Saturday, February 28, 2009

Running Etiquette (or What My Mind Wanders to Over the Course of 20 Miles)

Today was the first of the "Big Three"--that is, the looong three training miles before the marathon, which are, respectively, 20, 20, and 22 miles. 

I love to run, and make no secret about it. But let me tell you, that is a LONG way. There is no escaping the sore muscles, in aching butt and calf, no escaping the thirst, and irrational post-run hunger (no matter how much you eat or drink during the run itself), no escaping the utter fatigue that eventually will set in. 

And for me, especially when running alone, as I was for the majority of today, there is no escaping the odd paths my brain sometimes rambles down. While running, I somehow got onto the mental topic of running etiquette--or, at the very least, the differences in runners. 

The first, and already a hot topic (profiled in a recent Runner's World), is waving, or acknowledging in some way your fellow runner. The article I read last month basically grouped people into the wavers--and the nonwavers. Now, I sometimes wave, but not always. When I do wave, it's more like a low, one-handed hold slightly to the side of my body (always on the right), and near my stomach. This wave says, "Hi. How are you. Good job running, fellow runner." This wave, while acknowledging, and I would say, encouraging my fellow runners, does not invite conversation, but does invite a reciprocal wave--which I get about 75% of the time. 

My second version of waving is the "Good morning!" or "Nice Job!" verbally shouted (or muttered) while passing someone traveling in the opposite direction. This is also typically reciprocated, though again not always. 

What I discovered today was what I suspected--we all turn into nonwavers the more tired we get. About 14 miles in, I'd switched to a brief nod and "uh" as I passed fellow runners, and near 17-18, I started to duck my head, while trying to mentally suck the energy away from other runners and into myself. 

The second topic I spent some time reflecting on (I had time to reflect, as I crawled along sedately--negative splits, HA!) was to iPod, or not to iPod. An alarming number of runners wore iPods today. While I understand many people prefer to run to the tunes of their favorite musicians, it's not for me... partly because I don't think a beautiful spring day is the kind of day you need a distraction from. Treadmills? All about the iPod. 

On Thursday night, as I was about to leave work, a coworker somewhat randomly asked me what I thought about iPods. (Well, maybe not so random, as I'd spent the entire week gloating about our awesome Hyannis performance, to anyone who would listen, and to some who obviously didn't want to.) When I said they weren't for me, he said what I think is the #1 response from the pro-iPod'ers: "I just can't imagine not having one. I mean, I can't work out with out one." What I wanted to say (but didn't) was "Well, you have to become comfortable with being alone with yourself." 

The truth is that there is no hiding from yourself in running in silence, with only the smack-smack of your feet, the breeze on your face, the occasional car driving by, and the "uh" or "Good Morning" of another runner (see above) as your soundtrack. Your brain goes where it will, and settles on those things that are most present and forefront in it--be it work, upcoming event plans, health, a to-do list, or a sticky situation with a friend. For me, at least, running remains a catharsis of sorts--a place where everything slows down, and everything becomes clearer, a place where I can often find my true self, even if its a tired true self. 

I finished my run today content with my miles, and happy to feel no more bodily woes than the expected aches and fatigues that come with such a long distance, and relaxed after some much-needed time with myself. 

So I guess whatever each runner prefers is what they should have--be it iPod or no iPod, waving or not. The road rises up to meet all of us just the same--its how we each look at it, and treat it, that makes us unique. 

Run, Run, Run...An Uneventful 9

Nothing much to report for the weekly miles. On Tuesday Jared and I drug ourselves from the comfort of home, visiting family, and dog to hit the streets for a fairly lazy four...spending most of the time chatting rather than worrying about the run itself. After that, it was a quick shower, then on the Mongolian restaurant Fire & Ice, for my parent's last supper in Beantown... a lovely visit overall:) 

Thursday, with Jared at a late-night meeting, I hit the streets solo style, and cruised out around five miles up and down Mass Ave, bolting home to let out our poor crated mongrel, who proceeded to try to eat my tights--while they were still on my legs. 

