Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sometimes an ad campaign says it best


What is it about running that scares people so much? Why do people feel they have to put friendly modifiers next to running so everyone can feel good about it? Well, here's the ugly truth: Everyone shouldn't feel good about running. It's hard. It hurts. Running requires sacrifice and heart and guts. Any attempt to water it down with feel-good adjectives is a slap in the face to those of us who still hold running sacred. In fact, if you’re running easy, odds are you’re not running at all. You’re jogging. So do us a favor, don’t run easy. Run hard. Run like an animal.

-Pearl Izumi ad

Monday, July 28, 2008

Here I go, it's my shot. Feet fail me not.

Katherine lies. Or rather, she lies by omission. In addition to running the Seacoast Half Marathon with me in November, she recently signed up to run the Boston Half in October. So on Saturday, we decided to meet up downtown for a long run. I got there a few minutes early and waited in the early morning sunshine for Kate. The only other people around were window washers.

"Welcome to your future," Kate said as she handed me sunscreen, "waking up before everyone else in the world to run."

"I don't sleep late anyway," I said. Which is true. But there's a difference between not sleeping late and getting up at 6am on a Saturday. By choice.

I told Kate I'd follow her lead since after training for the Nike Women's Marathon last year, she was familiar with the distances of the loops along the river. "We'll do the Museum of Science bridge to the Anderson Bridge and loop back around," she said. "That's eight miles."


So we started running. We talked about all the kinds of things you talk about when you're running including the new phenomenon of girls running in tube tops, (Why? A lack of tan lines is not worth boobs you can tie around your waist), recent doctor's appointments and the various relationships between our friends. I observed that runners talk louder than normal people because of the heavy breathing, etc. and as such, they always seem to be sharing something personal when someone, inevitably NOT wearing headphones runs by in the other direction.

"Yeah, runners are oversharers," Kate said. "It's part of the whole deal."

And so we kept running, stopping only once or twice to get water at one of the water fountains along the route and to soak my grungy, salt-stained camo Red Sox hat in cold water.

After a while, we reached the bridge and Kate made as if to turn.

"You said the Anderson Bridge," I said, "that one up there is the Anderson." I pointed to a bridge a quarter mile or so in the distance.

"Oh, okay," Kate said, and we kept running.

A few miles later, Kate checked her watch.

"So I have a confession to make," she said, "and you're too tired now to hurt me."

"What's that?" I asked.

"That bridge that we were gonna turn on? That's eight miles. The one we did turn on makes this route at least nine."

"Nine miles?" I said. "I'm running nine miles?"

"At least."

I'm not sure if she thought I was going to be upset, that I'd stop running, or that I'd collapse right there and die, but really, the opposite happened. I'm not sure if I said it, but I definitely thought, "awesome."

Because nine miles is a mile and a half longer than my previous long run. Or at least, that's what I thought until I got home and mapped our route on Gmap Pedometer.

I sent Kate a text message. "Gmap says we ran 9.7 miles. That is madness."

"Holy crap!" she said when she called me later, "no wonder we were tired."

Which, yes, we were, or I was. But it was the good kind of tired. The "I smell like a gym locker and I'm covered in enough salt to season a roast pig and my feet are sore and I have blisters and probably a sunburn but I kind of feel like Superwoman right now." That's the good kind of tired.

Because the thing is, six months ago, I couldn't run a mile. I huffed and I puffed and I sweated and I swore and I kept running. And on Saturday, I ran nearly ten miles. My goal a few months ago was to be able to run five miles without stopping. And now, I've nearly doubled that. And I'm not done yet.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rock bottom.

At this point, running-wise, I want a redo on the entire stupid month of July. I haven't had a good run since June. In four weeks of new and staggering running lows, I managed to hit a new one today: not even being able to make through a mile.

Objectively, I know there are reasons for this. I've drunk too much alcohol and not enough water lately. It was humid. I was running on a gravel trail for the first time and the soft impact didn't do much for my legs. But after awhile, all this just feels like excuses. Maybe it's time to own to the fact that I'm not all that good at this. Maybe 3 miles is my threshold and maybe that can only be attained on certain magical days of the year.

I'm not asking unreasonable things from my body, I don't think. I know I'm not ever going to run a 10 minute mile. I know I'm not ever going to run a marathon. But after a stretch of successful 3 mile runs, it doesn't seem too be so much to want to be able to go for 3.5. Apparently it is. At this rate, there's no way I'm going to be able to run a 10K in October.

Yesterday was a bit of a rough day and Kristen suggested that a run might make me feel better. But my body isn't responding in the way I need it to, and that's only making my mind worse. Failure doesn't release endorphins.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Know what's better than Prince and Michael Jackson for 10k?

Nothing. No. Thing.

Well, maybe Justin Timberlake.

That'd be a hell of a super group, no?

Friday, July 18, 2008

You have to keep going. Otherwise, you'll stop.

