Sunday, March 31, 2013

Run, interrupted

"Some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield."
-Steven Tyler

(Adorable bug splatter by ZAC Creative)
Yesterday, I was the bug. Scheduled for my first 20-mile run of this marathon training season, I woke up in the morning feeling psyched out. I'd slept and eaten well the day and night before, but woke up with a gnawing in my belly of both the literal and figurative kinds. This is my monthly on-call weekend, which means running with my work cell phone on, and sticking close to home or car, so as to be able to respond reasonably quickly in an emergency. When on-call coincides with a 20-miler, I usually head out to Lake Miramar, a reservoir with a nice 5-mile bike path that circles it. After a couple of hours of dragging my feet, I finally got out the door.

It was an unseasonably warm day, and I felt "off" from the beginning. I made the first couple of loops in reasonable comfort and at target pace, but going into the third loop (of four), I started feeling poorly - no pain or discomfort, just hot, fatigued, and like my chemistry was just all wrong. When the phone rang around mile 13, I felt a wave of relief - I could stop! It was a client's daughter, and I wound up sitting for about 45 minutes talking her through the difficult decision to place her father in a dementia care facility. By the time we wrapped up, my head was 100% out of the game ... and my body wasn't far behind. I started back up, but after a mile was feeling very hot and grumpy. I slogged the last of that third loop, and after 15 miles, called it a day.

As I drove away, I was beating myself up for quitting, failing, you name it. I got home, ate an entire half of a leftover pizza (and this was no personal-sized pizza, y'all), took a long shower, and crawled into bed. I'm not a napper or an emotional eater, so I knew my body was talking to me. As I laid down, the mean thoughts crept back in - I blew an important run, I'm never going to qualify for Boston, blah blah blah. I imagined what I would be saying to any of my friends if they said such things to me after a crappy run. I would think they were being ridiculous - and I would be right. So I pulled the sheets up over my tired, sunburned body, said a few words of thanks to it for having made an honest effort, and let myself have a good sleep.

The challenge of training, and setting (and achieving) goals are important reasons that I run. But even more important is the love. Running makes me happy, and even during the toughest workouts, I enjoy being out there. I rarely lose that love, so when I do, I know I should listen.

The coda to this post is that today (Easter Sunday), I woke up feeling fine - and certain that if I'd pushed it yesterday, that would not have been the case. I took myself out for a fun and easy three miles, and in the spirit of celebrating resurrection, wish a joyful Easter to all who observe it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rocking it, and rocking on

I have a secret life. A couple of them, actually. People who know me would characterize me in a few key ways, the first probably through my professional identity: "my friend (neighbor, sister, _______) Amy, the social worker." I live and breathe the work that I do (whether I want to or not), because I'm a partner in a geriatric care management practice, an intense and consuming 24/7 business. I've not been to a cocktail party in my life without someone sharing a personal experience about the care of an aging loved one, or telling a sweet story about an old person they love and admire. I'm visible in my professional community, and most people who know me do know me first and foremost in this context.

My running shoes are never very far
away during the work day.
It wouldn't surprise most of my professional contacts to know that I'm also a dedicated distance runner, although most of them don't. I'm a pretty passionate and intense person in the workplace, and those characteristics "fit" with most people's image of a marathon runner. I struggle to fit training into my unpredictable work schedule, and although I do sometimes show up at meetings a little sweaty, I'm usually able to pull these two lifestyles together fairly seamlessly.

Where things get a little stickier is my third (and much more secret) life: my "rock and roll life." Nothing thrills me like my first listen through of a new album, or seeing a band or performer I love in concert. I'm no longer as dialed in to the alternative music scene as I was when I had a lot more free time, and these days I don't tolerate well the lack of sleep from being out at a show late on a weeknight (why I have never managed to love the bands that play on Friday or Saturday nights is one of life's great mysteries). But live music continues to be an important part of my life, and I suspect it always will. I have every intention of being that gray-haired weirdo dancing awkwardly to the twenty-somethings' new favorite band at the show.

Coachella: three days of crazy.
Making all three of these lifestyles work together - now that is a chore. I've planned work days around concert schedules (participating in board meetings via conference call in the car while en route to Los Angeles for a show that night), and have even run to and from shows at local bars in order to not miss my workouts. I'm currently in the midst of training for a marathon while excitedly preparing to head out of town for the Coachella Music Festival in two weeks. It's going to be three days of some awesome music and some awesome friends. It's also going to be three days of being on my feet in the dry, hot desert for 12+ hours at a time, without much sleep - and there will be beer. Oh, and somewhere in there, I'm scheduled to "squeeze in" a 20-mile training run. I don't yet have this all quite figured out, but my companions understand the complex layers of my life (and my interests that pull me in different directions), and we will, no doubt, make it work. And make it rock.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The daily sniff, and 11 other gifts

