Saratoga Palio half marathon 2015

I ran a half marathon yesterday. My second ever. And in nearly every way, it exceeded my best-case scenario hopes. The weather was mild, the course was gentle and lovely, and we finished minutes faster than my stretch goal.

Yes, “we” finished. Because I ran the entire distance in step with my dear friend Aaren. Which is pretty amazing considering that the 15-minute warm-up the day before was our first-ever run together. Sure, we’ve hiked across Wyoming together. And when we compared training notes long distance, it did seem we were roughly the same pace. But that leaves a whole lot of room for doubt about sticking together through an entire half. It turned out we couldn’t have been better matched if we had trained together every day for the last three months. She pulled us out faster than I was comfortable the first couple miles, and then I held us steady through the middle; when I started feeling it around mile 10, she kept us moving. And we sprinted to the finish stride for stride.

I couldn’t be prouder of her for deciding to spend her summer waking up extra early to run, for throwing a training schedule into the mix with grad school and a just-one-year-old and a farm and rocking it. This whole plan to fly across the country to run a race when there are countless options in my own backyard seemed less and less reasonable in recent weeks. But today it makes perfect sense. I pounded out countless miles this summer in preparation of the day when I would see what I could do over 13 miles and that run was faster, more fun, more exciting, and generally better in every way that I can imagine, for having a friend at my side.

(Thanks, Aaren!)

Bellingham Trail Half Marathon

IMG_2916-001I ran a half marathon yesterday. Actually, that’s a completely inaccurate and misleading statement. I finished. The means of propulsion were varied and ugly but entirely of my own power. That’s me about 100 feet from the end, which explains the look of bliss on my face.

It was so much harder than I expected. I had trained to run 13 miles and I was fully aware that they would not be smooth or flat miles. I was mentally prepared for a lot of trail running with a few truly brutal sections. In fairness, this was the race description:

13.1 miles with 2,500 feet of  climbing. The Bellingham Half Marathon is really special: it is a point-to-point exploration of Bellingham’s Chuckanut Mountain and Lake Padden.  It begins by running up Fragrance Lake Trail to the notorious Chinscraper (no joke) and along the super technical and scenic Ridge Trail with views of the Cascades, city of Bellingham, and Bellingham Bay. From the ridge, you’ll descend on some sweet single track to the Interurban Trail, hit up a little road on your way to Lake Padden, and finish with fast trails around Lake Padden to a catered post race meal and race festivities!

The “notorious Chinscraper” was more or less what I expected but I managed to overlook the “super technical” Ridge Trail, which I learned in real time meant that it was several miles of steep, rooted, rocky, narrow (did I mention steep) trail of the sort that required a rope to aid you in at least one sheer rock descent.

I went flying and landed on all fours twice during the “sweet single track” section. It took me nearly two hours to get from the first to the second aid station and by the time I got there, I was sure that I had read/remembered the aid station locations wrong. It seemed impossible that I had covered only 8 miles of trail in two and a half hours. But the volunteers confirmed I was indeed 8 miles in and then I started running away and both of my calves started to charley on the first incline. I nearly dissolved into tears.

All of which is a long way to say exactly what I started with: It was hard.

But there’s something about doing a hard thing that makes you able to do more hard things, even when you feel like that’s impossible. And even though right now just sitting feels like a hard thing, I’m happy that I did it.

And really, isn’t that how a whole lot of life goes? You plan and prepare and tell yourself you know how it will be and then you get into the guts and it’s totally different and more terrifying and not at all what you thought. But somehow the preparation that you did and a million things that you thought were completely unrelated come together and you figure it out in real time and you do it. And running a race isn’t the kind of hard thing that really matters at all but somehow I think it’s good to keep in practice for the really hard things in life that do matter.

So there you go. It was ugly and muddy and bloody, but I finished a half marathon yesterday. It was hard.

You may want to run away

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I did my last “hard” run today before the half marathon next week, and I’m full of reflection about my return to running over these last several months. So bear with me. Or don’t, and I will understand.

First, it just feels really good to be fitter than I have been in a few years. There’s a lot of joy in realizing that after six miles of fartlek this morning, I still felt strong, that I had more in me. Although I can’t say that without seeing my younger self smirk at the pace.

Because any reflection of the running sort is bound to involve my younger self. I was “a runner” from my early teens and it remained at the core of my identity through college. I didn’t compete after college, but I did keep up a more or less regular habit for another five-ish years. It’s a curious experience to come back to running after the better part of a decade away from it. There’s comfort and confidence from tapping a deep knowledge written into the memory of muscles and joints. But I’m wary. It wasn’t the physical part of running that caused me to drift away, it was the mental.

