Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jan. 1st, a few weeks early

It was an interesting weekend, and I think I may have figured a few things out.

The most important part of the weekend was that I finally went to the gym for a workout.

Motivation-wise, things have been pretty non-existent for weeks now. While I've told myself about a thousand times I needed to get out there and run, I've found a way to talk myself out of it every time. And while I've told myself probably twice as many times that I need to get my diet back in order, I've not done so, shoveling in a disproportionate quantity of not-so-nutritious food at an alarming rate (especially over Thanksgiving) and as a result, have managed to gain well over ten pounds since late summer. A lot of it has been mindless shoveling, at that - boredom, stress, and general angst over lingering personal situations that have been difficult to deal with.

While it would be a stretch to consider running even a 5K at the moment, I think out of everything, the weight gain gets to me the most. In 2009 I'd managed to shed nearly 60 lbs., down from a ridiculously high weight I'd told myself for years I would never see on my scale. And yet, it happened. I absolutely cannot let myself get to that weight, or even near it, ever again. I just can't. So, climbing back on the scale this weekend was a very big wake-up call, one that I've needed for many, many weeks now.

About the running itself, it occurred to me that much of the training I did last year was half-hearted; "one-legged", if you will. I made a lot of excuses and I cut a lot of corners, and as a result my first marathon experience was much more diffficult than it had to be, and no matter what anyone says, not nearly as good performance-wise as it could have been. It's almost as if I was training in a thick fog - it is distressing for me to consider just how much better my training and the actual race exeperience would have been had I buckled down with proper diet and truly dedicated training. This is entirely aside from the foot issues I was having - in a way, I used this as an excuse to not do even what I could have done - hopping on the bike, strength training, even swimming. And I paid for it.

Today was nothing stunning, mind you - I didn't feel like tearing myself a new one. 40 minutes, walking and running at a very easy pace. A good 15 minutes of careful, thoughtful stretching. 40 ball-on-the-wall situps. I felt good afterward, I still feel good now...tomorrow morning and then the day after will be the true litmus of whether or not I overdid it today.

Except I am going back to the gym tomorrow morning. And signing myself up for this.

Momentum.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two steps forward....

...and maybe not quite a whole step back, but in some ways, that's what it feels like.

I did finally get my sorry self to the gym this morning, and spent 45 minutes on the treadmill, including a 10-minute walking warmup, and a 5-minute cooldown.

After more or less zero activity since the marathon (I did one 3-mile run about two weeks ago) I expected it to be a lot harder than it was. I took several walking breaks throughout, but I did run, even if it was at a pace that barely qualified as running. I even managed 4 minutes at 5MPH, which is a speed that was challenging even when I was in the thick of training.

A 12-minute mile is practically a sprint pace for me.  :-P  But after over 4 weeks of essentially doing nothing, the fact that I could maintain that speed for 4 whole minutes is, in my estimation, pretty good (although I felt a tad pukey for a few minutes after.) On top of that, I've gained about 7 lbs., as my diet has been total and utter crap. As I type this I can feel various spots getting stiff and sore, so even just this little jaunt was a bit of a shock to the system, I think. Discouraging, but not unexpected.

I've pronounced it to myself (and sometimes to the world at large) a thousand times before - but I'm going to say it again, right now, just because I'm tenacious if nothing else. It's time to get with the program. Seriously. Even after feeling like I wrecked myself with the marathon - I haven't lost the desire to run. There are plenty of half marathons I want to take on this coming year, and I'm pretty sure I'll target Portland as my second go at the marathon next October.

For now, there's the Oregon Zoo Turkey Trot (4 miles) on Thanksgiving morning, and two 5Ks in December that I'll focus on. There will be no worry or fuss about acheiving PRs - these will be strictly about just getting back in the game and rebuilding my base.

So, it's pretty clear: dial in the nutrition, start doing some strength training (especially for the ankles, which are really weak right now) and get some mileage on the books.

Yep, time to get with the program.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Letter

Dearest and Most Honored Ballys Total Fitness:

Please forgive me, for I have not haunted your hallowed halls and workout machines for many, many weeks.

Verily, I have spurned you in favor of sloth - no miles have I run, no muscles have I built, no extra calories have I burned (although most certainly have partaken!)

Like a small child who slipped her spinach casserole to the dog, or refused the hygienic ministrations of hot, soapy water...I shall return to you forthwith, properly scolded, to pay pennance for my egregious lack of movement and clean, healthy nourishment.

O Mighty LifeFitness treadmills - you will once again put me on the Righteous Path of the Runner. You shall tone my softening muscles and challenge my cardio with great and endless inclines, and when I have been reduced to tears from your ministrations of pain (and boredom), outside I shall go to brave the wild, winter elements of Oregon that build character and lend the reputation of insanity....to participate in many more 5K's and Marathons so that I may procure much swag and earn shining medals of great honor and supplement my enormous t-shirt agglomeration...

I remain, properly and forever chastened, and vow to return once again to a blessed state of caloric debt....

~Jules

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Well.....NOW what?

It’s been a little over two weeks since marathon day.

I’ve gone for a run only once since then, and have not worked out otherwise either. The one run I did do – last Friday – was not fun. At all. In fact it was quite painful. I’d mistakenly thought I’d have at least a vague sense of “freshness”, but in reality I still felt trashed. I did three miserable miles of running, and three-quarters of a mile walking and hated every single second. The foot wasn’t flaring up too badly, but it seemed every other area of my body had something to say, and none of it was very nice.

The logical part of me knows I seriously need to get on the ball – even if I’m not going to do a lot of running for now, I need to at least get on the stationary bike or the elliptical. Between the forced lull over the past six weeks of marathon training (because of the foot) and the pronounced lack of any physical activity since the race, my fitness is slipping – which I’m pretty certain is the biggest reason my run last week was so agonizingly crappy. I’m also fairly certain I’ve gained a few pounds, although I can’t confirm since the battery in my scale died (really, it did!) If nothing else, my pants are feeling a bit more snug than they were several weeks ago, so that is definitely the cue to get my act in gear once again, on every front.

Regardless of what I must do to get back on track, one thing is crystal clear: marathon day came, I finished, and now it’s over. Post-marathon let-down, anyone…? It’s not that I’m depressed, but now there’s a void where there used to be a goal. There are always other 26.2 mile races to think about, in fact, literally hundreds I could potentially enter – but “running a marathon” is no longer a goal in and of itself, since I have now officially done one.

The next logical step up, assuming I continue to set goals that are increasingly difficult, would be a cautious journey into the world of ultra-marathons or perhaps triathlons. There is little doubt in my mind that both would be worthy events to look into. Choosing between the two seems relatively easy, however, since I hate riding bikes and don’t particularly enjoy non-recreational swimming (splashing around with my kids at a water park or the local community pool is more or less the only thing that gets me into a bathing suit these days, other than the very occasional hot tub.)

The idea of doing an ultra-marathon is intriguing. I’m not too sure I would ever be compelled to do anything as extreme as the 100-mile distance, especially a race as arduous as Western States, but a 50K, or even a 50-miler seems like a good goal to reach for. Like the marathon, there is specific training that’s called for with such a distance, but I am not anywhere near in the kind of physical shape needed to begin such training. Given the recent decline in my overall fitness, the ongoing problem with my foot and perhaps even just the singular fact that my first marathon performance was far from stellar, it would truly be the ultimate culmination of stupidity to take on that kind of physical challenge at this point.

So I suspect my next goal is simple: take the next couple or three years to lose some weight, hone my skills, work on endurance and speed in all distances, and target a marathon to run every 5 months or so. I would love for my next one to be sub-6 hour. Quite doable, I think.

In the meantime, there’s a 10K this coming Saturday that is the last race of the ORRC 10K Series for this year, so I’m already signed up. I’m probably going to regret it, but I’m going. I’m also completely confident I won’t be seeing any PRs, but it’s a start and hopefully, it will give me enough of a mental something to get back out there and do what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is what I absolutely love to do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10-10-10

Well, I said I was going to do it, and I did. To borrow a phrase from Sir Paul, it was a long and winding road – and rest assured I’m not referring to just the race itself.

