Thursday, February 28, 2013

Don't believe everything you think


The opening segment of the recently-released documentary Makers: Women Who Make America tells the story of Kathrine Switzer, the gutsy young woman who entered the 1967 Boston Marathon when it was still an all-male event. She finished the race (a physical attack from the race director notwithstanding), and literally changed the game. If you missed it, it’s just a few minutes long and it’s well worth a watch, so please click here, and be inspired by #261.

In her opening comments, she cites some examples of things people used to believe about women and running: that going the long distances would make women grow mustaches, or cause their uteruses to fall out. Obviously, it’s laughable today, but I think it’s important to look at old beliefs in their proper historical context. There was so much we didn’t know. And you know what? There’s so much that we still don’t know.

Consider the conventional wisdom of running today, and how different it was only a short generation ago. When I started running, we believed in static stretching before a run; now we warm up our muscles and fascia before we stretch. We used to carbo-load; now we rely upon complex carbohydrates and a balanced diet. We used to think runners should drink all the water they could get down; now we know about the risks of hyponatremia. None of those old ideas seem totally ridiculous to me. They reflected what the scientific and athletic communities knew about the human body. Growing a mustache because you run 26.2 miles? Okay, it’s a little harder to understand. But considering how limited our knowledge of the endocrine system had to have been back then, I’m going to go ahead and give those guys a break.

Looking ahead into the not-too-distant future, what else that we “know” today will seem outdated or ridiculous? Lots of things, to be sure. This is the beauty of human innovation: we’re always proving ourselves wrong. And this doesn’t just hold true for the scientists. Somewhere, on some level, each of us is telling ourselves something that is holding us back. Probably lots of things. Today I challenge myself to think about what some of those truths might be, and consider the possibility that I’m wrong. Being a messy person who prefers to live and work with my stuff in heaps and piles instead of pretty little labeled baskets means I’m disorganized and scatterbrained. I’ll never run a 7-minute mile. Social workers are undervalued, and can’t make a good living. I can’t run without my morning coffee. (Just kidding. That one is definitely true.)

What are you telling yourself that might not be true?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The kindness of strangers

The inaugural Women's Half
Marathon in San Diego (2/24/13).
A gorgeous, scenic course, and a
nicely organized event. I give
it a thumbs (and fingers) up!
Yesterday I competed in my first race since having come back from a couple of injuries last summer. I've had my fair share of minor overuse injuries over a quarter century of running that have required me to cut back or take a short break, but I've never been a particularly injury-prone runner, and a three-month break due to a real injury that left me genuinely unable to run was tough on me. When I started back up in the fall, I ran one slow mile, and it took nearly a week for my damaged calf muscle to feel ready for another try. I was pretty psyched out after years of running marathons to find that I needed to foam roll and ice after one stinkin' mile. But I kept at it, and did a lot of reading on the blogs of some beginner runners during those first few difficult months. I love to read the writing of seasoned runners, but reading about the joy of a new runner building their mileage from the ground up, and observing the ways that running is changing their lives is something I find infinitely inspiring. Notably, during this time my brother-in-law who lives across the country from me was becoming a certifiable running junkie in his own right, and so messaging with him about his newfound passion (and then getting to share my first-ever run with him over the holidays!) was another huge source of inspiration.

When a colleague organized a group to sign up for yesterday's half-marathon a couple of months ago, I knew I wasn't yet ready to train hard, but thought it would be a good opportunity to build my mileage back up in a focused way, and re-build the foundation to train for a summer marathon. So even though I didn't know her (she had organized the group through a local list-serv, and happened to be someone I'd never met), I joined in and started running on the weekends with some new running buddies. I found new trails I'd never run, got to know a couple of amazing women, and became reacquainted with the joy of the long run. The time on the clock yesterday was a long way off of any kind of a personal record - but it felt like a huge victory, and provided me confidence I need as I head into "spring training" for Grandma's Marathon in June. It also provided me the most outrageous finisher's medal I have ever seen:

