Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh Lonely Night

Not having run since Christmas Eve, I was really looking forward to getting back into my routine today.  My little affair with snowshoeing was a nice substitute, but I longed to get back to my true love.  I packed my gym bag this morning, unsure whether I would run at lunch with the gang, or run at the gym.  After driving to work and seeing the snow banks on the sides of the roads, and no shoulder (or as I like to think of as my “emergency exit”), I decided it would be safer to run at the gym.  Naturally this meant I had to catch some grief from Todd, who thought I was maybe being just a wee bit overly cautious.  I couldn’t argue his point, but he knew he couldn’t change my mind.  The problem with going to the gym after work is that I have an hour and a half commute, which adds up to an hour and a half of time I can spend talking myself out of going to the gym.  Fortunately I kind of spaced out going past my exit, so at that point I was committed to working out.
                At 5:30 at night, right after work, the gym is usually packed.  Music is pumping, kids are wildly hopping around the playroom, treadmills are grinding furiously, and there is a thick fog of sweat hanging in the air.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot less activity in this once-bustling timeslot.  Today, I assume people are on Christmas vacation.  Did they come earlier?  Did they run outside instead?  My best guess is that they are simply in “holiday mode”, their “free week”, and they’ll get right back on track next week.  Amateurs. 
                I used to hate it when the gym was packed, because I was always afraid I wouldn’t get a treadmill or would see someone I know.  Nowadays, the only thing I don’t like about a busy gym is the line to the toilet.  The reality is even when the gym is packed there’s always a treadmill open, and if I don’t make eye contact with anyone, I won’t bump into anyone I know.  And if I do…well, I can always outrun them!  In truth, a packed gym is energizing.  I feel that you can feed off the other runners, similar to running in a club or a race.  I can subtly pick up different running techniques, but more often, I can make fun of people endlessly and write about them in my blog.  Today unfortunately, the gym was bare.  At 5:30, only two people occupied treadmills in a row of approximately 30.  Each of them carried on a very sluggish jog.  I almost felt bad for them, having to run next to me now.  After just a couple minutes of me running, both of them had finished.  When the man closest to me stopped running, he completed a lengthy series of stretches, completely disproportionate to the amount of running he had just finished.  To watch him stretch you would have thought he just completed an ultra-marathon.
                Once the two joggers exited their treadmills, I was all alone in a sea of motionless equipment.  I looked around for more inspiration, and the only activity in the whole gym was coming from the weightlifting corner of the building.  In that corner, all the muscle-heads congregated.  Each of them wore the standard tank top, Adidas swishy pants, and a giant tattoo covering their shoulder.  It was like they each grew out of the same mold.  Some of them leaned against the equipment, some posed and chatted on their cell phones, but not one of them, from my vantage point, lifted a piece of equipment.  Well, I guess I’m the only one working here tonight.  I had decided earlier that tonight was all about speed, with my upcoming 5k race this weekend.  So, I continuously pushed the treadmill up higher and sailed at a 7:54 pace, my treadmill pounding and echoing throughout the gym.  A young couple was receiving a tour of the facility.  I’d like to think the tour guide was saying something like, “These treadmills hold up nicely at sustained high speeds, perfect for athletic hardcore distance runners like that lady over there, in the bright pink shirt, sweating across three treadmills”.  Ok, I hope he didn’t say that last part.  The reality is I should probably enjoy the solitude, because after next week all the New Year’s resolutions will kick in, and once again the place will be hopping with a new batch of the Guilt-Stricken and the Bloated.  Ah… new victims.  I’ll be waiting! J

My blog, my rules!

