running safety

Staying safe while running is a huge concern for me, and I would guess for many other woman-identified runners. Last summer, several news reports came out about female runners who were victims of assaults, or worse, homicides. Closer to home, Kelly Herron was able to beat back her attacker using self-defense in nearby Seattle last month. Unfortunately, a woman running alone carries risks. Every time I run, I am thinking about my safety and the possibilities of what I would do should the surroundings become unsafe. Here are a few of my tips:

  1. I always bring my phone. While this necessitates wearing a belt or something with pockets, the added security is worth it.
  2. I always tell someone (usually my partner) where I am going, and when I should be back. If I am going longer, I text an update with a revised ETA.
  3. If I am going on a trail run, I stick to main trails. If I am alone, I only run the routes I know.
  4. I pack extra fuel, water, and a small first aid kit for long runs. In the fall and winter, I always pack a headlamp, even if I think I will be home before dusk.
  5. In darkness, I run with a headlamp, and I run on main streets. I pick routes that have multiple safe havens, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and houses of people I know.

Truthfully, I am always thinking about my safety during a run. By instinct, I watch every male that approaches me carefully. I pay attention to details. I am always thinking about how I would attack to defend myself, get away, or call for help. Yes, this is exhausting. And, yes, if you are a female-identified runner, you likely know this exhaustion.

Nevertheless, we live in a violent society and a rape culture. The same men who feel entitled to roll down a window and catcall might feel entitled to approach or attack. I never know, and I don’t take risks. Finally, if something ever gives you a funny feeling… report it. Don’t ever feel sheepish about it. I was running with some friends a few years ago (thankfully, I was not alone), and we encountered a very suspicious man who made us uneasy. We called 911 (you can report as a non-emergency if it falls in that category). Your call might be the one to interrupt a dangerous pattern or agenda.

If you happen to be reading this and you are male-identified, consider standing up to rape culture and misogyny. Talk to your male friends and family members. If you are a witness to even the most passive forms of assault and violence (such as street harassment), step in and interrupt. You have the power to bring about change, incident by incident.

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march recap

More than a month has gone by since I last updated the blog. Winter pronounced itself through several blustery and snowy weeks, and has finally retreated. Cherry blossoms and forsythia dot the streets with vibrant colors. The sun, when it gets a chance to shine through the clouds, feels warm and close. My nose and eyes are telling me that spring is upon us, weaving her delicate changes through the fields and branches.

The entry of spring ushered in another new chapter for me. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last week, bringing me to the last phase of my doctoral journey. I went into the defense armed with the tools I find to be the most reliable: solid preparation, good old fashioned rehearsing, and a 5 mile run earlier in the day to work out the jitters. I am so glad I had the ability to spend some time outside, working my body, lungs, and legs before sitting down to share a plan for research represents so much of my study over the last few years.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to prepare for the Bend half marathon. I’ve approached this race in a relaxed manner, prioritizing regular running and walking, while also integrating weekly long runs. I am not going into this one expecting a personal best on time, but I suspect that I will come in right around the two hour mark if I pace myself well, especially during the first few miles. I’ve only run one race this year, in part due to schedule conflicts, but also because I am enjoying a flourishing running practice that seems to no longer rely on the promise of an upcoming race to remain regular. So, I look forward to next month’s race recognizing that it may very well be a few months before the next one.

So far, nearly a quarter into the year, it seems that embracing my flow is becoming the natural intention of my practice. I realize I do not have to work as hard on the motivational premeditation before a run. I am much more inclined to lace up my shoes and head out. I am also enjoying my developing love of walking and hiking. They are great companions to running, and have only deepened my appreciation for our local trail systems and surrounding greenways.

The best update that I want to share comes from my mama life. My daughter has fallen in love with running, and evening mother daughter runs before dinner have become a nice little tradition. There is something truly special about a child organically sharing an interest with their parent. I look forward to many years of running together.

What are your spring running intentions?

Happy trails!

intentions for running and writing

I was speaking with my dissertation chair yesterday, and she told me about a very interesting framework for writing. She spoke about the difference between generative writing and revision writing. Generative writing is when you cover new ground, put ink on paper, and charge ahead adding pages. Revision writing is when you go back and do, what I fondly think of as, reading in my Ken Burns voice and editing until the paragraphs sound both stoic and compelling. The point of this conversation was to show that setting an intention for the type of writing before sitting down to a session can be extremely helpful in the overall scheme of productivity. These opposing activities, the generative and the revision, brought me back to a reflection on running practice.

