Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doing just fine

I am a big fan of the day spa concept. I've never been one to splurge on things like clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics, and pedicures and massage are rare indulgences that I usually see as more of a "treatment" to cure my running-related ailments. But give me access to a sauna and the opportunity to spend a few quiet hours lounging in and around a few pools of water, and I am all in. My version of heaven definitely includes a eucalyptus steam room.

A beloved friend is in town this week, visiting her hometown of San Diego from her current home of NYC, and seeking as much Southern California sunshine and relaxation as she can soak in while she's here. (She is the mother of two young children, owns and runs a bustling business, and, did I mention that she lives in NYC?) It has become something of a tradition for me to steal her away for an afternoon during these visits and for the two of us to hole up at the spa at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. We lay around like lizards in the warm desert air, eat fresh and delicious food, and catch up. And today she talked me into getting a massage.

We got checked in, and as my massage therapist helped me get situated in the treatment room, she asked the question that will be familiar to anyone who's been a first-time student in a new yoga class, or who has ever had deep tissue massage: "Any pain or injuries that I should know about?"

I've noticed two major changes within myself now that I'm in my forties. One: I say things like "now that I'm in my forties." Two: at any given moment, something somewhere on my body usually hurts. I was starting to feel this in my thirties, sure, but now it's become fairly constant. Even if I'm not dealing with some kind of a running-related overuse injury, or recovering from damage sustained doing something stupid (like fracturing my foot jumping out of a boat ... it happens), there's probably some large muscle group or joint somewhere that hurts. I've been sitting at work, and my hips are tight. It's a cold morning, and my left knee (operated upon 20+ years ago) is reminding me that it's missing a little cartilage. I sat on the floor working on a project for too long, and oh, my aching back! I'm not talking here about the challenges of living with the chronic pain of a condition like arthritis or spinal stenosis. Just the daily creaks and aches of living in a changing, aging body.

So when the massage therapist posed this question, I did a quick mental scan of my body, looking for "the thing that hurts today," so I could warn her to be careful there. And I was completely taken aback when I came to the conclusion: nothing hurts! I couldn't remember the last time that nothing hurt. No injury. No residual soreness from yesterday's workout. Not even a nagging cough. (I have very reactive airways, as they say, and frequently have to ask massage therapists not to use aromatherapy, or to reposition my head in a way that won't make me cough. I'm a mess, you guys.) "Nope," I said. "I'm doing just fine." I crawled onto that warm table, and laid there for the next hour in a state of blissful appreciation for the miracle of this crazy tangle of 206 bones that are all currently working in perfect harmony. As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend draws to a close, a fitting endnote to this happy runner's very long list of the things for which I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let it begin with me

I love Christmas music. I don't usually get too wrapped up in the frenzy of the holidays, and some years I simply opt out of the Christmas "thing" altogether. But I will always sing along to a classic carol. (I will also always eat a Christmas cookie, when presented with the option. But this post is not about cookies. Stay focused.) I'll admit it: I occasionally even tune in to the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time satellite radio station in the car. But never before Thanksgiving. Never! I do what I can to stay present, and count myself among the many who protest the "Christmas creep," that force of economic nature that would have us decorating and shopping and putting peppermint-flavored syrup in everything as soon as the Halloween decorations hit the recycling bin.

"Seasons Greetings," from Ferguson, MO
This year feels different, though. The events of this week in Ferguson, Missouri have shaken me to my core, and have me grasping for anything that will bring a bit of comfort. Don't panic: this is not a political post, any more than it is a post about Christmas cookies. I have not formed any personal opinions about that grand jury's findings, and when I do, I won't share them here. But it's hard not to be moved by the unrest in Ferguson and beyond. These Americans feel so marginalized and disenfranchised that they are lashing out in self-destructive violence. They perceive themselves as being so beat down by the political and socioeconomic systems in the U.S. that they have given up the good fight for social justice, and instead have launched an ill-fated battle they can't possibly win. I tried to read and watch the coverage last night after the verdict was announced, but was overwhelmed by such sadness that I literally shut down, and could barely muster the strength just to crawl under the covers and put myself to bed early.

I woke up this morning still in a bad frame of mind, made worse by the morning's news. In a moment of weakness as I drove to work, I did it: I tuned in to the Sirus XM "Holiday Traditions" station, even though it's still two days before Thanksgiving. Never say "never," I guess. Seeking a cheerful dose of Bing Crosby or Burl Ives to pull me out of my funk, I instead received a well-timed message that has been with me all day: "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let peace begin on earth.
And let it begin with me.

Someone at that satellite radio station was clearly having just as crappy of a day as I was. And God bless 'em for trying to do something about it, instead of just crawling under the covers (like I did), or ranting in anger and judgment about it on social media (like everyone else did, it seems). In that moment, the whole point of the song unfolded: peace that starts from within can spread to others. The station programmer who selected that song did something to create peace with a simple choice. And I can create peace with my own simple choices. I can start my day tomorrow with a run, instead of the news, to flush out the cortisol and elevate my mood. Perhaps that elevated mood will make me feel like smiling and saying hello to a stranger who would otherwise feel isolated and disconnected. Perhaps those lower cortisol levels will provide the calm I need to be present and focused during my work day for someone who needs it. (Have I mentioned that I'm a social worker, surrounded by others' chaos and difficulties, day in and day out?) Maybe that morning run will be my first dig at a little well of peace. And maybe it will spring a leak.


