Sunday, August 21, 2011

Race Report: Donner Lake Chill 1 Mile Open Water Swim

This is hard to write. In fact, I've been dreading this post all day because I know I will disappoint you (all of you who happen to read this) just as much as I've disappointed myself. Athletics, you know, is founded on the notion of triumph, of overcoming incredible odds and most importantly, sports are about WINNING. I competed today in my first race of the season-- and my first race since I was injured months and months ago-- and I wish I could say I overcame everything and did something extraordinary in that mile-long swim.

But, I didn't. In fact, I didn't even do reasonably well. Pitted against some inanimate object-- a rock or a turd, perhaps-- I might have come in behind that, too. 

I panicked. Badly. Really, really badly. I have a fear of water I thought I conquered in the pool and the triathlon I did back in 2009. But the fear came back and perhaps a dozen strokes into the race I felt as though I couldn't breathe. I was sure I was going to suffocate to death.

And so, I stopped. I turned and looked at the shore as everyone swam past me. I watched them go, their splashes becoming smaller. A support kayak piloted by a lovely woman with an Aussie accent asked me if I was OK. She said I could hold onto the boat if I wanted and I would not be disqualified.

I remember saying "No." But I also remember looking at that shore and wanting nothing more than to be back on solid land again. I thought about eating pancakes (I hate pancakes) and how much better that would be than swimming in open water.

The Aussie asked me again to hold on to her boat.

Again, the "No."

And then a voice inside my head said: "Put your f***ing head back in the water and swim. You look stupid, hanging out here like a ninny."

I did. I swam. With my wetsuit trying to strangle me to death the entire way. And, everyone so far ahead of me. I don't know how I did it, honestly. It was pathetic and awful and I knew it. I had wanted to swim a mile in under thirty minutes and I knew there was no way I was going to do that.  I counted the rhythm of my strokes: the 1-2-3-breathe-cadence. I saw flashes of feet and torsos. Not many, but a few.

The panic lay beneath the precarious breath. One missed beat and there I was again, feeling as though death's grip was around my neck. I wanted shore. I stopped after the first buoy and the second seemed so incredibly far. Again, the shaking and the lizard part of my brain wired to survival. Again, I put my head in the water. "Just f***ing swim." On any other day, in any other place, I could. I would. But now, I prayed, not now. Not now.

No matter what, I told myself, I was going to swim this stupid mile in this stupid wetsuit that was trying to kill me even if it took me over an hour and they had to drag my lifeless body behind a paddleboard. I was going to finish. Period. 

And, without pancakes.

I did. I finished. I rounded the final buoy and pointed myself toward shore. But I'm not proud of today. I feel just awful, if you want to know the truth. I'm not sure what I learned other than I am terrified of water and if I'm going to try and compete in triathlons in the future, I'm going to have to train in open water on a consistent basis to get over this fear. I suppose there is value in not giving up despite wanting to very badly. I suppose, too, I ought to be proud that this was my fastest open water swim ever despite the many times I stopped. Despite the fact that, for thirty-one minutes, I felt as though I was going to die like some big gigantic sissy.

But I suppose this is all apart of this athletic life: along with good days, there will be bad ones. Extraordinarily bad ones, if you are me.

I have set the bar extremely low. I have to focus on what lies ahead; on what I can do to be better. I am not going to give up. I'm going to run 12 miles and go to swim practice tomorrow. I am going to be patient with myself. And when it's time, I will try again.

I wish I could feel good about that; but for today, that is all I can do.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Where My Spirit Roams, On Mountains, High

OK so I just stole a line from a Joe Cocker song and changed it. Bad form for a blog, I know. And yet, I wasn't sure what to call this post, exactly. On the one hand, I'm going to write about the race I'm in tomorrow-- about how nervous I am and how I wish I knew that I could do these things I sign up for-- and do them well. But I also want to write about the 18-mile trail run I did yesterday and the two subjects seemed so different, I needed a type of musical overture to link them.

But then, I sat here tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, I realized these things are related, very closely, in fact. So closely I can't tell the difference any more. And perhaps it's about time I could.

When I first started running three years go, I made a habit out of doing my long runs on various trails around the Tahoe Basin. At first, this was for purely motivational purposes: I told myself "if you run X miles, you can do it in a pretty place whereas if you run less, you have to do the same old route you do everyday." I don't know if I would have gotten in those 2-4 hour efforts if it hadn't been for the trails I discovered.

I went back to one of those trails yesterday to do an 18-miler. As far as trails go, it's my very favorite. Aspens line the first four miles that, if you catch them at the right instant in the fall, are all ablaze in golden yellow and burnt umber. Then, there's the western shore of Marlette Lake you trace until you come to the Flume Trail-- where the timber that fed the Comstock was cut and put into a water trench-- the Flume-- and jettisoned to Carson and Virginia City where it was used to support the various gold and sliver mines there. Now, it's a trail that cuts into the side of the Tahoe Basin, offering panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the wide Sierra sky, above.

Yes, it's beautiful. But it's also hard as hell. That first four miles is like a kick to the gut. You start at Spooner Summit (7,000 feet and change) and climb into the 8,000s. Then, down again (but not as much) to Marlette and finally to the Flume where you sort of bob between the high 7,000s and low 8,000s. And, if you do an out and back (like I was) you get the joy of climbing that glorious hill again-- only the second time around on legs that have 12-15 miles on them. In other words, it's a challenging run no matter how you slice it.

And slice it I did, yesterday. All I can say is "Oi!" That was HARD. 

Luckily, a group of collegiate runners joined me around mile 15 and lifted my spirits. A dozen glistening, shirtless and fat-free young men emerged from the woods as I rounded a bend, and I thought of that song, "Hallelujah! It's raining men!" For the final three miles, I had something to chase. :-)

Joking aside, back before I was racing, I told myself that mountains would teach me to run. At the time, I didn't know how right I was: mountains have not only taught me to run, but to live. If you've ever run up difficult terrain, you know what I mean when I say it's EFFING hard.

You can't seem to breathe enough and your legs-- once springy-- have turned themselves into motionless lead weights. But up you go. If you're anything like me, you might want to stop. Your brain will say: "Stop, fool. Your heart rate is at 190 and you might just keel over and die." But, you keep going anyway. Someone may pass you. Many people may. And you might tell yourself how slow you are and how pointless the pain you are in is. But you still keep going. You cheer yourself on.  You crest the summit.

And here's the thing: life is full of mountains. Maybe more metaphorical than actual ones. But there's always that challenge that hurts you in some way. And you will want to quit because you feel as though you aren't doing well. Those are the times you have to look within yourself for that firm resolve that tells you to keep on, no matter what the outside world says or does. That's how you accomplish dreams. You have to keep on trying despite the discomfort.

And so, tomorrow, I'm going to compete in an open-water swim race. I'm nervous--despite my current swim practice of 3 x week in the pool with a master's team-- I'm still slightly afraid of water. But, those mountain trail runs have taught me that there are mountains, too, in lakes and pools. Times you wish you could just give up.

Don't. Keep at it.

Keep at it.

That's my mantra.

Don't stop. Never, ever stop.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Timex After Timex

It finally happened: my Timex watch is no more. I bought this one back in 2010 when I re-started my training again after taking a year off my feet to allow various injuries to heal. When I bought it, it was purple, with a slender (if plastic) strap: feminine yet sporty. Something to wear to the track or with formal wear. Just my kind of watch.

