The First Last Marathon

Posted on October 2, 2016. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

What makes you think you can run a marathon?

I ask myself this question during every half marathon, somewhere around mile 9.

When my legs feel alternately like lead and pudding.

When my mental endurance is wearing thin. (Who’s the %#$*& genius that put a hill here?)

When my throat is constricted from repressing the threat of vomit, the result of accidently chugging Gatorade when I’d asked for water at the stop.

What makes me think I can run a marathon?

I don’t ask myself kindly. Not around mile 9. The question is, instead, peppered with expletives I wouldn’t dream of repeating in public.

sunrise-at-camp-capers

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”   Henry Thoreau

I wouldn’t dream, in fact, of asking this question, however kindly, to anyone else who’d tell me she was going to run a marathon. Just one. Her first. Maybe only. Going to at least, at last, try.

I would simply nod and say, of course. Of course you will. And mean it.

You’ve decided, I would say, and so you will.

First, you decide. Second, you do.

It’s as simple as making up your mind.

As difficult as finally, absolutely, irrevocably deciding. The doing, then, is comparatively easy.

And so I have decided. I will run a marathon. My first. Perhaps my only.

The Austin Marathon, on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

I decided finally on May 1. Planned and posted my training schedule on my refrigerator on August 1.  Registered, irrevocably, last month.  Now it is time to do.

Comparatively easy.

But I’ve decided to run a marathon twice before. Both times ended in training around mile 18 with injuries that would keep me from running for a year, longer.

Six years passed between the first and second attempt. Another six between then and now. And with them the shifting of time and place and focus. The anxiety and pain of starting over. Again. Not running. Barely walking. Not making it even one quarter mile, and surely not up that hill. And then the slow and steady progress, the readjusting of goals.

But not the determination to reach this goal, a marathon. Just once.

So I am ready to try again. The only failure in not trying at all.

And I am ready to write again. Because this marathon training is about more than running.

 

 

 

 

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Mental Preparation

Posted on October 10, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , |

“I didn’t think I was prepared for Girls on the Run,” she said.

I looked down at the top of her head bobbing along beside me.  Between us bobbed her friend, who I thought at first was her sister.  Same round face, round glasses, mouse-colored hair.  They waited for each other to finish the activity after each lap so that they could run together.  On my other side jogged a girl with a bouncing ponytail.  All three, first-timers. Third-graders, maybe fourth.

We were half way through our 40-minute workout, the longest the girls had run.  Pace yourself, the coaches said.  Listen to your body, do what’s right for you.  The not-quite-autumn Texas sun beat down mercilessly on the shadeless field, where cones marked out our homemade track.

“This is a great place to run,” I said earlier as we ran through a patch of dirt and stones, kicking dust up past our shins.  The girls looked at me quizzically, looked down at the dirt.  “It’s soft,” I explained, trying to keep with the spirit of the lesson: an attitude of gratitude.  “Better for your joints than pavement.”

possibe & ableBetter for slowing down, I thought.  I have learned the skill of slow running, learned to pace myself with the girls.  It’s not as simple as it might seem, slowing down.  My trick is to bounce rather than run, the first verse of “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” playing an endless loop in my head.

What did you think you needed to prepare? I meant to ask the girl.

“My brother didn’t think I could do it,” she said before I could ask.  Her friend nodded vigorously. The girl with the ponytail leaned out to look around me sympathetically.

What does he think now? I started to ask, but thought better of it.

“What do you think?” I asked instead.

She grinned. “I ask him to run with me now,” she said, picking up her pace. “But he won’t.”

I nodded. She stooped at the final turn to pick up her water.

“That’s ok,” she said as she took a long drink. “I can do this. And I’ll do it again next time.”

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A Lesson in Stillness

Posted on June 27, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My greatest fear is that I will run out of time.  That there isn’t enough, there won’t be enough to complete a project, call this person, prepare for that presentation. Write. Run. Walk my dogs. Vacuum the house, mow the lawn, run errands. Spend enough time with my family, boyfriend, friends.

Before they die. Before I do. Before, at least, the day, week, month, year ends.

grand-canyon-rafting-rapidsI am constantly doing, always moving, even when I’m sitting still. It takes an enormous amount of energy to winnow away the extraneous noise resonating in my brain and to simply be present, to focus on the moment, the thing I’m doing now, without feeling the pressure of what comes next. When I run I get to that stillness fast. When I write I get there slower, but stay there deeper, longer. In most other hours, I have sprinkler head.

