Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of Year Funk and Downtime Blues

“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.”  ~Lance Armstrong
1:58 eyes pop open...and it's off - the mind races...but this time my mind was ready to put to right what I've been tormented over for the past few days.

A couple days ago, for no apparent reason, the thought of pulling the plug on this blog popped into my head. I don't know where it came from, and I didn't even see it coming...but there it was, screaming at me. I made the mistake of Tweeting this thought...and the results were not exactly, well, uplifting or encouraging...Though they were pretty much what I expected.

But let me backtrack for a moment...What's the real reason behind this...

First, I've been writing this blog for almost 2 years. I had no goals with it when I started. It was for me, and in fact, I started freaking out when I saw it getting hits. Ewwww. Strangers are looking at this. This was initially a very uncomfortable feeling for someone who has always written, has always loved to write, but has never allowed ANYONE to read anything she's written. I had the pseudonym for a reason, and initially my real name appeared nowhere...And then I relaxed a bit.

But now, 2 years later, I find myself wondering "What's the point?" "Who really cares (besides me, which was the whole point)?" And I tell myself...this doesn't matter. No one cares one way or the other...and suddenly that mattered in a toxic, soul-killing way. There are, after all, gobs of running blogs out there that are wildly popular. They have thousands of followers and readers, and I shake my head wondering what I'm doing wrong because I don't find (some of) them particularly interesting (Yeah. I know I'm biased - and that sounds like sour grapes!). The thought occurred to me that 2 years, perhaps, is enough for this silliness. Time to grow up and face facts.

And this sent me off into a pit of sadness...

Add to that the fact that I have given myself a forced 2 weeks of very easy and minimal running following a long fall season, and you've got a very anxious, antsy marathon(s) enforced downtime which never settles well, holiday madness, an ailing mother (yeah, I'm not going to go into that), a myriad of other stresses and demands, and the result is a total mess of whirling emotions...because that's the way I am. Post race depression is a common, though little discussed, phenomena among runners.

And so I stupidly "put it all out there" and got what I thought I deserved.

Think about the times you really want to do something scary - that is, scary for you: Run your first 5k...your first half...your first marathon...try to qualify for Boston...And you gather the necessary courage, say it out load, and someone snorts in response. You will hear those snorts of disbelief banging, like a drum, in your head. The high-fives and encouragement will be drowned out by the cacophony of one negative comment. How does that feel? I'm sure we have all experienced that at some point, and it can make you feel foolish - Unless, of course, you are blessed with a large and healthy ego, which I am not, and then you let the negatives float off into the void.

Jean-Paul Sartre convincingly argues that we tend to ask questions of those who we believe will give us the answers we already know are in our hearts - but we look to someone else as an excuse, an out, a way to avoid our own absolute freedom and responsibility.

But the instant I pressed 'enter' I knew it was a mistake.

Silence speaks volumes, and the responses from many friends and self-professed supporters (and I never asked for this, it was offered) was utter silence. From others who did speak up, the suggestion was that maybe this little experiment no longer served me. Maybe I should just let it die on it's own. All of this was well meaning...but it was not what I wanted. I, of course, wanted others to scream at me "No! Don't do it". But that never came, and so I began to morn the death of this little creation.

Then at 1:58 a.m. I woke and a name popped into my head: Carolina.

Carolina...holding a beer, before noon...I'm on the left (yes, holding a cigarette!)

Carolina is one of my dearest friends. We've been friends for 30+ years. I've written about her here many times. Right now we live far away from each other and we are not in constant contact, in fact we've "lost" each other from time to time over the years. But the fact is that we are joined in a way that distance and time, and death, can never separate us. I know she's always there.

Wells College Swim team...I'm front left. Carolina is directly behind me

She reads this blog, I know that because she always fires off a word or two via e-mail (she's not on facebook and doesn't do social media - smart move) JUST when I need it. The emails appear in my inbox at the exact time I need them.

Leading up to Boston, 2012, worried about the weather, worried about the fuss-and-bother, and blogging ad nauseam on all of that, her message was:
"Now just enjoy all of this, even the hours of hotel searching, because, seriously, this is all really cool and extra-ordinary.
It deserves all of the fuss.
Embrace it!
I am following this with great excitement!
Love you!"

Two days before Boston, after deciding not to defer, this was in my inbox:
"Good luck! Good luck! Will be thinking of you on Monday..:)))"

And after Boston, which didn't exactly go well, I hemmed-and-hawed over whether to try for another marathon 4 weeks later...her message was:
"Do it, you weirdo."

After qualifying for Boston again at the Fox Valley Marathon I received:
So Very Cool!
And now, after Tucson:
"You rock. And are amazing. And are a weirdo. :)
Much Love."
And in many ways we keep in touch through this silly little blog.

So, it occurred to me that while I may not reach many, those I do matter to me. I realize that I can't allow my self-worth to hinge on the acceptance of others - but as human beings we all do have a need to reach out and connect with others. This is one of the ways I enjoy doing that.

And so I will keep at it...for another year anyway...
“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”~ George Eliot
Epilogue: My Inbox today, Dec 21, the end times...:
"Ok so I'm reading your blog post, thinking "No! Don't give up the blog because this is how I keep up with you! Don't do it!"
Then I get a little further . . . 
then I got goosebumps.
I guess we really are linked at the metaphorical hip.
Hang in there.
Much love. As always."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

With Every Race There Are Lessons To Be Learned...But You Must Listen

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I'm woken by a cramp in my right calf that wants to rip my gastrocnemius tendon from the bone. I jump out of bed and limp around the bedroom until it finally releases, but a residual tightness lingers. I haven't noticed (or registered) that this has been happening all week - my calves...the arches of my feet...cramping. This is not normal, and I've dismissed these anomalous events without much notice. That is a mistake.

A couple hours later I'm in the car heading to Denver International Airport on route to Tucson for my 6th marathon of the year, and my final race for the year. I turn off of E470, go to accelerate the car onto the highway and my shin muscle tightens into a knot. My foot is stuck at a 90 degree angle and will not go down. I press my heel down on the accelerator and rub my shin until it releases. I pull into the Pikes Peak parking lot, find an empty space barely missing the next car as I angle in and the shin cramps up again. I jerk to a stop, and sit there for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. What the heck is going on, I wonder. I pull up the parking break, get out of the car and both legs, from the knees down, tighten up into a knot of anxiety. I feel completely out of it. "Crap. What the hell is going on?" I say out loud to no one. What am I doing going off to run a marathon when I'm feeling like this? I get on the shuttle to the terminal and eat a banana...drink some water...swallow an Endurolyte...My calves feel like they have Mexican jumping beans zinging around under my skin. Every muscle flex results in a gripping cramp.

...And I doggedly push on with the plan.

On the plane the flight attendants hand me cans of water, stashed in their pockets, every time they walk by. I eat another banana...drink more water...and tomato juice... I am sooooo tired of drinking and eating.

We land in Tucson. It's hot and dry. This is the dessert after all. Chollas, and yuccas and cacti dot the barren, windswept, landscape. I am still out of it. I get my rental car and I try to get my bearings. In Boulder the mountains run north/south, but in Tucson there is no rhyme nor reason to be found in the mountains that ring the valley. Eventually I find my way to I10 and then to my hotel.

...Drink and eat and drink and eat...

