Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Songs in the key of life

In a recent post, I mentioned my excitement about attending the Coachella Music Festival, as I pondered how to reconcile marathon training (and a scheduled 20-mile run) with three long days of music in the hot California desert. It’s taken me a while to return to the topic because a) the traumatic events in Boston occurred the day I came home, b) I unpacked, re-packed, and immediately left town again for work upon returning from Coachella, and c) I developed a gnarly upper respiratory infection, courtesy of a massive dust storm that kicked up on Day 3 of the festival. Ah, the rock ‘n roll lifestyle.

But make no mistake: Coachella was epic, and well worth all of the exhaustion, dehydration, and sinus-grinding dust inhalation. This is a running blog, however, and not a hipster music blog, so I won’t drone on about my favorite performances. (Although just because I cannot resist, my top five of the weekend: blur, The Postal Service, Tame Impala, Bat for Lashes, and Band of Horses. If anyone wants to comment, debate, or hear more, then feel free to comment or email me, and let’s chat.)

I had some pretty grandiose plans for this long weekend with friends that involved getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and of course, getting in that 20-mile training run. About two hours into the long weekend’s adventures, I knew I was pretty well sunk, and decided to just give into the hedonistic revelry that is Coachella. But that’s not to say I didn’t get in some good workouts. In addition to the long miles of walking around the grounds of the Empire Polo Club for three days on end, I pulled off what I like to call the Coach-athlon:

RUN: When I woke up on Day 2 and realized that there was no coffee to be had in the house where I was staying, and no coffee shop closer than six miles from me (how is this possible in modern America?), I did what any sane person would do: I put on my running shoes, stepped out into what was already nearly 90-degree heat, and ran the six miles to the closest Starbucks.
This may have been the first run I've completed while wearing
a beer garden ID tag. RUN: CHECK.

BIKE: Every day, my friends and I hopped on some bikes that we'd brought with us, and rode the 4 or 5 miles each way to and from the venue in order to save ourselves the expense and hassle of parking, shuttles, etc. Aside from one small bike crash, and the utterly miserable ride back on the final night of the festival during the dust storm, it worked out beautifully.
That's cross-training, baby! BIKE: CHECK.

SWIM: Okay, I never actually swam while I was at Coachella. But I did spend most of the weekend wearing a bikini, so I think that’s close enough:
There is just no accounting for the things people wear at Coachella.

Sometimes life gets in the way of training, and we just have to let it roll right over us. I work very hard at pulling it all off in my day-to-day life, but I don’t always succeed. I am a runner in training, but I am more than just a runner. That weekend, I was also a lover of live music, a friend catching up with old pals I don't get to see often enough, and a hard-working partner in a business who took a long weekend off. And those are all pretty important notes in the chorus of my life, too.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Showing up

Woody Allen famously once said something along the lines of "80% of success in life is showing up." I don't objectively believe that this is true, because I know a lot of people who show up to a lot of things, without accomplishing much of anything. But I am totally on board with the general sentiment, and have found through the years that showing up to things I really didn't feel like doing has usually served me well. This is true in training, in work, and in life. And tonight was a perfect example.

Today was my first day back at work after nine days away at a three-day music festival in the California desert, followed immediately by a cross-country trip to Philadelphia for five days of meetings and a conference. I came home sick with a sinus infection and exhausted (a hearty traveler I am not), and faced a challenging day at work, but when I saw the announcements this morning about the different Boston Strong runs that were going on all over San Diego - and all over the country - I couldn't resist signing up. My favorite local running store (Movin Shoes) was organizing one-mile solidarity runs from each of their three locations, to raise money for The One Fund, providing assistance to individuals affected by last week's bombing. Today is my rest day, and I'm still fighting a nasty cough, but I figured I could muster a mile and a few dollars, in the spirit of The Runner's Hi.

