Off these feet (Part 5): Take-home prize

The eight weeks in Truckee were magic. The improbable occurred: I became a better runner by being less of a runner.

In four years of long distance running, I just assumed that to run better, one had to run. I ignored the occasional nuggets of wisdom from my trainer and triathlete friends that one should also spend time doing other things like strength and cross-training. The longer my distance goal, the more I ignored that advice. When I trained for marathons, literally all I did was run, because I simply had no time to do anything else. It was an unfortunate catch-22.

This summer proved without a doubt that you can’t be a solid runner without also being generally fit. After all, the body does not operate in isolation. There were also psychological benefits to scattering my focus a bit. It prevented me from getting bored and burning out.

My take-home prize from the summer up in the mountains was running superpowers. I could bang out an 8:30 pace anywhere, anytime without trying — a full minute per mile faster than 8 weeks prior. For anyone who is skeptical about the benefits of proper training, I tell you once again: training is a beautiful thing.

I was fully primed for Hood to Coast. I nailed my pace targets for all three of my legs, did not let my team down, did not bonk. I had never felt so comfortable in a race. I kept thinking, “Wow, this is how it feels to be perfectly trained!” but in truth I was probably overtrained. My track coach friend would have told me that if I felt that good in a race, then I wasn’t pushing a real race pace. I thought of that too on my first two legs, but having never done a relay before, I erred on the side of caution. I decided not to go guns ablazin’ at the beginning so I could avoid crashing and burning in the end. But in the end, I wasn’t fully tapped. I had held back too much. It was just too hard to believe that I could run in the 8’s repeatedly without coming close to sucking wind.

My superpowers lingered for a good month beyond Hood to Coast, but something strange happened. I lost my desire to run. Instead of capitalizing on my fitness and signing up for a slew of races to set new PRs, I ran one race (got a shiny new 10K PR) and otherwise felt very little motivation to run. I felt no hunger to achieve any goal. Ho hum.

What happened? Hood to Coast. I had reached the pinnacle of my running adventures. I had finally run the illustrious H2C and executed it to the best of my ability. And I guess the aftermath of all that is feeling the need to close the book on my running story. I guess when you finally get to the top of the mountain after a long journey, the last thing you want is to go back down and make the same trek back up. You put a notch on your belt and move on. You embark on a different trek, strive to reach a different summit.

In the past I’ve experienced how failure drives us to succeed. Now I’m learning that success is a short-lived thrill. Getting the prize is nice, but what makes me feel most alive is fighting for it.

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 12K PR...and then moving on

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 10K PR…and then moving on

Off these feet (Part 2): Lean mean Hood to Coast machine

That title was penned in jest.

In truth my biggest fear while up in Truckee was that I would blow my training for Hood to Coast because of the cards stacked against me: the altitude (6000-6600 feet), the hilly terrain and the usual distractions of summer in paradise. Here I was finally going to experience the Hood to Coast relay. I didn’t know how serious of a runner my teammates were but I refused to become the deadweight. So I set out to be 100% ready to do my share. Lean and mean was never the goal. Just in shape to give a solid effort.

My preparation can be best summarized as “opportunistic training loosely based on the Ryan Hall Half Marathon plan.” It was summer, and I have kids, so things had to be fitted in on whatever days they could. The plan provided clear targets. I adapted purposefully around them.

There were a few key elements that I knew, based on prior experience with the training plan and my own quirks, were non-negotiable. One, I had to adhere to the prescribed paces — no faster and no slower. Two, I could not skip the speed work. And three, I had to cross- and strength-train.

Within those boundaries, I began tinkering. The first big switch-up was to focus more on speed than distance. A running coach friend said that for relay racing it was more important to get used to running fast each time you run than to run long. The same point was made in various articles I found online. They all concurred that to train optimally for a relay, specificity is key. This meant practicing the individual distances and target paces, if possible on the same (or harder) type of terrain for each leg.

Truckee proved to be the perfect training ground for my H2C legs, which were 4.84 miles flat and paved, 4.18 miles rolling hills and paved, and 7.2 miles uphill mostly unpaved. The 6-mile tempos along Donner Lake and 5-mile tempos on the Legacy Trail strengthened my legs for rolling hills. The 800s at 5K pace – to the point of visibly gritting my teeth and feeling like I was about to puke and pee my pants at the same time – gave my neuromuscular system a jolt. The hilly roads in my neighborhood tested my resolve on hot afternoons to keep the legs turning and not stop or walk. And the trails familiarized me with the leg and lung burn associated with continuous climbing on uneven ground. Two weeks before H2C, my training peaked with a 6-mile, 2280-foot trot to the summit of Mount Pluto in Northstar. I had no fear of hills left in me after that.

