Monday, December 31, 2007

Remembrance of Runs Past

The end of the year is a time for reminiscing, so it was fitting that my run on Saturday spurred me to think back on runs past. Phoebe and I were up in Seattle, visiting my two best friends from college, including Kati, my roommate on a summer of 1987 study group in the then-U.S.S.R.

As I set out on Saturday morning, I didn’t have much of an agenda—no tempo or speedwork, just an easy 45-minute tromp in a new-to-me setting. My hosts had suggested I run to the “beach” and that sounded good to me. As I took in the gorgeous panorama, enjoying a long downhill, I thought about the summer Kati and I spent in Moscow and the three-times-a-week runs I took there. Glasnost was flowering, but Westerners still didn’t enjoy free reign. But those morning miles gave me glimpses into the daily lives of Muscovites.

The Seattle skyline prompted me to remember running in San Francisco, where I lived (and ran) for eight years. In particular, I thought about a run I did with my friends Kate and Elizabeth when we were training for an adventure race (we went on to win the women’s division rootie-toot-toot!). We had ridden our bikes over to Tiburon, and then we ran a loop there with stunning views of Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the rest of downtown San Fran.

Snippets of countless other runs flittered through my at-ease mind as I ran along the West Seattle waterfront. Even the steady, mile-long climb up from the beach didn’t diminish the joy I felt on my Saturday run. Maybe it was the delight of a new setting or maybe it was the memories, but it was one of my most enjoyable runs of 2007. I look forward to tapping into that kind of joy many times in the New Year.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Yards and yucks

Just a brief post to follow up on my resolutions. (Aren't I the proactive one, already starting on 2008 two days early?) Swam 2,500 yards this afternoon, which is the longest I've logged in years (got a great workout from this site: I hate just swimming laps with no plan). Trying to build up my swimming endurance so I can join the masters team that swims at Colorado College at the amazingly painful hour of 5:30 a.m. I think I can handle the pre-rooster-crow waking time--I live just minutes from the pool--but the distance is another story. They swim for 90 minutes, putting in at least 3,500 yards a practice. Hello shoulders! But because I want to be with a team (and a coach), I'm going to pretend I can handle the extra 1,000 yards and take the plunge with them next Monday.

The good news is that I'll be fueled by butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower and other healthy purees I'm trying to sneak into my kids food. I spent a rocking Saturday night last night steaming and roasting the aforementioned veggies, then pureeing them. Amelia and I made carrot muffins this morning, which had 1/2 cup of pureed cauliflower in them. I'm not a cauliflower fan--stirring the puree in made me want to retch; Amelia wouldn't even touch the spoon--but thought the cinnamon and carrots and brown sugar would hide the skunky taste. I even let Amelia sprinkle a little colored sugar on the top of them so she'd be extra enthused to eat them. No luck. She took one bite of the frosting (cream cheese, powered sugar, frozen orange juice) and gagged. I cut that off, she took a bite of the muffin and gagged again. She could easily lead the thespians, once she gets to high school. Ben had a few bites but left most of it on his plate. Grant, my husband, liked them, and I tolerated them, but I'm glad I didn't make a double batch. I think I'll try the peanut butter and jelly ones next.

I was going to make the the english muffin pizzas for dinner; under the cheese and sauce, you are supposed to hide pureed spinach, but thought better of it after this morning's debacle. So we just made the pizzas, and she barely touched hers. This get-her-to-eat-more-foods battle will be harder than a marathon.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Resolution 2008: What's it going to be?

On the heels of a fun but exhausting Christmas--how exhausting? I fell asleep last night at 8 p.m., after reading the riveting Hanna Andersson sale catalog, which is all of about 12 pages--I'm ready to move on to 2008. Ready to get back on track, get my body back to expecting and needing exercise. I've hit two spin classes in the past two days, trying to compensate for my lack of any exercise over the past 5 days and my overindulgence in anything that contains the letters "choc" or "cookie". The sweat felt sooooo good, but my body felt rusty.

As I grease the wheels over the next couple days, I'm also thinking resolutions. As I learned this year, having a goal and a plan creates non-negotiable me-time and gives structure to my otherwise overflowing days: both unexpected, but now absolutely necessary, benefits. But I also learned, again and again, that my 35-year-old body isn't getting younger, and my aches and injuries--everything from a stress fracture to an inflamed IT band, the latest malady--require thought and TLC, not a plow-through it attitude. As such, I don't think another marathon is a great idea.

So here are the resolutions darting in and out of my brain these days:

1. To compete in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I've done a couple triathlons, and the mixed disciplines suit my body the best: I love to swim; biking doesn't hurt my body that much (o.k., getting used to the minuscule seat again can be pretty painful); and the running portion is just survival. Plus, if I limit it to Olympic distance, the longest I'll run is 10k, which feels like the right distance for now.

