Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Shoe Fetish

I have a bit of a shoe fetish.  I’m just in love with shoes.  And I don’t mean Sex and the City’s-Carrie Bradshaw-kind-of-shoes.  I’m talking about running shoes.  I just love running shoes.  Specifically, New Balance running shoes.  Sure there are other brands worn more frequently  by the serious runners, but I’ve always had luck with New Balance and never dared to stray. 
Today I went to a local running specialty store in search of socks.  I know it sounds silly to drive 15 miles to a specialty store for socks, but any avid runner will tell you that socks are one of the most important pieces of equipment, second only to running shoes and sports bras.  Entering the running store is like coming home.  The staffers aren’t teenagers enduring painful weekend work.  These are the owners, the highly evolved running machines that eat 18 miles for breakfast, that are genuinely thrilled to talk to people about running.  Five minutes in that store and I felt like I had new friends.  We swapped stories about the perils of running outside in this extreme winter weather, and compared training plans.  (At which point I noticed a distinct wince when I confided that my long run is only 7 miles right now, with Hyannis looming 4 weeks away).  Not only did I pick out an uber-fancy pair of running socks, I also picked up a pair of Saucony running pants, and yes, perused the shoe section.  The owner offered to conduct a gait analysis on me, and 20 seconds later I was out in the parking lot running up and down the sidewalk in my old retired pair of New Balance 1063’s.  He commented that I had done well with selecting my 1063’s (which is great, since I have four pairs of them).  Back inside, he asked if I’d like to try any specific brands.  Having no experience with anything other than New Balance (except for once when I tried to squeeze my feet into Nike’s and let’s just say Mr. Nike didn’t get my number), I didn’t even know where to begin.  He brought out a pair of Asics, New Balance, and Saucony.  I felt like Goldie Locks as I slipped into each pair of shoes and hopped and marched around the parking lot.  The Saucony was too stiff, the New Balance was too narrow, but the Asics were just right (pronounced with Goldie Locks inflection).  I was in awe of these shoes.  Oh Asics, where have you been all my life?  I was positively smitten with these shoes.  I loved them so much that I was sad seeing them placed back in the box.  Silently I whispered to them, we will reunite soon my loves, I promise. 
On the way home I couldn’t stop talking about how much I loved the shoes.  I just couldn’t contain my excitement.  An hour earlier I was contemplating taking a nap and skipping the gym.  With my new shoes and socks, I was reenergized and absolutely jumping out of my skin to go hop on that treadmill.  After a quick change at home, I was back on the road and heading to the gym.  The gym was pretty dull and empty tonight.  It was, after all, a Sunday night.  In the locker room I slipped on my new socks and shoes with meticulous care.  I marched to the treadmills with a new level of confidence, furtively glancing to see if anyone noticed my amazing new super-shoes.  Sadly, no one else seemed to notice.  Give it time, wait ‘til they see them in action.  I hopped on the treadmill and faced the moment of truth.  Would the shoes live up to the hype and make it to a second date, or would I abruptly lose interest in this love affair?  One mile into the run, I knew these shoes had passed the test.  If this were a real first date, I’d say it passed the appetizer test.  I continuously increased the pace to test it out at different speeds and was impressed for the next 4.5 miles, most of which was run at an 8:00 pace.  I was so focused on my super-shoes that I almost couldn’t spy on anyone.  Almost.  Except for the pirate, a grizzly man with a long beard, an eye patch, and a Bruin’s hat.  And the Marine.  I know he was a Marine because he had short hair, and a shirt that said, “MARINES”.  I marveled at how tall the Marine was.  His head was bobbing above the TV that was attached to his treadmill, while I had to actually look up to mine.  And then there was the group of girls walking on adjacent treadmills occasionally glancing over to me.  I’m pretty certain they were admiring my shoes.  My incredibly comfortable super-shoes.  My magical shoes.  My shoes that made me sprout little wings and fly over the treadmill with ease. 
Tonight, I’m home and giddy after my first date with the Asics.  If I had the choice, I would slip them back on and go running again.  Like any girl after a great first date, my heart’s aflutter and my head’s abuzz visualizing my next encounter with my new loves.  Carrie Bradshaw may have Prada’s, but good luck clocking a PR in those.  Real girls wear running shoes. J

Friday, January 28, 2011

To run or not to run: there is no question

The ass-beating I received on Monday night’s kettlebell class has left my quads screaming for days.  On Tuesday and Wednesday not only could I not run, I could barely walk and could only descend stairs backwards.  By Thursday the pain had subsided slightly, just enough to walk and maybe run.  The decision on whether or not to hit the gym was a tough one.  I’ve been torn between my obligation to collect miles and the growing list of reasons not to.