What could you do to create a moment of peace in your life today?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Subpar for the course

No complaints. If I have to be on the road for
five days, the Loews Ventana Canyon is
not the worst place to be.
I've just returned from a work trip that took me to Tucson for several days, staying at a lovely resort hotel at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I've served on this Board of Directors for two years now, and I know that these annual meetings are long and intense. I don't get as much sleep as I need due to the meeting schedules, and my diet is much heavier than I'm used to, so after a couple of days I usually feel pretty run down. But this year I was determined to get some exercise every morning, even though it required being up at an ungodly hour, figuring I would not only feel better, but I'd have more brain power, too. I've been recovering from last month's marathon and triathlon, and am still not running heavy mileage, but in addition to wide and scenic desert roads to run on, I had access to a lap pool, miles of beautiful hiking trails, and a yoga studio, so each day I challenged myself to do something different.

One day I got up early and took myself out for a morning walk along the Parcourse. Raise your hand if you know what a Parcourse is!? Those of us of a certain age will remember that these outdoor "fitness trails" were all the rage a few decades ago. And those of you of certain other ages have surely seen them and wondered what they are (and who uses them). These dirt paths lined with "obstacle stations" were constructed in urban areas all over the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, and usually contain between 10-20 different pieces of wooden equipment for upper body, lower body, climbing, jumping, and balance exercises. Each station has signage to instruct the user on the apparatus, or just a cleared space if the activity doesn't require equipment (e.g., jumping jacks or toe touches). You walk or run between the stations, which are staged to provide a thorough workout, including stretching. The stretching stations are all at the beginning of the Parcourse, though, because that's how we rolled in the 80s. I saw the signs for the Parcourse outside of my hotel, and thought to myself smugly that it would make for a fun and easy workout, and also that it would be sort of hilarious to do all these old school exercises. I only wished I'd packed some Dolphin shorts. Raise your hand if you remember Dolphin shorts!?

The balance beam
The trail
The "touch toes" station

As it turns out, the Parcourse was no joke. I learned two things that morning: 1) this old exercise methodology is still very relevant, and 2) I am ridiculously unfit. Almost all of the obstacles were really hard - like the log hops, rings, and vault bars. And some of them I couldn't do at all, like the chin-ups. Even the ones that seemed easy - like sit-ups, jumping jacks, and the balance beam - were challenging in the context of the full 18-station course. I was seriously dying by the end, and am still sore, three days later. It was a great workout, and it was also really fun.

I naturally had to Google the history of the Parcourse, and wound up deep in a rabbit hole of early 20th century physical education theory. Parcourse was invented in Europe in the late 1960s, and was designed to promote physical fitness in the "Natural Method" of Georges Hebert, a French physical educator who designed sessions that were
... composed of exercises belonging to the ten fundamental groups: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, equilibrium, throwing, lifting, defending and swimming.
Nothing new under the sun. Today we have "functional fitness" taught to us in private gyms, and we compete in "gladiator" obstacle races. No doubt the field of exercise physiology and the fitness industry have made many important advancements, but I'm struck by how much good sense Hebert's theories still make. He believed in a method that promoted "organic resistance," developed one's internal energy and courage, and directed the "moral drive" in a "useful and beneficial way." And he was among the first to advocate for the benefits of exercise in women, believing it important that they develop self-confidence, athleticism, and will-power through physical pursuit.

My own self-confidence is still a little shaken by my humbling 45 minutes on the Parcourse, and it's abundantly clear to me now that I need to work on some basic strength and integrate some plyometrics into my routines. I'm getting soft in my middle age! And believe me, soft does not look good in Dolphin shorts.

All I wanted as a kid was Dolphin shorts.
My mom never relented. And for that I say:

Do you have any favorite "low tech" strength, balance, or plyometric exercises? Would love to hear your ideas! And if you've got any thoughts on improving my quadrupedal movement, I'm all ears ....

Monday, October 13, 2014

Remembering when ...

I've always loved this quote by the great women's distance running pioneer, Kathrine Switzer. Having spent countless hours of my life training for, competing in, and recovering from the beautiful beast that is the marathon, I've never not broken out into tears at a finish. It never fails to humble me, surprise me, make me laugh out loud, hurt me, nurture me, break my confidence, and then fill me with pride - all in the span of just a few hours. I look inward, of course, but I also look around in that finisher's area and see hundreds or thousands of others who were with me on that journey, and am overwhelmed by what we all just accomplished. Just because millions of people run marathons every year doesn't mean that it's not completely amazing.

My first marathon was the San Diego Marathon (today called the Carlsbad Marathon, since it's technically in the city of Carlsbad, and San Diego has since created its own much larger, much more famous, and much louder production). That was nearly 16 years ago, and to date there have been 17 finishes. Seventeen adventures in 17 different cities, with a great cast of characters keeping me company on the course, and on the sidelines. Over time, my recall of the early races has faded. (We didn't have running blogs in the late 90s, and I've never been a faithful running journaler.) I've got the photos, the bibs, and the official times. A few of the tshirts are still around. Each race has its memorable moments - a high or a low, a great meal, a funny anecdote - but on the whole, my catalog of experiences as "a marathoner" is beginning to blend together. I think deeply about running, and talk and write about it often, but in some ways it's become so much a part of who I am that the details are fading from my awareness.