So goes the rest on the day...and the I frantically message my PT, Heather. Her advice is to do what I've been doing. She tries to reassure me that all will be well. All I envision is being stranded on Mt. Lemmon with seized up calves. This is something I've never experienced. I don't know what to expect, and it's difficult not to expect the worst. I try to distract myself with facebook, messaging with Sandra, who also reassures me that all will be well and I've got what it takes...and a 'Big Bang Theory' marathon...I joke that my legs just really want to run...but I'm very worried. Very very worried.

I wake before the alarm at 3:55 a.m. The sparks are still firing fast and furious beneath the skin of my calves. I drink some coffee, eat a Marathon Bar, take a shower, decide what to wear, pack up my stuff and head for the shuttle parking. It's 5:20 as I climb onto to the frigid yellow school bus. It's pitch black out.

It takes close to 45 minutes to reach the start a couple thousand feet up Mt. Lemmon. We're dropped off in the middle of nowhere, amongst the cacti and scorpions and gila monsters and javelinas...Luckily, dessert creatures are quite shy, because they tend to be fairly fierce.

Lights flood the start area, but all around is mysterious darkness.

The gun goes off and we head off toward the rising sun. I am completely fixated on my are they feeling...what's going on down there...and I'm taking it very very easy. This course is a net downhill, but the fact is that it is not an easy course. There's lots of uphill and rolling sections. Each mile ticks by. So far so good. I feel good. Really good, but I don't trust it - not in the least.

As we turn onto the highway, around mile 14, heading for Tucson the headwind picks up, blowing the mile marker signs down. It's not terrible, but it's there. I'm praying that it won't pick up. And the miles continue to pass...and I still feel really good. By mile 20, having felt no weirdness in my calves, I decide to push it. For the next 6 miles I feel stronger than I've ever felt at the end of a marathon. I've cut my pace by about a minute a mile and feel stronger with each passing mile.

And as I make the final turn towards the finish line I push with all I have, and cross in 3:48:16. I'm happy because this went so much better than I anticipated...and yet there is this little voice in my head..."My god! You have so much left!! Ugggg!!!"

And how many times do we hold back in life, afraid about what could happen? How many times do we play it safe and then wonder what if...?

Now, don't get me wrong here. I am very happy with this race. But, here's what I realized: I've mentioned before that I've been in search of that race that feels easy - where everything falls into place and you just do what you can do, what you know to do. I felt this running the Colorado Marathon in 2011 - and I've longed, thirsted, for it ever since. And here it was...and I am left feel that...well...I could have done better! Talk about nothing making you happy!!! I just set a master's PR, got another BQ, and all I can think is that I could have done better.

So, what did I learn? 

First, don't ignore things the week before a marathon. Of course there's the usual taper madness and aches and pains that come with tapering, but cramps are different. I should have been paying better attention and taken better care of myself.

Second, don't awfullize about things you can't control. Easier said than done, but at least I now have the experience of having something completely new happening the day before a marathon and it still turned out alright. If that happens again perhaps I won't be such wreck. Or, maybe I will...

Third, and most importantly, I learned that I'm not really after that easy race, I'm after that hard effort that succeeds beyond my wildest dreams. I want to feel good at the end of a marathon, but not good in the sense of having anything left to give. That's a difficult thing to put your finger on, but that's what I want.

Will I even know when/if it happens?? I don't know. I guess that's why I keep doing this stuff...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part I

Myth Number 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast."
Myth Number 2: "You race the distance, you don't train the distance"
Myth Number 3: "Efficient, short term plans will allow you to reach and realize your running potential"
Myth Number 4: You can train for a marathon just as well running 30 miles a week as 60 miles a week.
Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.
"It's just a matter of understanding what's necessary and discipline yourself to do it." ~ Arthur Lydiard
Part I

Myth # 1: "In order to run fast you must train fast." True or False?

First, this is true. BUT it's taken too far. This is the number one piece of advice I hear from runners; novice, intermediate, experienced. We've heard it a million times. And we've bought into it lock-stock-and-barrel. Why?? Because it make intuitive sense. And it is absolutely true. But the problem is that, as with many things in life, these things are rarely this black and white. This is not an all or nothing proposition.

Do you have to run fast to race fast? Yes, but not ALL THE TIME. Fast running must be really pretty dang FAST. Easy running must be really really really slow! What I see time again, particularly with marathon runners, some of whom are quite experienced, is that all their runs are fairly fast (often just 15-30 seconds slower than marathon pace), even for very long runs. Few runs are really fast, and none are really really really slow. Most of us run too fast for most of our workouts, without running fast enough on hard days nor running slow enough on active recovery days.

And the fact is, that no one out there can honestly tell me (unless you are very new to running and/or live in a cave) that you haven't heard this before. But we tell ourselves that that applies to others, not to us.  Others may need those slow recovery miles - but not me. I feel great - and I'm gonna beat the pants off those slow chumps at my next race...And the Kenyans and Ethiopians (who are known to run VERY slow on recovery days) laugh all the way to the bank...

So what does it really matter if I run fast all the time? If I feel good, what's the harm? Shouldn't I be tuning in to how my body feels and running accordingly?? We're always told - 'listen to your body! Stop relying on technology.' Part of becoming a mature runner is learning how to sense where your body is and what it wants to do. There's two problems here: 1) It's all well and good to listen to your body, but it's actually very hard to shut the head out of the whole process. Are you really listening to your body? Is your brain, perhaps, whispering "Come on this is so slow, you'll feel better (mentally) if you pick it up a bit";  2) Your body doesn't know what's on tap for tomorrow. Perhaps your body joyfully proclaims, "Yay, I feel great!! let's run like the wind!!"  Your body doesn't know that you have a hard session planned for tomorrow - but YOU know that, don't you??  Well, there's a time to listen to your body and a time to tell it to shut up and listen to reason.

Let's suppose you have a hard workout scheduled for tomorrow - a long tempo, hills, intervals, etc. and today is an "easy" recovery run - but you wake up feeling fresh and springy. You have a busy day ahead of you and want to get moving or perhaps you need to exorcise some stress from your soul and psyche - and I experience this fairly often - And so, instead of running your active recovery pace, you pound out some good heart throbbing miles, return home pleasantly worked and ready to deal with your day? What's the harm in throwing in some extra fast running? How can that possibly hurt, especially when your body gives you unequivocal permission??

Well, now the question is: Will you be able to get the same quality run out of yourself tomorrow? With marathon training QUALITY and QUANTITY matter. You want to run enough miles (shear volume DOES matter. More on that later), but the trick is to increase volume without sacrificing quality. And there's the rub. You can not, over the course of weeks or months increase volume and still have really high quality hard runs if you do not respect the role of the 'active recovery' run.

Furthermore, aerobic running (at a pace that you can carry on a conversation) taps into a different metabolic system. When your running a comfortable pace you rely more on fat for fuel, sparing glycogen. If you run for 90 minutes or more this system is crucial, and really gets to work at this point. Running too fast means using glycogen rather than fat, and so that metabolic system remains untrained.

The combo of slower aerobic runs and faster fast runs (tempos in particular) is that you are able to maximize fat metabolism and lower the pace at which you can continue to rely heavily on fat (aerobic threshold - AT), sparing the limited glycogen that we can store. Since marathons generally are run just below AT pace, the obvious result is that you will be able to run a faster marathon.

Lots and lots of us succumb to the notion that some miles are 'junk miles', but those supposed 'junk miles' are important, IF they are run correctly - otherwise they're worse than junk. Don't run them and you sacrifice volume. Run them too fast, and you sacrifice quality. Run them just right, and you maximize your training for your present and future running-self.

