This is not the blog post I thought I would write today. I expected to write about how I ran the Whidbey Island half marathon yesterday in 2:12:01, setting another PR by two and a half minutes. I was going to tell you how great I felt about running in a steady rain on a course that was even hillier than I thought it would be, how I was passing everyone around me in the last few miles, and how I ran mile 13 in 9:17 — one of the faster miles I’ve ever run and certainly the fastest mile I’ve ever run at the end of a long hard race.
I woke up this morning still basking in my slow happy glory, and eagerly turned to my Twitter feed for news about the Boston Marathon. I “watched” the elite runners finish and then I turned to other business for a while. Later I returned to Twitter…
I’m sure that we — all of us — are shocked, outraged, and deeply saddened by the events in Boston today. There will be many thousands of words written about it, and I don’t want to needlessly add to the fray.
I just want to say one thing.
I will venture to guess that almost everyone who puts on a pair of running shoes and goes out the door has, at least once, been captivated by the allure of the Boston Marathon. It is one of the very few sporting events with global visibility and appeal. It is the stuff of our most noble dreams.
I have never attempted to run a full marathon. I’m only just now beginning to seriously think about making the attempt. But I can tell you what my Boston Marathon qualifying time needs to be. I know because I’ve looked it up. At my age, I’d have to run a 4:10 marathon just to be eligible to register. It is utterly out of my reach. And yet… this morning I scanned the Whidbey Island full marathon results and noted with great pleasure how many people had run Boston 2014 qualifying times.
I want to be like them.
We all dream of running Boston.
I am devastated at the thought of the runners who had just completed the Boston Marathon, and moments later had their legs blown off or worse. The tragedy is unthinkable.
I am so angry, so sad, so grief-stricken, and so deeply and utterly a runner.
I ran my race yesterday, one day after what would have been my late husband’s 66th birthday, and on the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death. Those were small milestones, small but poignant victories for me. It’s not so easy to stop a determined runner.
So I have decided. This October I am going to run my first marathon. I am going to run it because I, too, dream of someday running the Boston Marathon.
So my disappointing long run the other day did turn out to be just a fluke… as I’d sort of thought it was even at the time. Yesterday I ran a perfect 10-miler that left me feeling entirely satisfied and ready to give myself some extra rest and a proper taper over the next ten days before the Whidbey Island race.
I spent some time after that run thinking about running and reflecting on the literal and metaphorical places I have been as a runner.
Off and on over the past few days I have mused quite a bit about the experience of running, about what it’s like to become a runner, to be a runner, and to discover strength, resiliency, courage, and happiness as a runner. I’ve been re-reading old blog posts (on this site and previous more private sites) from the period during and shortly after Kurt’s illness and death. I’m re-reading my words from that time because I’m working on a paper proposal for a conference… which may finally begin to lead in the direction of the book that I want to write about running through grief.
It hurts to look back and read words that screamed forth from my pain. But it’s also very heartening to see that I found sources of strength… and a big source of my strength was the fact that I somehow managed to get out there and run. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
There were plateaus and setbacks in my running ability and in my ability to hold my life together. There were times I thought I was going to rip my heart out of my chest. Then there were times when I knew that my heart and mind and legs were all strong and I was going to be able to put all the pieces back together.
Running has taught me — and continues to teach me — that anything is possible with determination and practice. I had to complete a PhD program at age 53 in order to finally convince myself that I am intellectually authentic. Learning to run since then has been something like a PhD program for the rest of me.
I’m tempted to say that coping with Kurt’s illness and death were the comprehensive exams for that second PhD, but I don’t want to contextualize or diminish that experience. I do wonder, however, if I’d have become such a dedicated runner if it weren’t for what happened to Kurt. Before his diagnosis, I hadn’t begun to challenge myself as a runner. I walked a lot. I worried about injuring myself. I never pushed myself hard to see how much more I could do. After his diagnosis I began to see running as something I could do to help myself — sometimes it was the only thing I could think of that I could do to help myself. It was the only thing that brought me any sort of respite.
