Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Stolen Day

I've been a bit MIA lately, namely because my family has been hit with the sinus infection semi. No way to politely say this, so I'll just throw it out there: it SUCKS. Got strep? Get antibiotics. Got a headache? Take an Advil (or bubble gum Motrin, for the toddler set). Got a railroad tie going through your temples while your nose runs non-stop green? Don't give your children any cold medicine--if the news stories about it weren't enough to scare me, the fact that it doesn't work for myself makes me realize it's not necessary--and steer clear of meds yourself, if you want to be cognisant. If I take, say, a non-drowsy Sudafed, I'm still knocked out, which doesn't bode well for tending to Ben, who, these days, unrolls a whole roll of TP into the toilet as a hobby. I swear, running a marathon is easier than having a sinus infection and taking care of kids at the same time; nothing like bending over to pick up a 35-pound kid, carry him up the stairs to change his diaper while he's screaming to really aggravate an already awful situation. Given the choice between that scenario and hitting the wall at mile 23, I say, bring on the miles.

Our whole family took turns with the gunk, and Ben was first, so he stayed home from daycare (or "school" as I call it, to make it sound less neglectful) last Friday. I'll admit: at first, I was bummed. I had a ton of work to do, and was coming off a trade show and was exhausted from that. But as the two of us eased into our stolen day, I realized that I spend very little one-on-one time with Ben; typically, it's 15 minutes of book reading before bed. We had a great morning as we built towers and roads and zoomed cars (and I wiped his nose every 2 minutes or so). I was contemplating going to the Y so I could stick him in daycare (I know: bad mom, spreading germs! But it was only going to be for 45 minutes, and I needed to sweat). I looked at the temp outside, though, and saw it was nearly 50, so I bundled him up, stuck him in our Chariot Carrier (which I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually run with) and off we went. We had a ball: we said hi to the choo-choos, hi to the heli-lopter, hi to the dogs we passed. He kept repeating, "Running mama, running mama," before he went into a trance and just enjoyed the ride.

For my part, I remembered that running with a stroller really isn't that much harder than running solo, at least if you're mostly on flat paths. I was happy to have a Ben soundtrack instead of my tunes, which I've so overplayed I have a hard time finding one I like. My body still isn't thrilled with the idea of running again, but instead of concentrating on every ache, I tried to concentrate on how lucky I was: here I was, the sun shining on a bluebird day in the middle of a Friday afternoon, pushing my own loving cheerleader as we shared a stolen day. It doesn't get much better than that. I try as hard as I can to appreciate such moments, but often I'm too rattled or preoccupied to do so. On Friday, I can truly say I did.

My life-is-good attitude couldn't have come at a better time: I walked in the door, and realized our dog had pulled a family size container of peanut butter and a full tub of Smart Balance from the counter--my fault for leaving them out--and proceeded to lick them both clean. Still, I'd rather deal with getting up six times in the night so she can empty out her innards instead of dealing with this sinus infection. Off to shoot up with some Zicam, which doesn't make me loopy, now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Serendipitous Sunday

I may not be fast, but I’m dedicated: When I plan to run, I run. Well…except last Sunday. Like every morning on the “day of rest” (yeah, right!), I got up, put on my running clothes, and got the twins out of their cribs. The plan was for Jack to go to 9 a.m. Mass, and then I’d run when he got home. The kids and I had a ton of fun playing together, and the morning flew by. Jack ended up taking Daphne to Mass, and then for hot chocolate. By the time they got home, it was almost 11:00 and foggy. The spirit was not moving me to run.

In complete non-SBS fashion, I changed my exercise plans and my workout clothes, and headed to the health club. I was going to ride an upright stationary bike, then swim. En route to the cardio machines, I ran into my good friend and rowing teammate Amber. Turns out she and another good rowing buddy, Kim, were going to swim together at the same time I was planning to hit the pool. (Amber and Kim are the two rower-triathletes who ran the same half marathon I did three weeks ago.)

What serendipity: Amber and I never randomly run into each other at the gym, and the first words out of her mouth were, “I usually do a long run on Sundays, but I changed my mind.” Great jock-minds think alike! So after the bike, I met my gal-pals in the pool. Even though swimming isn’t as wonderfully social as running, we had fun churning up the lanes together.

I’m a big believer in fate. As I hopped out of the pool with a big smile on my face and lactic acid in my muscles, I knew it was destiny that I blew off my run.


Friday, January 25, 2008

A Training Plan Set Me Free

My run last Sunday was liberating. For the first time since last April, I ran whatever distance I wanted. No route, no agenda, no mile-tally to hit. And then on Tuesday, I went one step further: I ran without a watch or my Nike+ iPod. I afforded myself this freedom because my next race isn’t until May 10 (the Hippie Chick Half-Marathon). I figure I’ve been on a training schedule—first for the marathon, and then for the half—since early last spring. I deserve a break!