2. To go beyond simple survival in a triathlon, which has always been my M.O. I'm interested to see if I can actually go fast, not just put it into cruise control.

3. To do a race that involves a group of friends, whether that means the Lotoja, a 206-mile bike in Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming (my friend Marit and I would be a team, splitting the distance); creating a team for the Wild West Relay, Colorado's version of the Hood to Coast; or getting a team together for a triathlon. Nothing beats crossing the finish line with a friend next to you.

4. Continue to keep my core strong. I tried a Pilates mat class last week, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Much better than grunting out the plank on my own.

5. With all that said--triathlons!, go faster!, organize a team!, build a six-pack!-- I have to remember to back off as necessary: realize five workouts a week is plenty; realize that my kids aren't always going to want to sit on my lap and make up goofy songs about lizards; realize that my best, whatever it may be on that particular day, is good enough.

6. One final, unrelated resolution, which will probably be the hardest to achieve, which is why I'm putting it out for public consumption: make just one meal for dinner and eat it, ideally, as a family. The kids' menu is variations of the same things--chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, corn and peas, carrots, apples, pears...the basic kid staples--and it's time to expand their repertoire (and, consequently, expand my husband's and mine, since I'm usually too wiped to make our dinner after I make theirs. I think we single-handedly keep Honey Nut Cheerios on the shelves, we eat it so often for dinner). So with 2008 comes the addition of chicken (in a non-nugget form) tacos, hamburgers, rice and beans and other kid-friendly but still adult-appropriate dinners. Amelia has probably already warmed up her gag reflexes, but I'm armed to take her on: I just bought Jessica Seinfeld's controversial Deceptively Delicious. If Amelia and Ben can stomach homemade mac and cheese--yes, they won't even eat that!--they'll be rewarded with brownies, laced with spinach, for dessert.

What are your resolutions, running or otherwise?


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A White, All-Is-Right Christmas in Oregon

Now that the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin and the cookie crumbs have been swept up, I wanted to let you know I had a great holiday. Without even trying, I rallied to the occasion. I found myself sincerely and deeply enjoying a lazy morning with Jack and the kids, them playing with—and fighting over--new toys and books. I started thinking maybe I should let them start out every day with a little pack of mini M&Ms!

Part of my holiday boost was due to a memorable track workout. I headed out at 11:30 a.m., telling Jack I wanted to “beat the rain.” Silly me: Three blocks from our house, it started to snow on me! Big, wet flakes that flew fast and furious as I circled the track. By the 3rd 1000-meter repeat, I was barely to lift my head or see the end of the lane for all the wind and snow. I adored it—and crushed the time-goals I set for myself! I pranced home, chilled, wet, but giddy.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Sarah the Scrooge

Never one for holidays (I believe every day can be special in its own way), I have become even more of a Grinch this season. I bought only a few presents for the kids, figuring they’re getting plenty of gifties from relatives. Jack and Phoebe decorated the tree without me, and when I noticed that they had only put on half our ornaments, I decided that was fine by me. I just tried to talk Jack into doing all the gift-wrapping. No wreath, no votive candles, no homemade gingerbread men—all Christmas touches I’ve done in years past.

But yesterday took the [fruit]cake: Jack and the kids went to see Santa while I did a 16-mile run. I had resisted Jack’s earlier attempts to get us all to visit Santa, shuddering at the thought of the crowds and trying to keep our 2-year-old twins content while waiting in the long line. Plus, family finances are so tight, I reasoned it would save us $25 on the requisite kids-on-Santa’s-lap photo. Almost-six-year-old Phoebe, shy like I was as a child, has never been a fan of the Santa visit, and I reasoned John and Daphne wouldn’t know what they were missing.

Jack sprung the idea on me at the last minute—he was headed off to Mass, and I was hanging out with the kids. Afterward, the family was going to drop me at the far end of 11-mile Leif Erikson Drive, and I would run home from there (the dirt fireroad comes out about 5 miles across the river from our house). Jack only asked me to get the kids dressed nicely and charge the camera battery. He didn’t suggest I scrap my run to join them—and neither did I. So we carried out our plan. As I ran through the rain and fog, dodging muddy puddles (little John’s parting words to me had been, “Don’t step in puddles, Momma!”), I debated where I’d rather be: Out in the only-for-the-hardy (or insane!) elements, pounding out 16 miles, or in a crowded, hot department store, waiting to see Santa. Maybe I’ll regret my decision when my kids are obsessed with The Hills instead of Happy Feet, or they want navel rings instead of belly kisses, but yesterday I chose my path and I was glad I was on it. (And as you can see from photo: It looks like kiddies didn't miss me too much!)

