ALL GUTS!

SnohoWomen'sRun2

Image description: Picture of me running and sweating, from the waist up. I am wearing a dark green tunic, white cap, and a bright yellow backpack.

A few years ago, I participated in some weekly track workouts through the local running club. I was newer to running, and wanted to learn a few tips before embarking on my first marathon. Though my interested in repeatedly circling the rubber university track eventually waned, I did pick up a basic vocabulary of running, some valuable information about form, and a newly formed love/hate relationship with planks. The takeaway that remains with me to this day, however, is the concept of “all guts.”

I’ve written about this on the blog before, but there is a certain point where intellect, calculation, risk awareness, and planning fail the runner. This is usually during the last stretch of a run or a race. Picture this familiar scene:

You are rounding a bend at a slight incline for what seems like the hundredth time during the race. Sweat has accumulated as salty patches at your hairline and on your upper lip. All you smell is salt and your own sweat. The sun is starting to beat down more strongly. The chill of the morning is dissipating. The arches of your feet are starting to feel the effect of miles of friction. Your fingers are starting to tingle. Your lips are gummed up with stringy mucous. You pass the penultimate mile marker, gearing up for the last stretch…

This is precisely where “all guts” serves me so well every time. Good running is about mindfulness and clarity of mind, but those methods of mitigating the noise lose efficacy over time and distance. Beyond that, particularly in a race day situation, there are so many other variables pulling at the brain for attention. Stimuli, time goals, self-imposed expectations, these are all in play as one powers through the corridor of bystanders tinkling cow bells and cheering you on. Sometimes it is too much. Sometimes, often, you want to crash. That last terrible wall looms, the one that cheats you out of a strong finish, the one that cheats you out of a time goal. That wall is self-doubt, and it amounts to folding when you have a perfectly good hand.

When I get to this place, I start to whisper cheer to myself “all guts, all guts, all guts.” Sometimes I say it under my breath as I run the last mile. I was introduced to this concept during mile repeats at track workouts. We were encouraged to run the fastest mile we could, as a way of setting a base personal record. Finishing the third lap, there was this one coach who would yell “all guts!” as we curved into the fourth a final lap. He said it kindly, but excitedly. And each time, this reminder was very effective. It was a cue to shut of my frontal lobe, embrace my primal humanity, and simply run hard.

I was running a 10K race yesterday, and feeling strong throughout. I knew I was averaging somewhere between 8:15 and 8:30 a mile, and that is pretty speedy for my body at that distance. Shortly after hitting the 5 Mile marker (and running for a few miles up to that point in relative solitude), I turned the corner to crowds of race volunteers and people. The appearance of all of this broke my focus and I was suddenly aware of my own exhaustion. My legs, spoiled from my penchant for trails, realized I tricked them into a road run. I really wanted to slow down and take a long walk break, but I didn’t. Instead, I kept running and did a brief body scan. Was I feeling sharp pain? No. Did I have a side cramp? No. Was I short of breath? No. I was feeling that overload at the end of the race… I was feeling the last wall creep up. “ALL GUTS!” I shouted in my head, “ALL GUTS! ALL GUTS!”

And I shouted that all the way to the finish line until I crossed, looked up at the clock, and realized I set a new 10K race PR.

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April Recap

Image description: Full pink blossoms and green leaves on a tree branch with blue sky in the background.

The month started with the emergence of blossoms, and it concludes with nearly full leaf cover, bright green fingers on the edge of the evergreens, and the thick smell of pollen in the air. I enjoyed running in a few different locations, including during my two trips to Oregon. As the trails came alive with new growth, I cherished the gift of taking long walks through the arboretum during my lunch hour. I ran my first half marathon of the year, and it was really enjoyable and comfortable. I am feeling energized about my running practice as the days continue to lengthen and the weather warms. My daughter and I are now running together regularly. I had my annual destination race adventure with my number one running buddy. Overall, April exceeded my expectations.

I am looking forward to the slide into summer. To waking up early in the cool dawn, before the dew evaporates from the pavement. To extended golden hours in the evening. To trekking and running through the many natural beaches mere miles from my house. To continued changes in my own life as I delve deeper into the final push of my dissertation and support my family through growth and love. I feel a sense of peace and excitement.

I am also very pleased to be approaching a summer that does not involve marathon training. While marathon training is a labor of love, I do not feel the drive to shift my running practice in that direction. Rather, I continue to enjoy my intentions of pursuing sustainability and reclaiming excitement. There is something absolutely thrilling and invigorating about leaping out for a sunny evening run, with no particular agenda other than to find joy.

High Desert Hopes

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Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

running and health

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Image description: Green vegetation in the woods surrounding a narrow dirt trail.

One of the benefits of a well-established running practice is regular exercise. Exercise does not have to be this special ritual that involves 2+ hours a day, driving to the gym, or even buying special clothes. Exercise is not reserved for people who look a certain way or have certain abilities. While our society obsesses over foods and diets (even a regular trip to the grocery store feels like sensory overload), we do little to promote daily exercise. An article recently came out in the New York Times touting the benefits of running, including the evidenced connection between running and increased life expectancy. Beyond physical benefits, exercise is preventative medicine for mental and emotional health, as well. Next time you are frustrated by something at home or work, take a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes (preferably in a place surrounded by natural beauty) and revisit the source of stress. In my experience, the big hairy problems suddenly become more manageable after a walking or running break.

I am a big proponent of sustainable lifestyle choices. For me, high impact Crossfit type stuff is not sustainable. Yes, I could do it for a time, and, knowing my competitive spirit, it would likely draw me in. However, eventually, the time in my day would reduce. Getting to the gym would be a barrier. I would start to feel the impending litany of obstacles to getting started. I would, eventually, quit. In my experience, walking for exercise and running have been the complete opposite. Like reading a little each night, or making a cup of tea in the afternoon, these are tools and choices always available to me. Fresh air is a panacea. As a person who is genetically and mentally wired to experience more anxiety and worry than some of the other people in my life, exercise provides a safe and welcoming outlet to process. Regardless of my cardiovascular health or cholesterol levels, exercise brings me calm, joy, and at times, sheer euphoria.

I also find that there are human ecological benefits derived from the way I prioritize intentional locomotion, whether that is walking, running, swimming, or dancing… In my work with students, our shared passion for the outdoors is a wonderful way to connect. As the days grow longer, my family takes full advantage of after-dinner walks, routines that have a way of mitigating the typical witching hour between dinner and bedtime by taking us out of our familiar and thrusting us into the appreciation of natural beauty. As an introvert, I love using walks as a way to connect with colleagues or friends. The feeling of momentum gifts us with a shared journey, there is no shortage of details to focus on, and moments of silence no longer feel threatening when they are punctuated by birdsong or wind-rustled branches.

I have written this many times on my blog before, but I continue to relish and admire the ways that a regular running practice improves my life. Running is not a chore to be avoided, but an invitation to find peace. In our constantly connected, over-saturated-with-information, sedentary and over worked reality, springing into nature hungrily is a radical choice to reverse course. It is the best act of selfishness, one that inevitably connects me to the larger world of which I am a part, and reminds me of my own persistence and strength.

Whether or not running will add years to my life, it certainly adds quality to the years as they pass. This is health, and a health I treasure very dearly.

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.

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

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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.