Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012: Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself" - George Bernard Shaw
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Several years ago, my husband and I traveled along the French autoroute that traverses Southern France along the Mediterranean. The A8 autoroute, La Provençale, offers panoramas of the sea between Nice and Menton, before crossing the border into Italy. Our trip that day began in Florence and ended in Nice. Here the road (an engineering wonder of sorts) cuts through rolling hills and white limestone cliffs that plunge into the green-blue sea. The length of the highway alternates between vertigo inducing vistas high above the sea to claustrophobicly tight tunnels weaving through the hills. Add to this, crazy Southern France driving tendencies (What? Lane lines? We don't need no stinkin' lane lines.), and you have a frenetic experience -  all at once you are cruising along, out in the sun soaked lush green hills dotted with greenhouses perched on precipitous slopes, then into a dark, winding tunnel...back out into the brightness...and..back into the darkness...The eyes cannot possibly keep up never mind the poor brain receiving whiplashing nerve impulses. By the end of the drive I was dazed and confused, sick to my stomach and shaky. Boy, did I need some wine. What an amazingly beautiful, insanely crazy trip that was. Please don't ever make me drive that stretch of road again. We did two years later - opposite direction. That one went better. For one thing I stopped worrying about lane lines and life suddenly made sense. Vroooom...Go Speed Racer, Go!

This is a metaphor for my year, 2011 - The brilliant light of anticipation, achievement, hope...the darkness of exhaustion, depression, pessimism, fear, stuckness...light...dark...light...dark...
good...bad. The juxtaposition makes me feel bipolar at times. The extremes bring out the extreme: Really good, or really bad. So the really good feels really really good, and the really bad feels like the depths of the deepest darkness. Nothing just IS anymore. Now, am I just supposed to learn how to roll with it all, and things will feel more sane, or will things actually get better. 

I generally don't set New Year's Resolutions - they feel artificial and superficial to me. New Year's Resolutions seem like something "one does" simply because that's what is expected on January 1st. But I've never been good at setting specific goals: I'll say - Oh, I want to find/create my purpose in life, or, I want to run faster, or climb harder, or be a better teacher, wife, mother, person. But, yikes, what does all that mean and how do you know you've done it when you've done it.  

So I like to set goals - not pie-in-the sky goals (doomed to fail, so why bother?), and not goals that are painfully reasonable (boring, so why care?) - but somewhere in the middle. A little outrageous, a little overreaching, a tad absurd...and frightening, a little...but maybe, doable.

This is the last day of 2011. It's been an up-and-down year for me. On the running front, it's been reasonably successful: I qualified and got into the Boston Marathon 2012, and qualified for guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon, 2012. To celebrate 40 years of running, I'm hoping to make it to the starting line and the finish line of both these races. I'm pretty nervous about it - it feels very (too?) important to me right now. Ooooo, pressure.
When I look back at one of my first Blog posts, dated Jan 14th, 2011, I set myself the goal of qualifying for these races - and I did what I set out to do. Now, to actually run them. I suppose that's my running goal for 2012, along with running 3000 miles (a nice round number), and maybe setting a marathon PR (not masters). Now for the rest of life... 

My Mother now continues her nine month long, and counting, battle with  Inflammatory Breast Cancer. She survived very aggressive chemo - though it almost killed her three times, and damaged her heart - and her surgery three weeks ago appears to have been as successful as we possibly could have hoped. This battle is a true test of endurance for her, for me and for my sister. And now we must take a deep breath and keep pushing on. This is one endurance challenge that I am oh so very weary of. But it will go on, and I must find the will to deal with it, for there is no other way.

And then there's me. I have so much that I treasure and fiercely guard: My family, my home, my way of life. And yet here I am, it's almost 2012, and I'm still wondering, as I have every year of my conscious life: What will I be, who will I be, when I grow up?  

"None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am beginning to listen to the whisper and respect it's wisdom. I hear it clearest when I'm running and feeling strong, when I'm climbing and not feeling scared, when I'm reading to my daughter in the quiet darkness of her room, when I'm driving alone belting out some Coldplay song. What I need is courage and the will to create myself. So I will try to do what I am afraid to do. That's still too vague and ambiguous, but it's the best I can do for now. 

How about you? Where do you wish to take yourself? What will you write on the next page of the book that is your life?

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Goal List Thus far, 2012: Run the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon, run 3000 miles (I'm a bit over 2500 this year), do some things that I'm (irrationally) afraid to do. 
To be continued...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wren's Day: Thoughts on Resolutions

Today, 26 December, in Ireland is the day of the Feast of St. Stephen, also called Wren's Day:

Celtic myth had it that the robin that was suppose to represent the New Year killed the wren which represented the Old Year during this time. Wren Boys blacken their faces and go from house to house asking for money to bury the wren. The money they collect is used to buy food and drink for the "wren dance" held on this night.

Many cultural traditions embrace this 'out with the old and in with the new' idea marking the New Year as this critical turning point. Many of us look back on the past year with mixed emotions, some good, some bad, - and we have a feeling that the year now passing was either generally good or generally bad. But we always look to the New Year with the hope that it will be better. The New Year holds this secret power allowing us to renew ourselves - We get to hit the 'restart' button.

I've been doing this blogging thing for almost a year. It's been an interesting experiment thus far. For one thing it keeps me writing, for another, it keeps me honest - with myself, mostly.

Last January I proclaimed my desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon. I put it out there for anyone to see, and in a sense, put myself on the spot - What if I failed? What if I did not have the strength of will? What if it was shown that my ambitions far outreached my abilities?

In terms of running, I achieved what I set out to do. There's some satisfaction in that, to be sure. But running is easy. Life is not so easy. If I could bring to my life what I bring to running, that would be something else. So, this week I will spend some time thinking about what that means, and how to do it - And I will set some new running goals along the way. 

The notorious and much maligned German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, offers us an interesting idea when considering how to live our lives: Eternal Recurrence. To over simplify this idea it works something like this: Try to live your life in a way that you would wish to live it over and over, exactly the same, for all eternity. Oy! Now that's a tall order! And Nietzsche himself seems to have fallen far short of that lofty aspiration. But the truth of one's words and ideas is a separate issue from whether one measures up to those ideas.

In general I don't believe in making New Year's Resolutions, but I do believe that there are times to sit back and take stock...Now to think...and, I hope, to act...To be continued...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Run On Red Air Days

My husband and I were having a little conversation last evening as we were brushing our teeth and getting ready to turn in for the night - we were talking about injuries and treatments, which I have way too much experience with. I was recounting lots of injuries and how certain treatments did or did not help. My husband is a serious, elite, rock climber, bouldering V12 at the age of 47 - which is done by very few around the world. He has his share of aches and pains, but I deal with many more bodily woes on a more regular basis. And while he supports my running obsession, I don't think he really gets it because: a) I always seem to be dealing with some difficulty (injury), and b) I'm (naturally) a better climber than I am a runner.

And yet my obsession is running. Woe is me.

So, as we're talking about injuries, he asks me: "So explain to me again...How is running good for you?". I reply, "It isn't - I don't do it for that. If someone told you that climbing was bad for you, would you keep doing it?" He hesitated, and then said "It depends on what kind of 'bad' we're talking about". Well I tried to clarify, "It might not kill you, but it might hurt you from time to time". Then he admitted that, yes, he would probably still climb. For him, as for me, our obsessions are ends-in-themeselves, not merely means to ends.

And then I proudly proclaim, with a tinge of sheepish embarrassment, "I run on Red Air Days".