For me, watches-- like certain songs-- are talismans of various stages of training and/or life. My first timex watch was two shades of blue and had a square face. It's redeeming feature-- a thing I didn't know about until I'd worn it for nearly a year-- was that the face would do that indigo thing with a flick of the wrist, not a push of the button. How I'd managed to miss that, I'll never know. I still remember the day I bought that watch. I'd already signed up for my first marathon. I'd read a few training books. All of them said I'd need a watch. A digital watch.

This was news to me: I never wore a watch then.

So, clad in my running gear (I was going to test the watch out after I bought it, after all), I drove to the only running specialty store in town and gazed into the glass case wondering which one I wanted as my latest accessory.

I remember thinking most were extraordinarily ugly. Male to the extreme. Or, just too girly (hence, the blue color I finally settled on.) It also happened to match my outfit that day.

I didn't take that watch off for at least a year and a half. It was the watch I wore when I ran my first marathon, the watch I wore when I trained with the UNR Tri Club, the watch I wore to run the Boston Marathon. From 2007 to sometime in 2009. That was my only watch.

The strap broke or eroded away. And then I was injured. While I was injured, I stopped wearing a watch. What was there to time, after all? The time I wasn't running? The time it took to... clean the cat box? Knowing minutes and seconds was pointless, or so my depression told me. It wasn't until I started running again that I made my way back to the running speciality store-- the same one-- to buy another watch.

There was less in their case this second time around: a bunch of clunky black ones and a single, slender purple one. Of course, I chose the latter even though NONE of my running apparel is any of that royal shade.

That watch had memories, too. I went through a lot of pain with that watch on a treadmill in Tahoe City while the snow piled outside. That watch saw me compete in my first triathlon ever. That watch got me to run a 2:47 at the California International Marathon. That watch went with me to every track session leading up to the marathon. The watch was my alarm clock, waking me every morning with a cheery-chime that got annoying. But it also got me out of bed.

The plastic band that was once a light violet is now turned yellow from chlorine and God knows what else. The strap's pulled away from the watch face, and threatens to free itself any minute. But the coup de grace came after the last pool workout. I left the watch in the bag with my wet swim suit. And when I pulled it out, there's still water beneath the glass, hovering over the digital display. So much so that I can't see the time any longer.

And so I think it's time for a new watch. And perhaps a new "cycle" of my training life. Who knows what "bells and whistles" await on the horizon? What athletic feats I'll accomplish with a flick of the wrist? Or, low times I'll have to go through? All I know is: it's time for a new Timex.

While I'm training, I'm lost without it. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

There's nothing like the Stomach Flu to really put things in perspective

OK: so you're strong and healthy. You can run at a pretty fast clip and cycle for six hours without breaking down. Your swimming is coming along, too, so that you can keep up with everyone in your lane. You're feeling on top of the world, in other words. And then it happens: the stomach flu. 

I think the last time I was this sick, I was old enough to be placed under my mother's care and given the day off from school. Those were the days of recess and fruit-roll ups and crayon boxes with their smell of sticky wax. Though it was no fun to be sick, I loved those days when it was just my mom and I-- and I could do the things I was never allowed to do on normal days: wear my pajamas past seven am, watch movies in broad daylight, eat whatever food I wanted (and could keep down.) And to have my mom make it, especially for me. 

Illness is a lot less fun when you're an adult... and when you're an athlete. Lately, I've been impressed with my return to the sport despite my sad spring season of injury. I was feeling strong-- and independent-- sort of like the archetypal runner you see on those motivational posters all alone, scaling some rocky cliff against a lit background of twilight sky. 

This illness was something of a reality check. No running for me: I was on all fours, if mobile at all. And food-- or fluids-- forget it.  It was all my humanity, in other words, bare for me to see. It's funny: so often we (or, I) get caught up in writing or running or work and I forget how precious and special existence is. All it took to lay me low was a virus, a creature so small I'll never own and instrument that would allow me to see it. 

And so, now that I'm able to walk, drink water, and enjoy a saltine cracker, I want to try and remember that every moment is a gift. It doesn't matter how far or fast; the gift is the ability to try.  And for now, the gift is smaller still but no less precious: I'm me again. Happily, healthfully, me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A History of Pages

Maybe it’s because I rode up Mt. Diablo last night in the golden sunlight that only an August day at dusk can produce. Up the winding road I pedaled, and as I rounded a bend I imagined myself surrounded by sage and bitter brush and I was transported home, to the remote rural regions of northern Nevada, where I am from. 

It was as though I was a child again, smelling like the sweating-sweet sagebrush under the hot summer sun; running along the paths formed by mule deer or those minuscule arroyos, products of the rare flash-flood summer rain. It was there, long ago, I decided to be a writer. 
Age nine: my button collection, collected at from the sewing room at the retirement community where my grandmother lived, was none other than a cast of characters that may have peopled my own day-time soap opera. The “wealthy” family: a matching set of rhinestone-studded buttons from some long-dismantled evening gown. The “working class:” plastic buttons in shapes of fruit (suggesting a coarse, if wholesome existence.) These were my first “stories” I told myself since both parents worked and it was my job to keep myself entertained. 
I tried to write my first novel when I was twelve. Thirty or so handwritten pages: a narrative describing the life of a young girl suddenly left parentless who flees to a nearby mountain range to live in a grove of aspen trees (left unfinished for the obvious lack of plot.) My stepfather worked for a mining company and so we moved at least once a year, sometimes more. I missed taking some required standardized tests and was placed in remedial English my freshman year of high school. The first assignment in the class was to write about a “crush.” I turned in a twenty-page fictional story with the requisite qualities of rising action, climax and denouement. The teacher took the essay directly to the office and switched me into the honors section.
After I returned from France as an exchange student, however, I was once again forced to take “remedial” English courses. 
Despite all of this, I loved writing. It was the thing that defined me. It’s how my mind works: ever-framing, always recounting, re-arranging, revising. It’s no surprise I was an English major in college. Or that I dreamed of getting an MFA in Creative Writing
And so, when the time came to apply for graduate programs, I thought I was ready. I’d spent the entire summer living in a cabin on the west shore of Lake Tahoe with no TV, no internet, no phone. Just myself and books and my writing. 
I wrote every morning and night. Revised the things I had written. I put together application packets and sent them to twelve MFA programs around the country. Some very well known. Others, more obscure. I thought I was on the path to being a Writer (writ large.)
The rejection letters came in, one after another. I lost my job and the place I was living. Professors who knew me well from my undergraduate studies let me live in an extra room of theirs until I regained some semblance of a life. I found work in a ski shop and hated it. And worse: the rejection letters kept coming. San Francisco State University sent me four rejection letters in total. I cried every night, wondering how I had become such a loser. 
And, for a while, I gave up. I went to work and sold ski parkas to elderly women. I was miserable. I thought my life would amount to nothing. 
And that’s about the time I started running. So slow: only a half mile at first. And then, a mile perhaps-- the ten minutes of every day I had without my horrible retail job and the inner-critic in me was silenced. After a few weeks of running, a miracle happened: a former French professor came into the shop where I worked and offered me a teaching assistantship. I only had to fill out the application. 
And so that night, I did. 
I was accepted. 
I continued to run, building my mileage from one mile a day, to two. Then three. Then an hour. Then, more. 
As I enrolled for the required French courses in the Master of Arts program, I added additional writing courses though they would not contribute to my degree. They were “free”-- and I thought “if I can x- miles a day, I can take a writing course.” And so, I did. 
We all know the story: I signed up for a marathon; and I won. But perhaps you don’t know is that, in 2010 (four years after I applied to 12 MFA programs and was rejected by them all) I applied again, to one. And not only was I accepted, I was given a scholarship to go. And it’s where I am now, once again having been awarded a scholarship in my second year to continue my dream of one day being a writer
I tell this story because, for me, running (or, athletics) isn’t only about physical accomplishment. Running has taught me to believe in myself and to pursue my dreams no matter what the world tells me I can and cannot do.
Each day, running reinforces the sense that I am strong; and that “big goals” can be tackled with a “one-step-at-a-time” approach. 
But mostly it’s what I feel as I pedal up Mt. Diablo in the fading summer light: I’m letting that little girl who was once me live her dream. She’ll be a writer one day... on her own merit, earned mile after mile.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Strength

I've noticed that there are two ways of looking at athletes in the world today. The misconception seems to be that the athlete is a figure of pure strength-- or, to frame this image with more precision-- the athlete is the embodiment of physical fitness. This is simply not the case. 