The Legacy Trail

Other changes had to do with being flexible, listening to my body and not spoiling my summer. I would miss a workout (or two or three) because I had no childcare or made social plans, then have to decide whether to move the runs to another day or scrap the entire week and reattempt them the following week. I would listen to my body and err on the side of taking it easy. If I was struggling to complete workouts, I would repeat them rather than move ahead.

And by the way, I struggled a lot. If there was a phrase to be emblazoned on the tombstone of my summer training cycle, it would be: “Truckee Summer 2012, wherein Tita struggled.” I rarely felt good during a run. Even when I podiumed at a race, I did not feel like a winner. It took me four weeks to complete a prescribed speed workout on pace. I ended up falling permanently two weeks behind schedule. I sank to a very low place during the eight weeks. I found that the only way out of the doldrums was to accept struggle as a necessary part of training…and to indulge in diversions.

Diversions consisted of any and all other opportunities to be active. If someone invited me to run a trail on a tempo run day, I went on the trail run and called it tempo workout, figuring the effort was probably about the same. I played tennis with friends, biked with my kids and paddleboarded despite my fear of falling into frigid Donner Lake. I would jump at opportunities to do these things even if it meant working out twice in a day or skipping a run.

Even the cross- and strength-training became welcome diversions. Just when I thought I had seen plenty when it came to producing sweat while riding a spin bike, or tormenting one’s core, I was introduced to yet another plethora of instructor-led torture. The spin instructor was fond of simulating long, slow climbs (ouch). The core instructor’s MO was to do 25 reps of each exercise with no rest for 45 minutes (there was a day when I began to see stars in this class). But week after week I went, because I liked the instructors and the people in the class. Some were fellow moms, most were locals, and all were friendly down-to-earth folks. The classes were a counterpoint to my solitary running. I looked forward to my hour of catching up on local gossip and getting tips on fun things to do around town.

The beauty of these diversions was that they contributed to my fitness and, more importantly, gave me the mental balance to keep slogging through the training. They made me enjoy the experience as a whole. And who would have guessed that my favorite secret indulgence by summer’s end would be…swimming?

To be continued in Part 3: Chicken or fish?

Off these feet

It’s November and I’m finally going to put my summer experience into words, in several parts. July and August were immense and changed me profoundly as a runner. Something so big cannot be encapsulated all at once. I need to take small bites, chew slowly and digest.

Where to begin?

Our family carves out a chunk of our summer to stay at our place in Truckee, in the North Lake Tahoe area. Truckee is our playground. In summertime, life up there suits all of us. We are a family that likes being outside and needs to roam. Truckee gives each of us everything we need to thrive.

This year we planned to spend the longest stretch of time there yet — 8 weeks. To say I looked forward to it is an understatement. As I checked off the last few days of school in early June, I was living and breathing for Truckee Summer. As we vacationed at my in-laws’ home in coastal North Carolina, relaxing and fun in its own right, I was giddily anticipating waking up to the scent of evergreens, the sound of a train whistle echoing off mountain peaks, the bright sun, the limitless blue sky. I knew it would be divine. I had no idea it would be even better than I imagined.

I had set a few goals for the summer:
1) I wanted to be optimally trained for Hood to Coast.
2) I wanted to get better at swimming.
3) I wanted to run more trails.

Happily, I saw them all through, and even got a surprise bonus for my efforts. How many times in your life does something exceed your expectations in an abundance of unanticipated ways? I wound up uber-trained for H2C. I came to love swimming. I learned that the secret to my improvement as a runner was to submit to trails.

I also grew to enjoy the solitude of training on my own because when you’re surrounded by nature, you don’t feel lonely. Nature is brilliant and alive; it is quiet in the best way. And the occasional runner who passed me on the road or trail would always wave and smile as if we had known each other for months. I was never lonely.

I learned that making time to do other things made me a happier runner. So I mountain biked. I went stand up paddling. I stopped being paranoid about busting my knees on the tennis court, played a lot and even took lessons. I’m still not very good but had a blast anyway.


I grew enamored of small town living. Small local races where it’s not a hassle to get to the start line, there is no parking stress, no bureaucracy, and everyone knows everyone.

