runningtown, USA

I grew up in the city. When I started spending more time in my husband’s hometown at the beginning of our relationship, everything about rural country living seemed novel. The most noteworthy phenomenon was the degree of familiarity between residents of the area. Everybody knows their neighbors. Beyond that, the oral histories of entire families are recited by rote. Each farm and road has its accompanying story, usually a narrative that is darkly bittersweet. Churches and deer nearly outnumber denizens, and the event of the year remains a town parade and carnival in the middle of the summer.

We move on in life, and our sense of “home” acquires a multitude of meanings. As we explore our passions and seek out opportunities to engage, new communities emerge. As our children progress through their educational journeys, we join fellow parents among the ranks of the village. In our professions, we solidify networks of colleagues, and come to find, rather incredulously, that we begin to be called upon as institutional or organizational historians, able to reflect on a sum of experiences. And, if you run for a long enough time in your hometown, you begin to find yourself a place in that community, as well.

I see the same familiar faces on my Saturday morning runs. Some belong to people I know from other parts of life. Some are simply recognizable due to repetition. As I reflect on that observation, I begin to realize that a community of runners functions like a small hometown. We remember the races, year to year, and make jokes about the weather and other unfortunate variables. We feel relief upon encountering an acquaintance on a dimly lit trail, or motivated to run all the way to the crest of the hill when we know a fellow runner is watching.

Maybe I’ve seen you two other times in my life, but if we weave around each other, back and forth, over the course of a soggy and miserable road run, we may very well embrace at the end.

“Thank you,” is a common muttering we hear between strangers at the finish line, “you kept me going until the end.”

Running is both solitary and collective. While we bear the responsibility for our own feet and legs, we also uplift other runners through our example, words, and presence. Often, the thought of being that face for another person is the reasoning that pushes me over the hump of lacing up my shoes on an early weekend morning. To those just beginning, we are all strangers. Give it time, however, and we will become their people.

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august recap

August was a fruitful month, totaling 105 miles. This brings my 2016 mileage up to 778 miles… creeping closer to the 1,000 mile goal! I took more recovery days to walk and do different types of exercise last month, and I focused many of my shorter runs on speed work. Happy to report that there was some pay-off, as I placed first in a 25K road race last weekend! I enjoy setting new personal records, but there was a unique satisfaction of being the first woman to cross the finish line that I will carry with me in the memory bank of “triumphant runs” for a long time to come.

I have approached September, and it is time to fit in one more long run this weekend before tapering. While I am still running an early fall marathon, there’s been a change of plans. My running buddy broke her toe, and needs a few weeks to heal and recuperate. We decided to defer our race registrations for 2017. Running Chicago without my friend would not feel right to me. However, I’ve put a great deal of effort and time into training this past spring and summer, and so I decided to run my hometown marathon at the end of this month, instead.

As the marathon chapter comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next. While it has been invigorating and adventuresome to ramp up my speed and set new records for myself, I feel a pull back to the basics of why running fills my cup. The high of competition is ephemeral. I miss the meandering solo runs through the woods… with no particular agenda other than to traverse and appreciate nature. I am giving some thought to pursuing trail running more intentionally in 2017… perhaps doing some of the trail races and mountain runs that are so plentiful in this corner of the country. I would like to broaden my horizons and tackle some new experiences.

June & July Recap

Here comes the mega update for the summer. Apologies for a stop-out in blogging, but it has been quite a busy season! I left off at the end of May, single parenting while my partner survived his first Ph.D. residency. Right after he returned, I started working on comprehensive exams for my doctorate. During the first week of my exams, I was invited to interview for a job I had applied to on a whim. I ended up accepting that job a week after my interview, while finishing my comps and dashing off to present research at a national conference. Also, somewhere in there I agreed to co-author an article for publication. Between all of the stress, transition, and travel, I was hit with a pretty bad cold. Nevertheless, I finished out June with 95 miles… and I am very proud of that!

July marked the beginning of my new position. I did not realize how much stress my old position inflicted upon me on a daily basis until I left. It was like a boulder was lifted off my chest. I started sleeping. I got my appetite back. I enjoy my family time. I come home, and I play my cello almost every evening. I have tripled what I like to consider my head and heart space for academics. Suddenly, my dissertation not only seems doable, but also indulgent. An opportunity to explore and write about something that is core to my purpose in higher education. A place to channel my deepest desires to promote broader access to education for marginalized students. And, as a qualitative researcher, this work is a platform to honor the co-inquirers who will inform my perspective with their voices.

