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!