Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Race Worth Running

I’m jazzed: Phoebe and I are going to run a race together! We are going to do the Nike 5K for Kids on June 7 at Nike HQ. The Nike 5k, along with a Let Me Play 1 Mile, is part of a 8-city series of unique fundraising runs. When you sign up, 100% of your entry fee is donated to the school physical education program your choice. By Phoebe and me running it, the ailing PE program at her school, Buckman Elementary, will get $30 ($15 x 2). (Her school currently only has a half-time PE teacher, and the school has had to cut that position for next school year.)

And schools don’t just get the much-needed funds: Nike offers training runs, school visits (just ask!), and P.E. Teacher’s Night for each race. This race series is part of Nike’s Let Me Play initiative, intended to help kids unleash their potential through sport (right on!), so these extras are propelled by that effort. I know Phoebe and I will take part in a few training runs, as she’s never run more than 2 miles (at her school’s Run for the Arts event last fall, where the above photo was taken).

When I told her about the event, I gave her the option to run the 1-mile race or the 3.1-mile one, and she chose the longer one. (That’s my girl!) She’s been raring to go running with me since last December. After I finished a particularly rainy run, Phoebe asked me, “Momma, when the weather gets sunny again, can I go running with you?” Smart girl! Now if it ever stops hailing and starts feeling remotely spring-like, Phoebe and I can get started!

If you want to jump on this great bandwagon, you can take part in races in Denver (May 4), Seattle (May 10), and Boston (May 31). To date, this race series has raised more than $1 million for schools across the U.S. Definitely causes worth running for, if you ask me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Parent's Love, A Son's Strength

I just wanted to share a very moving story in this morning's New York Times about Taylor Phinney, a cycling phenom who is the teen son of Olympians Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter. Taylor looks primed to win a slot on the 2008 Olympic cycling team just days before his father undergoes brain surgery to help control the ravaging symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The story had me crying over my bagel this morning.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Half [Baked] Plans

Some of you have been asking which training program I ended up following for my May 10 half marathon. Well, here’s my question back at ya: Is making no decision actually making a decision? I’m not following any prescribed program, just doing what I want to do so far. Is this the same as creating my own program? (Which sounds so expert and fancy!) Or would that involve writing something down and following it week to week?

In my own defense, my indecision springs from a few factors. For starters, I still feel in good shape from my half in January. Except for maybe an 8-miler one Sunday, I’ve continued doing a long run of 10 or more miles every weekend. While I didn’t do a track workout until this morning, I wasn’t completely ignoring speed-- I’ve thrown in some intervals to my runs. And unlike my marathon training last year, I haven’t shied away from hills. I’ve done a few hill repeat workouts, and then last weekend I visited my parents in Connecticut where I ran every day. As any New Englander knows, any run out there involves hills! (Oy, I’d forgotten how many hills there are back East—and how long and/or steep some of them are! But my muscles had some memory—even after a hilly 10-miler on Saturday, my legs were pain-free.)

I’m still considering following a plan—I just got a copy of Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce et al because several of you sang the praises of the FIRST training program—but who knows if or when that’ll happen. Chances are good I’ll be doing an exciting rowing race just a week before my half, which means I can’t be completely running-centric in my workouts. Maybe I should just own up and admit that I’m winging this next half. That's not the same as slacking, right?


Friday, March 14, 2008


I'm in a film club, which is basically the slacker version of a book club: no preparation required, save a good appetizer. Instead, a few friends and I get together once a month to watch a documentary, drink wine, eat something beyond grilled-cheese crusts and have a lengthy discussion, post-film. I love these Sunday nights; they make me feel smart and thoughtful and able to process an argument--all qualities that took a deep dive south when the rugrats arrived.

On Sunday, we watched Beauty.Mark, a must-see film by former elite triathlete Diane Israel. About ten years ago, I went to a cool body/mind/sport camp called Women's Quest, where Diane was a coach. I remember her bringing up her body and eating issues during a seminar. A specific detail: when she had to travel, she used to get up early enough to run to the airport. I can't remember more details, like what she did with her luggage, but the fact that she would get up at 3 a.m. to run 20 or so miles was both bewildering and, truth be told, slightly inspiring to me.

