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!

body positivity revisited

“The body holds meaning. The fact that this thought takes us by surprise itself reflects significantly upon a culture that is seriously divided within itself, splitting itself off from nature, dividing the mind from the body, dividing thought from feeling, dividing one race against another, dividing the supposed nature of woman from the supposed nature of man. As part of this self-division we have come to believe that only those things that concern the soul and the spirit, the mind and its creations, are worthy of serious regard. And yet, when we probe beneath the surface of our obsession with weight, we will find that a woman obsessed with her body is also obsessed with the limitations of her emotional life. Through her concern with her body she is expressing a serious concern about the state of her soul.” –Kim Chernin, “The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness”

The objectification of women plays plunges tentacles through the world of health and fitness like bars and walls. These barriers and messages intensify for folks who are not recognized in the image of the slender, white, cis woman. I hear and read about body positivity that is discussed, on its most acceptable level, in white spaces, by people who are absolutely privileged by dominant norms of the slender woman. We talk about body positivity as a vacant gesture of empowerment, without tending to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual impacts of how mainstream messages of health, fitness, and beauty oppress at every level. For those of us entrenched in privilege, one article on the Instagram account challenging conventions of fitspiration is our paltry excuse, our lip service. In other words, we find model exceptions, laud them to an extent that is permissible, but we never allow those exceptions to become the norm.

I believe Body Positivity has become a marketable construct, a new religion for profit. Let me divorce this from the experience of radical acceptance of the body, from awoken consciousness about patriarchy, from daring to live monstrously. I mean to say that Body Positivity (trademark) is a force to interrogate, a capitalist creation to critically analyze at every level. We get pink-washed, again and again. At its most insidious level, I wonder if Body Positivity is a way for patriarchy to retain control over a narrative. On the surface, as another well-meaning generally acceptably looking health type waxes poetic about loving their body, I wonder why we aren’t having deeper discussions about why we have to work so hard to love ourselves to begin with. The answers are more revolutionary than sticky note reminders on a mirror or bubbly hashtags. Body Positivity, are you leading us into a transformative exercise in personal growth, or are you selling us the same old bullshit?

Instead of selling programs, we should be asking why they are desirable. Instead of only acknowledging our progress, we should also acknowledge the standards that inform progress. Instead of giving our personal testimony as truth, we should unpack the privileges that enable that testimony.

What would happen if we challenged the echo chamber that ultimately reduces our liberty to choose our beliefs, reflections, and convictions?

What would happen if we owned the narratives of our bodies?

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.

reflecting on 2016

This year, there were two intentions upon which I wanted to focus. The first was commitment to distal goals. I wanted to feel active commitment; to engage with that life-cycle of working toward something incrementally. I feel like we, as a society, get wrapped up in instant gratification and the short-term. I wanted to challenge myself to dig deep for resilience and something different. The second was to nurture an undefended heart. Last year, my choir director told us that she wanted us to learn to sing with “an undefended heart.” The phrase resonated with me, because I could feel, in that season, that my heart was quite defended. My life was tortuously compartmentalized. I was working in a job that brought me no joy. I felt disconnected from my family life. Really, when I look back at 2014 and 2015, I realize how much depression and anxiety I carried, and yet refused to look in the eye.

I started out the year with a simple desire to run 1,000 miles in 2016. What developed as a result of working toward that goal, however, was unexpected and deeply satisfying. I experienced a great shift in my relationship with running—a deepening connection to the spirituality of the practice. I began to understand running practice as a friendship with the beauty of nature; an opportunity to listen deeply to the trails, to enter their sacred spaces, to respect and admire their dynamism through the days and months. Through the experience of adopting a regular running practice, I felt strengthened, both physically and mentally. My health improved. I became less susceptible to sickness, and I found a reliable outlet that helped me to re-calibrate mentally. I am proud of the metamorphosis. There were days that finding the motivation to run was challenging, but they were far less frequent than I would have guessed. I found, through this lifestyle change, that I picked up other habits, like regular walking. I started using my car less for errands. I found opportunities to get outside and move my body, even when it had nothing to do with running.

I think I made great strides toward nurturing an undefended heart. I pursued a career change that was sorely needed, and helped me re-frame my work-life balance. I found, as a result of this shift, that I was much more present at home. Being present at home helped me to feel comfortable at home. I slowed down. I scheduled less. I have started saying “no” to things, and valuing the unstructured time. The hidden time. I will be honest with you that the current state of national politics nearly broke my heart. It has been a painful month. The temptation to build a fortress around one’s heart, to simply block off emotions in their full spectrum of color, is ever present—perhaps now more than ever before. However, when I reach in and liberate the love, empathy, and hope in my heart, the result is unstoppable. I was at a rally two years ago, and a speaker framed love as a radical action. To love and to hope are courageous actions. To hate is cowardice. This is the dialectic I am working with, and intend to keep front and center in the coming year, as I believe a deep attention to present acts of loving kindness is power.

As I look to 2017, I feel that my intentions are less tied to specific goals (“Run A Marathon.” “Set A New PR.”), and more focused on sustainable habits. What I have learned from this year of experimentation, is that when the driving purpose is sustained, the other goals (both recognized and unexpected) are achieved. When we create a lifestyle that connects us more deeply to living, we make progress toward embodying our best selves.

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.

so, you had a bad race

I ran my first fall race yesterday, the Bellingham Bay Marathon Half Marathon. Despite training all summer, I did not end up running a marathon. On top of that, I had a pretty cruddy run yesterday. My time was a 20 minute improvement over last year, but I struggled to run the race. My struggle was not physical—in fact, training for a marathon and then running a half marathon is a great way to go physiologically. However, I encountered many mental walls, including a general feeling of motivational malaise throughout the event.

My brief reflections as I revisit what happened yesterday:

  • This race is so familiar that it has lost all novelty. I run most every part of the route regularly. The scenery doesn’t captivate me.
  • Going from Chicago Marathon to hometown half marathon was what psychologists might refer to as a non-event. I was so focused on achieving a long-term marathon goal for so long, that yesterday’s experience was… well… a disappointment.
  • The etiquette at the start was terrible. I get grumpy when I spend the first two miles weaving because racers didn’t self-select into the appropriate place in the line-up. I was just ahead of the 2:00 pacer, and there were crowds of people running a 2:30 or so ahead of me.
  • I’m suffering under the tyranny of speed. I’ve gotten really competitive with myself, and when I knew I wasn’t going to come in at my goal time, I felt crushed. I know I am in a bad place, because a year and a half ago, I was thrilled by a 2:15 finish at the Whidbey half, and now I am kicking myself for a 2:02.

I think I need a reboot. I need to reconnect with running, and find its love and compassion again. I need a time out from speed goals.

My proposal is to run a trail half marathon next month. It’s a race I have never done before, and the sheer elevation gain will make it impossible to finish anywhere remotely close to what I am used to. It will be about endurance, the process, natural beauty, and making it through. Yesterday felt hollow. I did not feel reborn. I felt, a little less stellar than I do after a regular long run.

And why is that? Because, for me, when I start running for extrinsic rewards, for the approval of others, my soul is diminished. However, when I run from the heart, for nobody other than myself, I feel like I am flying. I transform.

This is where I am right now… figuring things out, trying to navigate how I want to approach running in the coming weeks and months. For now, I am focusing back in on the daily miles, and recovering joy from all paces.