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May 2007

A never ending addiction

Chocolate_chip_cookie_2 How many think the title related to my ongoing addiction to running?   I wish I could tell you that I was compulsively driven to running on a regular basis - that I was addicted to running.   Don't get me wrong, I love to run and wish I could find more time to do more of it.  But, that, alas is not my addiction.

At a young age, I found I was driven to cookies.  Sounds silly, but I have an unending need and love for cookies.   Nestle Tollhouse recipe are my favorite.  Butter Crisco, parchment paper, a little whole wheat flour, semisweet chips, and aluminum foil cooling are some of the secrets collected over the years in search of the perfect cookie.

I have been known many times to break the double digit barrier in consumption of cookies in a single day.  I know my "cookie limit", but regularly abuse it because I just can't stop.   I have been known on many occassions to eat them for breakfast as well as to consider them dinner, when paired with a beer.   A few years ago, call it Luck or heavenly intervention, but the world's best cookie maker - Mary Brunkhorst - came into my life and has personally be responsible for driving me to more disciplined running because my depth of indulgence in her absolutely perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Tom, my Runners' Lounge colleague commented the other day, "I have truely never met anyone that loves cookies more than you."  It is the combination of sugar, butter, eggs, flour and chips that started my running career and it is the main driver that keeps me running regularly.   I run to eat cookies. 

What drives you to run?

Photo on Flickr by Darwin Bell

Just offer it up

Raised as part of a good Catholic family, my mom had a saying for us kids whenever we whined and complained about the slightest of problems, "oh now - offer it up".   Which would then be followed by a list of reasons of what we had it better, why we shouldn't complain and why it wasn't so bad.

Earlier this year, I made the decision to give up my favorite races - the ones I have run for 10 years without fail - in order to take on the challenge of teaching a class at a college and to start a new business - while trying to balance family and my day job/work.   My husband was supportive, but I realized something had to give.   The only thing I had left was my regular training schedule for:

April's Drake Relay (America's best track and field event)

June's Dam to Dam (the best 25K race in the world)

June's Clive Running Festival

August Big Creek Triathlon

August Cyman Tri

Anyone who has trained (while balancing family) knows that training needs to be discreetly added to the family schedule, with as little disruption to their world.  There was no way I could train or do the races with the other important stuff.   So, now as the races come and go, those around me here the constant whining and tears as I don't participate.  It is hard to back away from the feeling of family at the start of the race or the sense of personal accomplishment at the finish.  (Ok, and I can't consume nearly the volume of cookies I usually can this time of year.)

So, in the back of my head, I hear my mom's voice - "Oh Amy, just offer it up."   Because yes, it could be worse.  And yes, it's not forever.  Anyone ever been here before - what is your advice?

PS...Don't worry my friend, Living History Farms Run in November -- I will be there!   Just don't tell my family.

 

This says it all

I was catching up on home email stuff and stopped to read the weekly enewsletter from our school.  At the top, the author (Judy Wright) was telling the parents everything we need to know as we wrap up the school year.   At the end of the basic instructions, she included this quote:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a
pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used
up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, "WOW!  WHAT A RIDE!"

What a great quote to think about for parents as we head into the adventure called summer vacations.  Seems like this is something all kids know about summer vacation - just go for it.

And, Isn't this so true when we run?   Some days we are so careful out there with our runs, harboring our injuries, going easy on the 'ole legs to save them for another day or adventure.   But some days on some runs, it feels so good just to go out there and run full out.  Not necessarily full out fast, but without inhibition, without worrying about what you still need to get done that week, without worrying about your training schedule the rest of the week or month -- you just run.

And if you have let loose for one of these runs, you know the utter feeling of accomplishment at the end.  A deep feeling of satisfaction with your body and your mind - because both lived a little more and feel a little more alive than before your run.

Run like a kid

Dscn2574 With two small children, I spend a good amount of time chasing them around the house and through the yard.   With the warm weather upon us again, we are back outside in the evenings playing.   As we roll through our evening routine of fun and games, I am always struck by the joy they find in running.  They don't think of running as adults do, in fact they don't think about it at all.  Kids just run, kids play, kids fly!

My three year old is a study in endurance.   She runs as naturally and freely and scarcely knows that the energy it takes her to shoot across a vast open space it roughly equal to "full out" speed work for me.   It is watching her and running after her that I am convinced that a small child originally created the concept of "walk breaks" to double distance.   Kids can run/walk/run/walk all day long without ever tiring out.