The Truckee Summer just swept me off my feet…

To be continued in Part 2: Lean mean Hood to Coast machine

France en courant

Two memorable running journeys I had last month during a whirlwind 4-day trip to France, both to World Heritage Sites:

Paris, October 12

4 miles roundtrip from our hotel in the Madeleine District to a place that needs no introduction. Damp, cool autumn morning. Overcast skies with breakthrough sunshine. I ran with my husband – a rarity. I waited 4 hours for this to happen, thanks to my jet lag, a late (8 a.m.!) sunrise per Central European Time, and my husband not having jet lag. But I wanted this to be something we did together on our anniversary getaway: running to Eiffel. As Parisians walked, biked and drove to work, we ran. Past the US Embassy and the Place de la Concorde, where revolutionaries set up the guillotine. As tourists sauntered their way through the Tuileries and toward the Louvre, we ran. Over to the left bank, down the Seine toward Invalides. Le Tour Eiffel was bustling with visitors at 9 a.m. – no surprise. It is an incredible sight that gives me the same chills as the Golden Gate Bridge. To think that humans are capable of building something that big, that magnificent, with the means available more or less a century ago. To witness how the human imagination dares. Creations like these are an affirmation of all that is good about our species. And Paris has a disproportionate number of them.

Fontainebleau, October 13

About 4 1/2 miles through town and the grounds of the Chateau de Fontainebleau – the hunting lodge of French kings. The air smelled like rain, the sky threatened rain, and sure enough it eventually rained. Fallen chestnuts everywhere, reminding me it’s autumn. I did some intervals on the nice flat dirt walking paths that flank the canal and other walking paths radiating from that area, to add distance. I had to admire the exacting layout of even a remote part of the royal residence like the park. Every tree, every path was placed just so. I imagined gardeners hundreds of years ago toiling away during the hot summer months, trimming every branch, picking up every twig, maintaining this pristine vision. I imagined Louis XIV’s hounds tearing down these paths for exercise, his minions calling after them. My autumn reverie was interrupted during the final stretch at 5K pace, which felt excruciatingly hard. I couldn’t understand why at the time, but got my answer the next morning: I had picked up some sort of flu. My take home prize from an extraordinary, soul-soothing trip. I say it was still worth it.

For New York

The recent hurricane devastation in New York has brought forth myriad concerns. Mostly I have worried for the safety and well being of many friends and families of friends who live there. But as a runner I also lamented the unfortunate timing of this natural disaster vis a vis one of the greatest running events in the country: the New York City Marathon. The race is slated to occur a mere six days after Hurricane Sandy’s battering.

Quietly, as not to show disrespect to the residents of New York who have suffered far greater hardships than having a marathon get canceled, runners like me all across the country have been pondering: will the race go on?

There are many obvious reasons to cancel. In short, the city has bigger problems to solve than how to make the five boroughs accessible to 47,000 people who want to cover 26.2 miles on foot this Sunday. So it came as a surprise when Mayor Bloomberg boldly (perhaps even brazenly) announced yesterday that the race will go on.

The mayor said: “It is a great event for New York, and I think for those who were lost, you know, you’ve got to believe they would want to have an economy and have the city go on for those who were left behind.” He wanted the race to be a symbol of the city’s resilience.

Runners are not newcomers to symbolic acts. We often dedicate our efforts to some greater good beyond ourselves. Think of all the races that funnel their proceeds toward a charitable cause. And all the organizations that hold road races as fundraisers. In running, we push ourselves (to cross the finish line) to inspire others to do the same (overcome a challenge). As a fundamentally solitary endeavor, there is something personal and spiritual about running, and this makes it conducive to expressing values and beliefs.

A good handful of this year’s NYCM entrants are charity runners — those who aspire to cross the finish line in support of a charitable cause. Now comes an opportunity for all NYCM participants to run the race for a cause. That cause is to lift the spirit of folks who call New York their home.

I cannot say whether the mayor’s decision was the right one. (It seems on one level bullheaded and insensitive, as well as needlessly taxing on public resources.) But if the show will go on, let the race participants and their supporters come to New York nobly. Let them rally behind the battered city instead of expecting to be catered to by it. This is a time to check one’s sense of entitlement at the door — to be at peace with travel delays, to accept screwups with bag checks, fuel stops, shuttle rides and what-not, and to not complain about lack of crowd support.

So run strong for the New Yorkers, racers. Do it for them this time. When you put one foot in front of the other at mile 25, do it in honor of those struggling to put their lives back together. Share your strength with them. Make our tribe of long-distance runners proud.