Take the long view...Think not just of today, but of tomorrow. Think not just of tomorrow, but of next year...and the year after that...and the year after that...Running is a process. Developing the runner you can be is a state of becoming, not a state of being.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So Very Thankful...But Not Satisfied.

"There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man's lack of faith in his true self." ~ William James
Four years ago, Thanksgiving morning, I was just starting to run again after 10 agonizing months of constant pain while dealing with a particularly tenacious injury - one the doctors confidently proclaimed marked the end of my running days.

I remember my run on that Thanksgiving morning, 2008, a cold but brilliantly sunny day. I ran 3 miles that day and I was ecstatic. I was thankful to the very core of my being for those few pain free miles. I felt like myself again. I felt that I had come back to life.

Giving thanks, appreciating all that you have, is not always easy. We often focus on the things we lack, the things that aren't going as well as we wish - And I fall prey to this all too often.  But when something is taken from you, you come to really understand how important it is for you.  I hope never to experience anything like that injury again, but I also would never trade that experience for anything in the world - for it forced me to examine certain aspects of my life that were not satisfying me. That injury, in many ways, altered the course of my life in some very important ways.

I realized that I had slipped into a comfortable state of complacency - a rut that I now wanted to get out of. I realized that there were certain things I wanted to do that I had been putting off, or was too scared to try, because sometimes it's just a whole lot easier and safer staying with what you know, even if you aren't happy in that place, than actually taking the risk do something different. And so, over the course of the last 4 years I've refocused a lot of energy and attention on what I love to do - which is running and being outside and challenging myself and encouraging others to do the same. I don't know why I love to run so much. It's really a fundamentally simple and perhaps silly avocation and passion - and yet I really need it.

Four years later, I find myself in a different place...and the same place. Some things I am still settling for when they scream at me for change. For me, being deeply thankful for all that I have does not necessarily mean being entirely satisfied. I have so much to be thankful for: I'm thankful that I can run. I'm thankful for my attitude towards running and climbing and the passions that enliven and enrich my life. I'm thankful for my family and their support and love. I'm thankful for the will to make time for the things that matter. I'm thankful that I live in a beautiful, peaceful place. I'm thankful for all my friends, near and far, who encourage, support, console, push, and inspire me - who stand behind me, and boost me up when I need it.

...And yet I'm not satisfied yet.

So, I am taking this Thanksgiving to be thankful AND to look at where I want more - more satisfaction, more challenge, more life in the moments of my life. In the clip above, Alan Watts is, I believe, spot on. We live our lives doing things we need to do to survive. We tell ourselves that there are so many "must dos" that we don't have the time or energy for the things we passionately WANT to do. So many of us get stuck in this place - the "I have no other choice" place.

I find myself envying those with the means I lack - I blame fickle luck for my lot in life, where reality stands in the way of my dreams. I curse and wave my fist at the unfairness of it all. I watch as others travel the globe to run and climb. I have been told by several climbing friends that it's all about commitment (insinuating my lack of commitment). But in each and every case these people have independent means. They do not have to work for a living - and they sit there smugly telling me that I am not committed enough. I bite my tongue and sit on my hands aching to strike out at the lies.

But where does this get me? It gets me angry and frustrated and bitter. And in my more lucid moments I get that this does me no good. I just have to keep doing what I've been doing these last 4 years - holding on to the things I treasure and letting go of the soul-eating parts of my life.

Commitment means nothing if there is no risk involved. As Soren Kierkegaard convincingly argues, true commitment involves the greatest risk. Stepping into the abyss and having faith that it will all turn out alright - or it won't. But how it turns out really doesn't matter. What matters is the wholehearted commitment, in fear and trembling. If there is a net below you and you know it's there, saving you from plunging into that bottomless nothingness, then that is not commitment. Love, friendship, life choices are all richer with true and honest commitment.  And that's what I (and most of us) must embrace and be thankful for.  I am committed, completely, but sometimes I just don't know how to do what I want to do. But I know more than I did 4 years ago, or 10 years ago, and so I have to trust that if I continue to push when I need to push and follow my dreams and passions where they lead me and actually do what I want to do, that I will be that much closer to where I want to be next year...and the year after that.
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." ~ Epictetus
Four years ago I NEVER would have written this - at least not for anyone else to EVER see. This little experiment, this blog, is something I could never have fathomed four years ago.

And, if you are reading this...thank you. I am so very very thankful for your company.
"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you." ~ William James

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New York Road Runners - Just Do the Right Thing

"I'll never do that again!" ~ Grete Waitz, after winning the first of nine consecutive New York City Marathons

After a week and a half of silence - Zero communication - The NYRR updated their facebook page with the following:
"We want to reassure you that we are continuing to work hard to provide answers to your outstanding questions, and understand how important this information is to all of you. We are doing our very best to address your concerns and sort out all details. We are grateful for your patience and continued support."
This is the only news NYC Marathon runners have received concerning our status for next year's race. No emails (the last one went out when the race was cancelled), no updated information on their website...and they have not been returning calls to reporters.

So what should the NYRR do now? Well, I have a really good suggestion - Do the right thing. Period. While the waiver all runners sign may offer some legal out for the NYRR in terms of honoring our registration, ethically, the solution is clear.

Here's my suggestion:
For those who deferred prior to the cancellation of the marathon, honor the updated cancellation policy, which guarantees all entry into next years race even if they deferred in 2011 as well. This deferment option is nothing new, and those who deferred should be charged for next years race as per the normal policy.
For those who did not defer, who traveled to NYC, picked up their packets, and planned to run...They should receive guaranteed entry into next year's race, or better yet, one of the next 5 years - to spread out the impact and to allow those who can't afford to return next year to plan for a year a bit further out - at no additional cost.
Given how poorly this situation was managed, I believe the NYRR has some major damage control to attend to. The bad feelings engendered through all of this will only grow more bitter if this is not handled delicately. If the NYC Marathon has any hope of regaining it's former reputation, as the greatest marathon in the world, it must act like the greatest marathon in the world. 

Clearly the marathon should have been canceled days earlier, Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. Those of us who came in from far away had no idea, until we arrived, what devastation awaited us. News reports go only so far in capturing the reality of the situation. Even those in the midst of it couldn't quite grasp the enormity of it all. My mother just kept say, with regard to power outages and gas shortages "We just don't allow this to go on. This doesn't happen here". But there it was...going on, and it's still going on more than 2 weeks later.

Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that the decision to cancel was delayed for as long as possible in order to get as many runners (and their money) to the metropolitan area as possible before pulling the rug out from under the whole thing. The truth here matters little - the perception is the problem for this race. Runners report that the blue line marking the course stopped at 14 miles. When did the painters receive the call to stop painting? Reporters, rushing to the start area as the race announced the cancellation, found a virtual ghost town. Not a worker or volunteer in sight. When were those workers and volunteers called off the job?  Now these situations are conspiracy theory magnets, and I usually dismiss them without much thought...but...hmmmm...Maybe. All that's needed is a little doubt and that changes how people feel.

The way both Mary Wittenberg and Mayor Bloomberg handled this whole situation encouraged animosity to grow between New Yorkers and runners...Between the NYRR and runners...between New Yorkers and Bloomberg...Between New Yorkers and Wittenberg. Wounds must be healed. Anger and blame and accusations must be confronted.