Now here’s to healthy and happy miles to all in 2008!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Weather or Not

I’m sorry, but I have got to follow up Dimity’s rhapsody about running on snowy days with a rant about the weather. I’m so over running in the rain, wind, and cold! Portland seems to be having a chillier- and wetter-than-usual December, but I realized today that’s not the reason I’m unaccustomed to running so frequently in lousy weather. Instead, it’s because I’ve never before been training in the winter.

Don’t get me wrong: I exercise diligently year-round but I’ve been a fair-weather racer—running 10ks in May, longer races in early summer or fall, and the Hood to Coast relay every August. So, in winters past, if the weather was bleak, I’d opt to swim or hit the gym instead of run. Now that I’m staring down a January 13 half-marathon, I don’t have the luxury of choosing my workout. When the schedule calls for 8 miles with 6 at tempo pace, I hit the road (since we know I don’t run on the “dreadmill,” to borrow a clever phrase from Kate who posted a comment to one of my recent entries).

The logistics of this must-run regime made themselves clear today: My capris from yesterday’s track workout in blustery rain hadn’t dried out by the time I headed out for an easy 4-miler today, and my shoes were still sopping wet. This is the first season I’ve ever rotated pairs of shoes, and now I realize the reason. I’ll just keep reminding myself, “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Kind of Day I Love to Run

Promise I'm not going to write about my leg issues--I've cried wolf enough times (although, it should be said, all have been legit pleas)--because I know, at this point, my talking about it further is like the equivalent of showing 400 slides of a trip to Europe. Your eyes are glazed over, and you stopped listening about 392 slides ago. "So then we went to this castle in Ireland, where they had the most delicious scones. What were they again? Cinnamon? Apple? A cinnamon apple combination? I can't remember, but I did ask for the recipe but forgot it in our hotel room, which was..." Bleh.

I just wanted to say I miss running, especially on days it snows. I grew up in Minnesota, and my blood craves being outside on brisk days. I love needing three layers on top for a morning run. I thrive on the challenge of negotiating icy bits on the trail--provided, of course, I don't bite it--where I pick up my pace to get over them quicker. (I think, "fast and light, fast and light!") I miss inhaling the fresh air that can freeze nose hairs. I miss seeing my breath in front of me, a testament to my effort. I miss walking inside, thinking, "The heat is so high," then having to do a big honk into a Kleenex to clear out my Rudolph-red nose. I love seeing that my hat has frost on the outside of it, a combination of my sweaty head meeting Mother N. I love thawing out in a hot shower.

I just miss running on winter days. That's all I really needed to say.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

When the Time is Right

I’m a big believer there’s a right time for everything. Like on Sunday: Usually I head out the door for my long run no later than 8:30 a.m. But this past weekend, the cold, dreary weather—and the prospect of 14 miles—kept me inside with the kids until almost 10:00 in the morning. I didn’t feel like I was procrastinating. I felt like I was just waiting for the right moment to set out. The last two times I had that distinct feeling, I ended up randomly running into Ellison and Monica, good running buddies, mid-route. On Sunday, my delayed start allowed me to cross paths with my former running coach. If I’d run earlier, we never would have had a fun chat at mile 3.5, which brightened my run considerably.

I often work under my right-time-for-it belief. Last week, I had a big-deal deadline for the New York Times that should have had me jumping on my computer as soon as our nanny arrived. Instead I found other things to work on (and peruse!) until late in the day. Some innate sensor in me, fine-tuned from 10 years of freelance writing, told me it wasn’t the right time to write the article. Finally around 4:30 in the afternoon, I started typing and the story flowed. Instead of laboring over it for hours, I was done with the story in 45 minutes. If only all of life could be so simple.


Stop When It Hurts

While Sarah has been admirably training intensely through weather that would make Al Roker wince, I have been occupying the other end of the spectrum. For the past three or so weeks, I've been hanging under bad lighting at the Y, hitting what I call the 3 S's: spinning, swimming, strengthening, all in an effort to quiet the regular and often astounding pain that has been hitting my left knee, IT band and glute for too long. It's been so regular and astounding that I often wonder if my body is telling me that my days as a runner are over.

So I get props for not running and aggravating my already tender joints. However, I definitely do not get credit for the way I've been acting during my workouts. Embarrassing to admit, but I've been just pushing through the pain. In a spinning class, I'll continue to pedal standing up--a "jog" in spinning speak--even when my leg tells me its time to sit down and ease up. In swimming, I powered through about 700 yards of breaststroke, simply because that's what the (self-prescribed) workout prescribed, even though the frog kick wasn't doing my sore glutes any favors.

