Saturday, March 31, 2012

Boston Marathon 2012: 40th Anniversary For Woman Runners

On April 16th, 2012, the women who ran the Boston Marathon in 1972, the first year women were granted official entry into the race, will be firing the starter's gun in Hopkinton. These women - courageous trailblazers for all women runners and athletes - are often referred to as the "class of 1972".  The women who ran that year were required to meet the same qualifying standards as the men (3:30) - but at last, through persuasive argument and dogged determination, they convinced the powers-that-be to do the right thing.

Nina Kuscsik (below) won that inaugural women's race in 3:10:26. Impressive!

The battle to permit women's official entry in the Boston Marathon began several years earlier, when in 1967 Kathrine Switzer, registered as "K.V." Switzer, was attacked by Jock Semple after he discovered a "girl" was running the race. For an nice account of this see:

In past posts I've written about how I believe that this left a black mark on running's character and history, and that this needed to be addressed ( For the Sake of Our Daughters). Last year 43% of Boston finishers were women. Women now make up the majority of entrants at most road races, from 5k-marathon distances. And in Ultra distance races, the percentage of women who finish (out of the number who begin) is higher than the percentage of men who finish, though at this point more men still run ultras.

A lot has changed in 40 years. And I feel honored to run this race, this year, on this anniversary which means so much to me. And when the Wellesley women usher me through the "scream tunnel" at the 20k mark, I will have goose bumps as they will send me on my way for the second 20+k ;)

And I will be mindful that I too am running for my daughter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Runners Understand Runners

"Watching the world's best compete fires you up to achieve your own feats of greatness. When it comes to running, participation and spectating go hand in hand." - Kara Goucher
18 Days to go

I've always believed that the running community is a pretty supportive bunch, but as I approach Boston, I find even more evidence to support this hunch.

Through the ups and downs of training, and I've had a lot, people I don't even know have encouraged and cheered me on. My "friends" on dailymile and facebook, people I don't even "know", have kept my spirits up, have shared their stories with me, some sending me long messages imparting words of wisdom that come from having 'been there'. Some will follow my progress from Hopkinton to Boylston St. and as I run I will hold on to the thought that they are with me. Others have offered to be there for me if I need them - This from people I've never even met!

My friends (you know, the kind of friends you actually know and spend your time with), who are not runners, don't really 'get' why Boston is so important. There are certain things runners believe everyone knows - I for instance believe everyone knows who Joan Benoit Samuelson is. They don't! I believe that everyone knows that Boston is the only marathon (other than the Olympics/trials) that you must qualify for (I'm not going to get into the charity thing here). They don't! When I say I'm running Boston, they "Oooo" and "Aaaaa" because I'm running a marathon. And while running a marathon itself certainly merits the "Oooo"s and "Aaaaa"s they don't get that Boston is not just 'a' marathon. Runners 'get it', and that has helped me immensely. I have others who I can talk and relate to without having to explain why it's so important to me.

I remember after I qualified for Boston I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to run it. I knew I wanted to qualify, but that's about as far as my plans/goals went. For me, it just meant something to qualify. I remember a friend, who ran it in 2011, said "You have to run it once. It's just such an amazing experience. Just being in Boston - everyone asks you if you're running. It's a big deal for the whole city". So I thought, okay, once. I'll run it once. I have to run it once.

Lots of fellow runners have asked me: Are you excited? Are you nervous? Well, quite honestly, I don't know. I think I am, but in a sense it's sort of hard to take it all in. In a way the excitement others have expressed for me has fueled my own excitement.

And then I think back, and I remember watching last year's Boston Marathon and the excitement I felt for all those running - All the facebook updates from all those traveling to Boston and preparing for the race. I think about that now, and there are moments that I feel the excitement literally trying to jump out of my skin.

So am I excited? Yes, and getting more so with each passing day. All the encouragement I've received from runners all over the world have made me all the more excited. And I'm glad I made that decision to run because I've learned something about the running community. So, thank you. Thank you so very much.

You all inspire me!  

And - I'm still looking for donations - ANY amount for - Girls Education International
Every dollar counts! Please help if you can. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When the Hens Come Home to Roost

 And the Countdown Continues...
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
 “Action expresses priorities.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Since late 2011 I've focused most of my mental and physical energy on preparing for Boston.

