Category Archives: Running and Racing

The Hardest Workout I’ve Ever Done

No, it’s not what you think.

The hardest workouts I’ve ever done only last twenty minutes, and I don’t even break a sweat. I don’t breathe hard, I don’t even get warm in my extremities. My heart rate has to stay in a specific, low zone. Last week I was in the 130s. This week I am in the 140s.

This is the hardest workout mentally and emotionally. To go to the gym, seeing all the people doing all the things I want to do, I used to do, I CAN DO, I miss doing. To have no one know why you’re pedaling at a gear three on the recumbent bike with your hair down. To make the effort to drag the kids to the daycare, with puffy coats and logistics, so I can “work out” without even any endorphin rush, without any training effect on my body.

Why am I doing this? Why am I undergoing this difficulty of self-control and disciple? Because this is my best shot at getting better.

At being able to exercise normally.

If everything goes WELL, I can increase my heart rate by ten beats per minute each week. And at some point down the line, I can double up on my twenty minute sessions, doing two a day at the target heart rate. So if I don’t get any symptoms back during this, I am looking at best case scenario of eight weeks. No weight training. Just this.

I cried a lot when I saw the reality of this. I mean, I am happy to have a plan. I am happy that it seems to be working. I am excited that maybe in a couple of weeks I will be able to sloooowly jog. Once I get into the 160s heart rate zone I think I can jog. (I have a very high heart rate in general) But it seemed daunting, it seemed like a sad mountain to climb, after I just got down conquering a mountain, the peak of staying positive and not surviving two and a half months of total rest but THRIVING during it.

I’ve done so well! I did all my homework and then some. I am a Better Person. I am Humble. I Learned My Lesson! Do I get my reward yet?

But of course it doesn’t work out that way. Or not quite. I am very sure, however, that I will carry these lessons on with me permanently. I see so many errors in the ways I used to think. I was always judging people. I never stopped to think,

maybe they had a story. Maybe they deserved benefit of the doubt. Compassion.

I forgot to be grateful. I don’t mean I didn’t appreciate what I had/have/will have. I forgot to be Endlessly Grateful. I mean, truly, truly grateful. I always knew doing the things I loved, like running and exercising, was a gift, but I didn’t know it was also a responsibility. I’m not sure what that really means, right now. Good thing I have more down time to find out.

photo(19)

 

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Filed under Life & Style, Parenting, Running and Racing, Weight Training

Retiring and Responding

I’m trying to retire. Nope, not from running. On the contrary, I’m eating, sleeping, reading (the hilarious Let’sRun.com forums mostly) breathing and talking running. And running. I’m running way more than I ever have, six days per week, 35 miles or so, a lot for me, my first double digit long run in there, and I love it. I’m on a running binge.

But I’m trying to retire my boobs. It’s going…slowly. I’ve been trying to decrease day nursings down as far as Henry will allow without making a big deal over it. I figure it has to be a gradual process, and he’s only 13 months old. I don’t want a traumatic abrupt process, I just want to be done. Soon. Even if the whole thing takes six months. Night weaning is another bear, and I haven’t gotten to that yet. I’m happy to leave the going to bed nursing for a bit. There have been a lot of days in the past two weeks that he didn’t nurse at all until 6 pm or so. He eats a ton of food but doesn’t love whole milk.

I know they don’t need whole milk, but I tried the vanilla organic milk boxes and he’s so-so on those. He’d rather drink water and juice and eat cheese and yogurt. The problem is nursing is not just about sustenance. It’s all about comfort and going to sleep. I never realized when I was so eager to be successful at breastfeeding a year ago that once you’re in…it’s not so simple to get OUT. He doesn’t take a pacifier and doesn’t sleep without nursing. It’s going to a long, complex road I’m sure but I’m heading down it. I’ve even considered giving him a BOTTLE, anything to as an interim step to get him used to sleeping OFF of me, somehow.

I’m still not really sure how to do all this. None of my friends have any advice. They either supplemented a lot of with bottles early on, so that by the time their babies were a year old they were already weaned in the sense that they weren’t used to nursing in an on demand way. The standard advice to “reduce feedings one by one for a week at a time” is useless, bordering on the absurd for me. Henry is 13 months old, he never had a feeding schedule to begin with, never mind now. And anyway the problem isn’t just reducing FEEDING, it’s not even about feeding. It’s about attachment, and comfort, and habit, and sleep. It’s hard.

Although now that it’s getting cold and he had his bad breathing virus experience I’m thinking if he gets even a bit of breast milk over this winter it won’t be so bad. The spring may be a better time to go completely without the immunity. Who knows how much immune boosting he gets from the amount of nursing we do now though? He is croupy coughing right now as I type this. I’m getting worried it’s going to be one of those winters.

But I really want to sleep all night. It’s been 13 months. Blegh. Anyway, running. I love running. I think my training plan is working. Whenever I run without the jogging stroller I hit my paces and feel pretty good. Stringing together seven something miles in the middle of longer runs, on tired legs, or as repeats in a speed workout gives me some confidence that on a taper in a few weeks I can reach my goal: a 10K PR.

That means I have to break 50 minutes, and run 6.2 miles at about 8 flat pace, maybe 7:50. I know I CAN do it. The question is, can I on that day? Will I be up 45 times the night before? Will I have a good race? Can I finally get a new personal best after almost two years of pregnancy and then lackluster post-partum running?

One weird thing I’ve been doing lately on runs is kind of mentally envisioning myself as what I want to be: a good runner. An athlete. A runner. I say to myself, you are a runner. You have the ability. You have a good Vo2 Max (lol). You are a good training RESPONDER.

