Ice Cream and Coffee: Good Times 5k Race Report

Yesterday morning I remembered I was out of milk, which was a good excuse to put ice cream in my coffee. Henry thought this was wildly unfair, so I gave him ice cream, too. So there we were at 7:30 on a Thursday morning, eating/drinking ice cream while discussing the Whitey Bulger trial. Pretty much your typical mother-child bonding set-up.

The reason I had no milk was because I raced a Tuesday night 5k instead of going to the grocery store. My priorities are obviously in order.

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Pancakes, Terry Gross, and Kryptonite

The heat wave in New England finally broke. I am so not ready for running in soupy air, so my weekend training was a bust. I wanted to run a long track workout on Saturday morning, but I got a late start, so after the 3rd interval, I crashed and said, “Screw this. I’m going home to pay bills and fold laundry.” That’s how hot it was. Sunday, I didn’t even bother to run. We did bumper boats and an air conditioned trip to Barnes & Noble instead. Naturally, I insisted on a vanity tour of the Pregnancy section.

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Because it’s been too hot for thinking, I let Running Unplugged tell me what to write today. She tagged me in her recent post of 11 Things, and I haven’t done this sort of thing in years, so for fun, I gave it a shot. Also, I’m kind of vain, so why the hell not. Anyway, after last week’s post, I think we’re due for some frivolity.

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Now What

I love graduating. I’ve done it 4 times so far. Publishing Fit & Healthy Pregnancy feels like graduating with a 328-page diploma, one that shows how sport and pregnancy aren’t mutually exclusive. Yesterday, it was rated #15 in Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Exercise & Fitness > Pregnancy on Amazon, which, okay, is a niche within a niche within a niche. On the other hand, I think it shows my mother isn’t the only one buying it.

When you’ve wanted to do a thing since you were 3 years old and then you finally do it 32 years later, it’s easy to feel a big wave of “….Now what?”

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Induced! Fit & Healthy Pregnancy Arrives Early

This week I arrived home to a big–and very heavy–box at my doorstep. Not expecting any packages, I first thought it was for my neighbor. Then I suspected Henry had secretly ordered 20 lbs of Pokemon cards. The return address was Colorado. Inside my big box, I found a stack of these:

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A False Sense of Insecurity

I’m ready for my last long run before Big Sur, and even though it’s quite a  bit longer than I usually train for a marathon, I’m actually excited to do it. That’s because there will be water stops every mile so I don’t have to carry my own, and it’s going to be a group run, which always makes the LSD easier, even when you just have one other person to run with, and I’m going to have about 25,000. Plus, this long run will have upwards of a million spectators including a bunch of my friends, and everyone runs better when people cheer. I’m familiar with the route,  and the forecast is good.

It’s a big, fat 26.2-mile training run, and despite the fact that my fitness seems to be in a long-term rest cycle, I’ve managed to shift my inner conflict about my run at Boston, and I’m looking forward to it.

The essence of my uncertainty about my fitness really stems from two photos.

In 2007, I started my first Boston Marathon and scarred my runner’s identity in a way that only others in the Marathon DNF Club can know. It was miserable, and I’ll probably always carry that DNF like an albatross through every marathon I start.

In 2008, I trained as conservatively as I possibly could, running 4 days/week and never exceeding a weekly max of 45 miles. When I toed the starting line, I was so happy to be unbroken that I savored the entire race, which was casual and untimed, as far as I was concerned. This is what I looked like at mile 16:

2008 BostonI was stupid with joy. It may be the last time I smiled that broadly during a race, definitely the only time I’ve smiled like a delirious fool at mile 16. I was running in front of Newton Wellesley hospital, where I’d ended up under an xray in 2007, and my parents, husband, and son were there to cheer for me. Clearly, I was totally blasé to actually see my people amid the throngs. My dad took that picture.

I ran a 4:01 and didn’t care at all that I missed the 4-hour mark by a minute.

Fast forward a few years, and this was my run in 2011 at Boston. My parents, husband, and son were there to cheer for me, again, and I was equally excited by the idea of seeing them on the course. This was me racing in 2011:

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That’s as close to a smile as I would go in 2011. My dad took that photo, too. I was happy to be there, but I was racing, a different runner from the giddy girl of 2008. In the three years since ’08, I’d trained like a dog to qualify for Boston and become much more businesslike about the whole enterprise of running, my dumb pink socks aside.