We all do what we do, and care about what we care about, for different reasons - our own, personal, reasons. Many people will consider me foolhardy for running in poor air, or while sick or injured - and I probably am. But I see running as a good in itself, and that sometimes means I walk a very fine line between what is prudent or reasonable and what is not.

The British Utilitarian Philosopher, John Stuart Mill, argued that complete personal freedom to do with one's body, mind, conscience, and expression is a necessary prerequisite to growth and happiness (and this applies to both the individual and the society as a whole) - even if everyone around us believes that what we're doing is pig-headed and idiotic, we must suffer fools (maybe not gladly) as long as they don't harm us. Why? Because this kind of self determination and passionate pursuit of what makes one happy (even if it ends up killing you), adds more life to your life.

So while there's much more to life than running, running adds more life to my life. 

This sometimes leads me to push it too far - but as with many things, we may not know how far too far is until we push it. And yet, if we don't push it, we will never know how far we could really go.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NYCM 2012: Anticipaaaaation...Anticipa-ation, Is Making Wait

I got the email today. Yes! The 2012 New York City Marathon registration opens on January 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm EST ( I've been waiting anxiously for this email and will now wait anxiously for January 2nd when I get to register, at long last, for the race I've wanted to run since I was 15 years old!

And yet, there's this little niggler of doubt peeking out from the recesses of my brain - Are they REALLY gonna let me register? I mean, really? Am I actually gonna get to say "I'm In" on January 2nd, or will they make me squirm a little longer? 

For the last two years I entered the lottery in October and then waited, with great anticipation, for months until the actual lottery drawing event - which as is everything in NYC - was a big deal. Each April my hopes were dashed as others ecstatically exclaimed for all to hear: "I'm In". So bloody happy for you all. Humph.

So I made a plan to finally thwart the efforts of the NYCM-man who's obviously singling me out (and all the other thousands of hopeful runners who apply to the lottery each year), dead set against ever letting me run this race - Okay, I did take it a tad too personally ;)

I will qualify, then they can't keep me out! And on October 9th, 2011, I ran the Denver Rock n Roll Half Marathon and got my qualifying time with minutes to spare. Having a qualifying time ensures guaranteed entry and guaranteed entry is guaranteed entry, right?

Nothing is a done deal until it's a done deal. So I must wait and hope.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Mutterings: The Marathon Bandwagon

 I've been around the block a few times...And 2012 marks 40 years of running - 40 years of identifying myself as a runner. Over the years I've gone through many phases and stages with running. But it was not until I had been road racing for several years, and regularly running 45-60 miles a week for at least 10 years that I took on a marathon. I had, and have, great respect for the marathon. Did I have too much respect for the distance? Was I just a wimp about this? Did I make a big deal out of nothing? Why did I spend all those years running 10ks when I could have just cut to the chase and done something more exciting?

Today it seems that many runners jump straight into a marathon. It seems that some see this step as a necessary prerequisite to calling themselves runners. Are we using the marathon as a proving ground, to show we've got what it takes, to show that we're 'real' runners? The running statistics over the past two decades indicate that we are in the midst of what some call a new running boom. But this boom is seen primarily in the number of new runners running marathons. There's been an explosion in the number of people running marathons driven by first timers and, more surprisingly, first timers who are also running novices. There are dozens upon dozens of "beginner" or "novice" marathon training plans available. Many new runners itching for a real challenge are assured that with the right training they too can have a fun and successful marathon.

But what's the rush? Why are so many new runners choosing to take on a marathon during their first year of running?  Or...Is running just too easy? Did I somehow miss this fact?

All those novice training programs assure us that we can do it easily, yes, easily, with a proper 16 week training program. It's right there, neatly written on just one page - all I need to do is right there. Follow that plan and, bingo, glory!  Dreams start streaming through my mind as I read through my "beginner" program and all those encouraging words of assurance: You can finish a marathon by learning some of the basics. Finishing a marathon is an accomplishment that less than 1% of people in the world can say they have achieved. You are about to be one of them! Yes.

Back in the day, runners were encouraged to get a couple years of running under their belts before considering a marathon. The theory, way back then (and even more reasonable and responsible advice today), was that you should probably not run a marathon until you have at least a year of running experience behind you with some shorter races thrown in. This allows you to develop and prepare the mind and muscles and tendons and joints for the miles and miles and miles of training ahead. Running shorter races gives you a chance to learn about race logistics, proper fueling and preparation, pacing, crowd management, etc - things you just don't have to deal with during regular training runs.

While the physical demands of training are enormous (especially for a new runner) the more important question is whether new runners have the "running maturity" (yes, that's a term I just cooked up) to run a marathon. By "running maturity" I'm referring to more than overall physical strength. Running a marathon and training effectively for a marathon is as much, or more, mental as it is physical. A new runner really has no idea what they're getting themselves into. How can they? Even someone who has been running for many years really can't know what's ahead when they decide to train for a marathon.

But newer runners are less likely to understand how to train effectively (having some idea of how to train and why you're training the way you're training), how to pace themselves based on reality not pie-in-the-sky dreams of momentary greatness (Oh, I've had many of these), how to recover, how to deal with injuries, how to fuel effectively, and on and on. A new runner probably hasn't had a whole lot of experience hearing the incessant, insistent voice inside their heads that asks (that pleads) over and over, "why are you doing this to me?". They don't yet have the confidence (because they lack the experience), that they can get through a long training run, never mind the race itself. On paper, a 16 week training plan seems pretty straight forward and simple. Follow each step as it's mapped out, and you've got yourself a done deal. It's easy as pie.

But I just keep coming back to the same questions: What's the rush? Why are so many jumping on the marathon bandwagon? Perhaps running really is just too easy. Putting one foot in front of the other 52,000 times can't be so tough. Can it? And can I really call myself a 'runner' if I haven't run a marathon?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's Luck Got To Do With It?

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.
- Jean-Paul Sartre

There is a part of me that believes that there is no such thing as luck - that luck amounts to no more then paying attention to the good and ignoring the bad. And yet, I am the first to curse my bad luck when I wake up on race morning greeted by the pounding of rain on the roof, a foot of fresh snow, or sweltering temperatures. I curse my bad luck when an injury creeps into my life uninvited at just the wrong time - at just the wrong damn time, I scream to the heavens! Why now? Why does this always happen to me? It's just not fair. I have the worst luck.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the nature of 'luck' because I'm injured (at what seems like a very bad time) and because my mother is gravely ill. I think runners tend to be a superstitious bunch - Some of us have our pre-race rituals, or we wear special underpants on race day - I've been wearing a C-Prime bracelet that I haven't taken off since qualifying for Boston in May. I always knock on wood when someone asks the dreaded question: "So, are you healthy?". If I am healthy I cringe, say as little as possible, and slink off into the shadows to find some wood to knock on. I am always afraid of dooming things when they are going well.

Now, being injured sucks for any runner but for me, right now, it more than sucks. It feels like a huge, monumental, unfair, and unlucky deal. Right now I'm 17 weeks out from the Boston Marathon and my anal retentive self likes 16 weeks of training. That gives me a little over a week to get all better - and I mean ALL better because anything less will make me nervous. In the past I've gone into marathon training injured and it proved to be an angst filled experience. Maybe it won't get better. Maybe it will just keep getting worse. I don't want to go there, not now, not for Boston.