It's good thing she's so cute...and that her potty training is going well. Here's the mongrel, helping me "work" on Friday. (Note: these are old to-do lists, rather than new ones, thankfully.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Who Has Two Thumbs and Loves PRs? This Girl!

Last week was a bit of a(nother) guilty week, with only two runs in the bank--the first, a blisteringly fast 6-miler with my beloved (Tuesday), the second, a dull, mentally elsewhere, slogging 4-miler (Friday) with my beloved, before we rushed home to shower and pick up my parents for a long weekend visit. 

Yesterday (Sunday) was the Hyannis Half Marathon--in Hyannis, MA, on the Cape. Jared and I had been talking over and over on recent runs about our goal to run a sub-2:00 (hr) half--the last half I'd run without Jared was around 2:02, and at the Seacoast half, which we ran together, we clocked a 2:01.36. It seemed that little extra effort would be needed, but knowing there is no guarantee in running, we stressed, as runners are wont to do...and in our biweekly runs, we started trying to come out of the gate (i.e., yard) a bit faster to ensure we wouldn't end up trying to make up for the early slow miles we both tend to log.

We dutifully climbed out of bed around 7:00 a.m., then woke the parents for the long drive to the Cape. After arriving, I stood in a 20+ person line for the ladies', while Jared was off to pick up our race packets. While we waited for him, I told my dad the ins and outs of chip timing, and we got to chatting with a marathon runner sitting next to us--later, he modestly mentioned that he'd won the marathon the last 4-5 years, but that it wasn't a big deal, as it wasn't a competitive field....sure. (I say things like that all the time too, or I would, if the average pace of all racers was over 9 min/mile.) 

At last, we were off, waving at my folks, and dutifully lining up in the 9:00 min/mile pace section behind the starting line. At the shouted, "Ready, Set, Go!" we were off, cranking left and right to pass by slower runners when we could, the pace as best can be expected in a crowd, and not a bad overall pace.

At mile 5, we took a quick break for Gu--a revolting, decaf lemon-lime for me, a less revolting, caffeinated plain for Jared--and a much-needed stretch of the legs, hips, and butt. A few seconds of hedonistic rest, and we were off again, cruising back at our hard pace within minutes. At just before the 9-mile mark, Jared managed to cajole me into holding out for 10 for the next stop, with the suggestion that we just take an easy mile instead. Sheer trickery, I say, as neither of us gave mile 10 any quarter, and panting, at last slowed to a stop at the marker. Another decaf Gu for me (strawberry banana--these two offensive flavors seeming to be the only decaf options for my finicky stomach), another caffeinated plain for Jared, a hip and butt stretch for Jared, hamstrings and butt for me, along with the somewhat sick realization that we'd taken our rest at the bottom of a hill. 

No matter, though, as we kicked our legs into gear, sure in the knowledge that we had only a small distance to go. The next three miles passed much the same as the first, with limited conversation, both of us saving our oxygen for faster miles. At long last, the finish line was in sight. We kicked in as much as we could at this point, and sprinted (sort of) across the finish at 1:54.45. 

Hoorah! Just shy of a seven-minute PR. Not too shabby:)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

21.5 Miles in Two Runs + One Gorgeous Mug

After last Sunday's 18, there was cross-training for Monday, and a surly, if also short, 4.5 miles with Jared along the river. Unfortunately, life caught up to me for the next several days after that, and I'm embarrassed to say that not only did I not run for those 4 days, I did no working out of ANY kind. Shameful.

Today, however, another 18-miler loomed. Yesterday, having been confined to the car for 8 hours,* I restricted my water consumption, never a good thing the day before logging long miles...

Jared also needed a long run before next week's Hyannis Half, so the two of us trotted out about 10 miles (later found to be closer to 9) along the newly named Loch Ness Loop--ending at our corner. With a smooch and a wave, I was back off down Mass Ave to finish off my mileage, which ultimately ended up around 17.

