Archive for February 2010

Almost There

February 28, 2010

This morning I ran 12.3 miles.  It took me 1 hour 43 minutes, averaging 8:26 min/ mi.  I never considered stopping; I didn’t need to.  My mind and my body came together in the way I dream of for each run— cooperating with each other so that I run one little step at a time and take myself all the way.  I think I could have gone the last .8 for 1/2 marathon distance, but I’d like to save that goal to look forward to midweek.  It seems attainable and reasonable at last.

Just a few months ago I dreamed of finishing an 8 mile run.  When I finally did, it was hard. Today’s run was relaxed and easy; when I repeated the long loop, I barely noticed it was the second time around.  Winter training is paying off in unexpected ways; on days like today when it’s not freezing but still is cold, and the wind is not looking for an out-and-out battle with me, the extra miles just slip by.  It sounds crazy to hear myself say I ran 12 + miles this morning, and that craziness pleases me beyond measure.

Total miles this week:  40.2.

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Switching Teams

February 27, 2010

Last night at the Black Eyed Peas concert, I found myself unusually concerned with the audience’s reaction when one of the band members revealed a Lakers shirt.  The crowd booed frenetically, hissed like a pack of bush snakes, and waved their hands’ central digits vigorously in the air.  I am not a Lakers fan, but respect a person’s choice of team.  The crowd’s intense aversion to someone being on the other side made me take a mental step backward, as I am switching teams myself.  No, I’m not about to start rooting for the Yankees, nor am I in love with the girl next door, or changing jobs.  I am going to ignore my podiatrist, give up my pricey running shoes, and become a barefoot runner.

My friend Sharon, an experienced runner and racer, recommended I read Born To Run by Christopher Mcdougall.  I had considered reading it a few months ago, but with the combination of the heavy-hitting reads for my monthly book group looming over me like a long row of dark shadows, and the amount of time I have been devoting to fitness, writing, food, and my family (yep, probably in that order right now…), I told her it was on my list but set on the back burner like tonight’s bean soup—bubbling away by itself until I had time to get to it.

I finished The Worst Hard Time for my book group last month and desperately needed a break from heavy literature.  I re-read the sample of Born To Run I had downloaded onto my Kindle and decided to buy it and read it, despite the thick, serious, socially conscious text for next month’s book group selection. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to devote  to a recreational book and finish everything else on my loaded plate, but I have been intrigued by stories and articles I have read about barefoot running.  And, my orthotics suck.  No matter what shoes I wear, my left foot always kind of feels like it is partially out of my shoe.  All my laces are too short because the orthotics take up so much room in the bottom of the shoe.  I have spent way too much time trimming manufacturer’s insoles to accommodate my partial custom inserts.  My already high insteps ache from being pressed upward into my shoes by the rigid orthotics.

I have spent the past couple of weeks having an illicit affair with this book, sneaking my Kindle into my purse and stealing whole pages at a time while sitting in my car in my driveway, or during commercials while watching the Olympics on my few free weeknights.  When I started the book, I thought, This is pretty good.  But I’m never running barefoot.  That’s for the real running freaks, the goofballs who go to extremes at the expense of their feet and without discretion, who go against their doctor’s orders to show off and tout what cannot possibly be true.  But— it is entertaining!

After I had read about a third of the book, I began to fool around with my stride and gate in the barefoot running style.  As I read, I worked on the postures and footsteps described in the book.  After just a couple of weeks,  I’m faster.   The running feels effortless,  and my breathing comes much easier.  And I haven’t even taken off my shoes yet.  I’ve just stopped landing on my heels.   (Go ahead and check my posts from the last two weeks.  My speed has continued to increase, distance is easier, etc.)  What will my running buddies say when they see the Nike Free shoes on my feet next week?   Will they howl with laughter when I turn up on Eden Road in Vibram Five Fingers during the month of May?  Will they still run along with me when we meet up next summer and the soles of my feel look like dog pads?