Putting the (f)un back into the (r)un

I still remember the scene from Rocky III when the sportscaster interviews Mr. T before the big rematch with Rocky.

The sportscaster asked, “What’s your prediction for this fight?”

Mr. T barks in response, virtually spitting into the microphone, “PAIN! Lots of PAIN!”

That is how I would sum up the first 3 weeks of training at 6000+ feet altitude.

It was rough. Even with my unexpected 1st in AG and 2nd female overall finish at a local 5K at the 2-week mark (a total fluke which I attribute to the local rockstars flocking to that morning’s 10K and half marathon instead), I found very little reward in running. It just felt so darn hard. My paces were way off what they normally are, and I could not tell if I was just losing it, or if it really was the altitude.

2012 Truckee 5k medal

Approaching the third week I reached an all-time morale low and actually envisioned hanging up my running shoes for good. I just didn’t want to do it any more. That day I had bombed at a 5-mile moderate tempo run. My lungs burned even though I wasn’t even going that fast. My right knee felt “bunchy” and unstable. My attitude was the pits. That lovin’ feeling was gone. And as I sputtered through several stops and restarts to the finish like a broken down old car, I contemplated what my next pastime would be. What does an ex-runner with a wrecked knee do for fun? Swim? Lawn bowl? Birdwatch?

Just when things looked bleak came a ray of light. It was called the Donner Lake Triathlon. I didn’t compete in it, but participated in the most fulfilling way: as volunteer, support mom, and cheerleader.

My son was signed up for the Kids Triathlon. He had never done one but decided almost on a whim two weeks before the event to go for it. He’s an active, hardy kid who likes sports generally, but had never taken an interest in endurance pursuits except for swimming. I am guessing he was inspired by his daddy’s recent entry into the triathlon world. So for my son’s age group, the event consisted of a 25-yard swim, a 1-mile bike, and a 1/2-mile run. As if his decision to sign up wasn’t surprising enough, right away he came to me and said, “Mommy, can you help me train?” I realized then and there that I love training someone a thousand times more than training myself.

He only needed my input on the biking and running. He owned the swim part because he was already in the midst of two weeks of swim lessons, and his group was comfortably cranking out 15 laps at each lesson. For the bike/run part, I mapped out a course that would be a similar terrain to where he would bike and run, and serendipitously the street we live on fit the bill to a tee: mostly flat with gentle hills and exactly 1 mile long. I had him bike the whole mile then work up from running 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile. We trained as often as he wanted, which turned out to be about 5 times total in 14 days. He would bike alone while I waited at the transition area, then get off the bike and run home while I rode his bike.

Highlights from our training experience:
— Our biggest issue was the transition. On Day 1, my son came cruising up, barely braking, tossed the bike sideways onto the road, unclipped and yanked off his helmet and hurled it in the direction of the bike. Yes, the transition needed a little polish if we wanted that bike to last him through the event and beyond.
— Me pedaling an 8-year-old’s bike intrigued many a neighbor strolling our street. They smiled politely, I smiled politely, no one uttered a word about the spectacle that I surely was. Since I am only 5’1″, barely bigger than 8-year-old size, I am sure they wondered if I was riding the bike for real or in jest. I thought it was fun to keep them guessing.
— The best part of each training day was the reward smoothie, which the whole family got to enjoy. We shared the spoils, no matter who conquered the challenge. My two sons say I make the best smoothies and I gladly accept the compliment.

Then the big day came. I got a special front row view of the whole thing as a volunteer course marshal at the bike in/out area. It was amazing to see kids as young as 5 jog up with their bikes — wet, shivering, but undeterred. They hopped right up and motored along. Minutes later they would come cruising back and move onto running. When you watch kids do a triathlon, you realize how a triathlon is really just a magnification of the holy trinity of summer fun. Kids move through it with ease. They don’t stress about it. They jump into it and go as fast as they can. My son had a blast. But having a blast is something you take for granted when you’re 8. As soon as he finished and collected his medal, he asked, “So now can we go crawdad fishing?” Yeah, triathlon one moment, crawdadding the next. Ain’t no big thang.

The day after the kids’ event, the grown-ups had their turn: a sprint and an international distance. My husband and several people we knew were racing, so my other son and I headed back to the event area with our big cheering voices and virtual pom poms. We arrived just in time to hoot and holler for my husband’s 7-minute-mile dash to the finish. We treated ourselves to a big recovery breakfast at a nearby diner (remember, we share the spoils), then I threw on my running garb and apprehensively set off for the prescribed 10-miler on my Hood to Coast training plan. Being deep in a running funk, I was not looking forward to my first double-digit run at altitude this summer. So I decided to distract myself by making it a spectating run — i.e., I went in the opposite direction of the international distance triathletes, hoping to bump into folks I knew and cheer everyone on.