I ran a 3:45 and was pissed as hell that I didn’t go sub-3:40.

And so now we are here, 2013, running a Boston for which I also qualified, yet trained in way more like I was in ’08, thanks to injury and other stuff that gets in the way of seriously dedicated training.

I feel like I have a racer’s mind and a recreational body–a 2011 brain inside 2008 flesh.

We sometimes refer to a person with a false sense of security, though I don’t think this is a problem I’ve ever had myself. The problem I usually face is a false sense of insecurity, and I know I’m not the only woman who battles this mindset.

In my mind, I’m  not fit enough for a strong Boston, despite my good-enough training, because I didn’t run 60 miles/week, never ran more than 4 days/week, and didn’t do a single mid-week run in the double digits. The thing is, I didn’t do any of those things in 2008 and it’s clear how amazing my race felt.

The reality is that I am in good shape for my long run at Boston, and my insecurity about it is falsely situated in the race-mind I’ve developed over years of hard training. This fallacy has been my revelation in the past few days, and it’s strengthened me. It’s true that knowing yourself better can transform more than just your perspective; it changes how you are in the world. Self-awareness matters far more than we usually give it credit for, in endurance sports and beyond.

Next Monday, I might not express the uninhibited joy I had in 2008, but because I know my runner’s mind more clearly, I will run far with a love of  the marathon and what my body can do.

Good luck to my runners who are headed to Boston: Kelly, Dan, and Kara. Knowing how hard you’ve trained, I cannot wait to see what you can do. Tear it up.

B2BS: 2 Weeks Til the Binge

It should be a good sign for any marathon if your primary problem is how pale and pasty you’ll look in race photos. My long runs have been going fairly well, which is to say I’ve had only a little bit of knee-hip-foot pain. I know that isn’t ideal, but it’s the state of things, and I’m focusing on my white zombie legs instead of the pain inside them. My last 20 and 16 milers went at a good clip for my current weekly mileage and fitness, but I was pretty well spent at the end of them, so God knows what the last 10k of Boston might bring. Hopefully not a death march to Boylston.

It might sound like sandbagging (and so be it), but I’m running Boston so that I can run Big Sur, which was sold out when I went to register. So I had to sign up for Boston to Big Sur in order to run the race I really wanted to run. That means I can’t get all racy racy at Boston, particularly because my weekly mileage has capped at 41, a  good 20 miles/week lower than my usual marathon training.

Because I’m a girl who’s always looking forward, always needing a goal, that also means I have to find a good goal for Boston or I will get racy racy and then crash like a trainwreck. It doesn’t help that my gentleman friend is going to pass me even though he’s starting 20 minutes behind me. I’ll be looking in my invisible rear view mirror until the inevitable zoom-by, likely to occur in a most demoralizing fashion at the start of the Newton hills.

‘Sall good. Because I have a new goal that’s right for the B2BS situation: run Boston as slowly as possible, without a positive split. The point is that I can’t run it super damn slow just because I have to walk the last 5 miles after running the first 21 stupidly fast.  The point is to run a reasonably slow race to save my legs, but cover Boston’s crazy inverted normal curve with a negative split. Good goal, non?

I have no ambitions for my finish time (at least that’s my story), but I want to run the first half at 9:00s, which is a pretty difficult goal on a downhill. I think that’s the only way I’ll have a shot at my negative split.

All this goal nonsense aside, I’m trying to orient the run toward the idea of an experience instead of a race. I’m trying to see it as my final training run for Big Sur, the main course in this whole absurd marathon binge. If this is all-you-can-eat running, I need Boston to be the cocktail, not the bread you fill up on.

Boston is a just a cocktail. Pin a BAA bib with a timing chip on a woman, put her in Hopkinton on Patriots Day, and that’s a very hard task to envision.

And that’s another reason why I’m choosing to think about the problem of the vision of my white pasty legs in the race photos. It’s such a simple little problem.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Happy first day of Spring. Ugh. It blizzarded yesterday, and here we are, completely snowed on March 20.

