Forever pace

One time while running with a couple friends, I posed the question: “Do you think everyone has a preset limit as to how many miles their body can log before they can’t run anymore? Or do you think we all have the capacity to run our whole lives?”

I asked this because you always hear stories about how so-and-so so used to be a runner but wrecked some part of his or her body, and either lives in chronic pain or had to have surgery, and now can’t run anymore. It’s as though each of our bodies is built to tolerate a certain amount of stress from running or some other physical activity, and once we cross that line the game is over.

And then there’s my chiropractor’s colleague, who believes running is the worst thing you can do for your joints and that no one should run. There is a general sense that running poses a hazard and that runners take a calculated risk when they choose to pursue the activity, which I can accept. But hearing someone deem running a categorical no-no shocks me. In a society that struggles with obesity, permits people to drive around in cars, and commemorates life occasions with alcoholic beverages, why the antagonism towards running?

There is a recent study that suggests running does not contribute to osteoarthritis and can actually benefit our joints. I’ll leave the scientific debate to those who are better informed than I am, but what I know empirically is that I have never been more fit or felt stronger than I do now. And I attribute that to long-distance running. I’ve picked my poison, and lo and behold it hasn’t killed me.

In fact it was three years ago this month that I dove into the half marathon training program that sparked my current passion for running. I went from someone who had to be dragged out on a 1-2 mile run to a runnerd with a bucket list of places to run and races to do before she dies. A fanatic who buys 10 times more running clothes than normal clothes. And follows the Olympic marathon trials live on Twitter.

Where am I going with it? What do I hope to gain?

The simple answer is:  I’m in this for the long haul. I want to run in this body for a very long time. I want to get to the point of winning my age group at races not because I’m fast, but because I am the only one who still manages to show up and run. Yep, I want to be that crazy old lady.

As my friend Beth said so poignantly in response to my question: “I think everybody’s got a forever pace.”  A run-forever pace that ultrarunners are so expert at locking in.  The one that enables them to trot with zen-like focus over hill and dale, from sunrise to sunset, until they get to their destination.  But I think the forever pace is about more than just how fast your run. It is about dialing back your approach to running overall, being patient, foreseeing what it will take to be able to run at age 50, 60, 70 or whatever your heart desires, and figuring out how to preserve yourself for that.

I wonder what my forever pace is. Is it one marathon a year, or one good one and that’s it? Is it running no more than 3 times a week? Or running soft surfaces only? I took up long distance running at the inopportune age of 39, with old bones and worn ligaments. Whenever something feels off or downright painful, I often wonder if it’s indicative of a middle-aged body just needing more recovery time, or a major systemic screwup. I don’t always figure it out but I am definitely always thinking and being attentive to my body. Listening, reevaluating, and honoring where my body is at today. Forever pace. Sustainable running.

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You know you’re a runner when…

…you measure the passage time by how many miles you could have run in the interim. Like the 8 miles I could have run today had I not convened with some other soccer moms to sort out a team roster situation. And the 6 miles I could have covered earlier this week instead of sitting at the computer fielding emails. Sitting is particularly unnerving. So is standing in line at a government office. If I can run a 10K in the time it takes to get something accomplished, that activity had better be good. It had better be equally worthwhile.

Running free: an epiphany

Ask a runner what she likes about running and guaranteed one of the top 5 things will be the sense of freedom. There is no clearer demonstration of what it means be free than the act of moving forward through time and space on one’s own terms. Freedom is mobility.

Two months ago I visited Thailand and Cambodia on a family vacation. In typical American fashion, I took my habits with me and practiced them wherever I went. I had a marathon to run in 2 weeks, so naturally I was intent on executing the taper portion of the training plan during our 11-day vacation. My single piece of luggage was one-third occupied by the Holy Trinity of running: sneakers, a Garmin, and a running outfit.

Of course I knew that no one runs in Southeast Asia. Not outside on the roads, not if they’re not being chased. There is a reason Olympic long-distance runners don’t hail from places like Thailand and Vietnam. It is not part of the culture, nor is it practical. First of all, it’s hot and humid as all get-out. Moreover, no one can afford the luxury of disappearing for hours to huff and puff on the road and spend time in one’s own head. In places where people struggle to make ends meet, running is a form of vanity and, worse yet, idleness.