Yesterday morning we woke up to another foot or so of snow.  The snow topped off the 2-3 feet we already had on the ground and was just more salt in the snowy wound.  The snow has become such a burden, it’s now affecting me both physically and mentally.  Shoveling before work was a miserable start to the day.  I tried to hoist the shovels full of snow up to the top of the snow banks, which were now well over my head. 
While working at home, I had to balance a crummy day of work with snow removal.  A certain someone got the plow truck stuck in a snow bank and we spent a good hour trying to shovel it out.  When that didn’t work, that certain plow driver took my car to work.  That left me locked at home with work, a stuck plow truck, a ton of snow all over the place, and a serious case of the grouchies.  Eventually a wrecker winched out the truck, at which time I got the envious job of plowing the yard and digging out every nook and cranny around the house and barn.  Even the horses seemed to be pleading with me to get them out of the knee deep snow.  We are all on the edge.  When I finally came in the house from 2.5 hours of shoveling, my back was burning and I could barely stand up straight. 
I had promised myself that no matter what, I was going to make it to the gym tonight.  Unfortunately I didn’t consider all the possible interferences (the lousy long work day, the 2.5 hours of shoveling, the plowing, the not having a car until 7pm).  Not to mention the fact that my legs were still burning from kettlebell.  I had tons of reasons not to run, but one reason to run: I had to.  It was that simple.  I didn’t want to go through all the hoops of dressing and packing and driving all the way there, but for whatever reason, I just simply had to do it.  I arrived at the nearly empty gym at 8:30pm, and ran 3 miles while watching Wipeout.  What a great show to watch when you’ve had a bad day.  There’s something so satisfying in watching people mangle themselves trying to maneuver through obstacles and inevitably crashing into a horrific pile of mud.  While it was only 3 miles, considering the day I had, I think it was a big win.  I had every reason not to run and I ran anyways.  Afterwards, I felt so renewed.  It reset my mind frame and for that brief moment in time, I wasn’t the snow bound, snow shoveling, snow plowing snowman living in the land of snow hell. 
Today I worked in the office (after yesterday’s snow debacle, I needed some serious structure and focus on the job).  I packed my gym bag with three different outfits: winter running clothes, treadmill running clothes, and yoga clothes.  If everything went according to plan, I would be running on my lunch break, and then hitting a yoga class after work.  If for some reason I couldn’t get to yoga on time, and I couldn’t run on my lunch break, then the backup plan would be to run on the treadmill again.  Work proved to be a bigger disaster than yesterday, and again I had a hundred reasons not to run on my lunch break.  But today I had something else: peer pressure.  My lunchtime buddies were running and insisted I come along.  I again was torn between the zillions of issues I had at work and running.  As much as I wanted to run, it made me feel guilty about the amount of time I would be away from my desk.  My buddies insisted that my day would be better if I ran, I wouldn’t regret it, and I’d come back refreshed and twice as productive.  After some mild cajoling, I caved.
Our lunchtime run was lots of fun today.  After enduring ridiculous amounts of snow and unbearably cold temperatures, it was great to be outside in the sunshine and warmer temps (30!).  The roads were still too narrow to run on, so we could only run the one mile loop in the parking lot around the building.  Most of the parking lot was well plowed and treated, except for the quarter mile section that still had a good 4 inches of snow, on top of ice.  We had to very carefully maneuver our way through the tire tracks and snow and ice, which only added to the adventure.  Todd wears the 5-toe Vibrams, so his footprints through the snow resembled bear claws.  (Or in Todd's case, maybe extra large puppy tracks?)  I just got the biggest kick out of this.  It was so enjoyable to run outside, in the sun, with friends.  I’ve been spending so much time running solo on the treadmill lately.  Running with these guys reminds me how much I’ve really missed this camaraderie and vitamin D.  We chattered about work, upcoming race calendars, sordid gossip, and discussed who we felt were the best looking celebrities.  Jaimee and I both agreed on Bradley Cooper.  I forget what Todd said, because I was distracted with images of Bradley Cooper.  Both of them expressed concerns about how their spouses were going to react to their upcoming races, as if they were telling them they were going to spend the weekend at Foxwoods with their college frat brothers.  I’m glad I don’t have those same limitations.  The only one I have to work my running schedule around is Rocco, which is why I don’t run a lot of Sunday races in the Spring-to- Fall timeframe.  Rocco doesn’t give a hoot at how many races I run otherwise, because he’s tucked in his stall and enjoying his winter hiatus from riding. 