That's a Destiny's Child song, no?

You can get fast.

And for better or worse, I believe it.

I came across this test that can supposedly measure your genetic potential to RESPOND to aerobic training. I pitched it as a story idea to a magazine I write for, which would then mean I’d be the guinea pig and would get the test done.

But I wouldn’t want to know. What if the test results came back and said: You are Low Responder? How demoralizing would that be? The test makers defend the utility of this, arguing that if you know you are a low responder, you can focus on other things, like weight training or cross training or overall fitness and not a futile kind of quest to run 80 miles per week and then wonder why you aren’t getting faster.

But me? I don’t want to know. I’m going to run through the woods, pretending-believing that my potential is unlimited.

I’m going to keep getting better. Even if better goes in a circle and it just means I keep coming back to where I was before, but with more wrinkles, and gray hairs, and war stories behind me. Even if it means a measly seven second new personal best, this time with no sleep.

I’m a responder.

 

How about you? Would you take that test? Would it bother you if it said you were a LOW responder?

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Eat Food, Mostly Edible

SO Update to my last post about being super slow with the stroller since I’ve upped my weekly miles: I ran my tempo run without the stroller this week and I was fine, I hit like slightly under my tempo pace for five miles. So I’m totally blaming the jogging stroller for everything. But you all had some good advice that I’m taking to heart. This whole idea of doing lots of easy runs is new to me, and I’m embracing it. It’s a change of pace but I’m accepting that if I have to run 11 minute miles sometimes with the stroller that’s what I will do. I want to train smart and race fast.

Anyway I want to talk food. Because I love food. And I eat a lot of it. I read this op-ed the other week, about a parent who decided to stop trying to make their picky eater eat their vegetables. I have a very picky eater (four-year-old) and an easy eater (one -year-old). I WAS a very, very picky eater as a kid and yet as an adult, I am an adventurous foodie type. I will eat everything. I love vegetables, bitter greens, brussel sprouts, fish, kale, escarole, radicchio, frisee. I eat that shit for breakfast. I also eat junk and potato chips and brownies and Halloween candy for breakfast, if I want to. I just eat whatever I want. It’s fun, you should try it sometime.

Look how happy I am, knowing I will be eating Reese's cups for weeks to come.

But growing up, my father was of the clean your plate school of parenting. Unfortunately, he was also a terrible cook. Sorry, Dad. He made tasteless frozen vegetables with no salt or fat added. Think mushy, tinny cooked carrots and those big bags of cauliflower mixed with broccoli except the root parts were like mildly undercooked and toothy. It’s a wonder I ever grew up to like vegetables at all.

I had to sit at the table until the food was gone. It did go…into my jewelry box, pockets, the toilet bowl, the closet. We didn’t have a family dog. One time my grandmother came over and mercifully threw away the plate I was still sitting in front of hours later. I was supposed to eat the entire baked potato, skin too. I gagged on every bite. I also had to drink a huge glass of milk with every dinner. Now, don’t get horrified, I wasn’t an abused child, I just had a parent who was concerned about my nutrition in a well-meaning but misguided way. My mom worked nights a lot but if she was home she made much better food and was way more lenient. But I will never forget the horror of being asked to swallow food that I couldn’t get past my tongue.

I wasn’t filling up on too much crap either, I was just a light eater. One time the doctor told my mother I had to gain weight. I think I was like eight. I just preferred to sit around and color and read Sleepover Club novels. This is amusing to me now, because I eat like a famished teenaged racehorse boy. I eat a ton. Like, I eat more than I see most people eat. I don’t know if I have a fast metabolism? I do work out a lot. I’m also not stick skinny.

[Have you heard about that study that connects butt size to brains and longevity? Yeah. I'm way running with this theory. I gotta feed my booty so I can continue to be a superior human being.]

The bigger your butt, the smarter your children are? You're welcome, kids.

Like right now, I’m about to eat a Kashi roasted vegetable pizza. Now, I’m not sure, is this SUPPOSED to be a personal pizza? Because I’m eating it as one segment of lunch. There was also a leftover bagel half, a Butterfinger I stole from trick or treating loot, a small spinach pie, and there will probably be more after the pizza appetizer.

I kind of love running more, not because I GET to eat more (I will fucking eat as much as I want forever and ever  in a manner NOT related to any physical exertion) but because it’s MAKING me HUNGRIER.

FEED US

But anyway, back to the hot topic of force-feeding kids. My personal experience leads me to be kind of lax on this. I feel like the more it becomes a battle the worse I fare. It is frustrating to deal with Anna’s eating. She’s very picky and is always asking for sweets. She has a tremendous sweet tooth and refuses most vegetables, mixed dishes, and meat.

Right now she’s inexplicably eating lox cream cheese. Who knew she would ever eat that…so I’m going with it. Lox cream cheese for lunch every day it is. At least Henry will eat what I cook.

Were you a picky eater as a kid? Did you grow out of it? Do you believe in forcing your kids to finish their peas? Do you eat like a bird or like you have an intestinal worm like me?

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Questions for Smart Runners

I posted before about following a real running plan for the first time in pretty much ever. I’ve been glad to find out that I can run almost every day and easily do 25 miles per week (was running three or four times per week and usually around 15 miles per week before this) without injury. BUT I have been really slow.

Like really really really really slow.

At least I can do a few of these?

I’m hoping it’s a temporary thing, from increasing miles, and eventually my body will make the gains and I will be faster. This makes sense to me theoretically so I hope it’s happening. I run with the jogging stroller Monday through Friday so I can’t really tell if I’m hitting my tempo paces. On the weekend I run without it for a long run, where I have struggled to hit the last couple of miles at goal pace as my plan calls for.