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of winter or winter sports.  All of my favorite activities are warm weather related (or at least snow-excluded): Running, horseback riding, mountain biking, golfing, sunbathing… You may ask why I choose to live in New England and suffer through every winter of my life here.  Well, as much as I don’t like snow, I like earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes, rattlesnakes, crocodiles, gumbo, coal mines, and ice fishing even less.  A few years ago, I decided that if I was going to mentally survive winter, I would have to embrace it somehow and find something I truly enjoyed doing.  Skiing and snowboarding were obvious choices, but those just aren’t the sports for me.  I have no desire to, a. ascend a mountain on a precarious ski lift, or b. careen down said mountain on a piece of timber.  Ice hockey became our pastime, and my homemade ice rink provided endless hours of fun (pain), exercise (exhaustion), and excitement (bruises and groin pulls).  But, kids grow up, ice rinks get sold, and soon I was looking for a new winter weather sport.
                Snowshoeing is something I dabbled in off and on for years, but never really put a lot of effort into it.  Last year, a particularly snowy winter, I spent hours out in the woods alone trudging through snow, leaving giant-sized footprints in my wake.  Once I fell through some ice and was stuck in about 12 inches of frozen mud with no idea how I was going to lift my legs out.  Surprisingly, that has been my only real mishap thus far.
                When we received word that a blizzard was headed towards us, I reacted with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I was disappointed that it might interfere with my running.  On the other, I looked forward to dusting off the snowshoes.   Coincidentally, for Christmas two days earlier my mother had given me some new snowshoeing poles and a Camelbak backpack, and I was just itching to use the new gear.  The day the blizzard was going to hit, I hopped out of bed early to hit the food store and run a few errands before the snow started.  My goal was to finish my errands within a couple hours, and still have time for my 6 mile run.  Unfortunately, the storm came in earlier than predicted and there was a thick film of snow on the roads as I headed home.  As much as I like running and really wanted that one last run on the bare roads, I wasn’t going to risk a car sliding into me.  Sadly, despite my best planning, the run wasn’t going to happen.  I was further irritated when, as the snow fell heavily, a runner came trotting down the street and into the woods behind me.  I know it sounds irrational, but I was actually jealous of that fool for running during the blizzard.
                The blizzard hit mid-morning on Sunday, lasting all day and night, and by Monday the snowfall started to taper off.  The wind lingered though, a constant reminder of the blizzard’s power, and created high snow drifts in seemingly random locations.  By midday I was punchy on a lousy night’s sleep, along with way too much shoveling and plowing, and needed to relieve my cabin fever.  Times like this I would normally slip on the sneakers (and Garmin, iPod, fuel belt, High-Vis jacket, energy gel, leave a detailed note as to my anticipated route and return time) and hit the road for an impromptu run.  But… even I’m not crazy enough to run in a blizzard.  Heck no.  Not me.  I’d rather go snowshoeing during the blizzard, by myself, in the woods, and not tell anyone where I was headed.  Yes, much safer.
                I got myself all geared up in the Camelbak, poles, snow shoes, and grabbed my camera.  Figured this might be an adventure worth digitizing.  I realized quickly that despite all the fancy gear, it might not have been the best idea to head out solo during this crazy windstorm.  Trees swayed severely overhead, and the 40 mph gusts of wind spit icy snow at my face.  Undeterred I ventured on, determined to work up a sweat and hopefully get some good scenery shots on the Kodak.  Stopping to take pictures turned into quite a challenge: Stop, unhook ski poles, remove gloves, unzip pocket, find camera, (blow nose), take picture, repeat everything in reverse order.  Needless to say, most of the pictures were taken in the first couple miles of the adventure.  At one point, as I started to make my way over the notoriously windy dam, gusts of wind were so powerful that I would have been knocked down if I didn’t quickly crouch to the ground, with my back facing the wind.  At that moment I realized how incredibly insignificant humans are up against Mother Nature, and the feeling was invigorating.  It was also a little embarrassing, when I noticed a photographer watching me from a safe distance.  No doubt he was thinking, look at this fool, on top of the dam in a blizzard.  Maybe I should stick around in case this goes south, I could make headlines in the paper tomorrow.
                Reenergized from my brush with death (or at least, my brush with a strong gust of wind), I picked up the pace and charged on, alternating between shallow snow and sudden deep drifts.  As I marched along, I remembered seeing a headline somewhere in a magazine about the new hot winter sport: Snowshoe Running.  I made a mental note to go back and check that out.  That could be my next addiction.  My mother later asked me, “Are you allowed to write about snowshoeing in your blog?”  Excellent question, I thought, since I’ve only ever written, or cared to write, about running.  While I don’t want to make a habit of writing about all sorts of silly adventures, I also reasoned that “Thought per Mile” doesn’t need to exclusively pertain to miles covered in sneakers.  And the bottom line, I finally determined, is that it’s my blog.  That means… my rules! 
*Anyone who knows me well enough knows I am mentally preparing my formal list of rules, forthcoming in a future blog post.  J