First, because my plantar fasciitis and some posterior tibialis tendonitis flared up, so I had to figure out how to resolve the problem fast. For several weeks in December I couldn't run at all, and that made me more than a little nervous. The only fix I could find was weekly physical therapy and dry needling. Oh, the things we put up with in order to run. The costs in time and cash we are willing to spend to continue to run. And yesterday, for the umpteenth time this year I dragged my reluctant self into In Motion Rehab and asked Heather North to work her painful magic on me. But at this point, having had hundreds upon hundreds of needles poked through the thick soles of my feet, I groaned and said, "I am so tired of having to do this! Of having to inflict this pain on myself." And yet, I clenched my teeth and did what I must.

As that problem became manageable, my focus shifted to a fairly intense (for me) training schedule while dealing with a heavier than usual work load, a feisty, demanding, and energetic five year-old, a debilitating concussion, the worst case of the flu I've had in more than 10 years, and my mother's continuing battle against breast cancer, along with the usual stuff of life.

I became determined not to sweat the "small stuff". I decided that the important things would get priority, and everything else I'd have to let slide, at least a bit.

So what got priority?: My Daughter, my husband, my running. And that's where I've been for the past couple months.

Now, however, the chickens are coming home to roost - Baawwwk baawk bawwk... My house, my yard, my work, my life it seems is in disarray. All have suffered neglect, and it's not benign neglect. Suddenly, it seems, I've noticed all the things coming down around my ears and my "to do" list is 26.2 miles long - which I chew on, ad nauseum, when I'm trying to fall asleep. And so I toss and turn, and dream and dream, and wake exhausted in the morning.

While my priorities haven't changed I must now tweak my methods to continue to maintain my priorities. What might have worked last week, doesn't seem to work this week. Again, this happens (at least for me) when your training has hit a peak, and you begin to taper - that undivided attention suddenly strays - and what you see for perhaps the first time in several months, is quite a lot of flotsam and jetsam floating in the calming seas of life. 

But here's the vicious catch: In order to run well and healthy, I need to sleep. In order for my family to flourish, I need to sleep (because I get very cranky when I'm tired). In order for my sanity to be maintained, I need to sleep (because I can not think clearly through sleep deprived bleariness). But, in order to sleep, I have to get some of these niggling concerns, the 'small stuff' of yesterday, resolved and off my 'to do' list.

I've heard many runners say that "Sleep is what you do when you can't run anymore". Runners are an obsessed group. Runners are prone to Stoicism. Runners sacrifice sleep for their true love: squeezing in that run before work and/or family demands. And I've been doing a little too much of this, in addition to not sweating the small stuff, and the result is that there are a lot of things upon which I must now impose some sense of order. The truth is that now the small stuff is not so small and its all gotten a little unmanageable which in turn compounds the sleep issue which makes everything else seem so much more difficult - and so I find my self spinning in a vicious circle. The solution?: It's time to tackle some of the 'to do' list and get that stuff off my obsessive mind.

So now I must deal with all these pesky chickens that I've allowed, for months, to run freely around the house. I chose not to notice them, but now they've gotten fat and pushy. I need to put them in their place, where they belong, so that I can sleep.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Boston Marathon...And The Countdown Begins

Three weeks from right now, right now, I will be running my first Boston Marathon.

So what's the big deal? It's just another marathon. And yet I'm slipping into obsession. 

This happens sometimes once the so-called 'taper' begins. After spending so much time running, suddenly you find 'extra' time on your hands, and that time seems to get consumed, at least for me, with thoughts of marathon...marathon...marathon. And with Boston it's worse. All the videos out there. All the advice, blogs, facebook posts...on and on. There's no escaping the insanity, the hype. It's distracting me from my work (I have PILES of exams to grade by tomorrow) yet here I sit ruminating. It's distracting me from all the other things I should be thinking about and doing.

And this week isn't even much of a taper. I have a half marathon on Sunday with some extra miles tacked on for good measure, and my weekly mileage will still be reasonable. But at this point I know that I've done my last long run, 24 miles this past Saturday, and so the hardest part of training, physically speaking, is behind me. But now comes the difficult mental (as in - am I becoming a "mental case") time.  By next week,when I really do start to cut back, I expect all heck to break loose, because then the taper really begins.

For now I'm surfing Youtube 'Boston Marathon'  videos while my daughter watches Sesame Street.

This is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gaaaaaaa...I Need A New Job...Or Something

“My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight”  Robert Frost
Here's the problem: Working for a living is getting in the way of running. Of course, if I don't work then I can't afford to run (among other things, like paying the mortgage) - at least not as much as I want to run. Race fees aside (since I don't have to race to run), there's the never ending pursuit of the perfect running shoes, and don't even suggest going barefoot - I'm not doing it. Oh no, I'm not. Then there's all the bloody physical therapy (Yeah, there goes my retirement fund!).