Or-- it's complicated. :) In many ways, an athlete is very strong. Though it's been a while since I've taken my resting heart rate (whatever it boom-boom it does upon waking) I've noticed it sits around 55 in the middle of the day after a few cups of coffee. I can do 140 man-push-ups and run a sub-40-minute 10k on any given day. So, yes, in the sense of my cardiovascular health I am indeed a specimen of strength. 

Yet, I'm struck by the contradiction between that and many other aspects of my life. Since I began training for long-distance events, I've had: Peroneal tendonitis, shin splits, runner's knee, Achilles tendonitis, bursitis of the hips, anemia, amenorrhoea and those are just the ailments I can name. There's been countless shadow injuries: days I can't walk right, nights I can't sleep for the pain that throbs that in one place or another.  Or little things: side stitches that just won't away, pain while sitting, pain while standing still. Pain I try not to think about when I'm running.

Then there is the issue of prevention: the hours (weekly) of foam rolling, elastic bands to strengthen various areas, stretching and calling upon my boyfriend to rub that spot on my calf just one more time... The visits to the chiropractor where he realigns my skeleton and rips adhesions that seem to develop bi-weekly in my calves. (And trust me: I'm no specimen of strength when he does that. One elbow in my soleus and I scream like a little girl.) 

Yes, athletes are strong. But in some ways, we are also weaker than the general population. If someone came to you with that laundry list of complaints and attempts to amend them, you'd think they were eighty, not twenty-nine.

And yet, here I am, up again this morning, ready to do it again. And again. I love the wind on my face and the sense that I'm accomplishing something. After certain races and workouts, I've had the thought that: well, I did that. What is there on this Earth I CAN'T do? And so maybe that's the sense of strength I see-- and most of us see- when we watch our sports idols achieve incredible feats-- it's our humanity, stretched to the max.  

And maybe that's why I always frame my writing by my running experiences. Writing, too, can be painful and unrewarding. (Anyone who types a lot fears carpal tunnel-- right?) But seriously: the hours of sitting, the time away from family and friends; the memories that might be painful to recall. But it's all in the service of something greater: to tell your story, to create something that is "bigger" than whatever discomfort you feel in the moment. 

That is what running has taught me. Not to be strong, necessarily, but to have a goal and pursue it with reckless abandon. And while I have "miles to go before I sleep" as Frost wrote, I am willing to go the distance, if one uncomfortable step at a time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Little Miss Sunshine

After a 16 mile run yesterday, I took the night off and watched a movie at the Tahoe cabin with boyfriend, Steve. The movie of choice was one of my favorites, but one that I haven't seen in a while: Little Miss Sunshine. If you haven't seen it, I think you should probably just drop whatever you are doing now, drive to your nearest video rental store and check it out (or watch it streaming live if you aren't still living in the 20th century like I am.) 

I'm not going to spoil the movie; but the character Olive--- who's an 8 year-old girl-- is one I identify with, particularly in the field of athletics. Let me explain.... 

Olive wants to be a beauty queen; she wants to win the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Or, she really only wants to compete, to do the dance routine her grandfather taught her and to receive praise for doing so. Her father, a motivational speaker, puts the idea into her head that anything but winning is unacceptable. And so, little Olive wants to win. The trouble? The would of beauty pageants, like the world of any specific pursuit, is one rife with its own oddities. It's a world of spray-on tans and airbrushed makeup-- foreign things to a "normal" little girl. 

Me, running the Tahoe Marathon in 2007.
I sometimes feel this way when I participate in larger, athletic events, such as a major marathon. There, I am corralled with people who look the part of the role we are supposed to play as runners. They have the aerodynamic sunglasses, the tight singlets, the short-shorts that show the lean legs that make them run faster than the wind. I always (still) think: I don't belong here. 

I believed this so strongly my senior year in high school, I quit running despite my love of the sport. I didn't run in college, either, because I thought I was too fat to even try. It wasn't until 2007 when I was in my first grad program that I started to run again because I missed it so much. I signed up for a marathon on a whim and trained myself from a book that had been gathering dust on my shelf. 

There were many road blocks in my way to achieving my dream of running a 26.2 mile race, just as Olive has many (literal) road blocks on her way to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. But we both arrived-- amazingly-- and this is why I love that film so much: Olive "competes" as only Olive can. It's an incredible-- and unforgettable-- scene of absolute courage in the face of adversity. So too, back in 2007, I toed the line of my first marathon race, as myself, ready to do whatever I would do in the unknown distance ahead.

I didn't "look" like a runner: I wasn't rail-thin or (I believed) particularly fast. But I was there. Most importantly, I was there as MYSELF, as only I could be. 

And you know, I not only completed that race, but I won it.  I was ahead of the elite women by about ten minutes, finishing with a time that was forty minutes faster than I thought I could run. It was the race that changed my life, showing me that the pursuit of a dream is a worthy endeavor.... And more importantly, the worst reason not to try is because you think you don't "look" the part. 

I still don't think I "look" like a runner, but that is the last thing that stops me from doing this sport I love. Instead, I focus on my breath and the flicker of shadow and light that crosses my path. The sound of my footfalls, a lovely cadence. And the sense of satisfaction I gain from having covered my miles; they are the miles that have made this life a celebration, each and every moment.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back in the Lake Again...

I'm not really a swimmer. I mean: I swam in the pool as a kid as a way to pass the lazy summer months away when I wasn't in school. I was an expert at fetching objects from the deep-diving end of any number of swimming pools: quarters, lost rings, plastic hair bobbles and let's not forget all the paraphernalia that ends up down there anyway.  I once found a silver (colored) ring at the deepest part of the Bower's Mansion pool in Washoe Valley, Nevada. I was nine and wore that ring for a year-- my prized possession. I think I even found a wad of dollar bills once, floating below the depths and me, squinting because I had no goggles.

What I mean to say is that I'm no swimmer. Or-- not a swimmer like those kids who join teams and learn strokes and all of that. I learned to swim the way we learned to walk: as a method of transportation, to take me from water's surface to water's depths.

So for me to be swimming now is really quite amazing. Add this to my history of disordered eating and body image issues and well: any sport that would require minimal apparel and wetness, well, forget it.

Only: I want to be an athlete. And swimming seems to help the various lower-leg issues that creep up from so much running. I completed (and won my age group) in a triathlon last summer; but since I'd shelved the wetsuit and the swimming. I worried, coming back, if I would remember how to do this odd thing I'd taught myself to do in adulthood: move through the water, not under it.