My daughter and I rode the commuter rail to Boston yesterday afternoon to the concert.  The train ride is about an hour and ten minutes each way.  I hemmed and hawed about bringing the Kindle, finally deciding that, tucked into my purse, it’s smaller and lighter weight than a book, and since we had seats at the Garden, my purse with my reader zipped inside would be safe with me the whole time.  So— here I am, at the concert of the year, or at least that’s what I expected.  The crowd is roaring throughout the entire performances of the two opening acts and then all through the main attraction, The Black Eyed Peas, for goodness sake, and I have been waiting months to see them.  I told everyone I know that we’re going; friends and family know how crazy I am about their music, especially in my run mixes.  They are on the stage, doing their BEP thing, the thing I could not wait to see live, and all I can think about is the long train ride back to Cape Ann and how I will have time to finish reading my book.  Geez!!!  The Peas close the concert with their hottest new hit, Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night.  I sing along, like everyone else, but sneak a peek at my watch, wondering how much extra time I will have to read before the train arrives at the station.

Surf’s Up

February 26, 2010

When our phone rang this morning at 5:45, I knew it could only be one thing.  I listened to the recorded voice of the school superintendent announcing that, due to wind and water damage, Rockport schools would be closed.  With a sigh of relief, I called out the news to my daughter in the next room, and our whole family rolled over and went back to sleep.  My cell phone rang at 7:45, and I sat up in a panic, wondering how I could have slept so late.  It was our friend Ray,  just checking in to make sure we were alright; he had seen the morning news and heard how our town had no power, suffered severe wind damage, and was experiencing coastal flooding.

I headed downstairs for some coffee; we were one of the lucky houses in town that had electricity.  My husband and I looked out of various windows to try and see if our house or garden had been damaged; everything looked pretty normal.  We relaxed for a while, and I pulled myself together for a run.  I love it when we have this kind of weather, with the tides high and pounding the beaches, the wind whipping wildly, stirring sand, snapping branches, showing us who’s really the boss here on Cape Ann.  The thermometer read 42 degrees, so I didn’t have to bundle up too much.  I grabbed my Nike+iPod and my sunglasses, and headed out.

As I trotted by Old Garden Beach,  I looked out to the sea and gasped.  Waves that looked as if they had come straight from Hawaii rolled in toward the thumbnail sized shore; the water smashed into the sea wall and spouted up, over, and against the house that perches above the wall.  The water continued to flow, and as I ran by the concrete ramp that leads down to the beach, I saw the sea chasing driftwood and debris all the way to the top, dragging seaweed and sand up to the edge of the street.

I turned onto Dean Road, then South Street, keeping to the sidewalk, careful of the myriad of tree limbs, branches, and twigs that littered the path.  Underfoot was like a forest trail, with trips and pitfalls searching out my feet like wood trolls just waiting to catch me up.  I decided to run down the steep hill at the fork of Penzance Road and South Street, not trusting that Pebble Beach would be passable.  Loblolly Cove is a tiny, placid inlet that begins at the foot of the hill on Penzance.  This morning, it was a frothing, churning frenzy of surf smashing onto the shore.  Sea spray flew at me, coating my glasses enough so that I had to remove them to see ahead of me.  The remaining reeds growing in the marshes just beyond the cove had been completely mowed down by the wind; the damp ground at the edge of the road had, overnight, turned into a treacherous, murky pool that oozed over onto the pavement.

I reached the slight decline to Pebble Beach and stopped abruptly.  I turned off the music, pulled out the ear buds and watched in awe as tremendous waves, lit golden-green by a brilliant sun, reared up like wild horses and crashed over the beach and onto the road.  The battered, old wooden sign that warns drivers not to try to pass had been pulled over to block the entrance to the road by someone, but was being pushed aside by the mighty gusts coming from offshore.  No one was on the road, not a single car parked alongside the hedge of rocks marking the edge of the beach.  I could feel the salty spray from where I stood and it made me grin with excitement and joy.