My legs were still sore from kettlebell, and if I were running alone I probably would have stopped after the first or second lap.  But with my friends encouraging me, I made four laps around the building.  A four mile run at lunch was exactly what I needed.  Sure, when I got back to my desk I had a zillion more things to do and a zillion people looking for me.  But it all seemed a little easier to tolerate.  Which is great, because my day went two hours long, my commute was two hours home, and the yoga pants remained in the bag.  I guess sometimes I just have to take what I can get. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kettle-Hell: When Runner Meets Kettlebell

After three successful treadmill runs, I started to gain some confidence.  My nine-day hiatus from running had made me nervous about the upcoming half marathon, but all of the miles I accumulated over the weekend helped to ease my mind.  My legs were starting to get tired after their sudden jolt back from vacation though, and I decided today to take it easy.  After a full year of going to the gym, I had never once ventured past the cardio equipment.  I decided to branch out a little, so over the weekend I grabbed a class schedule and spoke to one of the employees about some good classes to get into.  I felt that this would make me stronger overall, would target different areas of my body while I rested from running, and break up some of the monotony of going to the gym. 
I thoroughly analyzed the class schedule to narrow down my choices.  It was a tossup between a spin class and kettlebell, but ultimately I decided against spin since it would be working my legs exclusively, which I was looking to rest.  I asked a few people about kettlebell and the responses ranged from “no idea”, to “it’s an okay workout”, to “sweet workout!”  In hindsight, the most positive response came from my running buddy Todd, who as we know is very enthusiastic about anything athletic and in my opinion is a bit of a masochist. 
My plan for today was simple: go to the gym, attend the 50-minute kettlebell class, run 4 miles on the treadmill.  If I just ran a simple 4 miles, that would bring my total for January up to 50, and that would make me pretty happy considering I was at a mere 30 just a few days ago.  When I arrived at the gym, I was in complete shock at how busy it was.  I speculated that the extreme cold temperatures would deter people from leaving their houses, but instead it appeared people needed a warm escape.  I parked near the back of the lot and was further shocked at the number of people inside occupying the machines.  I signed into the class and when I entered locker room, had a tough time even finding a free locker to stuff my bag into.  Indeed, the New Years Resolute were in full force.  I realized that I, too, fell into this category of sorts.  Never having attended this class before defaulted me to rookie status and it was an odd feeling.  It was also somewhat comforting because I could easily ask people questions without shame.
The class was very full and when we entered the training room, people immediately scurried around looking for equipment.  No one was there barking instructions so all I could do was follow some of the others.  I had no idea how complicated this setup would be.  I had to grab a kettlebell (or two of different weights), a weight bar, a mat, and then I had to construct a step with building blocks.  A quick little checklist would have been helpful, but I managed well enough by following others and asking for help along the way.  When the class started, the instructor addressed the rookies.  He said, “When you are done with this class, you will hurt.  Your butt will hurt.  Your legs will hurt.  Your thighs will hurt.  You won’t be able to climb stairs.  It will hurt to stand up.  It will hurt to sit down, and it will hurt to go to the bathroom.  This pain will last for days.  But it will make you stronger and it’s worth it”.  His scare tactic worked on some, and I glanced around the room at some of the rookies that were clearly about to meet their maker.  Luckily I knew I wouldn’t suffer such trauma since my legs were so strong already from running.  On the other hand, I was hoping to give my legs a bit of a break today, so I wasn’t really welcoming the idea of a tough lower body workout.  
I will spare everyone the details of the massacre that ensued.   But here are the highlights:
·         I was sweating profusely during the warm up
·         The instructor said the rookies could do half the number of reps.  I didn’t take advantage of this, and that was a huge mistake
·         I hate looking at my body in the giant mirror
·         I hate that monster instructor with his ripped body and enthusiastic attitude.  If my legs weren’t jell-o and I wasn’t out of breath, I would have run right out of the room
When the class ended, everyone collapsed.  Literally, 30 of us moaned and collapsed on our backs, where we laid for a few minutes before painfully rising to our feet and slowly returning all of the equipment to its location.  I slowly made my way back to the locker room and tried to figure out how I would possibly be able to run 4 miles on the treadmill.  I wasn’t sure I could even walk TO the treadmill in the condition I was in.  I had promised myself some miles on the treadmill though, and I couldn’t imagine leaving the gym without logging them.  So, I willed myself over to the row of treadmills and picked the first one I came to.  With any luck, I figured once I got started running, my legs would spring back to life.  Unfortunately this never happened.  Every step I took hurt, and the weak legs under me threatened to collapse.  Right then and there I promised never to again complain about achy legs while I was running.  After two very painful, strenuous miles, I gave up.
