august update

running

A little update about running and this pregnancy. At 16 weeks, I am feeling really good—pretty much my normal self. I am glad to experience higher energy levels and endurance once again. I am back to running 4-5 times a week, which is of great benefit to my mood and my body. I try to fit as much movement into the day as possible, even with a desk job. Even before this pregnancy, our family made it a goal to be in the habit of walking after dinner, and that routine continues to keep me feeling good through the evening. Running itself is more comfortable in the last few weeks, as my physical body acculturates to pregnancy. Earlier on, I carried a lot of bloat and running felt sloshy and off-kilter. Now that my bump is actually uterus, my body mechanics feel more coordinated. I am paying close attention to drinking a lot of water, eating a well-rounded diet, and getting as much sleep at night as I can (it is really difficult for me to nap).

My running practice has always helped to pull me, a very future-oriented person, into a greater appreciation for the present. In this sense, the ability to run more lately is bringing me a sense of harmony with this season of pregnancy. It is tempting and natural for me, right now, to want the fast-forward button. Though infants bring their own challenges, I have, admittedly, felt impatient this time around. For several weeks, I mourned a perceived loss of body autonomy. I am less process-oriented with this pregnancy and sometimes anxious about external expectations to emote/demonstrate/perform differently. However, running cools those flames of worry and also, perhaps most refreshingly, reminds me that I am still the woman inside of me. In a society where pregnancy is often contextualized as medical, delicate, essentially feminine, and perfectly acceptable for objectification, running brings to the forefront several antidotes: strength, resilience, ownership of self and body, independence, and health.

The wildfire smoke haze that dominated much of the month is gone, and last night I woke up to the sound of an unexpected nighttime rain. The breeze touches the skin with a hint of crispness. Dead, dry leaves line the trails, but the ones attached to their branches are starting to redden. Shortening days usher in an earlier golden hour of sunset. I find myself smiling nearly every run these days, because I am here in this movement, and because I am here in this space between seasons.

Happy trails!

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july update

13 weeks 2

Here I find myself, pregnant with my second child, and continuing my running practice. The past several weeks have been both exciting and exhausting; challenging in ways I can foggily remember, but also novel in their own unique season. I remain curious and appreciative about what seeing my running practice through a pregnancy will bring. Reflecting on the first trimester, I am very thankful that I knew to keep moving in whatever way I could. Some weeks, running was too unsavory. Even through that slump, I could still find joy in long walks. However, as the flu-like symptoms of early pregnancy subsided, I began to regain my tolerance for running. And then, just as I resigned myself to several months of a more complicated relationship with running, in a fortunate turn of events, running began to feel both joyful and fun again.

I feel like my running practice fits so well with this pregnancy for a few reasons. It brings me strength and clarity during a time when other parts of my biology sometimes feel out of my control. Especially recently, running provides me with that really wonderful combination of endorphins that makes me feel happy and comfortable. This time, pregnancy feels so much less process-oriented; the details and the concerns of the first time are not present, and would also seem almost repulsive at this time. I find I want to just be, and to be peaceful. In my life, a run or a walk in solitude equates to a gift of peace.

In a practical sense, as I near the end of gestation with my other baby, my dissertation, running gives me that mental space to play with ideas. I am particularly grateful for the creative and intellectual energy spun up through locomotion. I am finding and focusing on renewed hunger for zooming in, being present, and grappling with my projects and goals day-by-day. In some ways, this change in my physiology is shifting my mental habits to be more thoughtful, less decisive, and increasingly open to variation.

I do not have grand expectations or ideas of how the next 6 months will unfold, but I am pleased with the balance I currently have. My intention is to honor the practices that make my body and mind feel healthy and strong, even if those evolve from running to something else. In one way or another, many miles and milestones to go.

simple gifts

Rituals of preparation… braiding up hair before a run, applying rosin to the bow before practicing, warming up the kettle before settling into a writing session. What richness we lend to the task ahead when we greet our intentions with respect. Even in the most routine activity, there is reverence to be found. The buds on a star magnolia protrude, nestled in green fuzz. My daughter once plucked one, and, thinking it a small and furry creature, kept it dutifully in a tea tin for months. I reached out and touched one at dawn, on my way home, caressing a promise of spring. Beneath the noise and distraction exist simple gifts. They wait for us in every moment.

