Sunday, November 27, 2011

What makes you special?

I haven't blogged in awhile. I've been enjoying not training for anything and having my runs be spontaneous mileage based on what I feel like that day. My runs have averaged between 6 and 8 miles. It's nice to feel like 6 miles is a short run! I've been in Minneapolis these past few days, and have enjoyed two runs around Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. I did the 8.79 mile loop this morning in 1:21, about a 9:13 minute mile. Yesterday I did the same run and logged a 9:40 pace. Interestingly, this morning I was sweating out the Fulton beers* and Amstels I drank last night with one of my best friends. We went to the amazing concert at the Cedar Cultural Center featuring Sophie Hunger and Tinariwen. Last night's activities reinforced how much I love Minneapolis. I reconnected with one of the most amazing women I know. Our conversation all night was invigorating, refreshing, and comforting all at once. Together we enjoyed the cultural offerings brought by other enlightened individuals. She is special because of the bigness of her heart, the openness of her mind. This empathy is reflected publicly by the promotion and support of global music and culture within the city. While last night and this morning were fantastic, yesterday morning's run left me feeling annoyed. A small incident on my last mile left me with a feeling of negativity towards humanity because I experienced the opposite of the open empathetic interest in which I participated last night. Rather, two individuals jogging around Lake Harriet showed themselves to be selfish, arrogant, and totally unsympathetic to the comfort of others, or in tune to the realities of safety. How did joggers offend a fellow runner so deeply? By running with their 60 pound dog off-leash.

I have a dog. I know how much dogs love to run around freely. I also know how instinct-driven dogs are, no matter how well-trained you think your dog may be. Dog parks and leash laws are meant to provide a balance of comfort and enjoyment of public resources for both dog owners and those who choose not to have dogs. Whenever I see this phenomenon of dog owners flouting leash laws, my reaction is always negative because I am so aware of how selfish the act is. I always think "what makes you so special?" Other people's dogs are on leashes. MY dog is on a leash. Why do you get to let yours run around? Ultimately why I am so bothered is because this seemingly liberating action shows the arrogance and hubris of humans. To think a human can actually control an animal with only voice commands! I don't care if 99.9% of the time your animal is under voice control. There WILL be the .01% time that some juicy squirrel runs past your dog, and your dog runs after it into the street and gets hit by a car. Or, the .01% chance that someone else's dog hates your dog, and starts a fight because your "friendly" dog wanted to check that dog out. Or the .01% chance that your "friendly" dog runs up to someone who is deathly afraid of dogs. Or the .01% chance that your dog, running free as it is, runs in front of someone, and trips that person. The first scenario reflects how thoughtless selfishness can have totally opposite effects than intended--instead of freedom for your dog, your dog dies or is injured. The other three scenarios show how selfish hubris not only adversely affect others, but also can be liabilities for the dog owner.

What makes you special? I hope it is that you consider other sentient beings' feelings and comfort before your own.

*This a delicious beer brewed locally in Southwest Minneapolis. I went to Fulton elementary K-3rd grade; my parents still live in the Fulton neighborhood.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Perfect Day

On my mind these last few weeks: E.O. Wilson and Social Conquest of Earth (see this month's article in The Atlantic , Sebastian Junger's War and our current human predicament. When I'm feeling down, I sometimes think we should look to animals to remind ourselves about the simplicity of things and the importance of living in the moment. Animals' needs are so basic, their actions so geared towards their immediate instinctual desires, that when those are fulfilled, they are contented. Indeed, what was so striking about Junger's book is that soldiers who had experienced combat found it extremely difficult to live a civilian life again because at war, every action is significant. Moreover, every action is significant not just personally, but towards the group. The possibility that someone's loose bootlace could affect everyone in the platoon, because if one person slowed the others down everyone could die, is not how most people live. The mundane in combat still requires constant vigilance, whereas the civilian prosaic is often so thoughtless.

This resonates with me--not because I wish to experience the intensity of combat that makes soldiers feel "alive", but because the thoughtlessness--indeed the selfishness-- of so many people around me makes me sad.

The best part of my last couple days--weeks really--have been my early morning runs. Now that sunrise isn't until after 7:30 a.m., all my runs start in the dark. Monday morning I saw two horned owls along 27th Street, out in the hinterlands of Cedar Falls. It was awesome to watch them swoop gracefully and hoot eerily in the morning mist. I took them as omens for a good day. On Tuesday's 6.5 mile run, I didn't see any neat wildlife, but for the first time in a month, I felt relaxed and mentally prepared--I was able to run in the moment rather than worry about my body or what lay ahead.

It's been very difficult for me lately to focus on the moment, to live in gratitude for the simplest thing. I've been distracted and depressed by the big picture--the constant degradation of our environment (eg: The Keystone Pipeline), the plight of the 99% (of which I count myself), the gridlock in Congress, money woes Europe, and the ignorance of Americans that if not glorified, is not helped by U.S. media. Junger notes that combat soldiers don't think about the big picture. Our pets don't either. And the best part about a great run is what I can only assume is a similar feeling--the love of the moment. The glory of fresh air in your lungs, the wind in your face, the misty light of dawn, the muted colors of fields put to rest for winter.

As humans, we have self-consciousness, and so can appreciate these moments. We also want to hold onto them, despite their necessary transience. We write poems, blogs, memoirs, take pictures, play music. A friend of mine photographs pets and local scenery (see Studio HDR). The photo above is his. Interestingly, they are photographs with vivid colors and contrasts, the kind of images we see when our senses are at the height of awareness; crisper than reality can be. Memories are powerful--and while humans have words, visuals, and sounds to heighten our awareness and appreciation of life, alone, words, images, and sounds--no matter how profound-- provide just a shade of the original moment. It may not fit perfectly here, but I've wanted to share Jon Katz's retelling of a soldier's gift to his dying dog. It is a gift of moments, of simple things that make A Perfect Day. The idea is one that I think is powerful not just for our animal friends, but all our loved ones, and even for each of us, as needed. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that it was a veteran of the Iraq war who initiated this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Twin Cities Marathon--3rd and 30

My Awesome Parents--who ran TC 30 years ago
As I write this, I am stiff, sore, and it's difficult for me to take deep breaths because every muscle feels contracted. But I am happy. I am very glad not to have any more marathons for 2011 and I foresee no more long runs for the year either. I am sore and happy because today I ran the 30th Twin Cities Marathon--my 3rd Twin Cities--just two months after the San Francisco Marathon. I ran for Bolder Options, and easily reached my goal of $1000, raising $1,300 for the organization that matches athletes with at-risk youth. And I ran a PR--3:49:34 officially--a good four minutes off my earlier PR (2010 TC).

Throughout the two months between San Francisco and Twin Cities, I was anxious about my body's recovery and my ability to hang together for another 26.2. What I now think is that a marathon 2-4 months before another 26.2 race--provided one recovers and listens to her body in between-- will help one run that second 26.2 really well. My brother PR'd at San Francisco, and he had run the LA Marathon a short four months earlier.

