Friday, February 26, 2010


It doesn't matter how many times I do it - I always get a bit of an adrenalin surge when I sign up for a race online. There's just something about punching in that credit card number and hitting "send" that makes me a bit tingly - I suppose it comes from knowing I've just plunked down some hard-earned cash for the privilege of running a prescripted course in exchange for some (hopefully shiny) racing swag and the chance to pin another bib number on my "wall of honor." On a deeper level, it comes from knowing I've committed myself to something bigger than me and that I need to keep my training honest and my mind focused on the goal.

I'm already good to go for the 15K portion of the Shamrock Run, so with the arrival of this month's paycheck I just signed up for the Fort Vancouver Run and the Timberline Half-Marathon. Fort Vancouver is a 15K, and Timberline is, well, a half-marathon - except that it has an extra 1.1 mile tacked onto it. I ran it last year and was blown away and swore I would run it every single year from then on except if I was dead. It was my very first trail race, and also my very first time running a trail! - and it was the most incredible race I've ever done, hands-down. Last year I walked a good deal of it and finished in about 3 hours and 45 mins.; this year I am aiming to run most of it and hopefully take about 15-20 mins. off that time.  We shall see!

This weekend I head to Cannon Beach for a women's retreat - and I have every intention of getting a good run in both tomorrow and Sunday - beach running for the win!  This should give my calves a good talking-to, so I am already anticipating some residual soreness early next week. Nothing I'm not already used to, trust me. Besides, I know if I end up a bit tender, it means I'm working it and improving my fitness level.

I am very much looking forward to it all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Getting to the core of things

"There's nothing to fear but fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

If I had a dime for every time I've heard this saying, I would be lounging on the beach of my own private island right this second, sipping some Dom with a few dozen of my closest friends. Unfortunately, the dimes have never materialized and now I've added yet another one to the tally.

In any case, even as cliche as it is, this statement still packs a lot of emotional punch. We all fear something on some level. Some folks can simply shrug it all aside and plow on through; others are apprehensive and just manage to deal with it; yet others become paralyzed into crisis. Fear is the root of (too) many of the world's problems and left unattended, can have very serious consequences indeed.

Fortunately for me, I am privileged enough to live a lifestyle in which I don't have a whole lot to fear. My husband and I are gainfully employed, we own our house and two vehicles in good running order. We have been blessed with three wonderful children and enjoy the benefits of relative good health. No, I have it pretty good, most definitely. So what, aside from the occasional day-to-day things that cause fleeting stress and worry, do I have to be afraid of?

My answer came in the form of an "a-ha" moment the other day while ruminating on the fact that I am not good at  finishing things I start. This applies to all sorts of stuff I've jumped into, ranging from numerous abandoned sewing projects and unresolved writing to the deeper issues of a seemingly endless weight issue and dropping out of college. Now, after literally years of this type of behavior, it has finally occurred to me that maybe I am simply afraid of doing something well from start to finish.

This led me further down the path to think about how this sort of behavior might affect my latest efforts at serious and long-term committed running. If history is truly doomed to repeat itself, then in about six months or maybe another year I'll just quit running again. Heck, while I'm at it, I may as well gain back the 60 or so pounds I've managed to lose since the beginning of 2009 - why not go all the way and make the fail downright epic?

Given my latest theory, this would happen because I'm afraid of what might result from my continued running and efforts to lose weight. Finishing a full marathon is something I've never done. Beyond that, I literally cannot remember the last time I was in truly excellent physical shape. In fact, I've never resembled anything even close to an "excellent shape!" It's foreign territory, an unreached shore, these potential results - crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles and seeing myself at a normal weight. What becomes obvious is something I've always been taught to be true, and that is as human beings, we fear the unknown more than anything else.

I think FDR was definitely on to something with his innocuous little sound bite. I will do well to think of it often from here on out as I prepare for Portland in October. I strongly suspect the rewards gained from that particular success will be more precious than all the dimes in the world.

Monday, February 15, 2010

And sometimes, it all comes together

If running has taught me anything, it's that I should never expect a specific result to a specific event, because quite often I end up being wrong.

In yesterday's case, Valentines Day, it was a pleasant sort of wrong for once. I'd signed up a couple weeks ago to do the Fanconi Anemia run in downtown Portland, choosing the 8K option. As race day grew near, the weather reports promised lots of rain which I began to dread - running soaking wet just isn't my idea of a good time. In addition, I did a grand total of zero running last week. Zero, as in Big. Fat. 0. 

I live in mortal fear of instantly losing my hard-earned conditioning if I go for very long without running. It might be due to the fact that every major running article I've ever read on the topic infers that you start to lose it even after just a few days of inactivity, but more practically, I think this way because in my personal experience, this does indeed happen. Or at least, it seems to. Naturally, I was quite concerned about this race and how well I would do with the last week's absolute lack of training.

While I decided quite firmly beforehand that this was not going to be a race, but merely "a training run with roughly 1,000 other people for which I had to pay but got a t-shirt," it's really hard to refrain from the racing mentality when you head out after the gun and everyone begins to pass you. Not that I would consider myself a serious racer, but even at my turtle-like pace, I do like to try and challenge my previous times at the events. I knew in this instance it would not end well if I did that, so the buzzword I dialed in on mentally for the entire race was "gently." I would do well for a while and then feel myself trying to pick up the pace a bit, but I kept going back to my mental dialogue- although at one point, it progressed briefly to "$!%$*!*#  -  I said gently!!"