The sickness appears to finally (knock on wood) be lifting. My throat is back to normal and my head is clearing up. I no longer feel like I'm breathing through soup. I hadn't run since Monday and it was driving me crazy. So before lunch today I Googled "Can you run with a cold?" because in addition to being the world's biggest dork, I realize that I'm still a novice at this running thing and I want to be aware if there's some running endorphins/head snot connection that could kill me dead if I went past a mile or something. This time, the internet proved less than helpful since most of the hits referenced running IN the cold. Not the same thing.

But, I reasoned, I was only going to do two miles. Two miles isn't going to kill me. There was a time not that long ago when it probably would have, head full of snot or no. But that time has passed.

I am happy to report that I did not die. Which you've probably figured out unless you assumed that my hastily reanimated corpse was writing in my stead. Not so. I am alive and well. And the things they tell you about endorphins appear to be true. I feel about a thousand percent better than I have in a week. All good things.

Today while I was running along the river, I was thinking about the social aspects of running and how I've gotten to the point where I will schedule runs with friends. It still seems strange to me to schedule things like an 8-mile run in the same way you would plan to meet up for a 1pm matinee on a Sunday or at the bar at 9 for birthday drinks. I had never considered that running would be something that people would do together. But that's another thing I've learned about runners, they are always willing - and some of them are positively eager - for more people to join their ranks. For some of the best athletes and strongest people I know, runners are the most welcoming and encouraging. There seems to be a real dearth in judgment that you simply don't find in other pursuits.

As someone relatively new to the whole thing, it's really easy to get intimidated by the elite runners - those who have run marathons or have been running for years. Even if they're some of your closest friends. But the enthusiasm they show in bringing you into the fold makes the fear dissipate rather quickly. There are some people, though, who are always going to intimidate you. For me, there's someone at work who I often see running on the track or around campus. I'd heard that he ran the Boston Marathon and was, in general a long-distance marathoner. (Does one become a marathoner after their first or do you have to run several?). He's one of those bouncy runners who seem to be flying, as though they're not in pain, they're not sweating to death and there's nothing else they'd rather be doing. When I wasn't eating his dust, I was assuming that he was judging me as a slow-moving running poser.

But today I saw him outside. And when I passed him he didn't snarl or roll his eyes or do anything that would leave me to believe he didn't think I was just another runner. In fact, he waved and gave me a head nod of recognition. Likely all it meant was "right on." But that meant a lot. Because if I'm getting recognized and acknowledged by runners I consider to be "elite," maybe that means I'm not faking this any more.

It always takes me longer to realize things about myself than it does for people around me to realize them. But I believe you have to come to terms with things at your own pace. Which is hard, believe me, as I'm the world's most impatient person. But I think I have my pace now. It's about 10 minutes a mile. And that's just about right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Timing is Everything

I ran an easy - or what should have been easy - 3.6 miles on Monday. Likely I knew I was getting sick as I'd spent the entire day with Seb, Kate and Ted on Saturday and Seb was just getting over a scratchy throat, cold-like, flu-ish type thing that wiped him out for a couple of days. And by Monday I was feeling like it was perhaps going to set it for me. So I worked through lunch, went home an hour early and decided I had to go for a run before I got actually sick since any impending illness would pretty much negate any running I'd planned on doing for the next few days. So I did a loop around the Reservoir and the back streets to my house. 3.6 miles. And the last .5 miles or so I kept thinking, "I can't do this anymore. Why do I do this to myself? Why did I tell Kate I'd run a half-marathon let alone a full one? Who do I think I am? I can't do this."

And then I checked my mail on my way upstairs and saw the Runner's Log and Supplement that comes as a free gift with every subscription to Runner's World. Only I hadn't subscribed to Runner's World. Kate had done it for me.

Suddenly, I wasn't in pain anymore.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Runner's Block

I think my runner's block has finally passed! Yesterday when I popped outside to grab lunch, the weather was beautiful and my first thought was, "Oh, I should run today." I didn't end up going yesterday because Kristen and our friend Colleen were coming over and given the way things had been going, I didn't want to rush.

So this morning I woke up with the entire day and road ahead of me. I made a pedicure appointment so I wouldn't wuss out -- you gotta have the carrot sometimes and nothing makes your feet shagnastier than running. I was even feeling good enough to try something new.

For the past two months, I've been running the same route except for the couple 5ks. I like my route. It's comfortable and familiar. There are hills, but not too many, and two side streets I can go up and down to extend my distance. It's shady and has far less foot traffic than running on Beacon. But after being in such a rut, I decided it was time to expand my horizons. The only problem with this is that I'd have no idea how far I was going. At this stage in the game though, I have a rough idea of my pacing, so I was less concerned that I'd think I'd run 3 miles and only have run 1.5.

It was a good run, aside from spending about 4 minutes stopped at lights. I'm getting faster, not drastically so, but I'm inching closer to 14 minutes a mile.

I got a whole different kind of carrot after logging my run and checking my mileage total: it seems that I've run my first 50 miles. And that's pretty good motivation to start the next 50.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When running feels like swimming

So much for best intentions. "I'll do 5K today," I thought. "No problem," I said, "A leisurely half-hour run" I told myself.

Cut to 15 minutes later after I'd done 2.5K and swore the air was so thick, I could chew it.