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reindeer Games

Sometimes I create a theme for my runs, kind of like a scavenger hunt.  Maybe I count squirrels, red trucks, barking dogs, or other runners.  Today, in the spirit of Christmas, I chose to make it a holiday theme.  For this run, I decided to count the number of Christmas wreaths I saw on houses throughout my 6 mile run. 
                The problem with these games is that sometimes they can become a bit complicated.  Last year I lived on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border.  One day on a four mile run – which crossed evenly between both states – I thought it would be fun to count the number of MA versus RI license plates.  It was fun at first, but then it became complicated when I crossed into the other state and thought maybe I should not only count if it was MA or RI, but also if it was in the other state.  So then I really needed four categories: MA plate in MA, RI plate in MA, RI plate in RI, MA plate in RI.  Then I further complicated it by counting the number of plates other than MA or RI, which I also sub-categorized depending on which state I spotted the out of state plate.  Then there was confusion when there were vehicles coming in both directions, and figuring out what to do when an oncoming car didn’t have a license plate on the front of the car.  I nearly killed myself spinning mid-stride to see the car’s plate after it passed me.  This simple game became quite complicated and after about mile 3 I gave up.
                Today’s game seemed simple enough, right?  I thought so, until the game started. Turns out, counting wreaths can become quite complicated.  A mile into my run, I realized this was going to be a problem, and like any good project manager and strong believer of structure, I created ground rules.  The following is a list of rules for my wreath counting game:
1.       A wreath can be any size.  Larger wreaths do not get extra points
2.       All wreaths on the house are counted separately.
3.       Only wreaths are counted.  Not swags, not globes. A wreath is defined (in my crazy little one-person world) as being:
a.       Circular in nature
b.      Holiday themed (pine branches are optimal, vines are ok if garnished with a holiday bow or other Christmas-type decorations)
4.       Wreaths must be reasonably attached to a building, such as:
a.       House
b.      Barn
c.       Garage
d.      Fence adjacent to the house
e.      Gazebo (I struggled with this one)
5.       Wreaths attached to free-standing hangers in the front yard are disqualified
6.       Only residential wreaths are covered; not business wreaths
Now that the ground rules were established, the games could begin.  (I was a real hoot as a child, can't you tell?)  One interesting observation I made was that wreath decorating occurs in clusters, kind of like chicken pox.  If one house on the street has a wreath, everyone has one.  In some neighborhoods, one wreath isn’t enough.  On one house I counted half a dozen wreaths.  The next house, not to be outdone, donned no fewer than sixteen wreaths.  Who knew the number of wreaths could be such a status symbol?  On the flip side, I ran through another neighborhood where not one single house was decorated with a wreath.  I guess none of them had caught the bug. 
Wreath-counting sounds like a pretty low-intensity sport, right?  Think again.  Today was a busy day, being the day before Christmas.  I had a morning full of errands, including shopping, wrapping, and cooking.  The weather was a beautiful, sunny 36 degrees and I longed for a run.  With the ham safely tucked in the oven at 2:30pm, I finally got my chance.  I jumped into my running gear and headed out for my usual 6 mile run. I’m not used to running this time of day, since I usually either run early in the morning or on my lunch break.  This time of year, with the days being so short, 2:30pm means sun is getting low in the sky.  As I ran down the streets of Mendon in search of Christmas wreaths, the sun was casting long, steep shadows.  The sun, in fact, became a serious challenge.  In order to see any of the houses to the west of me, I had to slow down and put my hand above my eyes like a makeshift visor and scour their property for wreaths.  It occurred to me after some time that I may look a little odd and possibly even villainous; a dangerous thief posing as a runner but secretly mapping out my next target.  After that realization, I tried my best to count wreaths discreetly while still maintaining the integrity of the game.  The reality is though; there are some I may have missed due to intense solar glare.  I hope the Census Bureau doesn’t check my figures.
There were also several times throughout my run that I was so busy counting wreaths that by the time I looked ahead, I found myself near the middle of the road.  Drivers seemed to be accommodating though; I’d like to think they were in the “spirit of giving”.  Maybe it was just me, but everyone seemed a little happier today.  Drivers didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t using the snowy sidewalks.  Brown Dog was bouncing happily around his front yard, munching on snow balls.  Pedlar and Skip were sunbathing in a warm corner of their paddock.  And for the record, there were 171 wreaths counted on my 6 mile route, with a 95% accuracy rate.  Merry Christmas! J