The race today felt great! I attribute my success to multiple factors, some in my control, others not at all. The weather was good--sunny and 53 degrees at the start, 68 degrees at the finish. Without consciously planning to do so, I had topped off my glycogen stores this week by scarfing cookies leftover in the office from an art opening. I beat myself up about it during those three days of weakness, but now I'm glad I listened to my cravings (which also included waffles, beer, and tortilla chips) rather than my brain! (see "Fill 'er up" in this month's Runner's World). I also ran a confidence-boosting tune-up track workout on Wednesday. I was ready to be disappointed and experience heavy legs, but it went really well, and left me feeling loose physically and emotionally more optimistic (I love sharing the track in the pre-dawn glow with ROTC recruits in fatigues! Try it sometime). That same day, I had scheduled a massage, just to get any last-minute tension out of my legs that the workout might have exacerbated. I did some pilates, and yesterday, I stretched a lot, but the only activity my legs got was a long morning walk. As important as all these physical factors was the emotional support from my family and friends who knew I was running again, and who cheered me on and supported the cause. My husband and my parents especially deserve their own finishers' medals for the many hours and care they have shown throughout!

The race went by really fast. I started slow and even, at 9 minute miles for the first three miles. As I warmed up and felt good, I picked it up a little, especially at mile 5. Looking at my results, it appears I ran the second 10K faster than the first 10K. Overall, my pacing was really even. I hardly thought at all during the race. I was pleasantly distracted by people cheering (including Doug M., Nicole M., Anne S., Jessie T., Charlie L., Meredith S., and my parents), and only put in my music at mile 10.

Mile 7 at the Rose Garden. Clearly in The Zone.

The race was all about little goals and little encouragements. The only thoughts that I remember crossing my mind were similar to: "wow, already mile 5! Eat gu at 6! Will I have enough gu? Parents at 7! Where are the bananas? Already at 10! Gu at 12--I'll get more at 17. Already at the half, and a good pace! I feel good, excellent. This is a good song for this part of the course. Already at 15! I can give my shirt to my parents at 17. Almost 22! Only 4 more. This is a great race if these two miles are the toughest. Only 2 more miles to finish, it's down hill--time to kick it in."

Ditching my shirt at Mile 17

My thought at mile 25, just as I was about crest Summit and see the State Capitol and the finish, was that I couldn't cry, not now. I became very emotional and had to tell myself to hold it in. In 2008, I had also been emotional then. But that was because I had been in so much pain, and was so disappointed in myself. Today, I was choking it back because I was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. I felt so not alone. So many people--my parents, my husband, my brothers, and my friends; a community that includes high school teammates, college teammates, Mississippi River Road Runners, and all the people who have supported me in voice and deed and told me they care--were with me there at 25, in my mind and heart.

Crankin' to the finish. Had to use those arms.

You all rock. Thank you!

Old fashioned glazed donuts rock too. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reaching Out at City of Lakes 25K

I began writing this when it was 49 degrees last weekend. It's equally cool now. But Sunday 9/11 when I ran the 30th City of Lakes 25K, it was in the high 70s, reaching close to 90 by the afternoon. I suppose I could have made this blog about the 10th "anniversary" of 9/11--but all I want to say about that is listen to the This American Life Episode on "Ten Years In".

The run for me was not about anniversaries--30th, 10th, or otherwise. It was much more selfish initially. It was only about making it. My goal was to finish and to have something left over in my body to run 26.2 three weeks later (just over a week from now!). This would be accomplished by taking it easy and being happy with a 9 minute mile pace over the 15.5 miles. I started off planning not to go too hard, considering the marathons past and future. I was okay with my 8:15 first mile. I was more worried about the mental toll of two loops around the two lakes, Harriet and Calhoun. These two lakes I have been running around since I began running in 1992 (jesu--that's almost 20 years of running for me!). That, and while family members have accused me of being a misanthrope, I do admit I am easily distracted by people around me. Thankfully, around mile 3, I fell into a rhythm with another female runner. After a half mile or so, I felt it would be anti-social not to acknowledge our shared space and pace. So I made some comment about that phenomenon. This led to more queries about how many long races she had done, what her goals were, what she did for a living, and so on. By mile 4, I had learned Andrea and I were both Iowans, that she worked for a non-profit in Minneapolis now, but had attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, and had never done a marathon. She was hoping to finish with an 8:30 average pace. I invited her to look up the Mississippi Road Runners, and sang the praises of having training partners and making running fun. We passed over four miles together, alternately chatting and focusing on mile markers. While we didn't end up finishing together, those four miles were easily the best of the race for me. Not because they were especially fast, but because they were meaningful. I felt like I was sharing the experience with someone, and getting to know someone new, even if (as is likely) I will never see Andrea again.

Maybe you have noticed this recurring theme of sociability and sharing in my blogs. I've written about training with my twin, positively pushing competitors in the Sturgis half-marathon, and sharing a long run with a good friend this fall. I've befriended fellow runners on airplanes, as I did flying to San Francisco.

The race itself wasn't all that great for me or my Mississippi Road Runner teammates. It was hot, and there was cramping, chafing, and dehydration. As a team, we came in last among women teams, and I was the slowest of all. So what's the point? I achieved my goal--I finished in 2:15, an 8:43 pace. But even at the end, I had to remind myself not to be selfish. My mom was there, just a few meters from the finish. I had cramped up (the first time ever in a race!) the very last half mile. Whatever she shouted at me, I did not want to hear then. I had to get my inner honey badger under control. As Randall says, "the honey badger don't care, the honey badger don't give a shit."

But the thing is, we aren't honey badgers. So I reminded myself why my mom was there (she loves me, supports me, and is proud of me, despite my proclivity to selfishness). This race wasn't just for me--it was for a lot of people, whether or not I know them. It was to get to know people like Andrea, and teach us to support each other. It was for teammates, and for 9/11/01. It was for loved ones cheering all the runners on, because, well, races are microcosms of life.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cool Running and Community

Cedar Valley Trails
What a gorgeous morning! 54 degrees, sunny, and breezy. Absolutely perfect weather for a long run. This kind of September morning is so refreshing after the heat and humidity of the not-at-all distant summer. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I serendipitously met a good friend out there on the trails, and as I was eating breakfast and trolling the 'net, saw that a few others had already gotten in double-digit miles before 10 a.m. too! Rock on runners!! Whether you're training for one of the many fall races (Park 2 Park, Twin Cities, or the Des Moines marathons) it is so cool to see so many people of diverse abilities enjoying this sport.

Last week I ran my first "long" run since the month I took to recover from the San Francisco marathon. It was okay, and during the week, the two other runs that I had given myself were pretty good. I made them quality: a mid-distance 8 miler on Tuesday and intervals on the treadmill on Thursday. I thereby adhered to my 3-run/week limit. And I feel smug about the treadmill intervals, since the treadmill surface is easy on the joints.

Today's plan was 14-15 miles, easy. I'm still getting my body back to well-oiled rather than squeaky. After five miles in, my Dan Savage Podcast had just ended, and then lo! My friend appears in the sunshine. Even better, she and her dog were just beginning their long run! So I turn around, and the three of us run together, catch up, and in no time, eight miles are behind us. I miss running with people. I love running by myself, but I love sharing the sport too. I miss the intimate communion that running with people facilitates. Truth be told, the organic conversations that happen over long distances are the best kind. No pressure on time, no interruptions from waiters, no distractions besides scenery and feeling our bodies working.