At least until they sit on my head.

Then the Great Bronchitis of 2013 hit and I had to take off a lot of days. I took off five days, thinking that HAD to make me better, than ran five more than took off three again. Today I started Week Four of my plan for the third week in a row. I don’t want to skip the week since I think I need to repeat it and actually get the key workouts in (tempo and long run.)

Maybe some smarter running brains than mine know the answer – Is it okay to just run with the jogging stroller at a pace that feels the same exertion-wise as my tempo run pace even if it’s almost two minutes per mile slower or is it key for me to hit the tempo pace? If so, I can finagle running without the stroller during the week one day for a tempo run, even if means running at 7 p.m. in the dark (boo.)

Also, is it normal to expect to get slower before I get faster? Or do I just suck?

Don’t answer that last one.

 

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Woman With A Plan

A training plan, that is. This is really the first detailed running plan I’ve ever followed. Last winter I roughly followed a plan for my first half marathon, but it just gave me miles per week/runs per week and not specific workouts with targeted paces. Well, that’s not technically true, I followed a coached plan for a sprint triathlon last year, but it wasn’t running specific.

So I’ve historically never run more than like 15 miles per week consistently. I don’t think I’ve ever run more than 20 miles IN a single week. I just always do three or four runs, one fast and short, one long and slow and maybe speed work if I’m specifically training for a race or something else. I’ve wondered if I could really improve my times with a lot more miles per week. It seems to be what everyone and their motherrunner says: more miles, faster. My body just always rebels against me when I tried to add miles, though, with nagging sorenesses and quirks that I worry might turn into actual injuries.

Maybe I just need to slowly add more miles, get over an initial hump (dead legs, bad runs, a right butt cheek that needs an elbow in it every second of the day, ouch) and then see the benefits?

Or maybe I have a decrepit body that responds better to less miles, just more quality workouts? I keep reading that if you try to get faster by just running HARDER you can make short term gains but then hit a a wall, but if you run MORE you can reach your potential over the long term. I’ve already tried the former (and got faster on it) so I might as well try the latter. I can always find my personal happy medium. It’s like experimenting on yourself.

So I signed up for the 10K challenge that Michele at NYCRunningMama put together. I chose the PR Crusher because I want to crush my PR. I’m a little worried about getting there in such a short time (I want to do the Run for the Warriors in Lindenhurst on November 10th, even though the PR plan goes through November 30). Also, I’m not even BACK to the peak fitness I was at when I got my last PR (my 50:02 on the trails). So how can I expect to BEAT that PR? But that’s what I want to do, so I’m going to try. If not now, I know it will happen soon.

So this week my legs feel like crap and I couldn’t even hit my tempo pace on my tempo run, which I was faster than just like week, and I’m blaming Crossfire, the Crossfit knockoff at the gym I did for the first time on Saturday.

I wouldn't recommend the following workout. Because apparently it makes you look like a man when you're done.

Because: 150 kettle squats + 120 jump squats + 90 sumo squats with kettle bells + 60 one leg piston squats + 30 handstand pushups + 400 meter run x 3. No rest. Just leg death. (And I used a 25 lb kettlebell.) Yeah, I hurt my quads. Or at least got so sore it was bordering on injury. Like I was swollen for two days. So every run after that kind of hurt, even though I gave myself an extra full rest day on Sunday.

So I’m hoping that’s what it was, and I can hit my paces and tempos next week. I feel so fancy writing that sentence. I DID hit my speed work paces, mostly, this morning. Although I shouldn’t start off with 5:13 pace. Guess that’s too fast. Who knew? Ha.

So here’s to planning. And running more. And less squatting.

 


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Running Writers On Writing On Running

Did you ever notice that there is very little great writing about running?

There are some well-written blogs, and some decent magazine pieces that pop up every now and then, but no one has written The Great American Running Novel or anything like that and I rarely see an essay or piece of writing about running that says anything new or says the same thing in a new way. It happens, but just not as much as you’d think. I mean, a lot of us run, and a lot of writers run, and a lot of runners write, and running is like worlds upon worlds of a topic. It’s everything, and then some.

I recently started reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.

Good writer writing about running, it has to be good, right? Well, so far I’m a little underwhelmed but I will keep plugging into it. It’s very zen, which is cool, but the whole “I don’t know why I run, I just do” thought pattern is kind of…not interesting to read.

I did enjoy Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, along with everyone else who has ever run a step.

He managed to capture that Something about running that makes it kind of magic, that makes it meaningful to so many people. He gave us a mythology, a lore, a back story, a context in which to understand our preoccupation.

But this is probably my single favorite piece of writing ever on the topic:

Roger Hart’s Runners.

This is famous, and yes a little dated, and yes, skews very male but I love it. It helps that the author is a creative writing professor. I’m just going to post it in its entirety since it’s awesome and seems to be freely circulated around the Internet anyway.

WE RAN THROUGH BLIZZARDS, THUNDERSTORMS, freezing rain, covered bridges, creeks, campgrounds, cemeteries, parks, a nuclear power plant, county fairs, and, once, a church service. We were chased by goats, geese, a crazed groundhog, guards (the nuclear power plant), a motorcycle gang, an armed man in a pickup, a sheriff’s deputy, and dogs, both fierce and friendly. We ran when 2 feet of snow covered the roads, and when the windchill was 30 below. We ran when it was 80 degrees at seven in the morning. We ran on streets, sidewalks, highways, cinder tracks, dirt roads, golf courses, Lake Erie beaches, bike trails, across yards, and along old railroad beds. Seven days a week, 12 months a year, year after year. 