The weight is considerable. But when you live with something daily you don’t recognize it’s there. You forget the thorn in your side hurts until it’s removed and you experience the absence of pain.

Last week, I was laid out flat, sick for the first time in years. Thursday morning I could feel it coming, told my body to ignore it, I simply didn’t have time to be sick. By Thursday night, my body, in essence, flipped me off. I went to bed achy and ill, but set my alarm to get up and run, thinking I could will away whatever this was. I didn’t. I couldn’t. But I fought being sick and attempted to go about my day.

“When normal people are sick, they take a sick day,” my boyfriend said around 4pm.

(At least I think that’s what he said. It may have been, “Normally, when people are sick….”)

The rest of Friday night, I planted myself on the couch and lamented the time wasted by languishing in illness. Yet my boyfriend’s words struck a chord. Maybe there was something to it. When was the last time I’d taken a sick day? Not since I started working for myself in 2009. Even so, I can’t remember being sick enough to stay home when I worked for someone else.

What was wrong with me that I couldn’t relax, couldn’t just be?

For the next few days, I had no choice. But on Saturday afternoon, as I was sprawled on the couch napping, dogs stretched out on either side of me napping more soundly, I felt a strange contentment. A deep sense of peace.

mountain_lakeSince I had crawled out of bed that morning, I hadn’t thought about work. Hadn’t thought about running or writing or cleaning my house. Wasn’t concerned about spending time with anyone but myself and my dogs. I wasn’t thinking about what came next, what was coming tomorrow. All that mattered was that moment, right where I was, doing what I was doing. Rather than seeing time as a raging river threatening to sweep me and all that mattered away, I saw it as a deep mountain lake, eternal. Still. I was at peace with the knowledge that what needs to get done will get done, that what needs to be will be.

I wish I could say I woke up well the next day, but I didn’t.  Whatever I had lingered for over a week, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I began to feel like myself again. Only maybe a little more serene. All that needed to get done got done, and with ample time left over. For the week, for the moment, and for the first time in I can’t say how long, I am not afraid of running out of time. Strange how it took being leveled to see that there really is peace in stillness.

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Why I Run

Posted on June 19, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I love to run. I know this in the same way I know that my eyes are brown, my second toe is taller than my big toe, and that the indentation above my right eye is a relic of the chicken pox I mercilessly scratched when I was three. Running is a part of me, of who I am and what I do. So much so, that sometimes I forget in much the same way I forget about the unique identifiers that make me who I am.

There have been plenty of mornings lately that I forget I love to run. Plenty of days when the alarm goes off and I turn it off, turn my back to the pre-dawn dark behind my blinds, pull the covers up around my shoulders and my dogs, and we snuggle in for one more hour of sleep. queequeg

On these mornings, I get out of bed grumpier than normal, scolding myself for missing my run, and as the day progresses I get plenty of reminders of why running is necessary, at least for me.

It’s not that it’s bathing suit season, although sometimes I tell myself that this is why I should run. What will people think when they see me bulging out of my suit? But then I come back inside from walking my dogs and realize I’m wearing the same t-shirt I’ve slept in, shorts I’ve pulled out of the laundry hamper that too often clash with my rumpled shirt, and that I haven’t yet combed my hair.  Apparently I’m not that concerned with what people think of me after all.

And it’s not that I worry too much about heart disease or diabetes or any of the other medical conditions that come from lack of exercise. I am blessed (and cursed) with a high metabolism, so sitting still for too long a stretch is nearly impossible for me, and I am constantly moving. Plus I’d rather be outside doing something than sitting inside doing anything.

Today is one of those days when I squandered my time by lying in bed instead of rolling out and running.

Here is what I miss when I don’t run:

  1. I want to be the person I am running when I’m not running. When I run I feel strong, capable, confident. I believe in myself, and believe I can do anything. This is not how I always feel when the running shoes come off.  On days I run—and sometimes for a day or two after—these positive feelings carry over into my work, my personal relationships, and I am more productive, kinder, wiser. Better.
  2. Running is cleansing. It clears my mind of all the noise and clutter that won’t go away just because I sleep. It creates space for order and solutions. It unclogs negative emotions like anger or sorrow or frustration or whatever else is weighing on me, so my heart is lighter when I’m done. I face the day happy, positive, ready to talk with people and listen more intently.
  3. Running makes me a better writer. Each and every time I run, writing happens in my head, whether it’s working out a problem in an existing story or a new idea that’s born. My writing is better because I am out in the street, moving. Forging the relationship between mind and body and spirit that happens inevitably when I run.
  4. Running brings me closer to God because I see Him everywhere when I run. My mind is thus prepared to see Him throughout the rest of my day, in the people I meet and the circumstances I am presented with. Plus, we talk, God and I, and even if I come to find I am not listening, He is.