I may have already mentioned it before, but this was my third attempt at the marathon, and only the first time I actually made it to race day. My first shot was back in 2000. I rolled my ankle very hard a couple months into the training program I was following and lost too much ground to continue. The second time was the following year, and about two months before race day, I found out I was pregnant. In retrospect, I think I could have still finished as a walker, but the morning sickness was too much and I was nervous about that kind of exertion. After that, I quit running altogether until last year.

So you can only imagine that this was a pretty special day for me. Crossing that finish line Sunday afternoon was in every sense of the word an uncategorical milestone in my life.

The night before, I didn’t get to bed until about 10:30. When I glanced at the clock before I finally drifted off, it was after 11. I woke up at 12, 2:40 and then 3:50am – and that was the end of sleep. After another 40 minutes spent under the covers trying to relax with deep breathing and meditation, I finally gave up and hopped in the shower. Wisely, I’d laid everything out the evening before – clothes, bib, shoes, Glide – and aside from the butterflies in my stomach, getting ready was smooth and methodical. The rest of the family drug themselves out of bed around 5 and we were headed to downtown Portland by 5:35.

By the time we got to my assigned staging area, it was still dark and pouring down rain. People were milling around in garbage bags and cursing the sky, but in a lighthearted and jovial sort of way. In Portland, this is often what you get this time of year. It is what it is. And naturally, all runners worth their salt – especially those who are dedicated enough to work towards the marathon – will run no matter what the weather brings.


30 minutes to Go, hanging out under a coffee shop awning, trying to stay dry...
 
Gun time was 7:00am. We went out in waves, so I didn’t cross the mats until nearly 7:20. I was feeling awesome, the rain was coming down in sheets, tons of people were yelling and cheering and going to town with the cowbells, and there was a drumline to see us off, which was a very good choice for the “kickoff entertainment.”

To say I was conservative with my pace is probably the understatement of the century – I was ridiculously nervous about how my foot was going to hold up – but in the end, it was a good thing that those nerves kept me from going out too fast. I did a frequently-alternating pattern of running and walking, and didn’t actually run an entire uninterrupted mile at any point during the race, which again, was probably the best plan of action.

The first 5-6 miles were a breeze. The foot was good, the rest of me was good, and there were so many people around me it really didn’t matter at all that I was in the “back pack.” Within the first mile, I was so wet my clothes were literally plastered to my skin, and water was dripping steadily from the rim of my visor. There were puddles everywhere, and they became harder to dodge as the rain pretty much didn’t let up, so after a while, folks were just plowing right through them instead of trying to skirt them. After all, what was the point?

It didn’t take me long to figure out why it is so awesome to have your name printed on your bib – it’s a real boost to have a total and random stranger – a fellow runner or even a spectator – call out your name with a smile, a thumbs up, a “way to go!” At about mile 7, I saw my friend Catrena out on the course – she was running the half marathon, had already hit her turnaround point and was headed back towards downtown and her finish line, and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have known it was me if she hadn’t seen my bib. She and I went to high school together and not too long ago managed to locate each other on Facebook, and for the last several months, we’d been rooting each other on via cyberspace as we did our own races and compared notes about this day. Oddly enough, the few fleeting seconds that we made eye contact was the first time we’d actually seen each other since graduation! She was cruising along like a veritable gazelle, and as quickly as I had noticed her, she shouted my name with a wonderful smile and a wave and was gone.

By mile 9 during the long out-and-back along Naito Parkway, I was beginning to feel some twinges in my foot and tightness in my quads and calves. I took that as a hint and dialed it back some more, firmly securing my place among the massive crowd of walkers that had been the last wave to start. By that point, the rain was off and on – more on than off – and there were no signs whatsoever that the sun planned to make an appearance. Obviously, it was going to be a very soggy day, period. I chatted with various people here and there, saying hello and asking how they were doing, secretly hoping I would find someone who matched my pace that would want to stick around with me for a while, but most that I talked to ended up wanting to go faster than me, so after a while I conceded the fact that I would probably run the whole race by myself. Then at around mile 10.5, the crowd thinned out as the halfers continued straight up Naito Parkway and back to downtown and the finish, and the fullers peeled off to the right and headed up to the Pearl District and then the long, lonely stretch headed out along St. Helens Rd., Hwy. 30 and to the St. John’s Bridge.

After about another 50 minutes I reached the halfway point and ducked out for a Honey Bucket break, did my business and took the opportunity to wring out my clothes a bit – hard to do when you don’t actually take them off, but the amount of water I did manage to get rid of was impressive! I was also starting to really feel the miles, and considering this was the last fully logical place to call it quits, did a bit of mind-wringing as well as I camped out in the relative dryness of the Honey Bucket stall. I seriously considered stopping, still paranoid about my foot, and now that other parts of me were speaking up, I wondered just how ready I was to tack on another 13.1 miles to this venture. The St. John’s Bridge loomed in the distance – barely visible through the mist and rain. It looked as if it was a million miles away.


The St. John's Bridge, from roughly mile 14

At this point, it would have been easy to quit – this was one of the major aid stations on the course, and there were plenty of volunteers there who would have taken care of me. But I thought about everyone waiting for me – my husband and kids, my dad and his wife, and how disappointed they would be if I didn’t push on through…and so I promptly dismissed the idea, got my water belt back in place, stuffed a few Clif shots in my mouth, and kept going.

Another hour or so found me at the base of the long, fairly steep ramp up to the St. John’s Bridge, a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one. For those who are not familiar with the Portland course, the St. John’s is the major turn in the course – once you get over the bridge, then it’s back towards downtown you go and all relatively downhill from there – both literally and figuratively. I stopped for a few photos, and texted them to my husband to let him know where I was (although he was tracking my iPhone with an app on his own phone, so probably knew where I was anyway) and also to have another small, literal piece of my milestone – once I got to the other side of that bridge, I would then officially surpass my highest mileage to date – 17 miles.


On the St. John's! I was there!

It was a bit surprising how good I still felt when I hit the far end of the span. My dad and his wife Kathy were just a few minutes past the bridge, giving me another little shot in the arm with cheers and smiles as I kept trucking. The course then meandered through the neighborhoods that surround Portland State University, and the atmosphere picked up a bit as there were more spectators – many of whom appeared to have simply “set up camp” out in front of their houses with lawn chairs, tents and cowbells to watch the runners pass by. Of course, by this time, only the tail-end of the walking pack was left, and I was situated pretty far back even amongst them. Mile 18 passed slowly, then 19, then 20 – my husband and kids were waiting for me there, which was a good thing, because by then I was in some serious pain. Nicholas ran out to hug me, and they were all cheering, and I almost burst into tears – it was so great to see them there. A handful of gummi bears and another extremely well-timed Honey Bucket stop at mile 21 gave me just enough of a reprieve and a shove forward, and on I went.

The stretch of Greely and Interstate Avenues between Adidas Headquarters and the Broadway Bridge – roughly miles 22 and 23 – was the most bleak and heart-wrenching stretch of the entire race (and you Portlanders surely know what I am talking about!) On one side of this fast-moving four-lane road is a steep, very high cliff of rocks and grass, and the other side slopes down into a stark, railroad-stitched industrial section of town cluttered with warehouses. Litter was strewn everywhere among raggedy, sad-looking weeds that poked up around the cracked sidewalk, and it just kept going and going. Time seemed to slow down and distances appeared to expand exponentially the further I went – indeed, my pace averaged only about 3.4 miles per hour by then, and pondering the specific length of a mile, which normally doesn’t phase me too much, was just about overwhelming and totally counterproductive to my efforts. Any pretense of actually running anymore was totally gone, and to top it all off a hot spot was blooming on the ball of my right foot, and suddenly I was dealing with blisters for the first time ever. Operating completely on auto-pilot, I forced myself to think only about putting one foot before the other.