Rationally, I know when I'm going too hard that I should dial it back, but it is so, so, so hard for me to do. Why? Old habits die hard, I guess. Although today I'm a nearly-middle-aged middle-of-the-packer whose main concern is getting across the finish line, I used to be an elite rower, putting in 3-days for a year before I realized how insane that was, who defined herself--and was defined by others--by her splits, her body fat percentage, her mental tenacity. Not sure about you, but I have a hard time not reverting to a high-school mentality when I visit my parents and childhood home ("You bought my sister a sweater and didn't get me anything, Mom?"). Same thing with my athletic mentality: I put on a sports bra, and I immediately go into strive-achieve-prove mode, almost unconsciously.

On Monday, after I walked the dogs for 45 minutes, with every step producing a whimper from my leg, I finally surrendered and called a physical therapist I have worked with previously. I saw her yesterday, and she found that my hips are out of whack, and as such, I'm compensating terribly. She gave me a mere two exercises to do--when she said one set of 10 for each, my reply was, "Only 10? Shouldn't I do more?"--put a cool electric patch on my hip that dispersed anti-inflammatory medicine, and told me to keep spinning and swimming. Honestly, I wanted her to say to take a week off--I'll happily take a break, when it's a mandate--but she wants to keep blood flowing to the inflamed areas. The only caveat? Stop when it hurts.

So this week is pretty much do or die. I have to get my leg feeling better, or the consequences will be much worse if I continue down the unbalanced path I'm on. It's going to be tough to sit down in spinning when everybody else is cranking it out. I suspect, though, that the temporary hurt to my pride is nothing like the pain of hearing I should never run again.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Staying True

On my last few runs, I’ve been wondering about what keeps us honest—both as athletes and as people. I mean, what makes us stick to a workout when no one is watching us or keeping score. On Sunday, for example, my half-marathon training plan said to run 14 miles. It was cold and grey out, and snow flurries (a Portland rarity!) set in at about mile 6. I was doing a loop from our house—down to the Willamette River, south along the westside of the river to the Sellwood Bridge, then north along the east bank and home. The wind pushed at me as I chugged past bridge after bridge. I could have headed across several of them and cut my loop short but, no, the schedule called for 14 miles, so I was doing 14. (Actually, 14.3….)

Then today—a near-freezing, blustery, overcast day—the plan dictated a long track workout. Two miles at half-marathon pace, 2 x 1 mile at 10k pace, then 2 x 800 at 5k pace. With recovery laps and the to-and-from the track added in, it was more than seven miles. Like so many other days, I had the track all to myself. Certainly there was no one watching me, and there was no one at home to question if I got home early. Yet I stayed true to the intervals as they were laid out. I remembered what a friend’s hockey coach used to tell him: “If you cut corners in practice, you cut corners in a game. And if you cut corners in a game, you cut corners in life.”

And I thought about my mother, who abhors lying. One of only two times I got punished (what can I say—I was a perfect, people-pleasing child!) was in 7th grade for lying. It was a harmless lie, yet my usually calm mother was irate. I was grounded for a week. My husband, Jack, and I are very big on teaching almost-6-year-old Phoebe the importance of being honest. It’s a life lesson that serves a girl well wherever the road may lead.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Treadmill Trudgery

On Wednesday I had a crazy crush of work so I was late wedging in my workout. Because we’re so far north, Portland gets dark early, especially on overcast days. I had to run before going to pick up Phoebe from some after-school classes, and it felt too dark and gloomy to run outdoors. So I did something I rarely do—I headed to the gym (en route to Phoebe’s school) and hit the treadmill.

I’ve run on a treadmill maybe five times in the last five years, and I had forgotten how dreadfully, painfully, excrutiatingly D-U-L-L it is! My hat is definitely off to runners who can put in the miles going nowhere. Even with Oprah on the gym TVs and my iPod, time crawled. It creeped. It almost ground to a standstill. After running for what felt like a good stretch, I’d glance down at the control panel to discover I’d only covered a fifth of a mile. Come ON! Then I commanded myself to only look down after every song. That became a game of resisting the urge to look at the control panel—I felt like one of my toddlers, longing to touch the stove knobs or to sneak a sip from Momma’s soda can.

At long last, I got into a semi-zen state by looking at my reflection in a small window. I could only see my shoulders and part of my head bouncing along, but it was blessedly enough to distract me for about a mile. (For a great piece about disassociating while running, check out this New York Times article.) While it was a dreary, uninspired run, at least I took away a valuable note-to-self: No matter what Mother Nature throws Oregon’s way this winter, I’m running outside, not in.