Yet while I’m enjoying my fitness free-will, I am surprised by how much I miss following a training plan. Before Dimity and I embarked on our marathon training on May Day last year, I was dreading, truly dreading having to do prescribed workouts. Part of who I was—I thought—was a person who likes to make her own schedule. It’s one of the many reasons I am a freelance writer who works from home. I don’t like having to be at an office or a desk for a set period of time. Sure, being the mom of three small children ropes me in, but at their ages, all the kids are on my routine, not the other way around. So I thought I’d feel chaffed by a program that dictated I do a specific track workout on Tuesday and a tempo run on Friday.

Instead, ironically, it was freeing to follow a set-on-paper training plan. I didn’t have to debate what workout to do or worry if I was doing enough to stay fit. It also forced me to take at least one rest day per week, a wise habit I’d avoided for years for fear I would backslide into inertia. (Ahh, a topic for another blog…) My plan is to ride this take-it-easier break like a wave for a few more weeks, then jump back into a set plan. It’s kind of like being on a vacation from a new, stimulating job: I’m going to enjoy my “downtime,” but I no longer dread the alternative.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nike Toast

Remember that scene from “Super Size Me” where Morgan Spurlock holds up photos of George Washington, Jesus, Wendy, and Ronald McDonald to see who the kids recognize? To see how kids’ minds are infiltrated by marketing even at an early age?

We had a moment like that last night at dinner. I had made a delicious lentil and eggplant stew, green salad, and warm whole wheat bread. Halfway through the meal, Phoebe says, “Look, Momma!,” holding up a gnawed-on piece of toasted bread. “It’s like that sign on the side of your running shoes.” I took a closer look and, sure enough: She had nibbled her toast into the shape of a Nike swoosh!

Phoebe just scored a bunch of adidas swag from one of my rowing teammates (thanks, Vanessa!)—running shorts, sweat-wicking tees, and a fleece jacket. Something tells me that pretty soon, Phoebe will be arranging carrot sticks or pretzels on her plate to mimic adidas’ three stripes…


Friday, January 18, 2008

Book a Babysitter for the 24th!

To go see Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary about six very different runners preparing for the Chicago marathon. Sarah and I both will be flying the friendly skies that exact night--dang it!--but there will be an encore, apparently, on February 21: hmmm, maybe a late Valentine's Day celebration? Do you think they'll have Powerbars and Gatorade at the concession stands?--Dimity

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My #1 Fan

Once again, my daughter Phoebe (who just turned 6 last week!) proves to be my biggest cheerleader. I called home after Sunday’s half-marathon, and Phoebe told me she had a present waiting for me. I walked in the door and she handed me a card and a wrapped-in-blue present.

That's a photo of the front of the card. Yes, I’m biased, but I think it’s a good likeness of me in motion. The message she wrote inside, however, is what I love best. It says, “Dear Mom I am sorry that you nevr [sic] win a running ras [sic]. I love you Mom.” It made me laugh out loud! It cracks me up that she has the expectation that I should be able to win a running race, so therefore she feels badly for me. (And here I was feeling proud-as-punch about my 1:52 finish!)

The present was a pink beaded necklace and bracelet, in lieu of a gold medal. (Perhaps she read my New York Times piece about race jewelry being a burgeoning trend!) I thanked and hugged Phoebe, then hurried to shower before the twins woke up from their nap. While I was in the shower, Phoebe came into the bathroom and announced, “Momma, remember that race you thought you ran slow? Well, I don’t think you ran slow.” I’m pretty sure she was referring to my marathon last fall. I’m thrilled she is now impressed with my effort—even if I didn’t win that running ras either.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Finish Line at Last!

At long last, I feel like I’ve finally reached the finish line of my marathon training, which started on May Day last year. As dedicated Marathon Moms readers know, I was sorely disappointed with my finish time at Nike Women’s Marathon (infernal hills!!) last October 21. I flirted with doing another marathon last December, but opted instead to focus on racing a half-marathon yesterday. I religiously followed a training plan from Runner’s World, and set various goals for myself. My conservative goal was to break 1:58, my moderate goal was to beat 1:55, and my balls-to-the-walls one was 1:51 or better. (Oh, and my non-time, ego-driven goal was to beat two good rowing buddies in the race! They are better rowers than I am, but I wanted to show who rules the road. At least in my overly competitive mind!)