And ick, it was NOT fun mileage. I'd like to blame it on any number of things, but I did, after all, take four days off...not to mention last week's 18-miler was in the best possible weather. But via a sad combination of run hobble walk stretch run hobble walk stretch, I made it back home in one piece, to play with....

*Copley. The lovely, playful, precarious Dane puppy we spent 14 hours in the car for this weekend, as we trekked to Buffalo to get her and back. She is asleep now at the feet of my beloved and I...after much playing, eating, and of course, more sleeping.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

18 with Me, Brenda, and Myself, and a Soliliquoy on Friends

A gorgeous 48-degree morning had me hopping out of bed last Sunday for some planned long miles. Still pining the absence of my beloved, out of town hiking, I hurriedly got dressed (two layers on top! Shorts on bottom! Hoorah!) and headed out of my lonely house.

On the road, I could barely believe my luck. Within the first mile, I'd stripped down to a thermal top and my shorts, and was chugging merrily along, waving and nodding at the runners in my path. I happily cruised along, slipping and sliding on the occasional icy patch, running down the Charles River, then circling it near Elliott Bridge, before heading towards Boston.

At 7 miles in, on the corner of Dartmouth and Stuart, I met Brenda, fresh out of her warmup on the arc trainer, and ready for 7 miles as a duo. After realizing neither of us had mapped a route (It's so sunny! What a gorgeous day! Where should we run? Didn't you map a route? No, didn't you?), we headed towards an old favorite, our 5:00 a.m. Thursday route from last year's training season.

The miles went quickly and easily, and were filled with chatter of work, life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Seven miles later, we parted ways, again at Dartmouth and Stuart, and I started my 4-mile trek home. The last leg was uneventful, if its unsurprisingly tough self. I was more than happy to make it to my allotted stopping point, and walk the last two blocks home for the planned cooldown.

Later that week, a friend mentioned to me an argument she'd recently had with some other friends--an argument stemming from her commentary about how friends often move and in out of our lives. She is, of course, right. The conversation got me thinking about my friends--about the friends from high school, the friends from college, the friends from two years ago, the friends of today. I feel very fortunate in my friends, to be honest--who are made up of an ecletic mix of personalities. There are the running friends, the ex-roommates, the friends I can sing loudly in the car with, the literary friends, the listening friends, the friends who always have a funny story to share.

But the friend mentioned earlier was also right--her comments centered on how its important to understand that each of our friends brings something different to our lives, and at different times of our lives what that is can become more, or less, important. This is most visible when great life changes occur--when we go into or exit school, when we pair up with someone, when we have our first child. My friend's point was that it's OK, and natural, for friends to come and go in our lives, and that we can't help but do the same with them.

One of the reasons this struck me running was that I've been lucky the past several years since I started running to never be short of a friend to run with. With training season underway, I've been logging a lot of my long run marathon miles with Brenda, and with the Hyannis Half Marathon on 2/22, I've logged most of the rest with my other half. But when I first started running, it was mostly just Kate and I--though we slowly converted many of other friends over time. Next month, though, Kate will be leaving our dirty water, and heading for the Big Apple, as she and her husband head out to start new jobs and be closer to family.

Look for her to be logging some fabulous miles in Central Park, happy pup Bodhi in tow...

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Well. Verdict is in, and next week will most likely bring the third month of the absence of my "little friend," the old "Aunt Flo," She's been gone since around Thanksgiving.

That's right. Amenorrhoea. Here's what Wikipedia has to say (and Wikipedia don't lie, folks):

Exercise amenorrhoea

Female athletes or women who perform considerable amounts of exercise on a regular basis are at risk of developing 'athletic' amenorrhoea. It was thought for many years that low body fat levels and exercise related chemicals (such as beta endorphins and catecholamines) disrupt the interplay of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. However recent studies have shown that there are no differences in the body composition, or hormonal levels in amenorrheic athletes. Instead, amenorrhea has been shown to be directly attributable to a low energy availability. Many women who exercise at a high level do not take in enough calories to expend on their exercise as well as to maintain their normal menstrual cycles. [1]

A second serious risk factor of amenorrhea is severe bone loss sometimes resulting in osteoporosis and osteopenia. It is the third component of an increasingly common disease known as female athlete triad syndrome. The other two components of this syndrome are osteoporosis and disordered eating. Awareness and intervention can usually prevent this occurrence in most female athletes.

