Tuesday, December 6, 2011

......Clearly an Athlete

One late summer evening in 2008, my then roommate came bursting into the apartment with extra exuberance and excitement than her normal. Roomie was a dancer. A salsa dancer to be exact. She had a passion and drive for life that, when coupled with her big heart and personality, meant that whatever she was passionate about, everyone in her life knew about it and probably joined her. Her new adventure, the one she was simply bursting to tell us about, was a new chiropractor's office and 'wellness' place she found.
  "and he looked at my x-rays and said i was in a car accident when I was sixteen and because of my dancing that my hips are all goofy and then i laid down on the table and all my makeup came off and he cracked my neck and ohmygod it felt so good and you have to go and they do these seminars about eating well and being organic and they are so so so nice and do yoga..and....." She went on and on.  A few weeks later, I'm attending an Eight Weeks to Wellness Orientation with her parents, our neighbor, and her. And I was suckered in. This was maybe  my first introduction into this concept of healthy living and making choices about your food and body that will allow your body to be, well, better. Honestly, I was just happy to have something to do after work at that point.

Part of this program was an assessment with a personal trainer at the wellness solutions center. I was running maybe three times a week for about 45 minutes at the time. And not really doing it well. I was excited and nervous for the appointment. The trainer looked like a walking, talking Ken Doll. It was kinda freaky. I don't remember what we did or how the appointment went. I will always always remember Trainer Ken watching me attempt push ups and saying, "You're deceptively weak."

Deceptively weak. Oh. Ouch. This was admittedly not the best period of time for me. I was lonely and unhappy with a lot of circumstances in my life. To be referred to as deceptively weak when one was already emotionally and spiritually weak was more painful than the push ups.

"Deceptively weak" wrinkled my brain. It secretly pissed me off enough that I had to do something. I would not be weak. I decided to train for a real run. I joined a gym. I slowly learned to value and care for my body and soul. I learned to love sweating and working out. I signed up with a real trainer. (She looked like a Barbie doll but was sweet and helpful.) I ran half marathons. My body changed. My outlook changed. I started taking karate classes. I changed. I starting coaching Girls on the Run. I started and finished graduate school.

I ran a freaking' marathon. 

Despite the Ken Doll trainer's harsh words, I kept going to the same chiropractor's office. The chiropractor gave me a pass for another free appointment with a new trainer (Ken has since left the practice) after hearing about my marathon victory and the surprising pain I felt from a 'squishy' midsection while running.

As soon as my body felt recovered enough for a work out, I returned to the site of the "Deceptively Weak" crime. The new trainer and I worked on my core muscles and he gave me a lot of really good advice for runners. He was impressed that I had run a marathon, didn't question my time, or give me that "you're a runner" side-eye I sometimes get. He was interested in my karate practices. He spoke to me like I was a legitimate person with knowledge and credibility. It was crazy.

As I was leaving, he said,
"You're clearly an athlete."

I went from "deceptively weak" to "clearly an athlete." I felt as proud and as relieved in that fitness center as I did at the finish line of the marathon. The marathon was part of  a journey away from weakness, away from sadness and towards strength, towards health, and life. "Clearly an athlete." Huh. I'm clearly strong. Clearly. From deceptive to clearly. From weak to athlete. It's been QUITE a journey. It's incredible to realize the power words can have over us. Deceptively weak taunted me through long runs, weight reps, and chicken kicks. Clearly an athlete has provided some kind of validation for the past three years of hard work and sacrifice more than finisher's medal or new pair of jeans ever could. The burden to 'prove it' had some how lifted. I might not be the strongest person in the world, but dammit, I'm not weak. 

Disclaimer: I'm not an athlete in the professional sense and I'm certainly do not consider myself to be anything more than recreational runner. My hobby just happens to be a sport. I have respect for true athletes whose lives are dedicated to their sport.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Philadelphia Recap: From Fable to Finish Line

I won’t bore reader(s) with a mile by mile breakdown. I won’t discuss the lack of porta potties or nickpick my every step.  I hate recaps like that. You’re not going to get a weather report or a grid of my Garmin times. You can read any Philadelphia Marathon recap for that. This was my marathon and the apex of a very long, very personal journey.

Let’s rewind to about six weeks ago when I was huffing and puffing my way through a solo 20 mile training run. It was not going well. I was achy, hungry, and tired. My legs and head were not cooperating. Either my legs would stop or my mind would stop telling them to go. My Camelback was annoying the crap out of me. Everything was annoying the crap out of me.

And then I got a stone in my damn shoe. It’s one of the cons to trail running. Red clay provides a softer surface and therefore easier recovery but comes with little stone terrorists that jump into your shoes and make every step way more painful than necessary. Good lord, I hated that stone. No matter how I shook my foot, it would not come out of my sneaker.

I started to think of the fable, the Princess and the Pea. If I remember correctly, the Prince was searching for a true princess but everyone he met was unfit. Let’s  have Wikipedia finish the tale:

The story tells of a prince who wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses. One stormy night, a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test their unexpected guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed; which she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. The two are married, and the pea is placed in the Royal Museum.

I drew silly parallels between the stone in my shoe and the pea under the mattress. This occupied my mind for at least three miles. Perhaps I was meant to be Princess of Running by because of this stone in my shoe. My final thought was that if I could withstand the annoying pain of a stone in my shoe than I could indeed run a marathon.  So, maybe I was no princess or prince but a very determined runner with a goal. Also, I had to get home.