Should've stuck to the track today. A tan's probably not worth the resulting lung collapse from this insane humidity. Ugh.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Couch Potato on Foot

A week ago, I winged a 5k, as much as one can wing a 5K when one had run one the week prior. After two weekends of racing, despite the fact that I like going to races, and completely crap weather, I was feeling a little burned out. Today, I ran for the first time since the 5K on June 29. There was an air quality advisory, but I'd been making excuses for two weeks and it was time to lace up and sack up.

I could tell in the past week that the lack of running was catching up with me. My emotions were backing up; things that I'd normally run out or even run away from suddenly became too big. So today, I didn't want to think about anything. I was all thought out.

Every step was a challenge in the heat today and it was a challenge to keep my mind focused on the small things. Is Brett Favre coming back? Would the Red Sox still be in the bottom of the first by the time I got home? Is Sabathia's start tomorrow going to be like last Sunday when I kept telling myself that if I made it through the 5K, I'd get to go home and lay on the couch and watch Ben Sheets, only to have Benny kind of suck? Is that a Spanish guitar on "One in a Million"?

About 2/3 of the way through my run, it occurred to me that I am actually phenomenally lazy. I was running to make up for a week of being lazy. I was running so that tomorrow night I can eat pizza and drink beer and doodle love notes to CC Sabathia. If I wasn't lazy, I'd be having fun and it wouldn't have been such a battle to get out there and every step wouldn't be such a freaking chore. I'm really just a couch potato in motion.

My body actually felt fine and with a lower temperature and humidity that might not choke a horse, I could probably have gone farther. But now that the 10K training is starting in earnest, there will be plenty of chances to go farther. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sitting on my ass to do.

Back on the horse.

Because I'm not a professional runner, there are going to be times when life gets in the way and there are things I'm going to have to do - and want to do - besides run. Spending the holiday weekend at my family's lake house in Maine was one of those things. I made a good faith effort, I did, and ran three miles on Friday morning. And I had every intention of running again on Saturday. But, you know, there were hot dogs to eat. And beer to drink. And a lake to float around in. I've been working really hard lately at various things so all of these activities seemed more inviting to me than running.

But, like all things that one commits to, eventually you have to return to running. That was today. Unfortunately, today was also 90 degrees out when I got home. But, never one to take the easy way out, I figured that a "hot, sweaty make-up run" (per the genius New Balance commercials), was exactly what I needed. I figured five miles would about do it. It'd be long enough to be difficult but short enough that I'd be able to walk tomorrow. And also that I wouldn't keel over and die due to the heat. I figured I'd get a good, solid run out of it.

Know what I didn't count on? The fact that I went tubing on Saturday for the first time in years and, in addition to my right side looking like it had an unfortunate run-in with a meat tenderizer, my pectoral muscles are really, really sore. Know what's attached to pectoral muscles? Boobs. Know what bounces when you run no matter how good your sports bra is? Yeah, boobs. So really, my five miles felt more like ten due to the aching in my pectorals and biceps. Which was super fun, I don't mind telling you.

But the thing is, I did it, despite the fact that I had several reasons not to. So I suppose that means that I'm really in this thing, sore boobs and all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Part of running is sitting still.

Anger fuels me. I'm not sure why but I find I have the best runs when I'm angry about something or I need an outlet for my aggression. Katherine says that anger fuels her need to run but that she can't carry the anger with her into a run or she'll burn out too easily. So far, that hasn't been the case with me.

I come from such an organized, regimented background that sometimes I actually catalog the things I need to think about on my run. I make a mental list, "I have to figure out what I'm going to do about the GREs and then there's the issue of this weekend and also, how am I going to talk to so-and-so about this-and-that? That should take me about five miles." It's weird, I know. Amy looked at me like I had three heads when I told her that I do that. But I still do it.

Inevitably though, even someone as hyper-organized and detail-oriented as I am will find that my thoughts start to wander during the course of any given run. I'll realize when I'm done that I never did come up with an answer to that question and that one car with the dent in the fender made me think of another thing that I hadn't thought of for a while so I mentally set out in that direction for a few miles. And that's fine. I realize that you can't regiment thought like that. Nor would you want to.

But when I'm angry, I run fast. I run far. I run hard. For some reason, I'm capable of sustaining anger and aggression over the course of longer runs. Perhaps it's because I've never been the kind of person to make rash decisions. I think of things from all possible angles and consider all outcomes before making a choice and acting on it. Or not acting on it as the case may be. Those thoughts fuel my runs.

Today, for the first time in a while, I didn't run angry. True, it was hot and true, my legs are still feeling a bit like they're made out of cement after Sunday's 7.5 miler. But I stopped after two miles. I stopped and I just sat in the sun and listened to music and watched the river for a little while. I never do that. I never sit still. I'm beginning to realize that sometimes you need to. And I also realized I wasn't angry. Maybe I'd run all the anger out of me. Doesn't mean that it won't come back, I'm sure it will. But for the time being, I think I'll need to find something else to fuel me. I'm all angered out.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"You guys want some boob Gu?"

The question above was put to us by Allison, about 5 miles into this morning's 7.5 mile New Charles River Run. She was, you see, keeping the Vanilla Bean Gu packet in her sports bra. I mean, where else are you supposed to keep something like that? It was my first experience with Gu. Let me tell you, I'm not that excited about my second experience.