After he died, running got me out of the house. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a reason to eat. It put things on my calendar.
Of course, it gave me places and times to cry.
And it gave me reasons to celebrate.
We all have our life challenges, and we all find our ways to cope.
By choosing to become and be a runner, I have found pride — satisfaction — peace — confidence — and a goodly measure of humility.
Life is short. Our days are numbered. How many steps we take, the places we go, the ways we choose to spend the time we have — these things are up to each of us to decide.
As for me, I’ve logged 250 running miles so far this year. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 steps just since January 1. They haven’t all been steps of sheer joy, but most of them have been pretty good. And they’re all steps in the right direction.
Slow and happy…
One step at a time!
With less than 14 days to go until the Whidbey Island half marathon* on April 14, I should have completed my last long run and be fully into “taper mode” by now. But because I still have this idea of running a full marathon later this year floating around in my head, I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of running 10+ miles and then going out two days later and doing it again. I figure if I make the next few runs a bit shorter (in the 6-8 mile range) and then give myself a few days of complete rest from running right before the race, that should be all the tapering I’ll need to do.
I set out yesterday to do my last long run, which per my plan would be 12+ miles. I had done that distance at PR pace two weeks ago, so it didn’t seem like a big deal.
Every runner needs to have a humbling experience every now and then, right?
It was the first really warm day of the year… warm, that is, by Pacific Northwest standards. It was about 55 degrees when I left the house, a good ten degrees warmer than any time recently. I was wearing short sleeves and capri-length tights for the first time since last October!
It got HOT. I felt completely sapped of energy. I got hungry — and the Shot Bloks I was carrying weren’t enough to energize me. I got thirsty, but I couldn’t take more than sips of water without my stomach protesting.
I turned around early, telling myself I could always do another out and back to make up the rest of the planned mileage. But by the time I got back to the car, with only seven miles done, I knew I was done.
So my 12-mile “last long run before the race” turned into a 7-mile run that left me feeling discouraged.
I think I’ll give the “last long run” one more attempt later this week, if only to beat back the psychological bugaboo that is now sitting on my shoulder.
Objectively, I shouldn’t really care at all. I shouldn’t have any trouble giving up on my racing PR streak — eight straight half marathons with a PR every time.
Why shouldn’t I care?
Because the official length of the Whidbey Island half marathon is 13.4 miles — not 13.1. That extra 0.3 miles translates to approximately THREE FULL MINUTES for me. To make up three minutes over the course of 13 miles, I’ve got to be 15+ seconds a mile faster than I was last October in Victoria. That means I’ve got to run those 13.4 miles at a sub-10-minute pace.
I actually hit that pace on my 12+ mile run under ideal conditions two weeks ago — but can I do it again? Can I do it on a hilly course on a day when it may be raining and almost certainly will be windy?
I’ve decided that — if I can’t — it’s justifiable and I will forgive myself.
I don’t expect to PR — and that’s okay!
(But it sure would be awesome if I did…)
* If the name “Whidbey Island” sounds familiar to you, it may be because you’ve read about it in the news lately. There was a massive landslide on Whidbey Island, which has destroyed at least one house, is threatening 30+ more, and is still moving. Fortunately the slide location is nowhere near the race route, but you can bet I’ll be thinking about it as I run along the waterfront.
I told you I was going to do it soon, didn’t I?
I ran a long slow 11.2 miles on Sunday and figured that surely, this time, I’d need several days to recover before I’d feel like running again. I did get a little tired toward the end of that run and the soles of my feet were a bit sore. This was, after all, the longest distance I’ve run since Victoria last October.
But this morning I was ready to go! It still amazes me, but I am finding lately that the more I push myself, the more I am capable of doing… provided that I’m always careful to listen to my body and back off or rest when I really, truly need to cut myself some slack.
Today I didn’t need any more rest! I went out to the flat waterfront stretch of trail where I have probably logged the greatest number of miles over the past few years. I know this section extremely well; I can simply relax and enjoy the run.