What does it mean to have generative or revision runs? I imagine generative runs as covering new terrain; a new route, for example, or a particular race undertaken for the first time. A generative intention is prospective; we construct an idea of what we would like to accomplish that is currently outside of our realm of experience. Revision runs, on the other hand, are the repeated and well-known routes. They are the loops through trails and neighborhoods that we know so well, we experience a sort of autopilot. The revision runs build upon previous experiential knowledge, in an iterative way, to create awareness of other dimensions of running. For example, on a generative run, one might not be as in tune with cadence or form. However, on a revision run, when the environment is less distracting to the mind, these more intricate technical details come into focus.

Like with academic writing, I believe running requires a balanced combination of the two types of practice. The key revelation for me yesterday, was the idea that we can use these concepts to frame our practice (whether it is writing or running) before heading out the door (or onto the page). This morning, I embraced a generative writing intention as I tackled a previously anemic section of my literature review. With the freedom to throw new material, without the confines of revision judgment, much progress was made. Tomorrow, I will circle back with a revision framework, with an eye on how each part is connected.

I find much in common between the process of my grounded theory study and my running practice. Both involve a fluid interplay between zooming in and zooming out; between holding the episodes as self-contained and valid experiences, while also relating them to a broader patchwork. Whether the goal is another chapter, or another dozen miles, it is only a small progression in a much larger story.

night

A Runner’s World from a few months back had a Q&A section. A reader wrote in asking why running in the dark feels so fast. The columnist responded that the lack of fixed visual points of reference, especially in distance vision, obscure our awareness of our pace. Our perception of speed is increased significantly.

Running in the dark feels secretive and intimate. With a friend, it feels like a duet of adventurers, fueled by stories that are easily imagined against the backdrop of a night sky. Alone, it feels quiet, almost subversive. Aside from the foggy amber streetlamps, there is little to catch the attention of a wandering gaze. Windows framed by open curtains project scenes of living out to the street; the mundane wrapped in coziness. On clear nights, with the slightest sliver of moonlight, the stars remind me that I am small. I feel like a mouse scurrying among the tall grasses, unsure as to whether an owl is watching.

The world is turning, and I am running, and we keep going.

 

evolving rituals

I enjoyed an interesting conversation with my running buddy this morning, as we tackled our pre-dawn daily miles before heading into the office. We were talking about all of the rituals and rules that we used to observe, steadfastly, closer to the beginning of our respective running practices. Many of those tendencies, we realized, disappeared over the years as we have grown into a much more frequent running practice. For example, we are both much more comfortable heading into a half marathon without fueling in the middle, whereas I can remember a time that I felt obligated to swallow some type of energy goop every hour on the hour. Our bodies are the machines we know most intimately, like a car that one owns for several years… we begin to gain confidence in discerning the creaks, the rattles, the warning lights, and all of the quirks that accompany our daily commute.

This conversation got me thinking about the flip-side, the rituals related to running that I have adopted over the last year. Here are a few things I do now that I was not doing when I started my distance running journey:

Coffee. When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a round about coffee (“C-O-F-F-E-E, coffee is not for me! It’s a drink some people wake up with, that it makes one nervous is no myth…”). Sorry camper of the past, but coffee is a drink I not only wake up with, it’s a drink I unabashedly consume before my morning runs. Caffeine is a common choice among runners, and consumed a variety of ways (for example, you can purchase fuel gels with caffeine added to them), but I prefer a cup of the good warm stuff. I also find that a cup of coffee before an early morning run (especially in fall and winter) keeps my core warm in cold weather.

Recovery walks. We’ve all felt the temptation to take up permanent residence on the couch after a long run, especially one that leaves muscles stiff and achy. I have learned, however, that heading for a sedentary recovery means enduring more days of soreness (the exception here is resting because of an injury… if you are injured, please rest, ice, elevate). I am a big fan of walking as a supportive exercise for running. I try to walk intentionally nearly every day, but on days when I do a particularly strenuous run, it is especially important to keep the blood circulating oxygen to tissue. A brisk walk for 1-3 miles really helps me to stave off stiffness after a run, and it is preferable to taking even one dose of NSAIDs, which can aggravate stomach issues.

Simple and nourishing food. Running uses up calories and hydration. One of two things typically happens after a run… I am either without any appetite, or I am ravenous. I tend to lose my appetite after a really hard and fast run, no matter the distance. I believe this is, in part, because of the fight or flight response. Ever get that precursor-to-diarrhea stomach cramp feeling after a run? It is all part of the same nervous system response. I have learned that it is really important to make a good effort to both eat a nourishing snack and replenish water after any run, even if I don’t feel like eating. A few things that tend to go down easy for me include hard-boiled eggs, banana with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. I will often leave myself at least 16 ounces of water, either in the car or by the front door, to drink down immediately following my run. Of course there are exceptions to this, and they usually occur on a race day when there’s a trough full of Costco muffins or a doughnut stop with friends on the way home… but I try to stick to my nourishing foods as part of my regular routine.