What I am excited about, however, is the way I ran the race. Katherine and Abby are marathoners and Allison has run with them before. And still, I kept pace. So I'm proud of that. That's no small feat, keeping pace with people who regularly run double digit mileage. At around the four and a half mile mark, Katherine said to me, "So I think you and I should pick a full marathon to train for. And we can do it together." I went through all the reasons why that's maybe not such a good idea, but Katherine's a hard sell. "Marathon training is brutal and hard," she said, "but anyone can do it." I knew running was a cult.

Unofficial results aren't up yet but I believe my pace was right around what I've been posting for 5Ks. I had no time in mind today since the goal for this race was just to finish it. 7.5 miles is the longest I've run yet. So that's an achievement in and of itself. And I feel good about the fact that I feel good. If that makes any sense. I kept up the flow of conversation the whole time and at no point did I feel like I was pushing myself too hard.

Around the 6 mile mark Katherine said, "You're speeding up."

"I am?" I said.

"Yup," she answered, "You're going faster."

"We're at 6 miles," I said, "I want to finish this bitch."

So we did.

My left hip was giving me a little attitude around 5 miles in but I decided to push through it. I'm glad I did. I had my iPod with me and we used Attractive in a Non-Threatening Way iPod man's updates to pace ourselves. We've also decided that his name should be Javier.

This inspired a mile-long conversation or so about who we'd want talking to us through our iPods and encouraging us on our runs. We all decided that Sean Connery and Isaac Hayes would be pretty stellar. Especially if Isaac Hayes busted into the Shaft theme song. How are you not gonna punch it up for that?

Amy had run the 5K version of the same race so in a reversal, she was waiting for me at the finish line.

"I'm just really glad you didn't boot," she said after hugging me, handing me some water and telling me she was proud of me. "I was standing here when some of the elite 7.5 mile runners came through and I nearly got splashed."

"Like the Matt Ryan Victory Boot?" I asked her.

"Exactly," she said.

"Well," I ventured, "I don't have to boot. So I think that counts as a win."

"Totally," she said.

We then decided that next weekend we'll take a break. This is two races for us in two weeks and some time off is good.

"Next weekend," she said, "It's a holiday. So no races."

"No," I said, "Next weekend all we're obligated to do as Americans is hang out at my parents lake house and drink beer."

"That sounds perfect." She said.

At the moment, I feel sort of perfect myself. 7.5 miles is more than halfway to a half marathon and that's what I'm training for at the moment. I'm on an excellent pace and finally feel like maybe, just maybe, I'll actually be able to do it. It's a good feeling.

Friday, June 27, 2008

You can take your attitude elsewhere.

On Wednesday I went to pick up our race packets for Sunday's New Charles River Run. Katherine and I are running the 7.5 mile race and Amy is doing the 5K. I offered to pick up the packets for all three of us since I had to go downtown for errands anyway and you know, birds, stones, etc.

I waited behind this girl who seemingly could not remember her friend's names when she tried to pick up their packets (she was totally just trying to make off with the free t-shirts and Snickers Marathon bars), and tried not to be annoyed at the pretty but not very intelligent boy who was helping out with packet distribution. (He managed to spell both "Katherine" and "Kristen" spectacularly wrong and I think I saw him struggling with "Amy.")

Eventually, after many confused phone calls on the part of the girl in front of me, it was my turn.

"Hi," I said to the woman working the station, "I need to pick up three packets actually. One's mine and two for my friends who are registered."

"5K or 7.5 mile?" she asked me.

"Two 7.5 and one 5K" I said.

She looked me up and down with that elite runner appraisal, "You're the 5k." It wasn't a question.

"Um, no," I said, preparing to get all snotty if need be, "I'm a 7.5."

The "bitch, please" was implied.

"Oh," she said, barely keeping from rolling her eyes and huffing in the direction of the 7.5 boxes.

Perhaps I'm projecting. Perhaps she wasn't really looking at me and thinking, "Right. You're gonna run 7.5 miles? Sure you are." But frankly, she seemed a little judgy.

Look, I know I don't look like a typical runner. Not yet anyway. But I'm getting there. I'm semi-tall and my catcher's thighs are transforming with every mile, making my height more apparent and making it seem as though I'm taller than I am. My famously wide ribcage is shrinking which thing I NEVER thought would happen (do ribs get smaller?) and instead of being a straight stovepipe, I've gotten curvier. I bought shorts a few weeks ago because I figured I couldn't face another summer of jeans and New England humidity. Me! Shorts! This is madness.

I guess my point is, we're all a little judgy sometimes, especially when it comes to sizing up other people. Judging people is one of my favorite pastimes. But I try really hard not to do it when it comes to running because I know what people must be thinking when they look at me. And I do like proving them wrong. Amy calls it "pulling a Merrill." Taking someone's negativity - real or imagined - and using it to fuel me. She's got a point, I do that frequently.

Regardless, I hope I see that Packet Girl again on Sunday. And I hope I smoke her.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

6.2 of the most boring miles around.