In terms of my running practice, July has provided bountiful opportunities to balance consistency with challenge. I am currently at 95 miles for the month (652 total for the year), which is pretty good. I anticipate exceeding 100 miles. I’ve participated in two trail races, and I am keeping up with long runs. I am quite happy with where I am in marathon training; just under three months until race day in Chicago, and I am running 5-6 days a week. I am keeping my pace steady at around a 9:30 mile, even on the solo long runs. I hope that as I increase distance, I can stay below or right around 10:00/mile.

In some ways, I cannot believe that July is drawing to an end. In other ways, I am excited to finish my semester of coursework and spend the month of August taking some deep breaths, reading some new fiction, and spending the last weeks with my daughter before she becomes a full-fledged KINDERGARTEN STUDENT (what?!). I am especially ready to reap the rewards of some downtime after recently learning that I have passed my comprehensive exams with flying colors and finalizing my article submission. Achievements unlocked!

So, there’s the update. A year ago, I was sick with mono, weighed down by job-related anxiety, and feeling some aimlessness in my studies. Now, I am healthy, fit, happy, and ready to write.

Happy trails!

May Recap

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May was a great month for running. I was able to run 100 miles this month, and I am very proud of that. Over the last week, I’ve had the added challenge of accommodating runs while parenting solo (no, I don’t have a treadmill at home) and I spent a few days fighting a cold my daughter brought home (honestly, I am still dragging a bit). However, I succeeded with my mileage goal! I had some flexibility to space things out at the end of the month because I front-loaded in the beginning. I am starting to think that’s the ticket with a monthly mileage goal.

My total for the year is now up to 462. In addition to running, I have been very intentional this month about walking as much as possible. Walking helps us to recover and keep our blood circulating. It is also a wonderful stress-reliever in a completely different way from running. Most importantly, however, walking provides me with a wonderful opportunity to connect with my daughter. We spend a lot of time walking to parks and playing at playgrounds. It is nice to be able to move, talk, and enjoy our time together.

June is underway. And I’m just about four months away from the Chicago Marathon… not that I am counting down or excited or anything. One of my intentions was to become comfortable running 14-16 miles before June. I can honestly report that I am feeling really great about these distances, especially after a very even and sustainable 16 mile long run early in the month. I am ready to spend June slowly increasing the distance of my long runs. 10-12 mile distances are feeling much more like medium runs than long runs, which is great.

June will also usher in a return to racing. I have at least one race coming up during the month, and I am especially excited because it is a short one (5 miles). I plan to run the 5 miles to the race start, run the race, and then do the 5 miles home. It will be a great way to spice up a long run.

Happy Trails!

the next chapter

I am positively thrilled by some exciting developments. Last week, I found out that I got a spot in THE 2016 Chicago Marathon! To make matters even better, my soulmate and epic running buddy was also offered a spot. Here we are, registered for a race that began as a fantastical idea during a dark and cold run last November. I have run a number of races in urban settings, and I have run a marathon before; however, I have never run a world-famous marathon with 45,000 other people including my best friend. How fortunate am I? I feel very lucky indeed.

The news of Chicago was especially sweet after a wonderful experience at the Wenatchee half marathon a little more than a week ago. I did not PR, but finished in 2:04 feeling good and peppy. I am coming around to the idea that my half marathon time is now sub-2:10 for fun, and able to be sub-2:00 on a race day. Instead of running myself too ragged in Wenatchee, I took the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful and scenic route along the river, framed by mountains, greenery, and sand dunes. Very interesting stuff, great support on the course, and a lovely weekend with my running buddy.

Last night, I sketched out my first draft of an 18-week training schedule for Chicago. I will start officially training the first full week of June, and I’ve incorporated a few hometown races throughout the schedule to break up the long runs and keep them interesting. When I trained for my first marathon in 2013, I remember feeling that the monthly mileage was simply overwhelming. Presently, however, as I average 80-100 miles a month, the marathon training schedule seems pretty manageable. There will be some looooong runs in there, but I plan to use the time before the training “clock” starts to get more comfortable with the 14-16 mile distance.