But when 5:30 rolled around, I was singing a different tune. It was kind of a rough day at work, I hadn't eaten properly, and I was hungry, tired, and grumpy. I had a text message composed and ready to send to my husband to tell him I was going to skip the run and come home, but decided I'd just get in the car and see how I felt once I was driving. I knew I was running a little late to make the 6:00 pm run, so I decided that if I got to the decision intersection (where I would either turn north for the run, or turn south and head home) by 5:42, I would have enough time to make it, and I would run. Naturally, I pulled up to the intersection at 5:43. After a brief moment of hesitation, I decided that I'd really regret not going if I skipped it, and went ahead and made the left turn to go meet up with the group. Fortunately, I'd planned ahead this morning, and was wearing a secret sports bra and a skirt, and so was able to get completely changed while stopped at streetlights on my way. At 6:02 I hopped out of my car in full blue-and-gold running gear and headed for the Movin Shoes parking lot, where I saw a good-sized group assembled. As I jogged up, I thought I was seeing Meb Keflezighi (our great American marathoner) addressing the crowd, but was sure I was imaging it. As I got closer, I realized: it's really him! This was completely unexpected, and such a fun surprise! (He is a former San Diegan, but moved away several years ago - so no, it's not an everyday occurrence around here to just have Meb show up at your local running store's fundraiser.) I am a big giant nerd, so as soon as we finished our moment of silence, I walked up and told him how glad I was that he was there, that I (like most everyone there) was a big fan, and that I'd been there to watch him run in London this summer. A big smile crossed his face, and he said "You're so nice!" and reached over for a hug. I die. At least I hadn't run yet, so I wasn't sweaty. Right then, someone asked us all to get together for a photo, so he just put that skinny little arm right around me and we posed for this group shot. I just die.

Listening to Meb tell his story of being in Boston last Monday was sobering. He ended by reminding us that "tomorrow isn't guaranteed," which I thought about as we ran our group mile together. Every day brings opportunities to experience something we might never experience again. Some of it we get to choose, and much of it we don't. Tonight reminded me why, when given the choice between showing up or not, I usually choose to show up.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watching from the sidelines

Late last week, I got about halfway through a post about the Boston Marathon, but left town before I had a chance to finish writing it. I wasn't running it (I haven't yet qualified to do so), but have had absolute "Boston fever" for weeks, as I've read the posts of my friends in the running community who were preparing for it. I planned to write about the mix of emotions that came with sharing their experiences: excitement, jealousy, nerves, and anticipation for the day I get to live my own Boston journey. Toward the top of my "life list," and that of many marathon runners, is qualifying for - and running - the hallowed Boston Marathon. I'm not a naturally gifted runner, and speed does not come easily to me. It has taken me many years of building a foundation to even be able to consider trying to qualify, but I'm proud to say that I'm awfully close. I will turn 40 in 2014, and it's been my goal for many years now to make it to the show before that big day arrives.

Over the past many months, I've watched as friends have qualified, been accepted into the race, and made their travel arrangements. I read with excitement as they descended upon Boston over the weekend, and waded through the marathon expo. I checked Facebook compulsively all morning on Monday, to see how they were feeling before the race, and to find out about their finishes. It wasn't my big day, but it was a lot of other people's big day, and I enjoyed those race-morning jitters right along with them. I know what it took to get there. I know about the sacrifices that their families and friends made to support them through the long months of training, and to be there with them on race day. Those 29,000 runners, and all of their many supporters, have my complete and total awe and respect.

Today, of course, I write a very different post about the Boston Marathon, and describe a very different mix of emotions. Much has already been said, and much more eloquently than I could say it, about the tragedy of the bombings and the lives lost on Monday. All that's left for me to do is to process my own reactions at this point, which I've been avoiding doing. Not only is it wrenchingly painful to think about what happened to all of those people, to the running community, and to the city of Boston, I also have guilt about a lot of the selfish things I thought that day.

I thought first of my own friends who were there running and cheering. I was glad that they're fast, and would have crossed the finish line well before the bombs exploded, and hoped they had cleared the finish area in time to be safe. I waited anxiously to hear from everyone, and in the meantime, my thoughts drifted. Of course I watched the reports with horror, and thought with deep sadness about the victims. But I also thought: "Had I not gotten injured last year, I might have qualified and been there. Those could have been my loved ones on those sidelines." I winced as I read about runners who were diverted off the course, within just a mile or two of their finish, and felt their agony. But I also thought: "Oh, great. I'm finally going to qualify for Boston this year, and the 2014 race is going to get all filled up with all of these runners who will be granted entry into the race next year, since they didn't get to finish." I shook it off, and decided I would devote myself more fully than ever to the task of qualifying this year, so that I could be there next year to run in solidarity with the victims. But I also thought: "Yeah, but every other runner in the country is having that same thought right now. I'll never get in." I thought to myself: it matters not, because I will get there eventually. But then I thought: "But the race will never be the same. They've ruined this for me." For me, I thought.