Tahoe: the early evening westward wind. The azure-blue chop. And me, wetsuited, suited up to swim. And in I go. I panicked twice, feeling as though my lungs refused to take in oxygen. But then, I settled into a cadence of 3-3-3-look up... and I swam a mile. A MILE! Me, the non-swimmer.

The light is fading now; my hair still wet. I've won no world record and yet-- I did something I didn't think I could do; I swam to the farthest dock you can see and back.  The sky is azure turned crimson fading to violet-- a farewell to the day and my small efforts in it.  A breath, a motion: I move through space and time. Yet, I'm grateful for each step, each stroke, each second. Grateful for my life. My beautiful life made so lovely by the people in it.

As I swam, I thought of all my friends who read my writing; my boyfriend, Steve, who motored by me in a dingy to make sure no one ran me over; my coach, Carl, who still coaches me and believes I will run a fast marathon one day; to my parents I carry in my soul, always telling me I can, I can.

And maybe I can. But as I watch the twilight fade to night, I feel so privileged to try.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Believe!

What have you wanted to do, but you think "you can't?" 

Today I ran 7 x 1,000 repeats. My coach told me: run them in 3:35-3:40 minutes. My first reaction? I can't!

But then, my alarm sounded at 5am. I peeled myself out of bed. Made coffee in the dark. Drove to the track with my favorite song on repeat. 

An easy warm up in the dark and fog. I put on my track shoes, and beep (from my watch) I was off....

And you know-- I did it--!

I ran faster than my coach said I would. And not just once. 7 times, over and over again.

So much of this sport-- and of life-- is hard work. But then another part is showing up, doing your best, and believing in yourself. I always tell myself I can't. Maybe it's time I start telling myself "I can."

A challenge: what if from now on, we all just show up and believe? I wonder how much more I'd accomplish with that outlook....


Fresh Start: 7 x 1000 meters on a track and beyond...

Well, I dropped "elite" from my blog title just like I dropped it from my training logs. I'm not even sure what a word like that means. "Elite"-- who's elite? Obviously athletes like Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor. Perhaps the term should be reserved for those who perform in the top 5% in their sport.... which means, me, no I'm not elite.

But if you use another measure, I might fare better. Must you win a race to be elite? I've won a race-- two, actually, in the three years I've been running (Lake Tahoe Marathon and the San Francisco Half-- the first half, that is)... and yet, I still don't think that makes me elite even though those wins felt amazing and make me smile when I think of them.

And so, because of its hazy definition, I've dropped it from my list of goals. I don't want to be something I can't even define! Instead, I'm choosing to focus on being the best athlete I can be. I don't know if I will make the 2012 Olympic Trials in the Marathon. I've got one last shot at the 2011 California International Marathon in December-- the race I ran 2:47 in last year. It's not ideal-- that would give me a mere month before the Trials, but I would still get to go; I will not have failed.

I've come to realize, I haven't failed even if I don't make the cut this time around. I've overcome a serious injury and I've gained fitness in both swimming and cycling that I didn't have before. In outlining my race schedule, I pride myself on having an open water swim as well as a century ride in the mix. Those things have become joys-- just as running is slowly becoming a source of happiness-- for me.

Though not a complete re-lauch, my blog (and life) are shifting slightly-- instead of focusing on the unattainable "elite", it's all about achieving MY personal best. And that's pretty nifty.

Now: it's off to the track for 1,000 meter repeats.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Retraction

Well, I stuck my sweaty-smellly foot in my mouth. What I meant to say in that last post was actually more along the lines of: "I always feel like I fail. Why is that? Maybe it's time to try a new approach to training" instead of what it must have come across as: finger pointing.

I really just miss the pride that comes from running well. Or cycling well. Or swimming well (which is, believe me, very rare.) I'm not really happy about anything anymore. I'm mostly just lonely, trying to train, trying to write something that will be worth reading someday. I don't know-- maybe I should just give up on everything I've set out to do....

So that's what I meant to say in my last post. I stick to a much, much earlier post I wrote about this team being great. One of the last days I was actually happy with myself was a day I ran with them, around a track at night and felt like I was flying.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heraclitus said there needs always to be change: Change There Shall be, Ever and Always

And so here I am: uninjured at last. I have two thriving Achilles tendons, an increased capacity to cycle and swim in addition to my running legs which are returning to normal. I should be happy. And for those things, I am.

But you know, I've come to find that life-- whether it's an athletic life or any other kind-- is mono-directional. In other words, your path may wander like a stream, but you can never go back to some prior time, or some prior you. Too much has changed in the intervening moments. I will never be the athlete I was; I can only be the athlete I am. 

This topic comes to mind because I was supposed to workout with the Strawberry Canyon Track Club today-- for the second time since I've healed from my injury. It was all set: I would drive from where I live and work in the East Bay and begin the tempo run with the group at 6:00 pm in Berkeley. My coach knew I was coming, and I was excited to try a new chunk of terrain than I'd been covering in recent weeks.

It didn't surprise me that there was traffic. Bay Area + 5:30 pm rarely renders anything but. What did surprise me was what I saw when I arrived at 6:09 pm-- an empty track.

Nine minutes, my coach had left me.

Granted, he said the workout started at 6:00 pm and I had failed to arrive at promptly that time.  But there was something about that-- being left behind-- that stung more than I thought it could. I've had coaches wait on me before (not in some diva-move of showing up late on purpose)....but in my past, I've had buses held, workouts postponed (if with unkind words. But those coaches were there, regardless. They still wanted me to participate, to compete, to train.) This is the first time in my life as an athlete that I'd simply been left behind. 

It was as though I didn't matter.

It crossed my mind that this is probably because I am, right now, not that great of an athlete. I am not particularly strong (though I'm coming back) nor particularly fast. It's not impressive to run 16 miles under 2 hours at 6200' and then cycle 60 miles over mountain passes, averaging 17mph. Most people can do that, I guess. But the point is I couldn't before, and I did that this past Saturday. I'm progressing and I thought that's what sports are all about. But I guess there really are members of teams who just don't matter, no matter how far they have come.

And apparently, I've become one of them-- the invisible ones.

Or not. When I pulled myself together enough so that I could drive home, I realized that maybe this is a good thing. I'm not going back to what I was: I will become something else. Wiser (let's hope, right?) or maybe stronger. Maybe I'll commit to doing that Ironman Triathlon I've been talking about for years. Maybe I will find a coach who likes me and believes in me. Or maybe it's time for me to train myself. Whatever the outcome, it's up to me to turn this challenge into an opportunity-- to change sadness to hope. To keep pushing forward to be the best person I can be. Even if that person is the slowest one in the pack.

Image: Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Training Time: Like the Extra Pair of Socks You Wish You Had but Didn't Wash

Training's been on my mind lately-- or, I should say, more than usual. Though I've made a solid and steady (albeit, slow) return to a solid mileage base, I still find myself partitioning days into runs and cycle sessions, or runs and swims, usually both accompanied by some sort of stretching/strengthening routine. What was once a training program of 10-11 hours has expanded into 17 hours (or, that's what I logged last week-- 2 hours of cardio work each day with the exception of 3 and one-half on Saturday; the left over hours are devoted to prehab and various strength routines I do) and threatens to expand well into 20 hours. On a very basic level, I love it. Yet, in terms of the management of one's life, it's created a vortex of absolute chaos and sometimes utter panic. How will the laundry get done (a necessary function when dirty training clothes smell particularly rotten) or who will work the job to pay the bills that training necessitates (treatment of injury, new shoes and socks since all but one pair are hole-ridden)? Well, guess what: it's ME. I have (or, I should say MUST) do these things in order to lead this life.