Luck is also something my Mother is a bit fixated on right now as she continues her battle with very aggressive cancer. She bemoans her lifelong bad luck - and she is adamant that some people are lucky and some are not. She, in her view, is not. There is not a single case of cancer in her family, she points out. She comes from hearty stock and her seven siblings have all lived well into their 80s and 90s. What could explain this anomaly other than good ol' bad luck. When pressed on the subject she will quickly point out the many cases of bad luck that seem to follow her around like her own personal dark cloud, floating ominously above her head.

But in this case, I find myself arguing with her, challenging her - trying to make her see that she's choosing to see the bad only. It takes all my will power not to say to her: Well, at least you weren't born in Bangladesh. At least you haven't suffered the terror of genocide, starvation, etc. But that is little comfort - and the fact is, that there are people, even in Bangladesh, who do not curse their bad luck.

Years and years ago something seemingly unremarkable happened to me that stuck with me in some small but essential way. I was driving along on the Garden State Parkway in my Datsun B210 - It was a classic POS (piece-of-shit) car held together, literally, with Bondo and duct tape. Driving through one of the Oranges I found myself going through a long underpass/tunnel, where you're not allowed to change lanes. In front of me was a pick-up truck with a rack of pipes on top. I had this sudden urge to move out from behind the truck. At the moment I began my illegal lane shift, a pipe came flying straight out, as if shot out of a torpedo launcher, slicing through the air where I had been just 2 seconds earlier. Had I not shifted lanes, I have little doubt that I would have been killed. Was this a instance of good luck? Over the years I've asked myself this question many times. There may be an answer, but I'll never know it.

So when I am feeling particularly doomed, I try to look at all the good things. But it seems that there is much that we can't control. Is that 'luck'? I don't know. There's many things I do not choose. I did not choose my DNA, or where and when I was born. But I do get to choose how I deal with what's been handed to me. Shall I focus on the bad or the good? Wasting your life believing that you have bad luck will do nothing other than create a life filled with bad luck.

Am I lucky or am I unlucky? That really depends on how I view it. If I am feeling unlucky I will notice all the red lights that catch me on my way to work while failing to notice the Red Tail Hawk floating peacefully on an invisible current in the sky. If I am feeling unlucky I will notice the pain in my foot, but I may not notice the sweet smell of my daughter's neck as she hugs me tight. But then I hug her tight, and I am reminded that I am lucky - even though my foot is hurting.

As William James argues in "The Will To Believe", belief creates it's own truth.

Good luck to us all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When Races Go Bad

The subject of this post is not about bonking, puking, injuring yourself, or worse - It's about race organization and the duty organizers have to those running. I would like to suggest that race organizers have both a moral and legal duty to deliver what they promise. Runners sign up for races, pay good money (sometime VERY good money), and expect and plan for the race to provide what the organizers say they will provide. There were apparently two very poorly run races this past weekend: Hot Chocolate 15k/5k and Rock n Roll Las Vegas. The question is: What do race directors/organizers owe runners who register for their events? When things fall apart, what sort of accountability should race organizers be expected to assume?

I didn't run either of the above mentioned races, so I cannot comment first hand about what the situation was, but it seems clear that many runners had horrible experiences. Crowds and poor management/planning caused dangerous and uncomfortable situations. Many runners immediately jump to the conclusion that mega-organizers, like Competitor and their Rock n Roll series, is the root of these evils, and while I'm not super psyched to see the evolution of marathoning moving in the direction of the mega-corporate route, I'm not sure that that is THE problem.

Instead, I believe that greed plays a greater role, and greed is something that may plague both mega-races as and smaller, local races. Greed does not simply concern money and sponsorship. Greed also includes the desire for establishing a reputation - Dreams of Grandeur. Both these races were probably too big, and the organizers were ill equipped to deal with the sheer number of runners. They should have capped the races at lower numbers. Why they bit off more than they could chew is the real issue here.


Though mega-races have more issues to deal with. Let me offer my experience with two smallish Colorado marathons, one a nightmare and the other a fantastic experience that will keep me coming back for more. What makes the difference? Well, in one case the race director wants to create a world class marathon, and in the other case the race director hopes to run a really good Colorado Marathon.  Both are admirable aims if approached realistically.

In the fall of 2009 I ran the Boulder Marathon. It was local, on the roads I train on regularly, and small - all things I find appealing. It was my hometown marathon! I had to run it, right? I trained through the summer and felt ready to run the race. Race week was HOT, hitting the mid-to-high 80s all week. This did not bode well for me because I hate the heat. SO be it, I can do this things as long as I drink and account for the heat. Race morning dawned warm, as expected. By the 8 a.m. start the sun was already high and hot and a desiccating wind blew across the plains east of the Rocky Mountains. I peeled off as many layers of clothes as was legal. I brought a small hand held water bottle to fill at each water stop. This was going to suck, I told my husband, but I can do it.
At this point I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

What I didn't plan for was that some of the aid stations would run out of water and Gatorade - that is, they had NO Fluids. At about mid-race the temperature was 86 degrees.The last hour of this race was a death march for me. Cramped up runners literally littering the sides of the roads. Ambulance sirens rang out from all direction. Cars drove around picking up distressed runners. At around mile 23, a Subaru pulled up next to me. I was walking, the first time I have every walked in a race, my legs cramped in an agonizing, unrelenting spasm. Someone from the Subaru asked if I wanted a ride. Oh jeeze, I look that bad, I thought to myself. I looked into the car and saw it was full of half-dead looking runners, and shook my head defiantly, laughing a little at the absurdity of what I found myself in the middle of, and said "No thank you". I should have taken that ride. I made it to the end, barely. Looking back, I realize now that my symptoms were fairly serious and this could have been worse then just an awful race. By the time I reached the food tents, there was none - well, there were some banana halves left. And all the available water had been trucked out to the course. There might have been some beer. Somehow, I just wasn't in the mood.

Initially I swore I would never do another marathon. The experience rivaled the pain and effort of childbirth without the happy ending. But of course, that resolution was forgotten after the week of cramping subsided. After doing meticulous research and reading scores of reviews on Marathon Guide,  I signed up for the 2010 Colorado Marathon...

On Mother's Day 2010, the buses ferry us up the Poudre Canyon at 4:30 a.m. to the start of the race. The race begins at a chilly 6 a.m. The sun is just rising as we make our way down the canyon serenaded by the bubbling rumble of the Poudre River. What a wonderful way this is to start the day.

 This race is capped pretty low because of the narrow canyon road. The race usually fills by early January, so the organizers are clearly making a decision to keep it manageable given the logistics of the venue. In my opinion, this is a smart move. Everything about this race went off without a hitch. There was water and Heed at every aid station (which were plentiful). And while this race, on this day, didn't have to deal with any unusual circumstances (eg. bad weather), it was pretty warm, probably in the mid-70s, once we left the the shade of the canyon for the last 10ish miles. The Colorado Marathon doesn't have the crowds and the glitz of a big city, mega-race, but it is a runners marathon.


Big or small, when a runner signs up for a race, pays the entry fee, trains for the race, etc. they are expecting, and have a right to expect, that they will be given what the organizers say they will offer. If there are aid stations, then those aid stations should be equipped with aid! Duh. Runners make their plans (ie. should I carry my own water/fuel) based on what organizers say they will have available on the course. Running out of water, or anything else promised is unacceptable. Period. If the organizers have failed to keep their end of the agreement it seems that they owe something to the runner's who they've let down. It's simple: They've violated their end of the agreement and the runner has not received what she paid for. 

In response to the 2009 Boulder Marathon fiasco, the director responded with (lame) excuses: He explained that they ordered enough water but it wasn't all delivered., and, that the weather was hotter than expected. To both weasily excuses I say "Piffle". Who's job is it to check on supplies? And, the weather reports for the entire week clearly predicted very hot (80s) conditions for a marathon and half marathon.