This weekend, I was gifted the opportunity to experience the marathon for the first time, all over again. My brother-in-law Ian completed the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, his first time doing battle with 26.2. I'd helped him as best I knew how through his training (mostly remotely, as about 2,500 miles separate us), cheering him on as he reached new running milestones, and hassling him a little when he needed it. With great excitement, I flew out to Chicago to join him and our family for the weekend. You think I was going to miss this? We had fun at the pre-race expo, and I tried to answer his questions and quell his anxieties. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2005, but realized as we pored over the course and spectator maps that I had almost no recollection of it, and little to offer in the way of any course-specific advice. I've always remembered it as one of my favorites, but I'd honestly forgotten why.

As I answered his questions about what to expect out there, and doled out advice on wide-ranging topics such as fanny packs, outerwear, and hydration strategy, I tried to remember how I felt the night before my first marathon. The memories have faded, but the one thing I am sure of now is that I most definitely had no idea what I was in for. As we talked, I found myself wanting to try to prepare him in some way that I had not been prepared. But I eventually realized that other than shaking him by the shoulders and yelling "It's going to be reeeally hard!" which didn't seem like it would be terribly helpful, I didn't have much more to offer.

So, we made our way through it together. We mapped out a spectator route that would have us (myself and his parents, a.k.a. my in-laws) perched at strategic points where I thought he'd benefit most. He got all of his gear organized the night before, and we swam through the early-morning sea of 45,000 runners, and got him to his corral. I gave him a hug and a high five, and he was on his own. We got to see him at four points along the course, and it was amazing to watch him going through all of the familiar physical and mental ups and downs, and yet hanging so incredibly tough throughout. In this era of ultra-high security at the Marathon Majors (of which Chicago is one), I couldn't get to the actual start or finish lines, but I had an opportunity to see him as he rounded his final turn, just after the 26-mile mark. He was in his home stretch, in a familiar-looking state of discomfort, but smiling ear-to-ear. Oh, that feeling! Suddenly I could remember finishing my first marathon, with crystal clarity. 

We met him at the runner meet-up area, where I saw the familiar tears of pride and fatigue, the zombie-like gait, and the dazed look of disbelief: did I really just do that? I watched his parents beam with pride, listened as they asked him to recount the details, and remembered how great it was to have my mom there at my own first finish line. We gave him ice and ibuprofen and high-protein snacks, and our permission to lay around and drink beer for the rest of the day if he wanted. I waited for his Facebook posts to appear (again, we didn't have social media "in my day," but you can bet sure I would have been posting from the finish line if I did!), and remembered fondly how much fun it had been to talk to everyone and anyone who asked about it. I was damn proud, and I hope that he is practically bursting at the seams.

Of course, I also remember how I couldn't walk down stairs the next day. I remember that bruised-up second toenail that was never the same. And the chafe. Oh, I remember the chafe! But for now, I'll just keep those memories to myself.

Big, huge, happy congratulations to my new favorite marathoning hero: Ian! And to anyone and everyone who's conquered their first marathon: thank you.



The Chicago Marathon Expo: like nothing I have ever seen.
This race means business, people.

The packet is picked up, and the countdown is on! Sixteen hours 'til go time.

Sunday 7:30 a.m. Perfect racing conditions, and all the
makings of an epic first marathon experience.

We ran for a bit together at mile 12, in the West Loop area. All smiles!

The energy in Chinatown was amazing!
(And so was lunch. Yum!)

My mother-in-law Karen and I did some serious hustling
to get ourselves to the spectator points. She was so proud
to watch her boy in this great endeavor!

Running south from Chinatown, around Mile 22.
Ian was feeling it pretty good right about now, but was tough as nails.

The very picture of marathoning awesomeness!
Recovering in the runner meet-up area.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

With both feet

Last year I wrote with great excitement about my brother-in-law's decision to train for his first marathon. He reached out to me for some virtual "coaching" and support, and it was deeply inspiring to watch him getting stronger and faster, and learning to appreciate what running added to his life. Unfortunately he was derailed by both a particularly harsh winter, and then an injury, and had to back out of the Pittsburgh Marathon. He'd been so excited to race in his hometown, and for his son to watch him cross that finish line. Making the decision to run a marathon was just one of many big changes he had made in his life, and (since I'm prone to this kind of heady thinking) represented to me the beginning of a whole new way of living. 

Encouraging him to stop training was a very difficult thing for me to do, for fear he wouldn't be willing to pick it back up, that old ways of living would seep back in. I know how easily it happens. And selfishly, I was worried about losing a running buddy, since I no longer have any other runners in the family. (My brother used to run, but stopped several years ago. He's since become quite a yogini, though, and continues to inspire me.) Having someone to talk running talk with during family gatherings, and to get up early to run with on the rare occasion that we find ourselves in the same city, had been a lot of fun. I was concerned - for both of us - that his injury would feel like a betrayal of sorts, that he'd say to himself that "running just isn't for me," and turn his back on this sport that I care so much about.

As usual, I was overthinking it.

He took my advice and stopped training, let himself get healed, and got some new shoes. He signed up for the Chicago Marathon, and before I knew it, he was back! All of that worrying I did for him? As usual, a waste of my energy.