Yesterday, in preparation for Sunday's 7.5 mile Charles River Run with Katherine, I ran 10K or 6.2 miles. (iPod man is very helpful with the keeping track). But because the forecast was for thunderstorms and the shirt I'd brought to run in was white and no one I'd meet along the river needs that much information about me straight off, I decided to run on the track at work.

Which is fine. Good even. Except that I spent an hour making left turns and trying to entertain myself with watching some MBAs play basketball (badly) and finding songs on my iPod that I wasn't completely sick of yet. (On a related note: I really need new music).

Turns out the basketball players weren't terribly interesting and the only music that I didn't crankily skip past came from movies from my childhood. You know, "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky and "Holding Out For a Hero" and "Footloose" from, er, Footloose. They all have good beats so they make good running songs. But sometimes, like yesterday, you just want some angry music. Some foot pounding music that makes you go faster and gives you more energy because you have some aggression to get out.

Maybe I didn't need it. I set my best time yet for a 10K so perhaps I had all the mental fuel I needed. But sometimes angry music is good. I must make a note to raid iTunes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

No qualifiers allowed

As Amy said, yesterday we ran the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K to cure ALS. The weather was beautiful, I shaved about 30 seconds off my previous 5K best and we got to see Red Sox pitcher David Aardsma play with a bulldog puppy. All before 11am.

Plus, Amy and I raised some money for ALS research - always a good time. Like Amy, I still sometimes have a problem calling myself a runner.

"It makes me angry when you add qualifiers," she told me once. "When you say, I'm a runner - sort of."

It's kind of like Greta tells me all the time about my writing and self-promotion. The fact is, I suck at it. And most of the times my friends serve as my PR firm. "This is Kristen. She's a writer. And a runner." They don't give me the chance to say, "sort of." But eventually, I realized, I'm going to have to do that on my own. No more qualifiers. No more sort ofs.

I was looking at the race schedule I have planned for the next few months and that's when it made sense to me. No one plans 5-10 races - ranging in distance from 5K to 13.1 miles - if they're not really serious about it. No one does something like that for fun. You do that because you mean it. You do that because you have every intention of finishing the races and getting stronger and faster. You do that if you're a runner.

Katherine says that, if you're lucky, you learn something about yourself with every run. What I learned during this particular 5K - aside from the fact that it is, in fact possible to run 3.1 miles while having to pee really, really badly - was that the way I perceive myself and my determination is light years away from the way other people perceive me. I doubt myself constantly, in many things but not least of which with running. Every day I wonder if I can actually complete the distance I have set for myself or whether or not my own personal goals are going to be enough to push me through. Every day I feel like I'm faking it.

My friends know better.

"You have always been the most determined person I know," Colleen said to me once. "And if you say you're going to run a half marathon, no one who knows you would question that."

That's a valuable thing, having that many people know with absolute certainty that you're going to do something. Trite as it may seem.

After I watched Abby run the Boston Marathon this year, I was telling Greta about the people who were stumbling around on jelly legs by the time they'd reached us - about 23 miles in. "Those poor people," I said, "I just wanted to offer them my chair."

"I was watching something about what the marathon is really like for people," Greta added, "about all these people who heard pops or felt something snap and they just kept going."

I shook my head. "Those people are insane," I said.

Greta looked at me in this special appraising "I am so not buying what you're selling" way she has.

"That," she said, "is exactly what you would do."

"No way," I said.

"Yes. You would hear a pop three miles after the start of the race and your foot would fall off ten miles in and you'd have to crawl across the finish line but you're so goddamn stubborn and determined you would finish the damn race by whatever means necessary."

I looked at her for a second, prepared to argue. But then I reconsidered. "That," I said, "is the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Running is Like Pants: A Metaphor in the Key of Amy

Exactly two months ago, I signed up for the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K to Cure ALS because if I was going to start running, there needed to be a goal.

This morning, the alarm went off at 6 am. I heard Kristen shut it off, pondered moving, and then burrowed deeper under the covers. When she came back into the room a few minutes later, I informed her, "Not running today. Staying in bed and sleeping."

"No, we have to leave in 20 minutes." There would be no nonsense this morning.

This running thing is sort of like when I started wearing a size of jeans I haven't worn since high school. Despite being able to zip them and sit in them, I remain unconvinced this actually fits. This isn't the first time I've woken up at 6 am to run, yet it feels like I'm faking it every time.

The race itself was really great. I was worried after receiving an email about how participation would be at an all-time high (which will happen when the Red Sox are involved), as I'm pretty uncomfortable in large crowds. However, that's one of the benefits of being slower. As I jogged along the residential streets that made up the majority of the race, the runners had thinned out so that it almost felt like any other run, save for the people in red waving us through the next turn. And there were plenty of those turns. Instead of seeing a huge throng of runners in front of me, there were trees and houses.

Before today, I've never run 3.1 miles without stopping -- traffic lights will do that -- so I was a little nervous. I ran slowly for the first mile, having learned my lesson in our first 5k, and managed to keep a consistent pace. I turned on the jets a little when I saw the "1/2 mile to go" sign. And there, at mile 3, was Kristen waiting to run me in.