Monday, December 3, 2007

The Hidden Language of Sport

When I moved to New York City at age 23, I was just short of confident, which was a big step up from my terribly gawky and unsure teenage years. The difference between high school and post-college? Crew. Being on a team brought out a side in me I hadn't known before: one that can set a seemingly unattainable goal, and then, through hard work and sweat and sacrifice, meet it--or at least come close to meeting it. That process, in addition to strengthening my body, taught me how to win, how to lose, and how, to above all, trust in the process, my teammates and myself. In a word, I became an athlete.

And I also learned how to recognize one, off the field. I--and, I believe, most female athletes--have a internal radar that can instantly identify whether or not a fellow woman is an athlete. (Maybe it's a athledar, instead of gaydar?) When I talk to a woman for the first time, I can usually tell, within minutes, whether or not she competed at some point in her life. At the risk of overgeneralizing, athletes get the ubiquitous, but inexplicable, It. They understand that life can be excruciatingly hard (and much of that roughness is often self-imposed and periodically even enjoyed); that keeping your eye on the prize/goal/ball will eventually pay off in ways far beyond and more important than the finish line; that soulmates are often disguised as teammates; that a good laugh, often at your own expense, can defuse an are-you-kidding? workout and keep you coming back for more. Without even saying a word, female athletes often speak the same language.

So when I picked up Kathrine Switzer's book, Marathon Woman, I had moderate hopes: I wanted to hear her pioneering story in her words, but I've read enough writing by jocks to know that their literary skills pale in comparison with their sports skills. Not so with Switzer, who was the driving force behind both getting women around the world to run (in tee-shirts with "Avon" across the chest, no less) and lobbying for the inclusion of the women's Olympic marathon in the 1984 Games. She writes eloquently and honestly about her running and other exploits: her successes and her failures and, often, what she wore while racing (um, a leotard and tights? really?). She clearly gets it, and female runners around the world are extremely lucky she does.

Here, some passages that resonated with me: hopefully some do the same with you.

[[before her first Boston marathon in 1967]]
"I didn't look or feel worse for running; on the contrary, the longer I ran, the better I felt, and indeed was, in every way. It was logical to me that hard work done progressively makes you stronger no matter what kind of animal you are. I had always reveled in the duality of being a feminine athlete, and now I felt more aware and confident than ever of my attractiveness and sexuality, both of which seemed to grow with the sense of strength and power that the long run gave me."

[[before her second Boston marathon in 1968]]
"The longer you put off starting something hard, the more difficult it became. But starting training again seemed overwhelming: the cold, the snow, the relentless demand of having a long run every single weekend. I wanted so badly to be free of having to do something and yet I couldn't kid myself. If I seriously wanted to do it, I had to make the commitment; you can't mess around with the marathon. I was going to have to actually get my shoes on every single day and do it....or I'd get to be fat and forty and be one of those who say, Gee, I shoulda run Boston again."

[[before the Boston marathon in 1974]]
"One snowy Sunday in February I jogged up to Central Park to do my long run...I was the only person in the park...I looked up at the expensive apartments along Fifth Avenue, imagining the people having coffee or Bloody Marys, reading their thick Sunday editions of the New York Times, or looking out the window and watching this solitary figure running through the snow. I wondered if they admired me or if they thought I was a nutcase....I usually laughed it off and thought how envious they must be of my youth and vigor, and that all their money wouldn't buy the health and accomplishment I had....The fact was I wanted just for once to curl up on a Sunday with coffee and the Times. That's when I knew I was tired. So I stopped for a moment and shouted up to the buildings, 'There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'"

[[During the 1975 Boston Marathon]]
"Halfway, at Wellesley, it was impossible to concentrate, so I let my mind go for a while. The women just went insane. They screamed so loudly they were crying, and I felt my eyes well up too. I pumped my fist a couple of times in the air...and they screamed again; I couldn't help it. I just wanted them to know that Yes, we are powerful women; I'm really doing this for all of us and we've come such a long way and thank you for your support."


p.s. Wall sit today: 80 seconds x 2. Added twist: do the plank--push-up position, but resting on elbows--in between sits for as long as you do the wall sits. The hardest five-minute workout I've ever had.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Into the Mystic

Yesterday I had a track workout to do—along with reams of work, so I didn’t get out the door until almost 3:30. Winter has most definitely set in over Portland, with bone-chilling temps, rain, and early darkness. I usually think of myself as hardy and stoic, but I felt cold and miserable on my way over to the track, where I was the sole idiot, uh, I mean, runner. The low clouds diminished the remaining daylight, and my soaked jacket clung to my body. I couldn’t feel my fingertips inside my gloved hands. I was feeling sorry for myself as I chugged around the track, starting out with two miles at half-marathon pace.

Then “Into the Mystic” shuffled onto my iPod. It got me thinking about my college boyfriend, a big fan of Van the Man. My thoughts then tripped over to one of his best friends--who I just found out died in a car accident this summer. The friend was married with two young daughters. As I thought about him and his family, my pity-party came to a sudden halt.