I planned to run west about three miles and back — no specific goals, just a nice run. But I ticked off the first three miles at a surprising 9:30 pace. So I thought — why not give it a go? I turned around at 3.1 miles and a time of approximately 29:30. I maintained the same pace for the next two miles but allowed myself to back off a bit in mile 6, which is slightly uphill. I finished the 6.2 miles comfortably in 59:30 — and I am one not-so-slow and very happy runner!
So, having finally achieved the last of those three big hairy audacious running goals — what’s next?
I want to get to the point where I can regularly go out and run steadily for two hours or more, and then feel like running again two days later. I want to settle into a comfortable cruising pace and maintain it for longer and longer periods of time. Right now my cruising pace, based on my last three long runs, is about 10:15 — which means that I could run a half marathon right now and with just a bit of pushing I could be in PR territory again.
I obviously don’t expect to extend that pace all the way up to 25+ miles. I expect to slow down a bit as I increase my distance — but I do hope to gradually and steadily increase my distance.
Right now I think I have two new running goals:
- Run a sub-2:10 half marathon (I’ll need a sub-10 minute pace to do that)
- Complete a full marathon (preferably in under 5 hours! I think that’s quite doable)
Yes, it seems I am going to register for a marathon! It was probably inevitable that I was going to do it. I’m not ready to actually pay the money just yet — but I’m spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about it, dreaming about it, fretting about it, and getting excited about it. The race I’m considering is still over six months away, so I’ll have plenty of time to feel my way toward those longer and longer runs.
I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile I’m going to put my feet up and let myself feel proud of finally vanquishing the last of those original seemingly impossible running goals.
Who knows what may become possible, one step at a time?
Well-chosen, realistic but challenging goals, once established, have a funny way of sticking — of taking root in your heart. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for when I set my somewhat modest running mileage goals for 2013. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really signing up for a joint commitment with CFL to be active every single day for… who knows how long we’ll last?
I think I figured out I was hooked on the streak before the end of the first week. It’s now 35 days into 2013 and I have accumulated the following mileage:
- 89 running miles
- 61 walking miles
- 4 hiking miles
That’s a total of 154 miles!
At this rate I’m going to blow my modest goals (730 running miles, 1200 total miles) out of the water.
I’ve run/walked/hiked those miles in Washington, California, and Oregon. I’ve run on pavement, gravel, rocks, mud, sand, surf, and grass. I’ve walked inside an airport terminal and I’ve done laps around shopping mall parking lots — just to keep the streak intact.
Along the way, I’m discovering that as I get stronger and more accustomed to this increased level of activity, my self-imposed challenges get bigger and my response to them gets better.
Just over a year ago I set myself some big hairy audacious running goals:
- Sub-30 minute 5k
- Sub-60 minute 10k
- Sub-2:30 half marathon
#1 turned out to be rather easy, and I’ve now done it several times, although never officially in a race. I’ve also surprised myself by hitting #3 handily in my last three races. My current half marathon goal is 2:10, which would be a sub-10 minute pace.
Goal #2 still eludes me. I haven’t really set out to do it, but I’ve glanced at my watch several times at the 6.2 mile mark during longer runs. The best I’ve been able to do is just under 1:02. Well, the other day I started out to run 7 miles on a hilly trail (paved) and noticed that I was hitting my first few miles at a comfortable 9:50 pace. With just a bit of a push I had a shot at the elusive sub-60 minute 10k! I didn’t quite make it, but I clocked that distance at 1:00:45. The sub-60 minute 10k will be mine, the next time I give it a real attempt on a flat section of trail!
Even more impressive (to me) is the fact that I’m regularly running longer and recovering faster. Over the past five days, I’ve run that brisk 7 miles on pavement, 6.5 miles on a steep rocky trail, and 8.25 miles on pavement. On today’s 8.25 mile run, I backed off the pace to a comfortable 10:15 (which I used to consider a blistering pace) and finished not even feeling winded. It wasn’t so long ago that I would have needed four days or more to recover from any of those three runs. Now I run them, chafe on my “off” day when I might only walk 4 miles, and can’t wait to run them again.