So this little pastime of mine starts to adds up to a lot of time and money, never mind mental energy.

And now my sights seem to be moving to places far and wide. The problem is, that as a college instructor I'm sort of tied to an academic schedule - which most people may find conducive to a very good life - summers off, a long winter break, spring break, etc. But an academic calendar is not conducive to running marathons. I'm in the classroom during the spring and fall, the two preferable marathon seasons, and so if I travel to races I must fly in and fly out - no hanging out and enjoying a mini-vacation - it's a weekend affair, and then I'm back in the classroom, I'm back at work.

Now, don't get me wrong - I enjoy what I do - and sometimes I'm amazed that I get to spend my days talking about the stuff I enjoy talking about and arguing about the things I find important to argue about. I love talking and arguing about interesting and controversial stuff.  But I wish that the US could get on a different sort of academic schedule, perhaps more like much of Europe - where there are several longish breaks throughout the academic year, which runs year round, without the long summer break (which research clearly shows is not optimal for learning). But for now, I'm pretty much stuck with summers for longer vacations.

And sometime I feel just a bit like Clark Kent - not in the sense of having super powers (oh, I wish) but in the sense of living a double life. My colleagues at work and my students really don't get what I do in my 'spare' time.

Since the plan is to run Boston and New York City this year, the question often comes up: What next? What next indeed! And this question presents a problem, because there's so much I want to do.

To begin...

I want to run the Dingle Marathon, in Dingle, Ireland - but it's held at the beginning of September, and my semester begins in August.

I want to run The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa - a big advantage here is that this is also a brilliant climbing destination. Hence, I might be able to convince the hubby ;)  But it's held at the beginning of April, smack in the middle of spring semester.


And then there's the Marathon de Provence Luberon in France, in October - Running and wine! Yes, there's wine at the aid stations. 

Need I say more? Non, je ne le pense pas.

And that's only the beginning. I have a list of marathons I want to run 26.2 miles long. 

Perhaps this is just a sign of addiction or of a stunted maturity - After all, aren't we supposed to grow-up and leave these childish things behind? Things like passions, and dreams - they are best suited for childish wonder?

"Philosophers are adults who persist in asking childish questions."  Isaiah Berlin

Well, I do teach philosophy. And the fact of the matter is, I have joined my avocations and my vocation in many complimentary ways. And yet..

To be continued...I'm sure.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Gifts From My Irish-American Father

I have come to greatly dislike the way Americans celebrate Lá Fhéile Pádraig (The Festival of Patrick). Like most holidays celebrated in the US, this day has become an excuse to get stinking piss-faced on bad beer with pseudo-Irish names. Yeah, hate to say it but I gotta tell you - Killian's Irish Red is brewed by Coors. Ewwww.

Well here's news to all the Americans who become Irish on St. Paddy's Day - There's more to Irish culture than drinking, and if you can manage to go to the pub and limit yourself to one pint (yes, it has to last you all evening/night), then good for you, because the Irish don't pound the brewskies the way Americans tend to.

Call me a grump, but I will celebrate St. Paddy's Day with a run through the countryside, and some good company and lively storytelling.

Several years before my father died, he confided in me his wish that he and I hike around Ireland. I thought this a fantastically wonderful idea. At the time I had no clue that he would be gone so soon. And so there is something I must do, for my father and for myself...

I want to run around Ireland.
Though I think of my father everyday, every St Patrick's Day I think of my father in a different way. He was proud of his Irish heritage, and he possessed that Irish gift of lyrical story telling. Since he was hopefully the last child to be born in his family (Catholic Irish ya know) hie parents used up all the names on him. So, his full name was: Desmond Daniel Brian Patrick Kevin MacMahon As a child and later as an adult I loved listening to his stories of growing up in 1930s Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY.

As a school boy he was a runner, and spent many days running through Prospect Park, and later Van Cortlandt Park. He ran in Madison Square Garden, on a banked wooden track...

Many decades later, as a high school student, I ran on that same cross country course through Van Cortlandt Park. I ran on that same wooden track, which was moved to Seton Hall University, where many of our high school meets were held.  

As a young runner, I always felt that I was somehow carrying on a family tradition. It felt like the right thing to do, for so many reasons. I felt a special kinship with my father.