Many claim that the NYRR won't or can't do what I'm suggesting for financial reasons. All that money, already spent can not be recouped. I get that. But sometimes we have to do the right thing even though it may temporarily hurt us financially. After signing a lucrative deal this year with ESPN, I suspect that the NYRR has the necessary resources to do the right thing, though it may crimp their style a bit. Perhaps next year they could cut spending in other areas - like appearance fees for elites. Why not make next year's race a "people's" race, where the average runner is first and foremost, and where elites come to show support for the race, the tradition, the city...

And don't races have insurance to cover these things? That's of course the first thing people ask when an individual suffers a tragic event - and if they don't have insurance, we tend to dismiss their complaints and point out their poor choices ( I don't fall into this camp, but many do).

I can say that this whole episode has changed my feelings about this race and, unfortunately, about this city. I wish I could say it didn't, but it did. Perhaps I went into it too idealistically. There's nothing worse than having high ideals shattered before you. A dream, 30+ years in the making, undone in a matter of days. Does this change my experience of watching Grete Waitz run through Central Park on that crisp November day so long ago?? Right now, I have to say yes, it does. I'm sad about that. And so I am hoping against all hope that the NYRR does the right thing now. I can see this being saved or lost, for me and for the race itself, depending on what they do next.

And so we wait...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: The Interlude

There really isn't any middle to this story. It starts and it ends, like two slices of bread with nothing in between them.

Here's the only middle I have to offer - There is no race - there is no bright spot shining through the darkness...But stuff still happened...

It's 5 p.m. Friday. The race is canceled. For the past several days I've been aware of the growing hostility toward the runners. I have been called selfish, self-centered, callous - I have been accused of being disrespectful. It doesn't matter that I've contributed to the relief effort. It doesn't matter that over the course of the year I've run several marathons (NY would have been number 6) to raise money for charity. It's all so hard to just let roll off your back. And quite honestly canceling the race is a relief. I've been dealing with the growing fear and anxiety concerning my safety. Running through the streets you're a sitting duck. You're vulnerable. As it turns out, my concerns seem justified. Protests are planed. Petitions are circulated. Volunteers setting up equipment are pelted with eggs. (

But now what? Well, first, I gotta stop the money hemorrhage. This trip came at great personal sacrifice, for myself and my family. So I jump into the rental car that's costing me big time and race off to Newark Airport to get rid of it. I just can't sit still. I have no idea how I'm getting back to my mom's but I think the Northeast Corridor trains are running again on a limited schedule, so I chance it.

I leave the car with the Enterprise lady, and feel a little relief...but not for long. I get to the train station and pace in the cold wind for an hour. I have no idea when the train is coming (or isn't) and I can't reach my sister, again. It's 8:45 p.m. I suddenly realize that I haven't eaten anything, beside a handful of crackers, since 2 in the afternoon when Barb, thankfully, shared half her sandwich with me. Well, at least I don't have to worry about fueling up for a marathon right now because I'm doing a piss-poor job of it.

I get to the Metropark station, about 10 miles from my Mom's, and wait some more, now in a completely dark parking lot surrounded by nothing but silent, dark office buildings. There's a curfew, but a few shadowy figures mill about the station. My danger alarm, which rarely goes off, is screaming at me as I huddle against a wall, out of the wind still trying to reach my sister. Finally a text goes through. It's 10:30 p.m.

My sister is stuck in traffic a few miles away. She's almost here, she assures me. She suggests that I start walking in her direction, but the blackness everywhere and the shadows moving about convince me that it is probably better to stay put. Another 30 minutes pass and she finds that she's on a gas line. "Just get gas then" I tell her.

11:30 and I see a figure emerge from the darkness waving and calling my name. "The van just died" she yells. We begin the futile effort of trying to get bad gas through the line (desperate, she had poured half a can of old gas sitting around the garage into the tank). By 11:30 the situation is hopeless - the battery is now dead. Both our cell phones are running low on power. We call my mother, who has very little gas, and she heads out to get us. Ten minutes later she calls. Her car is dead in the middle of the road. Yep. Same bad gas.

The tow truck will be here in a hour. I'm about to pass out from hypoglycemia - and the only calories my sister can find is a bottle of some Smirnoff grape something or other. I drink it. I'm desperate. Both our phones go black. We start laughing uncontrollable about the absurdity of our situation - and suddenly all the heaviness lifts and the mood brightens. My sister lights a cigarette. I bum one off her.

Human, all too human...

The tow truck hoists the van onto it's back and we head off to fetch my mother. She claims that her car is off the road after some nice men helped push it out of traffic, but as we pull up we see that she's still in the middle of the road. The driver adds her car on the back and we all pile into the cab of the truck. The heat is cranking. My neck and shoulders throb from hours of shivering.

At 5 a.m., Saturday morning, I wake in tears. Once the sun finally lights the sky I feel an urgency to go for a run, a hard run, to flush my mind, my body, and my lungs...for how long, I know not.

I need to stay on the main roads because they're the only ones generally open and somewhat safe. I run from South Plainfield into Scotch Plains towards Westfield. I come upon some utility trucks positioning themselves to remove a freshly blown do power line. I run beneath the wire ducking my head to avoid hitting it. A police cruiser pulls up as I pass and closes the road behind me. Well. There goes my way back home. I cut north, heading for Plainfield, looking for a road back. Luckily I know this area like the back of my hand - I've been running here since high school. But as I run north every road is closed. I finally find one weaving through a neighborhood and hope for the best. I see another runner. We say "Hi" and smile as only two runners running through a disaster area do - Gratefully! I come upon several blocks strewn with 60 foot trees and power lines everywhere. A PSE&G worker sitting in a pickup truck gets out as I jog slowly, assessing the situation. Before he can speak a word I blurt out, "Look I gotta get home, and all the roads are closed. I'll stay on the lawns. I won't touch anything". He just looks at me, "Just be careful". And I pick may delicately over, under, around and through a maze of wires, branches. And for the next three or four miles it's just more of the same, but eventually I make it home.

What I saw on my run...And this is 5 days after the storm hit...

Today's project is to get to a grocery store because food is running a bit scarce around the house. But the cars are still dead and the mechanic still has no power. Luckily we score a car, with some gas, from my sister's friend, and my mother and I venture out on a foraging expedition. We drive through miles of dark, closed stores and restaurants and dry cleaners. Even Burger King is closed (where I had my first 'real' job). A police "Mobile Commend Center" RV is parked in the empty lot.

We reach the market. There's some light, some life. A few people mill around. A generator provides just enough light on either end of the aisles to see. All the refrigerators and freezers are empty. Most of the shelves have only a few items sitting on them. We grab a loaf of bread (date about to expire), a butternut squash (one of the only 'fresh' things to be found), some canned goods...

I decide to leave on Sunday rather than Monday because we have the car now, and I need to seize the moment or else deal with the challenge of getting to the airport without transportation. As I sit in terminal A waiting to board I get online and see that runners are working in Staten Island, wearing their NYC Marathon t-shirts. I see that runners are running through Central Park, cheered on by spectators warming finish area bleachers. I read that a friend has run the entire course. I read that the Giants-Steelers game will be held as planned. I have a huge lump of tears in my throat. They well-up in my eyes, and drip back down into my throat. Friends try to console me - 'So sorry about the race'. They try to offer what they can...

But here's the thing, for me NONE of this is about the 'race'. I didn't run, so what. What hurts so much is what people have assumed about all the runners. The accusations, the recriminations, the outright attacks. Friends not standing by you, not trying to understand, being silent, remote - I have high expectations when it comes to friends, and when they let me down I am for a time crushed. This too shall pass. Hard lessons learned - some I'm now glad to have learned, others I wish I did not know. 