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I am practicing my deep breathing, but the air is so cold, I sputter, find the couch, and go back to distractions like public radio, Popeapalooza, and the Modern Love column in the New York Times. I need Spring. The winterizing of my soul is getting old, and everything in life feels like two steps forward, one step back. Which I guess is better than one step forward, two steps back. That said, I don’t think that simple, humble forward progress is really asking all that much.

Obviously, the seasons are a good example, and they seem to set the stage for everything else that happens. Two weeks ago, I ran the slowest 22 miles of my life, which was horrendous and demoralizing, but it was winter, so I shrugged it off as a seasonally affected long run. That run was what it must feel like to run on legs suffering from a major depressive episode. But it was winter then.

Then we had a touch of Spring. I saw a crocus. My garden Buddha finally poked his head above the snow. Things were looking so good. It was a New Englandy sort of Spring, but it felt Springy nonetheless. One day, I wore a skirt without tights, the pores on my white, ashy legs taking big gulps of unconstricted air. Last weekend, I ran 20 miles at a pace that was a minute per mile faster than the 22-miler, on the Boston course, on an out-and-back through the Newton hills. It was St. Patrick’s Day. I wore green, the color of Spring to those of us who aren’t Irish (Irish Spring soap notwithstanding). Two steps forward. Happy, content, optimistic, even.

Yesterday, the sky dumped another too many inches of sleety, icy, nasty snow. And just like that: winter. Skin back under under fleece, and my spirit again hibernating beneath every defense mechanism I can find. Agonizing, slow 10k run on the mill yesterday, looking out a window onto snow banks higher than my child. Today, digging out and finding my soul back in protective mode to get me through Ides. One step back.

I have one more very long run planned for this weekend, 20-22 miles. I don’t know if it will be Winter or Spring, and that’s a weird, uncomfortable place to be. It’s like a bipolar disorder of climate. What’s a runner to do? Pack some Gu and run far far far–thinking of the good season, which will come again, as it always does.

Long Run in a Small Town

It’s hard to know what to think when another runner merges with your long run at mile 6, saying, “I know who you are!” In my case, it’s a safe bet he doesn’t mean, “Everyone talks about what a beautiful and intelligent inspiration you are!” More likely he means, “I read you peed your shorts at mile 5 in Chicago.” Or, “I know so-and-so across town doesn’t like you.” Still, there’s always a small thrill that comes with nano-celebrity, and so it was.

Saturday morning, I putzed around way too long before going for my long run. My excuse is that my foot does better on a run if I’ve been walking around on it for a while. Also, I was lazy. A little past 11, my gentleman friend and I finally hit the road for 16-18 miles. We decided on two loops of 8+ miles so we could call it off midway through if either one of us had knee or foot pain. Matching injuries are much less romantic than they sound. It’s more like the dorkiness of wearing the same shirt than the swankiness of ordering the same martini.

Anyway, we limped off for mile 1.

“How’s your foot?”

“It’s ok.”

“How’s your knee?”

“It’s ok.”

I  know: hot, right?

The first mile was fast for me, but I held on and so did my foot and knee. We ran along the rural roads, noticing a conspicuous amount of discarded fruit along the way. Apple cores, orange peels, like Carmen Miranda had been running ahead of us. It was a mild kind of day, cloudy for the most part, and windless, which was a nice change of pace this winter. I’m mostly sick of the roads in my town, but running them with someone else lets you notice things you don’t usually see. “What’s your favorite giant statue in that yard?” is a question you wouldn’t ordinarily ask yourself, for example, when running by a property dotted with a prominent display of statuary.

“The Venetian boys in the gazebos, obviously.”

We ran by the library, which had a sign for a book sale. “Why would the library have a book sale?”

I never really thought the library book sale was odd before. “So they can buy new books? Circle of life and whatnot?”

After running down the mile-long hill from the town Common, we crossed the railroad tracks and passed the parking lot to the big town trail system . I saw a man getting out of his truck, obviously getting ready to run. Obvious because he had the expression that I have when I’m getting ready to run, the one that says, “I am compelled to do this. Whether or not I like it is irrelevant.”

I ran on with my gentleman friend. Less than five minutes later, the sound a of a different man’s voice startled me out of my fantasies about potato chips. “I don’t want to scare you guys. Just running up behind you.”