At its best, running is a meditation in motion. I am my breath and my foot strike, my mind wanders no farther than the ground a few steps ahead and the trees overhead. It’s certainly not at its best every time out, but I do think I find it more frequently than I did in my teens, and certainly in my twenties.

The younger me hated long runs; after about 45 minutes the monotony just drove me crazy. Now my favorite part of my routine is the weekend long run. I did a couple two hour runs in recent weeks that I genuinely enjoyed.

But there’s been fewer weekday runs that I can say the same about of late. It’s been harder to get out the door, but also harder to cover the miles once I do get out. The mornings are dark and frequently wet. My legs have been tired from pushing myself on the weekends. I’ve had some nagging pains in my feet and lower legs. Snippets of the old recording about how I “should run” have crept back into my head and I don’t like it.

I don’t like hearing those snippets but I can’t say right now what will quiet them. I’m really looking forward to running this half marathon, to see what it feels like to push myself over a long distance and a difficult course. And then I’m looking forward to letting go of my training routine and finding the rhythm that fits this next season.

October

Taking stock a bit today… what do the first days of October look like here?

The garden is put to bed. It’s always hard to let go of the possibility held by still-green tomatoes but we got a frost while we were away to the east coast so we took the cue to shift from harvest to clean-up mode. Took advantage of a couple beautiful fall days and some willing friends visiting to pull everything out, do a final till of the weeds, and sow a winter cover. Few things in our life get tidied up neatly and on schedule, but damn if it doesn’t feel good when it happens.

Making time for running this month, and thinking about it even more. I’m about six weeks out from my first half-marathon. I’m right about where I hoped to be in terms of training, but the closer it gets the more I want to try to squeeze in. Like maybe if I just do a few extra workouts it’ll feel much easier. Realistically, I just need to stay consistent as the mornings get progressively darker and colder and wetter.

I have less than a week to play with scarf designs and then I really need to get back to the baby blanket that is due in two months. It sounds like plenty of time but I know that it will take me four weeks of solid knitting time to finish it and not every week is solid knitting time. See also: two sweaters on the needles.

September seems to have flown by in a blur of transitions…. Summer turned into fall, light into dark, green into gold. Such a contrast to August which felt so languorous and spacious. Ahh, October. What have you got for us?

2014-10-03 07.53.20

Miscellany, in bullets

julyI’ve had a jumble of things I might tell you about in my head the last few days and none of them seem to be forming into a coherent post, so… random bullets it is:

  • Concrete floors + my clumsiness = shattered smartphone. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But that might have made the decision about what to do about it simpler. Instead, it bit the dust a month before my current contract (leftover from the prior job) finally expires and right in the middle of me already fretting about what to do. (Side note: I heard a blurb on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me awhile back about how all the cool kids were intentionally cracking their phone screens so I thought I might just use it as is for right now. Turns out that you have to be cool enough to crack it just enough; if you’re just clumsy and shatter it, you’ll end up with tiny shards of glass in your finger and then you’ll be bleeding and uncool.) So… smartphone? revert to dumbphone? Perhaps the more important question is why does this feel like such a momentous decision?
  • The garden is looking good after our recent spell of rain. It’s very much in transition from the “early summer” garden of harvesting peas, broccoli, lettuce, etc. to “high summer”- we’re in the thick of the zucchini and green beans, the first cherry tomatoes are ripe and I’m eyeing up the rest for signs of color. And the first sunflowers opened this week!
  • Best long run ever last weekend. I ran the length of a local rail trail and bribed Dean to meet me at the far end with a promise to buy breakfast. So, 1. no boring out-and-back route, and 2. breakfast motivation! I was somewhat disappointed to discover that a long run doesn’t actually leave you as hungry as you might think (or I might think when ordering) so Dean actually had to help me finish but otherwise… brilliant. I’m already scheming future routes.
  • We leave for the mountains one week from today. I’m ridiculously excited about two. whole. weeks. off. Excitement that is more ridiculous for all of the food prep and shopping and gear sorting that has yet to be done. (Inserts fingers into ears. lalalalala…)

Chuckanut foot race

I ran my second race of the year this weekend, the 7-mile Chuckanut foot race in Bellingham. To be honest, I am a little disappointed in myself. Not because my time was somewhat slower than I hoped, although it was. I had the couple weeks off while my toe healed, the day was warm, and there were a couple big hills I didn’t expect – all valid reasons that it took me a bit longer to cover the distance.

I am disappointed by how much I had to fight mentally just to maintain a “race” effort, especially for the second half. It was a very long couple miles in the middle debating the voices in my head that are so good at pointing out that I’m uncomfortable, that maybe I would like to slow down or walk, or just fixate on how far it is to the finish and how long that’s going to take me.