In Beauty Mark, Diane cracks herself--and her eating disorders and beyond screwed up body image--open for the world to see. She didn't get her period until she was 30 years old. She would eat one Powerbar for lunch during days she'd spend exercising. She had something like 17 stress fractures in her feet, and would just run through them. She'd pace like a mad animal on days she couldn't work out. What looked like a world-class athlete on the outside was actually a person killing herself. In telling her story, which happens to also be a exposure of the history of her immediate family, as truthfully as possible, Diane puts a very human and raw face on how obsessed women can become with body image.

I wish I could say I was immune to body obsession, but I'm not. And I'd guess that anybody who makes athletics a priority in their life isn't either. True, not everybody falls as hard as Diane and some of her interviewees--a bodybuilder who used steriods, a spinning instructor, with about 5% body fat, who still can't see her body for the amazing one it is--but I'd bet the film resonates more deeply with many female athletes than they'd like to admit. I know I was uncomfortable in scenes, in the same way that walking by a homeless person asking for change makes me feel. I know the situation is wrong, and I want to help, I'll be damned if I know even where to being tackling it.

While I grunt through the plank pose, I look down at my stomach and am less than pleased with the sag left from carrying two nearly 10-pound babies. Rationally, I know I should celebrate the fact that I could carry two healthy 10-pounders to term, but I'm not always rational. When I have to squeeze my thighs into size 14 jeans, I curse my legs, which can run a marathon, not the dumb designer jeans. (Why does it matter what the tag on my jeans says? I wish I knew.) Somebody else might wonder, as they run, if their quads will ever stop jiggling;somebody else hates that they have thick ankles or big boobs or small boobs or turkey-wing triceps or whatever is the despised body part du jour. Running and other sports have immediate, tangible benefits, and tasting those can lead you down a slippery slope thinking that if you run harder or spin faster or just do one more set of squats, you'll be fixed and whole and somehow, a better person.

After being forced out of triathlons--her body literally could not stand anymore--Diane became a psychotherapist, which is perfect for her: she's intelligent, funny and engaging--the kind of person who you can instantly connect with upon first meeting her. I imagine she's healed many people through her practice. This film, which has a few showings on the east coast in late April (and hopefully many more in the future), has the potential to help many, many more. See it if you can.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Random things that made me smile

1. A six-mile run yesterday--my first in about a week--where I felt invincible. The sun was shining, the wind was low, I had new music on my nano. I swear, if I didn't know better, I was helping turn the earth on its rotation with every stride I took. (And yes, I was striding--not plain old running.) If I'm lucky, I have running nirvana once every six months, and it's rare it happens after a dry spell like this one did. Makes me remember why I struggle on all the other days.

2. The aforementioned music. My new favorite song: Can you Read my Mind by The Killers. (New to lame-o me--it's probably been out for at least a year, given how jetlagged my music preferences are.) The lyric that resonated with me: "I don't mind if you don't mind, because I don't shine if you don't shine." No idea what the deeper context of that is, but it just works for me.

3. Daylight savings time. Not a fan of having the kids up an hour after their normal bedtimes, but it felt so wonderful this morning to roll over, see 7 a.m. on the clock and still be in bed--rarer than a day without a time-out in this house. Even better: a 30-minute run tonight, where I started after 6 p.m. in the light of day. (Read: no more dreadmill!) I can't smell spring's smells yet, but an evening run makes me know they're on the way.

4. After Pre-K today, Amelia tells me, "Hailey said something not nice to me today." I brace myself for "I don't want to be your friend," or "Ella doesn't like you, only me," or some variation on the queen-bee cattiness that I know will materialize sooner than later. "She said we couldn't have a wiener dog vet office," Amelia explains, "Only one for beagles." Phew. Dodged that people-can-suck talk for another round.

