Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Reading.

There are few things I like more than watching kids run on the beach.

Last week when we were at Isle of Palms with Jay's family, I spotted a lizard as I was hauling Thomas and Patrick over the dunes. I pointed him out to Thomas, who immediately jumped out of the wagon and started running towards it. When he didn't catch him, he just kept running...and running...and running...until eventually he hit the surf, where he commenced swimming. Instinct propelled him to start, to chase, and inside that bony little chest of his I could just see his heart opening up, stretching its little legs out, pumping blood to all the far points of his skinny little limbs. Watching him run is like watching him breathe-it just seems natural for him to break into a gallop, stopping and starting on a dime with little to no alteration of breath, with seemingly no effort at all.

On the contrary, the momentum it takes to get my body moving is significant, and loping after a lizard is the last thing on my to-do list. But watching my kids run reminds of a time when doing so didn't require a Garmin and a schedule to motivate me, when the mere suggestion of an open shoreline or the prize of a lizard caught could propel my feet to action. Such is the argument of Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run.

Peter Larson, professor of biology at St. Anselm college and author of the blog This View of Life, aptly describes the book as

...much more than a book about running shoes. In fact, the bulk of McDougall's diatribe against the shoe industry occurs in just one chapter (Chapter 25 to be exact). Born to Run is more a book about the love of running - it is a book about regaining the joy that running can bring to your life, and about why running is more than just a way to keep your weight down and your muscles toned. It is a book about why we all should run, and why those of us who enjoy running what many consider to be insane distances love doing so. It is a book about why running is a part of our history as a species, and why running is truly a gift that was bestowed upon us as human beings....

What makes this book such a thoroughly enjoyable read is that McDougall is a fantastic storyteller and a great researcher. He shifts with ease from recounting his harrowing adventures in the Copper Canyons, to the antics and life stories of his running companions, to discussing the perils of running shoes and the evolution of running in humans (which, as an evolutionary biologist, is one of my favorite parts of the book).

I do think runners and non-runners (Cathy) alike would enjoy this book, as the tale McDougall tells is one where fact is stranger than fiction. He's not overly didactic in the promotion of running (he's only written a whole book about it, after all), but I'm reading it from the perspective of one who does (mostly) love to run, so I'd be curious to hear from someone who doesn't. Does this book make you want to get off the sofa? Maybe. Does it make you want to run barefooted through the canyons of Mexico? Maybe. Does it make you want to run a 50-miler in scorching, maddening heat? Possibly.

At the very least it makes me appreciate my kids' love of running, at least for now, and makes me want to get back to that feeling of running towards something beautiful, whether it's a shoreline or enlightenment or the finish line of the New York marathon.

Unrelated to anything running but apropos of reading, I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak last night and it is without a doubt one of the best books I've read in a long time--I don't think I've cried like that since I read Where the Red Fern Grows back in 1986. It's not particularly a beach read, mind you, as Death is the narrator, the setting is Nazi Germany from 1939-1941, roughly, and our protagonist is an 11 year-old foster child. But it's beautifully and descriptively written, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to tell you about it.

So, there it is. Born to Run and The Book Thief for your summer reading queue.

Now. Tell me what's on your list this summer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Time, and the Living is Easy.

I ran 6.2 yesterday, though I was not feeling it at all. You know that little voice in your head that says "Ewwww, you don't want to do this! This is going to be bad. Your legs are heavy. You are tired. You could go home and get on the sofa and watch bad tv for an hour or two while the kids are at camp, or you could just go to sleep. Really you could do anything but this right now. And you can run tomorrow! Or the next day!" Do you know that voice? That voice was giving me the business about 24 seconds into my run, which is never a good sign.

I managed to finish, albeit a little slowly. I did run some hills and I do live in South Carolina and it is June, so I'm not going to be too hard on myself. And after some sub-stellar races this spring, I've been taking it easy, forgoing speed work and tempo runs for longer, slower runs.

That's all about to change.

This week I received my training schedule from my virtual Team in Training coach Joe English.The schedule starts out slowly, with the long run at 3 miles. It has me running 4 days a week--one long, one tempo, one "speed", and one easy. The other day is a cross-training/weights day, and there are 2 days of rest. In the past I've typically used the FIRST program, an intense routine which has only 3 days of running. Anyone have any opinions on this subject? I'm having trouble committing to the schedule as 5 months seems like a looooooong time to train. I know that sounds a little silly-it's not like I'm going to be able to run 26.2 miles over night.