One morning this week, while I was walking my dog, a neighbor approached and thanked me for having picked up after her a few moments earlier. He'd been inside and had watched me scoop her poop, and stepped outside just to say thanks. My first response was to think it seemed silly - I would never leave dog poop on the ground, anywhere. As a runner, I understand well the frustration of bobbing and weaving around canine land mines. I don't need to be thanked for doing something that is not only required by law, it's a basic civility to which it is not difficult to adhere. I gave him a "don't mention it" kind of a response, but as we parted ways, thought further - and was glad he did mention it. It did actually make me feel good to know that this simple choice makes life a little easier on him, and it was lovely that he took that minute out of his day to step outside and tell me so.

The sweetest-smelling block of Second Ave.
As we kept walking, I made my regular stop a few houses up to smell another neighbor's roses, and a beautiful bloom of wisteria. Throughout most of the year, you will find well-tended roses blooming outside of this gorgeous old home, and I've thought on many occasions how nice it is that they keep them out along the sidewalk rather than up against their house and behind the fence where we wouldn't be able to enjoy them. This house is just around the corner from me, so stopping for a sniff is a treasured part of most of my runs, while I'm warming up or cooling down. Having just received the simple gratitude of another neighbor for something I give no thought to doing, I decided to thank the owners of the home (who I don't know) for this little gift that they've given me on a daily basis for many years now. It was early in the morning, so I went home and wrote a note that I went back hung around the inside of their fence as I headed out for my run.

There's a lot of talk about gratitude these days. While gratitude journaling is surely a worthwhile activity, I'm hereby challenging myself to not just think and write about gratitude, but to live it. And as with most things, for me it will start with running. There are a lot of people and institutions that have made running possible for me, and who, like the owner of these roses, should be thanked for the ways they've contributed to the joy that it brings me. I'm launching a personal mission to identify and acknowledge a dozen of these folks, and will report back.

In the meantime, who makes running possible for you (or in some other way makes your days brighter)? Have you told them lately? There's no time like the present.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The good news

Since I started writing this blog a few months ago, I've received a lot of support and some questions, most notably: what exactly is the point? I have no intention to sell anything on it, and it doesn't endorse anyone or anything. I have a more-than-full-time job, and no one pays me to write, so why am I doing this? The simple answer is, of course, pure narcissism. But there is actually more to it than that.

Like a person with religion, I very much feel the need to spread the good news of running. I don't try to "convert" people to it, and try not to push back too hard when I hear things like "I've just never been able to run." Everyone has their right fit, and needs to find their own path to it. But I believe that running has lessons to teach everyone, whether they actually run or not. I have hard days when life is throwing up one obstacle after another to getting it done. I insist on finding a way to knock it out. I have physical challenges, including bad knees (requiring surgery when I was a teen), and scoliosis. I've learned to be gentle on myself, which remarkably has made me a faster and stronger runner than in the days when I pushed. I get way, way too inside my own head somedays. So I take myself outside.

I'm happy to say that I have played a part in a few "conversions" through the years. I can't say that any of these folks wouldn't have started running without my influence - surely, they would have - but I love that I've been able to play a part in supporting them as they got started, began racing, and eventually started to identify as runners.

Alicia, after her first half-marathon, which we ran together. (And good friend Becky, herself a dedicated runner!)

Ian, who braves crazy weather and juggles a difficult schedule to get in his runs. My hero!

Krista, after her first half-marathon, which we ran together. She likes to say that she hates running, but she just keeps signing up for more, so I know she's lying.
Yooli, who recently celebrated the ten-year anniversary of her first marathon! Here we are at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2003. We rocked it. (Special shout-out to Sarah, the ultimate marathon support crew member.)

They have seen the light!

So what is the point? For me, the point is helping a struggling new runner feel part of a community that supports them on the tough days, and celebrates their successes. The point is helping a seasoned runner who's hit a roadblock, faced an injury, or just can't get their butt off the couch that day to reconnect with the pure joy of running. The point is reaching people who don't run and perhaps providing some motivation to undertake whatever kind of challenge would be meaningful to them. More than anything, it's to help me further understand myself - and to be understood by those around me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Stretching out

My husband leaves town today without me, a rare occurrence. Unlike me, he's not someone who travels for work or conferences, or would journey great distances in the name of, say, a music festival. Although he enjoys travel as much as I do, he's a homebody who would be equally happy spending a vacation at home. So usually if Marc is going somewhere, I'm right there with him. (And I probably talked him into going.) But this time he is off on his own, spending the weekend with some old friends. I love these friends, who we don't get to see often, and am sorry to miss the opportunity to visit with them and their beautiful children. It was a hard decision for me, when he was booking this trip a couple of months ago, to look at my calendar and assess the state of my life, and say "no, I think I'll stay home." In fact, I think it might have been the first time I have ever said no to an opportunity to go anywhere.

