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.

 

 

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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.

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!

April Recap

I finished April with 87 miles, bringing my cumulative mileage for the year up to 362. I think I am making good progress toward meeting my goal of running 1,000 miles this year. April was good to me, plenty of runs of various distances, beautiful weather, and lots of sun and light in the evenings. I was very busy throughout the month, and I am quite proud of achieving the mileage that I did. The last day of the month, I ran 15 miles with my running buddy. We tackled the distance at a relaxed pace, and I really enjoyed the run from start to finish. It was an appropriate way, I thought, to mark the passing of time into a more intense season of training. I don’t have any races planned for May. My focus this month is to maintain a practice of running most days a week, and to continue keeping up with long runs (10+ miles each weekend). My biggest mistake three years ago when I last trained for a marathon was prioritizing long runs above regular 2-5 mile tempo runs. I think that the uneven distribution of miles over the week led to many of my IT-band woes. Luckily, I haven’t had those aches and pains since (knock on wood), and I feel much stronger overall.

Yesterday, I began the month with a 3 mile recovery run, down to the beach through my neighborhood trails. I reflected on where I was five years ago… heavily pregnant and completely clueless about the future to come. Although I dabbled in running prior to pregnancy, I really became a runner after I became a mother. As I prepare for my baby’s fifth birthday (in a bit of disbelief), I can’t help but to reflect on my own journey these last few years. I feel a wonderful balance in my running right now that I have not achieved before. Similarly, I feel as though I have hit my stride now that my daughter has outgrown the baby years. In life, there is a constant ebb and flow of conditions, relationships, and environments which surround us. However, for the time being, as ephemeral as it might be, I am grateful for the equilibrium.

Other intentions for the month include staying hydrated, remembering to slather on my sunscreen, and continuing to find new local trail routes for my repertoire (keeps things exciting and fresh).

Happy trails!

spring gifts

Spring comes to the Pacific Northwest, and it feels like the whole world wakes up, dons gowns of green and gold, and creates a cascading splendor above and beside the trail. In much the same way that I appreciate how the winter months prompt me to turn inward, when I am often surrounded only by the dark and before me a small tunnel of light, illuminating my breath, spring launches me into a synesthetic feast. The vitality of the season pulls me outward, to engage with my surroundings, and the sea breezes and gentle sunshine remind me that summer is yet to come. Occasionally, I will stop during my run to examine a newly flowering plant, or look up to the branches of birches and cottonwoods, noticing their burgeoning decoration in wonder and gratitude. There is such delicacy and complexity to the natural world around us, something that is best appreciated while running in solitude on a wooded trail.

 

transformation

A simple equation: inputs, throughputs, and outputs. Work was stressful last week, and I know another busy week is ahead. I search for the calm feeling, the slight exhaustion, the steady breath. These are the gifts harvested as a result of running. Running becomes the medicine, it becomes the process of changing anticipation or hesitation to acceptance and grounding. Running pulls me out of the cycle of worry and immediacy and places me as a free being, traversing the trails and navigating through space and time without anything but my own two feet and beating heart. I return home with peace and appreciation.

70 miles so far this month. One week of February remains. The forecast promises sun; a welcome change.

Hello, 2016!

For my last race of 2015, I decided to run a half marathon that’s been on my “bucket list” for a few years now; the Last Chance Half. This is a trail race which goes along one of my favorite trails for long-distance training runs. There is a half marathon option and a full marathon—the full marathon does the out and back course two times. One time was sufficient for this runner.

When my alarm went off on New Year’s Eve, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and checked the weather on my phone. It was 25 degrees, with little chances of climbing above freezing at any point during the race. I knew I was in for something chilly and frosty.

I dropped my daughter off at pre-K and drove to the park where the race started. There was a cheerful crowd of trail runners congregated in the (thankfully heated) park shelter. A few minutes after waiting around, we jogged over to the start, and the race began.

As I mentioned before, I had no time goal with this race. My hope was to simply enjoy the last month of the year. Typically, before I run a half marathon, I am doing longer training runs up to 12 miles. In this case, I had done some mid-length runs (6-9 miles), but my efforts have been focused more recently on running at least three miles per day. Even though I was not going into the race with terribly long training runs, my cumulative weekly and monthly mileage is at its highest right now… even compared to marathon training. I think that net mileage helped me.

The first four miles were really about getting my engine warmed up. It took some time. I took some walking breaks. My quads were absolutely frozen and the cold air made it more challenging to take deep breaths. After the first forty minutes or so, however, I started to feel like my normal self. I proceeded to have an utterly blissful run for the remaining 9 miles, completely avoiding any walls, aches, pains, or mental distraction. It is extremely rare that I get a run in with that much time “in the zone”—but I really think that the spectacular views of the bay, frosted trails, and glistening branches in their wintery glory really helped me to remain in the present and enjoy myself.

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Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line. 2:26—not shabby! This was 6 minutes slower than my last half marathon in September, but the difference was that I finished the Last Chance half with enough energy in me to feel like I could run the 5-6 miles home. This is a good sign for my long distance training this winter and spring, as it means that my goal toward cumulative mileage and regular shorter distances is paying off, even with long runs.