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ugly Truth

Warning:  This article contains somewhat gruesome content.
No one ever claimed that running was pretty.  There are certainly benefits to running, no question about it.  Weight loss, cardiovascular improvement, strength, stamina, confidence, the ability to outrun most muggers (or cops, if you by any chance are a mugger).  These attributes come at an ugly cost.  I’m brave enough to share some of these war wounds.  In fact, as I write this article I’m sporting a missing toenail, a couple black toenails, a giant blister on the inside of my right foot, lots of calluses, strangely formed feet that seem to only fit into sneakers now, and lots, and lots, and lots of chafing.  I go through winter with a perpetual wind burn on my face, a red nose, chapped knuckles, and blistered lips.  Oh, and when it’s really cold, and I’m running really hard, I have a thick string of drool that I can never seem to spit out, and it won’t break if I try to wipe it, so I end up with mucus strings from my mouth to my arm.  I look like I got caught in the web of a mucus-spinning spider.
                Today was another group run at work, and I was looking forward to a nice, loose shakeout run after my 10 mile mini-marathon with Ronnie yesterday afternoon.  One of our running friends, Jaimee, was back from a training seminar and rejoined our group.  Upon entering the locker room, Jaimee confided in me that she would need to take it easy today because she had forgotten to pack her sports bra.  Next to sneakers, a sports bra is the single most important piece of equipment for most women.  When I first started running, I didn’t understand the importance of this miracle worker, and I have scars in places I can’t show you.  In a way, her disclosing this to me was a relief because she, too, would want to take it easy today.  I felt like I had an ally against Todd, aka Seabiscuit.  But then it reminded me of the excruciating stinging pain I endured when I showered after yesterday’s long run.  My own sports bra was starting to fail me.  The once smooth band was becoming rough and creasing.  I was chafed in a line all the way around my chest, back, and even across my shoulders.  My skin had become raw and bloodied and angry.  It hadn’t bothered me a bit until I had taken a shower and all the salty sweat seeped into the wounds and caused a horrible burn.  The good part about this is the pain is temporary.  The bad part (aside from looking like I got carved by Victoria’s Secret butcher), is that the pain is bound to come right back when the same sports bra is worn the very next day.  Jaimee’s disclosure reminded me of the wounds that would be ripping back open shortly.  Ah, the perils of running.
                We met up with Todd outside the locker rooms, and Todd was gentlemanly enough to offer his “support” to Jaimee’s bouncing challenge.  Our short little non-bouncing run ended up being 4.6 miles (of course) and faster than I hoped for (of course).  Todd saw a guy ahead of him and chased him like a greyhound after a rabbit.  (Todd actually refers to these unsuspecting targets as rabbits).  Jaimee maintained co-captain status with Todd, and yours truly played caboose.  I know I slowed them down but it didn’t seem to bother them, and I will admit the last mile was hard.  My legs are drained after enduring 15 miles over the last two days, and I don’t know what needs the rest more: my legs or my bra-induced battle wounds.  The funny part is, it doesn’t bother me at all.  If I’m sporting a limp, it’s because I ran 10 miles.  I’m proud of my missing and black toenails, because I know what I did to achieve them.  Same with the blisters, the calluses, the chapped face, the windburn, and yes even the chafed bra line.  Unsightly?  Nah…they are little badges of honor I carry on my body, and a testament to the miles of ground I’ve covered.  I wear my wounds with pride.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Running - a team sport??