I know what you're thinking:  she's complaining. Boo-hoo.

But, before you click away in disgust, let me say this came to mind in part because I'm working on an article for Go3 Magazine. I'm interviewing three athletes who have just qualified for the World Championship Ironman Race in Kona. Though I've only got one tri under my belt (and it was an Olympic distance one-- a far cry from an Ironman which is a 2.4 mile open water swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 run), I can say my recent training schedule might be a tiny taste of what athletes of Ironman World-Champ-caliber go through for years on end, day after day, in order to reach the level of fitness required to compete in an event that takes AT LEAST nine hours for most people to complete. And for most, it takes much longer.

That's not to say long distance running isn't hard. It is hard, but not in quite the same way. Statistically, most elite long distance runners only train for 10-12 hours a week (that's sport-specific training-- and I'm citing Fitzgerald in his book Racing Weight) whereas cyclists and swimmers AND triathletes are known to regularly log 20-hour weeks. The reason for this is quite simple: there's only so much pounding a human body can take. At least on a bike or in the pool, there's an implement or element to help you along.

Even 10-12 hours can be a lot, though, if you have a full time job or a family or both. Or a cat like mine who fills the cat box rather quickly and likes to leave tufts of fur on the white carpet that require daily vacuuming.

And here it comes: how can this madness continue? I'd like to think that I can train for the Olympic Trials just as I would love to train for an Ironman distance triathlon when my running-specific days have ended. But how can a person keep up a schedule like this without alienating friends and family? Or, perhaps more importantly, without completely losing their mind?

I'm excited to interview these athletes (not only for their stories of personal success, which I'm sure are amazing and inspiring) but also to find some clue as to how they have managed the demands of "life" with "training life".  I could really use some tips right now. The cat fur is piling up an the dishes haven't been washed. And there are so many miles to run-- (or, as Frost would say) miles to go before I sleep.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Lovely Return to Running

I wish I could say it happened like it does in the movies: that, sweat pouring-from-the-montage-with-blood-pumping music, I appear on the trail, running in the body of a Greek God or Phillipedes, for which the marathon owes its name. But no, it didn’t happen like that. It was a day just like any other day. 5am: I woke and boiled water by light provided by my microwave door left open. I slipped into my running shoes, dreading the pain I thought would follow, but forced myself to that dull resignation that had become my companion in recent weeks. 

Running tights, a long sleeved top. A heat pad tied to my injured tendon. Coffee in a thermos and I’m out into the dark of early morning. 

The air smells wet and crisp as though it rained the night before, washing everything making it new again. Up the drive to my car, where I set the thermos in the cup holder and turn the windshield wipers on to wipe away the night’s vapor, still present. 

I’ll drive to Walnut Creek to try today; in part because I’ve started swimming with a Master’s group there. I don’t know any of the others swimmers; for now, they are simply other bodies I catch mid-frame: a clipped arm or leg. Transitory, just as I am, in the 50-meter pool beneath the wide open sky. There’s a trace of a trail I glimpsed between breaths on my warmup the  last time I was there; a trail that appeared to be unpaved and relatively flat-- necessary attributes for my Achilles which is still delicate.

On the ten minute drive, I sip my coffee, tapping the steering wheel to the song’s beat that plays on the radio; I won’t let myself get excited. I can’t expect anything; I’ve been expecting-- hoping-- that I can hardly remember what it feels like, to run. Funny: when that was once so much my life, it’s become a flicker of memory. A testament, perhaps, to the notion that we are not as we seem but are made of fabric much deeper. But what do I know?  

As I pull into the near-empty parking lot, the sky turns a lighter shade of violet. It’s not quite dawn, not yet. I pull out my Stick-- a PVC pipe marketed for self -massage-- and pass over my hamstrings, my quads, and my calves. I linger on the tender spots, little sweat droplets forming on my forehead despite the early morning crisp. Another breath and I can’t linger any longer or I’ll miss the 6:45 swim time. I lock the car, and take a tentative step. 

And another. 

It occurs to me, that once again, I’ll begin by walking. Walking the course before you race it. Or, the way as a child learns to walk before they move more quickly. As I’ve said before: walking is the slower form of running. 

And so, I walk across the vast paved space and find the trail I saw: a single track tangled into bushes and trees. And then, because there’s no point in waiting, I take in a breath. I begin. Again. 
The wind on my face. The sky a pale pink now, the trees taking on the color of real forms instead of shadowy silhouettes. A single dog barks and the geese flap aside as I pass them, clapping into the water of a nearby pond. An old woman walks a golden retriever who lifts his snout into the air as I pass. The trail widens to a gravel road and leads to a corral where horses might be kept, with a green metal fence. No horses are there now, but it makes me smile, makes me remember one of the many mantras I once told myself: be like a horse, just run. 

Around a corner and up a slight rise: I ask myself does it hurt? Do I feel pain? I search my inner regions for that pang I’m fearing. But today: it’s not there. Or is it? Am I pretending it doesn’t hurt when it does? It’s like I’m wearing magnifying glasses I don’t need: the landscape of my body, once so crisp and clear, has become blurry. 

But I don’t think I feel pain. My stride, though foreign to me, feels balanced, as though each foot can handle the load of weight it must bear for the quickest of seconds before it’s released into the lovely sense of flight my heart has ached for. 
I’m flying. I’m flying. And I have no idea of how fast I’m going. 
I have races ahead of me; races behind. This is a running life, after all. But I no longer use running as an escape. I’ve left my past behind; now that it’s ready to be forgotten. As I run into the predawn light, I realize that I’m running toward every horizon, every person. I stretch my arms out, and hold it to this heart of mine whose beats sound as foot-falls.

Who would have thought I could come back from this injury? I'll admit: I was the last person to believe in myself. But finally, finally: I'm back. Thank goodness! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Put on your game face.

Good news: I just heard that I've been accepted as an elite entry at the Twin Cities Marathon this upcoming October. On the heels of a good (if short) run today, this is the sort of news I have needed for quite a while.

It's time to kick some ass, finally. I'm ready. Bring it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hope-- this injury's almost over

I ran for the first time today in-- what has it been?-- eight or nine weeks. I’ve been in the pool and increasingly, on a spin bike. Learning new stretches, new exercises to lengthen and stretch my muscles. I found a new type of specialist-- a Functional Movement Specialist-- who has been helping me above and beyond whatever he’d be required to do to get me on my feet again. He’s watched me squat and lunge and hurdle and do all sorts of other things and determined my lower-leg problems-- this horrid  Achilles tendonitis-- is a result of weak hips. So-- he’s put together a program filled with elastic resistance bands in green and yellow. 

I’ve been icing. And heating. And massaging. Loving the foam roller like never before. Doing core work I never did, which is to say, hardly ever. Hey-- who knew I could do 120 full-length push-ups? One-legged planks? I was running so much before, I never gave my core much thought. But these days, I’ve been told, it’s what I ought to think about. 

And so, after weeks of this I stepped onto the treadmill this morning and did a flashy set of “motion prep” exercises that included marching in place with expressive arms, leg swings (forward and aft; left and right) and this side-hurdle things that might have at one point been in a vaudeville routine. But I did them, as I do all the exercises and stretches on my regimen because it’s all about running again. 

And today I did. Five minutes, pain free. For the first time in nine weeks. 