The next day, I woke up and ran two laps around Lake Padden with my running buddy extraordinaire, Private Robot (my nickname for her). We celebrated the beginning of what is sure to be a great year for running. We are both strong and determined, and I am really proud of us both for sticking with our respective running practices, even through some illnesses, injuries, and life circumstances. Running is amazing medicine.

The next evening, we did a headlamp trail run in our neighborhood, which was really fun. The day after that, we attempted a 6 mile “airport loop” that I swear is cursed. Every time we do this run, it either rains buckets (one time we were actually scared we might be struck by lightening) or something else crappy happens. This time, it was just really hard. In retrospect, I think the poor air quality (lots of really cold clear days without any wind) was impacting us, as well as tired muscles. But hey—we pulled through and did the miles, even if it wasn’t pretty.

Last night I ran my regular 3 miles, and I plan to do so again tonight. Nothing longer than that planned until the weekend, when I might do 5 or 6 miles one of the days.

the cold and dark months

I have often thought of the winter months as the time when runners grow their roots. The days are short, the weather isn’t always hospitable, and it is difficult to get warm, especially if muscles are a bit stiff. However, there is a beautiful grit and tenacity which takes root within the winter runner. All of those miles of foggy breath illuminated by a headlamp make a difference. They strengthen the core.

Every other season of the year, I feel like I am treated to a visual feast whenever I run. The bright green of the spring, the shimmering bay in the summer, and the colorful foliage in the fall. Winter is grey, silver, brown, and muted. The abbreviated days mean that many runners who tackle their miles in the mornings or the evenings are doing so in the twilight and the dark. Winter redirects the energy inward… we are left with little distraction but the sound of the wind, the rain, and sometimes the crunch of frost or snow beneath our striking feet.

With little that distracts and uplifts us visually, we must rely on our inner love of the running practice. The runner on the side of the road remaining steadfast against the wind and sideways rain has to feel that love in order to continue moving forward. As we enter this holiday season, some with glee, some with reservations, some with sadness, the practice of running remains available to us. It remains to help us develop love for the process, and love for ourselves. It remains to heal us. It remains to test us, and it remains to reward us.

 

Keep on

It’s been some time since I’ve updated this blog, but do not mistaken that for a hiatus from running. Quite the contrary… I believe I am running more regularly than ever before. This month, I dedicated myself to running at least 3 miles a day. It’s 11/15 and I am 48 miles in to my goal.

After a summer plagued by health issues, I am incredibly thankful for every run I have the privilege of enjoying. I ran the Bellingham Bay half marathon at the end of September, and while it was not a PR, I finished 2 minutes faster than I did at the same race last year. I was so happy to pull it off and cross the finish line. I owe much of my success to my lovely friend and running buddy who joined me for many of my long runs in the month leading up to the race.

I did get to experience a PR this fall. Yesterday, I ran my fastest 10K to date, and it was at a race, which made it quite official. The 10K has really grown on me as a favorite distance. Unlike a 5K, which favors the speeding bullets, a 10K requires runners to be very intentional with their endurance and speed. I like the 10K because it is long enough to get into the zone (after the 2 or 3 miles it always takes me to fully warm up), but I still have a lot of energy when I finish, and I am not sore the next day.

Next up, I have a few more 5K races planned before the year is up. I am toying with the idea of doing a trail half marathon on New Year’s Eve… just at a leisurely pace for fun. The winter will be dedicated to training for the Whidbey Island Half Marathon. I hope to get my fastest time yet in April.

How thankful I am to have a running practice in my life, and relationships with myself and others that are deepening as a result of this practice.

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Marathon Training, Week 2

Tuesday- 3

Thursday- 3

Saturday- 9

Sunday- 3

Total Mileage: 18

Week 2 started off very rocky. I woke up on Sunday morning with terrible ear pain. A visit to urgent care soon revealed a nasty ear infection. I spent the rest of the day laid up on the couch alternating between Vicodin and antibiotics. It was not fun. And, I was really upset about not being able to run.

Monday, I was under the weather, but no longer in pain. I spent the rest of the week taking it gentle and slow with my running. By Saturday, I was up for a long run. Happy to report that 9 miles felt great and that, despite my slow down, I did not lose my endurance.

Aside from running, I have been lifting weights a bit each day and also paying particularly close attention to stretching/exercising my piriformis muscles and IT bands. These are the first things to get stiff when the mileage increases, so I am being as proactive as possible.

I felt so good on Saturday, during and after my run. Glad for the return of my health, but also replenished by the distance itself. I love long runs, because they become as they emerge. The experience is shaped by each mile. It is an accomplishment that only the individual can do and know. I often run the same route on my long runs, and there is this liberty in reaching a certain point along the way, where the woods thicken and civilization falls behind. My spirit is nourished in that space.

Temperatures are cooling down just a bit this week, and I look forward to continuing my training!