During the hot days of July and August, Ed ran without a shirt or socks; I always wore both. Norm ran with a screw in his ankle and joked that it was coming loose. Ed was faster going downhill; I was better going up. The three of us met at a race and became training partners, competitors, best friends. We ran together on Saturday mornings, usually a 20-miler along the shore of Lake Erie or a 22-mile route over hilly country roads through Ashtabula County [Ohio]. We ran thousands of miles and more than a dozen marathons together, but most of the time we ran alone. 


We gave directions to lost drivers, pushed cars out of snow banks, called the electric company about downed lines and the police about drunks. We saved a burlap bag full of kittens about to be tossed off a bridge, carried turtles from the middle of the road, returned lost wallets, and were the first on the scene of a flipped pickup truck. 


We ran the Boston Marathon before women were allowed to enter and way before the Kenyans won. We were runners before Frank Shorter took the Olympic gold at Munich, before the running boom, nylon shorts, sports drinks, Gore-Tex suits, heart monitors, running watches, and Nikes. 


We ate constantly, or so it seemed. My favorite midnight snack was cookie dough or cold pizza. Ed enjoyed cinnamon bread, which he sometimes ate a loaf at a time. Norm downed buttered popcorn by the bucketful and Finnish cookies by the dozen. We all loved ice cream, and drank large vanilla shakes two at a time. 


Still, friends said we were too thin. They thought we looked sick and worried something was wrong. 


We measured our lives in miles down to the nearest tenth, more than 100 miles a week, 400 a month, 5,000 a year. 


The smells! From passing cars: pipe tobacco, exhaust fumes, and sometimes the sweet hint of perfume. From the places we passed: French fries, bacon, skunk, pine trees, dead leaves, cut hay, mowed grass, ripe grapes, hot asphalt, rotten apples, stagnant water, wood smoke, charcoal grills, mosquito spray, road kill. And from ourselves: sunscreen and sweat. 


Some people smiled and waved. A few whistled. Once or twice women from passing cars yelled we had nice legs. Others, usually teenage boys in sleek, black cars, yelled obscenities, called us names, gave us the finger, and mooned us. They threw firecrackers, lit cigarettes, soda cans, half-eaten ice cream cones, beer bottles (both full and empty), squirted us with water, drove through puddles to spray us, swerved their cars to force us off the road, swung jumper cables out the window to make us duck, and honked their horns to make us jump. 


We saw shooting stars, a family of weasels, a bam fire, a covered wagon heading west, and a couple making love in a pickup. We ran with deer on a golf course, jumped a slow-moving train to get across the tracks, hid in ditches during lightning storms, slid across an intersection during a freezing rain, and dived into Lake Erie to cool off in the middle of a hot run. We drank from garden hoses, gas station water fountains, soda machines, lawn sprinklers, and lemonade stands. We carried toilet paper, two quarters, sometimes a dog biscuit. 


We were offered rides by “The Chosen Few” motorcycle gang, old ladies, drunks, teenagers, truckers, a topless dancer (not topless at the time but close, real close), and a farmer baling hay, but we never accepted a single one. We argued about the dancer. 


We were nervous before races and said we’d quit running them when we weren’t. We won trophies, medals, baskets of apples, bottles of wine, windbreakers, T-shirts, pizza, pewter mugs, running suits, shoes, baseball caps, watches, a railroad spike, and, once, $500. Often we didn’t win anything, although we never looked at it that way. 


Ed liked to race from the front and dare other runners to catch him. I preferred to start a little slower, stalk those who went out too fast, and sneak up on them around 20 miles when they began to look over their shoulders. I felt like a wolf, and they were the prey. When I passed, I pretended not to be tired, and never looked back. 


Our goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon, to run faster and farther, to beat other runners. 


Did we ever have runner’s high? Didn’t it get boring? What did we think about? Why did we always look so serious? Sometimes. Sometimes. Running. We didn’t know we did. One spring day it rained so hard the road was one giant ankle-deep puddle, and Ed was huffing, and our feet were splashing, and it struck us funny. We laughed until we collapsed, tears and rain running down our faces. We joked about the time Ed had to pee and caught himself showering a snake, the time we got lost during a winter storm and refused to turn around, and the time we ran by Don King’s ranch and were mistaken for two boxers. (We never understood how anyone could mistake us for boxers, but we loved it.)
We felt guilty about the time we ran into a church service being held in the middle of a covered bridge, and were too tired, too inconsiderate, too stubborn to turn around, so we sprinted down the center aisle, dodging the two men with collection plates, and ran out the other end of the bridge while the congregation sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…’ 


And the dogs! The ones that tried to follow us home and the ones that attacked us. The time that Ed, Norm, and I yelled at a growling Doberman, and told it to go home. The owner jumped in his pickup, chased us down the dirt road, swearing he’d shoot us for bothering his dog. We ran through a field and across a four-lane highway, circled back through the woods, hid beneath the underpass, and then jogged into a gas station where we celebrated our escape with ice-cold Cokes. 


Or the time a sheriff’s deputy stopped his cruiser to protect us from a German shepherd as large as a Poland China hog in a nearby field. The dog jumped through the open window and landed on the deputy’s lap, and, while they wrestled in the front seat, we ran, afraid of what might happen if either ever caught up with us. 


We found pliers, purses, golf balls, bolt cutters, billfolds, money (once, over $200–returned to an 18-year-old boy–no reward, no thanks), tape cassettes, CDs, sunglasses, school books, porn magazines, a Navajo ring, car jacks, a fishing pole, a pair of handcuffs (no key), an eight ball, and a black bra (36C). 