Last year, having skipped the menstrual cycle from Thanksgiving through April, I had been at times, a bit concerned...this year, having spoken at length with my doctor, I was a bit less so. 

So. Here we go...again. While part of me finds amenorrhoea to be a side affect of marathon training that remains a little concerning, the other part of me rejoices...

...and says "Amen."

15.5 with My Other Half--as Jared's Patience Is Tested

Slacker blogger--Check.
One early morning run--Check.
One miserable run--Check.
Sweet new shoes (even if sans fancy red laces)--Check!

This week brought some of the usual, with a few mild adventures thrown in. Tuesday's late night and flat tire precipitated an early Wednesday morning run--4.5 miles with my beloved, who was willing, but less than happy about the 5:00 a.m. mileage.

Thursday night brought the scheduled moderate/long weekly distance, with Jared and I scurrying to the gym to avoid the frigid weather. A miserable 11 miles for me--despite my fabulous new kicks--and likely miserable also for Jared, who had to put up with my griping--I was tight, my can was sore, my calves were uncomfortable, my knees were aching, I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was tired....all can be summed up with the simple fact that I had decided, for some reason, that I was going to have a "bad run."

Once you've told yourself "I'm having a bad run," that's exactly what you do--and no amount of stretching, loosening, hydration, good conversation, or encouragement can talk your mind out of the funky dark place it has wandered into of its own accord.

What is it in us that does this? I know full well that my body is willing, is in fact, stronger than it has ever been. I know that my legs will usually loosen up within a few miles. I know that 2 liters of water is enough, that the amount of calories consumed is on the shy side, but still sufficient. I know that the treadmill is, in fact, easier than running outside, and that the distance is shorter than my weekly long runs.

But none of this mattered on Thursday, when I was having a "bad run." None of it mattered at all, as I climbed into that dark place, and shamelessly wallowed in my self-imposed self-misery. No amount of gentle teasing by my other half, no chatter about picking up the new puppy next week, no discussion of news, work, and life could pull me from the deep well of grumpiness I'd rolled directly into.

These runs for me fulfill only one purpose, and perhaps this is why they exist at all--they serve as a reminder of how much we should appreciate the other runs--the runs that leave our minds singing, our legs turning, and our bodies feeling fast, strong and capable, as though there is no distance too great, no hill to high, no turn to sharp, no end to the possibilities incarnate.

As we finished our 11 miles, Jared having pushed me to it, I was happy--happy we were finished, happy to have done the distance, and happily, looking forward the next, better run.

Special props to my beloved on both of these runs--on Wednesday, though cranky about it, he got out of our warm bed, and slugged through some cold miles. On Thursday, he not only ran next to me for 2 hours on the dreadmill, but also forgave me my surliness, and pushed me to go further than I wanted to...gently, but firmly, ensuring that we'd both feel good about the day's miles. This run will likely be our last long run together before the Hyannis Half Marathon on February 22, as next week will likely hold a taper. Wish us luck!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Jolly 17'ers

Saturday was a clear, crisp morning for running, and run I did--17 miles with the DFMC crew. 

I spent the first mile chatting with 2nd-time DFMC marathoner Megan, celebrating this year with her dad's five year anniversary of being cancer-free (colon), and also his 60th birthday. Miles 2-3 were solitary miles, my mind wandering where it will. (Often it wanders in the direction of the smell of fresh coffee, but that's neither here, nor there...more's the pity.) Miles 4-6 were spent chatting with Beth, who lives surprisingly near me. Beth also works for Dana-Farber, and is in charge of the DFMC designs, including cards and singlets. I was dying to ask her what this year's would look like, but saving myself the thrill of anticipation, I resisted. Barely. Miles 7-8.5ish were again solitary miles, and it was with a slight sense of dread that I found myself at the bottom of "Grossman's Hill." Slugging along behind an elderly teammate, though, I found that, well, it just wasn't as hard as I had thought it was. Do I blame Derry? Not sure. Either way, the hill went smoothly, with my legs feeling strong, carrying me to the top with no trouble. 