We all sign waivers when we register for races, and I suppose that I have been remiss for not reading them very closely. My bad. But regardless of the stated legal responsibilities that races may or may not assume, it seems there is some moral demand to do what you promise to do. Failing to do so puts runners at grave risk that they can not anticipate. So what do we have coming to us when we sign up for races? Is it up to the race directors what we have a 'right' to with our registration? Do the races have no moral and/or legal duty to deliver what they assure us they will offer? My main gripe is with for-profit groups like Competitor, RAM Racing, and other non charity races (big or small) that seem to be offering a 'product' (as much as I hate referring to races that way), but it looks more like a case of "bait-and-switch".

We probably won't see this issue discussed in the pages of Runner's World or Running Times. These magazines depend on the advertising dollars and are unlikely to bite the hands that feed them. But it behooves us, as the runners, who actually run these races, to get the world out and tell our stories. Support well run races, large or small. And to the race organizers who fail to meet their end of the bargain: I think you owe us our money back, at least. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Crazy Making Stuff of Life

There's been a strange combination of crappiness in my household that has left me feeling that all is not well with the Force. I am often all too aware of the shortcomings of the world around me - I teach ethics, after all, and right now I'm teaching Environmental Ethics -  and that forces me to talk and think about some pretty unpleasant and depressing things. But I always find solace in my home, with my husband and daughter, our two cats, and one cranky old dog. Our little house on the prairie in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains full of love and life and energy and thoughtfulness always provides a refuge from the world out there. But this week something was out of whack - all was not well in the best of all possible homes...

First, crappiness #1: As you all know by now, because of my incessant whining, I'm injured. It's not serious, but it's tedious, I don't have a clue how long it will last, and I can't really run - "really" meaning that I've pushed it a bit for what I refer to as "woggles" = walk/jog/waddle - but those woggles are: a) not very satisfying, and b) they leave me wondering if not doing them would speed up my healing so that I could get back sooner to 'real' running which would be satisfying. So when I'm not running I'm neither pleasant to be around, nor am I as able to deal as well with life's difficulties.

Which brings me to crappiness #2: My daughter seemed/seems to be going through something, I knew/know not what. My daughter is a happy soul - sincere and caring. Unlike her two cranky old parents, she is the ray of sunshine in the house and she is the absolute love of our lives. I feel connected to this little being in a way I've never felt before. When we hangout together or go for long walks we talk the whole time. But then, in just one day, like the switch of a light, she changed. At first I couldn't put my finger on it: Lots of whining and constant complaints, talking back but otherwise not talking much at all, claiming she needed time alone hiding behind the curtains in her room, being mean (with a smile on her face!), grunting at everything we said - She turns five next week - but in one day I saw my daughter turn into a 13 year-old before my horrified eyes. At first I thought she was just testing us, pushing the limits, and we responded with timeouts and taking things away from her. But then I began to feel in my very being that something was very wrong, and she wasn't just being a bad kid...something serious had happened.

But let's return, for a second, to crappiness #1 - perhaps nothing had changed with her, perhaps it was me. I'm not as patient and reasonable when I can't run. There's no way for me to release stress and process things when I can't run. Perhaps it was crappiness #1 that was actually causing me to believe that crappiness #2 was real. But, perhaps crappiness #2 was a creation of my running denied mind and soul.

Oh, and don't let me forget crappiness #3 - My Mother has been battling a very aggressive form of breast cancer since March, and I spend at least an hour on the phone each and every day trying to cheer her on and keep her spirits up. She has surgery scheduled for this coming Tuesday, and while this is what we've all been working for, I'm scared. I'm scared for her and I'm scared for me.

Returning to my daughter...My husband's assurance that this was not all in my head, left me spinning - Okay this isn't just me - And this may sound melodramatic (because it no doubt is), but I looked into her eyes and I didn't see her there. I was terrified, about what I'm not sure. I'm sure that 'experienced' parents would laugh at my overreaction - but I felt that something was deeply wrong with all that I care about.

And in that moment, running meant nothing to me anymore. It could not save me in this case. I needed my daughter back...

Did something happen at school? Did someone hurt her? Was her new friend either upsetting her or encouraging this acting out? We asked her what was wrong. She clammed up. Alarms went off in my head and heart. Then we thought hard about the last few days: Tuesday night she had had a traumatic experience with a splinter (splinters are the only thing this kid has a totally irrational, almost phobic, fear of) It was under her fingernail and it needed to come out. After more than an hour of bargaining and histrionics, my husband and I held her tight and in literally 2 seconds I had it out. Instantly she was calm.

All was well again...and yet, it wasn't...

Last night the dam of silence broke in an instant. My husband and I realized that in some way, unintentionally, we had violated a trust and Sophia was pissed at us and scared and confused. We started talking about it, and suddenly SHE returned.The realization that your child has an inner life that may not always be shared with you can be terrifying. But my husband and I learned something momentous today.

I still can't run, and I'm not happy about it, but my world is okay again because, as important as running is, nothing is more important than my family. Sometimes, when I'm feeling really sorry for myself, I need to be reminded of this.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Injury = One Cranky Chronic

A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú, misneach chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.
O Lord, 
grant me the Serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom
to know the difference.

I am feeling pathetic. I am feeling whiny. I am not pleasant to be around right now. Why? Because I have, of all the lame injuries in the world, a bruised heel. Not a big deal really, but right now it feels like a big deal because I can't run right now and I want to run right now! I don't want to wait until tomorrow, and I better be able to run tomorrow or else I'll lose it! Of course yesterday I was thinking - tomorrow, maybe, I can go for a little run. But then today dawned, which was tomorrow yesterday, and I discovered, much to my chagrin, that I had not been miraculously healed (heeled?) while I slept, and when I pressed on my heel the twinge was still there. Nooooooooooooo...

I went for a nice 23 mile bike ride yesterday which provided a pleasant distraction and actually allowed me to get out and move through the world, outside, listening to the robins chirp and the wind blow. But today winter blew in with 9 inches of snow. I can't run. I can't bike. I can't bloody stand it! What to do, what to do...? I want to jump right outta my skin!

Of course what an injured runner does first is go online and read up on treatments for their particular malady and read stories of others who have suffered similar fates. You read of the hopeful stories and the stories of doom where a little thing blossoms into a huge problem that sidelines some poor running soul for weeks or, gasp, months.You are determined to follow the path of the hopeful not the doomed. And yet you want to run...when will it be safe to run again?

Of course I probably shouldn't be writing this WHEN I'm actually injured. I should be writing this after the fact, when I can be encouraging and introspective - After the injury I might say something like: relax, give your body a break. Focus on healing and do something you never have time for when you're spending all your free time running. Accept that this is part of the game of being an athlete. It's these times that make you hungry for and thankful that you can run. Keep the big picture in mind. This too shall pass...Blah, blah, blah.

But right now I am feeling neither encouraging nor introspective. I'm feeling like a five year-old being told that she can't do any of the things she really wants to do. I want to have a meltdown. I want to throw a fit.

I go through all the five stages of grief over the course of 5 minutes, every five minutes, for 24 hours, everyday: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance...Over and over and over... all through the day. My poor family. My poor friends. Have mercy on them all...

And while I appreciate all the well wishes, all the assurances that I will be stronger for this, the fact is that I am not a patient person - and worst of all is that I really really like to run. I feel that something is missing from my very being when I can't run, that there is a hole in my soul. Melodramatic? You better believe it.