We ran farther and faster. We sprinted up long steep hills by the Grand River until all we could do was stagger. We ran intervals on a dirt track: 20 quarter-miles in under 70 seconds, the last lap in 56 flat. We got lightheaded, our hands tingled, and sometimes blood vessels in our eyes ruptured from the effort. 


We ran because it beat collecting stamps, because we were running toward something, because we were running away, because we were all legs, lungs, and heart, because we were afraid of who or what might catch us if we stopped. 


One winter, while running twice a day, I was on my way home from a 7-mile run, and I couldn’t remember if it was morning or night, if when I finished I would shower and go to work or shower and go to bed. I looked at the horizon and the stars, the passing cars, and the lighted barns for a clue, but couldn’t figure it out. Ed said one time he went out for a run and bumped into himself coming back from the previous one.
We lost toenails and we pulled muscles. We suffered frostbite, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, sunburn, blisters, dehydration, and tendinitis. We were stung by bees, bitten by black flies, and attacked by red-winged blackbirds. Sometimes, after a long run, speed workout, or a marathon, our legs would be so sore, our Achilles so inflamed, that we could barely walk, and we’d limp or shuffle painfully when going from the couch to the refrigerator or from the front door to the mailbox. 


We treated aches with ice and heating pads, or soaked our legs in DMSO, sometimes in Epsom salts and hot water. We tried medical doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, acupuncturists, podiatrists, massage therapists, trainers, and quacks. We were given shots of novocaine and cortisone, told to take ibuprofen, Tylenol, and aspirin. We were warned that we were ruining our knees, our hips, damaging our feet, breaking down too much blood, that we would suffer arthritis and degenerative joints. 


BUT SOMETIMES IT WAS LIKE FLOATING, as if you were sitting on top of a pair of legs that you didn’t think would ever get tired or slow down.It was as if the legs were yours but they weren’t. 


It was as if we were part animal: a running, flying animal. A horse, a bird. It was like feet kissing the pavement and effortless strides, the body along for the ride. It was like sitting in Ed’s ’67 Corvette, that monster engine gulping high-octane fuel and turning 6,000 rpms, your foot ready to pop the clutch. Like freedom and invincibility. When we ran around comers, we were jets sweeping in formation. 


We each had a resting pulse in the low 40s and body fat of 7 percent or less. I was 6′ 2″, raced at 148 pounds, and went through a pair of running shoes every 6 weeks. 


Once, I experienced chest pains, a sharp stab beneath the ribs. A Saturday morning, 22-mile run. Seven steep hills. We raced up the first hill to find out if it was my heart or not, and when I did not drop, we raced up the second and third. After 6 miles the pain eased off, and Ed said if it had been a heart attack, it must have been a mild one. Thousands of miles later, a doctor unfamiliar with a runner’s heart sent Ed to the emergency room where he was poked, prodded, hooked up, and given oxygen. Finally, Ed said enough was enough, pulled the IV, and ran home. Two weeks later, he set an age-50 record for the mile in a local meet. 


Although we ran faster and faster, it was never quite fast enough. We failed to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Still, four times we drove for hours and slept in our cars to watch others compete for the three Olympic spots. Then, just as we once stalked other runners, time stalked us.
We began looking over our shoulders and thinking about the marathons we had run instead of thinking about the next race. We slowed down. Our bodies balked at 100-mile weeks, and it took longer to recover from a hard run. Sometimes when the weather was bad–very hot was always worse than very cold–we took a day off. Sometimes we would skip a day because we were sore or tired. We stopped giving the finger to those who ran us off the roads. We gained 5, 7, 10 pounds. More. 


Now, Ed has a granddaughter; Norm has “screw pains,” and I have a retirement clock and deformed toes. We’ve turned gray, lost hair, and joined AARP. We run 25, 30 miles a week. From time to time, we race, no marathons but shorter races, 3, 4 miles, maybe a 10-K. We measure our lives in days, months, and years, not miles. 


Ed and Norm still live in Ohio; I moved to North Carolina, then to Minnesota. We no longer run together, but we keep in touch and reminisce about the time the newspaper ran a front-page story about a group of snowmobilers who had ridden nearly 10 miles on a day when the temperature was 5 below. We had passed them during a 20-mile run. We argue about who threw the rock at the house, whose fault it was we got lost, and which one of us the topless dancer really wanted to take for a ride. 


We complain that we’re running slower than we once did, and make jokes about timing ourselves with calendars and sundials. Sometimes when we’re running we’ll spot other runners ahead of us and the urge to race comes back, and we’ll do our best to catch them. Last fall while I was running in a park, I overheard a high school coach urge his runners to pass “the old, gray-haired guy.” I held them off for a mile although it almost killed me, and, when I had completed circling the park, I ran by the coach and said, “Old guy, my ass.” 


But my ass is getting old along with my other body parts. When I sometimes fantasize about one more marathon, the fantasy seldom lasts more than a day. Fast marathons and 100-mile weeks are things of the past.


And what did we learn from running 70,000 miles and hundreds of races, being the first to cross the finish line and once or twice not crossing it at all, those runs on icy roads in winter storms and those cool fall mornings when the air was ripe with the smell of grapes, our feet softly ticking against the pavement? 


We learned we were alive, and it felt good. God, it felt so good.