People find community in all sorts of places. Work, school, faith organizations. Religious institutions seem to provide many with a sense of communion with others, with shared being, that makes them feel believe in something greater than his/her individual self. This feeling of shared intimacy with many is addicting because we are social animals. I've posed the question to friends before: what replaces church/faith meetings and church families? What, besides social pressure and belief in God can get people to get together and reflect together, unpressured by wanting some kind of tangible result? I am unconvinced that volunteer organizations, despite all their good work, provide the same kind of communal meditative experience. I also don't know of secular organizations or teams that take care of their members until the end of life. I wish there were alternatives, because I think people, whether or not they believe in God(s), need to share intimate reflection unhindered by the mundane in order to regroup, refresh, and be whole.

I received a lot of emotional strength from my shared run today. And I have received a lot of emotional support from those who have donated to Bolder Options and are sharing the training experience because they are literally invested in the worthy cause. It's amazing to me that already, through the community of friends and supporters, I have surpassed the fundraising goal. That's what community is all about!

I heard the bells of the Lutheran church toll 9 a.m. as I came to the trail that ends by my house. As I write this now, the UNI campanile chimes in response to the Methodist and Catholic bells that call to sit inside and reflect. Nature is my church. Running outside prompts my reflection. And it's even better when shared. Sharing and voicing reflection enhances it, as is witnessed every week in faith services. Why not be outside, listening to the breeze rustle through tree leaves? Watch the play of sunlight dance through the branches onto the trail. Smell the hint of pine needles, fresh rain, and early stages of organic decomposition of leaves already fallen. Feel the softness of wet earth underfoot. And smile knowing that you have communion with friends who are also out there-- running.
Big Woods Lake, Cedar Falls

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Long Haul, Take two

I ran 11 miles on Friday and felt pretty good! Considering it was the first week of school, replete with its attendant stress, I'm pretty happy. I also think my body purged itself of a 24 hour flu the week before. Generally work and training keep my immune system on the extra-defensive. But my system must have been mildly suppressed, unaccustomed to rest and massages, and purged itself in preparation for the long haul that is the 16 week semester.

In any case, I have been really worried about coming back to distance training after the San Francisco marathon just four weeks ago. I needed a run over 10 miles more for the mental preparation than whatever physical benefit it may have provided. I needed to assure myself that it was possible, and that my body feels good enough to get back into longer distances. In truth, I felt pretty good. I'm still not feeling like tearing up any track pace-wise, but I certainly felt faster than the first couple weeks of recovery. The outsides of my knees, however, do reflect a bit of wear and tear. They have that feeling of having been pounded too much. It's a very different feeling than what I experienced last year, which was largely remedied by strength training and new, more supportive, shoes. This, I think, is exactly as it feels: too much pavement pounding. I'm listening, and taking it as a sign to run on soft surfaces, and not a lot. Thus, my plan for the next few weeks is pretty simple. No more than 3 runs a week--cross-training will have to do. Two of those runs will be quality--some sort of "speed" and the long run. This Tuesday, I'll do an easy tempo run. Friday or Saturday, I'll try 13 miles. The following week is the City of Lakes race, a 15 mile/25K race around Harriet and Calhoun (twice) in Minneapolis. And then it will be just about time to taper again!

Speaking of long hauls, I can't believe the overwhelming support I have received from friends and family in support of my running Twin Cities for Bolder Options. I have already achieved $980 towards the initial goal of $1000!!! I am shocked and inspired by the generosity of so many. I am so grateful and appreciative, that although it is but a small gesture, everyone who has donated before the end of next week will be acknowledged on my racing tee. I am really, really amped about this. It is as if I have a virtual cheering squad! I am buoyed beyond words knowing that so many are supporting me and will be keen to learn how it goes. I know that looking at all those names will keep me going at mile 24! I will definitely have lots of photos taken and send them along with personal thanks.

Bolder Options Mentors and Mentees run for fun!

Finally, if you are in Minneapolis and  looking for a fun 5K or 10K on the 17th of September, Bolder Options Bolder Dash is taking place at Lake Nokomis. Register here!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Balancing Recovery and Gearing Up

I will conquer this choco-dipped piece of nutritional heaven
Since my husband and I returned from California to Iowa just a week ago, I've been busy trying to savor the last few days of my summer and the delicious relaxed mental state of recovery training. Yes, recovery is training. It's a weird balance, though, for sure. Especially since we brought the fine California weather with us. The humidity has dissipated, and it has been beautifully sunny and 70's for the last 8 days! That makes me want to be outside...running, biking, whatever. At the same time, I want to rest. My body wants to rest. I've been enjoying the little running I have been doing--no more than 6 miles--but sometimes I wonder if even that is too much, too soon.

I checked for some plans to speedy recovery. Few (including me--I am so guilty) actually plan their recovery after a tough race, despite it being an incredibly important part of training. Here is what I found from Runner's World:

Recovery Plan:,7120,s6-238-244--8957-3-1X2-3,00.html

Weeks After the Marathon1234
Training Goal for WeekRecover as quickly as possible.Resume regular running.Get your legs moving fast again.Consolidate fitness gained during marathon training.
Key Ways to Meet the Week's Goal
Combine minimal, easy running with walking and other forms of cross-training, such as easy cycling or water running, that will improve blood flow to your legs.
Get a massage and try to get extra sleep.
Eat frequent high-carb meals to replenish your energy stores.
Stick with easy runs from 20 to 60 minutes long.

Run mostly with friends and maintain a conversational pace.

Wear a heart-rate monitor and don't go above 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
After one run, do six to eight 100-meter pick-ups, focusing on a quick turnover while remaining relaxed.

Do the middle few miles of another run at your marathon pace.
After warming up on one run, do an unstructured fartlek workout, with six to 10 surges of 30 seconds to three minutes, and with as much recovery between as you feel you need.

Do a long run that's between 2/3 and 3/4 of your normal premarathon long run.
Mileage Goal for the WeekUp to 25 percent of average premarathon mileage25 to 50 percent of average premarathon mileage50 to 70 percent of average premarathon mileage60 to 80 percent of average premarathon mileage

cocktail hour at Wawona: Sierra Nevada pale ale
I'm now on the third week post-San Francisco. The first week I spent hiking in Yosemite (part of our five year wedding anniversary!). It was perfect to walk out the aches and relax in the mountains. And get my carbs at Wawona's verandah and dining room. The goal I set for myself during some of the thinking time on those hikes was to build strength where I felt I was lacking during the marathon. I was especially sore in my back--and unsurprisingly, my glutes and hammies. So this past week I've been trying to balance short jogs with some focused strength training at the gym and doing Pilates. I got a massage on Saturday. Mentally, I'm giving myself until September--mid-September if necessary--to do whatever. In other words, to listen to my body, and not run or exercise longer than feels good.