And all this self absorbed whining is coming from someone who, not so very long ago, was told she would never run again. The fact is, it's always hard and it never gets any easier, and yet it is a fact of a runner's life which none of us will ever accept patiently.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Are Runners So Prickly About their Pace?

Well my last blog post caused a bit of a brouhaha when I posted it on Facebook. It seems everyone assumed I was harshing on the so called 'slow runners'. THAT was not the point of my last blog post. The point of my last post was that it doesn't serve anyone's interests to have runners running very different paces in fairly close quarters.

I was not commenting on 'slow' runners, but many self-professed back-of-the-packers/slow runners seemed hurt that I wasn't acknowledging their right to run. Alas, that was not what I was saying. I was saying exactly the opposite: Everyone has a right to run THEIR race when they sign up for an event.  I did say, at several points in that post, that whatever 'racing' meant to you you should be permitted to do it. The problem is when your choices or the way the race is organized (and that was my main issue) sometimes interferes with the aim of certain individuals.

Political philosophers take great pains to try to understand 'liberty' - what it is, what it allows and what its constraints may be. A general and somewhat uncontroversial definition of liberty goes something like this: Each individual is allowed to exercise a liberty to the extent that others make exercise like liberties.

So while that rules out certain behaviors, those behaviors were not the concern of that post.
But, I'll leave the running/racing etiquette issue for another post...

However, during the discussion a larger issue became apparent and I think it needs to be addressed - and that is the strange double-edged-sword mentality that many runners fall prey to:
1) Defensiveness about their pace. They seem to be concerned that they are 'slow', but at the same time they maintain that they have every right to be slow -  and yet they still seem defensive about their 'slowness'.
2) The belief that if someone isn't 'fast'- ie. running Olympic qualifying times - then they really have no business being concerned about their races? So, only those who are really fast have a right to worry about their race results and the rest of us slow pokes should just have fun.
I don't understand this juxtaposition. First, why are so many runners so defensive about the pace they run? Running is a personal challenge, and that's the beauty of it. I can't even race my younger self, never mind someone else. I'm racing ME. I have goals that are mine alone. Do I like to compete against other women my age? Sure, no doubt about it. But that's only because it helps me push myself. I would rather set a PR then win my age group any day. What I run may be slow or fast based on where you're at, but that shouldn't really matter to you or to me. So my comments about running with people who were running at a slower pace simply concerns how this creates a difficult situation for everyone and my primary concern is when races are organized to create just this situation.

However, self-professed slow/back-of-the-pack runners seem to succumb to self-denigrating feelings about how slow they are, while simultaneously getting all prickly about how they have a right to be slow. There's often a tone of apology, and some even refer to their running as 'waddling' - and I'm sure that John Bingham would be proud -  but there's often a tone of righteousness as well. According to many runners I'm slow. Should I feel bad about this and apologize for my relatively slow pace? No. Should I feel that somehow I don't measure up? No. Should I feel that I'm a sucky runner? No. Should I be telling myself and everyone around me that,  "Yeah, I suck and I have every right to suck, so there", or, "Yeah, I'm slow and damn proud of it".? Why is that even an issue? That doesn't do anything for anyone. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who is out there, by definition, doesn't suck and isn't 'slow' in any objective sense. We need to stop denigrating ourselves and judging ourselves based upon how we think others judge us - because it just ain't true.

On the other edge of the sword is the view that I shouldn't worry about my race times if I'm not world class. Somehow, race times only really matter if you're going for an Olympic qualifier. But this notion seems to run counter to the above claim, that being, that I have a right to run my race even if I'm slow. And yet these two views seem to be expressed by the same individuals.

In logic there is a thing called "double think" - where a person believes two things that are mutually exclusive. I believe  this is an instance of double think: 1) I have a right to run regardless of my pace, and 2) I really shouldn't be concerned about my race if I'm not really fast. Of course #2 pretty much applies to 99% of us.

I agree with #1 and I disagree with #2 - and I maintain, that you can't reasonably hold both views. Furthermore, I think we hold ourselves back and undermine our efforts by maintaining such irreconcilable beliefs.

According to #2,  I guess I'm just supposed to go out there and have fun and to-heck-with-it if I have a sucky race. Sure I train 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, through rain and snow and heat and exhaustion...but it's all just about fun, right? I say that that is a big stinking pile of BS.

Most runners do it for fun AND for other reasons that may actually be more uplifting. For me it's not JUST about having fun. For me it's about the challenge, the exploration (of myself and my world), the discovery...and who knows what else...

Just run and let others do likewise.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Quick Thought On Race Logistics and Contest Results

You're running the last miles of your 10k, marathon, half marathon, etc. and suddenly you run into (literally, sometimes) a gridlock as you merge with other runners running another race. This has happened to me several times this past year and I have to wonder if there isn't some reasonable solution.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, I ran the Anthem Turkey Day 10k in Broomfield, Co. The race was well run, and the course was open and tough. But about a mile and a half from the finish the 10k runners and the 5k runners merged together for the rest of the race. I was running around a 7 min pace at that point and that put all the 10k runners in with the 8-9 min pace 5k runners (that's how the times worked out for the two races joining). As you can imagine, this led to a bobbing-and-weaving finish for the 10k runners who were obviously running at a faster pace then the 5k runners. Luckily, we were on a pretty wide road so it was manageable, though still difficult to focus on running instead of navigating. I've run several races on bike paths where you are forced to run through tall grass and weeds to get around slower walkers completing different races (eg. Eerie Erie, Colorado Marathon, Boulder Marathon).

The question is: Does this make sense? I realize that I am not a race director and I can't possibly have any idea how difficult it is to coordinate these things, but as a runner I can attest to the difficulty of navigating around families running 4 abreast, baby joggers (and I've run with one lots) and those out for a beautiful day fitness walk. I'm not complaining about their reasons for being out there (though it would be considerate for walker to give runners some room to pass) and I'm happy to see everyone out doing their thing -  But the fact is that runners and walkers and joggers often don't mix well on the same course.

A classic example is the Boulder Marathon. This event offers a full marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, and 10k. All the races are run on parts of the same course. When I ran this marathon in 2009 the last few miles were clogged up with half marathoners, most of whom were walking - that year the half marathon was started an hour after the full. So those running the full inevitably arrived at the last four or five shared miles with the slower half marathoners. Even with a wide road, I was forced to weave around groups of half marathoners. The mix just didn't work and it's no fun to be constantly saying "on your left" for the last four miles of a marathon.  

Back when I started racing, in the 1980s, most races offered one option - it was a 10k or 5k or half marathon or marathon event - Not all at once. Today races offer us a menu of options, and that's nice, but with that menu we are forced to deal with logistical challenges. How do you manage two, three, or four separate races run on pretty much the same course and at pretty much the same time? My experience is that it's not working so well for the runners - at least not the runners who are interested in racing (regardless of what pace 'racing' may mean for them).

What do you think? Am I the only runner out there dealing with this?

Hmmm. Next post on running/racing etiquette?????????????????

Chronic Runner T-shirt Contest:

I really want to give everyone a T-shirt!! I wish I could, but alas, I am just a poor teacher :( So I put everyone's name into a running shoe box (seemed appropriate and I have lots of them;) and a name was drawn.

And I have a winner! {lifeasa}RunningMom  

For all of my followers and readers, I want to thank you for reading and commenting and supporting this exercise, this discussion, this process.