I'm a runner because of my father - because of his stories, because he believed his daughters could do anything boys could do, because on early morning runs, with my father and my sister, I felt more at peace and in tune with myself then any other time. And this was where I ran...
On every visit to New Jersey, I return to this place, I stop and I think...and I am thankful for it...

Is fear rith maith ná drochsheasamh.
A good run is better than a bad stand.

When I was 7 years old we traveled to Ireland. I remember the greenness of the place, the thatched roofs that drew in my imagination like a child's story book, riding horses through the countryside, narrow roads and stone fences meandering through lush fields disappearing into the distance, into the sky.

And I remember kissing the Blarney Stone. 

The Blarney Stone is kept high up on the top of Blarney Castle. The stone stairway to the top is steep and narrow and polished smooth from thousands of feet taking cautious steps.  Legend has it that those who kiss it will be blessed with eloquence or the 'gift of gab'. I was a tiny girl, being held by what looked like an ancient Irishman. All that separated me from falling hundreds of feet to the ground below were the old chap's shaky hands and a wide metal grate - wide enough for a small girl to easily slip through. As I leaned back, over the edge of the castle, I brought my lips to the cold, smooth rock. Smack. I kissed that stone.
So two of the most cherished gifts I received from my Irish-American father: Running and, I hope someday, story telling - the way he did it, bringing to life for me the stories he lived. And I hope that I may pass that along to my daughter.

What St Patrick's Day means to me is running and the Irish tradition of story telling. So now I shall go for a run...

And an Irish blessing particularly fitting for runners:
And....A Toast...
Go raibh tú daibhir i mí-áidh
Agus saibhir i mbeannachtaí
Go mall ag déanamh namhaid, go luath a déanamh carad,
Ach saibhir nó daibhir, go mall nó go luath,
Nach raibh ach áthas agat
Ón lá seo amach.

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Deslumpification, Or, How to Get Your Mojo Back

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." -  Henry David Thoreau
"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."  - William James
Last month I lost my running mojo.

I don't know where it went. Perhaps it got knocked out of me when I was pounded to the ground at the climbing gym, left concussed and confused. Perhaps it was the nefarious flu bug who carried it off to some other poor soul. Perhaps it was all the busy-ness I've been feeling that suffocated the oomph out of my spirit - but something happened. Or perhaps it began much earlier, back in November, 2011, during a race in 80+ mph winds. Perhaps my mojo blew off to Kansas like so much tumbleweed and I began to notice the annoying ache in my foot. Was this the foreshadowing of dark days to come?

Whatever the cause, and whenever it happened, I slipped into a slump. It wasn't the first time and, no doubt, it won't be the last time.

Runners experience these up-and-downs because, well, we're just human beings. We experience these in life, why expect anything different in our running-life. What's important is to be mindful that this too shall pass. Slumps happen, and often times at what seems like the worst possible moment - like, just when you're feeling strong and on top of it all, ready for a breakthrough - and then, bang, slumpsville, or worse injury, or worst of all, both.

Well injuries are one thing, but slumps seem so unnecessary, so stupid. Can't we all just keep pushing and improving and pushing and improving until the bitter end? No, most of us can't - or at least we won't.

So what's a slumping runner to do?

Some recommend a break, and that may be called for depending on the situation (for instance if you are experiencing overwhelming fatigue, moodiness, sleep irregularity, elevated resting pulse, susceptibility to illness, muscle soreness that just won't be shaken). But a break is not always the answer. Sometimes it behooves us to push on, doggedly, even through the hard, tedious, unmotivated runs that we drag ourselves through.

I believe that you have to be out there on the good days and the bad days, and the really really sucky days, to capture, to stumble upon, those magical days that you might otherwise miss. Sometimes a change happens, for no apparent reason, when you're least expecting it - and you would never know if you weren't out there.

Being a runner is not all about loving it every single moment - just like a good marriage, or friendship - it's not all good all the time. If those are your expectations, you're in for a big let down, and you'll probably give up when perhaps you don't really want to. 

There's gobs of advice and suggestions for upping one's motivation: Sign up for a race, join a running group, explore new routes, get a partner, plan an exotic running vacation, etc...But the fact remains that for most of us we must find our own reasons for going on, getting out and doing it - and these suggestions may work for a while, but it's unlikely they'll get you through a real, robust case of slumpiness.