I need to remember all of these things so that tomorrow morning when my alarm sounds in the pre-dawn darkness I won’t roll over and ignore it, but will instead roll out and run.

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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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Running Buddies, Part III

Posted on May 15, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

“You got this.”

She was waiting at the bottom of the hill just short of the finish line. The steep hill. The hill some genius thought would be a good idea to put right here, blocking the view of the end of things, but not the sound of people clapping, music playing.

“F*%@,” I said before I knew I would say it, the word escaping with my breath.

“I know.” She nodded. “Come on.” And ran me up the hill.

The YOSA 10k, my favorite 10k, the only race I really try to place in.  The course usually meanders through a neighborhood, across somewhat rolling hills. But this year it was moved to the River Walk, along a series of hills hugging the San Antonio River just south of the city, on the Mission Reach.

The 10k was a double out-and-back. I hate double out-and-backs. Races are mentally challenging already without having to repeat the same scenery, the same steep hill just short of the finish line.

1380749947000-SA-River-Mission-Reach

Not that it’s all bad, experiencing the same thing twice. The tuba player standing on the hill near the halfway mark belting out songs I’d never before heard done in tuba. The wildflowers studding the tall grass, waving in the breeze.

The breeze that blew at what felt like 25 mph, both ways.

My plan was to run hard but not too hard. I was running a half marathon the next weekend over the truly rolling hills in Luckenbach, Texas, and I wanted to save my legs.

But I ran hard anyway. I couldn’t help it. Once the clock started I was off. At the first turnaround, halfway through the first 5k, I found myself counting the number of women ahead of me. The second time around I was determined to pass as many as I could.

By the last half mile my legs were throbbing low and hard, like a tuba singing for me to stop already, or at least slow it down. I ignored them, kept my eyes down, and ran. Prayed that I would just make it to the finish line, just up over this low grade, long rolling hill, and around the bend. Then I would be there. Done.

Except I forgot about that hill. The steep hill just short of the finish line that some genius thought would be a good idea to put there.

When I looked up again, I saw the sharp incline first and knew I couldn’t make it. I was out of steam.

But I saw her second.

“You got this,” Stephanie said.

Just a few steps and we were up the hill. “It’s all you.”

She skipped back down as I ran toward the finish, knowing. It’s never all me.

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Do You Recognize Improvement When You See It?

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

Picture of sand dune in the Sahara desert of Morocco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Standing in the Hall

Posted on November 30, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

standing in the hall

When I was a kid, my room was my sanctuary.  No boys allowed.  I drew pictures, posted signs, and did what I could to make that abundantly clear.  My brothers, occasional literalists, came close to observing the letter of the law, but never the spirit.

They stood just outside the door’s threshold and dipped their toe into my room.

I’m in. I’m out.

I’m in, I’m in, I’m in. I’m out.

When they got brave, they jumped in, whole bodies piercing the forbidden zone. And then quickly out.  And in again. And out.

It makes me laugh now, but it made me furious then.  When my brothers entered the room, it was only for a brief moment, yet it was enough to set me off.  Still, it’s not like they were all in.

For the past few months, I’ve been dipping my toe into my life’s rooms.  There are lots of exciting, promising, and fun spaces I have the opportunity to enter; and there are an equal number of spaces that pose some daunting challenges, some rearranging of furniture and even some disposal of junk.

Rather than walking through the door and owning the room, I’ve been jumping in and out.  I haven’t been all in.

I’m not sure what this means to my family, friends, colleagues. If anything.  I don’t know how I show up in the world, through their eyes. But I do know that living tentatively feels like standing in the hall.

I made the decision to pick a room and move in.  Including owning my training.   A couple of weeks ago, I said I made the decision to run the Austin half in February, but that I probably wouldn’t register for the race for another month or more.  That’s not really playing all in.  This week, training started.  And I registered.  I’m in.

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