Training hasn't gone smoothly for him. He's wrestled with the challenge of fitting long workouts and adequate rest into an already-full life. At the peak of training, he developed a respiratory infection. All the normal stuff of life that conspires to make marathoning harder than it already is. But he stuck with it, and even though he didn't get in all of the mileage that we'd hoped for, he never once lost his way. As we adjusted his goals and expectations, he remained excited about the experience, and confident about race day. He continues to appreciate everything that running has done for him, physically and mentally, and although training for another marathon is probably not in his very near future, he's already signed up for some half-marathons in 2015. He doesn't line up at that start until tomorrow morning, but as far as I'm concerned, he has already completely and totally nailed this thing.

I had so much to learn this past year about perseverance, and maintaining confidence in the face of disappointment. Being a part of my brother-in-law's process was a huge part of that journey. I learned the value of getting out of my own head, and just getting into my running shoes. Thanks for an important lesson in being fearless, and jumping back in with both feet. You don't really know yet just what you're in for out there on the streets of Chicago tomorrow, but I do. And it's going to be awesome. Because you're going to make it awesome.

"You can't be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute."
-Tina Fey

Got my spectator guide, and I've touched down in Chicago. Ready to spectate! Go Ian GO!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

On the rebound

After I had finished my first marathon, I would cringe when I was referred to as a "marathoner." Sure, I had done one marathon, but I couldn't relate to those "real" athletes who I understood to be marathoners. Eventually I settled into that identity, though, after I'd run a few more and realized that marathoners come in all shapes, abilities, and avocations. Today however, I feel a lot differently about wearing these badges of honor, and encourage everyone to put them on early, and wear them proudly. If you run, you're a runner. If you've run a marathon, well then you're a marathoner. And guess what? I've now completed a triathlon, so here it is: I'm a triathlete.

And you can bet I'm going to wear this one proudly. Last month I raced my first triathlon, TriRock San Diego, which I'd entered without any real preparation, and with no idea how to race it. Just two weeks out from a marathon that had gone very badly, I was not yet mentally or physically recovered, and while I knew I had the basic fitness for the individual activities, had zero triathlon training under my belt. (Actually I didn't even have a belt; I only learned the day before about tri belts!) But once I was lined up in that holding area waiting for the start, none of that mattered. I'd already jumped in, and I was going to figure out how to get myself through it. With a little help from my friends:

Julie, me, and Krista, moments before the swim start.
It took a lot of neoprene, latex, lycra, and good old
fashioned emotional support to hold it all together.

It was a brutally early morning (a 6:30 a.m. start, which required a 5:15 a.m. arrival at the Embarcadero Park downtown), but the atmosphere in the transition area was thrilling. And intimidating. At road races, you look around and see all shapes and sizes lining up to compete. But at a triathlon, you look around and you pretty much see a bunch of bad asses. I found a volunteer to get me marked up, and when she asked my age (so she could write it on my calf), I hesitated for a moment before I said it out loud: "forty." Oh, right! It's my birthday! In all of the excitement, I'd momentarily forgotten.

Brand new age group!

I didn't know anything about setting up a transition area, but TriRock had provided an awesome athlete checklist, so I had packed everything I needed (except that belt) and just looked over at how Krista had set hers up, and did the same. My girlfriends and I had a few minutes to nervously fidget and ponder how it was we had gotten ourselves into this, and then it was time to head to the water. As we watched the first waves head out, I noted with a gulp how far those buoys looked, and turned to Krista and Julie and said "I really wish I'd done some swimming in preparation for this." We had ourselves a good laugh, and then we were off.

An experienced triathlete friend had encouraged me not to get mentally ahead of myself during the race, but to be present in each individual sport, which turned out to be incredibly helpful advice. In the water, I kept my mind on the swim, and didn't let myself think about the bike, the sport that gives me the greatest anxiety. I hadn't swum the distance (1500m) in a couple of months, and didn't have a good feel for how to pace myself. I knew I was strong enough for it, though, so decided not to worry about pace (I don't have a waterproof watch, anyway!), and instead just enjoyed it. The view of the sun rising over the Coronado bridge from my vantage point in that warm 74-degree water was remarkable, and as I relaxed into my stroke, I remembered how lucky I am that I get to do any of this.

Just out of the water, and headed toward T1!
(Now that I'm a triathlete, I totally say things like "T1.")
Once I was out of the water, I spotted my husband and mother-in-law waving and cheering, a perfect distraction as I nervously ran to the first transition area (T1) to get ready for the bike. Here was the moment I'd been dreading for months. But the fatigue and bliss of the swim had softened the edges of my anxiety, as had the hilarity of my wet, awkward bumbling with the cycling gear, and within a few minutes that went by in a blur, I had mounted my bike and I was off. I spent the first few minutes wondering what important thing I had forgotten to do, and getting comfortable on my bike (I hadn't been on it in a full month), but eventually I settled in for the 22-mile ride. I hadn't ridden more than 15 miles in about a year, and so really didn't know what to do with myself. But as the thoughts of worry about working too hard and not saving enough for the run came, I remembered that good advice, and instead just rode comfortably, and enjoyed the scenery. This course was fantastic, taking us onto Naval Base San Diego, past the big ships and some great city views. My favorite part was that it was a double-loop, so I was able to spot Julie and Krista out there a couple of times along the way, even though we were riding different speeds and distances.

