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 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.


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: " 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.