And so that morning when I took a 4-mile lap around my hometown in northern Thailand, I was met with stares. Blank, perplexed, amused, and perhaps even chiding. I was also met with nonchalance. Rightly so, because who has the time for my foreigner eccentricity? While I look Thai and am part Thai and spent my early childhood in Thailand, the activity I was engaging in was all “farang.”

One of the other stops on our trip was Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to the World Heritage Site known as Angkor Wat. Cambodia, as many know, is a country that has been rocked by civil war and strife of unimaginable proportions in recent history. Having emerged from the brutal totalitarian grip of the Khmer Rouge just over 30 years ago, it is only in the nascent stage of peace. Siem Reap’s genteel French gardens, chic restaurants and luxury hotels certainly belie the city’s bloodstained past. As do the streams of air-conditioned buses emblazoned with alphabets of various kinds – Korean, English, Khmer, and French. “The past is past” seems to be the sentiment here. Then again, what is the alternative? Who among these survivors can spare the emotional capital to dwell on the execution of at least 1.7 million of their brethren by their own government?

On the second day of our stay in Siem Reap, my training schedule called for a 9-mile run. I approached the hotel concierge to help me map out a safe and straightforward running route. She directed me to follow the main road that would take me from Siem Reap to Angkor. “Many guests like to run that route,” she said. Sounded good to me. I was excited to pull another Forrest Gump in yet another country.

At 7:30 a.m. when I started off, the temperature had already reached the low 70’s Fahrenheit, which meant it was on the cusp of becoming uncomfortable. I ran on the shoulder of the road since the sidewalk was uneven and crowded, sharing the space typically occupied by tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles. I yielded to everyone who I sensed coming up behind me. I was in no rush and had no interest in becoming the next unidentified subject of an unfortunate traffic accident (I carried nothing on me that morning except one gel and one bottled water). I was pleased to be able to keep pace with a few of the tidily uniformed children commuting by bike to school. By this, I mean as many as three 5- to 10-year-olds astride single-rider bikes shimmying alongside me, their schoolbags dangling from various angles.

Finally the temples of Angkor came into view. There in the golden light were the unmistakable carved stone towers that have persisted since the 12th century, jutting out of the green sweep of their jungle surroundings. I always have to catch my breath in the presence of monuments of civilizations gone by. Doubly so, when I approach them running.

I stopped at the promenade in front of Angkor Wat to eat my gel and finish the bottle of water I had been carrying. As I squeezed out the last globs, I walked up the handful of steps to the promenade, debating whether I had time to keep walking to the gate of the temple city for a closer look. Two steps into my thought process, a uniformed guard blocked my path and said, “Can I see your pass?”

Confused and slightly winded, I mumbled, “What?”

“Your tourist pass. Show it to me.”

“Um, I don’t have one. I just came running here,” I replied, taking stock of the fact that I had no identification on me, let alone a permit apparently needed to stand at this World Heritage Site.

“Then go back,” he orders, swiveling his index finger counterclockwise.

I rejoiced. In not being hauled off to a Cambodian jail. In not getting a fine that I wouldn’t have the ability to immediately pay. In being allowed to go back on my merry path without police escort, or who knows what. It was the last time I would take the freedom to roam for granted.

I am lucky to live in a place where running for leisure is possible and commonplace. I am grateful I don’t routinely have to answer to inspectors and guards wherever I go. I am thankful for open roads and public spaces that allow me to run free. It is clearly an immense privilege.

Don’t think, just go

Ten miles on deck for today. But I put in 8 miles yesterday plus 9 miles marathon pace the day before that, I only had 5 hours of sleep last night and it’s raining steadily. (“Wah,” as my second-grader would say.) Wish I had a full body suit made of space blanket material to wear on my run. Or that I could be instantaneously teleported to the end of that 10th mile. But alas, I only have coffee. Time to drink up and get crackin’.

Why Oiselle?

I am officially a Oiselle ambassador!