Finishing the ride, and heading into T2,
behind the San Diego Convention Center.
My husband, mother-in-law, and friends were cheering on the sidelines shortly before we arrived back at the transition area, and a wave of relief washed over me as I passed them and pulled in to get off my bike. I hadn't wrecked, or caused a wreck (that I knew of, anyway), and was feeling strong. "Time to run, hooray! This part, I know how to do!" I thought to myself as I switched out my helmet for a visor, pinned on my bib, gulped down a few bits of food and water, and set out on the six mile run. Which quickly turned into "Wait a minute, what is this? This doesn't feel like running ..." The first mile was an absolute bear, and I felt like I had concrete blocks strapped to my shoes. I had done two very short bike-run brick workouts as I was tapering for my September marathon, so I did have some familiarity with this sensation. I was really unprepared, though, for just how trashed my legs were going to feel by this point. But again, the course saved me with lovely views, and a double-loop that provided plenty of opportunities to spot my friends along the way. While far more difficult than I'd anticipated, those six miles were among my favorite I've ever run.

My back and legs were in a world of hurt
by mile 5 of the run, but I was all smiles.
I genuinely loved every second of this race, and it provided a much needed mental reset after getting so thoroughly wrecked in the last marathon. My first triathlon was like that really great first date with an exciting new person, after having your heart broken in a long term relationship. I'm on the rebound, and the sport of triathlon caught me in a moment of vulnerability, when I was beginning to doubt myself as an athlete. I'm reminded about the part of me that loves being the "new kid" and not knowing what I'm doing. I'm kinder on myself when I'm trying new things, and let myself enjoy the adventure. In the hours and days that passed after crossing that finish line, I began to feel some forgiveness toward the marathon and toward myself. If this 40 year old body can finish an Olympic distance triathlon on that little training, then it can surely keep up the quest for a Boston qualification, and get it done.

I can't say I competed strongly in this event, but I will say that I competed well. I learned some things that I'll apply to future triathlons (oh, there will be future triathlons), and now that I have a sense of what it's like to string all of these events together, I know that I could have pushed harder on each of them individually. I don't enjoy cycling enough to become a serious triathlete; I just don't want to spend that much time on a bike! And while me and the marathon are going to get back together, and keep working on things, I think I'm going to keep this little love affair with the triathlon going on the side.

Friends for more than a quarter century,
and now, partners in TRI!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Forty years of bad ideas

I learned recently that the sport of triathlon, as we know it today, was born in San Diego on September 25, 1974. I had been born just four days before, and just a few miles away from Mission Bay, where that first swim-bike-run event was held. (I didn't grow up in San Diego, but I was actually born here. This was, no doubt, the place I was destined to make my home.) Triathlon's roots trace back to France, as do mine. And we're both about to turn forty years old.

So when I saw this ad in Competitor Magazine a couple of months ago for TriRock, an intermediate distance triathlon being held on the beautiful Embarcadero Park in downtown San Diego - on the exact date of my 40th birthday - it seemed like yet another sign that it was finally time to give this sport a go. Training for the Ventura Marathon was already well underway by that point, and I knew that the timing was bad. Being so focused on racing a good marathon, I wouldn't have the time or energy to train for a triathlon. I'm not a strong or experienced swimmer or cyclist, but hoped that the bit of each that I did weekly as cross-training would at least be enough to get me through the individual distances, and that the "residual fitness" from having trained for a marathon (I totally made that term up, I think) would see me through the event in its entirety. And when two of my oldest and dearest friends committed to coming to San Diego to celebrate my 40th by competing in this event with me, the deal was officially sealed. Sign me up.

I'm now sitting here looking down the barrel of tomorrow morning's 6:30 a.m. swim start, and realizing: this was a bad idea. I am not ready for this. But some of the most memorable moments of these first forty years were born of my poor impulse control and bad ideas, so why not kick off the next decade with another one? Beyond a pathetic lack of multi-sport training and the fact that I'm not fully recovered from the marathon I ran two weeks ago, I also don't have any of the proper equipment. I do have a bike, but I've still not been properly fitted for it, and will have absolutely no idea what to do if I have a breakdown out there. I'll be cycling in my running shoes because I am too scared to clip in, and wearing an old pair of Dior sunglasses, because I'm near-sighted and need a prescription when I ride but have never gotten around to having a pair of sport glasses made. I did buy myself a pair of "tri-shorts" last week, but I am going to be honest with you: they scare me.

I've got a few things going for me, though. First of all, I've got these two:
Friends Julie and Krista, on the morning of
their first triathlon, in 2009. Full circle, you guys.
Five years ago I flew up to Sacramento to surprise them at the start when they competed in their first triathlon together. I had so much fun out there cheering them on with their husbands and kids, and saying to myself, with perfect clarity, that "they are nuts."

Secondly, we're scheduled for nearly perfect weather tomorrow. After an unusually hot and humid summer, the heat has recently broken, and we've got our mid-70s perfection back, and nice warm water temperatures (74* this morning). I figure this has to make up for at least a little bit of my lack of physical preparation.

And finally: it's my birthday! So screw whatever else might go wrong out there. I love birthdays, and think they should be celebrated with gusto. So bring on the swim, the bike, and the run, whether I'm ready for them or not. Bring on the friends, the family, the food, and the celebration at the finish. And bring on 40.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blood, sweat, tears, and some other stuff

At last, I’ve mustered the courage to sit down and write this recap of last Sunday’s Ventura Marathon. It shouldn’t take long, because I honestly can’t remember very much of it. It’s a blur.