It was, I think, too much to absorb at first. Tragedy is like that. We have to break things down into pieces that make sense, and at first I had to think about it in personal terms - how did what I was seeing affect me, and my own family and friends? Perhaps it's the cognitive side of the "fight or flight" instinct: What does this mean to me? Am I safe? But I continued to watch and read, began to integrate what I was seeing, and understand what it meant. I sat and sobbed all afternoon, weeping for the losses, and what they meant to so many.

I'm very committed to the notion of myself as a piece of the larger whole. One neighbor in a diverse city. One participant in a complex democracy. One pair of feet in a community of runners. It's hard for me to admit to self-serving thoughts and actions, but they most certainly happen - and often. But I suppose that's part of what elevates humanity. We are more than our selfish instincts and drives. We have our dark moments, but we can bring ourselves back into the light. The animal instinct is to duck and cover when a bomb explodes. But the human instinct is to then look around and see who needs our help. As the stories that emerge from the 2013 Boston Marathon will no doubt serve to remind us: humans are good at creating tragedy, but we're also capable of mighty triumph.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Course support

My husband is a good sport. He's been a spectator at dozens of races through the years, and although he doesn't run, doesn't enjoy anything about running, and surely finds the long, cold, and early hours of standing around waiting for me to zip by for a few seconds pretty tiresome, he's been there for every "big" race. An awesome source of emotional and tangible support, he's always good for a dab of Aquaphor here, a Tylenol for an aching piriformis there, and a big hug at the finish line. (The one exception was when he staged a protest and refused to attend my running of the Philadelphia Marathon in 2003. I'd promised him earlier that year that I wouldn't train for another marathon until I finished my masters thesis, but I got bored and impatient with it, and broke my promise. So he didn't come, which was fair enough. For the record, I finished it before running my next one.) I also have an amazing set of friends and family members who have attended various races with me over the years, often going to great expense - and going to very weird places - in order to do so. It takes a special kind of friend to sign on for a summer vacation with you in Fargo, or to stand at the start line in the freezing cold wee hours of a Las Vegas winter morning, just to make sure you hit that starting line with a whole lot of love. Every marathon I've run has stories of love, family, and friendship woven throughout.

My water crew is the handsomest, don't you think? (Photo by John Schell)

I recently signed up for an interesting local race that took place this weekend. The Carlsbad 5000 is a world-famous 5k, a large race made up of seven different age/gender group races that run all morning, with elite races held in the early afternoon. They offer a challenge called the "All-Day 25k," wherein a limited number of runners can sign up to run in five separate 5k races, which take place over the course of the entire morning (totaling 15.5 miles in all, and spanning about 4.5 hours). Since I'm actively training for a marathon now, my intention was not any sort of a PR for the 5k distance, but to use it as a training run in lieu of my scheduled 18-mile long run. I had no idea what to expect from the event, or from myself, but I raced well and it turned out to be a really amazing day. And I spent it alone. Had I asked him to, Marc would have dragged himself out of bed with me at 5:00 a.m., stood around for hours while I repeatedly started and finished, and hung out while I stretched, gloated, and complained during the breaks between my races. But I treasure his support in those races where it matters most, so I pick my battles. There are race mornings when I need him less, and it's okay with me if he spends those mornings sleeping in, walking the dog so I don't have to, and then patiently listening to the mile-by-mile account when I get home. There's no one I'd rather have with me on the marathon course of life, so I figure I'd better do what I can to keep him fresh for race day.

And further to the subject of amazing support crews: my dear sister Stephanie recently launched a crowdfunding effort to raise money so that she can afford to come out to Colorado with me this summer and be a part of my "support crew" in my first attempt at pack burro racing. I am moved beyond words by her excitement over joining me for this experience, and especially love that she has pledged to be my donkey's "chief pooper scooper" if she makes her goal! If you're so inclined, you can visit her page here. My absolute favorite thing about running is the way it keeps me connected to the people, places, and things that I love, and I have no doubt that this summer's adventures in the hills of Colorado will just be one more example of that.