Literally, the size of my face.
These past seven months have been a great lesson of the value of seeking and receiving the inspiration of others. Complete strangers blogging about the trials and tribulations of learning to run, connecting with a loved one thousands of miles away through the shared experience of our aching toes, and remembering that a new running partner always has something to teach. I thank every one of them, strangers and friends alike, who kept me moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keeping the flames burning

I've been a reasonably healthy runner for over twenty five years, and have now been happily married for an even dozen. There is a whole lot about life that I have yet to figure out, but I think I've pretty well nailed it when it comes to both my husband and my running shoes, so I thought I'd share some tips on keeping the magic alive. It's not really not my place to tell you how to manage your interpersonal relationships, so let's pretend that this post is just about running.

Love yourself first. Be really sure that you know - and deeply love - who you are. Don't torture yourself with races, running partners, or training regimens that don't fit your lifestyle, or make you feel badly. If you're brilliant at the 10k, it's okay to let yourself be brilliant at the 10k. Challenge yourself to try new things when that is what you need, not just because that's what you think is supposed to come next.

Maintain a healthy respect. Running can hurt and disappoint you, and just remember that if you're at it long enough, it probably will. It won't be the end of the world. You can heal, and if you decide to keep going you may even come out on the other end stronger for it.

Make each other laugh. Sometimes running will make you look stupid or silly. (And it often makes other people look stupid or silly!) Find ways to embrace it, enjoy it, and share it whenever you can.

Get out of your routine. When life feels unmanageable, many of us take comfort in routine, to provide us with a sense of control over things. Totally fair, but don't fool yourself. There is surely some beauty to be found on that unfamiliar path, so mix it up. Try a new route every now and then, or just go a little faster (or slower) and see how different things look. Travel when you can, and enjoy the challenges of new terrain, new food, and unfamiliarity.

The American River. This is where I grew up running
as a teenager. Can you blame a girl for falling
madly in love?
Remember why you fell in love. Go back as often as you're able to that place where you first fell in love, even if it's only in your imagination. Think back to when you first knew you were hooked, and how exhilarated you felt. Sometimes things will get tough, and you may have to remind yourself why you love it the way that you do.

Spice it up. Every once in a while, splurge on something in your favorite bright color, that fits you perfectly, and makes you feel sexy. And then go get sweaty in it.

Plan to grow old together. Sticking with each other through the rough stuff, and growing old together takes a thoughtful, gentle approach. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and the time you need to overcome them, try not to keep stepping in those same familiar potholes, and at every opportunity, look for strains and rips in the seams that might mend with a little love.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So, what's next?

Grandma sandwich, circa 2000
This week marks what would have been the 90th birthdays of both of my beautiful grandmothers, Emerald and Phyllis. I adored these women, and still draw upon them for inspiration on almost a daily basis. I'll be up in Sacramento later this week, and plan to make a visit to their graves, say hello, and catch them up on all the latest. But I thought the awesomest way to pay tribute to them (and both of my Grandmas loved things that are awesome) would be registration in Grandma's Marathon. So that's what I did. June 22nd, I'll see you in Duluth Minnesota.

This will be my fifteenth marathon, run in my thirteenth state (see my progress on this project here), and my first genuine attempt to qualify for Boston. Lucky #13, here we go.

My Grandma Emerald was an avid traveler, and enjoyed hearing about my quest to see the country through marathoning - she'd seen most of it herself, and always had a great story to share about wherever I was headed. "So what's next?" was always her first question, whenever I saw her. Although a long-time Californian, she was originally a Great Lakes Midwesterner, and would love that my next race will see me on the shore of Lake Superior. And my Grandma Phyllis is the reason I travel, the reason I write, the reason I do a whole lot of the things that make me who I am. When I took my first trip out of the country at age 16, she bought me a journal and said "write down everything." And I've been documenting my life obsessively ever since. She loved to read my writing on any subject, and always encouraged me to write for a living. Although I didn't take that advice, I've always found ways to incorporate my love of writing into both my work and personal lives.