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Image description: A blooming star magnolia plant in the sun.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

why i run

When I reflect on the concept of spirituality, it becomes clear that it is a phenomenon which provides two main experiences: an anchor which grounds us to the small gifts and blessings of our existence, however pedestrian it may seem; and a portal through which to transcend the daily habits of living and click in to a soulful and almost celestial sense of interconnectedness across time, people, and place. I think about this a lot, because I am a nonreligious person… although there are times that my spirit is well watered and fed by the simplest of things. One of these sources is running quietly in nature. The primal ingredients of enduring a long run thrust me fully into my own humanity. The expansion and contraction of my lungs and heart surface awareness of my own mortality. I marvel at the finely engineered machine that is the routine and familiar sensation of bones and muscles propelling the body across surface, through space and time. Running practice provides both the gifts often hidden by the mundane (a drink of water from a park fountain becomes a cool and sweet elixir), and the ability to transcend the stress of the day and return home with a renewed appreciation for deep peace and organic exhaustion.

I think a lot of people around me misunderstand why I run. “You’re so dedicated to your health and fitness,” they will comment. Or, perhaps the daily miles are shrugged off as a trifle obsession. I find I care less and less about the opinions of others. From my perspective, running is my old friend. She is there to comfort me when I am sad, and to uplift me when I feel defeated. She has seen me through months of sleepless nights with a young child, and has helped me to overcome deep waves of worry and stress. She is patient with me, and allows me to engage her in a number of different ways. She does not judge me when I do not perform as I desired. She celebrates me when I exceed my expectations for myself.

One day, I might not be able to run comfortably. There are a myriad of reasons why I might have to cut back or take a hiatus. While there would be sadness in that change, the gifts of running will never leave me. I have learned that the dedicated practice of nurturing the mind-body connection is deeply enriching to life, and to the spirit.

now

On Saturday I ran 13.1 in under two hours. I haven’t accomplished that time since February, when I ran the Birch Bay Half. Unlike my experience in February, however, I was not incapacitated by couch potato-itis the rest of the day. Instead, I came home, showered, drank some coffee, ate some lunch, and drove down to a wedding.

Comparing these two runs interested me because they are almost exactly a half of a year apart. Although it seems like Birch Bay was just a few weeks ago, many months have passed. It is a congratulatory reminder that my dedication to a running practice of regularity and frequency is not short-lived. It is also reassuring that, even during the long days of marathon training, I can still pull off a sub-2:00 half marathon.

Sometimes training foists a complicated set of expectations upon a relationship with running. The pure enjoyment of the experience of running is muddled by the formulaic necessity to achieve a certain amount of designated miles and long runs per month. The activity can seem obligatory and monotonous. A three mile run, easily accomplished most any day, is suddenly Homeric and cumbersome. The feet and legs threaten to halt to a walk, even though the lungs and heart are capable of going further. These difficult runs do crop up, and perhaps more noticeably given the increased amount of time that is dedicated to the task.

In the midst of this reality, I am grateful for the recent memory of a triumphant and beautiful long run. A run that contributed toward my perceptions of my own efficacy and esteem. This was a small but significant reminder that I have improved… that six months of nourishing my practice has made a difference. As a parent, a professional, and an athlete, I have come to cherish the following mantra: Something is better than nothing, but that something doesn’t have to be everything. While my instinctive urge is to dwell on the future, I am reminded of the gifts of meeting the present with open arms. I am also reminded of the metaphor which has carried me for many years through distance running… that of a jug filling with each drop of rainwater. Some drops are harder won than others, but the jug fills nonetheless.

 

 

welcome, august

Today marks the beginning of August, a month of turning inward and preparing for the marathon. I believe this will be the month that will be comprised of the highest intensity of training. I plan to give myself a generous, yet active, tapering before the early October marathon. August, another long month. Like July, but different somehow. I woke up today and the clean sunlight filled my room. The air was crisper than it has been, almost bereft of humidity. I could smell the bay, but very faintly. The breeze was sweet and cold. The drive along the water’s edge to work, I observed the trees flirting with the idea of changing their hues… the assorted yellowed leaves, dried from the hot sun mixed with the vibrant green ones, shyly admitting the slightest red pigment. The blackberries are ripe and juicy, the wasps are aggressively finishing the season’s business, and the fat September spiders are beginning to spin their dewy webs off the fence posts, branches, and behind the compost bin. We take our cues from nature. These are the days to stretch; to accomplish what we can in the final weeks of the long warm days. Fruit is ripening, and so do we. Running becomes a meditative prayer; the routes and distances too familiar to cause bother. The trails which were once entirely verdant and overgrown are now brittle and painted by new colors. Late summer metamorphosis.