"You just want somebody listening to what you say. It doesn't matter who you are..."
...This is for you.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where The Sidewalk Ends: The Socioeconomic Divide

Sidewalks are disappearing in urban areas, where they're most necessary. Perhaps this is happening because people have stopped using them or perhaps people have stopped using them because they're disappearing. For years I have returned to my childhood home in New Jersey and when I am there I run. Here the traffic is thick and fast and dangerous. I literally take my life into my hands when I run there. Over the course of 20+ years of running the same routes year after year, I have witnessed the disintegration of sidewalks - they slowly break up, crumble away and disappear - never to be replaced and I am forced to battle it out with the ever increasing and aggressive traffic.

Recently Runner's World ran a piece about the "whiteness" of running - and it got me thinking about something I've thought about many, many times - and that is the "wealthiness" of running. Of course in this country 'whiteness' and 'wealthiness' go hand in hand as many statistics clearly show. It seems that running is most enjoyed by those in the upper income brackets. There are some obvious reasons for this, but it seems that having leisure time and a safe place to run are the main prerequisites for developing the running habit. Other reasons include: disposable income available for gear, and perhaps most importantly, cultural/social support of and encouragement for such pastimes.

There is an amusing blog and book, published several years ago, called "Stuff White People Like" - and I'm sure somewhere on the list must be: Running. If there's also a book out there called "Stuff Fairly Well-Off People Like" running will also be on the list. When I posed this question to many, many runners both in person and online, collecting responses from those in the U.S. and internationally, the response was predictable, but disheartening nonetheless: The almost universal response was: that's the way it is with everything - The Socioeconomic divide is just the way things are, and at least running isn't as bad as golf or skiing or triathlon... 

Well, I teach ethics for a living, and so I spend my life's energy thinking about how things OUGHT to be, not how they ARE. Call me idealistic or unrealistic if you wish, but much positive change has begun with such ridiculous speculations: Think about slavery, women's rights, segregation laws, child labor laws... 

So, I think that this socioeconomic divide must be addresses, discussed, debated, and ultimately resolved. Saying that this is how life is, that no one ever said life would be/is fair, or some other such blather, does nothing for the world. To say that what is, is what is, and that is how it's always going to be is maintaining something that is logically fallacious, historically incorrect, and (possibly) morally corrupt. As I've written in previous posts, I believe that running makes for a better world, so I'm always interested in getting more people out running because I want to live in a better world and I want to leave a better world to my daughter.

Besides the folks who claim that that's just life, there are those who maintain that: "If you really love something enough you will make the sacrifices to keep doing it." Now I see at least two problems with this position: a) We have a chicken-and-egg problem. You have to be a runner first before you understand that it's something you want to do - something to make time for, something to make sacrifices for, something to strive for; and, b) For many people survival is the issue, not running, and there is nothing to 'sacrifice' besides necessities that can't be sacrificed. How presumptuous is it to say to someone living in poverty or living in a dangerous neighborhood, that if they really want it they can have it. This attitude seems to be reflect a very American upper/middle-class unwillingness to see that sometimes people can be in extremely dire situations - Sometimes it due to their own choices, and sometimes it the result of circumstances entirely out of their control. This latter possibility makes people very nervous and so we pretend it doesn't exist.

Add to that the fact that we, as a culture, do nothing to encourage that segment (poor or minority) of the society to join us, and the claims discussed above seem just plain ignorant and out of touch. If you live in a place where traffic makes all the streets unsafe to run on and sidewalks are few and far between (and yes, there are places like that - but "fairly well-off people" don't go to those places) then you probably won't run. It's difficult enough to keep up the running habit in the best of circumstances - but when everything is working against you - No time, no money, unsafe environment (in every way), no support - you probably won't do it.

Returning to New Jersey...I run when I'm there. I do it because I must. I do it because I am already a runner. But would I become a runner today had it been like that when I was younger? Would I take up running now if I lived there now? I don't know. But we certainly aren't doing much to spread the good word. We smugly sit back and pat ourselves on the back for making the necessary sacrifices. The fact that this problem exists in everywhere should provide little comfort. Running doesn't require a lot to do. But support and encouragement and inclusion goes a long way.

Some organizations that work with underrepresented groups:
Girls on the Run 
While Girls on the Run focuses on getting girls running, many of the programs can be found in the inner-city, urban areas. If there isn't one near you, they are always looking for new people to start programs.
Back On My Feet
"Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that promotes the self-sufficiency of those experiencing homelessness by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. Back on My Feet (BoMF) does not provide food nor does it provide shelter, but instead provides a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. All members - regardless of race, education or socioeconomic status - join together to move their own lives forward as well as the lives of their teammates."


Here's some demographic data for readers of Runner's World: This is not necessarily completely representative of the running community, but it is still telling:

any college 87%
grad college+ 60%

employed 75.0%
prof/mgr 42%

median hhi $111,929
average hhi $120,877

household income

$60,000+ 81%
$75,000+ 74%
$100,000+ 57%

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Mutterings: T-shirts, Tshirts, T-shirts...

I've run 13 races this year with at least 3 more to go by end of the year. Thus far I've collected 11 tech t-shirts and 2 cotton/blend t-shirts. By the end of the year I will have 2 more tech shirts and a beanie (the Colder Bolder hands out beanies instead of shirts) I've handed off the shirts that are too large to my husband - He loves tech shirt for bouldering and hiking in the high country - though I always hand them off with a little pang of regret. "Be proud when you wear that - it was a tough race you ran". These silly t-shirts can remind us of a particularly memorable, difficult, or successful race. They're not just t-shirts to me.

But the question is, for those of us who run even more than a few races a year: what can we possible do with all these tech shirts? They're not exactly the type of shirts you just 'wear around' when you're not running, or doing some other sweaty activity.

I've done some searching online to find charitable organizations that take donated t-shirts and distribute them to people in need around the world, and they're difficult to find. Often, if you drop clothing along a race course that clothing will be donated to a shelter - but are tech t-shirts really what people in need of clothing want and can use? It seems that perhaps budding Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, or American inner city running programs for adults and kids could actually use these shirts but that seems to be the extent to their use - because truth be told, they're very good for running, but not much good for anything else.

I guess I'd rather see races return to the days of handing our cotton/blend t-shirt which we can actually wear with pride when we're out and about running errands, taking the kids the soccer games or the playgrounds, having coffee, doing yard work, and just living life. Runners like to wear their badges of glory, aka. race t-shirts. But I'm just not going to be wearing a tech t-shirt to go to the grocery store. So, tech t-shirts seem like a bit of a waste. 

I also find myself with piles of gently used running shoes - they have lots of miles on them but they still have some life left in them. Three shopping bags full of shoes are sitting in my garage waiting to be carted of the the Boulder Running Company to be donated to One World Running which donates running shoes to needy people around the world. So, why not do something like this with t-shirts.

My daughter is a big fan of the PBS kid's show "Sid the Science Kid", and Sid always comes up with some crazy "super-duper-uper-big-idea" at the end of every show. So, here's my super-duper-uper-big idea: Start an organization that collects tech t-shirts to be distributed to running programs around the world.

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Madness

It's precisely 6:37 a.m. on a coldish November Monday morning. I am running my usual Monday morning loop which is a mix of roads and trails. I use the roads to hook up the somewhat disjointed trail system that weaves through eastern Boulder County. The trails are quiet and peaceful at this hour. The darkness and cold weather has reduced the bike commuter traffic considerably (wimpy cyclists;) and so I enjoy getting lost in my thoughts and listening to the robins wake up. I reach Niwot, a cut little bedroom community just northeast of Boulder. Most of the streets are wide and open and sidewalks are few and far between.