Grandma's Marathon will be a fun way to remember these ladies - and to recognize my Grammy Roselle, herself a Great Laker in the beautiful city of Chicago, and one of my biggest fans. (Love you, Grams!) The race organizers have special goodies for grandmothers who run the race, and a prize for the first Grandma finisher. It will be a fun trip to a new city I've never seen, with lots of friends there for support. Grandmas would have loved Grandma's.

Do/did you have a Grandma you love, who deserves a shout-out this Valentine's Day? Have you recently signed up for a race that you're excited about? Are you going to be running Grandma's, too? Is your Grandma going to be running Grandma's?? Drop me a line below, and tell me all about it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rolling gently over the hill

Having recently watched this incredibly inspiring video about Ida, a 97 year-old runner who broke the world record in her age group (95+) for the 100 meter dash, I've been giving a lot of thought to my aging runner's body.


Yeah, yeah, I know I'm not old. I'm not even forty yet (although it's coming quickly). I'm a geriatric social worker by profession, so I do have a clear concept of what "old" actually means. Statistically speaking, I'm probably not halfway through my life yet, but as far as distance running goes, I'm making my way to the crest of the proverbial hill. I certainly hope to be running until the day I die, but I'm too steeped in the realities of old age to actually think that's going to happen. So instead I try to treasure every season, every race, every run. 

It's certainly debatable whether we're "born to run," and although I think there's a strong case for it, there's no denying that we're asking an awful lot of all those bones, ligaments, and muscles. When I watched this video, I was breathless as I watched Ida run. Her movements are so beautiful, so graceful, so light. I know how most 97 year old bodies move, and this is something else altogether. And I know how I move on these 38-year old legs after a long, hard training run ... and I'm here to tell you that it looks a lot worse than this. I want to be Ida.

So what's it going to take? There are many different theories about how to age successfully as a runner, and personally I am a big believer in the power of rest. I give myself more off-days today than I used to. When I'm training, I do run hard, but I don't run often - three, maybe four days a week. I cross-train a little, and strength-train a little, but mostly between my runs I'm being gentle, and giving my body a chance to repair itself. And on the subject of bodily repair: I believe in sleep - a lot of sleep. I'm not an early bird, and I'm not a night owl. I'm a whatever-kind-of-bird that sleeps a lot. I probably don't stretch as much as I need to, but I'm trying to develop that discipline, and I'm currently embroiled in a passionate love-hate relationship with my foam roller. I wholeheartedly believe in chiropractic care, although I don't get in to see my provider as often as I should. But more than anything, I believe in love.

Love of the run, love of others, and love of self. Did you see how she respected her body, and didn't push? Did you notice that room full of people there to celebrate Ida's victory, to greet her with hugs and kisses and share in her triumph? There's a woman who knows how to give and receive love. I want to be Ida.

(This post dedicated to my grandmother Emerald who would have turned 90 today. Thanks for showing me how it's done, Grandma!)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Completely bananas

Runners and our bananas. Like Popeye and spinach, Elaine Benes and big salads, Hillary Clinton and hot peppers (what, you didn't know about that one?), distance runners almost universally love bananas. They're full of the things we deplete during long runs, they're portable, versatile, and delicious. I've been running since I was 11 years old, and by a quick calculation have probably eaten over 4,000 bananas in my life. And I've never tired of them.

Six or seven years ago I, like many, began to develop a growing consciousness about my food and where it comes from, thanks to the work of Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, and others. Although the locavore movement strikes me as a bit extreme, I totally get where these folks are coming from. I've belonged to a Community Supported Agriculture program for years, which provides most of what my household needs in the way of produce - and make an earnest effort to buy the rest from the farmer's market. It makes good sense all around to try to eat food that comes from where you come from. It's good for farmers, good for the planet, and good for the eater. Especially when you live in California, because almost every vegetable or fruit you can think of grows here. But you know what doesn't grow here? Bananas.

