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.