A few thoughts from that experience:
— Time flies when you’re cheering other runners on, even when you’re running uphill. The power of distraction is potent.
— It feels good to draw a smile out of tired athletes. I clapped, held thumbs up, gave the knowing nod and yelled for each one. My favorite sighting was a guy I called “Wig Man.” He was scooting along wearing a huge black ‘fro wig. As if trying to finish a 10K on an 80-degree sunny day after swimming 0.9 miles in a frigid alpine lake and biking 24.8 miles up and down 1200’ wasn’t enough. This race seemed like no big thang to him either.

At what point does a pastime morph from something we do for fun to something that feels like work? How do you draw that line between pushing ourselves to grow and pushing ourselves over the edge? Maybe every runner should wear a silly wig to at least one race a year. Or plan to go fishing after another. Just to keep ourselves in check. To remind ourselves not to stress and to have fun. Life is too short to beat ourselves up pursuing a hobby.

#Maketherules

I recently had a revelation that I might actually be a fast-twitch runner, rather than a slow-twitch one. A very slow fast-twitch runner.

No scientific analysis here, just an online quiz and a hunch. These questions were posed by the training plan I’m following for Hood to Coast. It asked: “Which workout leaves you feeling more beat up the next day? a) Long tempo runs; b) Short sprints.” I paused, dug deep, and realized that while I dread and hate feeling the burn of speed workouts, I usually wake up the next day feeling normal. A hard tempo run, on the other hand, will leave me sore the day after.

It also asked: “What is your race style? a) You struggle in the middle but outkick others with a fast final quarter-mile sprint; b) You pass a lot people during the middle miles?” Hands down I consistently go to a very dark unhappy place in the middle — miles 8-9 in a half marathon, mile 4 in a 10K, mile 16-18 in a marathon — and then I get a second wind and pull out all stops at the finish.

All this time I thought I was more naturally suited to go the distance and lived happily in the comfort zone of long, easy-pace miles. But if I’m actually more geared to run shorter and faster, I need to a) stop dreading speed workouts and b) start appreciating how well I’ve done at 13.1 and 26.2, considering, instead of beating myself up for not having run them better.

I won’t start filling up my race calendar with 1-milers and 5Ks just yet though. I won’t stop running half marathons and beyond. I might have a 5K makeup, but I still love the feeling at the end of a 10, 15, or 20-mile run of having left everything out there. Of having been transformed in a day. All my troubles, worries, all the stress of the day — gone. Like a snake shedding its skin.

Besides, we are driven by the things we are not. Goal setting, by definition, involves striving for something we can’t do yet. And that’s why this fast-twitch gal will continue to run distance events. I’ll take what I’ve got, thank you, and shape my destiny.

It’s like the recent Nike ad in celebration of last week’s 40th anniversary of Title IX: “If someone thinks you can’t, then you have to.” I was never athletically inclined when I was younger so I really can’t speak to what Title IX meant to me when I was a kid in school. But I can appreciate the sentiment of not being limited by what people say you should be able to do. I say girls and women everywhere should follow their dreams. And if the rules stand in our way, we should dare to make new ones.

Hood to Coast for newbies: some primers

Week 2 of my training for Hood to Coast.  I was supposed to get a good night’s sleep so that I could hit the track first thing in the morning and stay on schedule despite the summer travel coming up tomorrow.  Instead, what do I do?  Spend hours researching the Hood to Coast legs online.  I have been given the privilege of selecting my leg (instead of picking one out of a hat at a white elephant party, then stealing someone else’s if I don’t like what I get). Meanwhile I have no frame of reference, having never done this — or any other — relay.  I needed to get the scoop.

The good news is that there are tons of really great Hood to Coast race recaps on many people’s blogs.  The bad news is that I stayed up until almost 3 a.m. and now cannot fathom getting my butt out there in the damp cold to run intervals around the track, given the 4 paltry hours of sleep.  Then again, that would actually be good training for H2C, since the word on the street is that you pretty much don’t sleep for more than a couple hours between your legs.

Among the most useful summaries of the H2C legs are these primers by Jason Effmann (part of his On the Road to Hood to Coast series) that deserve special recognition because they had me just about falling off my chair laughing despite only 4 hours of sleep.

