Saturday, July 30, 2011

What ta do, What ta do: Thoughts on Goals

Sometimes you have a race or run or a day that changes your ideas of what your goals should be, or what goals you truly want to pursue. This happened to me recently and now I find myself walking around the house muttering to myself "what ta do, what ta do". So, I will now mutter here...

Last weekend I ran a sweet little Half Marathon in a fairly idyllic setting. I have to say that the CASA (Spearfish) Half Marathon, in Spearfish, South Dakota, is one of the best kept secrets of the road racing world. No, seriously. This small, very well organized race down a beautiful canyon along Spearfish Creek, is a must run for anyone within a days drive.

I drove up with the family a couple days early to do some touristy stuff - you know, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park/ The Needles (nice swimming in Sylvan Lake) - and some rock climbing in Spearfish Canyon itself. The town of Spearfish is a great place to hang out for a few days. There are loads of reasonable motels (even some old and clean "motor lodges" that I love for nostalgia sake), great camping at the Spearfish City Park (where the race buses depart from and where the finish is), and bike paths threading throughout the whole town. Oh, and this is important, a new ice cream shop opened downtown the week before we visited.
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Race Day: I am up at 5 a.m.: Yesterday was sunny and hot. Today: cloudy and a little moisty-misty. I Shower, eat a MARATHON Bar and a cup of coffee, pack up my stuff in the dark motel room, and successfully scuttle away without waking my husband and daughter. I walk about a half mile to the start of the race through a still sleeping Spearfish. When I reach the park suddenly the whole world is a bustle of activity. Throngs of children move about in packs of brightly t-shirted energy, all jazzed, and a little nervous about their upcoming 5k. Things get off to a timely start - chip pickup at the park and then onto the big yellow school buses for the ride up the canyon. Misty clouds rest on the tops of the limestone cliffs that tower above.

The race starts off pretty much on time. We form a long line loosely based on our projected pace to allow all to cross over the fairly narrow starting electronic mats. The canyon is not closed to traffic, and we were warned on the bus not to run the tangents for safety sake. But runners are more concerned with their time then their safety. Certified courses are measured using the shortest possible distance between the start and finish - and damn if I'm gonna let some pesky cars interfere with my race! I, of course, was not alone on this one.

I go out very conservatively. I decided yesterday that this will be a good opportunity for a marathon pace run. The previous week I suddenly developed some foot pain and feared it was a stress fracture until a small nubbin popped up on top of my 4th metatarsal at the base of my toe. A ganglion cyst, was the diagnosis. What to do, what to do? Well my whole damn vacation revolved around this race, and my daughter was too excited about staying at a motel for me to even contemplate disappointing her. I had to soldier on. So I took a casual, no expectations approach.

By mile 8 I feel great and my foot isn't hurting me in the least, so I decide to pick up the pace. I feel good running a couple miles at 7:30, so I push it a bit more. The last 3+ miles I run around 7:15. As I run into Spearfish City Park I feel like I have so much left in the tank. I cross the finish in 1:44:59. Arrrggggg!

Why Arrrggg? I mean this isn't a terrible time - I'm 4th in my age division (which are 10 year increments - And I'm on the high end of my group;) 14th woman overall - okay, respectable. But I realize immediately that I've missed qualifying for the New York City Marathon by 59 seconds - and qualifying for NY is one of my big big goals. Arrrggggggg, WHY DID I GO OUT SO DANG SLOW!!! Oh, right, my foot. Blah.

So now I'm thinking, maybe, just maybe I should back off on my fall marathon plans and focus on halfs, which, when truth be told, I really do like best of all. Perhaps my body could use a little break from marathon training in the summer heat. Maybe I should save my legs for the Boston Marathon this spring (assuming I get in). I could go back up to Spearfish in late August for the Leading Ladies Half Marathon which travels down the same canyon. Hmmm. Dunno. I guess I'll be walking around muttering to myself for the foreseeable future...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Always Something

I tend to write really looooonnnng posts. Well, not today. Today I'm here to gripe, to whine, to complain, to vent - in search of commiseration, empathy, compassion.

A climbing friend of mine, who is also my yoga guru, offered, shall I call it, a theory on injuries: In her view the body and/or mind can only deal with and acknowledge one injury at a time. So, once you begin healing from one ailment, another pops up, seemingly out of the blue.

But, often if you really mine your memory for clues you will realize that there was some little niggling thing pestering you from time to time, but it just sort of flew under the radar. Then, given clearance (the first injury starts letting up) the little-niggler goes in for the kill.

This is my life. As a runner and climber I seem constantly to be nursing some or other major or minor tweak. I can usually soldier on through it all, but that doesn't make it pleasant. It's not that I don't learn from my experiences - I do, as is shown by the fact that I don't seem to have the same injury over and over. I learn about the injury, possible causes, remedies, ways to avoid a re-occurrence and then I try to act appropriately. But then something entirely different rears its ugly head. And, the whole process begins anew.