It worked. Not only did I not burn out halfway through with nothing left in the tank, but I managed to run the entire distance of this race without walking, which is the first time I've been able to do so since my previous running stint 10 years ago. Aside from the usual initial twinges here and there as I got warmed up, there was practically no discomfort whatsoever. The muscles were there, the lungs were content and the mind blissfully present and good-natured. It was a most excellent combination. It could even be that having taken a bit of an extended break from all running was a good thing for my legs and brought them back to life, considering the horrible run at Champoeg Park the previous Sunday.

I finished gently in 1:05:52. Not stellar, but nothing to shake a stick at, all things considered. It was a really nice reminder of just why I do this.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The running? Sometimes, she is not so fun!

For all of the gushing I do about the awesomeness of running, there are times in which I'd rather gouge out my right kidney with a spork rather than run one more stinking step.

This past Sunday was one of those times.

Like the uber-dedicated running chicks we are, Donna and I decided to meet up at 7am at Champoeg State Park. Being Superbowl Sunday and considering the fact that Donna had plans to meet up with some friends around 11, this would still allow us the time to run and then go out for a quick bite and a coffee afterwards.

My first huge mistake of the day was the extremely ill-conceived idea that I needed to wear a long sleeved shirt. It is already a well-established fact that when I run for any length of time beyond about three minutes, I start generating enough heat to sufficiently power a Dutch oven in the middle of an Antarctic snowstorm. When I left my house it was 44 degrees outside, and while in "running mode," this is practically springtime-balmy in my book. Seriously.

My second huge mistake was actually committed the day before. Saturday's weather was dry and even though I wasn't really in the mood, I decided to act on the favorable conditions by heading out for a moderate 5.2 mile run that afternoon. It turned out to be fantastic - I felt great, ran well and chalked it up to one of those "gee-I'm-glad-I-went-out-and-did-it" sort of runs. However, I suspect it also created a too-sharp uptick in total mileage over a relatively short amount of time (given my level of training) as we did a total of 6 miles on Sunday.

The third huge mistake was simply the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with the route we took. What I didn't realize is that at one end of the park, the path gets a bit hilly; naturally, this was the direction in which we headed and by the time I realized what we were up against, we'd already committed to the route and I was too embarrased to ask Donna if we could turn around. You see, I have an interesting relationship with hills - it's complex yet simple and quite old-fashioned, sort of like we're still in the dating phase. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they're mostly blind dates. I avoid them pretty much at all costs and when that is impossible, I tend to be very skeptical (and usually, rightly so) about the outcome.

So, given these three tactical errors, the whole affair became my personal "perfect storm" of running, but to anyone else, it must have looked ideal. I mean, honestly, now - here I was running through one of the most gorgeous wooded parks in the entire Portland metro area, on a nice smooth bike path with absolutely no car traffic anywhere. It was a beautiful, crisp morning complete with birds singing and Canadian geese honking overhead, and I even had a friend to chatter with - and it was one of the most miserable runs I've ever suffered through. I was raging hot a mere ten minutes in, my legs were totally shot and the hills, they kicked my ass and handed it to me on a silver platter with a sprig of parsley. It took every single ounce of my will and determination to keep dragging one sorry foot out in front of the other as I silently and sincerely prayed that I wouldn't end up keeling over.

Six miles later, when Donna mercifully called it good, everything hurt and I could have boiled a pot of oatmeal anywhere on my body. To top it all off, I had gone through all of my water and as was clearly par for the entire effing course, hadn't stashed a post-run bottle in the car as I normally do. This just goes to show that when you are obviously going to screw up, you may as well go all the way!

Oh well. I know you can't win 'em all, but I sure as hell could go for a long, long time without having to drag my poor pathetic self through another run like this one. You know what they say - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - especially if you're wearing a long-sleeved shirt at the time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Purpose of Running

When I think about my life, I wonder sometimes what it's all been about. I married young, had kids right away, didn't finish college (although I am in the process of remedying that.) I have an average, non-descript career and I've never done anything particularly impressive or useful for anyone else that I'm aware of. I guess more than anything, I don't feel as if I've left a mark.

Having just recently turned 42, I've been spending a lot of time lately considering where I am these days
 - not in the physical sense, since obviously I'm sitting here typing this post - but rather more in a spiritual/mental/emotional sense. What have I accomplished? What am I doing now...what's in the future?

Just your typical mid-life crisis stuff, I suppose, assuming I have indeed reached the middle of my life (to be honest, I hope I'm not quite there yet!) Since I've found myself extremely - and quite possibly permanently - a few bucks short of what I'd need to go buy myself a nice little sports car, it's been necessary to direct my angsty energy elsewhere. So what to do, what to do... 


Actually, I didn't know at first that running would be as helpful as it's been so far. It was definitely more of an "after-the-fact" discovery, a happy accident - not overnight, mind you, but certainly noticeable. My moods are more stable, my body is stronger. Generally speaking, I just feel better.

My husband thinks the only reason to run, ever, is if you're being chased. Running is something I do because I genuinely like it.   For me, it's like being able to meet myself and find out what I'm made of. It's not an easy activity, but as they say, nothing truly worthwhile is easy. Every training run and every race is an opportunity to dig deep and push the envelope both with my body and my sense of determination.

In other words, running gives me a purpose - not the be-all and end-all purpose to all things - but enough of a purpose to keep looking forward to the things I dream about doing with the rest of my life.

Running On Purpose. It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?