And then of course, NY is not just ANY race for me. And I crank my Ipod...

How will the epilogue go...I just don't know...

To be continued...

Monday, November 5, 2012

NYC Marathon 2012: The Prelude

In my mind's eye I never actually saw myself running the New York City Marathon. I never pictured myself running across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, through Brooklyn, over the Queensboro Bridge, up First Avenue...into Central Park...I never saw this happening - me there - and this bothered me - and this should have told me something - and it did, but I didn't want to listen until after when I had no choice. Now I understand why.

Last week I wrote about how I was grappling with the whole issue of whether or not to run. I decided to go and do what I could, for my family and for any others I might be able to help - and maybe run as well to show my support for NY and NJ. The ideal and the reality unfortunately did not match.


2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1st: I'm sitting at DIA waiting to board my flight to NJ. My sister texted me earlier that morning saying that she couldn't find gas, and had no way to fetch me from the airport. I did a little digging and had some idea of one bus that might be running, or might not, to Plainfield, where I would be deposited on the dark streets at midnight.

I haven't heard from my sister since that earlier text and can not seem to reach her. Cell service is down and has been since Monday night. I get on the plane and have no idea how I will get anywhere. I really don't want to get on this plane. What the hell am I doing? The mood on the plane is grim and resigned. Everyone wears the dread of flying into this disaster plainly on their faces. No one knows what's ahead.

As the plane descends toward Newark, I see the lights of Manhattan out the windows and the darkness of New Jersey below. I decide to rent a car since it's really the only way to get any gas. The Enterprise lady and I go from car to car looking for one with some gas. We finally find one with a little over half a tank and I head off into the darkness. My family still has no idea where I am, or how I will get to them. I'm texting friends, some 1000s of miles away, telling them what I'm doing to stave off the feeling of being absolutely alone in this. Someone, somewhere, knows where I am, so I can't be lost, even though I am feeling completely and totally lost and alone.

Driving through the darkness of Route 1, I'm having a hard time getting my bearings. I've driven down this road 1000s of times, and yet I'm really not sure where I am. I pass a five mile long line of cars terminating near the NJ Turnpike junction, waiting to get gas at a Hess station. At this point it's about 11 at night. The streetlights are dark. The stores are dark. The traffic lights are dark. The only light comes from the flashing police car lights at every intersection. And car lights weave through the eerie emptiness. The air smells of smoke - perhaps fireplaces used for heat. Perhaps smoldering houses that have burned to the ground.

Snow Patrol is playing on my Ipod..."Please just save me from this darkness"...

As I get off the highway things get even more confusing. There are lines of cars everywhere but no lights anywhere. Where are they all going? Intersections are closed and parking lots become thoroughfares - the only way to get to where you need to go. And little by little I make my way in the general direction that my internal GPS tells me to go. Eventually I find myself pulling up in front of my mother's house. I turn off the car, climb the steps, my mother opens the door. We hug. And I cry.

Friday, Nov. 2nd 8:30 a.m.: My sister drives me to Plainfield to catch a bus to Manhattan. This is the first day of any bus service. The bus is 45 minutes late. We weave our way through neighborhoods in shambles. The bus drops me at Port Authority and I make my way to the Javits Center to meet my friends Esther, Leslie and Barb at the Expo. Manhattan appears entirely normal. Bustling and happy. It's jarring for me to see this having just crossed the Hudson from NJ where nothing is the same. 

Now for the past couple days the internet and media have been attacking the NYRR, Mayor Bloomberg, and the runners. We are depicted as selfish. We don't get what's happening to people and their lives. We just want to run some stupid race. And the runners and the race become the focus for all the pain and loss that people are suffering and all that is wrong with the relief effort. It's the runner's fault. THEY are why people are still suffering. Just look at the generators, the resources they are using?

The expo feels like any other expo I've been to. I'm not so into the expo thing but it is good to hangout with friends and to feel that someone in the world doesn't hate me. And so it goes, and we make our way back to Port Authority through to the seeming normalcy that is mid-town. I'm feeling a little better, but it doesn't last long.

And I get back on the bus and head back to the third world that NJ now is. And then sitting with my mother, my phone dweedles at me. My friend Sandra, in Illinois, sends me a message that she just heard that the marathon is canceled. I chuckle and respond, "Well I haven't heard anything". I turn on the news. They are reporting that the electricity has just come back on in lower Manhattan. "ABC News - it's on now" she messages back. I switch the TV to channel 7, and there it is - breaking news - Mayor Bloomfield announces that the marathon is canceled. I call her and start cursing a blue streak...

And why is it really canceled? Because of the animosity and violent emotions irrupting among New Yorkers.

The reality, that this event was canceled due to concern about runners's safety is what is so unfortunate. This race has always been about the people of New York! And the fact is that many of us were feeling very nervous about our safety. Would we be booed? Would people throw things at us? And the hatred I've felt from people I don't even know, across the country and even more sadly, from New Yorkers is difficult to absorb and process. That's where I'm at now...I'm not sure right now that the New York City Marathon will ever recover from this. And I'm not sure I ever want to run it.

To be continued.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emergency Blog Post: NYC Marathon Post-Sandy

Coming together is a beginning; 
keeping together is progress; 
working together is success.
~ Henry Ford

I shouldn't be sitting here typing right now. I should be packing, getting work done before I leave - generally getting my ducks in a row. But here I sit typing after two days of going back and forth about whether to go or not to go, whether to run or not to run.

I woke up this morning feeling that I should just cancel the whole thing and defer until 2013. All of yesterday I spent in a state of anxiety, partially for me, particularly for my mother and sister who I had not heard from since the night before, just as the storm was hitting, and partially for all the people who live in New York and New Jersey. I spent the first 18 years of my life in NJ, and even though I left there as soon as I could, I'm still a Jersey girl, and I always will be (as much as I hate to admit this). And so this whole thing is deeply personal and emotional on so many levels. I've been on the verge of tears for the the past 24+ hours. No one really understands why I'm in such a state. It's a bummer - but nothing more. It's out of your hands, I'm told. Let go of it. There's nothing you can do. And as soon as I realized that this isn't about me anymore I thought, but wait - there is something I can do - but the question is: Do I WANT to do it?

What's the right thing to do?? Should I stay or should I go? Does running this race harm or help? Should I just go to help my family? Do I really want to deal with flying to Newark right now? Blah blah blah...

But when I woke this morning feeling I should cancel, I dug a little deeper and realized that I want to do that for ME. I don't really want to go to NJ and deal with the mess. Colorado is beautiful right now - why go into that? I'm 1000s of miles away - I don't need to live through this. Why do it if I don't have to.

And so I went for a run...

I had big plans for this race. I feel in pretty good shape right now, and my sights were fairly high (for me). Yesterday I thought, maybe I could find another marathon to run. Why waste another season of training on another bad race (like in Boston). How many more races do you have in you? You can't waste them....and on and on...Me-me-me-me-me.

And then there's all the opinions and comments floating about on the interwebs - and the people who criticize anyone who would run as selfish - taking precious services from those who really need it - let the city heal and repair and don't do this - they plead. The runners will further drain the city's resources. The people of NY and NJ are tired and need to focus on getting back on their feet. But the vitriol directed at runners on the New York Marathon Facebook page is truly astounding. It's easy for those of us either far away or not directly effected by either the devastation or the marathon to get all self-righteous about the whole thing. We throw a couple dollars at the Red Cross (though we rarely do until the disaster du jour happens), and then we feel all virtuous. We've done a 'good thing'. And that is good, but that's not the only good to be done.

