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