This faulty logic or wishful thinking became somewhat of a mantra as I headed towards the marathon. Some runners rely on mantras just as “just do it”, “pain is temporary, pride is forever” “you’re lapping everyone on the couch.” Me—I modify childhood fairy tales. Regardless of the method, the motivation and determination were there. I knew that if I could endure that stone in my damn shoe while running along the Delaware Canal, I had the mental toughness to endure the 26.2 miles of the Philadelphia Marathon. I did have doubts though because that is a pretty shaky mantra. But I think a significant amount of self doubt when contemplating running 26.2 miles in one day is probably just good common sense.

Fast forward to November 20, 2011. The day I ran my damn marathon.

very nervous at the start

I’m standing nervously  in my corral, just waiting for my turn to cross the start line. I point to it as we cross and say, “You’re my bitch. I’ll see you later.”And I did. Five hours and 10 minutes later, I ran under the finish line with tears streaming down my face. I did the whole thing. It wasn’t easy. But I never thought I couldn’t do it. After three years of running and 18 weeks of dedicated training, I knew I could. I knew there would be awesome parts and I knew there would be sucky parts. I knew there would be a wall and I would have to push through it. I knew that the crowds in Manayunk would be awesome and that those final 6 miles along Kelly Drive would be a knock-down-drag-out-gut-wretching-soul-searching-stretch of pain and drive that defines champions.

somewhere around mile 6. 

I can’t even say the marathon itself was hard. It wasn’t easy. It was challenging. It was overwhelming at times. Even the thrill of a personal distance record at mile 21 couldn’t negate the fact that I had already run 20 miles and still had 5 to go.

around mile 14

My marathon really started at mile 15. The first half was fun and served more as 13 miles of anticipation for the real deal. The second half. It was like the first three seasons of Lost, a lot of build up and questions which alluded to something way more sinister and crazy coming.

The wall came at mile 18. I pushed through it. My legs didn’t want to move anymore at mile 22. I made them. My heart was beating so hard and fast at mile 23 and 24 that I had to slow down to control it. But I did. My feet were on fire for the majority of the race but I ignored them. I was thirsty so I refilled my water bottle at the water stations and moved on. I was tired but I kept going. The only goal I had was to finish. 

Finally, I saw Boathouse Row which singled the end of this marathon! I was at or around mile 25.5 and only had a little more than a half mile to go. I was REALLY ACTUALLY SERIOUSLY  going to do this! The finish line didn’t appear as magically as I thought it would. Even though I had just run 26 miles, that .2 took forever. I followed the course and felt powered from the screaming and smiling faces. And just as that mythical finish line, the one I’ve been visualizing for 18 weeks, came into view, so did my parents, boyfriend, and friend along the gates. It was a dose of perspective. I mean, who needs finish lines when one is so blessed to have a group of people willing to battle traffic, each other, illnesses, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority to come watch me finish some journey they don’t necessarily get but want to celebrate.  

Hi Guys! I'm gonna go finish my marathon now!

There they were and there it was and there I went. To finish. To be a marathoner. To believe myself as a runner. To believe in myself.

There I go! Weeee!!! 

While I knew about the running part, the pain part, the hills and the course, I didn't really know what to expect at the end. A volunteer handed me a medal and a blanket. I grabbed a bottle of water. I didn't feel like a marathoner, yet. It felt real when, out of all the commotion and the bored announcer calling off generic mantras and names, I heard my mom's loud cry and saw everyone running towards me. The hugs and relief and pride and love made it real. 
My face is so ridiculous because I was crying.
That is what I look like when crying and showing off.

All I can say here is BAM! 

I have the medal, the t-shirt, the photos, and the waddle of a marathoner now. But I could have none of those things because I got huge hugs from the most important people to me at the end. I could run a hundred miles with pieces of glass in my shoe if it meant feeling that loved and special at the end. 

Lauren ran miles 20-25.5 with me along with most of my long training runs throughout. I could NOT have done this without her. 

I don't think I'll ever love another photo as much as I do this. NOTE THE MATCHING SHIRTS!

Love = wearing the same shirt as your girlfriend's parents.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This time next week....

This time next week I will be resting comfortably on my coach. This time next week I will have a glass of wine in my hand and a medal around my neck. This time next week, my body will be sore from head to toe. This time next week, I will never want to run again.  This time next week, despite the pain, I will have a huge smile on my face.

Because this time next week--I will be a marathoner.

I will be celebrating the end of a sixteen week journey and the crowning moment of an adventure that started three years ago. Hopefully. I don't want to jinx anything because anything can happen between now and the finish line. If everything goes well and the sixteen weeks of training pay off---by this time next week, I will be basking in the glory of having run a marathon.

I close my eyes on focus on the feel good parts of this adventure because I'm really nervous about the beginning and middle. My thoughts are consumed with anticipation, self doubt, performance anxiety, excitement, fear, and nerves. Did I train enough? What if I hit the proverbial wall too early and can't finish? I only ran two 20 milers and the second one was rough. I didn't do enough speed work. Am I eating well enough? What if I get hurt? What if I get injured between now and Sunday? What if.............. everything.

I'm allowing the question marks because I know they're going to be replaced with exclamation points soon and my doubt will be replaced with pride. As the questions grow in absurdity (what if I roll my ankle while wearing heels to work and I can't run?), the harder I think about next week. When this will all be over and I won't have to run anymore. I will have achieved a goal I set for myself and will  move forward through life with that power.