I turned around and headed back on a different loop that would bring me out near Eden Road.  I careened onto Eden and began hopping puddles like crazy, anxious to see what the Twin Lights looked like in the wild waters of this morning.  I reached the look-out place and waves soared up over the rocky shoreline;  the sound of the water against the dark granite like wild applause at a marathon finish line.  Once again I felt ocean spray on my cheeks and lips and eyes; I removed my glasses and zipped them safely into my vest pocket.  As I turned away from the shore and headed back toward South Street, I saw several trees that had been uprooted lining the inland section of Eden Road.  I sprinted ahead, trying to see if the tree where I had seen the owl in the hollow was still standing.  It was.  The hollow was empty, but the tree was intact.  It was flanked on either side by two sad, downed soldiers, their branches gnarled and fractured from their falls.

I chose the long loop of Marmion Way to head home.  This morning the miles came easily, and I thought I would toss my gloves and glasses into the house and keep going.  My husband met me on the street; he had the camera and the scoop.  Our  chimney cap was gone, our grill had blow off of our porch, bounced off the hood of our car and landed in pieces in the driveway, and part of our fence had been blown down.  A few tree limbs had landed in the back yard, but our home did not suffer any significant damage.  I did toss my gloves and glasses, then continued downtown, ready for a few more miles and excited to check out Front and Back Beaches.  Townsfolk were roaming about aimlessly, watching the sea as it rose higher and higher in the harbor.  People were pointing out more uprooted trees and downed limbs; the excitement I felt surging through me as I watched the tail end of the storm blow itself through town was no longer just my own.  As I splurged up the hill on Main Street, the sun suddenly dropped behind a cloud, the wind rose up strong again, and rain and snow began to fall.  I could feel the temperature drop suddenly and decided I had had enough after all.  I looped through a shortcut and landed home in time for a second cup of coffee and a big bowl of hot oatmeal.

I was surprised to see that I had covered 7 1/2 miles in just over one hour.  As I wiped the snow from my lashes and caught my breath, I wondered if it was the wind that pushed me home so fast, or if it was all this winter training finally paying off.  Maybe it was the energy of the high surf seeping into my skin through the sea spray, or the applause I imagined as I passed Thatcher Island.  Whatever it was, I can hardly wait until Sunday’s run.

Three In A Row

February 25, 2010

Yesterday’s 4 mile recovery run was pretty damp.  Because of the forecast, I chose a figure eight loop, knowing I could get home quickly if the rain began in earnest.  I kept the pace easy, and called it quits at the end of the second loop.  Since I have neglected core training this week, I chose a 30 minute high intensity set to bring myself up to speed.

Today I focused on strength training, doing drop sets for 30 minutes; I finished up the hour with some hip strengtheners and stretches specifically tailored for runners.  Some days I feel as though I can barely keep up with the fitness program I have chosen.  I have to decide if it’s my brain or my body in charge.  If it’s my brain, I talk myself into the workout.  If it’s my body, I pay attention and ease up if it feels right.  That’s also when I think about reassessing my goals, making sure I am getting what I want, with maybe a little extra if I’m up for it.  The rediscovery of my body’s potential,  strength, and capabilities, and reaping the results of cross-training— the energy, endurance, and muscle definition— keep me on track every day.

Today I have three fitness rules to share:

Make realistic goals.

A realistic goal is one you can actually attain.  Long-term goals are great, but breaking them up into smaller, more manageable pieces leads to success.  Write down your goals.  The big ones.  Then look at how long you want to take to achieve these goals.  Divide your time, and write down the smaller goals to get you there.  Give yourself credit— even a reward— each time you make a goal.  Check each goal off as you progress.  When you write down your goals, you can look back at how far you have come, feel good about accomplishing what you set out to do, and be motivated to keep moving forward.

If you want to be a runner, start off with a walk/run program and build up to running over a period of weeks.  If you want to ride in the Pan Mass Challenge  (okay, or just ride your bike on a good long bike path), start riding your bike a few miles each day, 3-5 days per week,  until your body becomes comfortable with riding; add a few miles each week so that when the long ride comes, you are both physically and psychologically prepared.  If you want to lose 50 pounds, break that up into sets of 10.   At the end of each mark, when you have run 5 miles, cycled 20, or lost the first 10, check it off your goal list.