Finally, don't forget to donate at my personal page for Bolder Options. Big thanks to those of you who already have!!! Here is a particularly apt piece I came across in the New York Times last week: "For Better Grades, Try Gym Class" It is just one more piece that helps legitimate what Bolder Options does.

Friday, August 5, 2011

San Francisco Marathon...and beyond!

Steve, me, Steve, Drew post-race!

The race for which I initially created this blog has been run! My brother, his friend, and I all ran the 26.2 miles in San Francisco. My husband ran the half marathon. We all started off together at 5:42 a.m. in the third wave. It was a cool morning in the 50s, and amazingly, not that foggy!

Steves, me, Drew, at the start!
The Bay Bridge, beautifully lit behind us at the start

Overall, San Francisco is a good marathon. I particularly enjoyed the first 13 miles. We began along the Embarcadero, and ran along the coast to the Golden Gate bridge, across it and back, then went into the Presidio, through Golden Gate park, and ended through the Mission.

Drew and I started with even 9 minute miles, right on the agreed upon pace (he will tell you how I crowed every mile about how exactly evenly I was pacing us!). Those first 13 miles were great. It was beautiful to run as the sun was coming up and watch the Golden Gate bridge come closer into view as  we ran past Chrissy field and Fort Mason. There were a few hills before the bridge, and then a doozy of a hill just after the bridge. They weren't bad, and for me, it was great to have a local guide in my brother to warn me and tell me what was coming up. As with any race, it's so important to know the course and be psychologically prepared. He had run the race before, and had done training runs on the course. In addition to the course info, it was great just to have him tell me what he knew about various landmarks and neighborhoods as we ran past/through them. Amazingly, the Golden Gate bridge was not my favorite part. Runners have two lanes, and it was still open to traffic. That made it pretty crowded and pretty loud. I was really glad we were in an early wave, because passing did require both technique and etiquette.

The worst for me were the "rolling hills" in the Presidio, just after the bridge and before Golden Gate park. Between miles 10 and 13, I was done with hills. I said to Drew, "You said there wouldn't be hills! I'm from Iowa!" When we entered Golden Gate park, around mile 14, we decided that each of us was ready to run our own race. I needed to go internal to get strong again. I was not quite in cornered honey badger mode, but Drew was feeling great. I plugged in my music and Drew took off. He ended up with a PR of 3:48 (an 8:42 pace). I was totally happy with the 4:00 I ran. I averaged 9:10 miles, even if the miles in Golden Gate park--pretty much 13-19--were the toughest and slowest for me. Still, I wasn't hurting as bad as the guy in the S/M black patent boy shorts and chains (but he probably liked it...) My mantra in those miles was "you trained for this." A positive mantra really does help! I also break down the goals. I pushed for mile 20 because then it would be "only an hour left."

Indeed, after mile 20 I could smell the barn and I was feeling okay. At that point I knew I could do it and the worst was behind me. There were a lot of downhills after the park as well, and despite the "second half" half marathoners blowing past us, they and the increased number of people cheering helped. The last two miles I was able to significantly pick up the pace.  Mile 25 was fun because of the "tempters" dressed in devils costumes, offering bourbon and candy and saying "haven't you run far enough? Just stop! Join us!" I didn't stop, I ran faster.

Exiting Golden Gate park, refreshed by seeing my husband and bro-in-law cheering
Psyched to be done and have run well!

Marathons are hard. Anyone who has run one knows that, and those who haven't usually think we're crazy. But they're also really fun. Look at us all smiling! Some of it is mind over matter and letting your training take over (miles 13-19). The rest really is enjoyable. It was great to share the first part running with my brother, and it was great to be able to share pre- and post-race jitters and triumphs with Drew and the Steves.

So what's next? Well, the big news is that I will be running the 30th annual Twin Cities marathon October 2, 2011. This will be my 3rd Twin Cities. I will be running for Bolder Options as part of their charity team. That means I need to raise $1000 in order to run! This is a big deal marathon for me. My Personal Page at Bolder Options explains why this race in particular is meaningful for me. Bolder Options is a great organization that promotes healthy bodies and minds by pairing community athletes with youth in Minneapolis. Moreover, there is a sentimental reason behind why I am running. My dad ran the first Twin Cities marathon 30 years ago, and many after that. It will be neat for me to follow in both my parents' footsteps thirty years later. I am asking for your support now. Please visit my donation page and give what you can. You'll see that I have a few incentives too (even if they are a bit specialized...)!!

Many thanks to all who gave to Planned Parenthood in support of my running the San Francisco marathon. It was of course, totally "worth the hurt" (the motto of the San Francisco marathon). I will continue to blog about running and my training and other interesting sport-and-social justice issues throughout the fall.  If you like my blog, please donate to keep me going!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Digest of Amazing Stuff You Should Try

This week is the week! The big race is on Sunday! Since I'm tapering my workouts, my brainpower also seems to be in taper-mode. Therefore you get a digest of cool stuff to read/eat/run. After the race and a week in Yosemite with my husband-of-soon-to-be-five years, I will blog about the San Francisco experience. AND I will make another major running-related announcement. But you'll have to wait until August 7th!

So until then, enjoy some reading, some recipes, and some workouts!

What you should read:

The op-ed by Vanessa Cullins on the shocking reality that birth control is not covered by many women's insurance: Make Birth Control Affordable

The op-ed by Mark Bittman on why junk food should be taxed and healthy food made cheaper: Tax Soda, Subsidize Vegetables

What you should make to eat (no cooking involved!)

chickpea, cherry, ginger, and orange salad
This is quite possibly the best cold salad I have ever made and ever eaten. It is fantastic! And easy! And so good for you! I got the recipe from Runner's World "Don't Cook Now" (the crab and lentil with greek yogurt is tasty too!):

Chickpea, Cherry, and Ginger Salad
Tart cherries are teeming with nutrients that aid in recovery by reducing muscle damage. Chickpeas supply a trio of carbs, protein, and iron, "a mineral needed to carry oxygen to muscles," says sports dietitian Tara Gidus, R.D. A study from two Georgia universities found compounds in ginger can reduce muscle pain postexercise by decreasing inflammation.

ASSEMBLE: Combine 2 15.5-ounce cans chickpeas, 1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges, half a red onion (diced), 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 2/3 cup each chopped pecans and dried tart cherries, 1 minced jalapeno, 1 cup chopped parsley, and 4 ounces feta. Whisk together 2 tablespoons each apple-cider vinegar and olive oil; add salt and pepper. Pour over chickpea salad and mix well.

And finally, What you should do: Here are a couple of workouts to run this week or file away to do the week before your next race. I got these from the October 2010 Runner's World article Get Sharp! I love the marathon "tune-up"! It feels so great because it feels so easy. Even with a dewpoint of 78 at 7 a.m. (I did my track workout today instead of Monday).

Monday: Run a mile at 10-K pace. Recover for five minutes, then run 1200 meters at two seconds faster per 400 than 10-K pace. Recover for four minutes, then run 800 meters at four seconds per 400 faster than 10-K pace. Recover for three minutes, then run 400 meters at six seconds faster than 10-K pace per 400.