I've had no problem jumping into the fundraising.

And I'm enjoying the writing.

But I'm hesitant to hop back into a schedule. I think part of this reluctance stems from the fact that it's summer, and all notions of a schedule flew out the window when school let out. So though I've been getting the workouts in, it's been a bit more fluid than usual, as the school year lends itself to a more routine approach to everything.

Case in point. We have new neighbors moving in next door whom I've not yet met. They're doing some work on the house and so haven't moved in, but they do check in periodically. They came by one Thursday morning (and I use this term loosely) around 11:30 while the kids and I were all out in the yard. In our pajamas.

I had heard voices in the back yard and assumed it was the contractor, and it was-but it was also the new couple. When I glanced over my shoulder and saw them coming up the driveway, I grabbed Patrick and disappeared into the house. I'd like to think I did so discreetly, stealthily. But I am one of the most uncool, unsubtle people I know. I'm sure I looked like I was rescuing Patrick from a fire. But I'll be darned if these folks' first impression of me is of a lady who's still hanging out in her pajamas at 11:30. On a Thursday.

So summer finds us moving a little slower, making fewer commitments, hanging out at the pool, hanging out in our pajamas, watching cartoons, eating popsicles for breakfast. It thus seems counter-intuitive to amp up the training, but such is the life of the super-athlete marathoner. *sigh*

On a completely unrelated note, I made these last night and they are not to be believed. Though Coach Joe hasn't yet sent us any information regarding a marathoner's diet, I'm fairly certain he would not advocate mowing through a row of these. Or eating popsicles for breakfast.
But I did!
There's plenty of time to change my summer ways, right?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just Do It.

Last night I had a great evening out with three awesome women who at this point will remain anonymous, as they each require their own individual posts detailing said awesomeness.

For now, you should know that of these three women, two have run multiple marathons and are both gearing up to run another in the fall. One wants to qualify for Boston, one is raising money to beat cancer. The third does not consider herself a runner at all, and though she's done several triathlons, running more than 4 miles at a time is absolutely unfathomable to her.

Unfortunately for her, she made the mistake of saying so.

There are times when we have a chance to be positive, to affect change, to help someone see the light, so to speak, and to become better versions of themselves. I believe in the transformative power of running, and I believe that everyone can run. I think my other friends do as well. I'm not sure, however, that we did such a great job of conveying this idea last night.

Cries of "That's ridiculous!" and "Whaaaaat?" and "I'm not even going to listen to that!" emanated from our table when the "non-runner" indicated that running a 10k was absolutely a frightening proposition for her. We may have cornered her a bit, may have refused to accept her lack of belief in her ability. We may have said so loudly and brashly. We may have gotten in her face a little bit. Maybe. (She can handle it, thankfully, and may have been laughing at us.)

When the aforementioned hotbox subsided, conversation then drifted to the moment when each of us realized we actually could run and that doing so was a good idea. And what I realized is that although the moment is typically small in scope--a conversation, an offhand comment, or merely admiration for someone--its presence is lasting, its power immense. Because then we somehow get the idea that we're able, the notion that we can do it too. This realization is not limited to running, obviously, but pertains to anything we thought out of reach, anything we thought we just couldn't do. Until we decide we can.

I suppose we could blame our outburst on the vodka tonics, or Makers Mark martinis, or Yuengling. At that moment all of these drinks were fighting for a chance to voice their vehement opinions, their opposition to the idea that our friend is not a runner. I think the real reason for our outburst, however, is that we want her to know the magic of running, know that we believe in her, and know that she can.

Does she know it?

I know we weren't subtle, so I hope so.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Last in Line.

Recently my dear friend Woody, pictured at left on the far right in 1993(cleaning out the basement, remember), reminded me of an injustice we both suffered at the hands of our former softball coach. Injustice may be a strong word here, for relative to what's happening in the Gulf or the recent Israeli raid or our current unemployment rate, this incident is obviously small on the scale of wrongdoings. It is, however, an interesting study in sports psychology, and one that I'm still puzzling over.