Sure, it was a steel-grey day and big raindrops were dripping off the brim of my hat, but I suddenly found myself thankful to have my quads straining, to be breathing in nippy air, to be feeling the rain on my skin, to be listening to music. I found myself glad to be alive.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Best Exercise for Knee Pain?

Because I know you all can't sleep at night, you're so concerned about my knee pain, I'm happy to report it has gone down significantly. I attribute the improvement to a couple of things: stretching a couple times, reading a comprehensive article about knee pain in Runner's World--ignorance, in my world, is not bliss--and staying off it, kind of. Instead of running, I've been going to spinning classes at the Y, which I love: a total cross-section of riders, from grandmothers to Ironmen triathletes, all sweating together under dimmed lights as Shakira croons about how her hips don't lie. Best of all, I soak through my sports bra within the 50-minute class, which for some reason makes me feel proud and accomplished. At the end of the day, if it's been filled with burned grilled cheeses, crabby kids and other frustrations, I'm happy to know it could've been worse if I didn't take the time to sweat.

I ran today--41 minutes around the normal, flat route that Katherine and I have carved our footprints into--and it was hard, but not painful: success. I hope to continue the upward swing by integrating a tip from running legend Kathrine Switzer. (I'm reading her compelling biography, Marathon Woman, right now--more on that in the next post.) During her competitive career, she was once sidelined with some crazy knee pain, and went to the doctor who told her that her quads were weak and as such, couldn't support her knee. She replied, "How can they be weak? I run 100 miles a week." He insisted they were, and to prove it, had her do a wall sit: back straight against a wall, knees bent at 90 degrees, hold as long as you can. She did it for 70 seconds that day in the doctor's office, which isn't bad, but worked up to 11 minutes (!) at home over time. She wrote that now, if she ever has knee pain, she starts doing wall sits again and it goes away.

Although my weekly mileage falls just short of 100 miles (by about, oh, 80), until I read that, I prided myself on having strong quads. I tried the wall sit yesterday, and did it twice for 70 seconds each. (Translate: I'm as strong as Kathrine!) But they were super intense; my legs were shaking at the end, and my quads were whining all day yesterday and today. Which means they work, and will hopefully stave off future knee pain. My goal: to build up to 3 minutes over the next two months (I'll go up 10-15 seconds weekly), and do them three times a week. Anybody want to join me? I could use a virtual partner in pain.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Feeling Good about A Decision Made

I am SO glad I’m not running another marathon next Sunday!

As I already mentioned here, for the two weeks after our marathon in October, I debated long and hard about running the California International Marathon (CIM) down in Sacramento on December 2. Even after I decided to not run the marathon, I still kept mulling it over, wondering if I’d made the right decision. But as the race date draws closer, I’m so glad I don’t have run 26.2 miles again so soon. Just like I was stoked to run “only” 10 miles last Sunday instead of the 20 I would have had to put in if I was doing CIM.

Now I’ve got my sights set on a half-marathon in mid-January. I’m doing a 10-week training program I found on Maybe it’s nuts to go right from one training plan (my coach-dictated workouts for the marathon) to another, but it just feels right to me. Plus, it’s the kick in the rear I need when it’s cold (32-degrees this morning!) or rainy (hey, it’s Portland!).


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Secret for a Happy Holiday

Since graduating college, I’ve established a holiday tradition of taking long runs or bike rides on Thanksgiving and Christmas. From a practical standpoint, I chose holiday mornings to ply the roads for mile after mile because the traffic was far lighter than on normal days. When I lived in San Francisco, for instance, I cycled up to Muir Woods and back via Highway 1, a narrow thoroughfare I steered clear of on weekends. I also went extra-long on holidays for a reason I suspect a lot of women do—to try to offset the calorie-overload a holiday meal packs.

And, I’ll admit it, I head out to be alone. While I love my parents in Connecticut, my in-laws in New York, and my own little clan here in Portland, I get antsy when I’m around large groups of celebrating people. I love clearing my head and expelling any agita I might be feeling. My run or ride allows me to feel restful, not restless, as I celebrate the day with family.

I know I’m not the only one who likes to do a super-charged workout on holidays—I got two invites from friends to join them on long runs. So on Turkey Day, in a break with solo-gal tradition, I’m meeting up with several of my Hood to Coast teammates for a 10-mile run on a gorgeous trail I rarely take the time to drive to. The plan is for Jack and the kids to drop me off, and then they’ll go on a free-for-all walk on a nearby fireroad. Sure, some moms would choose to amble with their families instead of running, but not me. And I know I’ll be a happier holiday reveler because of it.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spice cake, knee aches and other diversions

I've been MIA for the past couple weeks, and I apologize. Although I know I don't need to justify it, especially with this overtaxed, whirling dervish crowd, here's a recap, in no particular order, of what I've been up to:

--Deciding what dessert I'll take to Thanksgiving at my sister's house. I'm no baker, especially at altitude, but the spice cake on the cover of Sunset magazine is just too much to resist (probably because it has 32 ounces of cream cheese and like 40 cups of butter). I've never successfully baked a cake from scratch, let alone one with six layers, but I figure my family is the best audience for my attempt. If it flops terribly (likely), I can bring along the magazine cover so they know what it was supposed to look like.