"You can call me mean and hateful," I heard her say over "St. Elmo's Fire" pumping through my ipod. Sometimes I scream that at her when she's coaching me through a run.

"I"m actually okay," I told her. "See where those yellow lines start?" This was about 10 feet in front of the finish line.


"From there." I knew she'd know what I meant.

When we hit the yellow lines, I reached back for all I had and sprinted those last 10 feet, pinwheeling my arms like a crazy person. I'd joked about doing this when we first signed up and dammit, if I couldn't finish quickly, I could it at least finish with pizazz...if pizazz means pinwheeling so hard you pull a muscle. My shoulder screaming, I made a beeline for the curb and immediately started crying. "I did it. And I didn't have to stop once."

"Oh, pumpkin," Kristen said, realizing it just wasn't just sweat streaming down my face. "You did do it."

The thing is, these pants still feel weird and I'm not sure they fit. But I could totally get used to them.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Sometimes I forget how therapeutic running can be. Not only physically but mentally as well. Frequently, it's a solitary venture and lately I've been running without music as it gives me a chance to listen to the voices in my head (not the crazy people kind that tell me to dress up in a chicken costume or go to work in a Carmen Miranda hat, mind you), but all those thoughts I spend most of my time ignoring and refusing to deal with. Running with nothing but those thoughts forces you to face them. But it also gives you a way of dealing with them and then leaving them behind. In your dust, so to speak. You can't ever completely run away from what's in your head but since I've come to learn that the only time one is ever actually successful at running is when one forces oneself to think about something - anything else, you can turn your attentions elsewhere.

You'll never get anywhere if you spend your entire run thinking about your next step or your next mile or, if you're me, whether your right knee feels a little stiff or if you're just imagining it. Or is that a shin splint I feel there or not? And what about my hip? Is it feeling a little balky today or is it okay? These are the kinds of things I always have to make a conscious mental effort to let go of, so that I can actually run. Actually running, I think, necessitates a focus on anything other than the physical act of running, strange as that may seem.

That said, an easier way to distract yourself is by having company, which I often do. Greta and I run together most mornings, meeting at 6:30am on my corner and doing a walk/run combination for about 2.5 miles or so. We talk about things while we're walking and catch up during the breaks in our running. I'm a little faster than she is so catching breathers at stop lights gives me the opportunity to remember the other things I wanted to say, or the advice I wanted to give, or the sarcastic comment I wanted to make. Which, at 6:30am, don't come as fast as they do during the rest of the day. But it's also therapy. These early morning runs are training for me, sure. And more often than not I'll follow them up with a longer training run in the afternoon or early evening. But these are the times you make for things like maintaining friendship and updating each other on the minutiae that only your best friends care about. It's not weird or uncommon for "Did you catch Hank Steinbrenner's meltdown about the DH?" to be the most pressing issue we share on any given day. But it's equally likely that it'll be something along the lines of "I have no idea what to do with myself in September." In all things, the running helps.

Yesterday after work I ran with Colleen, a good friend of mine from high school. Colleen went to college in New Orleans and moved to Boston in 2005, shortly after I'd gone through a breakup. I needed a roommate. She needed a place to live. It worked out perfectly. We lived together for two years but neither of us was running at the time. But last month when Colleen ran the Redhook 5K with me, we decided this was something we should do together more often. We run at roughly the same pace and can keep up a steady flow of conversation while running. "Let's make it an easy enough run that we can chat during it," she emailed me before we met up, "That will make it more pleasant." And it was.

We'd crossed behind BU and over the BU bridge and Storrow Drive to the river seemingly before I even realized it. Which is when I noticed that the route had become familiar to me.

"Oh," I said, "I know where we are. I run along here all the time during lunch." I looked behind me and saw the BU boathouse and the footbridge that takes me along Storrow and back to my office campus. "Yeah, I know this road."

Sometimes that kind of thing still surprises me about this city. I've lived here for nearly ten years and I've always had a pretty good sense of direction but there is something special about Boston - and infuriating to outsiders I would imagine - about the way roads turn into other, unfamiliar roads, only to turn back into those roads you've run before. That seems to happen a lot around here.

So Colleen and I ran, on a road that was suddenly familiar to me. We talked about all kinds of things. Boys and jobs and money and family and how she's newly in love with Ray Allen and me with Kevin Garnett. We talked about the trivial and the important. Mostly, we just talked. Before I knew it, we were turning around and heading back to her place for dinner, four miles completed.

It's runs like that that convince me that I actually will be able to do the half marathon in November. Because no headphones are allowed in that race (it's an open road course), I figure I'm going to have to get used to running and chatting. And my friends, because they're amazing and supportive people, have promised to run legs of the race with me, to keep me company. Katherine is running the whole thing. As is Abby. But both Greta and Amy have told me they'll run part of it with me as well. "Whatever 3-mile stretch you want," Greta said.

That means a lot. It means as much as Seb promising to drive alongside the course blasting the "Rocky" soundtrack the whole time.

Now that's some therapy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Helmets should probably be required, yes.

So I pointed Seb in the direction of his charming visage on this site.

Seb: A good runner is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned. Out there you gotta push it. That's our job.