I had been out on the course for nearly six hours now, and I was still being passed by other walkers. It had at least finally stopped raining, but clearly, it was “come to Jesus” time – I was so stressed out and hurting and full of despair that it was all I could do to keep from simply stopping, planting myself on the curb (as if I could have actually sat down at that point!) and refusing to go any further. And then, I heard a bunch of screaming and shouting coming from the topside of the cliff to my left – and there at the very top was my family once again, jumping up and down and cheering me on. Where exactly they were specifically and how they’d gotten up there I had no idea, but I was so glad to see them I almost started crying again. I was less than four miles from the finish line. Quitting the race completely and totally ceased to be an option.



Meeting up with the family again just before mile 24...and they managed to wring a smile out of me!

About 15 minutes before I hit the Broadway Bridge, I noticed a woman about fifty feet ahead of me with a colorful tattoo on the back of her calf and realized we’d been taking turns reeling each other in for about the last two hours. It occurred to me that I probably knew her – back in July at the Lacamas Lake Half I’d met a nice woman named Jenn with such a tattoo. Gritting my teeth, I managed to pour on just enough juice to run ahead and catch her – and sure enough, it was her. Finally – someone to talk to and get my mind off of all points south of my waist, which were screaming non-stop in protest. We enjoyed catching up with one another as we gimped along, comparing notes about what was hurting and how bad, and how awesome it was going to be crossing that finish line, if we could just get our sorry selves there at some point before the end of the day! Besides the medal and the shirt and that finish line, all I wanted was a shower, a very large and juicy steak with garlic mashed potatoes, a ginormous glass of chocolate milk and a five-hour nap…

And speaking of pain, it was now a complete toss-up as to which foot hurt worse – the left with the still-healing soft tissue injury or the right, which felt as if it was sporting a blister about the size of a teacup saucer. My running shorts, which were still wet, were riding up no matter how much I readjusted and I was starting to chafe in very sensitive places. My quads, hip flexors and calves were toast. In the scheme of things, only childbirth – which I have endured three times in my life – seemed to match the intensity of discomfort I was experiencing. The fact that both situations were entirely voluntary made me feel like some sort of saintly masochist with a slight tendency towards utter insanity.

We got over the Broadway Bridge and back onto Naito Parkway, and the homestretch. Jenn felt like she could run the last half-mile, so once again I was alone but that didn’t matter, because I knew it was in the bag now. A few minutes later, some random spectator yelled that I only had six more blocks to go. And suddenly, the milestone was mine, already won. There was absolutely no way in all of existence that I wasn’t going to get my medal and shirt. Turning up Salmon St., there was my friend Donna on the corner, with whom I’d trained off and on since last December. She was wrapped in a space blanket and sporting a grin about a mile wide, long done with her run by over an hour and a half, but still waiting to see me finish just like she’d promised me.

“Let’s go!” she screamed at me. “Time to run it in! Stop walking! Run!”

And then the family was in view, and they were all freaking out. So yeah, I was going to run. And I did – all the way across the timing mat.



Rounding the corner onto 3rd Ave., less than a hundred feet or so from the finish line

I have never, ever been so happy to see the big finish banner and the line on the asphalt that finally, after 7 hours, 11 minutes and 58 seconds, let me be done with the marathon – medal, shirt, space blanket and rose in hand.

Well, done with this marathon, anyway.

I’m already planning on doing it again.



Happy Shiny Runners!



A fistfull of grapes, still upright (and thinking of steak and chocolate milk....)


Friday, October 1, 2010

T Minus 9 Days.....

I should be working, but I've got a bad case of the "Fridays" and all I want to do is just get the hell out of Dodge. Meaning my office, but I could sure use a few quiet, book-reading-and-writing days at the beach, too.

Just sayin'.

In any case, the foot drama continues, but I have decided to just go for it a week from Sunday (Portland Marathon day) - barring any sudden, serious red flags from the "farthest southerly" locales of the ol' bod. As most of my friends and family know, it's not a stress fracture, at least - but soreness is lingering, although it is neither severe or consistent. Sometimes it doesn't hurt at all - which is quite baffling indeed!

Aside from a very thorough warm-up and hydrating with battleship-proportions of water and electrolytes, I have a strategy (as unappealing as it is) ....and that will be lots and lots of walking. I am hoping to finish somewhere between 6.5 and 7 hours. (Wow.....even just typing that - let alone thinking about it - makes me feel crazy. It's going to be a seriously long and yeah, let's just say it - painful haul.)

I expect to be darned near incapacitated by the time I'm done, but I will have a medal and a finisher's shirt to show for it. To be sure, most folks that don't run probably can't understand why I'm willing to put myself through that kind of pain just for a shiny piece of molded metal along with yet another race shirt, but at the risk of sounding a bit schmaltzy it really does go much deeper than that. The medal and the shirt are symbolic and cumulative of all the work I've put into this endeavor, representing determination, joy, frustration, elation, pain, tears and sweat - buckets of it. Sometimes inanimate objects transcend their nature, and this is definitely one of those occasions.

Honestly, I don't know what it is about the idea of running 26.2 miles. I love to run, but this is a little different. I mean, this is a LOT of running. And in this somewhat unfortunate and unanticipated case, I'm probably going to be forced to walk 90% of the course. So am I doing this just to say that I can do it? To prove a point? Because I'm not anticipating actually enjoying a whole lot of this experience - at least probably not after I hit about the 15 mile mark, maybe even before that. Then it will be a purely mental game. I think the body parts are going to grudgingly cooperate, but they won't without a lot of bitching in the process, so mind over matter must be the "modus operandi."

I'm looking forward to this, nonetheless. I'm beginning to feel excited, now that I'm close enough to the Big Day to realize (not without a stab of anxiety, mind you) that this is real, and it's going to happen, and in many ways, there ain't no going back now. Almost a year ago when I made the decision to do this, it was so far in the future that it wasn't something I could feel or even comprehend - to be sure, it was a goal - but it wasn't real, not back then.

I can only imagine what will be going through my head next Friday!

Friday, September 10, 2010

If your feet ain't happy, ain't *none* of you happy....

The Portland Marathon is exactly one month from today.

I am well into my second full week of no running (including last weekend's long run and most likely this weekend's as well) because of significant pain in my left foot.

According to Dr. Internet, I am likely dealing with tendonitis or possibly a stress fracture, based on the symptoms. I'll be seeing a real doc this afternoon to hopefully get some answers.

If it's a stress fracture, then I am done running as of today, for probably (most of) the rest of this year.

If it's tendonitis, I might conceivably stand a chance to move forward with training and the marathon, but only if I'm extraordinarily careful (i.e. icing several times a day, tape and bandage compression and a bucketload of Motrin.) And it would probably mean walking most, if not the entire, marathon course.

And if it's something else entirely, then who knows!

What I do know now is I'm going to be hella pissed if I can't do this marathon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Running Naked

First of all, you may rest assured I don't mean running naked, as I suspect that would cause quite a bit of unfortunate chafing in sensitive areas. Among other issues.  *ahem*

But in all honesty, I am having a hard time coming up with a better term to describe this evening's run. Perhaps unencumbered is also a good description, but to me that word denies its definition - it's clunky and comes off the tongue like a chunk of something heavy and awkward - and certainly is not of which I experienced.

My intent was to do one loop (roughly 4.4 miles) of my beloved Tualatin Valley Nature Park, in which I have come to love running almost more than anywhere else in the area. Tonight, though, I was not all that pumped about going - I was vaguely headachy and hadn't hydrated much during the day, but I knew it needed to be done. As I was trying to psyche myself up during the short drive to the park,  it occurred to me that perhaps a little deviation from the routine might be what I needed to have a successful workout.