And as my favorite Righteous Babe (and this blog's namesake) sings:

"The further the horizon
You know the more it holds my gaze
And the foreground's out of focus
but you know I hope it's just a phase"

-ani difranco

The horizon is that finish line and this time next week....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It was 5 o'clock on a Thursday evening.  I stood up from my desk chair and was greeted with a loud crack from my lower back and a dull ache spread across my hips. I took a step forward and my calves burned. I moaned. 

"Why am I doing this?" I asked my office mate. I ask her this question everyday. And everyday she laughs at me. "I don't know! Because you're crazy." 
"Right. Good answer. And now I'm off to do it again." 
"How many miles tonight?" 
"I think eight. I'm going to shoot for six and try to push from there."
"How long will that take?"
"Forevvvvvvver!" I whine. 

Every fiber of my physical body wanted nothing more than to go home and take a nap. I wanted to nap, to cook dinner, and to watch The Sing Off. I did not want to go to the gym. But. Dammit. I'm training for a marathon. And so, I headed to the gym to face my old foe, the treadmill. Armed with my trusty tote bag, loaded with one sports bra, capris, tank, socks, sneakers, baggy t-shirt, headphones, I went towards the neon lights of LA Fitness. My training plan called for eight miles. That meant I had to eat a large lunch, chug 2 water bottles throughout the day, and wouldn't be getting home well past dinner time.

It was there on that stupid treadmill at the seventh mile, bored out of my mind, sore from my hip right down to my toes, the time is ticking closer and closer to eight o'clock that I realized THIS is the marathon. Sure, I'll gear up on November 20th and gather in corrals with thousands of others runners. I'll be excited, nervous, cold, scared, and anxious. My feet will cross that first timing mat and I'll be off. I'll run 13.1 miles and want to be done. I'll walk through the water stations. I'll hit a proverbial wall at mile 21 and find something in me to push further. I know my body is strong enough and my spirit is determined enough that I will cross that damn finish line. 

Because I've been doing this damn marathon for 3 years. The marathon is pushing through the exhaustion. The marathon is not giving into excuses. The marathon is setting a goal and working towards it. 
The marathon is running five miles to meet a friend on a brisk fall day and then hammering out 15 miles after that. The marathon is heading to the gym after a long day at work to get the miles in. It's leaving the parties early on weekends to be running by the time that most parties would be winding down. It's running 20 miles by yourself. It's running at night when the gym is closed for renovations because you're committed to the training plan (even if you're afraid of the dark). It's pounding out 16 miles on a treadmill because a Nor'easter is raging outside. It's coaching Girls on the Run, followed by running five miles. And following that with 45 minutes of intense cross training. The marathon is finding way to fit everything in. The marathon is being too tired to run and too determined not to. It is discovering deep wells of strength, stamina, anger, inspiration, motivation, and drive within yourself. And then actually using it. It's that incredible feeling of achievement earned from tackling one double digit run after another week after week. 

The start line of the marathon is not in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It was the first day I decided to try to run. A training plan calls for 16 weeks. The distance is 26.2 miles. The marathon is more than miles run. It's a compilation of weeks or years or even a lifetimes worth of work. The 26.2 miles will really be the easy part. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Misery Loves Company for 20 Miles

My alarm went off at 6am on Saturday morning. I was not happy about this. I was not happy about leaving my snugly warm bed. I was not happy that my Phillies had lost the night before and were out of the playoffs. I had company in my misery. My stomach was unhappy about the beer I chose to drink and the greasy pizza and salty chips I chose to eat Friday night. It should have had had water and pasta. My legs were not happy with the 27 miles of running I had already forced them to do that week and the 20 miles I was asking of them that morning.

At least I had really pretty scenery for all 20 miles of this run.

Saturday morning was my first 20 mile training run for the Philadelphia Marathon. This would be the longest I had ever run (ever!). The 20 mile distance is a landmark for most training plans and a beginning runner will not exceed 20 miles until race day. This distance is as close to the infamous 26.2 as I will see until the actual marathon day.

There was an angel runner on my right shoulder chanting motivational mantras and reasons why I had to get out there. There was a sleepy Satan on my other shoulder spewing off possible other ways to get 20 miles in that weekend and other skeptical, fear-filled nonsense. I was too tired to listen to either of them and simply went through my typical morning routine on autopilot. Actually, I was afraid.  I was scared of the distance and the committment that it would bring. If I could get through this challenge, I would actually be training for a marathon. I would have to line up with thousands of other people on November 20, 2011 and set out to push my body for more than four hours and do so voluntarily. It's as close to the "it" as I will get. Sure, I've had sore legs and an upset stomach the morning of a race. But I've never run with or through fear.

My runner friend Lauren was meeting me at the five-mile mark (Washington's Crossing Park) and together we'd run five miles towards New Hope, and turn around. 5 miles to WC + 5 miles to NH + 5 miles back to WC+ 5 miles home = 20 miles. Those first five solo miles were horrible. I considered just asking Lauren to drive me home. My legs felt ok but my mind was not there. I used my anger at the Phillies to get me through a few miles. I spent time reorganizing everything in my weekend and thinking of excuses so that if I did bail out, I could still make up the mileage later.  I turned my music up loader, hoping to drown out the downer thoughts.

Bridges = walk breaks

Lauren and I are always able to push each other and work together when we run. Once I met up with her, everything would be fine. Turns out Lauren was less than thrilled that day too. We decided our misery and overall blah-ness would have to push us through.

I want to live there someday.