Me: I am so tapping you for motivational quotes throughout this entire process.

Seb: But I run out fast. Running hurts me.

Me: Yeah but you'll always let me pull you on a bicycle beside the river. Or in a Radio Flyer wagon.

Seb: Because Mikey loves you

Me: Hee. I have a 7.5 miler with your wife next weekend. That promises to be a humbling experience.

Seb: You should see me at the gym, it's pretty sad.

Me: I'm sure she'll politely pretend like she doesn't feel like she's running with a slow kid who should be wearing a helmet.

Seb: She's run with me before. Doesn't get more short-bus than that.

Me: Unlike you, I'm going to keep my shirt on.

Seb: Understandable concession.

I should probably just go ahead and put that on a T-shirt.

Can't hurt, right?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sharing the Sidewalk

There are certain things I accept by running outdoors and not in the gym:

1. I have to keep my iPod low enough to hear surrounding traffic.
2. I have to be aware of small children and elderly and disabled people who are less able to easily move around me.
3. I have to keep to the right of the sidewalk. Which is just good sidewalk manners regardless of whether you're walking or running or scootering.
4. Chances are, I won't be alone and will have to make adjustments to other people at some point.

This is all fine. But what about the other half of the social contract? I know that when you're walking along just trying to get from point A to point B, it seems like the runners around you might act like they own the freaking sidewalk. However, the pedestrian has less momentum. And if a runner is following all the etiquette guidelines above, the polite thing to do is move out of their way. This includes:

--Not coming at the runner with your stroller.
--Not letting your child frolic on the sidewalk willy-nilly when wheels are involved. Walking/running children can be maneuvered around. Skating and scootering ones scare me. Of course kids should be free to play, but they also need to be aware of their surroundings. Lest they become the people who I Red Rovered the other day.
--Not walking in the middle of a sidewalk with your iPod on oblivious to people around you. Because "on your left" can't be heard over Bright Eyes.
--Keeping to the right. Not playing chicken. Using the available sidewalk space instead of forcing the runner to pull all limbs in as tightly as possible and still nearly get body checked into a bush. I mean, sometimes, it's a tight fit and that's going to happen. I get that. Again, I know I don't own the space. But there are plenty of times when it happens to me when there's plenty of available room.
--And my favorite: not walking 2 or 3 abreast when a person, running or not, is coming in the other direction. I don't know why this is hard. You can resume your conversation/argument/hand holding in as few as 20 seconds. I was running on a fairly wide sidewalk the other day toward this couple who was holding hands but standing very far apart, walking very slowly. I'm not a quiet runner. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and not shout excuse me from 10 feet away since they were facing me. But they did not move at all. Finally, they noticed me and just froze (fastest I've ever felt!!!), dropping hands and giving me just enough room to squeeze past. There's enough room for two and sometimes three people to do their sidewalk business. Too bad these people never share the sidewalk with the body checker.

I try to thank people who do end up moving to let me pass because I don't want to be the pricky runner who acts like they own the road. And I'm still working out my dog strategy. They can be hard to control, but you never know what dog is going to spook if you run past it. And let's face it -- if anyone is going to get tangled in a leash, it's me. My tendency is more to get out of the way if I can, but of these days I'm going to be baring the tire tracks of a double stroller...that was empty with the kid walking beside it.

Freakin' endorphins...

One of the main things I've learned about running is that everyone tries to get out of it. Even those people who do it all the time, who run marathons and races and who identify themselves as "runners" are always procrastinating and trying to come up with excuses for why they can't run, not today, or at least not now. That's what those New Balance Love/Hate Running commercials are about. It's a universal feeling. But this is something I've personally had a hard time coming to terms with because in the rest of my life, I am certainly not a procrastinator. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. My friends joke that I come from a long line of "do-ers," a family not content with just sitting. They're always building or working or cleaning or raking or futzing around on the computer while watching TV and simultaneously reading a book during commercials. And while I'm not quite as bad as my parents who have been known to make no fewer than four trips to Home Depot on any given weekend and build at least three structures out of the resulting materials, I still have a hard time sitting still. You'd think running would be the perfect answer to that.

You'd think.

But some days, some days like today where work was an endless stream of trying to distract myself from the fact that it's summer and no one at the university is doing anything - much less needing me to do things - are the days when I get home completely exhausted...from doing nothing all day. Those are the days when I'm most in need of a run, but those are also the days when I try my hardest to procrastinate. There's always some baseball that needs to be watched, or an elaborate dinner that needs to be cooked. Or maybe it's just that my couch is really super comfortable today. But today the Sox played a day game so the baseball excuse was out. I've already got chili in the fridge waiting to be eaten and I can't afford exotic ingredients for a fancy dinner anyway. And my couch is comfortable but not when there's a twelve-pound feline using me as his own personal reclining pillow (which he does. Constantly).

So I went running. Only for 2 miles because my legs feel like cement and I'm dealing with a perpetually balky hip that gives me nothing but attitude day in and day out. But instead of using those things as an excuse, I decided to see if I could work them out.

Plus, now I don't feel bad about spending the rest of the evening on the couch watching crap television and eating chili.