--Hosting my neighbors for a long-overdue dinner on Saturday night; pre-marathon, Saturday nights meant drooling on the couch in front of bad TLC fare until I fell asleep. Needless to say, dessert was not spice cake, but rather can't fail Ghirardelli brownies (from the mix, whose box so helpfully posts high-altitude instructions).

--Feeling extremely grateful that the new season of Project Runway won't be canceled due to the writer's strike.

--Working on a beast of a story for the March issue of Runner's World. I won't spill the story here, but suffice it to say, I've interviewed over 20 top-level runners and at least as many physiological experts and I'm so excited to see it all in print. O.k., one leak: I talked to Margaret Davis, an 84-old marathoner who climbed Mt. Whitney with her daughter and granddaughter to celebrate her 80th birthday. How cool is that?

--Trying not to get annoyed with Amelia, deep into learning her letter sounds. She walks around all day, saying stuff like, "Can I have some mmmmmmmmilk? What does milk start with, Mom? The letter B?" I'm all for self-directed learning, but the fffffffour-thousandth time she asks me what dddddddddoll starts with, I start to lose it.

--Perhaps most importantly, I've been doing my best to give myself an athletic break. Much easier said than done. I joined the local Y, and now swim while Amelia takes a 30-minute lesson two times a week (and Ben is daycare...the benefits of membership!). I've done my core routine, um, maybe twice since the marathon, and my back is letting me know it. Dang it that hard work can be so quickly undone.
I've run probably 7 or 8 times, but won't let myself run for at least another week. Why? My left knee is so, so, so unhappy. It actually doesn't hurt much when I run, but afterwards: yowser! And the whole day, it continues to ache, especially sitting at my desk and driving, but it hurts even when I'm in bed. The ache is deep, so intense that I'm convinced icing it won't help, and sometimes my ankle below, the one I sprained so badly, chimes in too. The pains have got to be related.
I've been trying to make believe that it'll just go away, but when 40 minutes of steady state on the stationary bike yesterday sent it into a tailspin, I know that's not the truth. I'm going to call a doctor tomorrow for an appointment, but I'm not sure what he can recommend besides laying off it. Fingers are, as always, crossed.

Truthfully, that's the real reason I've been MIA. I feel like so much of my pre-marathon postings were injury-induced whining, and I know my whining is the last thing most moms need to hear. Well, that and, "I want wwwwwaffles for bbbbbreakfast. What do they start with, Mom: the letter X?"

Friday, November 16, 2007

Plowing through Puddles

Because writing about athletic shoes is part of my job, I’m jaded to new running shoes. But today I ran in a pair I loved: Nike Air Structure Triax+ 10 GTX. They are the waterproof version (thank you, Gore-Tex XCR membrane!) of my regular training shoes.

Today’s steady rain foreshadowed the weather coming Portland’s way over the next few months, yet in these shoes, my feet stayed warm and dry. I ran on a popular fire road and instead of avoiding puddles, I went right through them. It gave a fun, child-like feel to my 5-miler. Plus, who can argue with black shoes--coordinated with a little black running skirt, natch!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gold-Medal Momma

I just had to share this drawing that my 5-year-old drew yesterday. When Phoebe handed it to me, she said, “This is you, Momma. Coming in first in a running race. You won!” Not sure what I love best--that Phoebe never loses her faith in my ability to win a running race or that the image of me running is so vivid in Phoebe’s mind as to come out on paper. With a big first-place ribbon, no less!

All my kids know I’m an athlete--both a runner and a rower. Whenever 27-month-old John sees me in workout wear, he asks, “Momma, you go running?” And when we drive across a bridge, John’s twin sister, Daphne, chirps, “Momma go rowing on a river.” Their comments never fail to delight me, including recently when my slothful husband, Jack, asked John, “Does Poppa go running?” and the astute little fellow immediately answered, “No.”

I don’t have any grand point to make with this posting--just wanted to share some of my joys of motherhood. I might not be the most patient, inspired mom, but it seems my kids appreciate me for who I am.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Debating Another Marathon

People often compare running a marathon to giving birth, saying you need to forget the pain before you do it again. Not me: I had barely finished my October 21 marathon when I started scheming about running another one. It was like I was contemplating my next baby even before leaving the hospital with my newborn.