When I was pregnant and on a forced break from running, I penned a couple thousand words about why I love running. I’d still love for it to see the light of day somewhere. I submitted it to one online publication, but the problem is that it really doesn’t FIT anywhere. It’s too long and weirdly philosophical to go into the Runner’s World essay spot. It’s too much about RUNNING to go into a literary journal. I’m not sure I’ve seen too many pieces on exercise in the fancy pants magazines. It’s an orphan, a love child. In fact, it’s called Love Song. It’s my Love Song to running. It’s written to the tune of the Cure’s LoveSong. I will always love you.

Maybe I will give up on it soon and post it here. I almost did today. But a part of me thinks it can live somewhere. That someone might think a few people would like to read it.

I know I always like to read deep thoughts about running.

 

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At the hotel, motel, hotel gym…

I just got back from a 12-day vacation in California, where we visited my husband’s family and had an excellent family trip. We started in San Diego, then did three days at Disneyland with aunts, uncles and cousins, then the weekend at the beach at Point Mugu (up the coast from LA) then a couple more days just our family in Santa Barbara.

It was a really nice trip, but rather than write about the trip itself, I thought I’d explain how I work out on vacation. (I know, mindblowing: lace up your running sneakers and go, right? But I can’t just ONLY run, so fitting in other workouts can be more challenging).

But yes: the first tenet of working out is packing running sneakers and running clothes and making it a priority. At home I run at all different times of the day, but on vacation, early in the morning is better. That way, it doesn’t mess up any group plans, if you’re traveling in a pack the way we did, and then you can drink margaritas at noon.

California is made for early morning or late evening running, too, when the sun isn’t killing you and it’s cooler. I never quite made it out of New York time, at least when it came to waking up early, so a few times I snuck out of the hotel room early and ran at like 7 a.m. (early for me). I tend to hate running on sidewalk cement, so that was a problem at Disney, where we stayed in a nice resort in an area of hotels and malls, so I ran on the treadmill instead.

In San Diego we were near Balboa Park so I ran to/there. At Point Mugu, the weather cooled off and we were staying on a naval base on the beach, with the Santa Monica mountains behind us. I had two great runs there, one with my husband. We never usually get to run together because of the kidlets, so it was nice to have relatives watch them while we ran. I had two great runs, I think my fastest 3.1 and my fastest 4 since Henry was born.

In Santa Barbara there is a beautiful pedestrian path along the ocean, and we ran there. For strength training, I fit 3.5 sessions in.

In San Diego, we were staying at my brother-in-law’s house, in a neighborhood called North Park, which is like a California version of a hipster-y Brooklyn hood. It had nice restaurants, art galleries, and a multitude of yoga studios and gyms. There were like four independent gyms in a four block radius. So on Saturday morning (we flew in Friday, which was my first rest day) I chose one, walked in, and asked if I could pay to attend the boot camp class they had.

They said they didn’t really do walk-ins, but the owner was friendly and for $15 I got to take a boot camp class that ended up being me and one other attendee. The trainer put us through intervals of fun stuff like box jumps, burpees, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, pushups, ab work, battling ropes and shoulder presses. It was hard, and awesome. I was pretty much dripping with sweat (apparently in San Diego if it’s 75 degrees they think it’s cool and don’t turn on the air conditioner).

So Friday: rest day

Saturday: boot camp class

Sunday: four miles in the hills of San Diego (ouch, need to run some more hills at home)

Monday: ran about four with Walt, his brother, and Henry in the jogger along a park path with a view of the city. Their jogging stroller (Bob) has a fixed front tire which I found really really hard to push for some reason.

Tuesday: rest day

Wednesday: did a weights workout at the hotel gym

Thursday: did three miles on the hotel gym treadmill, after wandering around looking for coffee with real cream or milk so not to wake up everyone in our hotel suite at 6 a.m. I ran too fast for two miles, 7:50 then 7:40 so I had to slowly jog the last mile.

Friday: 3.1 run, loving the 60s temperature.

Saturday: did some body-weight type exercises on the playground and the beach. Yeah, I’m that person doing chin ups while their kid plays. Then pushups and dips on beach chairs and squats. Then Walt and I ran four miles that night. There is always a way to workout, even with no equipment, even in a hotel gym (or on a beach, if you don’t care what people think of you). You may even inspire relatives to join you in impromptu pushup reps.

Sunday: Hotel gym in Santa Barbara to finish the half-assed strength workout of the day before. This gym was swanky and only played Real Housewives, of course.

Monday: Ran just shy of three miles along the beach, but I wasn’t really feeling it. The pathway was cement (why?!) and my body was twinging and feeling weird, so I cut off the run a little early.

Tuesday: flew back, rest day.

On Wednesday home and back to the gym for a sculpt class. I’m feeling really strong, maybe from the two Crossfit classes I did? Or maybe the change from my regular routine was a good thing?

So there you have it. Away for 12 days, 9 workouts done. Running in places away from home is always an awesome way to see a new place. And now the next time I travel I’m going to repeat my drop-into-a-cool-looking-gym trick. Everyone was so nice. Maybe that’s just because it was California? People are really noticeably more friendly there than New York. Especially toward kids. And pedestrians. No SUVs tried to ram us down at any point, so that right there was 200% better than home.

Working out while away is a must, if only so that we can eat more restaurant food.

Do you work out when you go on vacation?

 

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The Trouble With Triathlons

If you haven’t noticed, late summer is prime triathlon season. Everyone’s got a grinning selfie with medal and social media is giving me a little bit of the racing bug. This weekend something major happened: I rode a bike that moved through space. I rode it from Point A to Point B (well, several times, since I rode a circular loop in a park).