I’ve completed yet another semester of doctoral work, with dissertation just around the bend and beginning in the fall. I am gearing up to begin marathon training… the journey of rebirth I crave and anticipate with excitement. On Saturday, I will run 14 miles for the first time in a few years. Dig in, hold on, don’t look back.

March recap

March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, goes the famous saying, and I would agree that with the sunny weather and longer days, this month is leaving me peacefully. I finish the month with a total of 92 miles, which feels just about perfect to me. This month, I focused on running more frequent shorter distances, which I have found to be helpful in my overall pace for long runs. There were a few days that I elected to do another type of exercise, such as Zumba or yoga, but for the most part, I ran almost every day. I also elected not to run any races this month, which resulted in a more relaxed disposition toward my running practice. I enjoyed watching the trails transform into greenery, and like many runners, I was thrilled by the long-awaited return to Daylight Savings Time. My longest run was a spontaneous half marathon last week, which I was able to complete in 2:08 without much struggle.

A few things are on my mind as I enter April. I am running the Wenatchee Half Marathon in just two weeks, and I am getting very excited about enjoying this first spring race. So far, the weather forecast is looking good (knock on wood). I will also find out later in the month if I received a spot in the Chicago Marathon through the lottery system. If not, I am set on fundraising for a qualifying charity. Running Chicago is a dream of mine. Finally, along with dreams of a marathon comes the reality of training for a marathon. After Wenatchee, I will probably take advantage of my momentum to start slowly adding mileage to my long runs. I would like to be as comfortable running 16 miles as I am currently comfortable running 13 miles by June.

I find myself, once again, very busy this month of April. I have a semester of doctoral work to complete, a choral concert to perform, a fundraising event to co-facilitate, a child to care for, a full-time career which requires much attention… and yet, I feel confident. Running will see me through as it always has.

Happy trails!

my sub-2:00 half marathon

Today, something quite magical happened. I ran a half marathon race, and I finished under 2:00!

I’ve loved half marathons since the beginning of my adventures in distance running. As I became a more practiced runner, my times improved steadily and incrementally. Nearly three years ago, I set my all-time personal best for a half marathon at 2:11. Ever since, I have hovered around the 2:15 mark–sometimes more by a few minutes, sometimes less.

This year, one of my intentions for 2016 was to push myself out of the plateau and finally run a half marathon in 2:10 or less. I found that from running regularly (almost every day), my mile times began to improve in a way that they had not before. I achieved several new 10K bests, and a very fast 5K in December. Rather than waiting around for an April half marathon to try setting a new record, I registered for the Birch Bay half in February, hoping for a speedy race day.

Last week, inspired by my wonderful friend and running buddy who went for a long run and set an awesome new record for herself, I decided to embark on a dress rehearsal for the half marathon. I ran exactly 13.1 miles, using my regular out-and-back trail/road mix. I was very content when I finished in 2:08. Holy moly!–I thought–This is great! I was happy with achieving my goal of sub-2:10 and hoped to repeat a similar time at today’s race.

And then, this morning, everything came together. Despite the fact that it was pouring buckets and my shoes were squishy from the get-go, I was enjoying the route at a pretty fast clip. I decided to push through the first half aggressively, giving myself some breathing room during the second half, while still being able to finish under 2:10. However, when I realized that I was three miles out from the finish with a little under a half hour to spare, I felt the opportunity to push through and try for under 2:05.

I ran hard today. My comfortable pace is 10 minutes per mile. I clocked several of my miles at around 8:30. I fueled and hydrated religiously in order to avoid the dreaded wall. I tried not to look down at my watch too much, but I will admit that the last mile had me pumping my arms and chanting “keep going, keep going” to myself.

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When I finished under 2:00, I was in disbelief. I still am. I never, ever thought I would finish a half marathon, let alone at a race, this quickly.

I often run for other reasons besides fitness–for mental health, for inner peace, for fun. Today, however, I felt like an athlete. And that is an experience I will continue to cherish through my spring training and beyond.

What is my next half marathon-related goal? I am not sure. But I see endless opportunities ahead to continue improving upon and enjoying this distance.

January Recap

January was a pretty good month for running. I was sick for the second half of the month, so my cumulative mileage dipped down, but I take pride in the 83 miles I was able to log. I enjoyed some nice long runs by myself and also with my running buddy. It has been a wonderful fortune to have a friendship with somebody who is also actively training for a few half marathons in the future—I think the ability to run together now and then keeps us both accountable. I enjoyed the Nookachamps 10K, but hope to run it again next year in better health.