One of my favorite things about running is the solitude.  I know some people are social creatures that enjoy a good kibitzing while logging a couple miles.  I’m not one of those people.  I cherish the alone time.  It’s the only time of my life that no one is talking to me, questioning me, telling me to do something, or telling me what I did wrong.  It’s my time to clear my head, daydream, tune out, sight-see, and mentally recharge.  Last month when I started running with friends at work, I was like a fish out of water.  I’m used to being alone.  Suddenly, I had to learn the etiquette of running with others.  I never expected to have to deal with this since one of the best parts of running, in my opinion, is that it is not a team sport.  Somewhere along the line, I started to enjoy the company.  As it turns out, it didn’t turn me into one of those kibitzers and didn’t slow me down.  It prompted a little friendly competition and I actually started looking forward to our club runs.  Slowly, I’m converting into a social creature (against my wishes, naturally).
                Today I had a goal of running my 8 mile loop.  It’s been a while since I did this loop and I figured I better get it in before we get snow.  Most of the day went by and the sneakers remained locked in the closet and I stayed tucked into my bed watching CSI on TiVo.  Maybe what I needed…say it ain’t so…was a little social motivation.  I threw a text over to my friend Ron, a running buddy of mine.  He’s a pretty busy guy and I knew with 98% certainty he wouldn’t be able to meet me for a run.  But by throwing the offer out there, I felt like I had at least attempted to run.  My excuse tomorrow would have been, well I had asked Ronnie to run with me and by the time I heard back it was too late so I just stayed home and ate leftovers, in bed.  To my astonishment he not only agreed to meet me for a run, but named the time and the place.  I was locked in.  There’s no getting around it now.
                The place Ronnie picked was Lincoln Woods in Lincoln RI.  This location is a distance runner’s dream.  There is a winding, hilly 2.5 mile loop that circles a lake.  It’s scenic and the hills are challenging enough to get the legs working hard but they are also short and forgiving.  The best part about it is you can choose your own distance.  Only have time for a short run?  Go around once.  Feel like pushing yourself?  Just keep going around in circles until you collapse at your car.  Take one guess which option we took…
                Ronnie and I suffer from the same condition:  A bizarre euphoria that occurs when running to the point of exhaustion.  Still, we agreed at the beginning of the run that we were going to keep it really slow, chit-chat, and just enjoy a casual winter run.  The 2.5 loop was a perfect option as Ronnie was suffering from a nagging leg injury and I was suffering from the effects of 1+ bottles of wine from the night before.  The run was just as planned.  We started with a slow pace and spent the whole loop catching up and telling stories.  We passed a handful of walkers, rock climbers, and bikers.  The loop went by so quickly, and I couldn’t help but notice that our pace nudged up a little faster the further we ran.  As we approached the parking lot, we didn’t even acknowledge the cars, and headed towards loop number two.  5 miles, that’s a good distance for today considering I’ve eaten nothing but a half cup of cottage cheese all day.  Considering I was going to lie in bed all afternoon.  Yeah, 5 miles is perfect for today. 
                Loop number two passed even more quickly than the first.  Our speed increased, we were in a good rhythm, and the stories just kept flowing.  We passed more runners and walkers.  Some were the same we had seen in the last loop, some were new.  We passed a lady with the same little tiny dog and commented on how she hadn’t gone more than 200 yards since we passed her 2.5 miles ago.  We speculated that maybe she needs a dog with longer legs.  The hills that were a little challenging last time were a little more painful this time, but we distracted ourselves with more stories and chatter.  At one point Ronnie said, “Running with you is like running with a little pony”.  He’s a real charmer.  As we were nearing completion, I casually mentioned that I would need to tighten my shoelace before continuing on.  We paused, I adjusted my sneaker, and just like that… we headed towards loop number three.
                By loop number three, we were in strong running form and very much in synch.  We make a nice running pair because we both seem to naturally adjust our speed, and he commented on how I’m the perfect running partner.  Take that, Todd.  Our stories became less frequent and we both ran in silence a little more than the last two laps.  But always, when we came near a hill, we picked up the conversation again.  It became our survival guide, and it worked.  Before we knew it, we had climbed another hill.  At this point, some of the same people now smile and chuckle when they see us passing them for the third time.  We didn’t say as much, but I’m pretty sure Ronnie was thinking the same thing I was.  Yeah that’s right, we are hardcore distance runners.  Hardcore, baby. 
                Finally, as we headed back to the parking lot after completing 7.5 miles, I thought to myself: We should keep going an extra quarter mile out and back to make it an even 8.  Just as I was about to suggest this Ronnie beat me to it by saying, “What do you think, one more?”  I didn’t hesitate.  Loop number four commenced.  We agreed though that if we were going to do one last loop, we were going to have to at least take it slow.  We slowed down considerably, and I couldn’t help but notice how many cars and come and gone from the parking lot in the time we had gone around and around and around.  This made me happy.  We have outrun everyone in the park at this point.  We continued onto loop number four in more silence, our legs a little heavier this time around.  We passed a couple of the same people again, who at this point must be convinced we are lost or delusional.  The hills were most certainly bigger this time around, and I commented that my legs were hurting making the climbs, although I also noticed that our pace had nudged back up again.  He agreed, and said this was definitely his last loop.  He would never have been able to finish a fifth.  We finished the fourth loop and my Garmin watch clocked us at 9.75.  We figured we should round out to an even 10, so we’d just trot a little past the cars and turn around and trot back.  Then I said, well…why don’t we just run the last quarter mile out, then we’ll walk back a quarter mile.  So it will be 10 miles of running and a quarter mile cool down.  It was settled.  We passed the cars for a fifth time and marched on the final quarter mile.  My body sprang to life with renewed energy and our pace increased once again.  At the 10 mile mark, we stopped.  It was over, and we high-fived to acknowledge a good run.  But I couldn’t help but wonder, what would have happened if he didn’t stop at the 10 mile mark?  What would my response have been if he said, “One more?”  I didn’t have to speculate.  And I’m pretty certain that despite our drained legs, if I had offered “one more” to Ronnie, I know what his response would have been.  This is the benefit of running with a friend.  But for the wellbeing of our legs, we better not start our runs in the morning.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday night treadmill games