Oiselle makes extraordinary running clothes for women. The design is clean, sporty and modern. There are no boring paisleys, hoaky florals or in-your-face street rat prints. The colors are imaginative but tasteful. They don’t just recycle the tired formula of black, bluish and pinkish season after season. The fit is streamlined and not size-inflated. And the performance is top-notch. But what I love most about Oiselle is that they are the labor of love of a small but mighty group of women runners in Seattle who believe women should be able to wear what they love when they run. And based on their Twitter feeds and Facebook page, they have an awfully fun time plying their trade.

I got turned onto Oiselle when I discovered their running tees. So much to love in a simple t-shirt! Oiselle’s tees showcase the soul of the company and speak to women runners in a way that I’ve only seen from marketing behemoth Nike – except Oiselle would never be caught dead making a t-shirt like this.

Oiselle’s motto is “go fast, take chances.” While I can’t represent fast like the some of the elite and ambassador runners on the team, I can represent the sense of daring that thrives in so many runners. That gumption that spurs runners to trot up that massive hill after staring at it, contemplating, “How bad could it be?” That desire to push beyond what’s known. Those moments when we ask ourselves: “What if I turn that corner on this trail? Wonder if there’ll be a view?” or “OK, I’ve run a 10K, what would it feel like to run a half marathon?” The chance we take when we decide to try running despite never having been active before. That’s what my Oiselle racing singlet will stand for.

Runnerd moment: meeting Kara and Shalane

In honor of the upcoming Olympic trials this Saturday, here are photos from my favorite runnerd moment of 2011:  meeting Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan.

It was at the Nike Women’s Marathon expo.  They did a little Q&A session on an upper level stage and afterwards I camped out at the bottom of the stairway waiting for them, groupie style.  When they finally came down, I was so excited, I was shaking.

What surprised me most about them?  How incredibly friendly Shalane was, how tall Kara was, and how beautiful they both are in person.

Good luck, Shalane and good luck, Kara!  Get out there and do what you do so well.

Current running mantras

These are the things I’ve been chanting under my breath lately when I’m out on a run:

Butt butt butt butt butt butt… (to overcome gluteal amnesia, one of the culprits of my fluke injury last month)

Pace pace pace pace pace pace… (to achieve pace consistency versus running by sheer feel, which had trapped me in an unnecessary surge-and-recover pattern)

Pillar pillar pillar pillar pillar pillar… (to stand tall and stabilize through the hips)

Voila. Nothing elegant or profound here. In fact, it’s borderline schizophrenic. But it works, this strategy of talking to the body. On my last hilly 10-miler I sputtered “butt butt butt” to power up all the hills, and the next day my backside was distinctly sore. Don’t believe me? Try it. Seriously, just give it a try.

New Year’s Day diversion

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Parents versus Kids soccer match on New Year’s Day, Truckee, California.

It was sick fun! Kids won (ouch). They ranged in age from 6 to 13. Grownups were all 40-something. At least the injuries were minimal. One kid hurt her finger, and one mom hurt her ankle, um, squatting behind the bushes to pee. Mind you, she is a runner/ skier/ triathlete extraordinaire. Yes, aging is painful.

My soreness level the day after is not bad, given this old body normally only goes forward, not side to side. Hip flexors and glutes are pretty angry. I’m calling it cross training.

2012 outlook

A new year.  A blank slate.  Own it, everybody. Make it great!

MY TENTATIVE RACE CALENDAR
JAN 15 – Ballpark 5K
FEB 5 – Kaiser Half Marathon
MARCH 4 – Napa Valley Marathon
APRIL 15 – Presidio 10 – 10-miler
MAY 20 – Bay to Breakers 12K
JUNE 3 – Coastal Trail Challenge 10K (if no Dipsea)
JUNE 10 – Dipsea Race (hopefully)
JULY – TBD
AUG 19 – Northstar Mountain Run
SEPT 15 – Diablo Run Half Marathon
OCT 7 – Bridge to Bridge 12K
OCT 14 – Nike Women’s Marathon (maybe…fingers crossed!)
NOV 25 – Run Wild for a Child 10K
DEC 2 – North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon Relay