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Archive for the ‘running’ Category

the best kind of runner’s high

In places, run reports, running, storytelling on February 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

As single working mothers go, I am not exactly one of those light-the-world-on-fire, never-fazed superwomen.

photo

today’s view

I feel like an overwhelmed, not-so-coordinated juggler a fair amount of the time. But the joy of my daughter and my side pursuits (writing for myself and not my clients) usually balance out the daily frenzy.

But in the past few weeks, I’ve been overstretched, overstressed and confidence-shaken by many disparate Big Life things banging into each other all at once. Tapped out.

This weekend, I had my first down time and solo time in a few weeks, and no matter how many angles I played in giving myself pep talks, I couldn’t shake that ‘glass half empty’ state where every small disappointment or glitch in the day starts to feel like a personal dig from no less than the universe.

Even on my most overwhelmed days, I’m usually pretty good at finding an upbeat spot to land on. I learned resilience from watching my unfailingly positive and patient mom deal gracefully with one hard time after another while I was growing up, and it always rattles me when my resilience doesn’t rescue me from myself.

The clouds and cold rolled away midday today, and though my gray mood hadn’t lifted, I was determined to take advantage of the warmth and sun and go to my favorite running spot in the woods. My sad-sack conversation with myself went something like this:

“You know you don’t really feel like going. What you really need to do is stay home and work. … BUT if you don’t go and exercise your underused, over-sugared, cholesterol-collecting 49-year-old body, then you’ll really hate yourself.”

So I drove the 20 minutes to the state park, listening to Tina Fey reading ‘BossyPants;’ even Tina’s hilarious, self-deprecating stories of youthful screw-ups and disappointments hadn’t entertained me out of my funk.

After sitting in the car and stalling for a few minutes, I reluctantly turned Tina off and headed up my trail, more dogged than inspired.

I haven’t run very  much in recent months, and have been easing back in, doing run-walk intervals and going no more than 2.5 miles. Today, the idea of distance appealed to me and I decided I would take my time and run out to a tiny cemetery plot a couple of miles farther than I’d been going lately.

So I ran hard, then walked, and did that over and over again, soaking up, as I always do, the woods and the play of the sunlight and blue sky in the narrow spaces between the trees.

I made it to the cemetery and turned around to head back. On the final stretch, which can sometimes seem to have tripled in distance, I never once thought, ‘I’m  done … where’s the END?’

You have had to slog through a lot of backstory, and I appreciate that, so I’ll keep the punch line quick:

When I landed back at my “Blue Streak,” the name my daughter and I gave our car one summer, I felt like a different person.

150 percent lighter.

The glass was  half full again…. just like that.

My running intervals are not very speedy, so I doubt what I was feeling was a true, chemical-blow out runner’s high.

But whatever it was that my run delivered today was powerful tonic — and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. All these hours later, the lightness is still with me;  I have a newfound respect for what putting the heart and body through its paces can do to recalibrate the brain.

And so I’m here tonight to put my thanks on ‘paper’ — thanks to the woods and the sunlight … the legs and lungs … for restoring me to more than half-full.

Down but not out

In running, Tangents on June 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

I haven’t run since early this year, and it’s discouraging. I miss my trail; it’s a reliably tranquil, calming drug. But my right foot still feels as if it will not hold up on a run. It’s not an out-and-out fracture (not enough pain), but  my fear that it may be a stress fracture is keeping me off the trail.

UmsteadApril

 

(Side note: Because it’s been a crazy/stressful year on the work front, and my freelancer life has me on an insurance plan with a deductible I never meet, I’ve hesitated to embark on a journey of X-rays and PT. It’s a bad feeling to be caught in that spot between the proverbial rock and hard place. But I’m hoping Obamacare will help those of us who work for ourselves and make it a priority to carry health insurance at some level, so our families or people who are insured don’t have to cover us if something big happens.)

Seeing an orthopedist or podiatrist to get to the bottom of the problem is on my to-do list for the summer, but in the meantime, my solution to the non-running and work-stress blues has been to look for silver linings and come up with lists of all the things I have to be grateful for. On the running front, my silver linings are:

1) I managed to resist becoming a couch potato. I found a substitute routine, going to the Y to ride the stationary bike and use the rowing machine. I haven’t been as often as I should have and often I can only go for 30-45 minutes, but I’ve kept at it, and for me, that’s evidence that the running/exercise instinct has finally burrowed into my (for lack of a better word) DNA. (People are using ‘DNA’ in the business setting now, and it drives me insane).

2) A few months away from running has not erased all the mental progress I made around running when I first did the 5K training program. While my lungs/stamina have always resisted the idea of running, my mindset was always the biggest obstacle. Even with temperatures heading up again in NC, I would be happy to get back out on my trail again tomorrow if I felt my foot could hack it. This is a big deal. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d be able to maintain my love of running after five months away from it.