Two types of people go the gym on a Friday night.  There are the hardcore fitness enthusiasts that can’t skip a workout (let’s call them “category 1”).  Then there are those who have no Friday evening plans, and possibly only brave the public gym when they know it will be virtually empty to avoid excess embarrassment.  While I don’t like to necessarily categorize myself to any particular allegiance, I will tell you that I prey upon that second group, which I’ll refer to as “category 2”.
                Tonight I brought my son Andrew with me to the gym.  This sometimes throws off my routine because I have to keep an eye on him.  If I leave him alone too long, I’ll find him sitting perfectly still on the bike watching Man vs. Food.  Once he was settled onto the elliptical, I headed towards the treadmills.  As expected, there were plenty to choose from.  A handful of machines were being used, mostly by the category 2’s I just mentioned.  Serious runner coming through, guys.  You category 2’s in your oversized sweaty cotton T-shirts.  I, a marathon runner in my tech shirt, will leave you awed in my complete mastery of this treadmill.  I am a runner among walkers.  A god among mortals.
                I stepped onto the treadmill and before I could even press the start button, my iPod flew right out of my hand.   Somehow it landed – don’t ask me how – underneath the belt of the treadmill.  Andrew saw this from his perch behind me on the elliptical and howled with laughter, which then caught the attention of the cotton t-shirt clad walk/joggers.  As gracefully as I could, I bent down, fished under the belt of the treadmill until I could latch onto that slippery sleek iPod, and resumed my position.  To recover from this, I needed to reestablish myself as a god-like runner as quickly as possible.  I wasted no time cranking up the treadmill.  After a quarter mile warm up, I picked up the pace to a comfortable 8:30.
                Cruising along nicely, I quickly worked up a sweat.  This is where it’s in everyone’s best interest not to run on the adjacent treadmill.  My very long, very thick ponytail swings wildly from side to side and even occasionally picks up a spiraling pattern.  Once enough sweat has built up, that ponytail turns into an F5 tornado, spraying water in every direction.
                Today was a people watching day.  There wasn’t much to look at but it’s still a fun Friday game I like to play.  I watched the half a dozen personal trainers loitering at the front desk in a perpetual flex, high-fiving each other and subtly surveying the amateurs for their next training gig.  As I was analyzing their primal pack behavior, a category 1 runner pulled up a few treadmills down from me.  Ah…competition.   She instantly cranked up the speed and her pace was, at least as far as I could tell from my distance, considerably faster than mine.  And to top it off, she was wearing a teal tech shirt with a matching bandana.  Matching bandana? Who does that?  I hated her instantly.  I cranked up my speed to match hers, but during this time I felt the effects of my lunch coming back to haunt me.  My lunch consisted of leftover Mexican food, which probably would have been ok except for the red onions, which make me very ill.  I had picked out every onion but there must have been some onion residue, and it was wreaking havoc on my stomach.  Not now, damn it!  I’m in a horserace against bandana-lady!  This is no time for vomit!!  Unfortunately my stomach didn’t care about bandana-lady, and I was forced to walk and encourage my lunch from five hours earlier to make its way back down to my stomach.  
                My stomach had betrayed me, and I sulked walking on the treadmill feeling beaten by bandana-lady.  Then, the last straw.  Bandana-lady received a phone call on her cell.  She answered it, and continued running her 8:12 pace while talking on the phone.  Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is for that lady to trip and fall off the treadmill.  Please, Santa. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t really, really important to me.  Santa didn’t pull through and bandana-lady continued her phone conversation, her swift legs steadily rolling along.  Deciding that schooling this lady was more important than potential vomit, I sprang to life and turned the treadmill back up.  For the next couple miles I maintained the same pace.  I kept a watch on her out of the corner of my eye.  Andrew was long gone at this point, doing bicep curls or something.  I wouldn’t have noticed if he walked out the front door, because I was focused on my own performance, and that of my archrival.  My lunch bobbed just south of my esophagus.  Sweat sprayed freely.  I cranked the speed again.  I knew I couldn’t last because as much as it would hurt my pride to get beaten by this lady, I think my pride would ultimately suffer more if I indeed vomited all over the treadmill, and that was becoming a distinct possibility.  I would have to admit defeat.  Then suddenly, bandana-lady slowed to a walk.  She was done.  After just a couple miles, she quit.  I had outlasted her, that bandana-wearing, cell phone yapping runner.  Ha!  She has no endurance.  She was probably sprinting, that was probably her top speed.  I could have done that for 10 miles (if I didn’t have red onion poisoning).  If she were a horse she would be a Quarter Horse.  Good for short distances only.  I would be an Arabian.  It was settled, I had won the battle of the running gods.  I did a quarter mile victory lap and once again increased the speed to an even 8:00 pace.
                As I did my final quarter mile and reflected on my undisputed victory, I realized that the success of a run is measured in so many ways.  Outrunning a rival is one.  Achieving a certain distance or time goal is another.  I looked down at my treadmill, and then to the treadmills to the left, and to the right.  Sweat drops from my F5 ponytail were spattered recklessly all over all three treadmills.  Ah yes, this was a successful run.  The final success came when I glanced back up and watched bandana-lady hop off her treadmill and walk out the door.  There was no obligatory wipe-down of the machine.  She had committed the ultimate betrayal of the runner’s code (not to mention Board of Health requirements).  She was no category 1 runner.  She was just another member of amateur hour.  Victory was mine.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Dreadmill