You should know that as a high schooler, I was quick on my feet. I'm not saying I was FloJo or anything, but I could high-tail it around the bases, or up and down the basketball court. Having quads and glutes like I do have to be good for something, after all. Come to think of it, speed is probably the only reason I made varsity basketball as a freshman. Ball-handling, dribbling, offense, free-throws--all of these other skills seemed to elude me. Which is probably why I quit basketball after sophomore year. But I digress.

One afternoon during practice, Coach decided we needed to run the bases. Fair enough. However, rather than just lining up and running, per our usual, she thought it would be wise to line us up in order from fastest to slowest.

Now. Anyone who's ever been picked last for a team on the playground does not look forward to this proposition. Standing around while the cool kids hem and haw and finally concede to having you on their team is not a fun experience. Having never been picked last, however, I was not worried about the line-up.

She began organizing us, ordering the team at home base. Though I don't remember for certain, and had actually forgotten about this incident until Woody reminded me, I'm sure Elizabeth was first, as she was undoubtedly Coach's faaaavorite. Maybe Lauren was next? And then Laura, Mandy, Allison, Wendy(pictured above between Woody and me), and so on and so on until...guess who was last? You got it. Yours truly. Right in front of me was Woody, all-star left-fielder and in general a super athlete. NOT the slowest on the team, is what I'm getting at here. I vaguely remember looking around, locking eyes with Woody, and giggling to myself while stifling a smile, my face simultaneously registering both incredulity and humility.

What was going on here? Anyone have any ideas?

There was no love lost between Coach and me, and that's a fact. I don't often think I'm treated unfairly or blame others for things I've done or think people unjustifiably don't like me. But Coach, for whatever reason, did not like me. Obviously in the grand scheme of things this slight was not a big deal, but I am curious what she was thinking when she called for the line-up. Was she making an example of me? Was she trying to show me she's in charge? And why did she even care about me at all? Had Woody and I done something to offend her? I doubt I'll ever know, unless any of you reading this that knew me then and were there can attest to something of which I was unaware. Was I a cocky nuisance that needed taking out at the knee? Did I need a good talking to?

Maybe she just wanted me to know what it's like to be picked last.

I will say this. Unlike Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights (shamelessly in love with that show and look forward to any opportunity to mention it), Coach getting up in my business and my head did nothing to endear me to her. She did not believe in me like Coach Taylor believed in Tim Riggins or Matt Saracen! I'm sure of it! Rather than tough love, her chosen weapon was psychological, and though I'd forgotten all about it, I'm more than happy now that in running, the only person I'm running against is myself. I'm running for so many reasons that are still being revealed to me as I run-for Davis, for community, for the simple joy of putting one foot in front of the other and celebrating it. And the only person that's in my head now is me-and the Boss on long runs-but more on him later.

And me being in my head is plenty.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Birthday Holla.

A few days before I ran the Spinx Half Marathon back in October, I received an email from my cousin, Tommy, that read:

Not that you asked for advice, but one of the things I shared with Jay is that in every endurance event you will have bad moments. It's not a question of "if", it's when. When that time comes acknowledge it and then remember that every endurance event ALSO has GOOD moments. They are both temporary-the key Is not letting either one of them take over your mind and/or your day/event.

Having just completed his second marathon in Portland in 3:40(can I get a what what!), he was freshly familiar with the sort of obstacles, both mental and physical, that accompany endurance racing. I like the way that Tommy views the race as its own microcosmic thing, like something that has a life of its own. Good or bad, we're in it, we're a part of it, and somehow we have to get out of it. And anyone who has done any sort of race at all knows this to be true-that we are going to have good moments and bad moments, and how we handle and respond to these moments is what matters. I find myself thinking about this email on almost every run, as it reminds me to anticipate, moderate,and stay focused.

That Tommy took the time to send this email before my race also points to the kind of person he is-thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, encouraging. He shows up. He makes things happen. He's the guy who'll organize a family whiffle ball game or ping pong tournament, or try to get you on board for a 24 hour road race or a half ironman. He's the kind of person you want to be around because he makes you want to be better. It's hard not to throw up a few fist pumps when you're with Tommy. He's just that kind of guy.