None of us were feeling 100% thanks to varying degrees of chest colds, but our mood was light and laughing at the start. But when the starter shouted “Go!,” I was all business. My plan was to run the first 10 miles, then race the final 3.1. I felt surprisingly good during the race—I was pushing myself, but I never seriously worried about blowing out. The few times cracks of doubt or discomfort surfaced, I reminded myself, “You’re here to race.” The pancake-flat course was a blessing, and the fog-enshrouded setting allowed my mind to stay focused on the task at hand.

When a favorite upbeat song came on my “Winter Half” mix, I started my finish kick about a half-mile early. A quick glance at my Garmin Forerunner 350 told me 1:51 was a possibility. In the final mile, I turned to thoughts of my kids to help power me to the finish line, telling myself, “Sprint to that telephone pole for Daphne!” or “Pump your arms for Phoebe!” My official finish time (no chip) was 1:52:32—I was elated! I savored my personal victory for a minute, then walked to the 13-mile mark to run in my rowing teammates (they finished in 1:59:03 and 2:03:07--I’m wearing my imaginary road-ruler crown as I type!).

During my marathon training, my coach told me an accurate predictor of marathon finish time isto double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes. By this voodoo math, my marathon time on a similar course would be about 3:55. I know the time on the Nike finish clock read 4:13, but in my mind, I now believe I could have done a 3:55 on a flatter course—which is what I suspected all along. I feel proud, vindicated, and ready for a break!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Rock and Roll, Meg

Growing up, my older sister Megan and I had a relationship I imagine many sisters, two or so years apart, do: the younger idolizes the older, while the older deems herself too sophisticated to acknowledge that the younger even exists. I used to sneak into her room just to touch the clothes in her closet, as if I was combing at the racks at Barney’s, not a selection of separates from The Limited. I remember being thrilled when she would actually wave to me at a Friday night football game—which she usually didn’t if I was in my band uniform. Needless to say, she was in a social stratosphere way above me. While she went to co-ed parties, my best friend and I had Monopoly marathons. While she went to prom with a date coveted by her friends, I made a mixed tape the night of, pretending not to care I wasn’t invited. She was valedictorian, I, well, wasn’t.

Sometime in my 20’s, though, living away from home, I realized two things: that her clothes weren’t that cool and I could define my life in the outline of her shadow, or I could create my own shadow. I opted for the latter. I fell into endurance sports, among other things, and completed the 1995 New York City marathon. My family had never been runners, so my taking on the 26.2 came as a bit of a shock. I don’t think Megan understood why I ran, or more specifically, why I’d run that far with no hope of winning. But slowly, she’s come around to the running way of life, appreciating the mental clarity and physical exhaustion it gives. She trained for a half-marathon a couple years ago, only to stop when she found out she was pregnant. After having her second child, she’s been running regularly. (And, it should be said, shopping like me. We ended up wearing the same sweater from Anthropologie on Thanksgiving; neither of us knew the other had bought it.)

Megan is going to take on the 26.2 miles of the Rock and Roll Marathon on Sunday. I’m not entirely sure what prompted her to sign up: possibly sibling rivalry, which, despite us being closer to 40 years old than 4, still exists (my younger sister and I ran Nike Women’s San Francisco together in October) ; possibly needing a personal goal and some structure outside of play dates and conference calls; possibly cutting a mid-life crisis off at the pass. It doesn’t really matter why she’s going the distance. I’m just impressed that she is. She’s not a natural runner—my mom always said she’d break her ankles, which are roughly the width of a robin’s, if she ran too far—and she’s not as athletically driven (read: stubborn) as I am. Much of her training was through the Denver winter, where her bird ankles, I’m sure, were chapped by the biting wind. She dutifully followed a plan in the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, completing most of her long runs solo—a feat not easy for anybody, let alone a new marathoner.

That said, going the 26.2 certainly isn’t easy for anybody. It definitely didn’t come naturally to me either time, which leads me to believe, since we share the same genes (although I was blessed with more sturdy ankles), that Megan will have both an amazing and amazingly tough day on Sunday. She’ll hit the highs and she’ll hit some lows as she tries to reach her goal: beating Katie Holmes’ 5:30ish time from this year’s NYC Marathon. I'm sure she'll surprise herself by how capable she feels, and she'll leave Katie in the dust.

I thought I’d be more self-congratulatory, my shadow finally leading Megan’s somewhere she wanted to be, but the truth is everybody runs their own race, both in life and on the course. So rock and roll Meg--and enjoy the ride.