The Ventura Pier, which serves as
the race start and finish.
Training for this race began in mid-May, and I can definitively state that I was more committed than I have ever been, in 15 years of running marathons. I’m usually pretty relaxed about training. I skip workouts occasionally, and don’t always eat or drink the way that I should. It’s partly because I’ve never wanted marathoning to rule my life, but it’s also a way of insulating myself from the vulnerabilities of race day. If I don’t perform well, I can lay it on “poor training,” and tell myself that I’ll train better next time. And then I’ll race better next time.

For me, Ventura was “next time.” Early on, I decided that this time I was going to let marathoning rule my life, and see what I could do. I wanted to know when I lined up on race morning that I had given myself every chance of success. For 16 weeks, I didn’t miss a single workout. I struggled through many of them, but I got them done, and aside from some of the hotter days when I had to slow down, I was pretty much hitting my pace targets. I paid attention to what I ate. I limited my alcohol intake. I got plenty of sleep. I tapered properly. I even skipped dessert! (A few times.) I did everything right, and didn’t leave myself any opportunities for excuses. “If only I’d _____________,” then I would have had a better race.

So to have given training everything that I had, to have aimed high for a challenging but achievable goal (a 3:45 finish), and to have held myself so publicly accountable to it, and then utterly fall apart on race day? It brought me to my knees. It’s been a week, and I am still trying to shake it off.

Despite warm temperatures (a mid-80s day, and a hot, sunny morning with none of Ventura’s signature marine layer), I had a great first half. I spotted my husband and friends who were out at mile 9 with signs and noisemakers, and was in good spirits. I was working hard, but had expected to. I had trained to! I was on pace as we made the half-marathon turnaround, and feeling well. A mile later, it all went to hell.

During mile 14, I developed a stomach ache. I know this happens to runners from time to time, and although it’s never happened to me and I didn’t know what to do about it, I wasn’t terribly concerned. Should I stop? Is it going to go away? Will more water or electrolytes help? Should I eat? I opened one of the fig newtons from my pack (which I train with, so my gut is used to them), but got a small bite down, and became horribly nauseous. I tried sipping a little fluid, to no effect. The only thing I could think to do was to slow down to control the “jostling” of my stomach, because the last thing I wanted to do was to throw up out there. The discomfort continued, and within a couple of miles I was feeling dizzy. I later figured out that I had unconsciously shallowed my breathing due to the stomach pain, which I think left me light-headed. I won’t get too detailed here, other than to report that after several more very slow and uncomfortable miles, shortly before mile 21 I did finally get sick. (I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but apologize to any runners who may have been an accidental witness! I’ve been there, and I know it’s awful to see another runner in that state.) And then it just got worse from there. I never felt that I was in an unsafe situation, although I look back at it now, and wonder. I was still sweating, and I didn’t feel overheated or dehydrated, but absolutely could not make the stomach pain or dizziness go away. All I could think to do was keep looking down the road, and keep on running, no matter how slow. Almost everything that happened after the mile mark 21 is a fog, with the exception of the finish. My crew was there, in full effect, and my pal Berkeley ran me in for the final stretch. I got across the mat, and a medic immediately approached me and asked if I was alright. In that moment, I thought I was okay and told her so, but again in looking back, I probably could have used some attention. I dizzily made my way to my husband and friends, and then hobbled over to the pier for some shade and rest. I was too light-headed to stand upright for more than a few seconds, but eventually was able to take in a little water, a bit of fresh fruit (the really good fresh fruit at the finish was awesome! Big points to Ventura for this perk!), and a few sips of beer. The carbonation and bitterness were a little bit of heaven, and seemed to settle my stomach a bit. It was probably a good half hour before I came around, an unusually slow and difficult post-race recovery for me.

I think this photo, taken just after I
crossed the finish line, says it all.

My stomach continued to hurt for the rest of the day – but not half as much as my ego did. What happened out there? A week later, I’m no closer to an answer. And I don’t know what I should have done differently. I’m big on turning negative experiences into learning opportunities, and my inability to put a positive spin on this has been, I think, the most difficult part of my recovery. I did everything right, and I still failed.

In my brighter moments, I tell myself that it was a fluke, that I will be able to build on all of these months of solid training, and come back even stronger, even better prepared for a good spring marathon. But in my darker moments – and there have been many – I wonder quietly if I am simply not capable of this. Is qualifying for the Boston Marathon something that is beyond my physical abilities? Am I silly to keep trying?

I’m still wrestling with that one, and in the meantime, time has continued to march forward. We happily celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday this week, and will celebrate mine next weekend. And there is so much to be celebrated. I have everything I need: an endlessly supportive group of friends and family, meaningful work, a beautiful place to live, and a healthy body to live in (all throwing up on the side of the Ventura Marathon aside). The dark thoughts and the nagging questions are still with me, but I’m hopeful that in these next few weeks, as life begins to fill in the spaces that training required, my heart will recover from this race as fully as my body will.


Enough with the depressing stuff. 
Let's look at the PHOTOS!