I thought he was probably trying to pass us, but instead, Mike joined us on the run. I’m always happy to have more conversation to distract me from my watch/foot/knee/brain, so I wouldn’t have let him pass us anyway. After we’d exchanged two sentences came the “I know who you are!”

Uh oh.

He’d read my blog. His wife knows I bought a foot scruncher for my plantar. He knows friends of mine. We’ve both run for Dana-Farber. He probably knows I peed my shorts at mile 5 in Chicago. We run in the same circle, kind of literally, since he runs the same roads I run all the time. It was fun to make a new friend, who I’m surprised I hadn’t met before. And for 20 minutes, I didn’t look at my watch.

The three of us ran together to mile 8 or so, when we diverged, pilgrims in technical fabrics pursuing different paths to 18 miles on the watch. My gentleman friend and I paused at the halfway point, deciding that we  both felt good enough for a second lap. We refilled my water bottle with Nuun we poured all over my right glove and headed for another round in the opposite direction.

At about mile 11, just before the mile-long climb to the town common, I gave permission to my gentleman friend to dust me. I futzed around with my earbuds and iPod, weaving around the shoulder, but got them in at the base of the hill when he took off. Beyoncé launched her “Single Ladies” anthem, which I thought was particularly cruel timing at this point in the game. Ring or no ring (on it), I really can’t put my hands up (hands up) while trying to climb a mountain. An uphill battle is hard enough without putting my hands in the air like I just don’t care.

I passed a house that reeked of pot but I made it to the top without stopping for a bong hit, amazingly enough.  After I’d passed the weed den and made it to the Common, I had to pull over to take a Gu because I couldn’t fumble with my water, mittens, and Gu at the same time, not to mention the iPod that was swinging around  my feet because it came unclipped when I took my Gu out. I hate these kinds of shenanigans when I’m just trying to run, dammit. This is the kind of thing I imagine when someone says, “I know who you are!” With my luck, he means, “You’re the freaky lady who was tangled in her iPod cord, smearing chocolate Gu all over her face in front of the police station.”

I got myself put back together and ran on, with less than 5 miles to go and a right hand frozen due to the Nuun spill. With 3 miles to go, I took off the glove and ran like a Michael Jackson tribute. This is usually the point in a long run where I start making bargains with myself. Usually the bargains have to do with lunch, dinner, and the placement of a margarita in my day. By the time I got to the last mile, I’d figured out where we were having lunch and what I would order because it was 1:30 and I could think of nothing but carbohydrates and salt. Also, we were going to have beef short ribs and potatoes for dinner.  By the close of the 18th mile, the question about when to have a margarita became a question about when  not to have a margarita.

I turned the last corner to get to my house, and my gentleman friend was cheering and jumping with his hands in the air, for me, not Beyoncé (I assume). 18 relatively painless miles done, 15 sec/mile faster than last week, plus a new friend, who knows who I am and seemed to like me anyway. I call that a long run success.

Three Hours of Grace

I’ve been dealing with the issue of grace lately, and if I’m to be completely honest, I don’t even really know what that means. I just know I’m dealing with it. I think it has something to do with calm and patience and… grace. See, that’s how dire things are. I’m defining a word with the word itself, the cardinal sin of the literary faithful.

I know what grace isn’t, however, which is why I know I’m looking for it. I know that grace isn’t desire, self, or control, and those are the Big Three I’ve been trying to duck, but they keep kicking my ass anyway. I’ve been fighting this body for months, believing I’m entitled to run it hard simply because I want to run it hard and because it’s mine, and isn’t that virtuous and so shouldn’t I be able to? Well, no, stupid lady.

I’ve watched my body soften while I try to beat it, coax it, ignore it into submission, and I’ve gotten completely pissed off by the softening and its unwillingness to cooperate with the aforementioned desire to run it hard. You simply can’t control most things, even your own damn body. It ages and hurts, and it tells you “too much” when you know you haven’t had nearly enough. I hate when things I want to control have their own agenda. I also hate when I think I know something so intimately as one knows one’s body, and then it turns out it deal me hurt and pain. It completely blows.

Which is how I came to look for grace because I know that kind of relationship is most definitely lacking in it.

Saturday morning, I played with grace for three hours.