Don’t be afraid to reassess your goals.  They are yours!  If you can run 5 miles and you love it, why not work up to 6, 8 or 10?  If you make it through the PMC and cannot imagine not riding any more, take a few days off and then start training for next year.  Running turned out not to be your thing?  Tired of your bike?  Try swimming, cycling, or an aerobics class.  If you lose 40 of the 50 pounds you wanted to drop and feel great, maybe you’ve lost enough.  If you’ve lost 50 and feel like 10 more would be right, go for it.  Any way you decide to do it, making goals gives you a concrete plan and a way to measure how well you have managed your fitness program.

Listen to your body.

Listening to your body means being aware of how your body feels.  It means taking care to notice if your body hurts, but it also means noticing if your body is getting off too easy in your fitness program.  Every client I have had so far tells me right away if their crunches make their belly sore, or if their back aches from walking too far or for too long.  Sometimes they even look panicky when their heart rate goes up.  I check their pulse to make sure they are okay, and so far, it’s always been well below their maximum heart rate.  No one has ever said, “Elizabeth!  I just did 30 bicep curls and it feels like nothing happened!  Can I try the next heavier weight?”  or “That plank was a piece of cake.   Can we do it again?”  Listening to your body means challenging it to try something harder when what you are doing doesn’t feel like work.   And yes, it also means backing off if you truly have an injury.  It means paying attention to what you ask your body to do, and how your body responds.  If your body is shouting for a break, give it one.  If not, move it!

Sweat.

Sweat as a fitness rule?  You bet!  It’s science.  The breakdown of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)  provides the energy for every biological process.  During aerobic exercise, your body has multiple chemical reactions.  It begins with the oxygen system, which fuels the body for activities lasting more that 2-3 minutes.  Capacity is limited only by oxygen and fuel available to the cell.  It then moves into oxydative phosphorylation, also known as the electron transport system.  Your body takes stored fat and oxygen and turns them into more ATP, carbon dioxide, and H2O.  This last reaction provides the most ATP, thus providing the most energy, continuing to fuel your body.  The H2O?  That’s water.  Coming out of you when you are exercising?  That’s sweat!  If you are not sweating, you are probably not burning fat.  (This does not mean that in August, when the temperature reaches 100 degrees and you are sweating, that you are burning fat.  That’s just your body trying to normalize your own temperature.)   It’s the sweat you produce during aerobic exercise that you need to embrace.

In The Moment

February 24, 2010

It’s 7:20, and I’m prepared for a long run today.  I’m not totally committed to a particular number of miles, but would like to surpass last week’s 10.  I’m feeling pretty cocky after yesterday’s 6; the weather is another motivator to go long this morning.  If the forecast for the rest of this week is correct, unless I do it today, I will be out there in some mighty wetness tomorrow.  It’s going to be typical New England winter for the rest of the week.  Definitely not long run weather for me.

I begin with a false start.  I have become dependent on my Nike+iPod, so when I turn it on and the music is gurgling instead of grooving, I pull it out of my pocket and see that the battery is low.  I have to turn around, although I have not gone far, and return home.  I set the Nike+ to log my time and distance without music, then have to rummage around the house to find my regular iPod, select a playlist, and stuff it all back into my pocket before I can set out again.

I decide to make my usual loop, same as yesterday, and see how it goes.  I am making good time again today, but since I know I should be holding back if I want to run longer, I try to slow down.  It’s a gray morning.  The temperature is not too bad, hovering at about 36 degrees and I warm up quickly.  Glad to have worn only three upper layers, I remove my gloves and let my fingers breathe.  I hit the sand-covered pavement of Pebble Beach and start to worry about how far I can run today.  I’m not even listening to my music.  I begin to think ahead, to try and foresee the rest of this run.   Am I going to be tired because of yesterday’s run?  What if I can’t do the 10 again?  Is it going to start to rain?  Should I have worn a hat?  Does my ankle kind of hurt? I’m torturing myself and slowing down, when mere minutes ago I had been winning my own race.  I turn it around, putting on a full press as I approach the upward slope leading to the marshes.