I understand these feelings and the ferocity of them, but it's not that clear cut - it's not always about the tangible things we do that make a difference. The New York City Marathon is part of the soul of that city and I believe that everyone who comes to run will be there for one reason - and that is to show solidarity and support for New York and New Jersey. For those of us who live far enough away, it's MUCH easier NOT to go. Let's be honest, this is not the NYC Marathon experience that I have been dreaming about since I was 15 years old. Every time I think of this I want to cry - but that's all about me. Once I started getting over feeling sorry for myself I knew exactly what I needed to do.  Now I want to run for a different reason. I want to run it for the friends who are there, who live there, and still running. And to show that we do support each other in the ways we know how.

I can't even think of the marathon any more - but I thought, how can I just sit here in my comfortable little life while my family goes through this. I can go. I should go. I will go if that is physically possible. If the race is canceled that's fine. If the race goes on, I'll be there.


To be continued...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fierceness: A Self-Regarding Virtue

 "Though she be but little, she is fierce!"  William Shakespeare,  A Midsummer Night's Dream
Fierce  /   fierc·er, fierc·est 
1. a : violently hostile or aggressive in temperament
    b : given to fighting or killing : pugnacious
2. a : marked by unrestrained zeal or vehemence <a fierce argument>
    b : extremely vexatious, disappointing, or intense <fierce pain>
3. : furiously active or determined <make a fierce effort>
4. : wild or menacing in appearance
fierce·ness noun
Fierceness. It's often seen as a violent, irrational drive that clouds good judgement and causes us to fall into error and vice. In a woman, this is particularly distasteful, unfeminine, unnatural and frowned upon. But sometimes fierceness is exactly what is called for, especially when dealing with our own inner demons and weaknesses, or when we are striving for the best we have in us. Sometimes fierce is precisely what I really want to be. 

There are those days when I "get my grrrrrrr on", as I like to say, and I go after what I want without a seconds thought - without hesitation - without self-consciousness. And on those days I feel in my groove and completely in-synch with myself. It happens in running when I feel the effort and I welcome the feeling of pushing it and the pleasingly painful fatigue that comes with it. It happens in climbing when I'm completely focused on the next move and the moment and not thinking about being scared or falling or the beginning or the end. Just being there in that moment and having no doubt about what I'm after.

I had this experience climbing last night. As I've said many times, I'm probably 'naturally' a better climber than I am a runner, but running is my first love. Climbing, however, is my evil little infatuation (perhaps another love - okay, I'm torn) that still has the power to get my blood running hot. And so I found myself tying in beneath a 5.12  (a moderately difficult grade) last night at the gym and for some reason I wanted to onsight it ('onsight' means you complete the climb without falling on your first try and without any prior knowledge of the route). Now, my climbing has taken a bit of a hit this year because of all the running I've been doing, and so while this grade would not be that difficult for me to do, first try, when in decent climbing shape, I haven't been feeling in decent climbing shape for some time.  

Why did it suddenly occur to me that I wanted to do this route? I have no idea. But as I set off I went into a zone that I wish I could willfully cultivate in myself - and yet, it hits without warning - and the only term that seems to describe this experience is focused fierceness. All I cared about, all that existed in those moments, was the next move. A saw nothing else. I thought of nothing else. And on my hardest routes I've had this experience. I get to the top and I'm almost at a loss for how I got there. I literally don't remember getting there. Some call this "flow", but when I'm in the midst of it I feel fierce - and that's all I feel.

I am also fierce when it comes to my opinions, my family, my values, my friends - and all the things that matter to me. Several years ago I was walking my dog, and I came upon a group of five children, I'd say 6 to 9 years old, smashing bottles in a culvert along a trail. I stopped and asked them what they were doing and why they were doing it? They looked at me, startled, their mouths wide open. They said nothing. Then one little boy said, "Well, you don't have to be so fierce". I found this a very curious comment, because the only thing I did was calmly ask them a question. I wasn't yelling, I wasn't demanding, I wasn't reprimanding. I was just asking a question. So why was this fierce? I was vexed.

Shortly after this episode I was discussing with one of my classes the issue of passing by when something bad is happening and whether you have any duty to say/do something. Most agreed that you 'ought' to say something, but they weren't sure they would actually act on that 'ought' (the bad news, morally speaking, is that an 'ought' means you must do it - but they always hate that part). I used the example of the children smashing bottles to illustrate the situation. The fact is that there were many other people out on that trail that day. They all passed by without saying anything. I was hoping that my class would help me understand why they did that. Why didn't anyone stop and do something...say something? One student said "No one would do that but you." That was a jarring and disturbing comment that I still don't understand or accept. One of my aims in teaching is to encourage students be aware and perhaps just a little agitated about the way things sometimes are, and to act on what they believe, whatever that might be.

Cultivate the fierceness! Be a fierce defender of what you hold near and dear. Pursue your passions with absolute fierceness of heart and soul...Passions, values...that's what makes life meaningful. That's what's makes you YOU...

So, I guess I'm wondering if anyone else out there feels this way, especially women. Have I just got it all wrong? Am I weird?

And when it comes to my opinions, I seem to have no problem cultivating this fierceness - though there are many times I regret my outspokenness because I'm more sensitive than I want to be and it all eats at me like acid on a cream-puff. But with running (and climbing) it's even more difficult. So the trick is being able to call on this fierceness when I need it not just whenever it happens to feel like visiting. And so I've been working on training this into myself. I'm not sure it's working, and I still allow so many things to chase it away: self-doubt, naysayers, the past, expectations...But there have been days when I've conjured fierceness out of a funk, when thing shouldn't have gone well but did. And I will feed off of this...I will try to make this a new habit.

Many runners use mantras to recall a calmness or to remind them of what they're after. Fierceness and calm determination can go hand in hand, and that's what I find I am in constant search of. And so I'm working on a new mantra to remind myself of this thing that is sometimes buried deep inside. I will dig her out when I need her.  

“Are you frightened of me?' asked Ironclaw. 'No. Why should I be?' 'I'm very fierce,' said the brazzle, with some pride. 'All brazzles are fierce. They have to be, they guard hoards of gold. And they peck people's eyes out. Only when necessary, you understand.' 'Have you ever pecked someone's eyes out?' Ironclaw looked sheepish. 'No. But I could if I wanted to.' Felix smiled.” ~ Elizabeth Kay The Divide

Friday, October 19, 2012

Courage: Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway

"I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards." -Alberto Salazar, three-time winner of the NYC marathon
I've been trying to avoid it, ignore it, put it out of my mind, and I've been pretty successful thus far. But this morning my eyes pop open at 5 a.m. My mind is racing and my stomach is doing somersaults. What the heckedy-heck! Oh, geez! Not this again...Please. Not yet!!!

In terms of running and life I've managed to distract myself fairly well concerning my next 'race'. I've run a couple marathons over the past month, been training fairly steadily, while balancing (not so well) work and family. But today it seemed to smash me in the face, completely out of the blue! I should have known. I've been feeling irritated and agitated and hyper (even for me!) for a couple days - denial does that to you. So today I got the dope-slap from my mind...Wake up you little fool! This is something you've wanted to do since you were a 15 year-old school girl.

Back in 1978, during the first running boom, you could still take an easy train trip into the city from the suburbs of New Jersey and watch the finish of the New York City Marathon. It was a big deal, even then, for anyone living in the NY metropolitan area, but nothing compared to the circus it is today. And it was a really big deal for me, a NJ High School runner, because Grete Waitz was running. We all need heroes. She was mine.