I'm running, always against the traffic, on a particularly quiet street when a jeep approaches me. Her right wheels are about 6 inches from the curb (no exaggeration) and she is most certainly exceeding the posted speed limit. As she gets closer she does not swerve from her course until the very last minute, right before she almost runs me down. I look at her, undoubtedly, with an expression of surprise and disgust, and see her vehemently gesticulating. Her arm flails around as her finger points hard in the direction of the sidewalk. Hmmm, I suppose she feels very strongly that I should be on the sidewalk.

Apparently her anger at me is worth possibly killing me. I do what I can. I jump out of the way (yes, onto the sidewalk) and, of course, gesture back.  It was clear that she had me in her sights two blocks away. What could she have been think? What is she REALLY angry about?  I'm not in her way. We are the only two creatures anywhere in sight. The road is wide and open. But she is so spitting-mad at me.

Well, good morning to you too! 

Farther along, at every street crossing, the cars seem to be gunning for me. Is it just me, or is something up?  What's with all the anger? Is it just another Monday morning and you're hating your life, so you take it out on me? Man, just go for a run!

I find that the angry streets just keep getting angrier - whether I'm running or driving or biking. And it has, most certainly, gotten worse over the past 30 years. And, there seems to be a pecking order, of sorts, at work:  the car threatens to run down the bike and the runner. And bike, sometimes, threatens to run down the runner. It's like picking on the kid who's smaller than you on the playground. I believe that there's a sense of anonymity that people feel when they're moving quickly on some sort of machine and that seems to embolden people to act badly. Interesting, Colorado cyclists have the "Bicycle Safety Law" which require cars to give cyclist 3 feet of space when passing - this law does not apply to runners (or any pedestrians). So I suppose that woman in the the Jeep had every legal right to practically run over my toes.

But what's the point of all this anger and animosity? Am I annoying people because I'm out running? Clearly I'm not interfering with their plans, their lives, their comings and goings. And yet, my very presence seems to have annoyed the hell out of this poor woman.

In 399 BCE Socrates was convicted and condemned to death, ostensibly for asking difficult questions and challenging his fellow Athenians to live better lives. He did this simply by living his life - he lived according to his values and firmly held beliefs about what a valuable human life entailed. Before he is led off to drink his hemlock cocktail he warns his accusers that killing those who challenge them and their ideas and their judgements, or ask them to account for themselves and their actions, will only cause more problems and solves nothing:  
"...that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves."
It was this quote that came to mind when this woman pretty much tried to crush me. She's not the first to do so, nor will she be the last. And, all those people who tried to run me over on this beautiful fall morning went on their not-so-merry way, to spread more of the same, no doubt. All I can possibly say to all of them is: For heaven sake, just go for a run! You'll feel better and you won't feel the need to run me over next time we cross paths.

Make yourselves happy, and let the rest of us do the same. Better yet, why don't we all encourage everyone to do the same. Smile when you run. It sets good example.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Not Being So Patient: NYCM 2012

New Jersey, 1979: I am a high school runner, captain of the cross country and track teams, at a small New Jersey prep school. Today, when I look back I see the makings of a future road runner. I routinely got up before sunrise to run through the cold, dark streets of my neighborhood as house lights began to click on, beginning a new day. This was not a common thing to do, at least not for a teenage girl, and I don't even know where, when, or how the idea occurred to me to do this. No doubt it was the early morning laps my father and sister and I ran around Cedar Brook Pond that began when I was 8 years old. Even today, 30+ years later, cold, dark morning runs take me back to those mornings. This is the year, 1979, that my father and I take the NJ transit train from Metropark to Manhattan to watch the New York City Marathon. Grete Waitz has returned to defend her title following her out-of-nowhere victory and world record setting run in 1978. We make our way to central park to get as close to the finish as possible. As I watch, Grete Waitz glides by, the crowd cheering a deafening cheer. The energy and excitement shooting through the air vibrates my skin into chills. Wave upon wave of runners stream past us and the cheering continues, on and on...

And on that day in November, 1979, I said to myself, inside my head, I must run this race. I will run this race...


I am the first to admit that I am not the most patient person when it comes to running:  I want my running times to come down, now, and I take a dim view of situations that interfere with my running plans - in this case, that would be having to wait to register for the 2012 NYCM. Last year and the year before I registered for the New York City Marathon lottery a year before the race - the day after the current year's race - and then sat back and waited, feeling the anticipation grow as April approached, hoping that this would be my year. Both times my hopes were dashed among the excitement of others posting they're "I'm in" news. The green-eyed monster left me feeling sour and grim. Humph.

At some point this past year I decided to stick it to the proverbial NYCM-Man and qualify for guaranteed entry - You can't keep me out, you NYCM-Man, you. So there. Ha. I ran my qualifying race on October 9th, 2011, and a few days later, new qualifying requirements were released by the NYCM. Arggg. No fair, No fair, I whined like a four year-old who'd just been cut-off in line for the slide. I didn't read, until later that day, the fine print saying that the new qualifying times wouldn't apply to the 2012 race because the qualification period was already open. So I walked around that day feeling bitter and doomed. Ah, the NYCM-Man got me again. I was beginning to take this just a bit personally. Once I calmed down and regained my composure, I did indeed see that the new times applied to the 2013 race. Phew.  The world was again a brighter place. Now, I not-so-patiently, waited for the day after the 2011 race: The day I would register for guaranteed entry into the 2012 NYCM.

November 7th comes, and there's no information about registration - nothing about the 2012 race - nada. I start franically searching the internet and posting questions on Facebook. I send the NYCM an email because the only thing I can find about qualifying guaranteed entries says: "please contact us by April 20 via email at if you run a fast qualifying time." In return I receive an auto response about the 2011 race. Rumors begin to circulate on facebook. Everyone's wondering - What's up?

I guess I'll just have to be patient. And yet I will not relax until I have my registration in hand, so to speak. I begin to wonder, is "guaranteed" really guaranteed? Should I cover my bases and enter the lottery since this would be my third year in a row to apply - and no doubt be rejected - thanks NYCM-Man - which would then get me a guaranteed entry for 2013. Am I feeling just a little paranoid here?

Oh, the heck with it. Give me a reason to go after the new qualifying times. I dare you.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Confessions of a Born Again Racer

A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú, misneach 

chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.
O Lord, 
grant me the Serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change the courage

 to change the things I can,
and the wisdom
to know the difference.

Driving home from my 10k this morning I had the uncomfortable, though necessary, realization that I will have to work a lot harder to accomplish what I want to accomplish than I had to work 20 years ago. Perhaps my memory is skewed. My recollection is that in my 20s I did not work super hard for a sub-40 minute 10k. Now, I know I did work for it and I raced a lot, but I didn't work really hard and my training was somewhat haphazard. Now 20 years later I feel just as strong physically, and stronger mentally - but it just seems that I'm falling short of what I want to do.

I took a long hiatus from racing - from about the time I was 27 until 45! I still ran a lot, but I focused my athletic energy on rock climbing (which, quite honestly, I'm probably naturally better at). The truth is that I got burned out on racing in my 20s. I put too much pressure on myself. I started to hate racing and the anxiety it brought with it. And just like that, I quit. I never looked back...until my mid-40s.

After having my daughter (at the ripe old age of 43) I developed a tenacious case of calf tendinitis which didn't seem to respond to any sort of treatment (my theory is that it came from pushing the baby jogger 50+ miles a week). My PT recommended an MRI to rule out any tears - and the results of the MRI were grim. I was told by the very nice nurse on the other end of the telephone that my running days were over. Bamm. Fini.