But it wasn’t on a trainer or a Spin bike. It was my real bike. And although it had been 18 months (!) since I pedaled outdoors, my love for the bike was still there. I really do love riding outside. Nothing crazy, just a warmup 21 miles with Tara who is awesome for getting me out there.

I also woke up early (for me, 6 a.m.) on Sunday to volunteer at a race in my hometown, a 10K that’s held on the trails I run on. I ran this two years ago and I love these trails. It was nice to see all the runners and do the running-water-cup-handoff…Who knew the super fast people drink water at a 10K? Almost all of the leaders drank. I figured they didn’t have time for that when they’re running under 40 minutes but they did. Now I’m rethinking my no-water-stop-stance when I race.

The major takeaway from that was that getting up early wasn’t SO bad. I made sure to get up after one of Henry’s multiple night nursings (yeah) and then my husband slept in the bed with him (yeah) to replace me and hopefully keep Henry asleep (yeah) and I didn’t feel DEATHLY tired or anything.

This is my Working Out at 5 p.m. face. Not my 5 a.m. look.

At least until 8 p.m. when I only had enough energy to be really grumpy and lay on the floor as my kids ran frenetically around me. They were insane bouncing off the walls. For hours. It was so bad my husband and I actually wondered for a few minutes if a chocolate cupcake she ate earlier had been made with espresso and I was going to call the bakery and ask if it had SpeedMethBalls as a secret ingredient.

Every day is pretty much a circus around here.

And amazingly, the morning I left early, Henry woke to root around for the boob around 7 a.m. and found it wasn’t there (just a sleeping, useless due to non-lactation parent) but only cried for a reported minute and went back to sleep. So that worked out well. Maybe I can even start meeting friends for early weekend morning rides. I just require a nap or a padded cell for the 8 p.m. decline in mental function that’s sure to follow.

So if I can ride my bike outside, I can get up early (sometimes) and I want to race, the logical next step is to sign up for a half Ironman, right?

No.

Let me ennumerate the problems with triathlons. Or, more specifically, my problems with triathlons.

1. You have to wake up at 3 a.m. Or 2 a.m. Or so early it’s actually the day before. You have to go to bed, then jump right out of bed and start getting ready. What is with the masochistic Type A personality high school drill sergeant obsession of these tri people? They delight in thinking they are morally superior because they biked and ran before everyone else woke up. Some of us were born with a different circadian clock. If we happen to also like to race, we’re pretty much screwed.

2. You have to swim.

3. You have to swim in open water.

4. You have to swim in open water in a wetsuit.

I can’t wear a wetsuit. When I tried to swim in a wetsuit, I had panic attacks and thought I was being choked to death. I had to peel the wetsuit off every time and swim without it. I still had a panic attack about 50% of the time without it, but still better. I’ve tried different types, sizes, etc. I will have to solve this issue before I can do most of the races around here, especially early season ones. And even the later ones, when the water is warm enough to swim without a suit, I kind of get screwed because all things being equal, wetsuits make you faster.

Why can't we just race in bathing suits and stop for a drink at every transition?

5. You have to do crap like change your own tires and learn the mechanics of how your bike functions. I just find this boring, and thus, I am obstinately stupid about it all. I’d like to be a cool chick who can fix my own shit, but, no. Science, math, troubleshooting electronics that break, I’m there. Packing my bike into a box and putting it back together? I’d rather rebuild a car transmission. In other words, I’d rather walk.

6. You have to FIT INTO your sized small wetsuit from before your last baby to swim in open water in a wetsuit.

But with all this being complained about, I do want to do another triathlon. I just need to wean my baby, get him to sleep all night, get back to my former paces and fitness level, and find a way to learn to swim, and obtain endless child care for my children to train. So I should be ready for a sprint triathlon next summer.

Or, in fifteen years. See you then! At 1 a.m.!

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Long Term Planning

Two years I briefly had a coach for my first triathlon (it was part of a program at my gym, I wasn’t exactly fancy enough for my own personal coach) and one of the things he correctly noted about me was that I didn’t have a clear, long term vision of what I wanted to do fitness and race-wise.

I kind of bounced around, wanting to do anything that popped up and looked fun! Look, running up the Empire State Building! That sounds fun, let me do that! And then other things I like to do are maybe even at odds with each other. I like to lift weight to get stronger, and I like to run and get faster. Those things are probably at cross purposes. But I kind of refuse to give up any facet of what I like to do fitness-wise.

I’ve never mapped out a year of races, or long-term plans, or decided, yes, THAT is what I’m going to dedicate everything toward. Maybe I will change that next year.

I’m pretty sure 2014 will be my Marathon Year. As long as NYC doesn’t change its lottery system (three years of not getting in and you get an automatic entry) I will register for my first marathon. I’ve always, always wanted to do NYC as my first marathon. I’ve never run a marathon,  not even a half (last year I trained for a half then I got pregnant and didn’t run) so training for a long distance will be new.

That gives me a year to get this baby to sleep, all night, in his own bed, and off my boob.

I can’t wait. Then I think that marathon will sort of determine the whole rest of the year. I will do shorter races but that will be The Big Thing of 2014. As soon as I wean this baby this fall I want to sign up (maybe with my husband) for this CrossFire extra thing they have at my gym. It’s basically their non-proprietary CrossFit. But it has the benefit of being at the gym (with babysitting). I really, really, really can’t wait to get my non-nursing body back. And by body, I mean, the functional body. The ME body. The non-nutritive self. Just me. And a plan.