5. Headed to Captiva Island tomorrow, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, for a much-needed week with my immediate and extended family. After a hellish travel day--a 4-hour layover in Houston, where I'm sure we'll kill time in the TGI Fridays eating monster fries--I can't wait to dig for coquina shells with Amelia during the day and critique the American Idol contestants with my mom at night. I love waking up early and running with the ocean next to me--on the pavement, not the sand, which is way too hard-core for my legs--knowing that the rest of the day, my hardest task will be chasing after Ben as he beelines for the ocean. After too many weeks of deadlines, pulling together our taxes and feeling generally exhausted, I can easily handle that.

Another Year Stronger

I turned 42 (gulp!) last week, making me think about age and its effect on athletic performance. Despite having three kiddies scurrying around, I started thinking maybe I’m getting “older.” Then a few sporty things happened to make me feel the downhill slide hasn’t started yet….

On my birthday I was busy-busy, meaning I didn’t get around to running until the end of my workday. I dashed out the door with no set plan—no intervals, no tempo, no route. Just see how and where the spirit moved me. When I finished, I looked at my Nike+ and was stunned—and ecstatic—to see that I’d run a little more than 5 miles and averaged about 20 seconds better per mile than I usually do on a tempo run!

Then on Saturday, my rowing team went out on the water for only the second time this year. Yet after a brief warm-up, we started doing 2-minute intervals (called “pieces” in rowing lingo) against two boats of junior rowers (a.k.a. high schoolers). Last season, the juniors had cleaned our clocks almost every time we raced them—and now they’d been rowing six days a week for the last few weeks. While we were excited to go head-to-head, we were managing our expectations, to put it kindly. The girls beat us in the first piece, but then the next two were too close to call. We had found our groove and I sensed that the other seven rowers in the boat felt as strong as I did. We spanked the juniors on the next few pieces—we were elated! During a water break, I said to the rower in front of me, “younger people get tired; older people get warmed up.”

Maybe I’m just getting warmed up.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I Have Half a Mind…

It’s time for me to start officially focusing on my next running race—a half-marathon on May 10. But as much as I feel like I’ve been doing workouts-of-my-own-choosing since my last half (January 13), I’m not starting from scratch by any means. For example: On Sunday, I ran 11.5 miles with my running buddy Julie. And last Friday and Thursday, I did runs that both ended up being at tempo pace (oops, got a little carried!).

Because I’m aiming to set a post-kids PR (I only need to drop about a minute) at this next half, I don’t want to not follow a program. Yet I’m left debating which program to do—and how closely I need to adhere to it. (Rowing season is starting in earnest so I’ll be rowing two or three days a week. No just run-run-run for me!)

Yesterday morning, after doing early morning hill repeats (see, I am getting serious again!), I realized I could ask you, gentle readers, for advice. The two programs I’m debating between—the 10-week Ryan Hall half program I followed for my January race or Hal Higdon’s Training to Excel at the Half plan. (Okay, so I’m two weeks late to start at the beginning of that 12-weeker…) I was very pleased with the results of the Ryan Hall one, but a part of me is ready for something different.

The third option I’m contemplating? A self-designed hybrid of the two that accommodates my rowing practices and my mood. Like Higdon would “let” me do hill repeats in lieu of track intervals whenever I feel like it. Given that I’m trying to become a stronger hill climber (more on this in future postings), I like that aspect. Mainly, though, I like the freedom I’d be affording myself. My only fear? If I fall short of my PR, I’ll be bummed and feel I only have myself to blame.

What do you suggest I do? I’d love to read your suggestions. Thanks!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Home Alone

I thought, through the trials and tribulations of running a marathon, you saw the depths of your soul--the good, the bad, the ugly--and came out a better person. That might be true, but I'm here to testify that 26.2 miles have nothing, depth-wise, on taking care of two of the sub-five-year-old person set for nine days straight solo. Nothing--no sports bra, no perceived wall, no hellish hill--chafes more than hearing, "MINE! MINE! MINE!" for the nineteenth time before 8 a.m., and knowing that you are the only one who can somehow soothe the situation. Your shortcomings--and level of patience--are truly and rawly exposed.

While I realize I'm trying to fit the proverbial square peg here, indulge me in my account of my marathon of mothering. My husband, Grant, was on a business trip for nine days: Thursday to Saturday.