Wednesday: Two-mile marathon-pace run

Check back August 7th for the post-race run-down and where Heartland's Harrier is going from here!

I'm on a cold salad kick! Two more that are tasty and easy to make:
Summer Farmer's Market Quinoa Vegetable Salad
Mix together:
~2 c. cooked quinoa
1 can sliced black olives
1.5 c. blanched broccoli florets
3/4-1 c. blanched green beans, chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3-1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese (I used bleu parm from Acoustic Farms)
1 tbs olive oil
1-2 tbs salad vinegar
salt and pepper

pretty much everything except the quinoa and dressing came from the farmer's market!

Quinoa Cranberry Pecan Salad
Mix together:
2 c. cooked quinoa
2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
3/4 c. pecans, chopped
1 c. dried cranberries
3 tbs raspberry vinegar
1 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
feta or goat cheese if you have it!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Real Women Don't Fake It

I was struck this week by two news items concerning women's sports. These were hidden among the reports of squabbles broadcast from Washington and the ethically dubious and illegal activities undertaken by Rupert Murdoch's employees to garner paying audiences for his t.v. and newspaper empire. Entertainment under the auspices of "reportage" is in fact the premise of my book Early Modern Dutch Prints of Africa, but that's another story (four-hundred years old, no less). With all these, money is the bottom line (pun intended).
 The Women's World Cup is top of mind for many Americans. Certainly, the fact that the U.S. team will be playing against Japan in the championship match has increased the ink spilt on this under-reported sport in the U.S. It was of course, a similar situation in 1999--the U.S. women's team beat China in a shoot-out, culminating in the iconic photo most older than 25 probably still remember:

Chastain's euphoric reaction upon kicking the winning shot past China's goalie showed the world not only the physical strength of women athletes, but the emotional release after the grueling mental strength required to compete at that level. Despite the U.S. Women's victory in 1999 and the 2011 team's ascent to at least second place, not much has changed in the realm of women's professional sports. This disinterest by Americans in women's athletics extends to collegiate sports, where money is the elephant in the room. Even while colleges are legally obligated to create level playing fields for men and women (pardon the pun), The New York Times reported today that many community colleges across the nation are in violation of Title IX, ostensibly because of being cash-strapped. The Times reported that women make up more than two-thirds of students at Los Angeles Southwest community college  but less than a quarter of its athletes. Their only option to play is on the basketball team. Most shocking is that while the college’s athletic director acknowledged that his program is most likely violating federal law by failing to offer enough roster spots to women, he suggested that the reason there are so few female players was because "many of the female students are also juggling jobs and child care, and do not have time to play sports." 
This is quite possibly true. But that doesn't relieve these colleges of the obligation to provide equal athletic opportunities. Indeed, if I were juggling job, school, and babies, I'd relish an opportunity (and excuse) to get away in a physical activity just for me. If creating equal opportunity means providing daycare--so be it! Another athletic director at a community college in the Bronx makes this plain: “People who say they can’t find students who are interested or they can’t recruit, it sounds very much like what I heard 30 years ago, 40 years ago in the 1970s. . .That’s the reason for Title IX, so there can’t be an excuse to not give opportunities.”
Still money--or lack of it--definitely separates mens and women's athletics at all levels. Despite the U.S. soccer team's dominance, they and their players remain mostly anonymous (I can't name one!) at the same time that men's professional football and basketball players are bitterly negotiating for the share of the profits they think they deserve. I honestly have not been following the lockout at all (because I don't care), but I do think it worth mentioning so to put in high relief the accomplishments of the women soccer players. As of yet, their sport remains mostly uncorrupted by the money and ego that seems to pervade men's professional athletics (and politics). It was very interesting to read in the Times the other day that  there is a definite gendered tack to dramatics on the pitch. Men flop. Women "simulate" injury half as much. The researcher suggested that one reason the men flop may be because of the "greater visibility and higher financial stakes in men's soccer" (don't forget in other countries, men's soccer is the most popular sport). The other reason he suggested was the greater speed and forceful contact men bring to the game. It is hard for me buy (ha! third pun! Look at how our language reflects the cultural importance of the dollar too!) the second explanation if women like Chastain are playing equally fit elite women athletes. 
I do not think this needs to be a male/female issue. What irks me is that it has become one because of the ego and greed in which we, as fans/constituents are complicit. We have set up and perpetuate an athletic (and political)  system that rewards ego and showmanship, even if the "entertainment" factor is not ethically role-model worthy. Still, the U.S. women's love of the game is refreshing. Perhaps a U.S. victory over Japan is just what this country needs during these increasingly polarized political times. Indeed, both teams competing tomorrow provide exempla of women's ability to persevere over adversity. As the current debate between the President and members of congress frustrate and divide our nation, Japan's earthquake and tsunami required their citizens to unite to help each other. Would that our elected politicians played as a team with a common goal, rather than holding out for their own benefit. 
I'm looking forward to watching tomorrow's game, and celebrating women's athletics, whichever team wins the match.

ADDENDUM Sunday, July 17:
Holy cow, great game Japan wins in penalty kicks. And even more interesting--and scary-- is the Times article about the High-Roller FIFA men

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Orb of Death or Swamp of Despair? Hazards of Summer Running

Yesterday, my brother, with whom I will be running the San Francisco marathon, emailed to tell me he successfully finished his 22 miler, but that "the Death Orb made the last 3 miles or so pretty unpleasant."

He is training in Sacramento, where the "Death Orb" does indeed, create a running hazard during the summer if one is not careful to avoid its violent rays. In the midwest, the hazard is double: the glowing fireball heats up air saturated with moisture to create swampy conditions that on long runs lead to Inferno-like despair. My long run on Friday ended inside on the treadmill. I sweat buckets, even though when I began at 5:20 a.m., it was 70 degrees. I made it 12 miles outside, but had to do the last six inside with the a/c. 

The conditions have been like this all weekend. I am a weather freak when it comes to training, constantly checking the radar and watching the forecast. I do so in order to plan long runs for the least horrible conditions (or: best conditions possible). Friday was supposed to be the cooler of the three weekend days, but clearly temperature doesn't matter. What matters when the conditions are so poor is mental distraction from physical discomfort. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating ignoring signs of serious conditions like heat stroke or dehydration. Not at all! Rather, I'm reveling in the ways we can use sociability to better our mental state. Today I ran 10 hilly miles in Minneapolis with some of the wonderful women from the USATF team Mississippi River Road Runners. It was 79 degrees and sunny by the end, and throughout it was like running through a cloud: sometimes misty, sometimes the sun shining, all the time the air thick, our clothes, visors, and hair saturated. 

But the run today was so much better than my 18 miles alone! It was wonderfully distracting to run with an old friend from Carleton and two new friends from the team. I am a member in-absentia, but I am excited to continue racing this fall in the City of Lakes 25K and TC 10 mile with the MRRR team. It was great to hear about other folk's lives, careers, interests, racing stories, and running tips over the hour and half we ran together. 