Most of the bananas available in the U.S. come from Ecuador and Mexico, because they need warm climates, rich soil, and lots of room (they grow best in large groups of other banana plants - they love community, too!). I was adequately convinced by the writers of the locavore movement to consider the amount of fossil fuel it takes to get tropical fruit into our supermarkets, and so for years have avoided buying it. Instead I enjoy the varieties of fruit that grow here (which is frankly not that difficult; have I mentioned that I'm a Californian?), and the only thing I really miss: bananas. Eating them is practically woven into my DNA as a lifelong runner. I eat them by the armfuls at races (because hey, the race organizers already bought them, shame to let them go to waste), and I haven't had a decent smoothie in years. But in a recent moment of weakness at the market, I gave in.
Only in my weird little universe
are bananas a "guilty pleasure."

Yesterday I made myself a glorious breakfast smoothie, and am looking forward to enjoying one after today's run. Four more of those beauties are staring at me from the kitchen counter, and as I felt a pang of guilt over them this morning, it occurred to me how completely ridiculous I can be sometimes. I think personal integrity is an important quality - I try to do what I say I will do, walk my own talk, and I generally expect other people to do the same. But sometimes, you know, it's okay to break your own rules. Sometimes you just want to eat a banana.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Running, biking, but mostly swimming

Lena Sokol's "Water Snake"






















This week, the lunar new year begins, and with it the Year of the Water Snake. This doesn't actually mean anything to me - I don't even understand traditional astrology (I know I'm a Virgo, and that's about where my expertise ends), but I enjoy looking these things up every year nonetheless. I'm interested to see what it means to other people, whether there are any gems I can glean, any sources of new inspiration to be had. And this year, I was kind of excited by what I found.

We are, apparently, at the beginning of a new cycle of "luck energy," a period of transition. In the Year of the Water Snake, there will be new opportunities for careers, romantic relationships, and friendships to thrive. Water will play an important role in this year, with its flow helping us forge new paths, and its serenity providing calm amidst the transitions. This is a good year for travel, education, and generally being open to new experiences.

Water. Travel. New experiences. If that's not the universe telling me to go to Hawaii, then I don't know what it is.

Surely, one could argue that such opportunities always exist. And no, I can't think of a period of my life yet that can't be defined in terms of transition. But I sort of love the idea that the rumbling in my belly to make some changes in my work life, and to focus more on relationships, friends, and community, are part of some larger groundswell. It provides me with a bit more confidence as I take chances, make myself vulnerable, and pursue new goals. (Boston 2014, baby!) And it sure helps to know that you'll all be swimming in that winding, unknowable stream right along with me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The secret sports bra

Today's going to be one of those days. I'm up earlier than I want to be, bracing myself for a too-full schedule, preparing for some challenging meetings, and officially beginning my monthly weekend of being on-call. And I don't have time to run this morning before all of this begins, which makes me grumpy. If you're wondering why I didn't just go run this morning instead of writing this post: I wake up slowly. I've never been someone who can hop out of bed, lace up the shoes, and be out the door. I need time to sit with my coffee, take in a little news, see what's happening on Facebook, and very slowly come to my senses. Early morning runs are jarring to me, and take all of the fun out of running, so I do what I can to avoid them.

I don't quite know when or where I'm going to get in today's run, but I do know that I'm going to need the mental health break today, and I'm not skipping it. To facilitate this, I'll of course have the ever-present bag of running gear stashed in my car. But today requires the big guns: the secret sports bra. There are many different transitional objects that people use for a sense of safety and security. Some have a wubby or an old favorite teddy bear. Me, I have my secret sports bra. When bracing for a particularly tough day, I put it on under my work clothes, which readies me to pull over on the side of a road on a moment's notice, do a quick-change in my backseat (tougher to pull off in public places without the secret sports bra already in place), and get out there. I don't always get in the run, I admit. Some days get the best of me, but just feeling like I've got some say in the matter, a shred of control over things, is sometimes what gets me through the day. So should you see me out and about, and are wondering about my odd choice to go with sea-foam green under that blazer, know that I'm fighting my own personal battle. And it goes deeper than poor fashion sense.

Can we just pretend that this is
what I look like in my secret sports bra?