Like that, I'm standing in a store and someone tells me that my life as I've always known it is over.  Like that, I am no longer a runner. Like that, everything around me begins to blur, literally, and I think that I might just collapse, right there in the store - and I don't care what anyone else might think. Like that, I am thrust deep into an identity crisis. Like that, some central part of me is given a terminal diagnosis.

I am then told, very matter-of-factly, that there is nothing that can be done for me. "You're too young for a knee replacement" the nice nurse assures me. Knee replacement! Knee replacement! I've never had a bloody ache in my knee, ever! Not ever! I want to scream at her - This can't be. But an MRI is an MRI - and so it must be true. Oh my God, it must be true.

Immediately, it occurs to me that there are many, many (running) things I have put off until later. I always had a picture of myself running until the day I die - or at least way into my senior years. There were races I always wanted to do...someday. But now what? Someday would never come. I always wanted to run New York - since I was a child - but now I can't, ever.

For the next few months I vacillated between feeling inconsolably depressed and resigned, to feeling stubborn indignation, determined to make sense of what made no sense. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, I chided myself. But the fact remained: My knee didn't hurt.  And so I set off to find some answers that did make sense. However it turned out, I just wanted it to make sense.

What the orthopedic surgeon at Stegman Hawkins in Denver told me, is that my knee wasn't the problem. Oh sure, my knee was/is not perfect. Sure there's small tears, and some thinning of articular cartilage, and delamination (yum) etc. but those things are asymptomatic. He said that after the age of 30 most of us don't really want to know what's going on in our joints: Our knees, our backs, our shoulders, our hips - because those changes aren't causing problems, and they may never cause problems, but knowing about them can cause problems because we worry.

Ten months after this all began, I was running again - slowly. I had, quite by accident, stumbled upon a treatment (dry needling) that finally worked for me. The diagnosis that made sense: Tendinosis. The reason it made sense is that it was consistent with my symptoms and it responded to appropriate treatment. 

And yet I feel I am running on borrowed time. I do worry.  Every time I feel the tiniest twinge in my knee I think: There it is, I'm done. It does cause worry, but it also drives me to do what I can while I can do it. And so I realize that I must work harder - and perhaps harder than I did when I was younger because, well, I'm older but I'm really not satisfied with using that as an excuse. I really do want to see what I have in me - what I can do. I never really pushed myself when I was younger, and so I must now or perhaps lose my only chance to see what I have in me. I am racing no one but myself and time and the desire to do what I can do while I can still do it. I will never again take this for granted. I wish I could have made my younger-self understand this. But perhaps that's just one of the lessons we learn along the way, if we're paying attention. Better late than never.

And so 2012 is the year I will run Boston and NYC. I've qualified for both. Now's the time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Running or Jogging

I ran up the road toward my house finishing up a 10 miler and the obligatory two mile steady uphill churn that ends all my runs from home. A strange looking character walks toward me. As I get closer I realized that it is a guy with a parachute wrapped around his shoulders and bundled in a bunch in his arms. He weaves about, looking this way and that. He's on a cell phone and it becomes clear once I get closer that he has just landed and is trying to tell his pick-up crew where he is. As I pass him I hear him say; "Yeah, I see you,  I'm right ahead. Do you see a jogger?"

Argggggg. What did he just call me? A 'jogger'? A 'jogger'? I am not bloody jogger chump-face!

My husband and I have a little game we play whenever we see someone running veerrrry slooooowly - we instantly turn to each other and ask:  "running or walking?". Then there's the "running or jogging" distinction that's even more challenging to discern. I will say, from the outset, that I am NOT a jogger. Never have been, never will be. But what really separates the runners from the joggers? Is it speed? Is it running races? Do runners run everyday? Do runners have to be obsessed with running? Is it high tech fabrics vs. cotton sweats? Is it 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers and piles of old running shoes filling up the closets? Is it one's own subjective definition of one's self?  Is it attitude?

Is it speed? I say 'No'. When I run slow I'm running slow, not jogging. Or, perhaps I am a runner who's out for a jog. But does that then make me a 'jogger'. Ooooff. I hope not. Likewise, do I need to be running a 7 min/mile pace to be a runner? I once read, years and years ago in Runner's World, that running started at an 8 min/mile pace. I can't remember who said it, but it was someone (a running authority!) who should have "known" what "running" truly was and wasn't. For some reason this stuck with me like a tiny thorn in my foot. At the time this pace wasn't difficult for me to maintain even on easy runs. But today - well let's just say, most of my 15-24 milers (and plenty of shorter and easier runs) must qualify as jogs according to this (bogus) definition. Hey, what do you say we go out for a nice 24 mile jog ;) Piffle I say.

Is running about racing? I say 'No'. I ran for years without racing. I ran 50 miles a week, and never ran a race for probably 10 years. I was still a runner because I ran. I was not, however, a racer at that time. Not racing just meant I was a non-racing runner. However, runners usually know that a marathon is 26.2 miles, not 5k or 10k, even if they haven't run one.

Do runners need to run everyday and be obsessed with running? I say 'No'. I take a rest day most weeks. And, I have a life besides running. Running is ONE of my  many interests and pursuits. Yes, it is important. Yes, I make an effort to fit it into my life, but it isn't my whole life. It's part of a full life. 

Is it running in high tech gear? I say 'No'. I spent many, many years running in tattered old t-shirts and a dorky vintage 1980s colored nylon wind jacket that I bought for 15 bucks at a discount store. My husband delicately encouraged me to update my wardrobe, cringing each day as I ventured out into public. Hell, it worked fine. Why replace it. Last year I finally broke down and purchased a tasteful, sweet GoLite wind shirt at a warehouse sale that I absolutely love to pieces. It will probably work for the next 15 years. (I still have the old dorky one and it's awesome on sub zero days). Conversely, strutting around in spiffy running duds and the latest minimalist shoes, doesn't make you a runner.

Is it 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers and piles of old running shoes? I say 'No'. Um, anyone can buy these things. I have to admit that I've got a few telling stickers on my car, but that's a relatively new thing for me. Stickers don't make the runner. And I also have an embarrassingly huge collection of old running shoes. These things are indicative of something, but they don't make me a runner. All those shoes could just indicate that I have a thing about running shoes (which, admittedly, I do), or perhaps a hording problem.

Is it attitude? I say 'Yes'.  I think it's all about attitude.  Running is not speed, attire, racing, - it's attitude. There's a level of commitment and a desire to make running happen even when it's difficult. Runners want to run. Runners enjoy running. Oh, we all have those days when we just don't want to do it - but we do it anyway - and once we do, we usually (but not always) love it. Runners run as an end in itself, not as a means to an end only. Sure, some runners run to lose weight, or for their health - but true runners keep running after they've lost the weight and feel healthy and strong. Runners sometimes run when they're sick or injured, even if they shouldn't. Runners run in the rain and the snow and the cold, and realize that it's actually always great weather for a run. Or, they might suck it up, and run on the treadmill, if there's no other way to get their fix.

I think that some runners are worried about calling themselves 'runners' - like it's some sort of elitist claim. Some seem to feel that they aren't fast enough, or they don't run far enough, or they're too new to running, to call themselves runners. I teach philosophy and think about philosophy and write philosophy - but I am very reluctant to call myself a 'Philosopher". It sounds so high falutin. Perhaps some runners feel the same about calling themselves runners. But runners don't care how fast or far you run.  Runners are runners because they make running happen. Runners call themselves runners because they know they're runners.

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