I’m sure other gym-patrons thought there was something wrong with me. This crazy-person who did a routine that might have required spandex and a six-pack of abs was now teary-eyed after five minutes of easy running. But I was! 

I was.

And I am. So happy to feel my body in this way again. Not to say anything bad about cycling or swimming. I enjoy them both and have learned to appreciate the skill required to exceed in each more so than I ever have due to the lingering nature of this injury. 
But to run: there is no other feeling. For me, it is though my disconnected pieces and parts form a singular whole. I get to dance with my spirit and feel the sinews of my toes run along the ruddy road of my spine. I’m a bird when I run, flying, soaring; I’m a deer darting through a forrest. I’m all those things; I am most me or not me. Beyond me.  I am happiest in that motion. And for five minutes today, five glorious minutes at a not-so-fast pace on a treadmill, I had a glimmer of promise. Perhaps there’s joy to come. 

So. I haven’t given up yet.  I know I never will. But whereas before I might have been a Knight of Faith- believing despite no evidence to sustain that belief-- I’m now something else. There’s hope. I have five minutes on these feet and though a far cry from 26.2 miles, it’s something. 

I hold it with both my hands, tight. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Achilles Tendonitis

What I stare at these days.
I apologize for so many days that have passed without a posting. I could cite school and my recent hiring as a freelance contributor for a local newsweekly as reasons which kept me from blogging. But in truth, I've been hesitant to post anything because I'm still not running; my Achilles is taking its sweet time to heal (as Achilles tendons the world over do, according to what I've read.) I've been pool running regardless of rain or sun, hot or cold temperatures. I have also been spinning/cycling to mix things up a bit. But if you want to know the truth, it's dreary business, sitting out, not doing the thing you love. No matter what spin I try to put on it: it's week three of not running and it simply sucks.

I wish I had some wisdom to share, some shard of heroism to make what I'm gong through a worthwhile read for those of you still following. But I can't; or, I could try but my offering, like my current weekly  mileage, would be insubstantial.

What comes to mind is something a coach said to me long ago when I was helping him as a volunteer assistant. He said: there are times in training as there are in life that you have to find beauty and wonder in something; it is essential. There might be days there is nothing lovely but a cloud you see, but see that beauty; don't become blind to it, no matter how remote or far away it is.

And so, I do and will keep on. The wonderful thing about the human body is its capacity to repair itself, with time. I am doing what the medical professionals have told me to do (eccentric heel raises are essential to heal this very un-vascular, stubborn May pole of a tendon); and I haven't stopped cross training. More importantly, I haven't stopped believing in myself, that I am going to one day make it to the Olympic Trials in the marathon event.

For now, however, I'm cloud-watching from the pool with my floaty belt on, jogging my aqua miles.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Injury could mean hope

I haven't written much lately because, in addition to my full load as a graduate student in the MFA at St. Mary's College, my new part time job as a freelance contributor to the Lamorinda Weekly and training for the trials, I have been, unfortunately, injured. Before you get as upset as I was last Tuesday, let me say: it's nothing serious and it's going away. Of course, this is not what you think when it happens. I had the workout of my life Monday night (I've never run 8 sub-2:40 800s before) but woke up to a sore ankle that hated going down stairs. I was limping.  

Which is to say, I was also panicking. I had one of those "is this the end of my running career?" moments... because I know, eventually, that day will come. It's scary to think that it could be caused by something benign as a sore ankle (no explosions? no careening greyhound buses?) but such a thing could, if bad enough, keep a person from not only running, but training.

So into the pool I went, per my coach's orders. For five days I became an aqua jogger par excellence. 

Let me tell you, those were the five longest days of my life. If you've never had the joy of pool running (or aqua jogging), go try it out and you'll see what I mean. Strap a floaty belt on and try to run at your local dive pool. Back and forth, or if you're lucky enough to have the pool to yourself, round and round you'll go tracing the pool's periphery. For one thing, you will move slowly. Very slowly. No matter what your effort, you will progress so slowly an old man with a walker will move much faster than you. You might cramp after a hard workout (you will say it doesn't feel hard, but then your foot rolls into a little, tight ball and won't loosen itself and you're in the middle of the pool trying to get to safety while one hand holds onto that foot for dear life as waves of dark pain that make you think you see God or infinity travel from toes to your brain. And then you go back the next day (after you eat a truck load of bananas) and you do it all over again. 

(And if you are me, then you will in all likelihood have some random person walk by and say that I am slow. I don't know why I cause people to say things like that to me; I really wish they wouldn't. I am rehabbing an injury; I am not slow. But that doesn't mean I didn't think, if for a second, how much I'd love to punch that random man in the face-- not that I'd actually do that sort of thing, but you know, it's frustrating enough to be injured; insult is not required to make the situation suck any more than it already does.)

But you know, the pool running has made me stronger. Unlike running which you do in air, the water adds resistance to each movement: the up and down and around pull of the legs, the use of arms-- it all requires strength. I can already notice a difference (hey, who knew I had triceps? And abs? Not much, mind you-- but they are starting to poke out like blades of grass after a winter of snow storms as if to say is it all right if I come around now? But they are there, thank goodness. I was beginning to wonder.) But in addition to requiring strength, there is no pounding on the legs like there is when you run on land. So, if you can stand the tedium, pool running is actually an ideal method of cross training, even when you're healthy. 

And so: today I ran 7 miles at 6:39 pace and it felt like I was walking. I felt strong; and thankfully, no pain in my right ankle. I will build my road miles slowly, but my coach and I have agreed: the pool running, despite its vanilla-ish-ness, is going to be a permanent part of my training regimen for the Olympic Trials qualifier race in June.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm so excited and I can't hide it (anymore)

Greetings from the world of 90-mile weeks and full time graduate work! When I was a kid I always hoped I would not lead a boring life; all I can say is that my life is certainly not boring-- but hectic, vibrant and surreal. Running morning noon and night, I have some dramatic leaps and bounds this week in addition to realizing my human limitations.

So. To start off: I don't know what marathon I'll be using as a Trial's Qualifier yet. I had thought I was going to run in Eugene, Oregon (which I had heard from friends was fast enough) and that also happened to be the perfect time (May 1.) However, my coach (my wonderful, new coach who even posted this question on an online message board and contacted race directors for me) cautioned that he hadn't heard much about it. He suggested, instead, Grandma's marathon weeks later on June 18th. The problem: it's in Minnesota... and as a graduate student whose major skill (aside from running long distances at an impressive clip) is writing, funding is an issue to say the least. Everything is up in the air and nothing is for certain; also, my writing life seems to be taking form (I've been doing a couple of freelance things in addition to being hired on as a freelance contributor to a local news weekly).  The five week difference between the two races, however, could make or break this season of my running life.

For one, this is the 100th running of the Bay to Breaker's race in San Fran. 100 years ago, a student from Saint Mary's College won the race. Granted: there is no way in heaven or hell I could ever WIN; but I could place well and being a graduate student of Saint Mary's College, how lovely would that BE to participate in that race? (I will not, despite the novelty and bragging rights I may entail, run naked or in any sort of ridiculous getup.) But to be there, to see the crowds who have less inhibitions than I do; it's a world I only dreamed of long, long ago back when I thought I wasn't much of a runner at all.