Lately I've gotten in the habit of taking my Nathan handheld on every run, no matter the length, and my iPhone for music. I also have this ridiculous looking money belt contraption that I've been using for months to hold my iPod and gels and such, but I have to secure it with safety pins to my shorts or it rides up past the waistband and chafes. Ergo, it is a royal pain in the ass to set up. Another piece of equipment to join the fray of late has been a Headsweats visor, since the summer heat sends my already teeth-grindingly fierce sweat mechanisms into hyperdrive.  So my shake-up was this: no tunes, no visor, no handheld and no wrestling with the belt. Nothing to weigh down the hands or aggravate me before I even started - just me and the trail, and may the sweat flow where it will. With the welcome blessing of cooler temperatures than normal, I thought it just might not be too bad. I realized as I got out of the car that I'd even forgotten my watch.

After some brief stretching and nice big drink of water, I hit the trail.

Now, I've run in this park over a dozen times at least, and I'm pretty familiar with the trails - but this time, something was different. Without the visor blocking my overhead vision, and the sound of my iPod tunes to distract me, the beautiful, tangled green mess of trees, shrubs and plants all around loomed larger than life, as if I was seeing them for the first time. Being early evening, there was no sun coming in through the canopy, and the trail was bathed in gently muted pre-dusk light that seemed to illuminate the serene energy of the surroundings. For the first time, I really watched the trail and everything around it as I ran, and for the first time in memory, I had no trouble passing through the normally tough first 10 minutes as my legs and lungs figured out what I was doing.

It was as if I was running in my body instead of trying to rise above it, striving to block all of the resulting sensations with the distractions of music and the concern over hydration, and having to switch the Nathan from hand to hand as they tired from holding it. I purposely kept my pace at a level that was completely comfortable, rather than even a little bit challenging, which of course means it was not particularly fast - but something about the sturdiness of it - the perfect rhythm of my feet hitting the ground at regular, reliable, and friendly intervals - was exactly what seemed to be feeding me the power I felt.

The entire time, I marvelled at how my body was working and how it seemed to finally be doing what I've been asking of it for months - to run without demanding I constantly zero in on what was hurting at the moment. Instead, I was simply reveling in the experience. And in being able to revel in the experience - I found that relatively little was hurting at all, and that the running....it was simply there. The breath was there, the legs were there, and my brain was there.

For the first time since February, I ran my intended distance without even one walking break. When I reached the end, I knew I could go further - and I wanted to - another loop, perhaps. But it was almost dark, dinner would be waiting, and the mileage was sufficient for this particular day. As I walked back to the car, I felt absolutely incredible, practically giddy with excitement and accomplishment and to be sure, a boatload of endorphins...if ever I'd experienced a true "runner's high" it was most certainly this evening. I honestly felt as if I could run forever.

This day it became clear to me that running is not a means to an end - it is a process to be experienced, enjoyed, and felt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Respecting the Half

Wow. I've done three half marathons since my last update. And I've got another one coming up next Sunday!

Clearly I need to update more, but the writing just really hasn't been there of late. It's still not, but it definitely is time to put some words "out there" - for all three of my loyal readers, whomever they might be......

But already, I digress.

Three. Half. Marathons.  Since June 6th.  Crazy!

The Timberline Half Marathon on June 6th was my first half in about 9 months, as I also ran it last September. The radical date shift for this year was apparently the result of the race organizers wanting to avoid a rather significant bee issue that plagued previous year's runnings. I love this course - one loop around the gorgeously picturesque Timothy Lake, nestled nice and snug out in the middle of the Mt. Hood Wilderness Area. My time improved over last year only by about 30 seconds, which was disappointing - I'd really hoped to shave 10-15 minutes off, but no dice. Still, I finished - it is a challenging but beautiful course and it will be a staple race for me from now on.

June 12th was the Helvetia Half Marathon. It was warm - not overly so - but there wasn't a cloud in the sky and sunblock was an absolute necessity. The hills weren't too bad - and the latter part of the course was fairly flat. My time over the previous week's race improved considerably, even when taking Timberline's extra mile into consideration. I felt much better at the finish line, too....tired, sweaty and a bit on the sore side, but still smiling. Jamba Juice was giving free samples of their ice-cold berry smoothies and I must have inhaled about 5 of those puppies inside of twenty minutes! All in all, a good race with a reasonable outcome. The ice bath I took after getting home was torture, but as a recovery tool it cannot be bested. Oh yes!
So. Now it's time for a bit of explanatory backstory before launching into race #3.

Up until this last race on July 11th - Fueled By Fine Wine - I was beginning to develop a somewhat - shall we say - casual attitude about the half-marathon distance. It's not like I've run a gazillion of them - including all the racing I did about 10 years ago, FBFW was only my...seventh half? I think. But now it seemed that 13.1 miles just wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, I actually remarked to one of my work colleagues a couple days before Fine Wine that the half-marathon distance was commonplace for me at this point, like I run them every weekend. This one coming up - this "Fine Wine" - was just another half. Just another 13.1 miles, been there, done that....got lots of t-shirts, as a matter of fact.

Well. As I should have seen coming as payment for my arrogance, Fine Wine turned out to be a ginormous cosmic payback slap - Universal comeuppance for having dared develop a "whatever" sort of perception about half-marathons. This was an inaugural race that was highly hyped and publicized on Facebook and elsewhere, and true to what the organizers promised on a frequent basis in the few months building up to race day, it was well-organized and supported. Lots of water stops, very high energy, gorgeous course!!

At least there was that.

Sunday the 11th dawned already warm, at least in the running world - in the mid-sixties. It was supposed to be partly cloudy, but as we drove south towards Dundee that morning, there wasn't a wisp of cumulus or otherwise to be seen anywhere. I don't know how warm it was by gun time, but I suspect it was already pushing 70. Donna and I were happy, (unsuspecting) smiling campers as we waited for the gun and imagined getting one of the lovely satin-ribbon-strung medals we'd already peeked at hung around our necks - and the wine tasting! Ok, so there was apparently one monster hill....but hey, whatever! The views from the top were purportedly stunning, and I've done monster hills. And lived to tell the tale, even.

Here's where the "open-mouth-insert-foot" idea comes into play.

The monster hill was an epicly hellish, nearly two-mile ascent that put all other "monster hills" up which I'd ever dragged my sorry ass to complete and utter shame. Really.

Now, let me qualify this statement just a bit. I'm still about 80 lbs. overweight, and my cardio ability has adapted as best it can, but it's really not all that there yet. I've done very little hill training - in fact, it's fair to say that honestly I've done almost no serious hill training. And it was hot. Mid-seventies for sure by that point, well on its way to 80. Not hot by "sitting by the pool drinking a tall one" standards, to be sure....but quite hot when you're running. So to the first-place finisher, who in spite of the heat and the hills managed to break the tape in slightly less than an hour and a half, this was probably a tough one, but not really that tough. Just another challenge, you know?

And the organizers were right....the view from the 8 mile mark - the top of this hill, right smack in the middle of a picturesque vineyard - was breathtaking. I even stopped to take a picture:


Not excellent quality, but you get the idea...




I must admit I did feel a bit rewarded by the climb - it was very pretty. But combined with the heat, my current state of fitness and my unfortunate lack of training, it pretty much wiped me out. I could have easily called it an 8-miler and been done, done, done.

But hey, at least it's all downhill now, right?

Right....?!?

Wrong!!

Hellllooooo mile 11!

Now, this hill wasn't as bad as the Monster Hill to Hell Mile 8. But it was a sneaker hill....the course rolled gently for a while after the steep descent off mile 8, and then there was a very sharp turn that hid the hill from view until you got all the way around it. It wasn't anywhere close to 2 miles long, but it was long enough, and steep. And devoid of shade. As I rounded the corner and saw what was next, there was much cursing and gnashing of teeth and once again, being a back-of-the-back-packer saved me from embarassment as there was no one around to hear me.