My two favorite pre-race things:
It was so nice of Hershel to show up on race day too!
Mile 9. Note the noisemaker in the foreground!
My support crew was EPIC. Horns, great signs, and lots of love.
Another photo from the finish.
Somehow, one foot just kept ending up in
front of the other, for 26.2 miles.
It felt so good to smile again, once it was over.
Thanks to Marc, Steph, and Berkeley for
hanging in there with me.
Official finish time: 4:17:08

Friday, September 12, 2014


I know it's been a while since I've posted here, so I'm writing to check in briefly and confirm: I am still alive. It was touch and go there for a while around mile 20, but I did survive the Ventura Marathon! My race went very poorly, and I'm still trying to make sense of it all, but I'll eventually get around to the recap. In the meantime, life continues its roil and boil, and I'm having a great time with my "40 days to 40" countdown, which started in August and will end on my 40th birthday later this month. My goal has been to try at least one new thing every day during these 40 days, and now already three-quarters of the way through it, I realize that my list of "new things" that I want to try could last a lifetime. (And I hope that it will.) And while I haven't been blogging much of late, I have been documenting all of the fun (and the occasional sorrow) on the "40 days" tab of this blog, and I invite you to join me:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"Let's race!"

Training for the Ventura Marathon has been, in a word: fun. (And as I write this, I am sitting with my feet on ice, recovering from this morning's hot and very challenging 20-mile long run. So if even in this moment I think it's fun, you know I mean it.) I've got four more weeks to go, and am so grateful for the twelve weeks of good health and strong running that I've been granted thus far. Work and life circumstances have lined up the right way for me for the first time in a long time, making a proper 6 day per week training schedule somewhat manageable, and I'm sleeping as soundly these days as my lazy old dog. Sure, I still have mornings when I need to get up in the dark in order to fit in a workout, and days that I'm stiff and uncomfortable from the rigors of training. And my Friday nights these days usually consist of little more than dinner and putting myself to bed early. (Oh wait, sometimes I also do laundry, so that I'll have clean running clothes to wear on Saturday mornings.) But on the whole, feeling well has enabled me to get so much more out of training than just good paces and high hopes for my September race. I'm also having a lot of fun out there. I had the novel experience this week of looking at my schedule and seeing the prescribed pace for my Tuesday tempo run, and feeling excited to get out there and run hard, rather than the usual feelings of dread and inadequacy that tempo runs usually incite.

Mission Beach: a favorite local route.
I recently ran "doubles" for the first time in years. The way that my work and marathon training schedules piled up that week, the only way I was going to get in the mileage I needed (while also getting enough sleep) was to run four miles of hill repeats on that Wednesday morning, and then lace up again in the evening for another six miles after work. I didn't know how it was going to go, and wasn't feeling terribly confident about that second run, especially since it happened to be an unusually hot and humid monsoonal day in San Diego. So to maximize the chances that I would enjoy myself, I decided to drive out to one of my favorite local spots, the boardwalk on Mission Bay.

This time of year, the houses along the boardwalk are mostly occupied by vacationing families who've rented them out, and it's teeming with tourists. Since it was such a hot day, there were people everywhere, coming in and out of the water, even though the sun was almost down. And kids. Lots and lots of kids. Somewhere around four miles into my run, I was feeling better than I'd expected to, but was definitely tired, when a boy jumped out onto the boardwalk from the sand and yelled out "Let's race!" If I'd had time to give a reasoned response, the sensible and boring part of me might have thought "No, I have already worked out hard once today, this is supposed to be a relaxed run." But lucky for me, he didn't give me a chance to put that sensible and boring part of my brain to use - he just started running, and I automatically gave chase. Even though I caught up to the little guy quickly and could definitely have outrun him (and even though he was a total cheater, and wouldn't tell me where the finish line was going to be!), I stayed just a pace or two behind him, and pretended to struggle. Eventually he declared himself the winner, we slapped some high-fives, and I kept on running up the boardwalk while he returned back to his family. Definitely some of the most fun I've had at a race yet. I hope Ventura can compete.

Kids are a great reminder that running comes
naturally to we human-types. And that it's fun!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Day in the Life

I've been struggling with the meanies lately: those ugly thoughts that you don't want to think, but that sometimes sneak in anyway. Sometimes they're gloomy, sometimes they're scary. Sometimes they're rational, but often they're not. Mine spend most of their time loitering quietly in the corners, but every now and then they take the lead, and if I'm not careful they'll trample me. The meanies are a part of my daily life, but one that I mostly keep in check.

Popular culture leads me to believe that I'm not alone on this (and in fact provides the origin of the term). Holly Golightly from Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's did battle with "the mean reds," anxieties that came out of nowhere and made her fearful without knowing why. In the Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine, the Blue Meanies were an army of music-hating creatures determined to turn the colorful, musical world of Pepperland into a dull and lifeless land of oppression and hardship. (Yellow Submarine is weird, you guys. It's weird.) And Matthew Inman, the genius cartoonist of The Oatmeal, has his Blerch.

The mean reds, the Blue Meanies, and of course, The Blerch.

We've all got these battles to fight, and if we're lucky we'll find the ammunition that works for us. Holly Golightly visited Tiffany's to soothe the mean reds. The Beatles drove out the Blue Meanies with music and love. And, like Matthew Inman, I can usually ward off my own meanies with a good long run. But there's a particularly cruel kind of meanie: the kind that wears running shoes, and is able to pace me out there, mile for mile. Running is usually an important tool for managing stress and anxiety, and when it becomes a source of it, it's time for me to slow down, let the mean thoughts catch up with me, and have it out.