When I ran a half marathon in October, my legs weren’t sore.  Every mile I’ve ever run, I was never this sore.  I’ve been achy, sure, but never so sore that it hurt to walk.  This class delivered me an extra large slice of humble pie.  Today, I was the rookie.  My butt hurts, my legs hurt, my thighs hurt, it hurts to walk, it hurts to stand up, it hurts to sit down, and I haven’t even attempted yet to go to the bathroom.  At least he promised it would only hurt for a few days.  Perfect, just in time for the next snowstorm. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I was anxious to return to the gym today after my successful treadmill run last night.  Although I dislike the treadmill, it felt great to be back in the running groove and I wanted to ride the momentum and accumulate some miles before the next snowstorm.  I didn’t have much of a plan, but hoped for at least 4 miles. 
When I arrived at the gym, I headed to the locker room to remove a few layers and change from my snow boots into my running sneakers.  With my back to the entrance, I overheard a woman speaking to someone.  Judging by the conversation, I had to assume it was a small child.  “Just sit here for a minute while I get ready”.  “Do you need to pee before we go out there?”  Eventually I turned around to head out of the locker room and did a double take.  That was no small child.  The woman was talking to an elderly man!  There was a man in the ladies locker room!  Now, it’s no secret that I have very little tolerance for children in the locker room (remember when the little boy scolded me for wasting water?).  This was a whole new level of awkward.  I glanced around wondering if anyone else was completely creeped out, but I was alone with this odd couple.  I silently thanked God I didn’t have to change my bra while I was in there and quickly stuffed my bag into a locker.  When I got closer to the couple, I realized that this man wasn’t just elderly, he was blind.  I softened, realizing that not only was he no threat, but the woman who brought him to the gym was remarkable.  As I was coming to this conclusion, I heard a gym employee walking into the locker room giving some ladies a tour, proudly showing off the “ladies only” workout room and ladies locker room.  I wonder what the potential clients were thinking.  My guess is they left abruptly and headed to Planet Fitness.
The gym was full of activity today and there was a thick sweat hanging in the air.  The row of treadmills was unusually busy and even more amazingly, most of them were occupied by runners.  On most days I’m one of very few runners while the rest of the people are casually walking, watching TV or reading a paper.  Today everyone seemed to have the same idea: log the miles by whatever means necessary.  Seeing so many other runners on the treadmills was energizing.  This would be almost like a group run.  I hopped on a treadmill, turned on the TV, and started my run.  I was immediately thrilled that my foot was having a good day and there was no pain.  I channel surfed until I landed on TNT, which was playing the movie Kill Bill, Vol. 1.  I have decided that this is the single most motivating piece of television to run to on a treadmill.  Watching Uma Thurman slaughtering people mercilessly was so dark, raw, scary, and positively energizing in a really creepy way.  I marveled at the irony of watching her character struggle to move her paralyzed legs while I was continuously increasing my pace.
I buzzed along the treadmill, watching the one woman killing machine on TV, and spotted the elderly man and his companion moving, at the most painstakingly slow pace, towards the treadmills.  I was so intrigued by this that I just couldn’t look away.  The thought of an elderly blind man using a treadmill was both intriguing and terrifying, and I felt compelled to be at-the-ready in case the woman fumbled and the blind man faltered.  After an eternity, the man was securely atop the treadmill and began moving.  At first I wondered why anyone would go through all of these lengths to bring a blind man to a gym, in the snow, to walk at .5 miles per hour.  Then I wondered what his story was.  Maybe he was a war veteran.  Maybe he was a runner in his heyday and this was his way of reconnecting with his youth.  In any event, for this blind man, a walk on the treadmill may be the most freedom he ever feels.  I considered the irony of this, since for me the treadmill represents confinement and claustrophobia. 
I continued along my run, legs easily moving as I cranked up the speed consecutively every quarter mile.  Nothing hurt today.  It was a great feeling to be back.  I happily ran, alternating between watching Uma Thurman slicing people in half with the woman carefully doting on the blind man.  Ironically, both of these very opposing philosophies gave me energy.  My 5 mile run was a breeze and the time passed quickly with all this entertainment.  By the time I completed my run, the line of treadmills was again bare.  The blind man was helped off the treadmill by a group of people and excruciating caution.  All of the runners had long since retired.  Uma had killed more deserving victims.  Victories all around today. J

Running amnesia

The last two weeks in Massachusetts have been perfect winter weather, if you are an avid sledder, snowboarder, plow driver, or own a ski lodge.  For those of us that run, our training plans have gotten thrown out the window.  My athletic gear over the last couple of weeks has gone from sneakers and tech shirts to snow shovels and ice cleats.  Twice I even packed my gym bag with hopes of a midday lunch run, only to see the parking lots covered with snow, the sidewalks un-shoveled, and the roads narrower than Giselle on an Atkins diet.  Times like this are the reason I have a gym membership so that I can at least continue running on the treadmill in the event of lousy road conditions.  Unfortunately over the last couple of weeks between major snow storms and a few evening appointments, even my backup plan got tossed out the window.  I’ve been so ashamed by my lack of running that I haven’t even been able to face looking at my running log.  Kind of like when I spend way too much money irresponsibly, then I can’t bear to look at my bank statement.  My total miles for December were nearly 70.  My total miles for January so far are just under 30, and most of those were all logged in the first week.