With my favorite dully disgruntled running buddy by my side, we set out for part 2 of this odyssey. By mile 8 (for me, 3 for her) the Eeyore-like cloud had lifted and we were feeling ok. Not great, not good but ok. We turned around at mile 10 and felt better. Not great, but good. I started to fall apart around mile 14. Lauren ran an extra mile around the park with me.  I was now at 15 miles and that fear was beginning to join the list of current feelings (tired, hungry, stinky, excited, fear).

On a long run a few weeks ago, we met an older guy on the towpath who must have sensed my distance running despair and asked what I'm training for. Actually, I think he heard Lauren and I talking about how far we needed to go and we were both wearing half marathon tech tees. My Camelback and Garmin watch may have also betrayed us as 'marathon runners.' He was an experienced marathoner who has to stick to the 5ks now because of a bad knee. He was really sweet and interested in our journey. As Lauren and I were saying good bye and I was prepping to conquer five.more.miles.solo, he walked by! He shouted to me, "Hey! Still training for that marathon?"
"Absolutely! I'm working on twenty today!"
"Good for you! You can do it!"
"Five more!"
His daughter or wife also smiled encouragingly as we passed. With that wonderful shot of motivation and inspiration, I was off.

Just five more miles.
Just four more miles.
Just three more miles. I was allowing myself walk breaks every half mile because I'd been running for close to four hours at this point. The furthest I had every gone at that point at 17 miles and I used every mile after that as a celebration. I would text Lauren and Scott at each mile. I had a little dance break at mile 18.

Just two more miles! I was two miles away from running 20 miles and had never run this far before!
Just one. more mile! I started to get really emotional. I could be believe that I was about to finish my longest run ever and that I almost given up so many times.

20 MILES! I did it! I cried. I could barely breath but I somehow managed to cry. I was so proud, happy and tired. And overwhelmed. And sore. I visualize the marathon finish line a lot as I run and I imagine how I'll feel and worry about the miles leading up to it. Saturday morning was a sneak preview of the emotional and physical exhiliration of the real thing. And I can not wait.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Righetous Runner's Recent Righteous Running Ruminations

I will write a race recap in a timely manner someday. Although, I don't run most races in a timely manner so my lapse in posting time is reflective of the experience itself. 

From 5Ks to marathon training runs, this season has been filled with running events. It's awesome. And tiring. And thrilling. And painful. And surprising. And surprisingly painful. 

Below is a quick breakdown of the running events I've done this season. 
Delran Smokin' Hot 5k  27:25:00 
Garden of Reflection 5k  28:00:00 
Philadelphia Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon  2:26:00 
Steeplechase 25K Distance Run 2:45:00
Philadelphia Marathon Training Runs: 14 miler/15 miler/17 miler
I've found a new friend in the 5K. I've run the distance several times before but generally find the amount of effort put forth for any running event not really worth the distance. By that, I mean, I wasn't a fan of paying $25 to run 3.1 miles unless it's for a charity. Or, as was the case with the Delran Fireman's Smokin' Hot 5K, was being put on by my new boss at work. I felt a lot of pressure to do well at this race because my bossy-boss was the race director and I wouldn't have put it past her to bring it back to the office in some form. 

If that race was included in my annual performance review--I would definitely get a raise! I would even be ranked second fastest female between ages 20-35 in the office. And by that, I mean I placed 2nd in my age group. I shattered my previous 5K PR almost two minutes. 

I was so pumped from my performance, I signed up for the Garden of Reflection 5K the following weekend. While I felt like I ran a lot harder and faster at this event, my time was 35 seconds slower. Both events were great and we went out for a really good breakfast afterward. 

When you're used to pushing your body and slogging on for more than 13 miles at a time, a finish line at mile 3.1 is amazing. There is no reason to conserve energy or hold back. No! You go balls-to-the-wall, full speed for a relatively short time.You will not pay for it later by running out of water or energy with seven miles left to run. With 5Ks, by the time the legs even realize what is happening, you're done! It's beautiful. And you get a t-shirt! You can go on with your day without having to stretch and recover for hours. Bam. 

Short, sprinting 5Ks are good for Saturdays. Soul-crushing distance runs are for Sundays. The defining principle of marathon training is essentially to run a little more each week. By doing so, a runner builds strength, endurance, and stamina. I guess that's true. But, mostly, the runner learns exactly how many muscles they have and for how much time those muscles can hurt. I've learned that I can run 17 miles in about 3.5 hours and then waddle around for about 24 hours afterward. 

I smile as I waddle and limp after those runs--and not just because those 16 muscles it apparently takes to smile are the only 16 muscles NOT used in running. This is surprisingly fun. Each week, I get to learn how far I can go. I'm surprised, proud, stinky, excited, and scared at the end of each training run. I usually don't feel any of those things throughout the week while I'm chained to a desk. I look forward to it! Even more surprising, they do get easier. I ran a 25K (15.5 miles) on Sunday and was so happy at the 13.1 mile mark because it meant I only had a 5K left. I'm used to being happy at mile 10 in a half. I was sad again when I realized that I would still have 10 miles to run during the marathon. Oy. 

Finish line at Garden of Reflection 5K. "We're done! Already?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Life is Not Lived From the Couch

I have a very short attention span. I am hyperactive. I thrive in chaos but function best with structure and rules. I despise boredom. I once worked a part time job after my full time career because I was bored. I need stimuli. I need be social and engaged. I love lists. Without a million things to do, I will do nothing. Doing nothing makes me anxious. 