But more than the pure energy behind the child's running is the joy.   It just looks fun.   I will sit and watch (and rest) at times and marvel at the smile and carefreeness that she has.   As I head out for my "regular" fun, I know I don't make it look as easy, but I do find that I feel a small part of that joy.

Run like a kid today.  Run with a kid today.  Just get out there and run -- it will give you a little joy!

The Greatest Community of People—Runners

From the Midwest, I enjoy being part one of the greatest communities of people—runners. I’ve been a runner for 30 plus years.  One of the best parts of running is getting to know other runners—about their accomplishments, goals, routines, challenges, and running advice related to running.  I’m an ordinary runner. Typically I just enjoy running, setting some fitness goals, and getting out for morning runs.  Sometimes I get into a more serious training routine and occasionally I enter a race. The last few years I’ve been focusing on longer races and have been running a marathon each year.

I like to run with others, informally coach a few friends, and support running in my community. These days I’m learning a lot just listening to other ordinary runners, exchanging advice, some lessons learned, and trying new approaches to running.  I have shelves of books on running—training, racing, nutrition, physiology, biographies, the works.  Recently I’ve been reading How Running Changed My Life: True Stories of the Power of Running

Each essay holds a powerful story about an accomplishment, character, lessons about running and about life.  It seems to me I’d enjoy meeting each of these runners.  However, I’ve learned that there’s virtually as much human interest, achievement and sometimes even gritty drama, in the lives of my running friends, co-workers, and runners right here in the community.

Like I said, what I like most about running is the great people it connects me to.  I’m having a great time meeting them in print, the virtual world, and of course in my community.  Once we establish we are runners, getting to know them is easy and a pleasure.

Its about the shoes

A few jobs ago, I had a chance to travel back and forth quite frequently and found myself sitting in airports, just waiting. Any business traveler knows that after the first year the excitement of "jetting" all over the place wears off. During one particularly long wait at an airport and a long day in meetings, I stumbled upon a fact of life. People can put on any set of clothes, any outfit, any accessories, with little or no thought. Whether it is casual, dressy or something in the middle, they choose it for its looks and the the impression it needs to uphold. They say that clothes makes the man and many of us work hard to make sure it conveys the message we want to deliver. I was staring at the people walking by and started to pay attention to their shoes. There is a saying that eyes are the window to the soul. I think shoes may be the other window to the person.   

Shoes they are different.   Shoes need to make an appearance, but they also need to perform a function.   Shoes must keep us going, keep us comfortable.   Most people choose shoes to keep feet and utlity they bring.   

Next time, as you find yourself watching people walk by, look at their shoes.  No matter what the outfit is trying to tell you, the shoes will tell you the rest of the story.   The outfit may be flashy - but the shoes - very conservative.   Our the outfit is corporate uniform, but the shoes show spunk and style - a personality waiting to break free. 

And me, of course, this silly concept made me think of my own shoe personality. 

Dscn0982

My spread is a functional, yet conservative black and brown, a couple styles in each color.   Kind of like "Geranimals" for adults - it requires no thought in the morning to get on my corporate uniform and head to work.  But then, as you turn and look at my running shoes, you would see a bright red pair, with the latest technology.  No penny spared and pure luxury for the tootsies.   My running shoes are chosen for what's best for my feet with little regard to color, price or fashio.

My running shoes tell the world that I am serious about running even when my speed and form show you that I am only an ordinary runner at best.   My shoes show you the joy I have in getting in a few miles and spending time practicing my left-right-left-right.   

What do your running shoes tell about you?

Running Endurance vs. Running Stength

I recently trained for one of the few races I run each year.  The distance is essentially a half-marathon, but it’s officially 12.4 miles and the largest 20k race in the U.S.  During  a recent run I felt pain right above my always dependable knees.  Only a twinge, I continued my easy pace, staying alert to more signs of trouble.  The good news, the pain only returned a few more times; the bad news was, contrary to my typical runs, the pain did recur.  Later that day as I moved around the house and office my knees would twinge with pain and buckle nearly “bringing me to my knees.”

I face this experience a few times a year.  I view it as a whack up side the head reminding me of “knee health.”   For me, it’s a reminder of what I already know and what many runners ignore: there is a big difference between endurance and strength. 

As a regular runner for decades, I lose sight of just because my legs have the stamina and endurance to run five, ten, fifteen or more miles upon demand, that they are forged with strength.  This mindset leads to  countless running injuries.  Strength is the ability to perform a certain activity; endurance is the ability to perform it over and over and over.

