Good-Bye No-Plan Plan, Hello (Torture) Structure

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

no plan b

After three weeks of aimlessness, I have an official training plan.

Last Sunday I created a 3+ month training schedule and registered for the races I had already selected, one per month:

  • March 23 – 10k
  • April 6 – 10k
  • May 18 – 10K
  • June 22 – Sprint tri

What a relief.  Sort of.

I kicked off my plan with a day of rest.  I needed time to process the whole thing, for starters.  Plus it was a Sunday, already late in the afternoon by the time I sat down to figure things out.  It was also the first day of Daylight Savings Time, which I still am not adjusted to, and the day after my birthday, a late night to say the least. I actually slept until almost 10 am.  A record, I think.

Even though I’m excited to have a plan again, it’s been a tough week of adjustment.  I’ve had a hard time waking up at 5ish after three weeks of sleeping until 6 or 7, and an even harder time with daily motivation.

However, I figured out a long time ago that I’m the kind of person who needs the structure of a training plan not only to keep me on the right health track but also to keep me on-task in life.  I am so much more productive in all other areas of my life when I can roll out of bed and run.

One more week, and I’ll be fine.  It will feel less like torture and more like it should feel—fun.

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When Running Isn’t Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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The Wonder Wall: or, I wonder why I hit that wall

Posted on September 7, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There you are one early morning, in the pool swimming laps, on your bike cruising down country roads, or out for a long run through the backstreets. You had a plan, you set your distance, knew your route and were off. But half way through your workout, your arms stopped rotating like a windmill, your legs resembled the rubber chicken sitting on the corner of your desk, and your body slumped into something you liken to the compost pile in your backyard.

It’s happened. You’ve hit the wall.

This can be dismaying, to say the least, especially when you thought you were doing fine and felt like you were in great shape to be out there rolling.

What causes us to hit the wall and what can we do to prevent hitting it?  It seems to me there are three important factors athletes—yes, even amateur athletes like most of us—need to consider before we hit the dawn running.


If your body was like Janet Jackson, it might sing you a song: What have you done for me lately?  (And if your mind is like mine, you get a song stuck in your head whose words you either don’t like or can’t remember, but you sing it to yourself anyway, making up different words to suit your situation. Like what did you eat for me lately?)

The question is a serious one. What did you fuel your body with before your workout?  Before, in my mind, is not only the 30 to 60 minutes before you head out the door, but the long stretch of hours that lead into your workout, the night before if you work out in the morning or the entire day if you work out in the afternoon or evening.

I work out first thing in the morning.  I always eat a small meal 30 minutes or so before my workout, but I am also cognizant of what I eat the night before.  If I am doing cardio in the morning, I make sure I eat complex carbs with dinner.  And if I’m hungry before I go to bed, I eat.  Your body needs the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, complex as well as simple, to function at its best. Don’t deny it what it needs.


If you feel thirsty, it’s already too late. You’re dehydrated.  What do you do?  Drink, drink, drink!  Drink before you go to bed, drink before and after your workout. Drink always, all day long.

Notice I didn’t include the middle of your workout as a time to drink. That depends on what you’re doing and how long you’re doing it.  I always have water with me when I bike, swim, and weight train. I drink frequently during all of these activities. But I don’t take water with me when I run unless I plan to be out there more than 60 minutes. I know there are some people who would say, so what? Take water anyway!  For me this is simply a personal preference. I don’t like holding things in my hands or feeling extra weight hanging on my hips when I run.

What do you drink?  Water. Lots of it.  Sports drinks are unnecessary for most people, unless you’re out there sweating profusely for long periods of time. If you’re training for a marathon or a triathlon, especially in summer in Texas, that’s a different story.  Kind of.  I prefer coconut water over sports drinks because sports drinks have a lot of sugar in them. Coconut water has none. It’s a great way to keep hydrated or to rehydrate.

Muscle fatigue

It could be that you hit a wall because your body is just plain tired.  Have you slept enough?  Have you over trained?  Does your body need rest for a few days? Should you stop what you’re doing at the moment, or should you push through?

That depends.

The way you get to know your own strength, to find out what you’re made of, and to improve your endurance is to push yourself beyond what you think are your limitations.  Sure, I can stop when my knees get wobbly or turn into lead pipes.  I may even have to stop. But at what point do I make this determination?