Layers. I really like to feel warm when I run. I used to wear minimal gear and clothing, but now I will wear a running backpack to store gloves or a top layer on cold days. The extra gear is worth it to me. Personally, if I don’t have to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of my run cursing how terrible the cold air feels against me, I get into the groove a lot faster. Two years ago, I rarely wore hats, vests, or gloves. Now I keep them ready to go and consider them to be essential fall and winter (and sometimes spring) running accessories.

New rituals, old rituals, some based in common sense, some in superstition. We all have them! The important thing is that you are equipping yourself to be successful and enjoy a long and flourishing running practice. I am looking forward to running for enough years that I end up contradicting my own advice several times over.

Happy trails!

projects ahead

fraglake

Image description: A frozen water fall cascades over mossy boulders on the side of a trail.

We are in a new year, and messages about intentions, guiding words, resolutions, goals, and lifestyle changes are abundant. 2017 is upon us. I have no product to sell you, no scheme, and no plan. There are plenty of bloggers out there evangelizing their truths. Pick something that excites you. Pick something that is new, or old, or just right. Do something you love. Do something that lights a fire.

There are two projects I hope to work on this year, both of which are new and exciting. My first project is to become a more seasoned trail runner. My favorite aspect of running, especially over the last year, is found in the time connecting with nature. I love experiencing new trails and geography, navigating my body through different types of terrain. I am investing in better trail shoes, and hoping to add a longer (and more remote) trail run to my weekly rotation.

The second project is really intimidating for me, but something I’d love to try. I am thinking about recording a running-related podcast. I have no idea if this will get off the ground as a final product I’d want to share, but I do appreciate opportunities to reflect on my running practice, and to muse on the creative ways it benefits my life. Obviously, the internet is over-saturated with running content, so, like this blog, the podcast would have a sleepy existence. Nevertheless, I am excited to learn new technical skills and tell a few stories at the same time.

We are about midway through the month, and I am pleased that the skies are staying relatively dry and sunny. I am still daydreaming about a trail run I did last weekend, one which took me up to some snowy foothills. Even though winter is not my favorite, I am doing my best to practice the appreciation of beauty, and to pay my respects to the muted and quieted season upon us.

december recap

december-1

Image description: Two images side-by-side. On the left, the blogger wears a pink hat in a selfie. Her eyelashes, hat, and vest are covered by snowflakes. On the right, a wooded trail blanketed in snow.

December was a memorable month for running. We are experiencing La Niña this year, which means Western Washington is getting repeated snow in the lowlands for the first time in a while. Last month, I was able to enjoy some of the first completely silent and majestic snowy trail runs I have ever had the pleasure of completing. When I ran in the evenings, the darkness was illuminated by brilliant constellations and the colorful outdoor lights around the neighborhoods. I spent a lot of time running alone, which was a nice way to reflect and find peace. My family and I took an indulgent winter break, travelling virtually nowhere, spending many days at home playing tabletop games and simply enjoying our time together. I felt, for the first time in a long while, the absence of stress, deadlines, and the trivial details that can take the wind out of the sails of anybody who is anxiety-prone.

My favorite run of the month was the Last Chance Half Marathon, which takes place annually on New Year’s Eve. I ran this race last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the course (13.1 miles of my favorite trails) and what it represented. Last year, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment as I crossed the finish line. 2015 was a year sidetracked by illness and finishing it strongly felt triumphant. This year, I crossed the same finish line, once again, with a sense of pride as I reflected on my year. A year I ran more than 1100 miles. A year I learned how to run half marathons under two hours; 10Ks in 50 minutes. A year I dug deep to find the gifts of running, again and again, without the peer pressure of a friend or the impending expectation of a race. How did I feel running the Last Chance? I felt elated, and I felt thankful.

2016-12-31-254-x2

Image description: Race photo of the blogger rounding the bend of a wooded trail. Mossy logs and ferns surround the path.

I enter the new year with a secure sense of self. So often, we are told to restrict and then indulge. We are a society of binging and purging, of minimalism and extravagance. There is but a small voice that suggests perhaps there is another way to find balance. As elusive as it is, with only the wisps of calm entering the present, the path to balance is there. I am growing into a new comfort of open-mindedness about who I am and what I do, but also unapologetic commitment to the aspects of living that help me grow.