Mile 1: We drop Grant off at the airport. I'm feeling confident, capable and have a plan that somehow gets us out of the house for each of the 9 upcoming days, which, like 26.2 miles, feels like cake at this point.

Mile 3: First hiccup. We come home Thursday afternoon to find that our two dogs have gotten into the pantry and consumed--I'm not kidding--11 Metamucil wafers, at least a pound of GORP (raisins, peanuts, cashews, chocolate thingys), a bag of crispy peas and dried apricots. They'll be pooping straight--which includes at least one wee-hour bathroom break--until Grant returns.

Mile 7, around Saturday night: I celebrate being a third of the way through my journey with what becomes my every third-night meal: a glass of white wine, a bowl of Life cereal and too many Thin Mint girl scout cookies to count. I find that making a salad, or really, consuming any semblance of a healthy diet, is impossible when I'm parenting solo.

Mile 10: Not surprisingly, I step in dog poop on the way to the garage to take the kids to school/daycare on Monday moring. I discover it before I get in the car, thankfully, but spend about 30 minutes, which should be devoted to work, cleaning out the treads of my Dansko clog with a toothpick.

Mile 12: 12:45 on Wednesday: haircut, which I'd had scheduled for months. I should've worked up until 12:30, but decide I really need a run. I've worked out exactly twice in nearly a week, which portends bad, bad things for my mood (and my ability to break up the "MINE" fights without yelling). It's ironic that the times you need exercise the most are the times you can rarely fit it in. So I give myself 35 minutes get around a route that usually takes me at least 38, and I book. Finish in a blazing 34, run up to the shower and get to the haircut on time. I can't believe my luck when I get there: a brand new People! Tori's having another baby! The mindless read, combined with the pampering, is so soothing.

Mile 13.1: Halfway point. Celebrate with my Life/wine/Thin Mints dinner and Project Runway. I'm sure Heidi Klum eats like this sometimes, right?

Mile 15: I'm becoming a pro at handling fits that come up because, well, it's a good time to have a fit. Some reasons for having tantrums I haven't already blocked out: "I wanted to get in the bath before you turned off the water!" "I didn't want my quesadilla cut up!" "Ben is sitting too close to me!" My strategy: totally ignore the hysterical fireworks. They'll eventually die down.

Mile 19: Officially hit the wall around 7 a.m. for no reasons other than the following:
A) Amelia tells me her 46th knock knock joke of the week, all of which revolve around this theme: "Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Banana." "Banana who?" "Banana with a potato who sits in a chair." If I don't break out in crazy laughter at her hilarious punchline, I'm subjected to another one.
B) I'm exhausted from going to bed around 11--way late for me; the week was crazy with deadlines--and getting up before 6, when the urchins get up.
C) Ben is mainlining my Aquafresh teeth-whitening toothpaste.
I park them in front of Noggin for...I don't know what cumulative hour it is. I know I'm well beyond my self-imposed hour a day rule, which, truth be told, typically gets stretched to about 75 minutes on normal days.

Mile 22: Thursday night: hire a babysitter so I can go the Y. I start running on the treadmill around 7:30 p.m.--a time I'm usually winding down--and crank my Nano so loud, I'm sure my neighbors think I'm hearing impaired. The Killers serenade me with Mr. Brightside, The Counting Crows are Accidentally In Love and Shakira's Hips Don't Lie. Even on the treadmill, I could run forever. By the time Justin Timberlake wants to Rock My Body, I'm officially feeling like I can finish this solo mama thing strong. The restorative powers of perfect music combined with sweat continues to amaze me.

Mile 25: The kids eat Wendy's for our last solo dinner, and I try to get back on track with an Amy's Veggie Lasagna. After I put them in bed, I'm finishing up the box of mints.

Mile 26.2: A trip to Target kills time before we finally cross the finish line at the airport. Like most finish lines, this one is filled with hugs and kisses and smiles--and the willingness to forget the pain that proceeded the victory.

I'm off on a bike ride before Grant can even unpack.

--Dimity (a.k.a. The Mom-ster)