Ask Socrates. He’d probably say Know Thyself.  Part of training hard and pushing yourself to be better, stronger, faster than you were before (like the Six Million Dollar Man) is knowing your body well enough to understand what it’s trying to tell you and to respect it enough to listen. There’s a fine line between breaking through the wall and breaking your body.  The first is exhilarating. The second excruciating. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn to recognize our body’s queues through trial and error. When we err, it hurts.

Inevitably, at some point in training, you’ll hit a wall.  If you pay attention to your body, it will let you know why you hit it and what to do about it.  Listen to it.  Your body knows best. Almost like your mother.

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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 Would Barbie Do…in the Olympics?

Posted on August 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

from Economic Times, India Times

I love the Olympics.  And although I root for the USA in every event they participate, I have to admit that what I watch for is not necessarily nationality, it’s ability.  The athletes who make any Olympic team are extraordinary. Watching them gives me goosebumps at the least, and sometimes brings me to tears.  The perfection and grace of movement in rowing, diving, sprinting, pole vaulting, gymnastics is simply stunning, particularly since the athletes make what they’re doing look so effortless. It’s easy to forget all the blood, sweat, and years, all the training and discipline and sacrifice that lead to this one event. It blows me away.

So when I heard comments about Gabby Douglas’s hair, I was, well, perplexed.  Here is a woman who won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around event and is a member of the U.S. team that won a gold medal—the first team gold for the U.S. since 1996—and people are talking about her hair?

It gets better.  Some people are actually calling some Olympic women athletes fat.  That’s right.  Olympic athletes—some of the fittest people on earth—fat.   It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re bodies are conditioned to support them in their chosen field.  It doesn’t seem to matter that many of them set or break records.  What makes the news is that some swimmer or sprinter doesn’t look as “fit” as in the last Olympics.  Or that another one is “carrying too much weight.”

And we wonder why so many girls have eating disorders or body image issues when even the fittest of us are scrutinized as if we were a side of Kobe beef.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but, sadly, I am not.  This Olympics marks the first time women are competing in every event, and from every country.  This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX in the U.S., the law that opened the door for women’s participation in sports where they did not have access before.  Undoubtedly, more women are competing at a higher caliber because of the opportunities afforded by this law, yet those discussions and those women are not what’s making the news.

Perhaps coincidentally, another story making the news this week has to do with Barbie, the 53-year-old who never ages.  Now, I played with Barbie as a kid.  She usually teamed up my brother’s GI Joes to battle the evil Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  But it never occurred to me to see her form as an aspiration. In my mind, that would have been like trying to force myself into the shape of a pine tree or something equally ridiculous. I just wasn’t made that way, and, alas, I lacked the Wonder Twins super powers.

Model Katie Halchishick decided to make a point this week.  She marked her body with dotted lines, the way a plastic surgeon marks bodies before rearranging them.  The lines correspond to what a Barbie doll would look like in real life.

Scary. Unnatural.  Those are only two words that come immediately to mind.

Yet the figure and hair and makeup of Barbie is what some people seem to want to see soaring over the vault or flying across the pool at the Olympics.  But with a body like that, what, exactly, could Barbie hope to do in any athletic event, much less at the Olympics?  Her thin little arms couldn’t support her on the uneven bars.  Her skinny little waist could never contain the strong core muscles to lift her body over the hurdles.  And that scrawny (scary) neck?  It doesn’t appear that it would hold her head up high enough to see the crowd.

When I see someone like sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross moving like the wind across the track, her muscular body rippling with the effects of all that training, and then hear someone ask, what’s up with her hair, I can’t decide whether to laugh or scream or cry.

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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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Who’s the Chick with the Legs?

Posted on July 20, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

That’s the question a group of women asked after our last Girls on the Run 5K.   That chick is certainly not me.  It’s my sister.

Marika has the hardest—but the best—responsibility at our 5K events.  She’s the course monitor.  It is her task to run the course in circles, ensuring that each girl sticks with her running buddy.  When Marika encounters a girl running on her own, she asks where her running buddy is.  If the girl points behind her and says, somewhere back there in the dust, Marika pairs her up with the nearest buddy team keeping the girl’s pace.   If the girl is alone because she’s too tired and discouraged and ready to quit, my sister encourages her along, refusing to let her stop.  For the last half of the race Marika runs the quarter mile before the finish line, back and forth and back again, like a pinball ricocheting between two levers, guiding every girl and her running buddy to the finish line.  I have seen her take a number of girls by the arm or around the waist and virtually carry them just short of the line, where they cross on their own.