My un-diagnosed ADHD combines with a powerful thirst for life to form my current philosophy: Life is not lived from the couch. Our eyes were are meant to stare at screens all day. Our bodies are meant to move. Forward. Sideways. Backward. Up. Down. Around. Moving. Breathing. Sweating. In motion. I have legs for moving. I have a brain for learning and thinking. My thighs are not this large to cover more area on a cushion.  My lungs are meant to be filled with fresh air. I do not believe in television. I watch television. I laugh at the jokes. I respect entertainment as an art form (except for reality tv). I learn from news and documentaries and empathize with special features. TV entertains me, however, it does not define me or my day. 

I love sleeping. I'm really good at it. Sleep rejuvenates our bodies and souls. It allows us to dream and let our minds escape. But life is real and waiting. Sleep til you're rested. Live til you're exhausted. We were not given days to sleep away. There is always a reason to get up. I assault my alarm multiple times and do not 'wake up' until a full cup of coffee. I am not a morning person. But, I get up because I cannot make my dreams into reality if I'm still in bed. Life will not happen if I'm not participating. And to me, participating is not watching tv for hours or sleeping through the day.

There are things to do; miles to run, sweat to sweat, smiles to smile, skills to practice, conversations to have, laughs to laugh, ideas to discuss, lessons to learn, lives to live. Those things simply can not be done with your brain turned off while laugh tracks and written scripts dictate your experience. 

I realize television is a strong part of this American life. Some people can watch hours of television. Some people come home from work and watch television and are happy. I am not one of those people. I'm usually annoyed or angry after about two hours of prime time television (with the exception of Phillies baseball, unless Joe Buck or any other national media sportscaster is calling the game--then I'm annoyed again). 

Life is not lived from a couch. Turn off the tv. Go for a walk. Create something. Play a game. Shake a booty. Push your body out of it's comfort zone and be amazed at the results. But don't watch others do so from the magic plastic box in your living room. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Righteous Runner Tribute to the Righteous Boyfriends/significant Others of Runners

It was a quiet Sunday evening. Scott and I were settling in on the couch for an evening of watching Lost episodes. I had run 15 miles that morning as part of my training for my marathon and was sore and tired. My feet were swollen and tender from three hours of pavement pounding but the worst was the pressure and pain underneath my toenails.This is called runner's toes and it is caused by damage to the nail bed either by the shoe or sock. It is  very common among runners.  As Scott was about to turn on season five, episode 3, I muster all my strength and roll to a standing position.

"Hold on. I've gotta go rip off this toenail," I say, hobbling towards the bathroom.
"Awww! Gross! Was that necessary!" Scott hollers. I turn to see him shaking his head and doing that finger biting thing. I'm back in five minutes and attempt to resume my cuddle spot, but not without a little teasing.

"Hey, look at this!"
"Think I can get a discount on a pedicure now since I only have nine toenails?"
"That little pig did not cry wee wee wee all the way home. It got hit by a bus."

For some reason, Scott is not amused. He's actually quite freaked out. Why? It's not ok for your girlfriend to rip toenails off and then laugh about it? It's not cute?

Poor Scott. He's been woken up to come pick me up from various spots all over Bucks County at the precise mile I've decided to be done running.  He's learned to come with a towel, flip flops, clean t-shirt, and cold bottle of water. He also keeps the windows down no matter what the weather. I'm pretty sure if his banged-up foot hadn't slowed him down, he would have hidden when my runny buddy Lauren and I returned from our triumphant 17 mile run Sunday morning.  I have no idea why he wouldn't hug me until I after a shower.

Scott, welcome to the world of having a runner girlfriend. For when you have a runner girlfriend, things are different. What runners think of as perfectly acceptable behaviors can come across as disgusting and frightening to those not in the know. It takes a good man to tolerate our demanding training schedules and some of the unflattering side effects of running. Marathon training requires a lot of dedication and commitment not just of the runner but of their significant other. But, the boyfriends of girl runners (or the girl friends of boy runners) know that those disgusting, stinky, sweaty moments when we are red and puffy, the hours of stretching, icing, whining, the small fortune in sports bras and race fees, the early morning wake ups, will all add up to one of our best moments---crossing those finish lines. There will be smiles  that can't be beat and a feeling of pride and satisfaction that will, I promise, make those quiet nights on the couch instead of a bar and bruised toe nails more than worth it.

So, lets raise our water bottles  and do a Shot block to the guys who stand idly on the finish line as we strive for PRs and paces

  • who understand what a PR is and why it's important.
  • who drive us to all over this green Earth at disgraceful hours of the morning.
  • who will make as many stops at as many gas stations as needed en route to a race--again, without judgement.
  • who wait while we run.
  • who endure snooze buttons and multiple alarms throughout the weekdays.
  • who do not judge when we order appetizers, main course and dessert at dinner and clear the plates in record time.
  • who buy breakfast after a morning run.
  • who hang our medal racks.
  • who ensure our bibs are on straight.
  • who take goofy photos (or, if you're my boyfriend, multiple photos of my butt while I'm not looking).
  • who join us for a mile or two even if they hate running.
  • who do not get why the Shot block joke was funny but pretend to laugh anyway.
  • who are now running experts  from listening to their girlfriends go on and on and on about this sport.
Any  runners out there who (actually read this silly blog!) want to give a shout out to their significant other? Let 'em know you care by commenting on this never-read blog. It's almost as symbolic as letting them hold your gear bag. :-) 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Righteous Runner's School of Running

A few weeks ago, I did this:

I registered for the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. And by doing so it meant that I had committed, or at least paid to, run 26.2 miles through my home city. Crap. Crappity crap crap.
And so I find myself training for a marathon.