Part of the “problem” (or the thing that keeps luring me on to try longer and more frequent runs) is the fact that CFL has been coming along with me to ride his bike. And you guessed it, he wants to ride longer and longer distances (we are learning that team streaking is a highly addictive activity).
We typically do out-and-back runs and agree to turn around at a given time, which theoretically gets both of us back at the car at the same time. He’s not really satisfied with anything less than a 90-minute ride. So I find myself agreeing to run longer distances… and I find myself loving the distance and feeling great afterwards.
I warned him today where this is likely to lead. When an “easy mid-week run” has me going 8+ miles, how much longer will it be until the mileage creeps upward into double digits? How long until I tackle a 15 mile long slow run? And once I’m doing “fun runs” that exceed the half marathon distance, can a decision to attempt a marathon be far behind?
I confess that I am playing with the idea of running a marathon.
Dad, don’t faint. I’ll be intelligent about it, I promise.
It’s still just an idea at this point.
But I know when and where I’ll try it, if I decide to try it.
Feeding the streak… what shall I do tomorrow? It’s the stuff of sweet dreams…
One step at a time!
I’ve just returned from my annual January getaway in Santa Barbara, California, for Fielding Graduate University‘s national Winter Session. I’ve made a point of attending Winter Session throughout the years I worked on my PhD as well as after I graduated in 2009 (I only missed 2011 when Kurt was in the middle of chemotherapy and unable to travel). I can no longer imagine not being in Santa Barbara for one lovely week in January, soaking up the sunshine before returning north for the long, slow wait for spring.
Now that I’m an alumna, I no longer have to attend seminars, so I make the most of the opportunity to be active in the sun. Last year I ran barefoot on the beach — and as I planned for and dreamed about this year’s trip, it was running on the beach that most captured my imagination. I couldn’t wait!
As luck would have it, I arrived in southern California in the midst of a record-setting cold spell. On my first afternoon run I faced a brisk, cold wind. It was so cold that I decided to keep my shoes on and run on the semi-soft sand several feet above the surf line. There was actually sand blowing on the beach! The haziness in this photo isn’t camera shake — that’s blowing sand.
I ran about four and a half miles, mostly on grass and packed sand, and was delighted with my easy, comfortable pace of just over 10:00 minutes per mile — about a minute and a half faster per mile than I’d run a year ago!
Two days later I was ready to go out and do it again. It was still cold and breezy, but the brutal wind had abated. I stopped a few times for photos — who could resist views like these?
But at last, after four shod miles, it was time for the main event — take those shoes off and dance in the surf!
A year ago I ran carefully, slowly — but with immense joy! — and stopped quickly when my calves screamed “STOP NOW!” The next day I was extremely sore.
And this year? I ran carefully, not so slowly — and with immense joy! — felt great, could have run for several more miles but didn’t want to overdo it because I had big plans for dancing that night. One delightful barefoot mile was enough.
So then I danced for hours, felt great, and woke up the next morning feeling strong and not a bit the worse for wear. No soreness at all.
Trail running has changed my life!
I’m not bothered by uneven ground. I feel like I have a firm yet flexible base of muscle that simply takes things in stride (literally). The difference from a year ago is astounding. It almost makes me think that one of these days, I might have the guts to run on solid ground in shoes that are a bit less structured than my trusty Asics 2170s.
Or maybe I’ll just go run some more trails — wild, steep, and free in a beautiful place like this one. As soon as the snow melts!
Today was Day 5 of our New Year's activity streak -- a Saturday morning with no rain in the immediate forecast! CFL and I decided we'd do the Spruce Railroad Trail, which winds along the north side of Lake Crescent. We've hiked this trail a couple of times; I wrote about my first time on this trail here.
Our plan for today was that I would run and CFL would ride his bike.