The world is opening to me like a flower; blooming, in other words, one opportunity at a time. I'm not an elite yet; I'm not quite fast enough. But each week, I notice subtle changes in my mind and body. It is as though my body is remembering what it was born to do; I remember how to breathe and stride in motion; my mind is becoming a haven of words and phrases-- not always good-- but that are noticeably better than ones I came to this graduate writing program with.  AND my blog's been noticed (take note of the little blue badge in the upper righthand corner). Now treadmillreveiews.net features my blog as a place where readers can find accurate (and I hope entertaining!) information about all things running.  I am like that character in Flashdance who moves to the music in that final scene, defying yet redefining the parameters of her passion. I am writing about running; running to write.  I never thought this would actually be my life. I only dreamed it.

But you know; dreams are powerful things-- the types of dreams that are ambitions, I mean.  My advice for any reader who wants to run (a certain distance, a particular race, who wants to be an Olympian): go for it. Live the life as much as you can. Believe in yourself; it might be crazy (my life is!) but the regret of not trying is worse than the pain of pushing yourself there.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Valentine's Day: A Love Letter to my Team

Jeez. Put me in a full load of graduate level writing courses and what gets neglected? Laundry, for one. And as you can tell, my blog, for another.  But I am still running and writing: just not up here where you all can see it. 

So, what's it like to be a 37-minute 10k'er now and not a 40-minute person? Well, not much has changed, actually. I still train (90 miles a week now) and still eat cereal in the morning and still go to bed at roughly the same time. I've given up coffee completely (trust me: someone like me doesn't need stimulants. Running does the job as does my cup of maté in the morning.) But what has changed? Well, you see, I'm on a team now and I think that has made all the difference.


On the starting line of the Davis Stampede 10k. That's my teammate, Tim, next to me. He won the race outright. 

Before I trained alone. Not because I have a huge ego (OK maybe I do, a little bit) but because I didn't know anyone to run with me. Before I was living year-round in Tahoe, a place better suited for winter sports half the year. Who wants to run twenty miles on a treadmill when you can ski through fluffy powder, after all? So I was left to my own training regimen, my own solitary dreadmill miles. 

But since CIM, I've been training with the Strawberry Canyon Track Club based in Berkeley. They have 2-3 scheduled workouts a week (two on the track; one long run on the weekends) and it has made a huge difference-- in ways I hadn't expected. In lieu of solitary laps around a track, I'm now surrounded by people. Many of them run faster than I do, and I  push myself to keep up with them. Others don't run as fast, but everyone shouts (or in my case, wheezes) words of encouragement to each other. It isn't about "beating" anyone or out performing; we are all there to become stronger, better runners.  Tonight, on Valentine's Day, we were out there doing a demanding ladder workout (400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400 for us distance folk) under a misty, rainy sky and it made all the difference to hear "good job" or even to have someone's back to focus on, to remind me to push harder.

Running is unique in sports, I think: it is a deceptively "individual" sport. Sure, you can run alone but how is excellence measured? By time, yes, but time as marked in races and races are run when runners are pitted against one another. So why not train that way, too? Why not run with others from time to time to see what "time" results? (OK, bad pun. I know.) I have to say, I still love my solitary jaunts over trails and through neighborhoods, but these workouts with others have made me noticeably faster in only a few weeks. 
Me, with my new coach, Carl. 

The Strawberry Canyon Track Club is led by a remarkable coach, Carl Rose. I don't think I've ever worked with a coach (in any of the various sports I've tried) who is more dedicated to the practice than he is. No matter what ability level, he is solidly your coach, offering advice, workouts and any other random information you might require (I know, because I ask some odd questions. And you know, he can answer them, every single one.)


My 10k finish: a PR by 3 minutes. I'm doing sub-six minute pace here.

And so, in honor of the day we honor LOVE, I wanted to post a post about my team, my wonderful team who has welcomed me and let me train with them.  Thank you. And though cliché, I might say, "I love you all." And though we might not have been loving that workout tonight, I would not have done it so well with out you. 

Thank you, thank you. :) 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

40:20 becomes 37:08

I remember once not long ago a shoe salesman said I'd probably never break 40 minutes in the 10k distance. This was back when I lived in Reno and his shop was the only specialty running shop in town. And so, every 300-500 miles or so, when I'd go in for a new pair, I'd hear the same old thing: what have you been running? You probably won't ever do a sub-40 10k.

But today despite strong winds, I did. After three honest years of training and trying, I broke forty minutes in the 10k distance. I ran a 37:08. My fastest pace to date for any race distance. And though there are so many faster runners out there, I am proud of this accomplishment: proud because this is the beginning of a training cycle, proud because I stuck with it despite being told I never would (there seems to be no short supply of people willing to tell you what you can't do) and lastly, proud because for me, that's my fastest ever. 

I wish I had something wise to say, something that will stick around for a while and make you nod and think, yes that miles and pages girl, she is not only fast, but profoundly intelligent when it comes to all things running. In truth, however, all I got right now is hot damn!

So, run on, my friends.
Run. On.

 Stats:

Place Overall: 4
Place of Female runners: 2
Place Age Division: 1

Davis Stampede 10k Results

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Dedication: The Doubt-Ridden 10k

I've been doing 85 mile weeks since January (though last week was 89 miles) with consistent speed and tempo work since the marathon I ran in December; and yet I don't know if I can run a 10k on Sunday. Crazy? Yes. Why am I thinking this now? I have no idea.

I met a friend in a cafe today whom I haven't seen in ages. We were both TAs in the same department when I was working through my first M.A. He asked me: "So what is going on in your life, outside of running and writing?" And I fumbled: "I...er... um...." I finally drug from my memory two days upon which I went to the De Young Museum in San Francisco to see exhibits featuring Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork. Most of what my mind recalled, however, was honestly pretty bland: I went to the grocery store. I put gas in my car. I read a lot of books (but that falls under the category of "writing" and was therefore not permissible to mention), I drank water consciously though not thirsty, I read book and film reviews. I listened to music-- mine and songs others have sent to me. This list caused me pause, and still does.

Wow. I am the most boring person on earth. Either that, or extremely dedicated.

I bring this moment to you because I am so afraid of this race on Sunday. What if I don't do so well? Will my dedication have been in vain? Perhaps that's what scares me: I don't want to lose the life I lead. Not yet, anyway. I WANT to be dedicated; I want to train hard, and I want to produce things of beauty (and yes, a race run well IS a type of beauty.) I don't want to race because, in my mind, I think I will fall short of my goal and that will mean that I should turn my attention to the things "life" is really composed of. But then I have to wonder, too, where this dualistic version of life came from. Why can't a life be what one wants it to be? Failure or not: if I want to run and write isn't it my choice to do so or not?

This calls to mind an author I read recently who suggested (among many other interesting ideas I have bouncing around in my head) that most people really don't want the lives they claim to want; they want to be prevented from living the lives they "want" so they don't have to actually live them. I wonder if having doubt-- and my doubt, at this particular moment-- is a manifestation of that. I say I want to be an elite runner and writer-- but would I rather say I want those things so that something-- in this case, doubt--- will "prevent" me from having them?

Or maybe I'm just excited. After all, I have more miles on my feet than I did last year going into this race.  Last year, I ran a 40:20 after five weeks of treadmill training of 50 mile weeks with only one tempo per week. This year, I have eight weeks of 80+ mile weeks on the roads and on a track. To say I will probably do better is nearly guaranteed unless I'm run over by a stray greyhound bus or have a massive total body failure between now and the finish line.

Needless to say, I think this little crisis-- it is "little" in the grand scheme of even my own larger goals-- demonstrates how seriously I want to succeed in this goal of going to the trials, of becoming a real presence in the athletic world. Nothing beats the accomplishment of a workout/race executed well; just as there's nothing quite like writing brilliance (oh, how rare that is) but in the end, it is a choice. A life choice.  It isn't a half-life choice or a quarter choice. But a whole choice, 100% or nothing at all. And there's something so admirable about that.