Training for a marathon. Those four words are no joke. Marathon training is no joke and I'm only a few weeks into it. While I've trained for and run nine half marathons in the past two years, I find myself at a loss and just as overwhelmed as I did when I first started running three years ago. My painful and slow 14 mile run felt just as challenging and rewarding as the first seven mile run I had ever done. I'm gearing up mentally for a sure-to-be-interesting 15 mile run this weekend and reveling in the completion of my 15 page thesis paper and thus the official end to my graduate school career. These two events (15 mile training run and 15 page paper) seem to have nothing in common except for the number 15 but they are very similar. When you decide to go to school part time while working full time, you have to be committed. And when you decide to train for a marathon, you have to be committed. And you can't go to graduate school unless you went to undergraduate school and you can't do that unless you went to high school school and you can't do that unless you went to grammar school. Both are the accumulations of many goals that are depended on skills and lessons learned on each level.

Marathon training takes everything to a new level. There is a reason that few people go from a C25K program directly to a marathon. It would be like going from kindergarten to college. There are things you have to learn along the way in order to succeed.

5Ks, 10Ks, and halves give runners the lessons and tools they need to smartly train for a marathon.

5ks teach us that running is fun and rewarding. Reading is fun and rewarding. 5ks are the elementary school in the School of Running. You learn the basics like the joy of comfortable shoes, eating better, pushing yourself, the importance of stretching, sweat is good, pacing, etc. It's multiplication tables, vocab, spelling tests and writing.

10ks teach us that running is fun, rewarding and we can do twice as much as we thought. We learn about nutrition, fuel, wick-away gear, injuries,dehydration, goal times, hills, PRs. It's about expanding on the skills you've already learned and building them into traits. This is where some student's talents or strengths are discovered. Here I learned I that I'm not a fast runner, but I'm good at endurance. Some may discover the 5 and 10K are great for running really fast for a while but can't hold it for too long.10ks are the middle school of School of Running.

Half marathons are high school. You're confident in your skills and have a genuine interest in running. The finish line at the end of 13.1 miles is like the diploma. Training is more intense, results matter more, but there is still room for play and growth. It's an achievement and sometimes you move on to bigger and better things.

Enter the Marathon. Marathon = college. It's intense. You're gone for long periods of time. If you don't understand how to stay hydrated on a long run, you will struggle; just like you'll struggle if you never learned how to draft a thesis essay in high school and have a research writing class in college. There are skills and lessons that are expected to have been acquired at this point. You should know to stretch thoroughly and how to use a foam roller at this point. The training plan is like your syllabus. Half marathon training should have taught you what you, as a runner, need to do to have a good or bad run. High school should have taught students how to study, organize and thrive in college. There is still room for play but you have to work harder to get it.

Good news is that it doesn't have to take 13 years to go from kindergarten to Marathon University in the School of Running. It just takes time, growth, patience, determination and drive. I'm thinking there are a lot more parallels between school and running. X-crossing is like homework; bibs are like final exams, medals could be the honor roll...I could keep going.

How about you? Are you a beginning student in the school of running or have you earned your Master's in marathoning? How do the principles of education come into your running world?

Monday, August 8, 2011

No. I don't miss bacon

My New Year’s Resolution for 2011 was to give up meat and be vegetarian. The journey has been both a challenge and a breeze. I rarely ate meat  even before the official start of 2011. Being single and clueless in a kitchen, my meals usually consisted of milk, cereal, peanut butter, salads, ice cream, and other items consisting of ‘just add water’ or ‘microwave on high.’ I would attempt to incorporate chicken or turkey but had significant issues with defrosting. I’d forget to pull the package out in the morning.  Or by the time I would get home, I’d be too hangry (hungry + angry) to deal with the 20-25 minutes it would take to prep the meat and would settle for popcorn and cereal. I'd have turkey or chicken salad sandwhiches at lunch from our cafeteria once or twice a week.
In addition to laziness is post waitress stress disorder.  Years and years of working in the food service industry have made me very weary of most menus. I would never order any red meat that is not a hamburger in any establishment. I’m also cautious of salads. Flashbacks to reaching bare, unwashed hands into a grimy salad drawer to dump out week-old iceberg lettuce on to a plate that has been sitting atop a soup warmer for hours and then drowning it un-chilled ranch dressing makes my intestines cramp. With the exception of breakfast meats, I really cannot recall a time when I ordered anything that was not chicken or turkey from a menu. 
Don't eat this. You have no idea where it's been. 
I never liked fish or seafood--with the exception of crab and shrimp. The aversion to seafood is another reaction to too many years in the food service industry. I worked one summer as a prep cook at the Lobster House in Cape May, New Jersey. I swear my hair still smells like fish grease to this day.  Perhaps it's my Zodiac sign (Cancer, the crab) or growing up near the Chesapeake Bay and Jersey Shore, but I do enjoy a good crab cake. 
The transition to full meatless was not too life-changing. For me. For my mother, it was a different story. My (Italian) mother expresses love through food. You will not last five minutes in our house without getting offered a snack. One crazy night in college, a friend and I got home at 3:30 a.m. from a concert in Philly to hear my half asleep mom yell down stairs to ask if we wanted meatball sandwiches. 
"I just don't know why you're doing this to yourself!" She's cried.
"What am I supposed to feed you when you come home now? Are you still going to come home?" Yes, Mom. I'll still eat. As long as you make macaroni and cheese, scalloped corn, pasta salads, lasagna, ziti, etc., I'll come home. And I probably won't pick off of the meat. I'm a good daughter of an Italian mother. I know to eat whatever is put in front of me and to ask for seconds. 