That brings us to tonight.  A Friday night, the day of another snow storm that dropped another 8” on us.  Nine days have passed since my last run, and this big gap in my training schedule was starting to make me very nervous.  My half marathon is five weeks away, and I should be logging 25-30 miles a week right now.  Instead, I’m averaging 0 miles per week over the last two weeks.  The snow had stopped in the afternoon, the plows had a chance to clean up the roads, and I was taking advantage of it.  Time to lace up and hit the belt. 
I’m a creature of habit.  I like my routines, which is why I run almost every day.  If I don’t run on my lunch break, I have anxiety because I don’t know what else to do.  If I don’t run outside on a Saturday and Sunday morning, my weekend routine is thrown off.  Now, after a nine day vacation from running, the opposite is true.  It felt like my first time going to the gym.  Dressing and packing for the gym were painfully slow events, and I nearly talked myself out of going altogether.  This is after only nine days.  I can’t imagine how people feel that are starting their first gym membership, where every action is foreign. 
I navigated the snowy streets to the gym and when entering the parking lot, I became aware of my first mistake.  I didn’t consider how sloppy the parking lot would be.  Foolishly I had worn my running sneakers, which meant carefully dodging the deepest bands of snow all the way across the parking lot.  Despite my careful plodding, by the time I reached the entrance to the gym, my feet were wet and very cold.  Add this to my list of running gear: snow boots.
The gym was very quiet because, a. it was a Friday night, and b. it was a snow storm.  Nearly the entire cardio end of the gym was empty except for a couple people on ellipticals.  Once again I had the whole row of treadmills to myself.  For convenience, I chose the one closest to the end.  I started up the treadmill at a walk and then… you know the annoying sound wet sneakers make when they walk across a tile floor?  Squeak, squeak.  Well, my sopping wet sneakers sounded like a squeaky metronome as I walked, and quickly the whole treadmill belt was shining with wet footprints.  The eerily quiet gym was suddenly disrupted by the high pitched repeated squeaks, and I’m guessing the people on the ellipticals were none too thrilled.  After a minute walking I cranked up the speed on the treadmill and the squeaks sped up to match the pace.  I quickly turned up the volume on the TV just to drown out the sound of my own squeaky footfalls.  I’m guessing everyone else did the same.  On the news, they were reporting how one area town hired a “snow cop” to monitor snow removal and diffuse tempers between plow drivers and residents.  You know the end of the world is near when we have snow cops patrolling the roads.  I hope the gym doesn’t follow suit or I might get bagged by the squeak police.
The good part about not running for nine days was that it gave my foot a chance to rest.  I was curious to see how it would hold up today.  For the first tenth of a mile, there was no pain.  Then, like an old familiar bill collector, the pain returned.  Every step of my run felt off for the first mile.  After a mile I walked to grab water and assess the pain.  It went away when I walked, and returned only slightly when I started running again.  After the second mile, the pain was completely gone.  Still, nothing felt right about my stride.  I felt like I was learning to run again.  Could it be that after only nine days, my body has a sudden case of running amnesia?  After the third mile it occurred to me that perhaps I was running at the wrong speed.  I cranked up the treadmill faster, and suddenly everything fell into place.  I’m finding that the slower pace is actually hurting my joints more, but when the pace speeds up a bit, my legs flow more smoothly. 
I’m happy to report that after my four mile run I was not in major foot pain, my legs were not tired or sore, my breathing was not labored.  My body had not, in fact, forgotten how to run.  Instead it appeared to be all systems go.  I’ll be testing this out again on the treadmill both Saturday and Sunday, hoping to collect some make-up miles.  At this point I’m becoming desperate for miles, and I will log them wherever and however I can.  You never know when the next snowstorm is going to thwart your best-laid training plan.  I heard another storm is on the docket for Tuesday, as much as 2 feet predicted to fall.  At the rate I’m going, my entire training plan might be conducted on a treadmill.  Or snowshoes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pain, Pain Go Away

As I sit here bundled up in a blanket, foot elevated and wrapped in ice, I reflect on the last few days’ events.  Contrary to what I may have implied in prior posts, I’m not actually a super human runner.  I am in fact, mediocre at best and – if we’re being honest – a bit of a wimp.