Good luck to everybody marathon-bound, Arizona to Disney World this weekend--

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Taste of My Medicine

Mothers constantly give: give baths, give kisses to elbows whacked on counters, give endless made-up answers to profound and hard-to-answer questions. (Amelia's today: "Are people alive in heaven, mom?") Most of the time, I love it. I love knowing that only I know that when Ben screams "Bar!" he's asking for a Cherry Pie Larabar. I love knowing the difference between Amelia's fake, I-want-attention cry and her I'm-seriously-hurting cry, and knowing that my hugs and kisses will make the latter go away. (Nothing, save distraction, makes the former disappear.) I love being the one whose smell is comforting, whose voice is (usually) soothing, whose intimate knowledge of their tiny bodies and minds makes their lives happy and easy. Some days, though, I can get to feeling sorry for myself, and I think, "I want somebody to make me pancakes and get me dressed and entertain me all day then give me a bath, read me books and put me softly to bed."

I'm working on a story for Women's Health about gear, and I need a fit tip--how to know if this piece of gear is right for you--for each item, one of which is running shoes. I called the Colorado Running Company, a running store in downtown Colorado Springs (they don't have a website), the other day and introduced myself, explained the story and asked if I could ask a few questions over the phone. "Why don't you come down and see for yourself," replied a nice voice, belonging to a guy named John. I told him the quote would be a line or two, and I didn't want to waste his time. "It's what we do," he said, "I don't even care if you quote me." So I took nice John up on his offer and brought my orthotics and my shoes from the marathon, which are totally uneven: the left heel is significantly--like 1/3"--more worn down than the right.

I won't bore you with the technical details we discussed, but I will tell you he spent 30 minutes with me, as other customers came in and out of the store and he politely ignored them. (There was one other salesperson there.) He let me run outside in brand new shoes. He videotaped me on the treadmill and showed me what a non-overpronater I am (I thought I was). He talked me through the benefits and drawbacks of orthotics, and the correct shoes to use them in. (Most orthotic wearers don't need motion control shoes, as the orthotics are stiff enough; in fact, combining orthotics and aggressive MC shoes may produce—surprise!—IT problems.) In short, he gave me the treatment mothers can understandably crave: he made me feel like me (and my gross, problem-ridden feet) were the only thing on his mind.

It's not making 3 meals a day, building endless towers, watching Wonder Pets, refereeing fairly when both kids covet the same toy and repeating other mundane tasks I take on regularly, but I'll happily take it. Especially if his thoughtful advice keeps me running.



In keeping with Dimity’s post about her pooch, I’d like to attest that you can teach an “old” dog new tricks. I’m very excited about a technique-breakthrough I just had on the rowing machine.

I fancy myself as very fit and fairly strong, but the rowing machine (a.k.a. “erg”—or should I say “GRRRR-erg!”) has always been my nemesis. To me, an erg is torturous on so many levels—mentally, aerobically, anaerobically, butt-wise (my arse gets SO sore from sitting while using glutes!), and emotionally. I’m not terrible at erging, but I’ve never been able to live up to my true potential on an erg. I always believed there was some secret to success on the erg but I’d missed the memo.

Then last Saturday, my rowing coach, Kalle, sat down on an erg next to me. A tone of defeat seeped into his voice as he began discussing the problems he saw with my stroke. Not a good start: My usual optimism flagged. My dreams of a shared-secret started to crumble—maybe I do suck. Kalle said I wasn’t utilizing my height (I’m 5’ 11”—I only look like a pygmy next to dear 6’ 4” Dimity!), especially my long legs. He wasn’t sure whether it was muscle tightness, technique, or what that kept me from literally reaching my potential—he just knew I needed to fix it.

He talked a bit more, and then I started erging again. Kalle’s words were ringing in my ears. I sensed he felt as discouraged as I did. But then fortune smiled down on me, and something clicked. All I had to do was think about trying to get the handle as close as possible to the front of the erg on each recovery and—bingo—my 500-meter splits were suddenly 10 to 15 seconds faster with no real extra effort. At last, the secret is mine!


Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Empathetic Hound

Just as my IT band is finally starting to not be so freakin' angry at me--I ran 4 miles on the dreadmill yesterday! and loved every step! hurray!--our dog, Dharma, decides she needs to carry the injury torch in our house. Something happened to her on her walk on Saturday morning (what, I'm not sure, since my not-always-totally-attentive husband was on leash duty), and she started limping that afternoon.

Thinking it was a pulled muscle (and honestly, being too cheap to take her to the vet on a Sunday or holiday), I thought I'd give her a couple days to mend. When she was still hobbling around yesterday morning, though, I called the vet. After x-rays and a thorough examination, she discerned that nothing is broken, but that Dharma has a seriously swollen "wrist." Hence the bandage to keep her from bending it too much. She's on some super effective pain meds, which I had to pick up at Target (a bit embarrassing when they say, "Your insurance card please," and you reply, "Um, it's for my dog."). They make her so drowsy, the princess gets carried up the stairs at night and down in the morning.

I think the pink soft cast, which matches her collar, is adorable. And in my cheap mind, for a $200 visit, it should be.

Happy 2008 and many good miles to runners and canines alike--