I have a lot of boyfriends.  (OMG where is she going with this??).  There’s Rocco, my very big equine boyfriend.  Every day I enter the barn and say, “there he is!  How’s my very big boyfriend?” and give him a pat on his giant head.  Then there’s Joey, my little tiny feline boyfriend.  And Toby, my lab and most loyal of all boyfriends.  The point is, I love my animals.  They are some of my favorite people. 
                Today I ran on the dreaded treadmill.  It’s my punishment for not running on my lunch break.  It’s an okay backup plan, but I complain pretty much every stride I’m on that awful belt.   It was no picnic running today.  My mood was lousy, and I didn’t want to be there.  I was plugged into the TV, and half-heartedly watching the local news, which didn’t help my mood.  An elderly man was scammed out of thousands.  A body was found in the woods.  Someone hit a tree and was trapped in his car for hours before anyone noticed.  I was ready to cry “Uncle”, when I saw the cutest thing on the news.  It was a segment about letters to Santa.  There was a letter written on a shade of purplish-pink paper, which happened to be the same exact color as my tank top.  The first sentence read, “Dear Santa, How are your reindeer?”  Instantly I liked this little girl.  She didn’t start off with a list of demands.  Her first priority was the wellbeing of his reindeer.  It’s possible, of course, that she only asked this to examine their health and ability to fly her presents directly to her rooftop next week.  I chose today to be an optimist, and believe she’s an animal lover like myself.  That letter to Santa lifted my spirits, and at mile 3, I finally found my stride.
                I am thankful that I have a demanding job, one that keeps my mind occupied for the entire day so that I don’t have time to think about reality.  I am thankful that today was particularly busy, and that the whirlwind of business activities kept my mind from zeroing in on the news I received this morning on my way to work.  The news that a dear friend was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.  News like this is always so devastating, and with the loss of my father from the same disease still so raw in my heart and mind, it was tough news to swallow.  Today on the treadmill, my mind began to wander toward this news.  I turned the TV on to drown out the sound of my mind.  It only worked temporarily, and my mind continued to dwell on the grief.  Every stride felt off.  I had no rhythm.  My body wouldn’t cooperate and the treadmill became my enemy.  After the Dear Santa letter I unplugged from the TV and plugged into the iPod for some musical motivation.  I cranked it, and tried to drown out the sound of my mind.  It still didn’t work, and then I got to thinking...I can’t drown out my mind and think my problems will disappear.  And so, when I cranked up the iPod, I cranked up the speed as well.  And then, I found my rhythm. 
                Ronnie, a good friend and running partner of mine once commented on the amount of running I was doing and asked me, “What are you running from?”  “Old age!” I joked.  Today though, I considered it.  Does running really make me healthier?  Will I outrun the aging process?  Will I outrun cancer?  Even Bill Rodgers, one of the greatest American distance runners of the century, couldn’t outrun cancer.  Does running at least stack the deck in my favor?  I choose to believe my healthy lifestyle will create longevity, but also realized that’s not why I run.  I jacked up the speed more on the treadmill and powered on.  Suddenly I didn’t want to stop.  The complaining in my head was gone.  I no longer stared at the digits on the treadmill display, increasing ever so slowly.  And at some point I realized my mind was free.  There was no anxiety, no grief, no pain.  This is why I run.  I’m not running from anything.  I’m chasing peace of mind.  There's no magic formula to find peace.  Some days my mind instantly finds peace and the whole run is pleasant.  Today, I found peace at the 4.56 mile mark on the dreadmill. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The lunch "break" run

Today I ran on my lunch break at work.  This started about a year ago and I won’t lie, I hated doing it.  Not because I hated running, but because of the looks and snickers I got from all the non-runners.  The smokers exhaling as I strolled past, the people walking back from the cafĂ© with their French fries saying, “Hey good for you! I should be doing that”.  Um hell yeah you should, have you even seen your ass lately?” Running at lunch got easier when I obtained exclusive back-door access so that I can go straight from the locker room to the great outdoors without having to march through the building in my tiny shorts and next-to-nothing tank tops.  Running also got easier as my conditioning improved, and a nice easy 3-4 mile run was a great way to break up the day with minimal effort and – most importantly when at work- minimal sweat.  This changed the day I met Todd.  Todd is athletic, high strung, and has no trouble carrying on lengthy conversations while maintaining a 6:30 pace.  I liked him for about 45 seconds.  My first run with Todd, I came back so overheated (in December, BTW) that even after I showered, I continued sweating for the entire afternoon.  Todd officially ruined my lunch breaks.  To his credit, I will mention that shortly after starting to run with Todd, I clocked a new PR in a 5k race. 
                Today, I ran with Kerri and Todd.  Kerri is a marathon runner so basically this means I spent the entire 4.6 miles struggling to keep them within sight.  I know there were things going through my head but honestly I can’t remember most of it, because I think that’s what happens when you are being traumatized and begin experiencing PTSD.  Here are some excerpts of today’s thoughts, in no particular order:
Maybe Todd will slow down since Kerri is with us.  Nope, guess not. Hey, why is Kerri running so fast? She never runs this fast with me.  Great, now they are ganging up on me.  I’m the fat slow one in the back.
I think Todd just does this for attention.  He wears those silly Vibram toe-shoes and sprints back and forth between Kerri and I.  As soon as I catch him he takes off again.  He’s like freaking Seabiscuit.
I hate Todd right now. He has nice legs though.  He could be a leg model.  I guess if I could run a 17 minute 5k, maybe I could be a leg model too.  24 minute 5k runners aren’t leg models.
Really wishing I didn’t eat those crackers with jalapeno cheese right before this run.  I think I might vomit.  Good thing I have extra underwear in case I crap myself.  If I vomit, I wonder how long it will take to freeze in this weather. 