By that point, I'd given up almost all pretense of actually running. Not that I could have run up this hill even if my legs were springtime-fresh and it was only 50 degrees with a light breeze and overcast skies. But whatever. The entire length of this hill went something like this:

Step. Step. Step. Pause. Hands on hips, head down.....
They lied!!!! They said NOTHING about this hill!!

Just.......keep.......trudging. One foot in front of the other.

One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.

Stepstepstepstepstepstep....
ok, let's try to keep walking in a straight line, shall we....? $#@%*#$!!

Step. Step. Step. Pause. 

Just keep sucking wind and completely ignore the five-inch knife blades currently jammed into glutes and calves, mmmmmkay??

Stepstepstep. Pause.

Seriously???? Who the $#@% designed this course??? I want names and addresses!! Hackwheezecoughdroolgasp. Thank God I still have something left in my handheld. Gulpgulpgulpgulp. Mmmmm! Water!!

Stepstepstepstepstepstepstep. Pause.

I'm not going to make it. Reallyreallyreally not going to make this one. In fact, I'm done. 
Right now. 
Yay DNF!!!!

Step. Pause. 


Well???????
Ummmm, no. Not today you're not!!
Boo DNF!!!! 

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Pause.
I'm so done with this #@%&*$#@*!!!


Lather, rinse repeat.
And finally.......oh look, the top of the hill, and another water stop with a sprinkler.
 
Oh thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou more water sprinkler stop and rest you're almost done dump cups of water on head thankyouGOD!!
 
After that, it was all cake. All downhill, with only one slight uphill that barely registered after what I'd already traversed. I even managed to run in the last tenth and across the finish line.
 
Look, it's pretty much my Timberline time!! Ha!!

And in spite of everything:


I earned every last millimeter of this medal!!


Shiny!
 
Oh lovely mighty half-marathon, never again shall I take you for granted or speak lightly of your hard-earned, thoughtfully and mindfully trod miles.....all 13 point blessed 1 of them. Never!!
 
At least not until October 10th!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nine days

Before things started getting a little beyond the pale in my personal life, I had given in to the optimistically (and occasionally morbidly) ambitious streak residing somewhere in the depths of my head by signing up for two half-marathons inside the span of 9 days.

In other words, good, hard American cash paid out well in advance for the privilege of putting myself all the way through the wringer not just once, but twice in less than a week and a half. Or in even other words, perhaps biting off just a wee bit more than I can chew - especially considering the monkey wrench I've been choking on for the last four weeks.

By this point, I had planned that I'd be doing more or less regular long runs on the weekends of at least 9 miles, and that I'd be at least somewhat accustomed to such a practice. Well, intent and reality are often odd bedfellows, as we all know.  The longest run I've put in since the Fort Vancouver 15K back in March was the exquisitely torturous Lake Run 12K on May 8 in which I managed a blistering 14:00 pace up and down the veritible Hills From Hell, spending the first twenty minutes of the race struggling to not burst into tears and quit while the rear pace car AND Lake Oswego's finest followed not more than 20 feet behind me. I finally broke the tape in 806th place (out of 808.)

Yeah, it went that well.

Memorial Day was an ORRC 10K in which, for the first and probably last time, I actually won something:


The beauty of this particular race was that not only was it a "masters race" but also instead of age group brackets, you "competed" only against people of the same actual age. So out of the five 42-year-old women who ran the race, I placed 5th! (And just in case I got a bad case of sudden onset amnesia on the course, I only had to look down at the front of my shirt to be reminded of my current task!)

I must admit, I am proud of my little yellow high-school style ribbon. It's like the ribbons they always gave out to the kids who could pass those stupid Presidential Fitness Tests that were mandatory when I was in elementary school. Even back then, I always came in last during the runs. After all of that schoolyard trauma (and believe me, I was seriously humiliated by those tests) it might seem a bit odd that now I actually do this willingly.

But. Tomorrow.

Ahhhh, tomorrow. It's the Timberline Half Marathon and given the fact that it's been raining pretty much every single day for the last month, the course (which is about 85% dirt trail) will probably be something resembling a 14.1-mile-long Slip-n-Slide. Seriously, ever try running on one of those things....?

And then on Sunday the 13th - assuming I don't mess myself up something fierce out at Timothy Lake tomorrow - I shall partake of the hilly rolling hilly hills of the Helvetia Half Marathon. As the website so eloquently points out, "There is nothing like it! This course is not a flat course and we are proud of that. Since when does life NOT have ups and downs?" 

Oh, my. Fitting, indeed.

Wish me luck, Godspeed and cross all available digits if you are so inclined - I'm goin' in.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life - It Happens!

Wow.

Been a while since I've posted. There's a lot going on at the moment that might end up making me re-think my goal of the marathon for this year - big, life-altering stuff, no fluff here. The drama is inevitable, but trust me when I say that I am not being overly-dramatic in my estimations, not by any stretch of the imagination.

I am currently signed up to run a half on June 5, another half exactly one week after that, and then another half on July 11th.  I know I will do these three races for sure - but as to the longer runs required for the marathon distance - those are definitely questionable at this point. It will depend upon time, energy and resources - and those are sure to be in critically short supply in the coming months. What little I will have of these things may need to be allocated to other situations.

Suffice to say, as my life has gone haywire, so has my running schedule. I've scarcely been out on the road - or even on the treadmill - at all, and on top of that, I am still dealing with some back pain. This has not helped at all, and unfortunately for me, it is being exacaberated by stress. So frustrating!

So while everything seems hopelessly up in the air and could go in any number of directions, two things are absolutely certain, for which I am grateful. The first one is that running will without a doubt end up saving my sanity, so to the extent that I can, I need to get my ass back out there. The second is that the marathon *will* happen. It's only a matter of which one and when.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The thin line

Lately I've been dealing with some issues that are becoming a bit troublesome to me.

I've been having quite a bit of pain in my hips, glutes and lower back after running.  I suspect the individual problem spots are indicative of a generalized scenario with them as a whole, being concentrated in the same region of my body.

I've actually had lower back problems for about 13 years now, the original injury happening as a result of changing a flat tire on my car. For the past year, and up until about three weeks ago, my back pain had all but disappeared. Now, it's flaring up again and the only thing I can attribute it to is the running - in particular, it really started coming on after I did the Ft. Vancouver 15K in late March.

Sometimes it's difficult to know when to stop and when to keep going. You have folks who will tell you that you should stop and assess the issue whenever you feel pain of any sort (to the point where you quit running temporarily and consult a doctor,) but you also have those who will tell you that - at least to a certain point - you should push through it in order to make the muscles in question stronger. I have indeed learned that some things that are very therapeutic also hurt like hell - take deep tissue massage, for instance. I have had a few, and it is NOT fun or relaxing or endorphin-producing. It's a bit like asking someone to please stab you with red-hot pocket-knife blades all over your body, for a whole hour, and hey, I'll also pay $60 for the privilege! Foam-rolling and other forms of self-massage using various hand-held instruments (such as this) that one can purchase at the local running store are also not exactly my idea of a picnic by the lake.

The personal trainer I've been working with for quite a while is being extremely careful about advising me on this problem; I know she doesn't want to end up liable for bad advice, since she's not a medical professional. During my strength-training sessions, I've been very careful but she does advise that sometimes, taking too much care can end up not helping, because there are those times when pushing through is the only thing that will ultimately solve the problem. Her litmus test is always "sharp and piercing vs. throbbing ache" - sharp peircing pain always means "stop now!" and if it's more of a dull ache, that's when a decision is needed about how far to push. This seems intuitively sensible to me, but I can tell you right now that even just a throbbing achy back is pretty difficult to work through when strength training, or running - there is so much that depends on the health of one's back! It's way too easy to take it for granted, and perhaps my recent trouble is a sign that I have.