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Multiple Choice Monday

The post is the sampler platter of blog posts. Something for everyone, like a really good buffet or IHOP sampler breakfast. Except, delicious, because those things aren’t. Maybe this is a chef’s tasting menu, unless you’re drunk, because then IHOP IS delicious. For a minute at least, then you’re not hungry anymore. I used to waitress at a diner, and lots of drunk people came in after the bar/club and they used to order SO much food, eat one bite and then leave like many twenties of dollars worth of tips. Drunk people are awesome customers. Now I know why people bartend. Maybe I should close the circle of this metaphor and ask what you’d like to drink? I recommend:

Running

Saturday I had no jogging stroller to push, it was under 95 degrees for the first time in a while here in NY, and I drank like a metric ton of iced tea. When I make iced tea, I make it like 400% more caffeinated than coffee and it goes down so easy. I think I had a blood caffeine level off the charts. So I started running and I realized I was under 8 minute mile pace and it felt EASY. It felt so good. Like it used to. The heat caught up with me a bit as the run went on, but I still managed to run my fastest outside 3.1 since having Henry. I almost broke 25 minutes for the first time (this year I mean) but narrowly missed and ran 25:17, which is still good for me right now. I think pushing through this heat wave and running outside in the death heat and with the stroller too has been a kind of additional training. My real 5K PR is 23:02. I used to go out and run 23,24 minutes pretty easily. It’s so strange to be battling to run 25 minutes. But this gives me some hope that maybe come fall, and some cooler weather, and the end of breastfeeding, I can get back there again.

Shopping

I love thrift store shopping but I haven’t done it in a while. Henry’s pretty chill in the shopping cart these days, though, and I was in the mood to hunt so we made a Salvation Army run. Friends always ask me how I find stuff, or how to thrift shop, and the biggest piece of advice I have is to Be In The Mood for it. Don’t go if you’re not feeling like browsing and exhaustively perusing aisles. You have to look at every single thing to find stuff. Henry got grumpy before I managed to find too much for myself (I’m hunting for a maxi dress or maxi skirt I don’t have to hem at 5’4 and also maybe some J Crew type cropped skinny pants) but I got like half of an entire late summer into fall wardrobe for Anna.

All this, plus a shirt for me, cost $13.

I pretty much don’t buy any clothes for my kids. I have about ten boxes of hand-me-downs for Henry JUST SIZED 12-18 months (it’s insane) in my attic and Anna gets a lot of cute stuff from the girl my sister nannies for who’s a couple years/sizes bigger. I round out with specific things she needs and family loves to get her stuff. Probably because she looks so cute in everything. All her winter coats, boots, etc. have come as gifts from grandparents and relatives and then birthdays bring a lot, too. But it was fun to let Anna pick out anything she wanted (it all cost $1-$2 per item).

Fashion Conundrums

So I’ve always been unbestowed in the bosom, and all my clothing reflects this. I have tons of things that I can wear easily with medium-small boobs but this year with breastfeeding, I suddenly have, like, cleavage and apparently no knowledge of how to dress for this condition. Things that looked fine before now look too Too, if you know what I mean. One of my bathing suits is a Victoria’s Secret pushup contraption that makes me look ridiculous right now. I don’t want to buy boob-friendly clothing just for this brief period of time, and I hopefully only have a few more months with this Alternate Me Body B (for breasts I guess) but it’s just weird. Now I understand how the other half lives, and dresses.

Weight Lifting

I’ve been making some actual strength gains lately, so I’m toying with the idea of posting a full workout here. Exactly what I do, and in what order, what weights, etc. I don’t know if that’s interesting to anyone, though. I know I’d like to read blogs with a full explanation of someone’s strength training workout, and I don’t know if I know any bloggers who do this. Any recommendations? Anyone want to read what I do?

I’m also finding myself returning to the idea of getting certified as a personal trainer. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, or when the right time will be, or if I should have a potential job lined up first before I start the process. I’m not sure how, but I know I want to do this somehow soon.

Babies

There are two things that “most babies” do, two pieces of received wisdom that just plain don’t apply to Henry (and didn’t to Anna when she was a baby).

The first is that more sleep=more sleep golden nugget of wisdom. I totally believe other moms who say this is the golden rule with their kids, and I think that’s why people are so divided in their views on Weissbluth’s sleep book. It either applies to your baby, or not. My kids are squarely in the Not. If they nap too much…they sleep worse at night and go down much later. When they’re good and tired, they sleep much better. Yesterday Henry napped two and half hours over the course of two car naps because we spent a lot of the day driving instead of the one to one and a half hours of total daytime sleep he usually gets. That meant he wouldn’t go to sleep until 11 at night! I have to police his day sleep but not to make sure he sleeps enough, rather make sure he sleeps enough but not TOO much.

Immersion in bodies of water is a critical component of the getting them tired strategy.

The other thing that seems contrary to the Popular Baby Way is the circadian schedule my kids were born with. They have never woken up early, like those 5, 6 a.m. early bird wakers everyone is always complaining about. Henry’s preferred timetable is to go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m. and to be up for the day between 8 and 9 a.m. Usually Anna wakes him up before then because I can’t seem to keep her quiet enough (three year olds with their love of life!). She was similar as a baby, though maybe a tad earlier. She goes down now between 8:30 and 9 p.m. and up around 7:30 a.m.. She probably truly needs to go to bed more like 8 p.m. these days since she stopped sleeping in until 8 a.m. and she has some days where she’s overtired and naps. But our family tends to slide later…part of that is my husband getting home at 7 p.m. It gives the kids a kind of second wind of excitement and then we eat late, start bedtime late…Days that my husband works late or is away I find I have them both asleep by 8:30 p.m.

What do/did your babies do/did that seems contrary to the expected wisdom?

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