Last Wednesday Chris became a newest addition to our running group at work.  Just having completed his first 5k, he wanted to ride the momentum.  We promised to take it easy on him, but we 5-day-a-week runners have different interpretations of “easy”.  The route, I told Chris, was 3 easy miles.  (After which I found out it was actually 3.5 – bonus!)  We started off as a group, and eventually throughout the course we started to spread out.  I glanced behind me and noticed Chris falling farther and farther behind.  I slowed down for him to catch up, and realized he was walking.  Not wanting to abandon him, I kept pace with him, walking and jogging all the way back to the building.  To me, the pace didn’t matter.  I was just happy to get the miles in.  I remember when I first started running with Kerri, and she was so patient with me, stopping every quarter mile so I could catch my breath.  Now Chris was the one that needed the support to avoid getting discouraged, and I was happy to pitch in.  Ironically, today was the day my friend Brian decided he wanted to make his return to running.  He’s been out of the serious running scene for about a decade or so, but wanted to break out of his rut with a one mile debut run on the treadmill.  So, being the supportive running friend that I am, I brought him to my gym after work.  He made it just under a mile while I did another 1.25.  I officially did my charity work for the day.
Thursday Kerri, Todd and I made plans to run at lunch, but at the last minute Kerri was nowhere to be found, so Todd and I ran alone.  We maintained a slow, consistent pace, and Todd repeatedly chirped how he was enjoying this nice casual pace.  Maybe if he repeated it long enough he would start to believe it.  We enjoyed the run, although I mentioned that my foot was starting to bother me.  I would have to really take it easy on the way back.  As we approached the final mile, we spotted Kerri, who was also heading back from a shorter route.  We maintained our “slow, consistent, perfectly enjoyable” pace while Kerri trotted ahead, about a quarter mile up the road.  Finally I turned to Todd and with my head I motioned towards Kerri.  I said, “Todd… look, BUNNY!”  That was the cue.  Todd and I both went into overdrive and sprinted up the hill like greyhounds chasing a rabbit.  I briefly wondered what the commuters passing us were thinking as we charged up the road, and a quick glance of my watch showed we were clocking an impressive 6:20 pace.  By the time we reached Kerri I had to pray to the stomach gods to keep my breakfast from doing its own uphill sprint.  Despite the nausea and the soreness flaring up in my foot, I had to admit it felt liberating running full tilt up the hill.  For that brief moment I tossed out any concerns of maintaining the pre-determined pace, the foot pain, the oncoming traffic, the responsibilities waiting for me back at my desk.  For that brief quarter mile, I got to be a kid again.
That’s where I should end this fairy tale, wild hair flying through the wind as I charged with reckless abandon in the final stretch of my lunch time course.  I wouldn’t mention how, an hour after my run when I left my desk to grab some water, I could barely put weight down on my left foot.  I hobbled around trying to pinpoint the pain and analyze the extent of the injury.  Was this just a pain that would resolve itself, or could it be a show stopper?  Most importantly, would next month’s half marathon be in jeopardy?  The obvious answer was that I would have to wait and see, with an open-ended prescription of “rest”.
The problem with self-prescribing rest is that I also like to perform pain diagnostic tests repeatedly during the rest process.  I am constantly testing and re-testing to see if, by any chance, the pain miraculously disappeared.  About a month ago when my foot had a similar pain, I got out of bed every hour all night long to measure the current pain status.  For the last two days I’ve been catching myself doing those little pain tests and forcing myself to just…“rest”.  After two days of rest, I had to lace up my sneakers and at least test out the foot.  It was feeling a little better, and the thought of taking more than two days off of running, and facing a potentially a serious setback with my training, was just too daunting.  I decided to go to the gym so that I would be on a controlled treadmill and not have to worry about being sidelined miles from home. 
For a Sunday afternoon, the gym was noticeably busier than in weeks past.  Indeed, it appears the newly resolute have come to work off their holiday indulgences.  I wondered how many of these people I would see a month from now.  I chose a treadmill near the end of the row, with a good view of the weightlifters.   I cautiously started up the treadmill and gingerly took my first few steps.  Everything hurt.   My foot, knees, ankles, and back all protested the sudden movement.  Apparently they didn’t like being dragged back from their vacation so quickly.  After a half mile and some slight modifications to my footfalls, I got into a good groove and completed a smooth 4.5 miles. 
The pain wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t worse either.  Maybe as a middle aged runner, that’s all I can ask for.  Only time will tell how my foot responds to today’s activities, and with any luck I’ll be out pounding pavement again tomorrow with the gang.  But just to be safe, I think I’ll be packing an extra ice pack in my bag. J

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Puppy

As I finally settle down with my laptop tonight to write this, it occurs to me that I am very, very tired.  Mentally, sure.  Physically, definitely.  I was riding the high of the race winner’s honeymoon, which I used up last night in a 4 mile speed run on the treadmill (bad idea the day after a race).  Then, today’s lunch time 4.5 miles just zapped out any remaining drops of energy I had left.  And finally, did I mention I have a ***puppy***?  A puppy!  He’s 36 years old, and his name is Todd.  And like any puppy, Todd is exhausting.