My whole point is...there is a somewhat thin border between stopping and pushing past the line in the sand the body sometimes thinks it must establish. This idea translates, I think, to running in general and not just the arena of immediate physical concerns. The most valuable skill one can learn through running - or any other form of intense physical activity, for that matter - is listening to the body. Not only is there an awareness of muscles, tendons and even bones never before detected, putting one in close touch with how they are put together, but also an overreaching awareness of just what one can achieve through hard work and determination. Perhaps this is the real story that pain tries to teach - and it is a story that should be listened to, as long as there is an acute distinction made between the right and wrong sort of pain.

I do plan to go see a doctor if these issues don't start to settle down soon. If that's what pans out, then hopefully the news will be something other than an admonition to give up running and find another activity.  With any luck, there will be mutual understanding between me and the doctor about what running means to me and long-desired goals - and the role that pain is now playing with both.//

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Letter (2nd in a series)

Dear Legs:

Oh, how I've enjoyed getting to know you again over the past year!

Back when I was tipping the scales with an embarrassingly high number and hadn't yet started running again, you were looking pretty poorly. (And feeling pretty poorly most of the time as well!)

It makes me a bit sad to think about the volume you were forced to carry around back then, but I wised up, started getting lighter and you started looking and feeling better.

I know you still hate me sometimes. You work like the troopers you are, yet when you start getting tight and tired and I haven't drunk enough water, you have no compunction about letting me know. It seems to help you out when I run on nice dirt trails - I can tell right away you dig those *a lot!* (Except you down there, ankles....no more of that funny twisting and turning stuff, ok?) I promise to go running on trails as much as possible, especially now that summer is around the corner.

And just what can I say about you, my little bee's knees? You're the powerhouses here....everyone else on the block lives and dies by how you're feeling. When you're all cranky and pissy, there's not much running to be had - that's for sure! The stronger you are, the more everyone else - quads, calves and shins - feels like joining in. Although you tend to crackle a bit when I bend down, I know that with a little TLC and perhaps some glucosamine supplements, you'll be right as rain!

Finally - all those little peaks and curves and crevices you're getting now as the body fat recedes and the muscles get lots of attention - those are pretty darned swell, if I may say so myself! You can just keep right on going in that department!

So here's to ya, legs o' mine - may there be many more happy miles ahead - peaks and valleys and trails and all. We'll never win Boston and The Rockettes would laugh us out of the city, but wherever you want to take me is just fine - as long as we can run to get there!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Meh.

Today was Race For The Roses day. I had previously planned to run the half marathon distance, but registered for the 10K instead. Similar to choosing the 10K over the half at last year's running of Helvetia, it was a very wise decision. I probably could have finished the half this morning, but it would have wiped me from the face of the earth in the process. (Not literally, of course, but you know what I'm getting at here!)

The weather cooperated - relatively cool, in the mid-fifties, with partly cloudy skies. There were quite a few runners and a lot of walkers, so I definitely wasn't on my own this time, which was a nice change. And it wasn't that the course was necessarily difficult, because in the scheme of things, it wasn't a tough course. But I felt sluggish for most of the time, I walked a lot more than I was happy with and quite simply, the mojo just wasn't there. I finished in 1:23:28, which isn't too far off my current best, but I had really hoped to break 1:20 today. Obviously, it just wasn't meant to be.

This led me to the revelation that's been brewing in the nether regions of my brain for a while: it's time to get serious about this stuff if I am going to stand a chance of finishing Portland in October without it killing me. To be brutally honest (especially with myself) - my training has been very poor for the last couple of weeks and I have not been pouring myself into it as I should be. My eating habits have slipped and I've gained a couple of pounds, and that is certainly not helping either. In fact, I am about 99.99% sure the most substantial reason for my crappy-feeling runs of late has an awful lot to do with the extra baggage I'm schlepping around. It really is a matter of pure physics - the more extra weight there is, the more mass there is to move and all the more harder it is to run. For those of you who are at your "fighting weight" - or even close to it - try to envision yourself running with a one-hundred-pound pack strapped to your back and you will get an idea of what it's like to be me.

I have to hand it to my cardiovascular system. And my legs.  All things considered, they're giving all they can to the cause, and I know this. To my wonderful heart and my equally fantastic lungs - I love you! To my larger-than-I'd-like-them-to-be thighs and calves - I see those muscles under there, working hard, and I love you too!! So perhaps it's time to start showing them the love by overcoming this stinking weight issue once and for all.

I'm a big believer in the strong connection and inter-relatedness of the mind and the body. One without the other is just not going to work in the long haul. But in this case, I cannot blame my weight problem on anything other than my mind - with weak resolve, incorrect thinking and a certain sort of wicked amnesia about my goals that seems to strike mostly when I'm in line of sight of dietary temptations. My body is blameless in this - it deals with what I give it the only way it can.

I should be counting my blessings that after the many, many years of dietary abuse (lots of yo-yo dieting and really piss-poor eating habits when I wasn't dieting) - as well as a severe deficiency of long-term, meaningful exercise - that I have been able to come as far as I have, but now it's time to step back into the boat and get going again.

This marathon in October - I don't want to just say I finished. I want to say (and know) that I finished well. And I also don't want to say that this marathon will be the pinnacle of my running success. Once I've conquered this particular dragon, there are plenty more of them in the running world to slay - and my honest and sincere prayer is that running continue to be the gift that God allows me to experience and enjoy for the rest of my life.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The relativity of quality

The latest issue of Runner's World has an article featuring several "everyday-joe/jane" runners along with a description of their current self-initiated training programs and advice on how to improve them.

One of the female runners profiled is a pediatrician who puts in a crazy number of miles every week, including "easy" 2-3 mile runs squeezed in during her lunch hour or other odd blocks of free time during the day. RW's advice to her was to cut out those easy runs, terming them "junk miles" and for her to concentrate instead on the quality of her longer runs. According to the experts at RW, these relatively smaller distances do very little towards the goal of measurable improvement.

This made me pause. In her world, with her overall weekly mileage base, this may have been a sage piece of advice - but in my world, there's no such thing as junk miles.

Every time I make the decision to get out there and go for it, regardless of the distance, I am rewarded. Every single mile I put behind me is, in my opinion, another tiny little triumph in a long successive string of accomplishments. Every purposeful step I take that isn't walking - be it running, jogging or plodding - is another minute but tangible increase in the staying power of my lungs, heart and muscles. It's one more mile closer to being ready for Portland in October.

While I was reflecting about the content for this post, another thought occurred to me about the concept of junk miles and improvement: for those of us who run simply because it's something we love, why is there a relentless drive to continually improve on what we already know and do as if improvement was the only end to the means and nothing more? What's the real point in working to finish a 5K in 29 minutes versus 30 minutes, when once upon a time a 30 minute finish was perfectly adequate? Or even amazing? Will finishing that race in 29 minutes make one a better person? Will it somehow change one's destiny in life?

I suppose this is one of those philosophical questions whose only immediate response is something along the lines of "it just....is!" The drive to outdo ourselves is strong; perhaps it's akin to one of those many and varied elements that define being human. But I strongly believe there comes a point where this drive must stop, or it will be stopped because it cannot go any further.

Eventually, we will discover there's no way the current world record for the mile can be broken. There will come a time where ultramarathoners will be forced to draw the line about how far one can push oneself at a sitting (unless you're Dean Karnazes, apparently.) Similar to elite runners, everyday joes and janes have their limits as well, based on a number of factors, and they too will need to identify the boundary beyond which it is simply impossible to traverse. The sky will indeed reveal itself as the limit, contrary to the idea of "inifinite reach" the phrase is commonly understood to represent.

This is somewhat extreme thinking, I know...but the application of such thinking with recreational runners like me ultimately translates into learning to simply be content with what one can do. A couple weeks ago, I thought differently, going on a bit of a rant to my online running friends about how discontent I was with consistent back-of-the-back-of-the-pack finishes and frustration with not being able to maintain sub-13 minutes miles for any serious length of time.