Mom and me, December 2010. 
I'll admit that there have been a few cheats. When I do cheat it's because of lack of menu options or the social situation. I know my stomach won't tolerate red meat or chicken at this point, but seafood is the only acceptable alternative. Yes, I've forgotten to say "no meat" and had to pick around chuncks of ham or bacon. 
My observations of meatless life are that I eat a lot more and more often. I love salads and veggies but I find you have to eat a lot more spinach to feel as full as you would from a burger. I don't diet but I do believe in the food pyramid and try to eat a little from each category and it's very easy to loose balance when your pyramid is off balance. If I don't pay attention, I'll go days eating nothing but carbs, starches, and breads. I'm also more prone to crazy cravings than I used to be. I will NEED vegetables and absolutely obsess about fruit. Also, when I'm hungry, I'm HUNGRY to the point of shaky and light-headed.  I also sometimes overdose on the fiber and we all know those side effects. ;-)
The most interesting part of this veggie experience is other people's reaction. Like I said before, I'm not the only meatless maniac in the world and selective dietary choices are the new black. I'm a lot more comfortable ordering nachos with the ground beef on the side and burgers with no burger than I used to be now. I'm not the only "veggie" out there and I'm finding that more and more restaurants are accommodating. (Best franchise restaurant I've found is Pizzeria Unos. They go far beyond a veggie lover's pizza).
Just like when I used to tell people I was runner, they would  immediately tell me how far or fast they could or could not run. Just like when I tell people I work for the company that makes the SAT's and they tell me their scores..... I immediately hear's people's favorite meat product. And it's almost always bacon.
"You don't eat meat? What about bacon? I could never live without bacon!" 

No, I don't miss bacon! I never liked it all that much to begin with and certainly not enough to make an ice cream sundae out of it (shame on you, Denny's). Yes, it's yummy and salty but there are other meats I miss more. I have to hold onto to every ounce of self control in the mornings to resist a Wawa sausage/egg/and cheese sizzli. I try to justify it as there is really no meat in that meat product and no one would know......

Does it count as meat if no live animals were used?

I'm a little over 8 months into this veggie venture and so far so good.I'd say I've "cheated" about 10 times. In 8 months, not too shabby! Most politicians can't even say that! I'm  proud of myself for holding out so long. I also really respect and appreciate when others acknowledge this choice without judgement. It really does make me happy when someone buys veggie burgers for me or asks if I eat fish or tofu. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Running is my BFF

I wrote before about how running is a big dumb jerk. And it is. But I felt kind of bad for talking trash. And I was worried about how running would punish me for gossiping. Running isn't all bad. It can also be a really good friend.

Running can introduce you to people you'd never meet or really get to know otherwise. A lot of people run and for completely different reasons, at different paces, all over the world. I love meeting people who run, reading about runners and supporting running-related causes. There is a community out there of healthy, supportive folks who share in a sweat obsession and passion for pacing.

My super speedy, super hot runner friend Bonnie who is about to start a new
and challenging journey with the US National Guard. 

Running is always there for you. 
Plans fall through. People disappoint. Life changes.  Your pace or endurance may fluctuate. Injuries will (should) heal. A road is always a road. A treadmill is always a treadmill. But the ability to put one foot in front of the other, to sweat, to pump blood, will always be there. You may not even run, per say, you could walk. You can hobble. But you can move forward with your thoughts and hear your own voice.

Running will listen, but it won't try to solve your problems. 
Running is clearly female. I complain about everything and everyone when I run. I hate everything and everyone. I get  rant, vent, ponder, bitch, dream, plan, scheme to someone who doesn't have a smart answer
who doesn't tell me how to solve it
who doesn't tell me how worse off they have it
who doesn't story top
who doesn't judge
who doesn't ask questions. It just listens.

And at the end of session, the problems are still there. A boss is still a boss. A bill is still unpaid. A paper is still not written. But, damn it felt good to just talk. 

Running keeps you out of trouble. It makes you behave. You don't go boozin' on a Friday night if you're planning to run on Saturday morning. (A lesson I WILL learn SOMEDAY) You don't eat massive amounts of junk food and then jump on a treadmill. It doesn't end well. The more you run, the better you will want to eat. Running is that friend who holds you accountable to diets or lifestyle changes.

You also end up spending so much $$ on sneakers, moisture-wicking clothes, race fees, travel fees, gu-s, and Garmins that you barely have any leftover money to waste on yet another purse. Who needs purses when you get a gear bag at every race? If only tech-tees could be considered business casual. 

Running believes in you and makes you stronger. You can run 1 mile. You can run 2 miles. You can run 3 miles. You can do anything. Running isn't the one who makes you stop. You make you stop. Running knows you can do it. And you can. And even after you run miles and marathons, running still believes in you and you get stronger. I was amazed when I was able to run 5 miles for the first time. I cherish the feeling of crossing my first finish line. I am proud of myself for transforming a New Year's Resolution into a such an important part of life and continuing to lace up my sneakers. 

How has running been a good friend to you? Do you wear your race tags on your shoe like tweenS wear BFF charms? 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Righteous Runner Rules for Righteous Running

"The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen… Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!" – Moses, "History of the World Part 1,” Brooksfilms (1981)

  1.  Thou shall not spend more time traveling to a race than it would take to actually run the race.
  2. Thou shall not use a treadmill next to an occupied treadmill unless it is the only available option.

