Wherein I love running

Though that’s not exactly accurate.

I love finishing a run. And often, for the first two miles or so, I love the act of running. I love the goal of distances and times, even when my times never seem to improve and the distances aren’t getting any easier.

I don’t want it to be easy. I just want to be better at it. I know the people I watch who run and make it look effortless are putting in more effort than I can imagine. Effort outside the act of running–they’re strength training, and cross training, and eating properly. 

That goes for all athletes, particularly the ones who excel at what the do. Whether they excel on the local stage, the national stage, or the world stage (all of which have different requirements for excellence). 

During the Final Four, NPR did a story on Lebron James and how he was playing in every game because many of his teammates were out on injuries. The reporters made the point that this was a difficult task to take on, playing in every single game for large segments of time. They talked about him barely able to keep his eyes open at times. His recovering days included time on a stationary bike (first thing in the morning) and dips in an ice bath. I imagine his muscles achey and sore. I think about the idea of recovery days still requiring a great deal of physical work.

I love running, and yet I can only get myself out of bed early on race days. Some people jump out of bed and hit the road at 5am in order to get the run in before work, but I’m too busy hitting snooze over and over.

I love running, but it’s not something I turn to as a way to unwind. It is an obligation; a promise to myself to keep moving, even if I’m tired after work. A promise to push myself more because life is short and I want to keep my body in motion.

I love running even though I see little to no change in the scale numbers. I’ve stopped looking at the scale these days. My only measurements are how far I can go and for how long.

I love running even though I will likely never win a race. The people who win races (even local races) are at a caliber beyond my reach, and I’m not meaning that to be a put down about myself. It’s as if there are people whose bodies are designed for running; people who have been running out of pleasure and fun since they were children. And so my goals are adjusted to beat my last time, or to run farther than I did last time. Those are the races I’m in, and they’re good enough for the time being.

Running is always a decision for me. It is not my default mode; it’s a mode I want to be in. Runner is a descriptor I want to claim for myself.

And though it’s mostly difficult, I love running.

(Next challenge: 15K in September)

Wherein I complete my first 10k race

It’s been a summer of training for my first 10K. Weekly group runs followed by solo runs on the days in between. And now summer is officially over because I just completed the race this morning. A summer of running to get to this morning.

The entire distance (6.2 miles) was more challenging than I thought it’d be considering I’ve run a few 5ks in my time. Six miles is still a difficult distance for me to hit on a regular basis. Four to five is my sweet spot. 

I also started interval running (see last post), and that method helped a lot. I think it will be necessary as I train for longer races.

But Race Day! I bought a head band that I though perfectly summed up my feelings about the whole thing:  

 And my right hamstring felt really tight yesterday–like, tight enough that I was altering my walk. So I bought a massage stick at a local sports store and used it the last night, and increased my stretching before bed. When I woke up, I felt GREAT (considering it was 6am).

The race took place at the fairgrounds and my husband dropped me off so I didn’t have to worry about parking.

Lots of people!  

 I submerged myself in the middle of the pack. I’m a realist like that.

Then we were off! I decided not to start my interval running until I was out of the fairgrounds and we could spread out a bit.

There were so many people ahead of me. In 5ks, I’m pretty good about staying in the middle of the pack, but it seems the farther the distance, the farther behind I fall in the pack. I tried to not dwell on that.

Finally, I turned my interval app on. And I’m running and running and running and running, and I think to myself, “surely four minutes has lapsed by now.” I pull out my iphone and see they have lapsed and I’m half a minute into my minute of rest! It seems sometime during my setup efforts, I turned the buzzer off the app and now it was running through the intervals without alerting me. So, I had to run with the damn phone in my hand, which I hate. (I like my hands free when I’m running.)

Then, I’m about fifteen or twenty minutes into the run and I see a police car coming toward us in the other lane. The roads are closed to traffic so I was a bit confused until I heard some cheering. The eventual winner of the race was already on his way back (with a police car leading the way). And the guy was killing it–practically sprinting his way to the finish line. It took him just over 30 minutes to run 6.2 miles–something like a 5 minutes 13 second pace. It was incredible to see–as were all the runners right behind him, though he was the clear leader. The winner is actually well known in this area. He’s the president of our running club and an all around running enthusiast and race winner.

Most of the rest of the race went as planned without a lot of difficulty. I stopped to save an earthworm that was crawling in the dirt on the road. I talked to my legs as necessary, letting them know this was the last time they’d have to run up this hill or that hill. (This course has a lot of intense hills.) At one point I thought to myself, “hmmm…I’m not so sure distance running is for me.” I finished strong (once I see the finish line, I can push myself to speed up a bit), and I completed the race in an hour and eight minutes. I was hoping to get closer to an hour, but now I have a goal to work toward.

Yes I did wear my medal all day.  
Then there was french toast and coffee, a shower, and a five hour nap where I slept like the dead.

And already the next race is close–a 15 K the third week of September!


In which I run and walk and run and then walk

I call myself a runner. But not a Runner. Because a Runner doesn’t walk, I think. But a runner does. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say a jogger. Or a jogger/walker.

Why the concern about labels? I don’t know. I have a 10K race next week that I’m nervous about running, but there’s no reason to be nervous because I know I’ll finish. Even if I have to walk for part of it. It’s not as if there’s any chance I’ll win. Not even my age group. These runners are crazy fast. 