At the top, enough energy left for a smile for my other half and his fellow volunteers, I took a brief break for some Gatorade and pomegranate Luna chews. The first mile back was partly solitary, partly spent with Jeff and Jenny. Jeff and I had also shared a quick chat during the hills at Derry, as he chugged along up them, and I power-walked myself up and over. 

The remainder of the miles were spent with this pair, chatting about the miles to come. Both of them are running Boston 2009 for the first time. It will also be their first marathon. Until Saturday, Jenny had never run more than the distance of a half marathon, 13.1 miles. As soon as we got past that, Jeff and I made sure to remind her that at that point, every step was another victory. She hardly needed our encouragement, though, as the three of us finished the run strong. 

After a quick shower and snack (provided by our extremely generous running host, the Mount Auburn Athletic Club), I jumped into the car with Jared and we headed for Vermont for some wedding location shopping. Now, it's tea, and what's truly a pitiful attempt on my part to pretend that I'm watching the Super Bowl. (I mean really, where's the basket? It doesn't make any sense.) 

Side Note: The Jolly 17'ers are the name of a sort of social club that my paternal Grandmother (Anne) belongs to. The only requirement? You had to be born in 1917. This large group of women would write a round-robin letter, with each woman adding a paragraph or two, then mailing it on to the next woman on the list. The letter would go from one person to the next, round and round, and each recipient would receive a long, newsy letter, with bits from everyone else on the list. Every few years, the group would plan a reunion, with the group of them putting on funny skits and shows for each other. It is with sadness that my grandmother has had to see this group of friends, that she has made and had for many decades of her life, as age and sickness claims them one by one. She, however, is lucky, as she is a well-loved woman, by her family, and I am certain, by all the remaining "Jolly 17'ers." 

The Birth of a Cambridge Creature from the Deep

Thursday was moderate/long(ish) run for me, long run for Jared day, as we continue our path to the Hyannis Half on Feb 22, and I continue mine to the 2009 Boston Marathon. 

Per usual, Jared mapped a route, showing it to me in the evening. The plan? 9-10 miles around Cambridge, traveling over our route from last week, along the MinuteMan Trail, and back home.

Tighted up and loaded with fuel belt and Gu, we headed out. Upon reaching the trail, we discussed whether modifying our route might be a good Wednesday's snow turned "wintry mix" had left portions of the trail with a thin, crunchy layer of ice and snow. Still, many spots seemed perfectly clear, so we decided to carry on. 

Bad idea. By 3 or 4 miles, we were skating along a sheet of glaze ice, flat 
and dark, melting perfectly into the sidewalk below it--barely visible and glaringly hazardous. In the dark of the trail, we were at last forced to admit we'd made the wrong call. Unwilling to backtrack along the path we'd slid along, grasping at each other here and there to avoid a fall, we popped out of the trail at our first opportunity, near a startlingly large Greek Orthodox Church. 

We shambled left, then arched back toward hom
e at what we hoped would be an appropriate turning point. Eventually, back near our home ground, it was into the supermarket for fresh fish, before jogging home with our booty.  

Upon arriving home, Jared immediately calculated our milage. Looking at our strange, 9.3-mile loop, he uttered the name, one that would be talked about for the rest of the weekend: 

The Loch Ness Loop. 

See the neck of the beast, arching away from our perilous path. See the ancient, sinewy shape of the monster's torso, the point of its tail near our home. 

Sounds like a good road race to me...and were we to plan it appropriately, might be a nice taper run for many a marathoner. We could round to 15K or 10 mile, start and end at the Burren in Dizzle Squizzle...though so far the best idea is a keychain/tshirt or tiny monster with the words "I defeated the Loch Ness Loop" marked on it.