For me it is pure habit that gets me through it. Habit takes a long time to develop, and if you quit every time you hit a rough patch, then you won't develop the habit to keep running, to just do it every day. Instead, you will develop the habit of quitting when you just don't feel like doing it - and that's okay, if that's what you're after. It's not what I'm after, and I believe it's not what most runners are after. If it were we wouldn't complain about slumps - we would welcome them into our lives like an old friend, use the time to do something else, and then pick it up again when the mood strikes. But no. Most runners hate the slump.
"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." - Jack London
Running is not a state of being - it's a state of doing. You are what you do, and you must accept the ups and the downs. And though the ups are a whole lot more fun than the downs, they are all part of the journey.

If it were easy it wouldn't matter so much. If it does matter, then that means you're a runner - and you should just go for a run.

And so, sunk deep in slumpsville, I head out for a 22 mile run. All my long runs thus far, during this training cycle, have been painful tests of perseverance, and so I venture off with a nagging feeling of fear and dread. But surprise, surprise. As I trot along a dirt road, who should I run into but my mojo. Before I know it she has attached herself to the soles of my feet like Peter Pan's shadow.

And, I can fly... 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 'Good Crazy' and The 'Bad Crazy'.

 "A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?" Albert Einstein
"What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?" Ursula K. Le Guin
One of my all time favorite movies, for so many reasons, is "You Can't Take It With You". My home and my mind and my soul often mirror the scene above. We lovingly refer to ourselves as the "fairly freaky family" because, well, we seem to be just a little 'different'. And I have come to know 'good crazy' (in my opinion, depicted so beautifully in this film) and 'bad crazy'. And right now I'm doing my best to hang on to the 'good crazy' and to usher the 'bad crazy' swiftly out the door.

This dichotomy seems to present itself every time I ramp up the mileage as an important race approaches - everything comes rushing at me all at once - demands, demands, demands...Argggg - Something has to give, and now. Trying to do too much and pay attention to too much is a recipe for a frazzled, unfocused soul susceptible to snapping at the least irritation.

Except for when I am out there running. Ahhhhh...

And here I am again, 38 days from Boston, in desperate need of a reality check. I need to learn to go with the flow, to stop sweating the small stuff, to let things slide a bit. "Just focus on what's important. Just focus on what's important..." I chant to myself. Where is the Taoist in me? I want to be soft, quiet water shaping and smoothing the rock.

Over the last month things seem to have slipped through my fingers. Being concussed and then sick has left me in catch-up mode, scurrying to regain a handle my job, my family, my home, my training...

And then I go for a run. Ahhhhhh...

Two weeks ago a wind storm tore through Boulder with 100 mph winds. The fence between our yard and our neighbor's blew down, and has been lying there ever since - a symbol, it seems, of my disheveled life. Then there's the roof shingles that blew off. Oh, thanks. I really needed that right now. And yet, what's the rush? Nothing's on fire.

The stack of bills waiting to be dealt with, the ungraded papers, the tests to write, the lectures that you don't prepare for, the piles of laundry, and the car is way way way overdue for an oil change, but when is that gonna happen. There's coaching clients to email, interview questions to finish answering...Blog posts to write ;) Then there's the dentist appointments, the doctor's appointments, and the vet appointments (where you learn that your 15 year old dog will not be with you for much longer)...And then there is the mess that is my house, a veritable clutter factory...the nightly calls to my mom, which I've made every single night since her cancer diagnosis in March 2011. And while running a fair amount, I'm still trying to climb at a fairly high level (though I am just in maintenance mode right now). And all of this requires intricate scheduling with my husband's and daughter's needs and wants. Eiiiiieeeee. I'm gonna scream.

And then I'm out there, running. Ahhhh...

Socrates maintained that life, itself, is not worth living. Rather, it's a good life that's worth living. An essential part of a 'good' life is knowing the difference between what matters and what does not matter. It's all too easy to get sucked into the busy-ness of life and get dragged down by it - into the vortex and down the drain, spinning out of control - that's the 'bad crazy'.
"Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued." Socrates
What is the difference between a full and rich life, and a hectic and frazzling frenetic life? Attitude. For some cultivating a good attitude, one that promotes a flourishing life (for one's self and all those they care about), comes more easily. For others, it takes an effort. But attitude directs actions and feelings and these shape one's character through habit. We are, forever, a work in progress.
"Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character." Albert Einstein
And so I go for a run, and when I'm out there I stumble upon much needed clarity, insight, and I know the difference between what matters and what does not matter...for a while.

But it doesn't always stick. And so I need another fix. And so I go out there...and I run. And when I come home I am ready to dance with my family and let the rest of it blow away in the wind.

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...