I think I'm writing, in a circular way, about dedication. And what I mean to say is: dedication is admirable because it nearly almost always kills some part of you. Where you might have been a multiplicity of persons (a musician, an artist, a mechanic, a marathoner, a beachcomber, a lover, a cynic, a priest, etc) dedication requires a more precise definition. So you kill the priest to be a mechanic, for example. It's a death and a birth; an opportunity gained and lost. It's the best way to live a passionate life; the worst to live a mediocre one.

No one mediocre loves, sacrifices and loves still. And that's what dedication is. So, despite the losses along the way, I would not exchange my dull life for any other. It's the life I want: a life of miles and pages.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Changes: A Rebirth

The January mini-term just ended what had become a four-week intense training that seemed inspired by the notion of Renaissance: not only was I in pursuit of academic greatness (reading, writing, responding verbally to texts in class) but I also found myself fitting in my 85 weekly miles into the spaces not occupied by studying. I have also begun to sketch again. A strange time to do so, I know, but I was once-upon-a-time an Art Major in college (though I switched to English after my first semester) but something about winter's quality of light has got me hooked on doing simple sketches around campus and the town where I live. And so by Renaissance, to be more precise, I'm reminded of 16th Century French author, Rabelais, who conceived of a new kind of education-- one that involved both body and mind-- in a schedule that looks, well, curiously like what I've been up to as of late.

It's a peculiar work of literature: the protagonist-- if such a word can be used-- is a giant and therefore, needs a special sort of education. Many "tutors" are applied, but the ones who try the older methods of erudition (study and memorization for long hours with neglect to the physical body) do not work and Gargantua (what a great name for a Giant!) It's not until a tutor is found who balances reverence and care for the physical body (which is extended into curiosity about the physical world) and the mind that Gargantua begins to learn and flourish. He runs-- but not only for the sake of exercise, but to learn body mechanics. Card games are a vocation of pleasure, but also a method to teach concepts such as probability, for instance. An so, when I say I have passed four weeks à la Renaissance, this is what I mean: each moment fed into another, to create a life that isn't body or mind, or even body and mind, but mind-body/body-mind.

I have always been amazed at these short periods of great output: I've read over ten books, produced countless pages and two drawings in the space of four weeks. I have also run a total of 340 miles-- a good many (or three sessions each week) which were either on the track (interval/tempo work) or of a distance over 15 miles. And yet, I'm the stronger for it. I am ready for a solid spring season, in both body and mind.

Funny, today I just received an email notice that this day two years ago was the day I went to my first yoga practice. I remember that day well: I hadn't been able to run for weeks on my stress-fractured legs. My academics no longer interested me in quite the same way: I cried myself to sleep the night before and wanted my life to change and so I went to yoga. The space of two years is not much, I suppose, but I feel as though I've traversed some huge mountain pass and I'm looking back on my former self from this side where I am training consistently, strongly and healthfully. Even last year, at this moment, I was just coming back, running fifty weekly miles on a treadmill. The race I'll go to in a week was my first race in over a year: a 10k. At the time, I had seemed impossibly slow and a 40:20 an incredible feat, considering. This year, I think, my impressions will be vastly changed; and I'm hoping for a PR that's minutes faster.

But if this Renaissance month has taught me anything at all, it's that regeneration and rebirth come from some initial self which works and remolds and never accepts with resignation that life is an ever-changing thing. This week I will do what I can. And so I will in the weeks that follow. Life is a constant rebirth and I suppose as its shapers, we must recognize our power and its necessary humility. For me, this means to run, to write, to read, to draw. The good life is out there, just a handful of mountain passes away. I just have to keep on going strong.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And 2011 begins

I just signed up for the first race of 2011: a 10k race in Davis, California.

There's always this little surge of excitement when I register for a race. I felt it this morning as I sipped my tea, watching as the screen announced my presence on the race roster.

I'm feeling a particular excitement, however, because I know I am going to run this 10k faster than 40 minutes. I know because it's about time I did. I broke 40 minutes for the 10k mark in a half marathon AND in a marathon in the races I ran this past year; it's time I did it on its own as a way to begin the 2011 "season."

I'd like to place in the top 5 women as well; but you never know who's going to show up. That's the beauty of the sport. I'm just so thrilled that I will be there, on the starting line again of this running life.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Year, A New Me (already)

I feel hardcore sooner than I thought I would. I ran 82 miles last week and felt, surprisingly, healthy. My  next race on the horizon is a 10k in Davis, which is to say it's as flat as a pancake so I'm hoping to finally beat my three-year old PR of 40 minutes there.

My new coach has me running more miles, and running twice each day. I'm also back in school (for a mini-semester called Janterm) and I'm enrolled in a course that examines (and it seems, produces) short story collections. Think: Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles which is on our syllabus. 

But you know, I haven't taken a 9 o'clock class since I was an undergraduate, which is to say prior to 2004. So my routine has changed dramatically. What's funny is how my body has accepted these changes-- so far-- and my immediate goal of running a fast 10k do not seem like pie-in-the-sky-impossibilities. 

I wake each day in darkness-- around 6:00-6:30 or so-- in order to brew a cup of joe before I depart for my first run of the day. On days I have classes (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) these morning runs are short-- 6 miles at the most. Then I come home; I eat, shower and print out my homework for class. Class lasts until 11:45. I eat a bite and study for the window of time that remains between that and my afternoon training block. Mondays and Thursdays are when I am required to drive to Berkeley (it's not far distance-wise, but sometimes traffic can be a real pain in the ass) for a 5:30 pm speed session on the track. The other days I can run alone, or with the Saint Mary's College team if I need a more aggressive pace. 

Then it's home to clean up where I do more reading and writing I didn't get done in the afternoon, dinner to prepare and consume and bed before it gets too late. 

And than it begins all over again, the following day. My schedule will remain this way for four weeks. 

You know, it sounds a bit crazy but I actually like it. I have to focus on the little things, each and every day. My hydration, for instance, and my diet. I have to make sure I get enough sleep, I don't get too stressed out, and that in between study sessions, I allow myself some form of meditation (I love to take a short walk across campus to see the cute feral cats. One in particular with long black and white hair is my favorite. He reminds me of a character from a Victorian novel I read once, a kind uncle who always wore an impeccable suit, though it had become frayed with years of wear.) There will be sacrifices, I know. The other night it was my birthday, and it was the same routine for me: run twice. Read, study, write. Go to bed. (Which is fine because who would want to hang out with me on my birthday anyway? I should admit, though, that my lovely professor-- she's this adorable and extremely intelligent emeritus who lives in Berkeley-- invited me to go to dinner with her. I couldn't though-- I'm much too strange. But what a nice offer!)

One of my favorite thoughts comes from French actress Isabelle Huppert who said that there are tides in life, just as there are in the ocean. Sometimes life offers you everything, and you just have to take it all in, and do as much as you can. You must do this because there will be other times--your low tides--when there is not so much to do or to produce and it's easy to get depressed. I think I'm on a low tide right now-- low, in the sense that I am relatively far from any races and my social life has all but disappeared. Low, too, because the words aren't coming very easily right now; it's a struggle to write. But it will all come round again, like the cadence of the tide. And so, it's another 80-something mile week with a track session tonight. What a life I lead! I feel so incredibly lucky, despite the lows or perhaps because of them.