old and long paid off, with a blazing heater and cushy seat-warmers, a working radio, and more).
  • I get to go to a gym (I have worked a membership into my budget without a second thought, foregoing other luxuries each month instead).
  • I get to go to the gym at 9am—or any time, really (I work from home, plan my own day, schedule my own time, and I can be up at 5:30am, working by 6 in my pajamas and slippers, hair uncombed, glasses askew, dog in lap, and then take a break when it suits me, my schedule, my day).
  • I get to run (Thank you, God. I am able to run.)

I slept more soundly than perhaps I otherwise would have, resting in the knowledge that I am luckier than I think.

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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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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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The Dark Side of a Morning Run

Posted on July 5, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

salado heron

My feet know the roads surrounding Salado, Texas, better than any other roads.  Having lived there four years, I ran them hundreds of times.  In the predawn hours, a world completely different from the one most residents see in broad daylight thrives beneath the stars and the moon.

When I lived in Salado, I could tell you where the doe threaded their way from the creek to their bedding field, followed closely by their fawns.  Two does bore twins each year, and I’d mark their monthly growth.  I stumbled across bucks one early morning, gathered in a semi-circle around two sparring for dominance. I heard antlers cracking hundreds of meters away before I caught sight of the proud assembly.

I could tell you which field was manned by hawks, adjacent to the stretch of road on which I did sprints.  Then there was Heron Pool, Woodpecker Corner, Skunk Alley, Camelback Hill—all places I named based on the animals that frequented them or the lay of the land.

So when I visited Salado for a couple of days early this week, my excitement swelled at the prospect of an early morning run.  I planned my route:  5 miles, from my mom’s house at the top of the hill, in a circle through the hawks’ territory and the sparring field, through downtown, and then an out-and-back past the old Salado cemetery before I tackled Skunk Alley and headed up the ½-mile hill back home.

I woke up minutes before my alarm, at 4:28 am, and was out the door by 5:10. I no sooner stepped into the yard than a deer snorted and nearly gave me a heart attack.  Even though there was a sliver of moon, the sky was too black to see much of anything beyond the looming shapes of trees.  I walked to the end of the cul-de-sac, waiting for my Garmin to find the Salado satellites, and quickly realized that Salado, like so many other towns, was hard up for cash.  None of the already sparse streetlights was lit.

I stood in the dark and stared at the stars and listened to the snorting taper off into the rustling leaves. It was dark, all right. None of the houses even emanated light.  I waited there at the crossroads until my eyes could adjust to the inky black.

Did I mention it was dark?  I paced down the road a bit, still waiting for the satellites, noting my amplified sense of hearing.  More leaves rustled, although there was no breeze, and goosebumps prickled my skin.

I get scolded frequently for running alone, in the dark:  Aren’t you afraid someone will jump you from behind a tree, drag you into a field?  There are so many crazy people in this world…

Crazy people don’t scare me.  I run with the awareness of a cat—which is why I don’t listen to music when I run.  I want to know what’s around me.  No, it’s not people or the possibility of being butchered in a field that triggers goosebumps.

It’s the old Salado cemetery.

Or, to be more exact, my imagination.

Most of the fiction I write has elements of horror, the supernatural.  I don’t need to watch horror movies (I shun them like the plague).  I have enough creepiness in my head to last nine lives.

So standing in the pitch black of pre-dawn waiting for the satellites, my skin rippling like the ocean before a storm, I got to thinking.  I haven’t lived in Salado for 2 ½ years. What do I know anymore?  It’s quite possible the deer have been domesticated like the Far Side cows and are hanging out in the newly cleared subdivision-to-be, a spotter calling “car” as the rest of the herd hide their newspapers and resume grass-chewing.  Maybe the hawks have retired to South America for good. It’s even feasible that Skunk Alley has succumbed to gang activity and I may very well get sprayed—or worse—this time through.

So, really, who needs 5 miles?

Especially past the old Salado cemetery, where the pre-Civil War gravestones jut from the earth like ruined fingers under the waning moon, bats flit and dip through the phantom-shaped shadows, and willow trees cast their weepy leaf-arms about like matted, tangled hair.

My 4-mile run was a peach.  The wind chimes big as organ pipes hung grandly from the house in the dip by the bend, and the kitty-cat mailbox painted in pastels stood welcoming and warm at the end of the cottage’s driveway.  My mom’s subdivision, at least, hasn’t changed much.

Who needs nature anyway?

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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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At the Core of the IT Band

Posted on May 25, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I remember the first time I saw the Ice Capades.  This was in Dorothy Hamill’s day, and she was my idol.  I wanted to be a princess on ice, just like her, twirling and gliding, hair bobbing in the breeze.  I even had her haircut.  She was my star.

Until intermission.  Which was also the first time I saw a Zamboni.

While my brothers and sisters flocked to the snack stand to load up on cotton candy and Cokes, I sat mesmerized watching what appeared to be magic—a giant bulldozer-like machine gliding over the ice, smoothing over the cuts and scrapes left behind by sharp blades.   It was a thing of beauty, and suddenly my highest ambition in life was not to be a figure skater but to drive the Zamboni.

Making order out of chaos. What greater serenity could there be?  I have since found the same satisfaction I experienced watching the Zamboni in ironing and mowing the lawn.  There is something supremely peaceful in smoothing over creases, evening out irregularity.  Finding balance, perhaps.  Symmetry.

So you’d think I would find the same satisfaction in my foam roller as it smooths over the bubble-wrap tendon that has become my IT band.  Alas.  It is not so.

My IT band tightens pretty regularly, throwing off my body mechanics when I run.  It took me nearly 6 months of incredible marathon-training-stopping pain to figure out what my IT band actually does.  I experienced hip pain so devastating that for a while I could barely walk. (Did this keep me from limping out to the road every morning anyway to see if I could run?  Of course not.  Someone smack me in the head.)  All the research I did on running injuries related the IT band to knee pain, not hip pain, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I finally saw a doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist (the best, I might add, in San Antonio).  She solved the problem.  Sure, my IT band was a mess, she concluded, but that would be relatively easy to straighten out.  Simply foam roll regularly and see a massage therapist as often as I could stand it.  Easy enough.  I bought a foam roller and started massage therapy (lucky for me I found the best massage therapist, I would also add, in San Antonio).

However, the crux of the problem, my physical therapist pointed out, is not my IT band. My IT band transforming into bubble wrap is the symptom, not the cause. The real problem is at the core.  Literally.

A strong core is the basis of all good form, no matter what sport you participate in, including running.  Most runners I know, particularly women, seem to think that all they have to do is run to keep up the muscles that help them run.  In reality, you need strength training to help with speed and endurance.  But even strength training alone—if it doesn’t include core work—won’t get you very far.

My ongoing task has been to strengthen my stabilizers. It’s one I haven’t been very diligent about maintaining.  I seem to go at it in bits and spurts, a few weeks on, a few weeks off.  What reminds me to get back to core strengthening is both my foam roller and my massage therapist.  When a date with either of them forces words from my mouth that would make my mother blush, I know I’ve been neglecting my core.

What kinds of core exercises do you do to maintain stability?

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