  3. Thou shall not covet others runner’s pace, distance, supposed strength, outfit, shoes, time, or medals.
  4. Thou shall not run when there are excessive heat warnings or air quality warnings—even if other people are out there. Nor shall you run when the roads are covered in ice and it compromises your safety and the safety of others on the road.
  5. Thou shall never wear the same sports bra twice without it drying out or being washed.
  6. Thou shall always have a spare set of running clothes in the car.
  7.  Thou shall reuse plastic water bottles twice before recycling.
  8.  Thou shall take a rest day or three or week or month.
  9.   Thou shall smile and nod at passing runners.
  10. Thou shall honor thy body and thy soul equally. 


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Important Than a Finish Line

Because there are more important things than medals and free bananas.
Because when your boyfriend texts you during a race, “I just got into an accident” you stop running. Everything stops. The clocks, your heart, your breath, everything. Stops.

This weekend was the Back on my Feet Midnight Madness 8 Mile Run. I fundraised for this event because Back on my Feet is a remarkable organization that I would love to be more involved with. I really liked (at first) the idea of running at midnight. It’s a break from the early morning starts and peanut butter toast breakfasts. The race takes place along the scenic (in the daytime) Philadelphia Art Museum Loop, a course I’m more than familiar with. Four miles down Kelly drive, a little more than 4 miles back along West River Drive, around the Art Museum, finishing at the start of Boathouse Row.
From the very start, there was mysterious bad mojo around this race. The day was just weird. As I was getting ready, Scott says his stomach is in knots but he doesn’t know why. I offered him an out and he could be excused from the silliness of driving to Philly at 10pm to deal with parking in a congested area, so I could run in the dark while he sat bored for 3 hours.

As we walked towards Boathouse Row and the starting line, I got surprisingly nervous. Was I concerned about 8 miles at midnight? Nah. I didn’t like the concept of running in the dark through a sketchy areas.  I got, like, really nervous. All of the runners were required to wear reflective gear and there was a contest for the most illuminated runner. I decided to stay by THAT person. At the stroke of midnight, we were off. 

The race started well. Running in the dark means running without the punishing heat or humidity and significantly less distractions for a short-attention span like mine. I was concentrating so intently on the darkness and not tripping that the miles flew by.

But an easy race in the dark is not was this post is about.

Mile 7. My phone lights up. I see my boyfriend’s name and smile to myself that he’s probably sending something like a ‘good luck!’ or ‘see you at the finish line!’ type thing. But it wasn’t. It was the kind of message that pulls you out of your head and brings all your priorities back into focus.
“I just got into an accident”
Stop. Legs stop. Heart stop. Lung stop. Life stop. I step off the course and text back, “What? Are you ok? Where are you?”
Legs start. Heart starts. Mind sprints. Imagination goes faster than my body ever will. He had to get gas. Is he by Board Street and Spring Garden?/That’s a crappy area. What kind of accident/What if they take him to the hospital/What hospital/I won’t be able to see him/Is he ok/what happened/why/where/he has my keys/I don’t have my wallet/or any cash or credit card. Get there. Get there. Find him!

The phone rings after what feels like an eternity but was probably only two minutes. There was an accident. A red light was run, cars collided, police on their way, at 25th and Fairmount.
“Where are you?”
“ 25th and Fairmount!”
“Ok! I’ll get there! I only have about a mile to go.” I’m not really sure what the rest of the conversation was because I became focused solely on finishing this damn race.
Imagination goes wild with crazy scenarios.  Unfortunately for me, my legs didn’t have quite the momentum or power in them left as my imagination did. So, as I pushed and fought to run the longest mile of my life, ever, my mind had the car being towed with my apartment keys into, had me being locked out of an emergency room while some nurse said I wasn’t allowed in because I’m not family, had him crashed in north Philadelphia with scary gansta types that even the Fresh Prince of Bel Air couldn’t handle just circling him, had him in a fight with some drunken bar dude who hit his car, had me stranded in Philadelphia with nothing but my cell phone and my Garmin. Keep in mind, this all happening at around 1:15 am.
I could have been running a 8 minute-mile pace but it seemed like I was getting no where. I needed to finish the race and find him. As I finally  passed the Art Museum, I realized that I was in the Fairmount section of the city and holy smokes, there’s 25th street. Without a second thought, I turned right off of the course and headed up 25th.  My first DNF. 
I could see the police lights from Kelly Drive. I ran up and saw the black Acura that I mock him relentless for, smashed by a street lamp. I see my always calm, always collected, never stressed out, rock of a boyfriend leaning against his car, a cigarette shaking from his lips. He told me to go finish the race. he'll be fine. 
I refused. Because there are more important things in life than finish lines and free bananas. There are far worse acronyms than DNF. I have at least twenty race medals but I only have one boyfriend. I love running and I love the feeling of crossing a finish line, but I love that guy more.  The feeling a hug or a nervous hand squeeze trumps a 'good job' from a weary volunteer any day. 

Ironically, this sign says No Stopping. A car plowed right over it.

I’m not comfortable discussing the details of the accident. Let’s just say, there was an angel at that intersection and both drivers were extremely lucky. Scott limped away with a sprained foot and a superficial  head wound  from the airbags deploying. The other driver had a sore chest. The car is totaled but can be replaced. Scott now has the athlete creed of RICE- rest, ice, compression, elevation—tattooed on his foot. Not really, but the foot is so swollen that you could probably write this entire blog post on there and have room for comments.
The other vehicle involved

Nights like Saturday  reminded me that anything can happen, life can change in a moment.  We can control our diet, our pace, our weekly mileage, our time, but we cannot control life. It is how we handle crisis that defines us.