Fortunately for me, I spend a fair amount of time reflecting on things, and this has been a hot topic in my head for quite a while. I've finally accepted that there's no shame in acknowledging limits. This isn't to say improvement is bad, because increasing my speed and endurance means increasing my overall fitness, which is definitely a good thing. Besides, I am confident improvement will occur if I am consistent with my regimen. What this thinking does is refocus the energies normally spent on obsessing about improving back onto the one thing that gets most of us out on the road to begin with - the simple and life-affirming joy of running for running's sake.
 
And seriously -- there is no such thing as junk miles!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Another Sunday, another 15K

This past Sunday morning - Ft. Vancouver race day - dawned dreary with steady rain. Naturally, it was still pitch-black outside when the alarm went off.

For a few fleeting moments, all snuggled down in the covers and listening to the soggy weather falling on the roof, I actually entertained the idea of not going, but wisely thought better of it and commenced to getting my act in gear. My mom was in town, which was a nice treat, as she doesn't get to see me run very much, and I was happy to have the extra support!

Fortunately, by the time we got to Vancouver, the rain had pretty much stopped and there were even a few rebel streaks of blue overhead. There weren't a whole lot of folks there, but enough to put some energy into the air, along with some very bouncy, loud music and several little booths with free samples and other nifty things. It was clear, however, that the 15K field was small (less than 100) and that I'd probably be running this one all on my own for the most part.

The wind had picked up and a mere 10 minutes from starting time they announced over the loudspeakers that the directional signs were being blown over; this was followed up with the vague directive to "know your course!" based on the distance you were running. This concerned me a bit since I know literally nothing about the area, but I figured as long as I could keep at least one or two folks within sight in front of me I'd be ok.

My running mate Donna surprised me by showing up; she had originally planned to do the 15K as well, but hurt her knee during the Shamrock Run earlier in the month, so she switched to the 5K. I was happy just to see her there running at all!

The gun went off admist the cheers, and within no time at all, I found myself with only two or three behind me and the rest of the pack well ahead and pulling away fast, including the very nice older gentleman who was racewalking and had reported to me as we chatted at the starting line that he was banking on 11 minute miles. I'm not sure if that's what he ended up doing, but it didn't take long before I couldn't see him at all, so he was trucking in any case.

There were hills, but they were fairly short (although not necessarily gentle) and I did end up walking a couple of them. I went out much faster than I expected (11:34 for the first mile - that's a PR!) and then just sort of slowly petered out after that, kind of like a slow-leaking balloon. By mile 6, I had to really start zoning inward to keep focus and by the time I made it to mile 9, I was hurting and the last .3 was seriously the most ridiculously long 3/10ths I've done in a long, long time.

I mean, really:
























I was truly shot. On the upside, this is quite possibly the most flattering picture of my legs in about the last ten years. Note the nifty Nathan Quick Draw on my right hand - a new and quite welcome addition to my extremely modest collection of running paraphernalia. (And Ron - if you're reading this - hat!)

And my time? Chip report had me at only a 20-second improvement over my Shamrock time (you can see the clock in this picture) but whatever. I was still content to just finish, although I must admit there was a tiny part of me that really wanted to come in at sub-2 hours.

Back home, I got some Motrin on board and forced myself to take a 10-minute ice bath (the trick is to get into the tub and then run the cold water and dump in the ice!) and this helped tremendously. After I warmed up from the ice bath, I took a nice, long hot shower and then napped for about an hour and a half. By evening, although I was still sore, I didn't have to grit my teeth to walk down our stairs.

Race for the Roses is in about two weeks. I am still debating whether to run the 1/2 or only the 10K. I want to do the half, so perhaps I'll go for it and stick to an intentional run/walk plan of attack instead of trying to run most of it. But the 10K might be a wiser choice considering how wiped out I was after this one. The mere thought of pushing through for nearly another 4 miles on top makes me shiver a little bit. I think I'm going to think about this a while longer before I send in my registration!

One thing I know for certain is I need a new pair of shoes, because I'm due. This is going to happen before my next long run (and in retrospect, this may have been part of the issue for this race!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Conspiracy

Given the sporadic and seemingly random nature of my training in the last few weeks, one might think I am slipping a bit in the commitment department. In my defense, I must suggest here that the best-laid plans sometimes go astray, and sometimes they are not so much best-laid as they are quasi-formed approximations of things I should do that end up derailed by any number of things, to wit:

The Bed. We have a very comfortable bed I enjoy spending my nighttime hours in a lot. High thread-count sheets are the one household item of which I tend to indulge, and along with the big fluffy comforter and all my squishy pillows it's like the absolutely perfect storm of sleeping. Thus, when the alarm goes off at approximately stupid-o'clock in the morning I am not generally prepared or even vaguely willing to spring right up and into action either at the gym or around the neighborhood.

The Clock Radio. Speaking of alarms - and please understand that I am not a violent person, really! - but I honestly would like to find whoever it was that invented that seemingly innocuous little device known as the "snooze alarm" and whack him or her upside the head with a very large and heavy item, such as a brick or an Oldsmobile. Between this truly devil-inspired invention of modern man combined with my first point mentioned above, it's pretty much impossible to get up when I really need to. I believe my all-time record of hitting the snooze button before finally hauling my sorry butt out of bed to avoid losing my job was about an hour and twenty minutes. This, of course, left no time for running that morning and also totally eclipsed the possibility of going for a run after work since I had to stay late to make up time.

The Soothing Sounds of My Brilliant Self-Rationalization. The degree and variation of this particular deterrent knows no real limit, when you think about it:
  • No clean workout clothes.
  • Too cold.
  • Too hot.
  • Too windy.
  • We are totally out of bagels, and the entire universe knows I can't run without carbo-loading on bagels!
  • Too dark.
  • Too tired.
  • Treadmills are of the devil!
  • I'm still sore from the last workout.
  • It's raining.
  • It's snowing.
  • It's hailing.
  • There's not enough shade in my neighborhood.
  • Treadmills really suck!
  • I might get mugged or chased by a pack of wild hyenas.
  • I don't have anyone to run with me.
  • Not enough time.
  • I just ate.
  • I haven't eaten since....
  • I'll just go for a run after work.
  • I'll just go for a run during lunch.
  • I'll just take a couple brisk walks around the building during my breaks.
  • Did I mention yet that treadmills were invented by satan???
  • I don't have a race coming up for a few weeks; I'll just run a couple miles extra tomorrow.
  • I read a report yesterday in the checkout aisle that said running causes nose cancer.
  • I'm doing this why???
I suppose it might be worth mentioning that I'm staring down the barrel of another 15K this coming Sunday. So during this possibly ill-advised race, when I get to about mile 7 and am busy cursing up a blue streak in my head about how stupid running is and how everything hurts and how the only way I will finish is to be drug across the line by some kind, sympathetic soul, I'll think back on this little list of excuses and vow never again to fall victim to their wiles.

That is, at least until the following week.

I mean, it is a huge conspiracy, right.....?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shamrocky Goodness

Well, I did it. 15K in 02:04:24. Not bad, considering I walked the hills for the most part. I won't say that all of my fear was for naught, though, because this was a hard course.

This morning it was a bit chilly but nice and clear, with very little wind. It was craziness down on the waterfront - several thousand in the 5K walk, 7,500 participants in the 5K run, 5,039 in the 8K and about 4,000 in the 15K. The excitement was tangible - lots of music playing and booths set up all over the place - this is a seriously big event in this town.


Nicholas ran in the "Leprechaun Lap" - this is the only picture we got of him (he's in the grey sweatshirt in the middle of the shot, and Justin is in the dark grey beside him.) They went out like a rocket and by the time I caught up to them, Nicholas was doubled over, gasping for breath...but before I could say anything, he was off again.


Everyone was sent out in waves to avoid mass congestion, but it was still pretty nutzoid trying to navigate through the throngs of folks, all wearing different colored bib numbers - black/white were the walkers, orange was the 5K, green 8K and blue 15K.