I went for years and years without a running injury. It's tempting to blame it all on my 4 year-old daughter: "I was never injured before I gave birth to you!" - but that seems a bit harsh - too much for the poor kid (We already tease her about how we used to be able to do anything we wanted until she came along - now as she makes demands, she teases us back with a devilish glint in her eyes). Perhaps it's age. Perhaps it's because I'm running more and harder than I did for many years. One thing seems certain: I need to relax about it all or it's going to make me crazy.

So, I have a half marathon to run in South Dakota on Saturday. Perhaps on Saturday night I'll have a glass of wine and take the motel bible and smash the bejeezus out of this ganglion cyst that has suddenly appeared on my foot. Come on, talk me down off the ledge...or, cheer me on...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Puzzling Pieces

“Man…sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
~The Dalai Lama (when asked what surprises him the most about humanity)

It's been a strange week for me. On the face of it, nothing particularly extraordinary happened, it's just the way I'm putting together the pieces of the puzzle. I don't really know how the pieces fit. I'm trying to work it out.

So, here are some of the pieces floating around, rearranging themselves just as I get them in place...

Puzzle piece #1): A few days ago I was interviewed by Charlie Butler from Runner's World about a piece he's writing on Grete Waitz. His questions forced me to dig deep into the recesses of my memory. This digging dredged up a lot about who I am and how running, for as long as I can remember, has been a central part of my identity. For some reason women runners, like Grete Waitz (for more on this see: "For the Sake of Our Daughters", June 26th), reached me, touched me, changed me and influenced the direction of my life in ways I could never have anticipated. Different things change each of us. We pay attention to some things while others go unnoticed.

I grew up in New Jersey, a distinctly unremarkable place to grow up. Several times I traveled into New York City with my father on the New Jersey Transit trains to watch the NYC Marathon. When I was in high school, I remember watching Grete Waitz run by in Central Park, and feeling an irresistible urge to jump into the street and run with her, just for a moment. I can still feel the sensation of my nerves jumping under my skin, pushing me forward and pulling me back. Today I would try it. But my shy teenage self remained firmly planted on the side of the road. But I realize now, that something happened to me at that moment. A breeze (of sorts) blew past me and opened a door to a life that I can look back on now with a different understanding. There are those moments that change us, and we may not see it at the time. I see it now and it has made all the difference. Yes, I did wear pigtails like Waitz, and I wanted Adidas running shoes - but more importantly, she showed me that it was okay to be a girl and run, even if that made me different from 99% of my peers. She made me feel okay about me. This moment showed me a path and I noticed it and I took that path...

I found this difficult to convey to Charlie, perhaps because I'm still sorting it all out.

Which is where I find myself today - and this leads, in a somewhat indirect way to puzzle piece #2): I had a birthday this week. So, I ask myself: What does all this aging stuff mean? Well, unfortunately I am not moving up an age category. No, I'm just older in the same age category. I'm still holding my own, but it's tough. Each year I'm racing younger women. Of course the beauty of running and racing is that every five or ten years (depending on the race), you get to be the kid again - the young one in the group. Use it fast, 'cause it ain't gonna last. But, more importantly, I'm really only racing against (or with) myself anyway so age doesn't really matter. Ah, eternal youth. An age old problem solved through running!

But wait, the important question is: Am I creating a valuable life with/through all these years that keep piling up? Does running, remaining on this path, help in this effort? As we live life we make choices that close off other options. But what's often overlooked is that with each choice we also open new doors and discover new paths that we didn't know existed before. When I began running it never would have occurred to me that it would remain so rewarding even as the years march, relentlessly, on. The philosopher Nietzsche presented an interesting thought experiment called Eternal Recurrence. Here Nietzsche asks us to think about whether we would wish to live the moments of our lives over and over and over, for all eternity. Difficult to do, but an interesting idea to keep in mind.

This whole aging thing (#2) and paths taken (#1) leads to #3): My mom is not doing well. Her battle with cancer has been an arduous 3 month long (and nowhere near over) roller coaster ride of fear and hope, improvements and setbacks. We are all feeling weary, and (on the bad days) she is spending much time looking back with regret. It's hard to watch. It's painful to be part of. Has she lived "as if [s]he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived”? One never knows how they will face a life threatening illness until they face it themselves - though going through it with a loved one is close second. I am unwilling to say that I will face it with courage and no regrets. My greatest hope is that my mother will get better. My wish is that this experience will open a new, more fulfilling, path to her, and perhaps help me be mindful of how I live my own life.

But when I put these three puzzle pieces together what picture do I find? I have to say that I try to live in the present, and I make every effort not to sacrifice the things I most treasure. I have spent my life trying to balance the money/time challenge: Give up your time for money - Sacrifice money for more time. It's a compromise. Don't give more than your willing to lose. I am a college Philosophy instructor. I teach at a community college. For many academics, I work in the slums of academe. So be it. I don't really care how others define a successful life. I'm working on my own definition. And how I set off to define that successful life began, in part, on that day in Central Park. I know what I love. I can honestly say that I've passed up jobs because they would interfere too much with running (and other things that I love). Some would say I'm immature, irresponsible, and silly. I can't make a living running! True enough. But I can't make a life without the things a love - running, my family, nature, beauty, time to think...

The Things That Change Us

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” ~ Goethe Sometimes we never "go back" to what we were before....