So as I stood in Central Park with my Father, about a quarter mile from the finish, and watched the graceful streak of Grete Waitz flow by me, I was completely ME at that instant, and knew something more true than anything I had (or would) know about myself: I love running, and I want to run this marathon...someday. Now this may sound melodramatic (but, hey, I was a teenage girl. It's all melodrama!) but it was one of those moments where the world seals off all around you, it's you and the world and nothing else exists, and your senses feel hyper-sensitive (like when you're about to pass out and you lose your peripheral vision and the world becomes a tunnel - only better). I don't even know how much time passed. Time froze...

Many years have passed. As it turns out, I was right on Oct 2nd 1978 - the one (and only?) thing I've been 'right' about. I do love running. And I've never stopped running since. And in 2 weeks I'll be running NY. And the thought is making me sick to my stomach...But in a good way.


October and November are two of the 'Big' months for marathons (and racing in general), and so lots of us have either just faced this challenge (and are now probably itching for another) or are about to face it. And it doesn't matter if it's your first or your 10th (in my case) or your 50th (though I can't comment, personally, on this one, yet) when you are standing on that starting line waiting for the gun to go off you just might want to puke.

But here's the thing, Salazar is wrong about us being 'cowards'. We are not cowards. To paraphrase Aristotle: Cowards run away in fear. Cowards feel too much fear, and are crushed by it. Courage, however, is feeling just the 'right' amount of fear, not too much and not too little. You feel fear but you push through it in a rational and reasonable way, facing it and thwarting it! Foolhardiness is feeling too little fear and doing something stupid. So as we stand on the starting line feeling nervous, anxious, apprehensive, excited, etc. we are courageous. We do this voluntarily. No one makes you run. You don't "have to" run. And as we each stand there, wondering why in the hell we've signed up for this anguish, we must make peace and accept that we each have our own reasons for being there. No one is there for exactly the same reason.

And at mile 18 it might be hard to remember why you clicked "register" 6 months ago. But I promise that none of us regret it by mile 26.

For me New York City has special meaning. It comes with a lot of 'baggage', and that's good and bad. When I was told in 2008 that I would NEVER run again, the very FIRST thing that popped into my mind was "Oh my God! I'm never going to run New York!". And that single thought brings me to this point in time. And now it feels like a lot is riding on this run, and I'm a little scared about it all - Okay - I'm terrified!! I planned this year to begin with Boston and end with NY, but NY has always been more important to me emotionally...personally. And this year is special because I've been running for 40 years. Perhaps I'll do it again at 50 years. I hope I still can.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Dirty Little Secret

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 
This may be how we feel at first...and then two days later...???
I believe that there is a dirty little secret kept quiet among marathoners who have done a few and feel a little less terrified by the prospect of training for, running, and recovering from a marathon - and that is, that running a marathon can actually really feel like it's getting in the way of running when you want to run. Sure there's all those miles of training, and long runs, and the actual race itself, but then there's the blasted taper and worse of all, the recovery.

The internet, blogs, discussion boards, facebook running groups, etc., are all chock-full of sage, stoic, and often deceptive, advice concerning how much to taper and how long to recover. What many experienced runners forget are those early marathons where they couldn't run a step for a week or more. We dole out advice: "Go for a little walk/jog the day after. It helps with recovery, getting the blood moving and the muscles warm". Well, isn't that just dandy!!!?? That may work if you can actually walk, but guess what? You may have a REALLY hard time doing that. And so those newly inducted into the marathoning tribe begin to worry: I can't run. I'm going to lose everything. Worst of all, why can they do this and I cannot?

Online training logs such as dailymile can make this worse. We see what others are doing. We compare, we contrast, we worry that somehow we just don't measure up. 

After my first marathon I felt great. I was young and stupid and pig-headed (still am everything but the 'young') and so I went out and ran an 'easy 10' after one rest day and ran 50 miles for the remained of the week. By the next week I was hobbling around with a killer case of achilles tendonitis. The grinding inside that tendon felt like someone had replaced it with sandpaper. It took months to recover from that. I couldn't run and I swore that my marathoning days were done. One is enough. This just isn't worth it. I want to run! The marathon got in the way of what I really loved: Just running.

That was in 1993, and I kept my word for many years, until 2009 when I ran my second marathon. Now, I was considerably older, but unfortunately not much wiser. This race was hot and tough. I went out too fast, didn't drink nearly enough, and only drank water (no GU or anything of the sort!) and completely cramped up by mile 19. I was on pace for about a 3:30 and finished around 4:30! Yup, that's right. The last 7 miles were a death march. In retrospect, that was my most valuable learning experience, but at the time I swore "Never again"...again. And the recovery? Well, after a dehydrated 7 mile cramped hobble through 80+ degree temps, I was left a pathetic shadow of my former self, barely able to walk for a week. Please. Don't make me step down a curb. I just can't do it.

Then came 2010, my third marathon - the Colorado Marathon - I went into training with some calf tendonitis - but hell, I was already registered so I doggedly pushed forward. It was a bother but didn't really interfere with the miles, though the quality of my runs was total crap. As my mileage built it got worse. Then I hit taper and breathed a sigh of relief. Surely, it will be all gone by race time. But in fact it only got worse during the taper. I lined up at the start feeling nervous that I might end up stranded somewhere in the canyon. But I did make it to the finish, though it was rough. The worst part, however? I couldn't run a step for WEEKS and probably wasn't really back at it for several months. I would try to go out for walks and I would get shooting pains through my calves. It felt like my right tibia had snapped in two. I swore to the gods, at last I've learned my lesson. Really and truly this time. I'm done! Done I say!!!! Shaking my fists at the sky. Marathons are just not for me.

So, now I read the advice doled out by others with a bit of skepticism, a hyper-critical eye and a tinge of disgust. Much of the advise is dubious at best and injurious at worst. Telling a first time marathoner that they should be ready to run a couple days after their first marathon is foolish. Everyone is different. Lots of marathoners boast that they never feel sore, or never feel they really struggled/hurt in the race and so they feel fresh and ready to run shortly after the event. That's all well and good, but in my opinion, it also means that you didn't try very hard in the race. For a first time marathoner, someone who really gave it their all in the race, they are going to be a hurting unit for sometime, and telling them otherwise is unhelpful at best.

 He gave it all he had ;)

Many elites take a week or two completely off from running after a marathon. I know of many accomplished and experienced marathoners who schedule vacations following marathons so that they; a) are more likely to rest (running-wise) and, b) are out of their normal environment and away from the usual cues that make them want to run and feel guilty if they're not.

Those with lots of experience, and lots of years of running miles and miles and miles, week after week, year in and year out, will respond differently than those who are: a) new to marathoning, and, b) still pretty new to running (and by this I mean anyone who has been running either less than 25 miles a week or less than 3 years, and I'm being generous here). Those of us who have been around the block more than a few times need to be very careful about what we say to the new members of our clan, lest we make them feel weak, inadequate, and just not tough enough.

The number one concern I hear from newer runners is that they are afraid they will lose their fitness. This fitness that was so hard-earned, will melt into flabby jello in the blink of an eye. But what we often overlook, is that running fitness is not just about what I do this season, or this training cycle, but what I do over years and years of consistent work. Yes, sometimes that is interrupted with a forced or voluntary break: injury, illness, lack of motivation, pregnancy, life stresses, whatever. But the fact is that over the years we build on what we've done, even if we take some short breaks. There's no quick route to this sort of base. It happens over time and you can't rush time - nor should you want to. With training you make a deposit in the training bank, and that remains there to build on in the future - the experience, the mental trials and tribulations, the willing and succeeding - those will never go away.