Yesterday, I kicked February off with a 3 mile nighttime run. The days are getting a bit longer, there is still daylight when I leave work, but none remains by the time I get home. By the end of the month, my headlamp will be less necessary. On a 10 mile run last weekend, the sun came out for about an hour, and the breeze was mild. The birds were singing and the small buds glistened on the branches. Slowly, slowly, the seasonal change is underway once again.

Goals for this month are to accumulate 80-100 miles (toward my goal of running 1,000 miles in 2016), go for a PR at the Birch Bay half marathon, and continue my hip strengthening exercises and stretches about which I was relatively disciplined last month.

training while sick

Despite all of my precautions, I succumbed to the current cold virus making its rounds. I took a few nights off from running, and was able to run a 10K race yesterday morning at a more leisurely pace. Today, I am feeling more improved, and will likely go for a short (~3 mile) run. Tomorrow, if I am feeling even better, I will attempt a long run.

Should we train when we are sick? I think that really depends on the person and the sickness. I exercise when I am sick if my symptoms are above the neck, I am feeling sufficiently hydrated, and the thought of fresh air and pumping blood perks me up. Often, I find that a jog here and there as I am getting over a cold helps to clear my sinuses and lift my spirits. What I have learned to be the most critical, is to honestly listen to the needs of the body before committing to a run. I can think of times when I ran too hard and for too long when I was feeling really sick and run down, and that actually compromised my health more. I try to play it really safe these days.

As a consequence of taking a few days off, my January mileage is a little behind, at 44 miles so far for the month. I hope that I am able to pick up my streaking again soon, and contribute some solid long runs to the remainder of the month as I finish preparing for the Birch Bay Half Marathon.

Yesterday’s 10K was pretty fun. My running buddy and I ran it together, and there was a lucky break in the rain for the entire duration of the race. I am most proud of us for running up an extremely gnarly hill right at the midpoint of the run. In comparison to where we were last year in our respective running practices, I think we’ve made some substantial improvements.

Happy trails, and stay well!

 

home cooking

It is definitely January. The term has started up at the university where I work, and I find myself keeping occupied with supporting my students and the case management required by that task. My doctoral studies resume tomorrow, the last semester before I take comprehensive exams, the penultimate semester before I begin dissertating… there is a light at the end of that tunnel! I am doing my best to keep up my running streak, so far, so good. On Saturday, I enjoyed an 8-mile run. Trying to keep my long runs in good shape for my upcoming half marathon in mid-February. This weekend, I will run the same 10K I did last year, with the hopes of a much-improved time. Since I am working around a bunch of students, and then picking up my kiddo from preschool every day, I continue to wash my hands frequently, get plenty of sleep at night, and eat nourishing foods (stay away, germs!).

Speaking of foods, we are two weeks in to an interesting challenge at my house, which is to not eat “out” at all this month (this includes restaurants, take-out, coffee stand items, drive-thrus). My partner and I both work full time, and that can make meal preparation every evening appear daunting. Last month, we realized that we had come to depend on food prepared by others as a mainstay of our diets. I worried about the impact on our finances and on our nutrition, and we agreed to try something different for the month of January. So far, I love the change of pace. Grocery shopping immediately became more exciting, as we stocked our kitchen with more produce, meats, eggs, and other ingredients. Meals have been much more satisfying and healthy; leftovers are being consumed. We are tossing less food because we are using it up to cook. Our compost and garbage output has gone down tremendously. Surprisingly, we are eating very few boxed or frozen food items.

Here are some go-to strategies that I have found really help:

-Bake a bunch of yams (my favorite) or potatoes and use those throughout the week in meals

-Scrambles (various ingredients cooked omelet style with eggs) are a great way to use up odds and ends in the produce drawer

-A crock pot is pretty much an error-proof way to make a tender and fragrant stew

-Chopping vegetables on Sunday night and storing them in Tupperware really does make it easy to throw together a “to-go” salad for lunch throughout the week

-You can make amazing pizza dough in the bread machine

Anyway, all of these are no-brainers, but sometimes we have to reset our habits before we can remember or realize the resources at our disposal. We are spending way less money to eat better food and feel more satisfied. I am sure, come next month, we will eat out again occasionally. But the break from restaurant food has been really good for us, and also fun for my daughter, who loves to help with the cooking.