Even if the weather outside is frightful, it's possible to adjust. Sometimes you put mind over matter and get out there, or go inside to just get it done, but sometimes you can call on a friend and find support simply in knowing you're sharing the unpleasantness together--be it virtually from across the country, or in real time. Either way, the paradox is that the shared battle is what makes it fun in the end.

ps--Shout out to those who donated to Planned Parenthood last week! I heard from a good friend and craazzzzy runner (Boston time: 3:03:34) from High School who donated an incredibly generous $100. Great reason to catch up! Hope to hear from some more of you!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Unplanned Parenthood--kitten edition

We have now entered the month of the San Francisco marathon! The whole reason I started this blog! And of course, my hope was (and still is!) that folks who support my running and like my writing will donate to my cause: Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Because we're entering the final stretch, I am renewing my call for donations with a blog about unplanned parenthood in our household. But before reading--or just after--please please please click on the link above and give-- $5, $10, $20 whatever you can afford. Every little bit counts.

We really didn't plan on this. I wasn't sure I wanted anymore kids. I'm so busy with work, and of course, marathon training takes time--I mean, I got up at 4:30 a.m. this past Wednesday to get in 22 miles before I taught at 9:50. So I've been telling everyone this was all my husband's idea. Which it was...except I guess it takes two. My husband had been talking about more kids (to play with our current pariah-child, Thea) for the last couple of weeks. He'd been searching around and making me look at pictures online, catching me when I said "oooh, so cute!" In the end, I saw the baby that needed a foster home. What the hey, I thought. We can do this. It's a trial run, just fostering. So I went to the shelter to pick up "Willa" (now known in our home as Skidmark). And of course I came home with two babies. In addition to Skidmark, the 4-week old baby, they gave me another 5-week old kitten who needed socializing (Oh sorry. Yes, we're talking cats and dogs here).
Grey Baby

Apparently Skidmark had come into the shelter with 18 other kittens who were so unhealthy and pathetic that they were put down. Skidmark alone was deemed "adoptable" because of her markings and personality. Grey Baby also was a lucky save. She came in as a stray, and because of her looks, she too was allowed to live and given the opportunity to become a socialized human companion.

This kind of favoritism is nothing new. Black dogs are less likely to get adopted than yellow labs or golden retrievers. Older cats are less likely to find homes than kittens. Special needs animals are even less likely to be adopted. And the same holds true for human young. Bob Barker always ended the Price is Right with a plea to spay and neuter pets. It's the responsible thing to do to keep pet populations down, and in the end, save animal lives. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that four million cats and dogs are put down every year. That is one fuzzy every eight seconds. The majority of these are offspring of humans' pets. Humans of course, have the mental faculties to choose whether or not and when to reproduce. But not every human being has the financial or educational resources to actualize their choice. Planned Parenthood doesn't tell people to not have kids or permanently sterilize anyone.  People aren't pets. But PP does provide the resources to help potential parents (ie: any fertile human being) make decisions that may keep unwanted babies from being made in the first place.

Grey Baby plays
Thus, last Monday Skidmark and Grey Baby entered our mostly quiet home. In the past week it has been so enriching to watch them learn and gain confidence. We've watched them learn to play by mimicking our actions. While Skidmark just wants a mom--she is constantly climbing all over whoever is around--Grey Baby hid for the first two days. Both babies came to us super hungry, which we put to our advantage. We fed them 3-4 times a day, and for Grey Baby, we would hold a fork with food on it and pet her while she ate. She began to play with us, but she was still wary of being touched. Skids on the other hand...she still can't get enough love.

Yesterday we went out of town for an overnight. When we came back, both babies were a little sick from some preventative antibiotics they have been taking. Skidmark earned her name doubly, and little Grey Baby had had explosive diarrhea around the bathroom where they are sequestered. We both felt like "real" parents when we arrived home to that scene around 11 pm and stayed up another two hours to clean them and comfort them after some serious baths and scrubbing. I cradled Grey Baby after she had been force-fed her meds and had her behind wiped. But when Grey Baby looked up at me with her big grey eyes, her total need and total trust was clear. She made no effort to leave my arms. And all day today, she, like Skidmark, has wanted to be with mommy. Maybe we'll end up being their "real" parents, maybe not. But I feel good knowing that we are helping them learn to trust and love people again.


Did you donate yet? If so, THANK YOU! If not, why not? Thanks!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vita Activa vs. Vita Contemplativa

If you live in Cedar Falls, you know that the summer's main event is Sturgis Falls. I've been here for two years, but had never been to the festivities because of traveling. The celebration is typical for midwestern municipal summer festivals: a parade (shout out to T.D. for his award-winning Pump the Viking float), live music, dangerous folding carnival rides, food on a stick (photo documentation of a Jurassic dog is needed!), beer, and a running race. I've been to more than a few of such festivals, many somewhat disappointing, but CF does a nice job with this one. We get not only tribute-to-Bon-Jovi and Journey bands, but also pseudo-Johnny Cash. And the racing tradition is older than the Twin Cities marathon by three years! This year marked the 33rd running of the half-marathon. I had signed up for it as a training event for San Francisco. Despite my mental categorization of it as a training race, I had some trepidation as the race approached. I had pushed the weights on Wednesday, immediately followed by a 16-miler Thursday. Combined with not a lot of sleep, I was hurting by Friday. Turns out though, that rest and fun sets the stage for PR!

I was interested to read this morning a NY Times opinion piece that challenges the current privilege our society places on extroversion. I must of course, frame this--and my training--in Renaissance humanist terms. One of the debates among humanists in early modern Europe was whether the vita activa (active civic life) was more virtuous than the vita contemplativa (contemplative scholarly life) or vice versa. This debate had more to do with courtiers advising their princes about how they could best serve their polities (going back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers' theories, if you want to go there), but I'd like to co-opt the terms to frame why I think I had successful race. I found balance between activity and rest, between extroverted sociability and more introverted sensitivity to myself.

My body was wasted after that long run Thursday. So I scheduled a massage--quiet time for me and my muscles. This was followed by beers with my colleagues (social time), and a good 9 hours of sleep and a complete rest day from workouts and social engagements on Friday. Saturday I felt great, and I was psyched that I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted because my husband was out of town. I didn't plan on going out. I had little interest in the music downtown. I'm an academic. I cherish my alone time to think and work uninterrupted. But around happy hour, an invitation for socializing stood open. I thought long and hard about staying in. But I decided to go out, just for an hour (I had a race to run the next day!) But that one hour turned into five hours and a really fun time with good friends in a community sparking with good will.

The good will carried over into the race. Much of my run was quiet, but there were five other women with whom I jockeyed positions between miles 6 and 12. It was at mile 10 that I asked two of the women whether they were training for anything. I did so just to make conversation, really. I mean, we had been running pretty much together, sometimes one ahead, sometimes another, for a long time. It seemed that it would be the nice thing to reach out and acknowledge our shared experience. I was also impressed that we had been running a pretty good pace, and pushing each other, no doubt, to stay at that pace, and I wanted to acknowledge and appreciate that. We chatted a little, and agreed it was nice to have each other to push ourselves. After mile 11, I dropped the two. I felt great, and in fact, the conversation had amplified my mental state, and my confidence. I felt comraderie, and shared purpose. It might sound oxymoronic that I felt comraderie with them and still left them behind, but that was exactly what we were doing for each other--providing incentive and a goal for each other. And in fact, with 400 meters to go, the woman who I talked to the most passed me. We both huffed a "great job." I like to think that that woman was as amped as I was by my reaching out to talk to her about marathon training and acknowledge our shared hard work. It helped take our minds off our bodies during those last few hard miles.