And, on the other side of the same coin is the emotional stuff that follows achieving a goal that you've been working towards for 4-5-6 months. Considerable energy and attention has been focused on this goal. And then, bang, like that, it's done. Suddenly you are left hanging...abandoned...alone. What ta do, what ta do...What's next? You are left feeling purposeless. And being unable to run seems to amplify this loss. There is a period, following the completion of a major goal, where we almost go through a type of mourning. It's natural. Recognize it for what it is. Be kind to yourself. This too shall pass...

And so, when your body is ready you will get back to it, but now from a different starting point - and now, hopeful, fresh AND stronger in both mind and body.

"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Threads That Weave Through a Life

"The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed." ~ Jacqueline Gareau
It's Saturday morning, 3 a.m. I'm up. It's dark and snowing in Colorado as I get into the car and race my way to the airport for my 6 a.m. flight to Chicago. There are two reasons for this trip: 1) To spend the day with a very special friend, and 2) To pace/run with another very special friend in her first marathon. I am feeling excited, jittery, apprehensive, anxious and confident all at the same time. I'm a bit of a wreck, and enjoying the intensity of that sensation. I like intense emotion, it's just the way I am. It makes me a little crazy, but it's also when I feel most alive and satisfied with my life. It's a bit like falling in love - You can't possibly live forever in that state, but it feels good while it's happening.

My plane lands and I make my way to the CTA train into Chicago. I'm meeting one of my dearest friends, Carolina, who I haven't seen in 20 years, but with whom I feel forever bonded. She and I are two peas in a pod. The world feels like a better place just knowing that she's in it. In college she and I went for epically long runs and then returned to our dorm tired and sweaty and smoked cigarettes. She and I challenged one another to run every morning and end each run with a jump into Cayuga Lake. Our theory was if we kept doing it every morning we would get used to it and could do it clear through the winter. We made it into late October, which is bloody cold in Upstate New York. She and I have weathered many ups and downs. We've hated each other and loved each other, and even when we hated each other we still loved each other...

We find each other beneath the elevated trains as a cold wind whips through the canyons of skyscrapers. We hug. We spend the rest of the day talking and walking around downtown as she shows me the sights. We go to the Art Institute. We walk. We talk. We sit and talk and drink way too much coffee. We walk and talk some more. We have lunch. We walk some more. We take pictures of each other together in the reflection of the "Bean" (Cloud Gate)...

 ...We walk some more. We talk and we walk all day. Then we say our goodbyes at Union Station, and I make my way alone, feeling a little teary, to the hotel about a mile away. It suddenly dawns on me that I've probably walked too much. But I don't really care.

I find Sandra and her husband at their hotel and I collapse, just a bit, onto the bed. No, no. Really. I'm fine. Just a little tired. I'm good! The prospect of running with someone, for them not for me, is just beginning to hit me. God, I hope I don't bonk on her. That would be awkward. I hope I can actually do this. Self doubt creeps in from time to time, but I do my best to stuff it.

We wake-up the next morning before the alarm sounds. We make coffee, eat a bit, hem-and-haw over what to wear, and then head off to the starting area. It's pretty stinking cold at this point. Perfect running conditions, but not so perfect for waiting around.

Now, I have this strange aversion to standing around in a corral waiting for the start where I usually just fixate on how I have to pee again. I usually wait until the very last possible minute to hit the porto-potties, and then book-it to the start. I've discovered that this approach makes others nervous. And as we're still standing on the line, as the corrals begin moving forward toward the start, Sandra looks at me in disbelief and says "Um, just so you know, this is NOT how I usually do things". I tell her it's going to be fine. She does not believe me in the slightest. A guy runs by and tells us about a row of porta-potties with no line. We trot over, do our business and head for the corrals - which now have moved forward and seem to be closed. We jump a fence and jog through the crowd to our corral. Sandra's a trooper. She's actually still speaking to me and hasn't hit me yet. At least she hasn't had time to think about being nervous, I tell her.

And then, of course, we wait...

...take pictures, disrobe, jump up and down in place...The usual stuff. And yes. I need to pee again...

Slowly we make our way to the start. And we're off. We immediately run through a long underpass beneath the city buildings where the walls are lined with peeing men. Grrrrr. Not fair.

So things tick along well. I have to keep gently encouraging Sandra to slow down. As always, I have key splits written in ball point pen along my arm. I'm closely monitoring the Garmin. Everything is going well. As we run through the city I take it all in. We wave to the seniors lining the windows of a retirement home. They furiously wave back encouragement. Chills. This experience of taking it all in, looking around, actually enjoying the run is a new and liberating experience for me. I am thoroughly enjoying the whole thing...

We pass the halfway point, onward toward the miles I find so challenging when I'm really racing - miles 15-19 - where you begin to feel the miles add up and you still have a lot to do. This is where you either do it or don't do it, in my opinion. This is where we have to shut up and run and push when we want to stop. I look at Sandra. We aren't talking much at this point, but she has the look of absolute determination on her face. We continue at a good pace. We are still a bit ahead of our splits (which, as always, I've added a cushion to). I occasionally check in, not asking how she feels - I can pretty much guess how she feels and we really don't need to talk about the elephant in the room at this point - But I tell her that she's doing great and we're on pace.

And so it goes. She smartly nips some cramping in the bud with a quick 30 second walk break - which is NO break because she walks so damn fast. I can't keep up with her and walk at the same time, so I jog next to her. It's easier for me. After a few of these, she says that's it. We run weaving in-and-out-and-between-and-around walking, hobbling runners. It seems that we are the only ones still running as we hit Michigan Avenue.

Now, I've had to pee something awful from about 6 miles in, but I don't want to stop Sandra and I don't want to have to catch up and find her in this I push on. All the porta-potties have lines. I eye random trees. I have no shame, but...that might be too much for I reassure myself that this is good training. 

I'm checking the time, checking in with her, not asking anything, just looking. At this point I stay about half a step ahead of her. Partially to run interference and to clear a path through the slower runners or to stay out of her way, but I know I'm probably pushing her a bit. She may hate me for this, but I can see that she can handle it. We pass 25 miles, and I look at her and I say "Okay, Time to go". She turns to me and says something to the effect of - I am and I can't go any faster. I press a little and she stays with me. Our pace is picking up. As we turn the corner to go over the last bridge (a hill I know she's been dreading) we push it past the 26 mile mark. She doesn't slow down a bit, but powers up and over the bridge. As we head downhill, around the last turn toward the finish she is running strong. Her dream goal for this first marathon was to go under 5 hours. We cross the finish in 4:54:39. She cries. I have chills...and not because I'm cold.

As I stand in the hall the next morning, waiting for the elevator to take me away, I look at Sandra and say "I hope it sinks in, what you've actually done". She waves the comment away as just so much blather. And I'm not going to get all deep and emotional about it at this point - but I am in awe. She began running two and half years ago, and here she is, a marathoner - who not only ran it, but ran it well. I ran for decades before running a marathon. I'm not sure I could do what she's done. I admire her greatly for pushing this boat out into the great unknown.

My past, my present, my future all seemed to come into focus over these two days. Who I was, who I am, who I will be - ever changing but with strands of continuity that seem to hold it all together. And I am left feeling very thankful for where I am right now...

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...