Today I ran a chilly and invigorating 7.5 miles along the waterfront, which brought my total mileage for 2012 to 600.54 miles (I had to run that last half mile just to be sure!). At the beginning of December my 600-mile goal for the year had been looking a bit iffy, but I dug in and managed to do 40 miles over the final two weeks. I didn’t quite meet my original goal of hitting a lifetime total of 2,000 miles this year — I’m 21+ miles short. However, this sets me up for a nice goal for 2013!
If I do 650 miles next year (a modest increase over this year), I’ll hit a lifetime total of just over 2,620 miles by the end of 2013. That would be the equivalent of 100 full marathons — or for that matter 200 half marathons — I like that!!
As for the number of half marathons I’ve actually run, well, this year I did four and continued my streak of a new personal record with each race. Starting in Palm Springs CA in February with a 2:37:44, I worked my way down to 2:14:29 in Victoria BC in October. I’m not sure how I’m going to beat that time next year… but I continue to surprise myself.
In addition to doubling my lifetime total half marathons from four to eight, I also ran a staged “marathon” in Alaska, completing four races over a five-day period that added up to a slightly short 24.9 miles. I ran in pouring rain on muddy trails and fell in love with trail running.
It was a very good running year!
For next year, I’m registered for two half marathons so far: the Whidbey Island Half Marathon on April 14 and my fourth North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon in my local town on June 2. After that I’m not sure… I’ve promised CFL that I’ll do more mid-summer hiking next year.
But wait… I was talking to a friend the other night and we somehow agreed to run across Olympic National Park one long summer day next year. It’s 44 miles of steep trails and stream fords from the Quinault River to the Elwha River. She is a marathoner and might conceivably pull it off in a day, but I’d be thrilled if I could do it in TWO days! I might have to back away from that “goal.” Still, it’s calling to me a little bit… there is so much romance to the idea of traveling across the Olympics on foot, at whatever pace I’m able to manage. CFL even tells me he’d join me for a two-day trip. Stay tuned…
As I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and welcome 2013, I have so many things to be grateful for and happy about. It’s been a year of big changes and grand new adventures. I continue to believe that wonderful things are possible if we can just slow down, put one foot in front of the other, and enjoy the views every moment along the way.
Happy New Year, and cheers!
A friend asked me a hypothetical question yesterday — one of those annoying yet thought-provoking questions that you’d like to brush off but you just can’t:
“If you knew you would be crippled with bad knees when you’re 80, would you stop running today?”
I replied, “No. I don’t believe that I’m hurting my knees by running. I don’t accept your premise.”
Then I lost half a night’s sleep trying to fully think through and justify my position.
Today I came back to that person with a counter-question: “If you knew you would have a heart attack someday while hiking, would you stop hiking today?” He replied, “No, because I figure I’d die quickly and painlessly doing something I love. But YOU could be crippled if you ruin your knees by running.”
Well. Let’s give that position some thought.
One day almost eleven years ago I was walking down a half-flight of stairs, missed the last step, and broke my foot. After that accident and its lingering effects, I spent the next seven years treating myself like a cripple and fearing the next fall.
If I’d known I was going to injure myself that day, would I have gotten out of bed?
Any given day could be our last. None of us knows when our number will be up, or how we’ll go. Does that mean I shouldn’t get out of bed today?
I do tend to listen to my body and I try to rely on it as a source of valuable data about how things are going. I intend to live for a very long time and I intend to be active for as long as I possibly can. Here are some things that my body is telling me about my having taken up running four years ago:
- I was flabby then; I am not flabby now.
- My feet hurt — a lot — then; they sometimes complain a bit now, but they are strong and show no signs of crumbling.
- My balance was tenuous then; now I can run on rugged, bumpy trails. I no longer fear falling because I have good reason to believe I’m not going to fall.
- I had to take walk breaks after 1/10th of a mile then; now I can run 13.1 miles without stopping.
- My resting pulse has dropped from about 60 to about 54.
- I was prone to depression and seasonal affective disorder then; now I can go out and run in the rain or when the temperature is in the 30s (like today) and come home feeling happy to be alive.
- I stand up straighter and smile a whole lot more than I did then.