I ran 1:43:33--seven minutes faster than my half-marathons last year. That is huge for me. It must be because I rested and stayed inside when I needed to--and because I went out and had fun, and chose to reach out during the race too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sweet, Sweaty Secrets

I have a secret. I ran extra this week. I ran extra twice, actually. I always get my running workout or crosstraining in before work in the mornings. I do this 1) to make sure it gets done 2) I like to shower after sweating 3) I get antsy and am less focused on my intellectual tasks if I don't exercise first. But even after a morning crosstraining session, I broke my own rules, and the unwritten social rule that says you are crazy competitive and/or crazy body-conscious or just plain crazy to workout twice. But I ran extra anyway. And it never felt so good.

Tuesday night was beautiful. Seventy degrees at 8:45 pm, the sun low, the atmosphere magical in that way only twilight can be, where one feels solitude and calm, whether in a city or on a deserted beach.

I had finished working on my book for the day. I felt good about what I had accomplished. I felt energetic. The dog could feel the crackling in the air, was also bewitched. I laced up my shoes, just for another 1-2 miles, I told myself. Just to get out and enjoy the night air. For the dog, I justified.

I ran five and a half miles. The breeze felt so fresh, my feet felt light, quick, almost effortless as I bounced off my toes. The dog was in sync with me, easily. I was following Newton's first law of motion. I was compelled to continue as the dusk turned to dark. Why not? My body was loose, relaxed. My mind was totally free. I was aware only of the light pressure of my toes to pavement, mediated by cushioned soles, the sound of my dog's happy panting, the click of her claws, the wind in the trees' leaves, the punctuated sparking of fireflies, of my being able to breathe deeply. Along the river, the goose turds glistened in the dim path lights.

Back at home with a tired and happy dog, I was refreshed and more energized than I had felt all week. And it lasted. Wednesday afternoon I also felt ready to just go, pound out the workday. It was 5 pm then, and the dog and I only enjoyed two and half miles in the sun. But the sweat and the heat of the day also were welcome, cleansing.

These extra runs were gifts not often given me by my body, and I took them, gratefully.

Tomorrow we'll see how that extra freedom shapes my 20 miler.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Battling Boredom

I know a lot of people who find running boring. I too, sometimes fall into that category. However, I have tried-and-true strategies to battle running boredom. The kind of boredom that is worse for me is the boredom brought on by modern society. We live in a time and place where so much is taken care of for us by machines, computers, constant connectivity, that we, like our machines, are always plugged in and if not cruising on autopilot, at least humming along in "powersave" mode. A lot of pundits have commented on the busy-making, stress-inducing gadgets that are supposed to make life easier, and the loneliness inherent to a mostly virtual social network. To be sure, I wouldn't want to give up my facebook friendships (some friends are better virtually) or my email. I, like many post-boomers, prefer electronic communication to the telephone. I also love socializing in person. What I'm concerned with is how we social beings deal with boredom--or don't deal with it, as the case may be. What's wrong with being bored? What's wrong with being alone? Or rather, simply not being busy or surrounded by people, virtual or flesh-and-blood?

To be honest, breaks are hard for me. REST is hard for me. Be it thirty seconds, 10 minutes, a week, or a month, I prefer to be busy, to have structure, to have routine. If I were stripped of pen/paper/computer/phone I would still try to "keep busy" by, planning, strategizing, and thinking about what could be. Certainly that goal-oriented, prepare for all contingencies gene is something that has done me well over the years. I am reminded of a maxim (appropriately, from the Stoic philiosopher Seneca): "luck is where preparation and opportunity meet." And I'm extremely "lucky" to be paid to overthink. As a professor, it is legitimately part of my job description! But sometimes I just want to turn my brain off. Drugs and booze are obvious go-to remedies there, but as an overthinker, of course I've already weighed the possible physical, emotional, and professional pros and cons. Only sometimes is it worth it for me to go that route. More often, I just go to bed. Or graze in the kitchen  (scoops of peanut butter, handfuls of almonds, a waffle or two...). Or graze in the kitchen and then go to bed. Clearly, none of these remedies are actual solutions, and in a way, are detrimental. Boredom is the emotional reaction to lack of structure, to time devoid of imperatives from oneself or one's social surroundings.

First to address the boredom of running: If you get bored running, it's probably a lack of intrinsic motivation--the time spent doing something with no force behind it (no imperative from a friend running next to you, or from your own will). For me, it's an imperative from my core being to stay fit, to not tank in races, to give time to myself by exercising etc. etc.--in other words, I have created multiple imperatives to keep me continuously intrinsically motivated to run. When I do get bored because of the tedium of repeated routes or the length of time is numbing, I try to find someone who will run with me (a social pressure to get out!), or I resort to covering up my thoughts with someone else's. My older brother was right when he said a few years ago "my ipod changed my life." I actually don't run with anything in my ears very often, usually only for the runs over 50 minutes. But for those long runs, it has been useful. I listen to the Savage Love podcast, This American Life, and as of late, when I'm running at 6:30 am, the local NPR news station broadcast. When I get tired of other people's monotone, I listen to music.

It's when I'm not running that the boredom gets to me. The boredom I'm talking about is something between loneliness and transitioning between tasks after my brain can no longer be productive. On teaching evaluations I am often criticized for being overly brief, and my husband notes my impatience as well, although perhaps not as forcefully as my family members who are not really kidding when they call me the "little piranha." Deep down, it's my fear of rest, of taking time, and experiencing time, and being okay with not doing. Some people like yoga. I often get annoyed at yoga (it's too hot, this pose is taking too long, what's that smell, etc.), more so than if I wouldn't go, and so for me, what is meant to be mindful is sometimes actually counterproductive. But I do work on my impatience and my over-valuation of time in other ways. I like to take deep breaths, get massages, take long walks. But I suppose all that is still doing. And so goes my overthinking, circular argument, because I'm back to where I began: I run because it's during that time that I am most calm, relaxed, and happy. That I am, even though moving my body, "just be-ing." Perhaps not unlike a monk in perambulatory meditation.

It might not be running for you, but cycling, yoga, or walking that helps you to breathe deeper, smile inside, and connect with your self. Boredom is a disconnection of self from purpose. It's cliche now, but it boils down to mindfulness. Appreciate the slowness of a second (they can be slow in long races!) or the speed of a three-and-a half hour run, or the five minutes petting your cat or dog, or the two-second kiss with your spouse, or just sitting on your couch staring out the window.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lubin' It Up

In certain conditions, physical activity will be more enjoyable with the powers of lube. Many may not be aware that products like Body Glide and nipple guards exist. But if the air is hot and heavy and you're really goin' at it, you might need these products. Don't get physical without protection!

Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme
Be Prepared! So goes the motto of the Boy Scouts, and Planned Parenthood too! Today's blog is about learning how to properly prepare for maximum enjoyment of sustained physical activity. Like Planned Parenthood, I'm just trying to provide a bit of education for newbies so s/he can prevent unwanted effects of an active lifestyle.

Properly-fitting equipment is the first step to prevent unwanted effects of physical activity. I am not kidding when I say that proper-fitting, moisture wicking sports bras, shirts, shorts, and socks make all the difference in the world. If you're still going for long runs in cotton tees and no socks, you might be a masochist. Which is cool, if that's what you're into. But for me, I was non-plussed by the dime-sized rashes caused by an ill-fitting sports bra.

Properly-fitting shoes are also very important. Still, many of us get callouses or gnarly toenails from the many miles logged in training. Certainly ill-fitting shoes exacerbate foot problems. So does not trimming your toenails (that one's a message to the men folk out there). I like to get pedicures. To maintain pretty feet and massage tired arches, I also rub in Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme one or two nights a week.

The second important aspect of preparation is fueling. This is really a form of preventative care. I had 18 miles to run today in pretty humid conditions. Knowing this, I had my camelbak with water to prevent cramping and dehydration (electrolytes help there too), and two gu packets to prevent bonking (as a general rule, one needs 100 calories every hour). Runs less than an hour probably don't require you to take fuel along with you, but this is something individuals learn for themselves as they become more experienced.

The final step to fully enjoy your physical activity is proper lubrication! Okay, seriously, chafing is a huge problem for runners. It is caused by something (fabric, skin) rubbing against moist bare skin. Of course, since running leads to sweating, chafing can be an issue for many logging more than a few miles. The constant sweating and rubbing can scrape skin away and then sting like hell as sweat or water in the shower goes back into the wound. Another factor exacerbating chafage is typical midwestern weather. At this moment, the temperature is 79 degrees fahrenheit with humidity at 50% and a dew point of 60 degrees. I just ran 18 miles with minor issues, though--just a slight rash the size of a quarter where my camelbak rubbed against my shoulder blade. However, last weekend when I ran the 10 mile race, the temperature was only 60 degrees but the humidty was at 72%. Unlike today, I was unprotected. I know, I know, forgetting or not having protection with me in the heat of the moment is not an excuse. Trust me, I felt the consequences between my thighs for the next couple of days. I'm still referring to chafing my friends. Between the legs is a common place for chafing to occur because our legs rub our shorts as each leg alternates in forward motion. Less common, perhaps, is chafing under the breasts. This unhappy phenomenon I also experienced last weekend, for the first time. As per above, the boob-chafage was not so much a consequence of running unprotected, but of poor fit. Today, I was smart. I was prepared. I slathered on the body glide. And all that physical exertion was more more enjoyable because of it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mean or Motivated

Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius, Superbia, c. 1593
 This past weekend I ran a 10 mile race along the Mississippi River. Considering I hadn't gotten the usual amount of sleep in the prior few days on account of flying back to the States and subsequent socializing, I was quite happy with my 1:19:57 time. I planned on incorporating my warm-up and cool down with the race to log at least 15 miles total. To do so, I parked about 2.5 miles away, and jogged to the start. I felt pretty good. In fact, for all the runs I had completed since returning to Minneapolis, I felt good. Some of that I attribute to the sunny, but cool weather. Some of it I attribute to being relaxed; after two weeks living from a suitcase and anxious about volcanoes, train delays, and other such transportation problems, I had made it safely back to the Minnesota. It is always a joy when your body is working with you. But feeling good is not something that happens magically. I set goals, and I make specific steps to accomplish them. Perhaps most importantly, I try to check in with myself frequently to make sure those steps are working, and the goal does not need to be adjusted. I had set the goal of 8-minute miles as a highly optimistic one. I knew I could run 8 minute miles, probably for at least 7-8 miles, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to sustain it.

Before any race I mentally set a time goal for myself. I always set this goal the morning of the race and base it on the many factors I know can contribute. I consider temperature, humidity, how I feel. My goal, in many ways, is both a wish and motivation. It is a wish, because I will not hesitate to re-assess and re-set my goal midway through a race. I set a goal that will push me, but that I know I can realistically accomplish.

Interestingly, I've heard that setting a a small, motivationally-oriented goal is difficult for many men, socialized to fulfil a particular gender role, to do. The idea that one can think small in order to achieve big does not seem to be part of many politicians' toolboxes either. I am constantly saddened that a politician will sacrifice long-term good for short-term glory to protect ego and power.

It's not that I don't know what it's like to fail. I do. It can be physically and emotionally debilitating to not live up to your own expectations. Yet after reflection, failure can be motivating. What did I do wrong? Was my goal unrealistic? What factors played into my expectation, and what factors played into my not realizing it?

The first marathon I ran was, in some ways, a failure for me. I ran the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon with my older brother and a high school friend. It rained from mile 4 to mile 9. It was cold. I was chafed. I was unprepared, mentally and physically, for the toll a marathon takes. I had struggled with plantar fasciitis all throughout training, and I was already hurting at mile 13. Still, I continued to push, and it wasn't until mile 24 that I became, as my brother and running partner put it, "a cornered badger."

(Do not watch the following if you are offended by foul language or blood)

Okay, so perhaps I wasn't as bad as the honey badger above, but my attitude of "I am not going to care about how my body feels, I am going to do what I want" is scarily similar to the badger's (don't feel the bee stings! Forget the cobra venom! Honey Badger don't care!). There is a line between a badass athlete who is at his/her physical peak and a good sport, and just a nasty, hurting, animal. Humans are animals, and we revert to instinct when in trouble. I was in trouble at mile 24, and to protect myself emotionally--to protect my pride and my ego--I snarled and spat for my brother and friend to go on, to leave me. My friend told me to "simmer down," something that in my extraordinarily defensive state I could hardly do. I had no energy left, my body was breaking, and sadly, my energy went into prideful self-preservation, growling my frustrations.

In the 10 mile race yesterday, I started out running just under 8 minute miles. I felt good. And I continually repeated that affirmation to myself as the miles ticked by. Almost like a mantra, I told myself  "I feel strong. I am strong." I told myself this at each mile marker and while maintaining pace going up hills. After mile 7, I was feeling tired. My mantra shifted, interestingly, to second person. It became motivational, rather than affirmational. I alternated between "you can do this" and "you are strong." The ego, in other words, had left--marked by the entrance of the second person in my thoughts. Miles 8 and 9 were just over 8 minute miles. I readjusted my goal, allowing myself to be over, allowing myself to be happy with feeling good and feeling strong, but also telling myself it was not yet out of the realm of possibility to finish under 1:20. And, with the mantras in my head, I did it!

Yesterday's race was a success for me. The 2008 marathon, while frustrating on many levels, was a useful and important experience as well. I learned how to train better, how to listen to my body better, and how to let myself fail. I learned there (and in many other non-running related experiences) some humility. Would that our leaders could do the same, and that we, as voters, valued that virtue.