Donna and I before the start of the race. Just look at those smiles! Hehehe...not for long!


Finally it was our turn to go and off we went. The crowd around me thinned out within the first 5 minutes and before I knew it, we were literally bringing up the very rear, with the only ones behind us being Portland's Finest. It was pretty funny to think that we were running from the cops! Only moments later, the uphill portion began, a fairly gentle but prolonged incline up Broadway, then a slightly steeper but fairly short portion just past the one mile marker. By then, I was feeling it, and given my usual difficulties in really settling in, I was already having a hard time.

Donna gradually pulled away (I told her to, it was clear she could go faster) and before I knew it, I was pretty much by myself, the sweepers crawling along behind me, with only a few in front of me by a couple hundred feet. I finally caught up to someone - she was keeping a pretty slow pace so we instantly decided we were going to hang together for a while. We chattered away, introducing ourselves (hi Sheridan!) and generally encouraging one another as we approached the first and most serious incline going up Terwilliger Blvd. That's when it really got fun.

So, up we went, reduced to a walk - the first hill was definitely the steepest and the longest. Then it commenced with the rolling hills, more up than down, but at least there were a few declines on which we could start running again before we had to muscle our way up the next hill. All this time we were watching the time and calculating our pace since we had to get to a certain point (about halfway) within 75 minutes or risk being steered off onto a shortcut back to the finish that would shave about 2 miles off the distance. Sheridan and I were absolutely determined that we were going to make the cutoff, so when we actually did make the cutoff with 10 minutes to spare, she poured on the juice and went on ahead of me. I just kept plugging away, joking with the officer who occasionally pulled up beside me, looking a bit bored, and alternately passing and being passed by the scattered few who were still within sight.

Then, there was the top, and with a huge sigh of relief I began to finally catch my breath and really settle in, humming along down the hill - knowing that I'd just gotten over the most difficult part of the race gave me a huge second wind (literally) and I was cruising. At that point, I put on my headphones for that extra push from my running mix and actually caught up to Sheridan at about the 6 mile mark. She was dragging, and I kept alongside her for a while, and then reassured she was ok I went on ahead.

By this point, the course was headed back downtown and it literally was downhill almost all the way. From the top of Terwilliger, I managed to run about two and half miles without having to walk. But right along mile 8, though, it started to catch up to me - the hip flexors were getting very sore. Almost without fail, this is where I really feel it every time. I grit my teeth, turned up the music a bit louder, and kept going - walking for a few seconds and running for a few minutes, alternating.

When I was about four blocks from the finish line, I just sort of charged ahead and managed to run across the finish line, just ahead of Donna, who had wrenched her knee out on the course and had fallen far enough back for me to catch her and then pass her.


Definitely not the most flattering photo finish in the world, but man those blue mats had never looked so awesome! Donna is in the pink about a hundred feet behind me.



Me, still standing -  the lovely blue mats, the finish banner. This was a very good day.


Unfortunately, Donna had to go visit the medical tent and get some ice packed on her knee. She was in quite a lot of pain, but able to walk on it which is a good sign. I waited at the finish to cheer for Sheridan as she came across, about 15 minutes after I did. This was her first race ever, and she was so happy to finish I thought I might start crying right along with her. We hugged and high-fived and chatted for a bit, then exchanged contact info and went our own ways.

We retired to the booth area, where there was free seafood chowder and beer waiting for us (although I passed on the beer. I don't like beer.) The seafood chowder, however, kicked some serious you-know-what - it really hit the spot. It turns out that all the 15K finishers were supposed to get medals, but they ran out. Apparently, I will be getting one in the mail.


Happy shiny runners! Here I have a medal, but I was borrowing it from Donna's friend Win (second from the left) for the picture. He managed to finish fast enough to get one of the available medals. Lucky dog!

The first place finisher for the 15K was done in 47 minutes. I just can't even comprehend that. Seriously, I can't. It must be cool to be able to run that fast, but at the same time, I don't think I would enjoy the ride nearly as much - to be that hyper-driven and pushing that hard...I can't see that as being something I'd enjoy, even as hard as it was for me to get through the course myself. Despite the rough time I had getting up those stupid hills, I will do it again next year and my opinion of running as a pastime, a hobby, a release -  still stands quite firm - and I think ya'll know what that is!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

'Twas The Night Before Shamrock...

And all through the house -
I was pacing and fretting
Like a caffeinated mouse

My shoes have been laid by my bedside with care
In hopes that quite soon I will meet my pillow there!!

Well, I actually am not sharp-witted enough tonight to finish this little bit of parodic brilliance, but suffice to say sleeping will indeed be hard tonight.  It's always difficult the night before a race - and this one in particular has got the butterflies going full-tilt. 15K, nearly half of it mostly uphill, with a time limit. But I digress.

I picked up my race packet and shirt this afternoon - the cars were backed up for nearly half a mile from the pickup location - the race sold out at 21,000 participants, which is just totally nuts. My own bib number is well into the 16 thousands. Getting downtown tomorrow morning might end up being a bit of a chore, so I'm thinking we may take the train instead.

Just got done with a big bowl of spaghetti and since the clocks move forward tonight, it's time to turn it in and hope I can fall asleep right away. Going to think good thoughts, pray for nice dreams and with any luck, bounce out of bed ready to tear it up!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ORRC Champoeg 10K

This past Saturday was a gorgeous day to run a race; there was just a trace of chill in the air, the sun was out and the park was spectacular, as it usually is. Actually, I've only been to Champoeg twice, but I've seen enough of it to know that it's a very nice park. It makes a compelling argument for moving to Newberg!

My running mate Donna was there at the starting line with me, but because we'd previously agreed she didn't have to stick around if she felt she could go faster, I was on my own within the first tenth of a mile. I had my iPhone with RunKeeper going, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that for a good chunk of the first half of the race, I more or less maintained a sub-13 minute mile. My 5K time was just a hair over 38 minutes, which for me is a serious PR, but I slowed down during the second half, mostly because my iPhone died and I didn't have music to keep me fully charged.

For a while I had to fight hard against the desire to walk, especially during a fairly long and straight (but gentle) incline between miles 4 and 5. Obvious hills are a challenge, but sometimes I think the subtle "sneaker" inclines are the ones that get you! Fortunately, I am at the point where I can recover from small hills without having to walk, which is a nice milestone to hit. That being said, I managed to run the entire distance, with the exception of the water stops - drinking from a dixie-cup while running is practically impossible!

The last mile stretched out under full morning sun - and while the weather was about as close to perfect as it can get for a race, I was hot, even with short sleeves and shorts. A nice cross-breeze came to my rescue just as I ventured into another straightaway through a wide-open swath of meadow and encouraged me to pick it up just a bit. Getting to the end was a huge relief and it was fantastic to have a few folks there cheering me as I crossed the line. My time was 1:20:47, about a 6 minute improvement over my last 10K and my best 10K time since I started running again.

It's amazing how relative speed is with this sport, especially as an activity with participants of all different levels of ability. During this particular race, I was passed not once, but twice by a small herd of 20-somethings, mostly Red Lizards - these guys were doing the 30K and man, they were flying! Someday I might run fast enough to keep up with the slowest of that particular pack - that would be a miraculous day, let me tell ya! I'm not sure whether it made me feel better or worse to see them sail by - on one hand, they're inspiring because I want to run like them -  but on the other hand, it makes me wonder if I should just stop kidding myself. The more I dwell on this thought the more aware I become of every excess pound and all 42 of my years....along with a strong sense of insignificance, which is very hard to kick.

What helps is thinking of how far I've come and of my future potential, because there is potential -- and this is entirely in spite of the fact that I will never win any of these races. In fact, it will be amazing if I even place highly within my age category. But at the end of the day, I simply do what I can do. It sure as hell beats what I was doing before, which was nothing - on top of being 60 lbs heavier and unable to jog to the end of the block without keeling over.

So yeah, in a very big sense, I guess I've already won.