I was driven by a burning desire to run a sub-4-hour marathon. From my coached training, I felt primed to run it on October 21 but I was undone by the super-hilly first half of the Nike Women’s Marathon. Instead of running my fastest marathon, I turned in my slowest time. I was heartbroken. I debated whether I could capitalize on my fitness and run another marathon sooner rather than later. I set my sights on the California International Marathon on December 2 in Sacramento, billed as a “fast, net-downhill course.” Then, until a few days ago, my head was swirling with the pros and cons of continuing my training (more track workouts, tempo runs, and at least a 17- and a 20-miler) and running another 26.2 miles. The few times I internally debated it in the middle of the night, I lost hours of sleep, my mind racing about racing.

In the end, it boiled down to my family. We don’t have $500+ to spend on airfare, hotel, rental car, and the likes. But more important than the money: I couldn’t put the kid-care burden on my husband, Jack, again so soon. He rarely complained about the time I spent marathon training this year, yet I didn’t feel it would be fair to him--or the kids--to keep up the miles or jet away again so soon. Who knows: maybe I’ll try to conquer the distance in 2008 or it might have to wait until the twins are more manageable and self-sufficient. For now I’m going to work on maintaining my newfound faster pace and aim for some shorter races. Just today I registered for a half-marathon. Coincidentally, it’s the day before Mother’s Day.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Why I Love Female Runners

What a weekend for marathon moms in NYC. Not only did the celeb moms make an appearance--way to go, Ms. Katie Holmes Cruise! Yes, siree, Suri is proud!--Paula Radcliffe, the mother of 9-month-old Isla, broke the tape in 2:23:09. On her heels, just 23 seconds behind, was Gete Wami, mother to 4-year-old Eva. At some point, after they both were across the line, Wami took Isla in her arms; Eva, apparently did not make the journey from Ethiopia to the race.

As George Vecsey reported in the New York Times, Wami explained her short stint of babysitting Isla this way: “I love kids, and I have one of my own, and so when I saw Paula’s child I felt attached. I felt love for her, and I just wanted to hug and kiss her, and I felt happy that it was Paula’s child, as well. It was just instinct.”

Although Wami did nab a $500,000 prize from the World Major Marathon Series with her second place finish, her maternal and celebratory instincts seemed truly untouched by her financial gain. She ran neck and neck for over 25 miles with her rival, not giving her an inch . Then, when she loses, she embraced the child of the victor. What a combo: an amazing competitor, a gracious loser and a I-need-a-kiss, plain 'ol mother. I love that.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Skirting the Issue

Running on Halloween, I felt like I was wearing a costume. In reality, I was sporting a running skirt. I had thought running skirts were so not “me,” but Dimity talked me into trying one. She sold me with the rationale a skirt looks far more flattering in race-day photos—no unsightly, bunched-up shorts in the crotch. My skirts debut was during the Hood to Coast relay in late August. I was on a team of super-cute thirtysomething runners who were all wearing skirts, too. I felt like an imposter—I’m 41 and never considered myself “cute.”

Fast-forward two months: Now I’m reviewing running skirts for a magazine article. Along with a dozen skirts to test, I’ve gotten an attitude adjustment. I’ve decided the people I run past—workmen, cyclists, high schoolers cutting out for lunch, moms pushing strollers, and other runners—only have a fleeting image of me. They can’t tell I feel out of place and somewhat dorky in a skirt. I’ve decided that, to them, I look like a confident, determined runner who is an early adopter of trends.
Sure, it’s all in my head, but if they can see me that way, then why shouldn’t I? A new month, a new me. Bring on the skirts!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Next Generation of Marathon Moms

On Friday, Katherine and I took our kids--from left, Logan, Amelia and Avery--up to Denver to run in the Scream Scram, a family-friendly 100m run for the under-10 set, and a 5k for those who don't trick or treat, but rather just raid the pumpkins their kids are carrying. It was a perfect night. Ben took his first ride, I'm embarrassed to admit, in the jogger with me actually running. I usually just use it for walks. He loved whizzing around Wash Park, holding up his hands in his new mittens. The girls ran valiantly in their race, if sucking your thumb during part of of the race, as Amelia did, can be described as valiant.

What mattered most to the girls was that they had decided, on the car ride up, that they were all on the same team--first it was the Dragons, but that choice was, in Avery's words, "a little bit scary," so then they were on the Kitties--and that they all had their very own race numbers pinned to their costumes. Amelia now has her race number hanging on her bedroom door. Hmmm, just wanting to get out there with friends, maybe not take it so seriously (i.e. the thumbsucking) and have a memento from the event? At least Amelia comes by it honestly.