In retrospect, I think the biggest difference from my first race a couple months ago was the atmosphere. The Rhody Run back in May was a road race on a community festival weekend, and most of the course was lined with people – think less cheering throngs and more neighbors gathering in camp chairs in their yards. The Chuckanut was a runner’s race, almost all on a rail trail, and mostly I just saw the other runners and some volunteers between the start and finish areas. There was far less to distract me from myself.

I really liked the course, but I think I need a much better game plan for dealing with my head if I’m going to run races that involve so much time without distraction. I really think that’s what it is… it’s not that people shouting encouragement are especially motivating, it’s really all about having something to occupy your mind so that you can distract it from the effort. So I guess any illusions I had that running was a physical activity that served as a nice break from my head can be dismissed…

Rhody Run 2014

Finished my first race in roughly a dozen years today. It was laid-back but fun and the clock was kind. I’m sure I’ll feel the effects tomorrow, but no lasting damage was done and that feels like victory these days.

A week ago it seemed awfully foolish to even hope that I would even be able to participate. For a month, I wasn’t able to run more than three miles and there were a couple of weeks in that time when I couldn’t manage any running at all. But a couple weeks ago the chiropractor I had been seeing told me to “put it out of my mind” and as I left her office I felt an old (but still familiar) surge… a little fire in my belly… defiant, determined… I started to think I’d find a way. By last weekend I was feeling a little better and managed a six-mile run and then I knew I’d be fine.

I’m still not sure exactly what was/is the problem – the best diagnosis I’ve got is “you’re not exactly young and you haven’t been easy on these legs”. I can’t exactly argue with that. Lots of adhesions in my calves and hamstrings and protesting nearby connective tissue. Manually breaking it up seems to be the path back to pain-free running; not exactly pleasant but I’m happy if it does the job.

When I committed to running this race a couple months ago, I thought the battle would be to stay motivated and to build up to running longer distances. I was completely caught off guard with how consuming the battle just to be able to run has been for the last several weeks. I’ve wondered plenty of times why I was putting in the daily effort to push myself  over a meaningless local road race. But of course it wasn’t really about the race, it was about deciding that I really wanted to do something for myself and then finding a way to make it happen. That’s a rewarding commitment no matter what form it takes, and this was no exception.

So I’m feeling grateful that this body took a little more abuse and carried me 12k today. The old me would have scoffed at the pace*, but the not-exactly-young version of me isn’t judging. Now I just need to put the next one on my calendar.

* Because you’re curious, I finished in 1:08:31, or average miles of 9:12.

 

Maybe I can run away from the jerk

I did it! I registered for Rhody Run – a 12k in Port Townsend every May, and my first organized run/race in roughly 12 years. (I’ll be running; some others will be racing.) So why is this newsworthy? Deserving of exclamation points? Because it is evidence of a small victory in the ongoing argument with the persistent voice in my head telling me not to bother.

I just started running again a few weeks ago. Running and I have had an off-and-on relationship for years although to be fair for the last eight or so it’s been mostly off, except for the occasional fling. Last fall an especially beautiful day called me to lace up my shoes and I was pleasantly surprised when a couple weeks passed and then a couple months and I was still heading out. Alas, December hit and a potent mix of freezing weather, a crazy work schedule, and a winter bug sent us our separate ways. I flirted with the idea of getting back to it a few times over the winter, but it didn’t actually happen until a few weeks ago.

Just like last fall, the first couple times it was easy to get out the door and immediately rewarding. I returned feeling good for the exertion and fresh air and thinking, “hey, I enjoy that and it makes me feel better. I should do that more often.” And just as quickly, the voice in my head launched a sabotage campaign. I’d think, “oh, I should go for a run today.” And I would literally hear, “Or not. Just because you should doesn’t mean you have to. Maybe you’d rather sit and knit.” I found myself pulling my running clothes out of my closet thinking, “I wanted to go just a minute ago. Why am I suddenly overcome by the feeling that it’s just too hard, and I’m just too tired?”

I’ve been trying to be more aware of that voice in my head recently, trying to be more wary of it, to talk back to it.

When it occurred to me that the Rhody Run was coming up, it seemed like an ideal fit (distance, timing, location). Then I visited the registration site, saw that I could wait to register until the day before with no financial penalty, and backed away quietly. It took a few more runs to realize that it was the same voice whispering, “you can do it later” and “maybe you should wait and see if you’ll really be strong enough”.

When I did register, I was a little caught off guard to find my heart was pounding, evidence of the small act of courage that easy online transaction represented – courage to defy that voice of doubt, to eliminate the opportunity for negotiation. So while I’m on a roll, I’m letting you all know, too: for at least the next seven weeks, running is on the schedule. I’m tired of arguing with the jerk in my head about it.