Tomorrow is his birthday, and I didn't want to let the opportunity pass to give him a birthday shout out; at the very least I wanted to showcase his ridiculous ability to grow facial hair and to give him props because he's such a good one. If you met him after the Louisville marathon, pictured above with his sister, Molly, and Jay, you'd first say "Hello, Tommy" and then you'd feel compelled to introduce yourself to his mustache too, so formidable is its presence on his upper lip.

So happy birthday, Tommy, and in the words of Bob Dylan--

"May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung and may you stay forever young."

Your (younger) cousin

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Early Bird.

My husband gets up early.

Now before you go saying Oh I do too! Or So does mine! Or Good for him! Or I don't even get up because I don't go to sleep because I have a new baby! Let me give you a few details.

This morning Jay's alarm went off, and rather than wake up right away, he slept a little, then a little more, then a little more, until I could no longer handle the sounds of John Diliberto's Nightscapes (that's right folks-Nightscapes-because it's still the middle of the night) and I oh-so-gently nudged him awake, pushing him towards the alarm clock. Where he promptly hit snooze.

Then at 4:10-yes, I said FOUR:TEN, meaning yes, the original alarm went off at FOUR-he presses snooze again.

4:20. Snooze again.

Guess who's not real happy at this point?

At 4:30 I might have said, perhaps a little haughtily but perhaps sweetly, jury is still out really..."Surely you are NOT going to press snooze again. Right?"

Does anyone out there feel me? Am I alone in this?

Now, as to why this is relevant on a running blog. He's getting up to go ride his bike, or run, or swim, so I can't complain. (But I might, occasionally, complain.) Because even though he's up in the middle of the freaking night, he's going early so that he can spend time with his family when he gets home rather than logging the miles then. Now granted, he's in bed about 5 minutes after the kids, but what are you going to do.

He's run 2 marathons, several half marathons, several sprint triathlons, 1 olympic tri and 1 half-ironman, where the above photo was taken. He's dedicated and disciplined, and a valuable running resource for me. The man has got focus. When he puts his mind to something there's no stopping him, and ever since he decided he can run more than 3 miles, he's never looked back. And I couldn't do any of this training without his support.

So though I might be a titch weary when his alarm goes off at FOUR, at least I know that it's not ME getting up at said hour-at least not yet.

A 20 mile training run does, however, loom in the distance...

Monday, June 7, 2010

The beginning.

I ran my first 10k in college-February 17, 1996, in Charlotte.

Now before you go thinking that I remember the date because it was an earth shattering day in my running career, that the skies opened up after the race and I realized that running is my passion, that I was born to run, or that I remember the date because I'm some type of date savant, allow me to tell you that that day was my roommate Ashley's birthday, and that we were running the race together. A celebratory race, if you will.

Missy also joined us, as did Joe, Ashley's brother. Incidentally, Joe had been out of running for a while and decided that wearing brand spanking new white shoes would be a wise decision. It wasn't.

At any rate, we ran the race. I have no idea what my time was, or my friends' times. I just know that we ran and we enjoyed it, that it was a fun thing for us to do together.

Fourteen years later (seriously?? Is that possible?) here I am, getting ready to train for my first marathon. I'm running the New York marathon on November 7th for Team in Training, and am running in honor of Davis Taylor, a 6 year old here in Greenville. More on that and more on him later!

I'm skeptical, to say the least, about the idea of writing a blog about my training, my running, etc, because doing so assumes that you want to hear what I have to say about it. And your life is probably so saturated with blogs and websites and blackberries that the last thing you want to do is read another one, add another personal site where someone is blah blah blahhing all the time about blisters, body glide, and burpies. Not to mention this blog is low budge, as in no give-aways, no material motivations, no kitchen-aid mixers to send to you, no handmade adorable crafts...though truth be told I am cleaning out my basement and who knows what I'll come up with.(Vera Wang bridesmaid dress anyone? Letter books from kindergarten, circa 1984? Porcelain birthday dolls, ages 1-18? Riverside Shakespeare? )

So if you're up for it, I'd love for you to join me, here or out on the road. Or both. There are miles to go before I sleep-or don't sleep, as the case may be, because I know I won't the night before the race on November 7th-so come on.

Let's do this.