The Worst 3 Minutes

12/13/10: I live at the bottom of a vomit-inducing hill.  It sucks, I’m not going to sugarcoat it.  There are times I avoid running because I can’t bear the thought of climbing that beast.  Sometimes I drive 20 minutes to the gym and run on the treadmill, because I’d rather waste 40 minutes of travel time than climb that beast.  Or worse, not run at all.  Now, the reality is, it takes me three minutes to ascend the beast.  Three minutes.  Three.  Minutes.  Why can’t I suck it up and run in agony for three minutes?  Well, it’s a mind game I play with myself.  If I can get through these three minutes, they will be the worst three minutes of my day, and everything after that is cake. 
                After cajoling, bargaining, and negotiating with myself, I suited up and headed out on the Mendon six mile loop, a favorite of mine (excluding the Beast).  30 seconds into my run, an orange Highway Department truck came barreling down the hill, most likely hunting for potholes.  I picked up the pace so I would look impressive, charging up the mountain, and not the pitiful pile of agony that I felt.  When I felt the truck was out of range, I backed down to the 10:30 minute/mile pace and continued on.  Then, a minute later, I hear the truck coming back up behind me.   I’m approaching the 2 minute mark, the climax of agony on the Beast, and I curse.  Then, I pick up the pace and put on a good “What hill? Oh this? No problemo, this is a bump” stride.   Once the orange truck is out of sight, I realize I’m at the top of the beast and the run gets easier.  I guess I can thank the truck driver for helping distract me during the climb.
                After the Beast, I settled into my stride, and ate some easy miles.  A few miles and several streets later, the orange truck is coming towards me.  Well this is odd, is this dude following me or something?  And PS – there are potholes everywhere!  Just ask, I can point them out for you!!  I chuckled and continued on. 
                I notice things on the side of the road.  Trash, mostly.  I hate litterers.  I think a litterer should receive the same fate as his trash and get tossed out the window going 50mph.    And why, on earth, do I see so many tooth floss/picks?  Is that common to drive, floss, and toss? Now I applaud their commitment to dental hygiene, but really, dispose of your plaque-covered tooth picks properly.
                One street and another mile later, I see… you guessed it… the orange truck coming towards me.  Then I got to thinking… I wonder what HE’S thinking.  That lady sure runs a lot.  That lady sure runs slow, I passed her forever ago.  Look at that silly lady running in the rain, in winter.  What an idiot.  I decided I’m better off not knowing what that guy was thinking, and continued on.
                I passed Pedlar and Skip, the two Tennessee Walking horses that live in a giant field.  I said hi.  I also passed Brown Dog.  I don’t know Brown Dog’s name but he’s the cutest darn lab in the world and sits in the driveway.  Never chases me, never barks.  What self-respecting chocolate lab doesn’t get excited to see a runner?  
                The last two miles of my run were simple, all downhill.  As I approached the Beast and prepared for the steep descent to my driveway, I thought about how good I felt, and how happy I was that I had gone for my run.  I thought about those first three minutes.  “The worst three minutes” of my day.  And I realized; those aren’t the worst three minutes.  Those three minutes are the catalyst to the best 50 minutes of my day.

Creation of the narcissistic "Blog"

I’ve often thought about writing a blog, and then reasoned, I have nothing worth writing about and therefore a blog would be a blog about, basically, nothing.  And I don’t mean the Seinfeld version of “a show about nothing”.  I mean really, the most boring blog of the 21st century.  And then it came to me, while running my six mile route and laughing about some absurd thought that floated through my head.  I said; how about a blog about the ridiculous thoughts and experiences I encounter on my runs!  I thought it was a great idea, but then worried I might not have enough material to cover in a blog.  I guess we’ll just see how it goes.  I promise nothing.  Some thoughts will be random, hysterical, boring, and with any luck, possible epiphanies will ensue.  Don’t hold your breath on this one.