The first step was to not say, “I’m running for three hours, which will be 20 miles, and so is the word forever and ever, amen.”

Step 1: Give up control.

Instead, I said, “I am going to try to run 20 miles. It might be 15. It might not be 15. I will have to see how I feel.”

This last sentence is the most impossible thing I’ve ever said to myself. I don’t like to see how I feel. I’d rather run.

Then I took care of my body for a while. I iced my shins and knee. I stretched and massaged my Achilles and the baseball that took up residence in my left calf sometime in the last month. I drank water. I walked around a lot.

Step 2: Immerse self in mindfulness and ritual.

Then I did the things I always do. I shoved Gu in my pockets, strapped on my Garmin, filled two bottles with water and Nuun to plant in my mailbox and filled another smaller handheld to carry with me. I made sure the water was room temperature so it wouldn’t freeze outside. I braided my hair and rubbed Glide in my pits. I trimmed my toenails. I went to the bathroom 3 times. And then I did my favorite thing to do before a run: I procrastinated.

This habit is handily cured by the need to hire a babysitter for long runs. Procrastination means cash for Rachel, so I didn’t indulge in much of it.

I decided to do multiple out-and-back courses because I was worried enough about my knee and foot that I didn’t want to be too far from home if things went bad. I was pretty sure I’d have an hour in me, so I left for a 7-mile leg. I had my Garmin, but my attempt at grace meant I was going to run by feel and start as slowly as possible without looking at my watch for any of the splits. This is very difficult. At one point, I caught a mile split from my wrist and winced a little, not in physical pain but in ego pain. I had seen the same woman jogging my route at two points already, and I was not happy to have been caught twice at a mosey.

Grace me now and grace me hard.

The first seven miles went by unremarkably, which is to say, painless. I left for the next out-and-back, which took me out of suburbia and into the rural void of windy roads, high snow banks, and tall pines. I savored the windless and mild air, which was about 38 degrees. I felt good, and I was enjoying the run, which might sound like a bland nonstatement, but it’s a huge achievement for anyone who’s been running with discomfort for months. My foot was fine, and my knee only hinted at tightness, like it remembered being tight last week but had changed it’s mind.

So I ran further out, turning around after 5 miles instead of 3.5. When I’d finished that out-and-back and grabbed a shot of water at my mailbox, I had somehow made my way to the 17th mile. I still wasn’t watching my splits (much) and my body was holding up. I hadn’t hit any walls of crushing fatigue, either, the prospect of which still fills me with prerun anxiety 15 years after I started running.

I only had three miles left to go. I started out on that itty bitty less-than-5k run like I owned my body, which is not very graceful, but hey, I’m a work in progress. On my way out, the babysitter passed in her car with Henry on their way back from the bookstore. They both waved to me as I ran, my first spectators since my last race in August.

I’d forgotten what it feels like to be cheered for. Even from inside a station wagon and by two people and in total silence, a cheering crowd is a cheering crowd.

When I was finally in the 20th mile, I did what so many of us do. I said to myself, “Maybe I can go 21…”

But I stopped myself. My shred of grace spoke up, clearing its throat to get my attention. The Garmin reached 20 shortly before my driveway. When I got to my mailbox, I just stood there for a little while. I looked up into the trees and felt my breathing, labored but easing by the second. I listened to Bruce sing “Wrecking Ball” and got teary at the line that always makes me cry: “Hard times come and hard times go and hard times come and hard times go… just to come again.” It’s so sad, that idea, but that is why we need grace in this life.

I got my 20 miles, 2:59:57, run entirely by feel/effort. I felt blessed by grace for those few hours. It was probably the endorphins, because then I went to the salon and ended up a blonde. True to form, I think my ego transmuted the lovely and modest idea of grace to the lovely and desired Grace Kelly. I guess I still have some work to do to get past issues of desire, self, and control and find grace with a lower-case G.  I do like my hair, though.

My 20-miled three hours of grace did lead me to finally book my flight to California for Big Sur. I added on travel insurance in case I’m hurt. Not sure if that has anything to do with grace, but it seemed sensible and these days, I’m trying to protect my self and body by practicing more sensibility, too. As my blonde highlights suggest, I have some ground to cover on that front, but hey, maybe I’ll have more fun in the process.