                A couple nights ago, my running buddy Ron and I got together for a few beers.  We swapped stories of running, plotted strategies for our upcoming race calendar, and when the conversation got really serious, we confided in each other some of our craziest runner’s thoughts.  Ron confessed, for instance, that when he’s running on a treadmill at the gym, he analyzes every other runner and tries to think of what animal they most closely resemble.  He exclaimed, in an oddly believable way, “You wouldn’t believe the size of the giraffe I was running next to last night!”  That’s when it occurred to me that my lunchtime running buddy Todd is, by all accounts, a puppy.  He’s playful, easy excitable, and with any luck hopefully he won’t pee on the floor.  He runs with such enthusiasm, I can practically see his tail wagging.  When we run at lunch, he sprints ahead - like a puppy chasing a ball - and then backtracks.  It’s like we play a game of virtual fetch. 
                I’ve become used to Todd’s unusual excitement, and now when he sprints ahead I don’t try to keep up.  I maintain my pace, knowing that eventually we’ll reconnect.  I have noticed lately though, that in spite of my best intentions to run a consistent pace, I’ve unintentionally nudged my speed up a bit.  I guess it really does help having something to chase.  Today however, Todd switched up his routine which, by association, switched up my routine.  This time he preferred to lag behind, then sprinted to catch up to me, then lagged behind again.  He repeated this throughout the entire course, which left me constantly wondering where he was, and having the unusual front position.  Now I was the one with no one to chase, and it was a strange feeling.  At one point I said to Kerri, “Where’s the puppy?”  She responded, “Your puppy needs a shorter leash!”  Then, like puppies do, he came sprinting up behind us and sped off chasing a car or ball or maybe even a bunny.
                Later this afternoon, fighting to stay awake, I told Todd how tired I was after today’s run.  He was tired as well, at which point I reminded him that he’s just a puppy, and puppies might bounce around a lot, but they also need lots of rest.  As for me, lying in bed with my laptop, a dull throb in my thighs and lower back, it has become very clear to me:  Puppies might be cute and fun, but they are, indeed, a lot of work.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Lucky Number

Race day!  Today I raced the Wrentham Lions 5k New Year’s race.  Starting off the year with a run seemed like a good idea, but it also meant forgoing all the New Year’s festivities.  I purposely hadn’t pre-entered for this race so that I would have time to weigh my options, see the weather forecast, and if at the last minute I decided to party like a rock star then, so be it. The weather forecast called for unusually balmy temperatures, highs in the 50 degree range.  With this promising forecast, I started leaning towards running and decided I would behave myself, not go out for New Year’s Eve, and avoid alcohol and vegetables the day before the race.  That, of course, got blown out the window when I met up with Ron for a few beers late in the afternoon, and then followed it up with some champagne later.  (But for the record, I did not consume one single vegetable after noontime, so I wasn’t a total failure).  I looked online at the entry form and…what was this?  An all you can eat buffet after the race, which happens to be at a BAR?  Are you kidding me??  I’m IN!
                I truly enjoy running races.  There’s something so satisfying in completing a race, especially under extreme circumstances.  If it’s unusually hot, unusually cold, or falls on a holiday, there just seems to be something extra sweet in crossing that finish line.  But for me, my very favorite part?  My very favorite part of running a race is getting the unusual freedom to run smack dab in the middle of the street.  It’s such a special treat, and while many people prefer to hug the curb, I march down the middle like Moses, and pretend all the police officers at every intersection are holding back throngs of traffic just for my benefit.
                I used to run most of my races alone, but lately I’ve had some family and friends join me, either running with me, or supporting me at the finish.  Today I had a small entourage, and I have to admit it was pretty nice.  Chris, a friend of mine, said he was going to try to keep up with me but we agreed that we would run our own pace and meet back at the end if we lost each other.  I also made a little wager with Chris, that the loser buys the winner a Bloody Mary.  I felt my odds were pretty good at beating him, but I also realize that if he gets in better shape and ups the ante, I’m gonna be screwed!  It’s great having support and having friends cheering you on, but it also comes with added expectations.  If I don’t run well, and I’m alone, then no biggie.  But suddenly with my mother waiting for me at the finish line, I start having visions of me crossing the finish in 26 minutes and her saying, “what took you so long?  Did you get lost?”  And what if Chris started running with me, and I was having an off day?  I wouldn’t want to let him down either.  So much pressure!