For those of you still at it, run an extra mile or two for me!

Remembering joyful finish lines

In #races, running on April 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

When I heard about Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who was killed by one of the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, the first thought that crossed my mind was that he may have been there to cheer on one of his parents.

As it turned out, that’s exactly why Martin and his family (his mother and sister were gravely injured by the blast, but survived) were there – they were waiting to cheer his dad across the finish line.

This struck a chord with me because of my joyful experiences cheering and being cheered across a finish line over the past several years. It was hard to imagine such a happy milestone turning to horror as theirs did.

In the spirit of counting blessings and honoring the importance of finish line reunions (which we can take for granted most of the time, thankfully), and in honor of the Richard family, I wanted to share two short stories-via-snapshots of the two joyful finish line moments I shared with my daughter not long ago.

Finish Line 1 [aka, ‘You can teach a middle-aged dog new tricks’]

Early one Saturday morning in November 2010, my daughter and I headed across town so I could check a huge item off of my Life Ambition List: Making my status as a  “real”/bonafide runner official. (For me, this meant being someone who actually enjoys running, does it regularly and can run well enough to sign up/run races).

Since August, I had been slogging, sometimes painfully, through a great 5K training program called No Boundaries (you can try it, too; Fleet Feet Raleigh and New Balance offer it several times a year). I couldn’t believe I made it through the whole program without my lungs exploding – or without quitting. That morning, my fellow trainees and I would cap off our many training runs by running a race together: A charity 5K raising money for lung cancer research.

Here is the story through my then-9-year-old daughter’s eyes as she chronicled my first 5K:

My girl captures my race start...

My girl captures my race start…

… then snaps a photo of me coming into view at the end, with my training program running buddy just ahead of me and my Marine Corps barker right beside me.

... and she kept snapping as I passed by her and the rest of my support team.

… and she kept snapping as I passed by her and the rest of my cheering section.

... and finally, my biggest supporter was captured as she snapped a photo of me crossing the finish line.

… and finally, a friend managed to capture a photo of my biggest supporter as she snapped a photo of me crossing the finish line!

Afterward, we were both as happy as if I had run a marathon ...

Afterward, I was as happy as if I had run a marathon, and my girl told me over and over how proud she was of me. She high-fived me for running the whole way without stopping to walk (I wasn’t sure I’d pull that off earlier that morning). She knew this program had been a long, hard road for her non-athletic mom.

Finish Line 2: My ‘Girl on the Run’

Several months later in April 2011, the tables were turned, and it was my daughter’s turn to run her first 5K as the culmination of an amazing, inspiring program called Girls on the Run (please take a minute and read more about GOTR here). Her dad was her running partner that day, and I was the photographer and cheerleader.

Capturing the official start, ready to look for my girl in the crowd...

Capturing the official start, ready to look for my girl in the crowd…

Found her!  (I have blurred the faces of other kids in most of these photos if they're looking directly into the camera; don't think it's my place to post recognizable photos of other parents' kids).

Found her!
(I have blurred the faces of other kids in most of these photos if they’re looking directly into the camera; don’t think it’s my place to post recognizable photos of other parents’ kids.)

My favorite moment of the day: Girls who had finished made a welcome arch for their fellow runners as they approached the finish line.
My favorite moment of the day: Girls who had finished made a welcome arch for their fellow runners as they approached the finish line.

Final sprint to the finish line...

Final sprint to the finish line…

A hug from one of her amazing Girls on the Run coaches ...

A hug from one of her amazing Girls on the Run coaches …

During a team photo, my girl examined her medal with an awe no less intense than if she had won a gold medal at the Olympics.

During a team photo, my girl examined her medal with an awe no less intense than if she had won a gold medal at the Olympics.

Sidelined.

In running, Tangents on March 9, 2013 at 3:39 pm

The veteran runners out there will understand this one all too well.

It’s been so many weeks since I went for a real run (i.e., outside on a trail) that I’ve lost count. After wrestling with knee pain and winning for the most part, I somehow ended up injuring my foot.

It’s clearly not a serious fracture; most likely, it’s tendonitis or a stress fracture (if I didn’t have freelancer-level health insurance, I might have tried to confirm that with some fancy diagnostics), but the prescription for a stress fracture is no running for weeks while it heals on its own.

And if there was ever a time I needed my go-to for blowing off steam, it’s now.

The whiner in me has a “Why me? Why now? Life is so unfair…” refrain running through my head every day.

But when my better instincts muscle in, I change my view.

It’s temporary.

There are plenty of other things I can do to exercise while I wait … and if I do that, I’ll be stronger and less susceptible to knee run knee problems when I start again.

It could be worse; I have too many friends with MS, for instance, who would politely tell me to shut up if they heard my whining.

Here’s to perspective.

Working on my form.