I won’t pretend to know what works for everyone, but with this knee wake up call, I resumed a routine of knee health exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knees. Kneeimages I get immediate results literally within a few days and no returning pain with simple exercises plus some knee bends.

A wiser me would stick with my strengthening exercises to avoid my occasional knee matter.  The bigger lesson is not to confuse my accumulated endurance with the underdevelopment of the muscles supporting my knees.  Endurance is not precisely equal to strength and my joints remind me that they know what they need.

Image on Leader Telegram.

Life at the back

I am not a fast runner.   I started running later in life to counteract my cookie addiction and generally keep my mind in good working order.  As I keep running, I discovered that I don't gain speed but instead instead gain patience and resolve to find enough time to run my distances. 

At last count, I have finished three races dead last.  When others introduce me as a "runner", I quickly add the subtitle that they should be honored to meet "the slowest runner" in the world.    My first real race was a marathon that I planned to run "just" half of it - 13 miles.   I had only been running for about 8 months and had trained to about 8 miles.  I was carrying around 20 extra pounds and had shin splits going into the race.  Yes, about all the classic running mistakes. The night before the race, I sat with my husband, eating pizza telling him I was worried I was going to be last.   I remember clearly him reassuring me that there was no way I would be last - I just couldn't be that SLOW.   That morning, after the gun went off, I lost track of the group of runners within 3 blocks.   At about a mile, the race crossed a long bridge.   The pack had crossed about 5 minutes before me and were over and out of sight.   And then, I crossed.    Six police cars (the roving barricade) and all 100 commuters waiting, escorted me across the bridge.   It was then that I realized I was the slowest runner on earth. 

During the race, it took the sag wagon about an hour to find me.  When they caught up to me they told me that they had no idea that there was a still a runner "way back here".  I lost my way twice and had to stop at a house to ask directions.   At mile 8, 11, and 12 1/2, they got out of the van to walk up to make sure I was ok.   The funny thing was, I was still "running" at that point - but they thought my shuffle looked a little sickly.   

At mile 13, I happily pulled off to the side and welcomed a ride back home with my husband.  The sag wagon gave a little beep and went off and search for the next set of runners  - a few miles up the road.

But in spite of that, I still run.  Because on some days when the sun is warm, the trail is flat and the music is just right - I still feel fast.   

Out of Breath

The "Elements of Effort" is one of my favorite running books. Modeled after Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" as a brief, everyone-should-own on the author's musings on running.  EOE is a compilation of reflections--some a few paragraphs and some longer essays that seem to make a connection with me and my running.  "Shivering" "Gravity" and "Obsessions" are examples of short reflections on topics I feel like I could have written because they are so true to my experiences. 

Often, as I come across one of these gems, I'm amazed that the author, John Jerome, captured my experience, my wonder, my embarrassment, and my joy in running.  One essay hactually explained the answer to a question which puzzled me my entire running life: why is it when I, a trained athlete with a marathoner's endurance and moderate speed, climb several flights of stairs, am I also out of breath? 

It seems unfair.  As I am taking the stairs with a co-worker who is by appearance and by admission not fit, doesn't excercise, why don't I enjoy a smug moment at the top  of the steps when I am breathing effortlessly while my companion is gasping for air?  Instead, we both seem leveled by the task of the climb.  You'd think all my miles on the road, the repeat workouts on the track, and all the cardio intensity would put me at an advantage over gasping and puffing.  Alas, Jerome has an  explanation of this mystery.  He freed my understanding from the grip of doubting my fitness.  He gave me the breakthrough I'd longed for: "Why the hell am I also out of breath when I'm in better health and fitness level than my stair-stepping co-workers?"   The answer, Jerome explains, in one word: "Momentum."  When we run, we are optimizing the energy and momentum unleashed in the past several steps that carries our bodies forward.  When we climb stairs, however, there is no momentum with each upward step.  Instead, there is a pause, a braking effect upon arriving at each higher step.  The heart has to work to pump blood and oxygen to the muscles and the respiratory system accelerates its rate to accommodate each new effort to step upward, to reach, to rest (brake), to lift the trail leg up twice the distance, rest (brake) again, and repeat the effort repeatedly throughout the ascent.

I remember rejoicing in the "good news" of this explanation to my puzzle.  Of course, in the spirit of teaching others, and in a veiled instance of fitness smugness, I seize every chance I get to explain "momentum" to my unfit, stair climbing friends.

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