Stop thinking about what might happen.  This doesn’t work.  Ever.  Instead, stay here.  Be in the moment.  Enjoy what you have and let one foot follow the other.  This is what you love!  Let it happen.  It will be whatever it is, whether you worry about it or not, so just run!

I am able to let go.  I do it.  I run.

Back on track, I easily cover the long loop of Marmion Way.  I pass my house and head downtown.  I run along Main Street, then Beach Road,  fly by Front Beach, then Back Beach.  A woman walking her dog down by the water looks up and waves to me.  I wave back, then crest the hill and turn onto Granite Street.  I loop around and down King, back by Front Beach, and turn up another hill.  I check my time, see I’m under what I had anticipated, and with a sudden blast of energy, sprint down Broadway.  I add another mile and a half before I decide to stop, and I include the giant hill on Mount Pleasant Street, the one Sue and I both despise,  just to prove to myself that I can do this at the end of a long run.  10.26 miles, averaging 8 minutes, 24 seconds per mile.  Today is the farthest and fastest ever.

I walk around the block to cool down, and wonder where that doubt and worry came from in the first quarter of my run.  One of my favorite things about running is the ease of being present.  It’s challenging for me to do in the rest of my life— I have to work at it like crazy.  Thinking behind, thinking ahead—it’s hard to stop doing that.   Sure, there are times when that’s important.  But the best moments are the moments when I’m just being— with my family and my friends, or cooking, writing, or painting.  The best stuff happens then.  Laughter.  Honesty.  Creativity without conditions or limits. The absolute letting go, my mind quiet and relaxed.  Placing myself in the moment.

Bend And Stretch

February 23, 2010

I have been training a wonderful new client.  She’s excited to work on and improve her fitness level, and so far, every time I have gone to her house, she has either maintained or surpassed her daily goals.  She has warned me that she always starts off like this and tends to level out after the second week, and has lapsed periodically into a no-fitness zone.  I believe her, because I know from my own experience how hard it can be to let yourself have what you want, and then stay motivated to keep going.  Running is the one thing that has taken my heart and kept it pounding like crazy; it’s like cardio heroin for me.  I can’t get enough.  I need it.

Today as we warmed up and dove into strength training, I could already see significant progress in her level of fitness.  She even talked about some great outdoor workouts two days in a row over the weekend, and how wonderful her body felt.  She has already reached one of her fitness goals— to walk one mile without back pain.  Less than two weeks of core work have helped her reach that goal.  It is proof to both of us, to all of us,  that you can get what you want if you allow yourself to have it.  And that becoming strong keeps you strong.

When cool-down time came and we plunked down on the floor to stretch our legs, I looked over at her and she was almost in a complete split.  She could reach her toes effortlessly.  On the second hamstring stretch, where I could barely tap my toes with my fingertips, she was cradling the back of her foot with her hand.  I envied how easy it was for her muscles to spring open, while mine were straining.  I assisted her in some shoulder stretches and chest openers, areas where she is particularly tight, and she relaxed enough to realize a deep opening, her arms well behind her back.  She was beautiful standing there, like a bird riding a thermal air current on a hazy afternoon.  Her breath came easily; I knew she what she was feeling.  Stretching feels good.

She worries she will quit.  She is afraid that work will get in the way, that she won’t have enough time or energy to stick with her plan.  But she wants this.  We talked about keeping her goals attainable, and keeping close track of her progress, so that when she’s feeling vulnerable, she can see what she has accomplished and allow herself to take care of her body.  I reminded her to take each day as it comes, and to be flexible.  And there it was.  Another fitness rule.

Be Flexible. This rule has double meaning:  the first is to allow yourself to vary your routine.  If it’s pouring rain and you have planned a walk and cannot bear to set foot out the door, change your plan and find an inside activity.  Try a video.  Go to the library and rent a video if you don’t own one.  Turn on some good music and dance.  Take out that old stationary bike and ride it.  Do jumping jacks or jump rope.  Don’t have a jump rope?  Fake it.  It still counts as aerobic exercise.