While the basic foundation of my life is very stable - I've lived in the same place, worked at the same job, and have been married to the same person for many years now -  I am constantly on the move, and require regular changes of scenery. For someone without children, I manage to live a remarkably chaotic life. A marathoner, a partner in a growing business, and an engaged member of my community, I'm certainly busy, but will generally never pass up the opportunity to throw something else onto the pile of life in the name of time with a friend, a good meal, or a visit to a new place. Most of the time this suits me pretty well, but over the past year I've noticed the need for a change. Perhaps it's the wisdom (and waning energy) of age. These days when I realize on a Thursday night that we don't have plans for Friday, instead of racing to make a dinner reservation or round up friends for a night out, I now think excitedly about an evening at home with Marc, a home-cooked meal, and a nice walk with the dog. Sadly, I have never once thought "I'll do a load of laundry!" or "Time to clean the bathroom!" when I find those free time slots on my calendar. Maybe someday I'll get there.

When I get home from work this evening, 48 hours of solitude will lay before me, and I'm hereby challenging myself not to fill it up. My plans so far involve a Pilates class tonight, a 15-mile training run tomorrow morning, and maybe a little swim on Sunday. Hopefully not much else. I'm not on-call, so the phone will be off, and I'm currently engrossed in a great book. It's rare that I'm alone in our little condo, so I intend to stretch out and fill the place - with quiet.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Turn, turn, turn

I have almost no routine in my life. I don't have a favorite thing to eat for breakfast, and have something different every morning. I walk my dog 2-3 times daily, and never take the same route twice. Brush then floss? Floss then brush? Either way is cool with me. Contrary to all sound medical advice, I've never been able to fall into a normal pattern of sleep. Although I consistently get between 7.5 - 8.5 hours a night (like Ralph Wiggum, sleep is where I'm a Viking), I can easily go to bed anywhere between 9:00 pm and midnight, and get up between 5:00 - 8:00 am, and then do it all completely differently the next day without feeling screwed up. Unlike most individuals I know (including the husband and dog with whom I share my little piece of the world), I take no comfort in ritual or routine, although I try to honor others' need for it. After years of trying in vain to create structure around myself, I'm learning to embrace this feature of my personality and see the gifts in it.

That's not to say that I don't appreciate and enjoy the familiar. I'm beyond grateful to wake up every morning to my husband's same adorable face, and to come home in the evenings to my same silly dog. I love my old "home trails" along the American River, and feel comfortable and secure when I'm running among those old sights and smells. And now just a little over a week into training for my fifteenth marathon, I am realizing how much joy I take in this process, a perfect blend of the known and the unknown. I can't yet anticipate how my race in June is going to turn out, how much faster or stronger I'll get in the coming weeks, or where I'll discover a new favorite long training run. But there is a lot that I do know to expect. Now eight days in, I'm remembering the subtle ways I need to adapt my life to accommodate marathon training, and enjoying that familiar afternoon daze after a good long run.

Perhaps also because I live in a place that doesn't have much in the way of seasons, I'm no longer a student living on a fall-to-spring calendar, and I don't work in an industry that has any sort of a "peak season" during the year, I deeply appreciate the seasonal nature of of marathon training. Sixteen weeks of training, the excitement of race week, and then a full month of rest and recovery. This is about as much of a pattern as I can expect to find anywhere in my life, and I embrace it with open arms, and tired legs.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Indecent exposure

In a lot of ways, being a distance runner makes me a better person. But there are also a lot of ways in which it just makes me kind of gross. There are many things I do while (or in the name of) running that I simply wouldn't do in any other context. For example:

The farmer blow (a.k.a. the "snot rocket"). It's taken me over two decades, but I have finally perfected the art of the farmer blow. I don't understand the physiology of why the blowing of the nose becomes so essential during a long run, but it's a disgusting fact, and after years of finding myself on the road with no access to tissue, I've learned to let go of decorum and let it fly. (Note: I hope this term isn't offensive to farmers. If it is, I hope that my farmer readers understand that I use this term with the utmost respect for this respiratory innovation.)

I can offer you no rational explanation
for these shorts.
Buy camouflage-print shorts with a 2" inseam. I'm a pretty conservative dresser. I love bright colors, but I'm not flashy, and I certainly don't show much skin. And yet somehow when it comes to running clothes, I am perfectly comfortable in almost anything - short or wildly patterned shorts, ratty old t-shirts, it makes no difference. If it was cheap at the running store, and it's comfortable, I will wear it. To be honest, I look terrible in running shorts. I've never had those great runner's legs, and I've made my peace with that. These legs have taken me all over the planet, running in some amazingly beautiful places, so I forgive them their imperfections.