Happy Trails!

running track

Variety is an essential supplement that strengthens my running practice. I need to mix up my routes and surfaces, alternating between pavement and trail. Beyond that, I have found extreme value in running at least twice a month on the track. I am lucky to have access to a pretty swanky indoor track, so I make good use of it in the fall and winter months, especially during long stretches of ice, rain, and wind. Running on the track, especially an indoor temperature controlled track, is slightly disorienting. All conditions are stable. There is no headwind to negotiate, no slant to the street, no tree roots on the trail. Running track is one of the only times I could probably run with my eyes closed and survive. All these things acknowledged, do not let the vanilla exterior bore you. A track is a great tool for the runner.

Not a sprinter? No problem. Neither am I (couldn’t jump a hurdle to save my life). Here are some ways I use track workouts as a middle-distance runner:

Form clinic:

The track is a great opportunity to audit your form. Unlike a naturally uneven surface, there is very little uncertainty to negotiate. Therefore, the body and the brain are both able to relax into running. I often use my track time as a prolonged visualization of being stretched, floor to ceiling, while I run, rather than being pulled or pushed forward, which is what a road or trail run might conjure. Running on a flat even surface with no interruptions is a wonderful opportunity to check in with form and flow, to stack the vertebrae in a healthy posture, and to make adjustments to cadence. Every mile, I like to check in with the parts of my body that I tend to ignore on road or trail runs, like my shoulders, neck, and jaw. I am always amazed by the tension I hold in these areas, and how my legs and feet feel liberated when I simply find those pockets of strain and let go.

Guess your race time:

At any pace/intensity, add 1 minute per track mile for a relatively accurate time. The track is a great place to create those muscle memories of what it “feels” like to run a 7:30 mile, etc. I have found this to be much more useful than wearing a GPS watch, because I think when I am running on the track, I am much more observant of, and engaged with, what my body feels like.

Set a goal ahead of time:

Generally speaking, I think it’s great to go in with a goal distance or time. We don’t need to manufacture that as much with a road or trail run because, well, you’re stuck getting back home one way or another. However, with a track, there is a perpetual temptation to walk off at the first start of a side stitch. This is why I really believe setting a goal ahead of time and sticking to it is essential. The nice thing about a track is that you can decide to run for 30 minutes, and run exactly that amount of time before hitting the showers. Once again, the lack of unknown variables really helps here.

Dynamic warm-up, generous cool-down:

I am terrible about warming up and cooling down. Truly, it is my weakness. I walk a lot these days, which I believe helps with running recovery, but I don’t tend to walk as a cool-down directly after a run. For me, however, the oval shape of the track, the redundancy of the exercise, invites me to warm up slowly and also to cool down after the peak segment of my workout. If you are running on a standard track, two laps of walking flies by in no time, and it’s a half mile cool-down that I probably wouldn’t otherwise incorporate.

Sleep mode:

An acquaintance of mine shared that her therapist prescribed her 30 minutes a day of doing something only for herself. As humorous as that may sound, a busy life is no joke! Many of us, especially career professionals with children or partners, feel like every scrap of our time is claimed by either doing or worrying about doing. I will continue to extol running as the antidote for the disease of stress. Running on the track takes it one step further, inviting your brain to enter sleep mode, if you choose (like a computer ceasing its nonessential functions). You have nowhere to go but around—perpetually—as long as you like! Might as well turn up some good tunes (lately I am all about the Gilberto Gil Pandora station) and enjoy your prescribed 30 minutes of blank head space. Go on, you’ve earned it.

standard time

Last night, I was reminded of the thrills of running in the early parts of headlamp season. The sensory deprivation pulls me into a focused and connected run. Without daylight, I become much more aware of my body. I feel like the bow of a ship, smoothly parting the waters as I move forward consistently, fluidly, continuously. My breathing regulates as my legs pump, feeling their power connected to my hips, my back, my lungs, my arms. My body, this intricate machine, propels me forward. Old well-known landscapes regain their mystery as they become shrouded in shadow and darkness. Only the soft glow of streetlamps marks the passage of distance.

October Recap

October was a nourishing month for my running practice. The goal was to reclaim the joy of running. I started out with some ambivalence toward running, particularly after an anticlimactic end to my marathon training, followed by a less-than-enthralling half marathon. Nevertheless, I got back in my routine, cast off any expectations for lengthy distance, and returned to running my daily miles.

November 1st is a sweet anniversary for me. It was this time last year that I began “streaking” my miles across the month. I finished October with a total of 85 miles, bringing my total for 2016 to 935. I am close to my 2016 resolution of running 1,000 miles.

Taking some time to enjoy this season of carefree headlamp running, while giving some reflection to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year.