I’m a member of the local running club and I was perusing the newsletter they sent me. There was a two-mile race I’d missed when I was on vacation in July, and they had photos of the winner. They said her time was 12 minutes and some seconds. I remember thinking, How did she win that if she ran 12 minutes a mile? I run faster than that. Then I realized, Ohhhhh…that’s how long it took her to finish the entire race. Basically she ran six minutes a mile. Hot damn. That’s fast. There’s a guy runner who finishes 5k races in, like, 17 minutes. It borders on superhuman to me. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I’m happy if I break a ten-minute pace. Anything below a ten-minute pace is like me embodying the roadrunner. I’m even happier if I can run most of my distance without stopping to walk. I don’t know why that’s a thing for me, this idea that real runners don’t walk. Maybe elite runners don’t. Maybe race winners don’t. But I’m neither of those things. I run to challenge myself and keep my body in motion, and to feel good, which I do after each run.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d like to imagine that becoming a winner of races is within my scope of possibility. If I worked harder, I know I’d improve…enough to win a race? Probably not. I’m a firm believer that any body can run, but I have to be honest when I say my body is not exactly an ideal runner’s body if one wants to win. I’m heavy and lumbering and thick with a short stride. But aiming for an age-group win could be possible. Maybe when I’m in the 70s age group. (Though there are some super fast seniors out there, too.)

But that would be a lot of work. I think I’m motivated enough to do it. But first I need to take a nap. 

It’s been so long…

My last post is from four years ago! I’ve made some blogging efforts since then, typically with a theme in mind, but none of them stuck. Or rather I didn’t stick with any of them. Then I saw my good friend Cyd last weekend, who is still blogging on the same blog she’s had for awhile, and she told me that another friend of ours was traveling abroad and resurrected her old blog to document the travel, and I thought, perhaps I should just go back to the Puzzle Box. So, here I am.

I had been thinking of a number of topics to kick off this new start to the blog, but then I saw a post from earlier that made my breath catch. It’s about texting and friendships and how I learned my dear friend Kim had cancer. 

Kim died in February of 2012. I didn’t find out until April, when another friend called and asked me if I knew. She had learned by seeing some posts on Facebook that caught her attention. 

I have to admit I’m ashamed I didn’t know for such a long period of time. I texted her during this time and attributed her lack of response to her being out on the town, living it up. She was a gorgeous, young woman who had a big group of friends from work, and who would show up in photos out and about in South Florida, so it didn’t bother me that she didn’t text back. It seemed unusual because she was good about responding, but I tend to not get hung up on such things.

Though I feel bad about not knowing, I also feel confident that Kim knew I loved her. Her death was completley unexpected; she had texted me a photo of her ringing the bell for her last chemo treatment. Everything looked good and chemo was over. Her death was caused by an infection she caught later–I think it was a chemo related infection. The fact that she came so far and then that infection felled her breaks my heart.

As soon as I learned the news, I reached out to her twin sister through Facebook who said she had tried to find me at the time to no avail. She said she hadn’t even thought to look through Facebook; I’m sure she had more pressing matters on her mind than finding all of Kim’s friends and telling them what happened. 

She gave me her parents’ address and I sent them a card and told them what Kim meant to me. They replied kindly and sent me the beautiful program from Kim’s service. 

And I’m continuously surprised my how much I miss her, and how often that hole in my life appears out of the blue. I’m surprised because the last time I saw her in person was in 2010, when I visited Florida. We were not in each others’ lives on a daily or weekly basis any longer, but we had been for three years. One of our professors, upon hearing the news, emailed me to express her condolences. “When I think of Kim, I think of you,” she wrote, and I wept. We were two peas in a pod during our MFA program, both journalists interested in creative writing. When she had trouble with her marriage, she asked me for advice and then stayed with us for a week to figure things out. She included some of my zen-inspired Shannonisms in her fiction. When we were discussing Eat, Pray, Love, we agreed to head off to an Indian ashram at some point in our lives.

She was poised, calm, measured, soothing, funny, talented, a great listener, and a great conversationalist. She was the friend I knew I could call up and say, Hey! Let’s go hike the Appalachian Trail, and she’d say, Let’s do it. We talked seriously of the ashram. We were joking only in the sense that we couldn’t afford it right then.

I miss her.

11 reasons to love your body

1. The Brain
My favorite body part is the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasure dome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag. The neocortex has ridges, valleys, and folds because the brain kept remodeling itself though space was tight. We take for granted the ridiculous-sounding-yet-undeniable fact that each person carries around atop her body a complete universe in which billions of sensations, thoughts, and desires stream. They mix privately, silently, while agitating on many levels, some of which we’re not aware of, thank heavens. If we needed to remember how to work the bellows of the lungs or the writhing python of digestion, we’d be swamped by formed and forming memories, and there’d be no time left for buying cute socks. My brain likes cute socks. But it also likes kisses. And asparagus. And watching boat-tailed grackles. And biking. And drinking Japanese green tea in a rose garden. There’s the nub of it—the brain is personality’s whereabouts. It’s also a stern warden and, at times, a self-tormentor. It’s where catchy tunes snag and cravings keep tugging. A hand-me-down miracle is that we are living things made of nonliving parts. Our brain is a crowded chemistry lab, bustling with nonstop neural conversations. It’s also an impersonal landscape where minute bolts of lightning prowl and strike. A hall of mirrors, it can contemplate existentialism, the delicate hooves of a goat, and its own birth and death in a matter of seconds. It’s blunt as a skunk and a real gossip hound, but also voluptuous, clever, playful, and forgiving. For all those reasons, and because it’s shaped a little like a loaf of French country bread, it’s my favorite companion.
—Diane Ackerman
Click here for the others.