In running, Tangents on December 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

[Caballo said] … if I really wanted to understand the Raramuri, I should have been there when this 95-year-old man came hiking 25 miles over the mountain. 

Know why he could do it? Because no one ever told him he couldn’t. No one told him he oughta be off dying somewhere in an old age home. You live up to your own expectations, man. 

 ~ From Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

'my' trail

‘my’ trail

2012 could be billed as the ‘Year of Character-Building,’ to put it nicely – a long slog of a year.

For one friend after another, 2012 brought awful things. Life or death scenarios for children. Painful divorce. Suicide. Addictions that bottomed out.

The unrelenting stretch of bad news for my friends was hard to take even as a bystander.

My 2012 was a breeze in comparison, but it was an intense year of English-major-running-a-business stresses and solo parenting, which became something far more mind-boggling in August when my daughter started sixth grade. I’m still wrapping my head around how to manage my second go-round with middle school – this one as Counselor/Grownup in Charge/Homework Administrator and Overlord. I think it may be more all-consuming than when I was the sixth-grader riding a bus across town to the brand-new “pod” middle school I helped break in back  in the day.

All of which is to say I’m glad to see the backside of 2012. (Or, as one friend, whose 2012 began with her child’s cancer diagnosis, posted today: ‘You are cordially invited to BITE ME, 2012.’)

I’m grateful to have ended the year with a solo staycation that has cleared my head and left me with a sense of confidence and calm about 2013. On my first staycation day, I was thinking back on the year, and an image popped into my head out of the blue. No idea what prompted it, but it was right on the money.

It was a mostly silhouetted, rough-sketched figure, head down, shoulders squared, wincing and leaning into a headwind, all buttoned up. All resignation and dread. The posture was of someone bracing for what was coming – resigned to surviving it (with no thought of trying to get something out of it).

I think this was my stance in 2012 – or to put it in running-speak, my form. A year is a long time to live your life leaning into a headwind, so I hope to shake it off and begin 2013 with my grandmother’s famed upright posture (purposeful/determined).

And yet relaxed, too – as a slow, usually gasping amateur runner with a deep curiosity about what makes “real” runners tick, I’m soaking up Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run as I head into 2013. Reading about the Raramuri runners is reinforcing the idea I’ve seen elsewhere that the ideal running form involves relaxed limbs … that the most pleasurable running isn’t marked by taut muscles and pounding speed but by a feeling of floating along.

So in 2013, I aspire to run toward adventures and opportunities – instead of just bracing for what may be thrown my way – and to move through the good, the bad and the ugly (of life, business, Middle-School Administration, etc.) with relaxed limbs and mind.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get ready with my final run of 2012 on a trail lined with bare but beautiful trees and brilliant winter skies.

Happy new year.

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Postscript: I’m thankful to look back at my friends’ rough year and realize how many of those terrible scenarios played out with out-and-out happy endings and/or awe-inspiring doses of grace (what could rightly be called ‘amazing grace’). 

 

My finish line

In places, run reports, running on June 27, 2012 at 1:25 am

A few weeks back, one of the running gear companies invited runners to post photos of their ‘finish lines’ – this could mean literal race finish lines or the finish lines you come back to time and again in day-to-day running.

This is mine – the final stretch just beyond the gate at my state park trailhead … the last bit of ground I cover before reaching my ‘Blue Streak’ (the name my child and I gave our car two summers ago).

I feel an over-the-top sense of accomplishment when I approach that finish line; I’m not a person who lives to run, so it’s an effort to keep going out there and huffing through that heat and humidity.

It feels like a small miracle every time I do it.

And by the time I cross that line, layers of stress have peeled away, evaporating in those beautiful woods.

All in all, it’s hard to imagine a race finish line ever bringing me greater satisfaction than this one.

A sampler of #running (and life) wisdom.

In #races, running, running quotes on May 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Some weeks, I just don’t have anything particularly original to say, and this is one of them.  When brain drain hits, I’m always glad to come across smart or thought-provoking things that other people say.

In the past 10 days or so, my Runnersworld.com ‘Kick in the Butt’ daily emails have brought some micro-pep talks I needed to hear as I try to jumpstart that part of my life (have been stalled by an old problem flaring up). Maybe they will kick you in the butt, too?

***

That’s the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.

~Kara Goucher

Relaxing with my ‘girl on the run’ after we finished the Reindeer Romp 5K last fall; a 5K race is always the culmination of the program.

Running along our journey doesn’t only teach us how to keep moving forward through what life throws at us, it also makes us into the best version of ourselves. 

~Ashley Erickson, freelance fitness writer/editor

{This quote makes me think of the wonderful Girls on the Run program my girl has been part of twice; she learned so many important life lessons from her coaches, who all volunteer their time to the program.}

Running is the classical road to self-consciousness, self-awareness and self-reliance. Independence is the outstanding characteristic of a runner. He learns the harsh reality of his physical and spiritual limitations when he runs. He learns that personal commitment, sacrifice and determination are his only means to betterment. Runners get promoted only through self-conquest.