                When I got to the race location – which did I mention, is a saloon? – I headed toward the race-day registration table.  I filled out my form and noticed the stack of racing bibs in front of me.  The next one in line was 111.  Seriously now, what are the odds of that?  Bib number 111 on 1/1/11?  That had to be a good sign, right?  Suddenly, I was worried that someone else was going to get that bib so I made sure I was front and center of the woman signing us in.  I said, “Is this really my bib number?  111?  That HAS to be the lucky number!”  Fortunately she saw the significance of this number and showed it around to everyone.  She handed me the bib like it was a piece of fine china, her face growing serious, and said, “I expect great things from you”.  I nodded solemnly and promised not to let her down.  Uh oh.  More pressure!
                Waiting for the race to start, Chris and I took a half mile jog just to loosen up.  We compared iPod playlists, which as it turns out were similar.  I thought it was funny that he took the same approach as me by creating a playlist just long enough to finish the 5k – roughly 30 minutes.  After we were all warmed up, we killed some time checking out some of the other runners.  This is one of my other favorite race day activities.  I love to see the diversity of the runners.  You can usually spot the hardcore runners.  The “Elite” of the local running club, if you will.  These guys run in Daisy Duke shorts, tanks no matter what the temperature, compression socks, and usually pretty ugly racing flat shoes.  A step down from that is the avid runner, sporting all the right gear, the tech shirt, the running pants, maybe even a Garmin stop watch, and sneakers by Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Nike, or New Balance.  Then there’s the group, God love them, that are here to support the local Lions club, hoping to raise enough money to end blindness.  They most likely have never run to the end of their driveway, let alone 3.1 miles.
                After some pre-race instructions by the race staffers, we were off and running.  After they said “Go”, I didn’t see Chris again for the next 31 minutes.  He had said he would try to keep up with me, and there was a chance he was just staying behind me, but I wasn’t going to spin around looking for him.  Plus, I got swept up in all the movement up front, combined with the slight downhill right at the start, and before I knew it I was clocking a 6:30 pace.  Luckily at the half mile mark, a long gradual hill appeared, and it kept me honest.  I was forced to slow down and chip away at the hill, which seemed endless but in reality was probably less than a half mile.  It really sucked the life out of me, and even once I reached the top, it took me a fair amount of time to get back up to speed.  My only goal in this race was to come in around 24 minutes, because that would be a decent 8 minute pace.  I started wondering if I would be able to make the 24 minutes because of the time lost on that hill.  Then I remembered the lady that registered me.  I couldn’t let her down.  She expected great things from me!  I powered through the rest of the course, and spotted some horses trotting along their fence line, excited by all the action.  The last couple minutes of the race were difficult because the road was two-way traffic, and there was very little room to pass anyone.  I glanced at my Garmin and was shocked to see that I was already in the 24’s.  I crossed the finish in 25:08, and noticed the distance was actually 3.2.  They had added a “bonus” tenth of a mile.  I’m sure the Wrentham Lions Club doesn’t see this as an issue, but for runners that actually track their PR’s, this throws a bit of wrench into my stats.  Nevertheless, it was a good race, and I grabbed a water and stuck around the finish line to cheer in everyone else.  Chris finished in 31 minutes, and firmly secured my free Bloody Mary.
                My entourage escorted me into the restaurant where we dined on an excellent breakfast buffet.  The only problem with a Lions club organizing a race, as opposed to say, a running club, is that it’s a bit of a mess.  It took a long time for any of the results to come in, and I’m still not 100% sure of my formal finishing time.  Of course, in order to get the results, we had to endure an endless procession of raffle winners.  I contemplated leaving before the medals were issued (as I’ve done in every other race), but when I asked my mother what she thought the odds were of me placing, she said she didn’t recall seeing a lot of traffic in my age group come in ahead of me.  We stuck it out, listened to all the different age groups, and when it came to my age group, 3rd place – no, 2nd place – no, 1st place – ME!  Me?  Sorry did I just space out for a second?  Was that really my name?  I had, in fact, come in 1st place in my division.  Never having been in this position before, I wasted no time whatsoever in embarrassing myself by struggling to get out of my seat, and then walking around in circles trying to figure out how to get to the staircase to go upstairs to receive my medal.  By the time I reached it, I think they were announcing the “older than dirt” category, and I had to explain who I was and why I was trying to steal a medal.  I headed back downstairs with my new award, got the obligatory pictures taken, and headed out.  Not ever having won a running prize before, I was completely out of my element.  Prizes were for those people.  The people with the short-shorts and compression socks and racing flats.  Not the middle aged, New Balance wearing, undersized beer guzzlers like myself.  My only explanation to this fluke is that it had to have been the number.  111 on 1/1/11 was indeed the lucky number, and I lived up to the Registrar’s expectations.  I did great things today.  But next time, I damn well better hit 24 minutes.  J