I'm at the tail end of week 9 of training for the Ventura Marathon, where I plan to make an earnest attempt to qualify for Boston. It will be a stretch for me, requiring a 3:45 finish, and beating my personal record by 13 minutes. But so far training has gone well and I'm trying hard not to talk myself out of it, like I usually do. The 20-mile training runs get in my head though, and strangely, they intimidate me more than running actual marathons. I ran the first one (of four) three weeks ago, and it was difficult. I was uncomfortably warm, and had to stop toward the end to cool down more than I wanted to. But I didn't let it get me down (for too long), since there were three more 20-mile runs and ten more weeks of training to go. Yesterday I had perfect conditions for my second one, but still struggled through those 20 miles more than I expected to. I ultimately made my goal pace (15 seconds faster per mile than last time), but had to stop around mile 17 and give myself a pep talk at the water fountain, and was utterly drained by the time I finished. Another 6.2? Impossible. All afternoon the thoughts rattled around in my brain: You can barely make your training pace! How do you think you're going to be able to run 8:33 miles in Ventura? You need to put Boston out of your mind, and just accept who you are. I felt myself starting to give in to the meanies, letting them convince me again to give up on this long-time ambition.

But eventually it occurred to me: this is training. That wasn't the race. No, I'm not yet ready to run that 3:45 marathon, but I'm in a process here. I'm not supposed to be able to do it yet. I've come a long way from where I was nine weeks ago, and I am on track. Get behind me, meanies! I've got work to do.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Why is that lady running?"

Yesterday I was running along a footpath in Coronado, past the city's beautiful recreation center gym and pool, both of which open right out onto the beach. (Fairly amazing.) As I approached a father and his young son, I could overhear the conversation:

As they passed the fitness center: "Dad, why are those people exercising?"
"Because they want to be healthy."

As they reached the lap pool: "Dad, why are those people swimming?"
"Because it's a hot day, and it's fun!"

As I ran past: "Dad, why is that lady running?"
"Now that, son, I really don't know."

He was being cheeky, making sure that he spoke loud enough that I'd hear, so I turned and gave them a laugh and a wave as I kept on. I like to think that the conversation kept going after I was out of earshot, that maybe Dad told his son something about the joy that many people feel when they run, or ticked off some of its many benefits.

It's a long shot, I know. In my experience, most people who don't run think that those of us who do are either masochists, or that we're all somehow "built for it" in some way that they are not. I've given up trying to argue either of these inaccuracies, and instead have made my peace with the fact that we all have a bliss that is ours to find. And I don't mind one bit if yours has nothing to do with running.

After a 20-mile run a couple of weeks ago, I arrived home tired, achey, chaffed, sunburned, and probably pretty pungent. My husband took a look at me on the yoga mat grimacing as I cautiously stretched out my sore hips, and said "that's quite a hobby you've got there." It made me laugh, of course, but it also made me step outside of myself for a moment and see my love of distance running from his perspective. As terminally boring and torturous as I find his sport of choice (golf), so he too finds the idea of running. It makes no sense to him. But what matters is that he knows that it makes perfect sense to me.


And on the subject of my torturous pastime: I'm now officially halfway through my 16 weeks of training for the Ventura Marathon, coming up on September 7th! Click here if you're interested in the journey. Let me know if you're in training at the moment, and how it's going!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Liberty, and other pursuits

As I do every year, I kicked off the July 4th holiday today by reading the full text of the Declaration of Independence over my morning coffee. Like most of us, I probably don't think often enough about my good luck at having been born in a free country, never having had to fight for the personal liberties I enjoy. So spending these few minutes every Independence Day pondering the remarkable feat of building a democracy from the ground up is my small way of keeping myself in check. Our way of governing ourselves is imperfect and fraught with problems, as most things made by humans are, but I think most of us would agree that it's a pretty great way to live, and that we ought to keep tinkering at it.

This time last year, I had just run Grandma's Marathon a few weeks prior, and was reveling in the freedom I was feeling at the time - no training schedule to follow, no need to worry about pace or distance, no need to even wear a watch. A runner unchained. This July 4th, however, I find myself smack in the middle of training for an end-of-summer marathon. I'm nearing the end of week 7 (of a 16-week schedule), and these days every run is prescribed according to my training schedule. I know how far and how fast I need to do every workout, and am never without my trusty Garmin GPS to make sure I'm on track - or to make me feel bad when I'm not.

But I'm pursuing my happiness, and there's plenty of life and liberty to be found even amidst the rigors of marathon training. Because as any fan of Game of Thrones will tell you: people learn to love their chains. I've created this set of structures around myself, and have consented to be governed by the tyranny of the Garmin, at least for a few months. Our founding fathers wrote of a "long train of abuses" committed by their king. Last weekend, to ensure proper motivation for my first 20-mile training run of this marathon season, I bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to the next station north, and ran my way back. Talk about your long train of abuses.

Training provides me with a much-needed bit of structure and routine. I now have to think about how much I'm sleeping, what I'm eating and drinking, and how much I'm working. It forces me to look realistically at my usually over-scheduled life and make a conscious decision about which activities can stay, and which need to go. When I'm training I can't make every meeting, and have to turn down some opportunities to spend time with friends that I'd like to see. But I'm in charge of those choices, in the name of chasing down my own favorite kind of glory. I still get to revel in the freedom of my rest days, and I can decide on any given cross-training day whether that means a Pilates class or a swim in the ocean. I've learned to appreciate my freedoms where I find them, and I've also learned to love the chains.