~Noel Coward, English playwright

Games require skill. Running requires endurance, character, pride, physical strength, and mental toughness. Running is a test, not a game. A test of faith, belief, will, and trust in one’s self. So hardcore that it needs a category all to itself to define the pain. When game players criticize, it’s because they aren’t willing to understand, not because they’re stronger. Running is more than a sport; it’s a lifestyle. If you have to ask us why we run, you’ll never understand, so just accept.

~Jessica Propst

Running is not a private activity. People are watching. Show someone what it’s like to want something.

~Marc Parent, Runner’s World columnist

If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.

~Robert Pirsig, American writer and philosopher

What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the day gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate.

~John Bingham, running writer and speaker

Training for a race is sort of like a metaphor for life—it shows you how important goals are, it shows you how much you are capable of, it shows you the power of dedication. I’ve never run 13.1 miles, but I know I can do it. I will do it.

Ashley Cadaret, Running: A Love Story, Other Voices blog, Runner’sWorld.com

When the weakest link becomes the strongest.

In places, running on May 7, 2012 at 1:50 am

I write about my threesome of favorite solo pursuits here, but in reality, Read/Write/Run  is an uneven triangle. Of the three, I’ve always known that running would be the weakest part; after all, I’ve been reading and writing as long as I can remember.

Running is still new and slow and hard.

But this afternoon, as I slogged away on a humid run, it occurred to me out of the blue that in some very important ways, running is now propping up the other two parts of the troika, especially the writing.

***

As it got later and later this afternoon, and I continued to put off my run, I began my litany of usual rationalizations for blowing it off. First and foremost, I was so sleepy I could barely keep my eyes open; a run seemed impossible.

But I was already dressed to run, and my new, surprisingly powerful runner voice jumped into the procrastination/rationalization conversation going on in my head.

First, the voice reminded me that I would feel terrible if I ditched my plans, and how that disappointment in myself would cloud the rest of the day, not to mention tomorrow (I won’t have any time for running tomorrow, so today was the only shot before Tuesday).

Then it pointed out that I needed the run to clear my head and shake off a bad mood.

Finally, it insisted that the pleasure I would get from being in the woods would overcome the fatigue I was feeling. I think it also called me a wuss before all was said and done.

It worked. Even in my nearly narcoleptic state, when I wanted very badly to stay in the air-conditioning and take a nap, I made myself climb in the car and drive the 15-20 minutes out of town, onto the interstate and eventually down a dusty gravel road to the trailhead.

***

In the year and a half since I began running, I’ve made a lot of reluctant decisions to go and run when I really didn’t feel like it.  This afternoon’s call to go running anyway seems small in the grand scheme of things, but today, that small decision was a sign of a sea change in me. A huge shift in my non-athletic, I’m-not-one-of-those-people way of thinking about myself in relation to running – or any other physical challenge.

Going to all of that trouble and drive time to go sweat and huff and puff is something I never thought I would be capable of when a nap was the alternative.

What that brings to the rest of my life – especially to the writing projects that are taking me into new territory – is the knowledge that I am capable of big change, even at 47, when habits and sense of self are so ingrained. That knowledge, I realized today, creates confidence that regularly spills over into other parts of my life.

So even though I run slowly, and I stop to catch my breath (and I question my sanity on 95-degree days), the running leg of the triangle is now powering the rest of it in ways I had never considered until today’s calming trek through the woods. (The runner voice was right about that and all the rest … except for the ‘wuss’ part.)

#running report (a Disney moment on the trail)

In run reports, running on May 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I’ve been lax about running this week. Again.

But today I knew I had to get back to it and that my psyche desperately needed time in the woods, so I made the 20-minute trip to my  favorite trail.

As is usual lately, I was slooooow and tired, and it was HOT (that’s what I get for going at noon), but butterflies ran with me part of the way, so that was encouraging. (Really. Sounds like a Disney movie, doesn’t it? They did *not* sing, however.)

And I saw the most beautiful technicolor-green, brand-new grass that looked like the fuzz on a baby’s head…and this grass was courtesy of *nature* not the TruGreen lawn service.

So all was well in the (steamy) woods.

Yes.

In lines worth underlining, running on May 3, 2012 at 1:42 am

the beautiful spot where I ‘run on it’

From the Runner’s World  ‘Daily Kick in the Butt’ email for today:

I really started running for meditative purposes. I would pick some problem to have in my head while running – not for the purpose of solving it, but for the purpose of having it bounce around in there. Like when you say you’re going to sleep on it; I say I’m going to run on it. Then at some point later on, a solution falls out. 

Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter (Men’s Health, May 2012)

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