I have seen her do this—and more—because I have the second best responsibility at the race. I get to stand on the other side of the finish line and help the coaches put medals around the girls’ necks as they finish the race.  Think you can’t run or that there’s not much rewarding about doing a 5K?  Check out your local Girls on the Run council’s next 5K. I can almost guarantee you’ll walk away completely uplifted and probably in tears.

But I digress. We were talking about my sister’s legs.  My sister is assigned the hardest job—running in a very short time more than double the 5K—because she has the strongest legs.  I wish you could see for yourself, but Marika is modest and refused me permission to post her picture.  What you would see is quads like braided bread.  Something like this:

Well, maybe not quite like this, but you get the picture.  Marika didn’t get those quads from running.  She has been running for almost 3 years.  I have been running for 10.  For years, I tried to get her take up running, but for years she refused.  Each time I brought it up, she pulled out her arsenal of studies demonstrating the damage running does to the body, particularly cartilage and joints.

Marika chose, rather, to strength train, and has been doing so consistently for 5 years, intermittently for maybe 3 years before that.  For years, she tried to get me to take up strength training, but for years I refused.  I wanted to focus on running—what did I need muscles for? My leg muscles would be just fine, thank you very much, from the workout I gave them on each day’s run.

Or so I thought.

When Marika finally took up running in 2009, she did so for much the same reason I did.  She was trying to work out a problem and needed fresh air to help her think, so she went out walking.  Some issues are too big to be confined by four walls and a ceiling, and they need a large expanse of sky and open space to be properly taken out and turned over, mulled through and examined.

It was during one of her walks at dusk in the late fall that she was caught in the rain about two miles from home. It wasn’t a nice Texas mizzling kind of rain, part drizzle, part mist.  It was a cold, pelting, stinging rain that she wanted to escape.  The quickest way to get home was to run.  Somewhere in that two miles, something clicked.

Two weeks after Marika ran, I was set to participate in a half marathon, for which I had been training.  She thought she’d give it a try too.  She had been running for only two weeks, mind you, before she entered this half marathon.

She beat my time by 5 minutes.  I couldn’t decide if I was awed or ticked.

(What’s the difference between friendly non-competitiveness, healthy competitiveness, and the urge to pummel someone to the ground?  I don’t know either, but I’m working on it.  When I figure it out, I’ll write about it.)

Granted, Marika has a strong cardiovascular system.  There is no way she would have been able to complete a half marathon without one.  But I am convinced that her strength drove her along.  She has been running ever since—and running fast.

But that’s not all.  I finally convinced her to enter a sprint tri with me.  We trained together for 8 weeks to compete in the Gator Bait race just last month.  She whined the whole time we trained.  Although she had a bike, she hadn’t actually been on it in a couple of years and couldn’t remember how to shift gears. The first two times out, she wiped out and scraped her knees and, we think, broke a bone in her hand.  Swimming was even worse.  Although we had grown up on water, Marika had never swam laps in a pool.  Half way through a lap, she was sputtering for air.

Don’t worry, I told her, I’ll teach you everything I know about biking and swimming. It might not be much, but it will get you through the race.  Do it for fun.  This is only about fun, not really competing, and not winning, but only to see if you can.

I knew I was in trouble on our fifth or sixth bike ride when she powered past me up a hill.  I could see her quads pumping like a freight train, while I was wheezing my way up.  She barely broke a sweat.

And then she did it again.  Come tri day, she beat me.  By 7 minutes.

(How do I feel about this?  See the above parenthetical.)

I tell you about my sister and her legs and her accomplishments to make a point.  Probably several points, but here’s the one I’m sticking with:  Strength training is imperative to performance.  It doesn’t matter how much cardio you do, how many miles you run or swim or bike, your muscles must be in prime shape in order to serve you to the best of your ability.

Strength training is important for so many other reasons—including preventing bone loss, especially in women, as you age.  But I won’t go into all that now.  I simply wanted to tell you about my sister.

And what she’s done to my training.  Since the sprint tri, my focus has not been on cardio or mileage, but on strength training. I’m in the gym at least three days a week now, and it’s paying off.  Last weekend I went for a long bike ride and found that the monster hill at the end of my route is getting easier.  Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to power up it myself, and pass my sister.

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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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