- I have never been healthier in my life. Not when I was a kid and “galloped” everywhere pretending to be a horse. Not when I was a student scaling the hills of Westwood at UCLA.
Okay, so my knees hurt a little bit after a hard run. Okay, so I have to limit my running to three times a week to allow for recovery days. I’m in my late 50s! I fully understand that I’m not invincible.
I believe my running is strengthening my body, not damaging it. My knees are not going to get any stronger by sitting around doing nothing! “Use it or lose it,” as they say.
I’ve learned to listen closely to my body and take the extra time when I need it, take the walk breaks when it’s a casual, no-pressure run, and save myself for the days when there is an official clock and my finishing time matters. I do want to keep running into my 60s and 70s and yes, maybe even my 80s. Why would I want to stop doing something that has had so many positive effects in every aspect of my life?
Tomorrow morning I’m going to get out of bed. I’m certainly not going to lie there dreading the possibility that it’s my last day of life. I’m going to walk down the stairs without fear. I have some errands to take care of in the morning, and it’s going to be a busy day. But I think I’ll squeeze in three easy miles on the treadmill tomorrow afternoon, because I have plans that will cause me to miss my usual long Sunday run. And because my knees feel great and want more than the five miles along the waterfront that I had time for today.
Some say it’s an addiction. I say it’s a healthy way of life. And I think running a few half marathons might be just the thing to do when I’m in my 80s. I might even finally win my age group.
What do you think?
After a few unsatisfactory sessions on the treadmill (it is SOOOO warm in that room!) I was ready to try running in the real world again, no matter how bad the weather might be. Fortunately yesterday was a beautiful day. As I set out from my usual jumping-off point for the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), it was 45 degrees, dry, and absolutely calm. I was warmed up and happy within the first mile.
I’d planned to run an easy 6 miles, 3 out and 3 back. For various reasons I hadn’t run more than 5.3 miles since way back at the Victoria half marathon in early October. So I didn’t want to push hard, but I really did want to cover some miles.
I knew that the trail was closed approximately 3 miles out from my starting point, but I wasn’t sure of the exact location. This section of the ODT was shut down in early November for “an indefinite period” while a contractor does some work related to cleanup of an old closed mill site as well as wastewater management upgrades necessitated by the Elwha dam removals.
I was running along really easily, enjoying the music that my iDevice was randomly serving me. Anytime “Chariots of Fire” comes up during a run, that’s a wonderful thing, right? That and a few other songs that are especially meaningful for me… songs that have sustained me through unhappy times or that I associate with high points in my life. I watched the birds on the nearly still water just offshore — a dozen or so common mergansers were an exceptionally nice sight to contemplate.
Then just ahead I saw this:
There it was. 2.93 miles and I wasn’t going one step more in that direction!
So I turned around.
On my way back I found myself awash in pleasant emotions. I thought about vacations my family took during my childhood. I thought about how, in those days of few divided highways and fewer interstates, long detours on bumpy roads were commonplace. I thought about how my mom would break into song during those detours:
Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead.
Detour, paid no mind to what it said.
Detour, all these bitter things I find.
Should have read that detour sign.
Wikipedia tells me Spade Cooley and his orchestra, with Tex Williams on vocals, recorded that song in 1946 and it was a big hit for them. I actually have that recording on my various iDevices, and although it did not come up randomly during my run yesterday, it’s the song that played in my head long after I got back to my car.
Besides thinking about vacation memories, I found myself simply loving the run. Feeling good with every step. I love to run.
I don’t do this to lose weight or inches (although I did lose them). It’s not about healing my damaged feet anymore. It’s not even about escaping from or coping with life’s problems. I simply love to run.
When life gives you detours, you find a way around them. When life gives you a “Trail Closed” sign just short of your planned turnaround point, you run joyfully back and forth across the Morse Creek bridge as you’re finishing your run, just so your GPS watch will tick over to 6.0 miles.
There’s always a way. Under, over, around, or through. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. With gratitude and happiness in each and every moment!