The second meaning speaks to physical flexibility.  Even serious fitness freaks can easily overlook flexibility training.  It’s simple enough.  Stretching after exercise helps prevent injuries.  Stretching also helps maintain ease of movement in daily life.   Stretching reduces muscle tension, promotes relaxation, decreases soreness from exercise, and prevents muscle shortening that may result from inactivity, age, or disease.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding a stretch to the point of mild discomfort for 20-30 seconds.
Peruse fitness magazines and books.  Most have sections on the best ways to stretch.  Taking a few yoga classes can help get you on your way to limbering up.  Be flexible.

Daybreak

February 22, 2010

I sneak out in the dark this morning.  It is not pitch-black dark, but at 5:55 a.m., the sun is still thinking about coming up.  The streets are quiet.   The air hangs groggy and damp, thick with salt.  Streetlights hum their florescent tune, audible even through my ear buds.   I have forgotten how much I love the early morning.  Everything is mine— the sky, the road, the pace I set.

Legs and lungs cooperate with each other so well that I barely know I am running today.  I meet my friend Michelle coming up South Street.   She is a consistently early runner.  I have not seen her since before Christmas, and we stop short and hug each other.  We catch up as best we can for a couple of minutes and continue on our separate ways; she is already headed home but I am barely a third through and cannot wait to return to my run.  I am fast this morning.  I am way ahead of the music, by almost half a song as I turn at the fork toward the beach.  Light begins to glow in the sky; a thousand seabirds float in the gentle tide along the beach road. The sky is pink and orange and rose and gold at the horizon, the rich midnight blue cover hovers and fades.  The sun peeks up as I leap over puddles and ice on Eden Road.  I look out to the Twin Lights to see their long, lean, stone bodies glow in the new morning light.  It is too early for my little owl today.  His hollow sits empty.  I imagine the tree waiting for his warm little body to nestle into its cool shadow place.

I check the time and choose the longer loop of Marmion Way to run home.  At the turn by Straitsmouth Cove, I see another runner out with her dog.  As I begin to close the gap between us, I see it is a woman with whom I used to cross paths last summer.  She is younger than I.  In her dark blue sweatpants, she is  slight, fast, fair-haired.  Last summer,  I had watched her run and wished I had her speed.  This morning she is moving right along;  I find that today I am continuing to close the gap.   On the steep hill approaching Old Garden Road, I gain even more.  We both make the turn.  I wonder if I should announce myself, what the right etiquette might be, but forget because I am caught in the crazed actions of her dog.  He is running intervals.  He stops and sniffs for a moment, then darts ahead.  She isn’t watching him, and I can sense her assumption that he will continue to follow her at his own pace.  She carries an extension leash in on hand, perhaps to rein him in on the busier streets.  He sidetracks to the beach, sprints ahead to pass his owner, then stops at the side of the road to sniff again.  I am close enough to know I will pass her.  I’m about to call out a warning when the woman turns.   She gasps when she sees me.

I apologize for startling her, but she just grins at me.  I pass her, and her dog catches up with me.  I can hear her calling him back from me as I attack the last hill.   I give it all I have in me.  I stop at the stop sign at the top, panting and smiling to myself.  I look at my Nike + and see that I have finished my run in 48 minutes.  6 miles.   I practically skip to my front door.   I am floating with pleasure.  It is a rich, enviable pleasure— of the early morning, the sunrise, the solid pace and speed of today’s run.

This run inspired me with another fitness rule to share.  Find your time. For me, that means exercising in the morning.  It may not always be as early as today, but I have my best energy and motivation right when I wake up.  I like to drink my coffee, do what I have to do for my family, and then move my body.  Exercising at the same time every day lends itself more to habit.  If you are not a morning person, listen to your body and find the time that works best for you.  Maybe it’s during a lunch break and you like to hit the gym or go for a walk after you eat.    Maybe it’s after work, before dinner.  Perhaps a long walk after dinner is what your body likes. How about eating a light supper and doing core and yoga training half an hour later?   Your body likes to move.   So listen to it.  Find your time.