Walk around publicly in a state of partial undress. As I've mentioned before, I occasionally need to squeeze in my runs on the fly, in the middle of my work days. While changing in the back of your car, or slipping on shorts under one's skirt or a towel are mostly socially acceptable behaviors on the coast (where people are used to seeing surfers do it), I've found that it will raise some eyebrows in town. Pulling my shirt off in the middle of a parking lot is, for the most part, out of character for me. But in the context of a run? A no brainer.

Wear a fanny pack. Not only do I wear a fanny pack on my long runs (okay, it's a SPI belt, and it's a few ticks cooler than a fanny pack ...), I get so used to the feel of it that I often forget it's there and catch myself still wearing it while out doing errands after my run. (Oh and on that note: if I drove somewhere to run, I will almost always squeeze in an errand or two on my way home, with absolutely no regard for my ragged, sweaty, crusty appearance.)

Wave at strangers. And for all of the questionable, socially unacceptable things that running makes me do, this one odd behavior is definitely my favorite.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Oh the Places I Went!

Sixteen weeks of training for Grandma's Marathon officially begins tomorrow. I love marathon training and the structure that it provides in my mostly-unstructured life, and always look forward to a new season. But I know there will be weeks when I miss the freedom to run however far (or short) or hard (or easy) I want to, so figured I would make the most of this last long weekend run.

I'm just going to put it right out there and say that I think I live in the best place on earth. (And I hope you feel the same way about where you live!) San Diego is a fantastic place, and not just because of the weather. I love my beautiful and endlessly interesting neighborhood (Bankers Hill) and the other great neighborhoods that make up the mid-city. It's got just the right amount of density for me, good public transportation, and there is always something interesting going on. Not only do I have several great restaurants and Balboa Park just a few blocks away, I have a neighbor with a pony. So obviously, it is the best place ever.

I've been living - and running - here for about fifteen years, though, so in order to keep things interesting, I do frequently hop in my car (or onto the train) and run in different parts of the county on the weekends. But my "home runs" in the park or around the neighborhood are always my favorite. So this weekend, in the name of celebrating the joy of the unstructured, free-form run, I challenged myself to something different, and mapped out the boundaries of my zip code and decided to run them. When I saw it on the map, I knew that it was going to be challenging, because 92103 is a hilly place. But I also knew that it was going to be super cool.

From my house, I headed to Laurel St. (The Prado, which runs through the middle of Balboa Park) and serves as 92103's southern boundary. The corner of First Ave. & Laurel St. served as my starting point for the loop, which I thought was going to be somewhere between 8-10 miles, but turned out to be almost 13. Oh well ... unstructured, right?

This run was amazing. A fun adventure, a solid reminder to me of why I make the sacrifices I do to live here, and a reminder to be grateful for the gift of running and the many ways that it keeps me connected to my community. I stopped to enjoy the scenery and take lots of photos along the way (and also because I was tired), and I hope you'll enjoy this Tour de 92103:

Crossing the First Ave. bridge.
Maple Canyon, the harbor, and Point Loma in the distance.

Down to India Street, with the bustle of cruise ships, trains, and airplanes.

Up into the western edge of Mission Hills. These grades were outrageous! 
But the views paid me back for my efforts. 

(Well, except to take pictures.)

Back down into Old Town State Park.

East along the edge of Mission Valley. Why I didn't think to bring cash so I could 
have stopped in at Albie's for a cocktail I will NEVER know.

Back up the hill from the valley into Hillcrest. 
(The origins of the names of all of these communities, by the way, 
become crystal clear when you are running between them.) 
Crossed the 163 Hwy via the Vermont St. Bridge.

A little dose of inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt, right when I needed it. This was about 8.5 miles in, and I was tired, hungry, and close to home. It was pretty tempting to turn around and go home!

Some further inspiration courtesy of Dr. Seuss, on the Vermont St. Bridge.
Interestingly, yesterday would have been his birthday!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.

Through University Heights, then headed south across El Cajon Blvd. 

Out to Morley Field, to the edge of Florida Canyon. 

Back across the Cabrillo Hwy, into the Bridle Trail system on the eastern edge of Balboa Park. I hike here almost every weekend, but had never seen this particular system of dirt bike trails! There were a half dozen or so boys riding on them, doing crazy jumps over piles of tree stumps.

Up into the center of Balboa Park, where lots of people were out enjoying the day.
(The tower of the Museum of Man in the background.)

West on The Prado back to my starting point.

My cheat sheet!