Maybe I'm a runner after all.

Oh, and can someone tell me why said twelve-pound feline is never more affectionate than when I've just come back from a run, am covered in sweat and want no one who's shedding like it's his job anywhere near me? Seriously.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The slowest kid on the field.

Hi, my name is Amy, and I'm slow.

Before I started running, when I saw people jogging along the street at a snail's pace, I'd think to myself, "Dude, just walk. You'd probably go faster and also not look like an a-hole." Now, I'm that a-hole, stubbornly plodding along.

The thing is, I'd given up on running. I'd tried the Couch to 5K program maybe a year or so, and gave up after about a week. The program wasn't for me, and I'd decided that running wasn't either. It was okay. I'd get fit other ways.

But then Kristen signed up for a half-marathon and I'd get her running updates after lunch everyday. The sense of accomplishment than she and our other running friends seemed to get from made me long for something more than the elliptical. So when Kristen said she'd have to run a few 5Ks and other races to get ready for the half, I found myself saying I'd join her.

Every race we talk about signing up for, I check the past year's results. I need to make sure that historically, people have been slower than me. No one wants to come in last. Our first 5K, I was so slow I was with the walkers when I finished and figured I'd somehow missed the finished the line since no one around me was running.

I'm doing it, though, and that's the important thing. The motivation of having a race coming up pushes me in a way that the gym never could. No, most people who clock a 15:00 minute per mile pace aren't entering races. I never thought I'd be running any miles at any pace, let alone 3.1 of them. And for now, that means more than my pace when I'm doing it.

Revvin' up your engine, Listen to her howlin' roar

The nice thing about working at a fancy institution of higher learning with a gym on site is that you can take advantage of said gym and its shower facilities mid-day and go for a run. The other nice thing about this here institution is its position along the Charles River, which affords many scenic running locations. Most come with a lovely helping of Storrow Drive exhaust as well but for water views, I take what I can get.

Also, it's 76 degrees out. Perfect running weather. And while there is a track and multiple treadmills available at the gym for running in inclement weather, I have to take advantage of this while I can. Tomorrow it could be 95. Or 4. It's New England, anything is possible.

When I run outside I also take my new best friend, the Nike + iPod do-hickey with me. It's not the super fancy one. Just the one with the little sensor that attaches to your shoe and sends it's magical messages to another little sensor connected to your iPod. Then you set it for distance or time and a nice man or woman (depending on how you have it set up) informs you how far you've gone and how far you have left to go. I always enjoy getting wrapped up in the music only to have the nice man (whom I've decided is attractive in a non-threatening way) pipe up and tell me "2 miles to go." It's helpful. Also helpful? The fact that whoever designed this little gizmo had the foresight to allow you to program a "power song." That being, no matter what you're doing or what you're in the middle of, you can hold down the center button for a few seconds and your power song will start playing. You know, for when you need your "pumpiest jams" (TM Capewind).

My power song? Europe's "The Final Countdown" obviously. Frankly, I'm surprised you had to ask.

Anyway, today's lunch run was a 5 miler at a 10:10 pace (Attractive in a Non-Threatening Way iPod Man will also tell you your pace), which is a little slower than I'd like but I'm okay with it since it's also my longest run since last week's 7.25 miler. The power song made an appearance but today's pumpiest jam was that Kenny Loggins' classic "Danger Zone." Which song always makes me think of Kate's husband Seb because of, well, because of this:

Basically, I just picture Seb as Viper telling me that he's not here to "blow sunshine up my ass" and to keep running. It seems to help.

The journey of a thousand miles, etc. etc.

So Amy and I have this friend, Katherine. She runs a lot. One day she up and decided to run a marathon. (Not technically since she trained for it ahead of time and all that). But it did seem like all of a sudden, she was a runner. We thought she was crazy.

"Who would voluntarily do that?" I wondered.

"I would run if and only if there was a tiger chasing me," Amy said.

Fast foward to approximately six months later and I am training for a half-marathon in November while Amy and I run several 5 and 10Ks to raise money for various causes. Because we've started smoking crack, apparently.

Last month, we ran our first official 5K, the 11th Annual Runner's Alley/Redhook Brewery 5K in Portsmouth, NH to benefit the Krempels Brain Injury Foundation.

We were joined by Greta, Colleen, Colleen's Dad (an experienced runner) and my parents who walked the course. We were supposed to be joined by my brother Kevin as well but he spent the night previous partying with Kanye West at Foxwoods so he, uh, didn't quite make it in time.

I posted my best time yet at 30:12 and all of us finished, which was, actually, the goal.

"Katherine infected our brains with crack," Amy said.

"We need to make Katherine's Crackheads Running Team shirts," I answered.

Anyway, we run now. Apparently. We're runners. We're also both writers. So we're going to write about the running in this space. Possibly only for each other or for the poor souls who mistakenly find this site while searching for something else entirely. Apologies to those people.

That said, check in here. Insanity is sure to abound.

Oh, and Capewind = Amy and Akimbo = me (Kristen) for no reason other than one day we decided we needed superhero names and that's what we came up with. So we're going with it. Also? It makes us feel fast.