HOOD TO COAST PART I, VAN 1:
http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs068/1106633098899/archive/1106892221297.html#LETTER.BLOCK9
Don’t miss this hilarious video at the bottom of the post:
http://youtu.be/EL1hLU_LBvs

HOOD TO COAST PART II, VAN 2:
http://www.ohsusportsmedicine.com/2011/08/on-road-to-hood-to-coast-jason-effmann.html?m=1

Now, off to get me a cup of coffee.

Season’s end

Idiot’s luck. Is there such a thing?

I ran the last race of a training season today. By that I mean, I ended a 7-month period of running for the purpose of doing well on successive goal races, interrupted only by one fluke injury that benched me for 2 weeks in December. Training is a double-edged sword. It gives me purpose and discipline and leads me to new achievements, but it is also mentally exhausting. Life happened while I was training. Holidays and birthdays and parties and vacations. I trained around life as much as possible, but the effort of fitting it all in was almost as hard and doing the training itself. After 7 months of this, I am glad to take a siesta.

The siesta actually began early, which was the cause of much consternation. I had today’s 10-miler on the books and meanwhile we decided to go on a 1700-mile family road trip through the Four Corners region for the 10 days leading up to the race. Determined to finish the last portion of my training program (minus the strength- and cross-training), I stuffed my running shoes, clothes and watch beneath the heap of outdoor paraphernalia called for by our plans to visit to 7 national parks and monuments across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. But the God of Vacation triumphed over the God of Running. I sat for hours in a car while snacking with abandon, and outside the car I ate more greasy food than I can justify. Instead of 6 running days, I put in 2. I tried to appreciate the extraordinary scenery around me, but both runs felt staggeringly hard (I’m going to blame the altitude) and ended with me forgetting one of my belongings at the hotel in the haste of showering, packing out and heading off to our next destination. The God of Vacation was laughing heartily.

Yesterday when I returned home and dejectedly pinged my running pal Beth to strategize about the 10-miler, I warned her that I have slacked off big-time the past week and a half. To my relief, she said she hadn’t been running either. So we agreed to forego any sort of lofty goal and just enjoy the run.

Not only did I set a low bar, I showed up at the race more unprepared than ever. I did not eat a particularly good dinner, did not get my preferred 8 hours of shut-eye, did not pin my bib or fasten my D-tag the night before, and completely forgot to put on my Garmin, let alone my heart-rate monitor. I went into the race tech-naked. Beth did have her Garmin, so she was charged with monitoring how we were doing. She kindly refrained from reading off our time for the first two miles, in which we clawed our way up 3 monstrous back-to-back hills in the Presidio. Her first reading came midway across the Golden Gate Bridge at the 4-mile mark. Amazingly, we were on target for a 90-minute finish. On the way back across, having crested the high point of the bridge (the final incline of the race), we felt a new resolve and let gravity quicken our stride the next 2 miles. The final 3 miles were on flat ground, and the typical headwind on Crissy Field was unusually mild, so it was no trouble to hold on until we summoned a 5K pace for the final mile.

We beat our 90-minute goal by almost 3 minutes. I bettered my previous time on this course by 7 minutes. My lungs never screamed and my legs never felt heavy like they did when I suffered my way through the 6-mile tempo run in Durango 5 days ago, and yet I ran 15 seconds faster per mile today. We celebrated our unexpected accomplishment by scarfing down buttered pancakes and egg and cheese burritos. Beth had a Bloody Mary. I stuck to coconut water. Yes, I vacationed and ate junk food for 10 days and PR’d. Who would have thunk it? True idiot’s luck. Or maybe…just maybe…there’s something to be said for resting and letting go. For enjoying vacations. For trusting what we have built into our bodies through cumulative training. For just enjoying the run. I’m really looking forward to the next few months of kicking back and running just for running’s sake.

Enjoying vacation: yoga pose across 4 states

Like strawberries and shortcake

Today I went on my last run as a 42-year-old. By happenstance, my husband was able to accompany me. He and I hardly ever get to run together. We usually have to tag team our workouts so one of us can be with the kids. But today both kids were in ski school and we both had a run on our agendas, so we went for it.

He suggested we run along Donner Lake (10 minutes’ drive downhill from our house in Truckee) versus in our immediate neighborhood because the lake is at a lower elevation. I frankly did not see how 600 feet could make a difference, but also did not see the point of arguing, so I agreed.

As soon as we arrived at the lake, he muttered, “Oh darn! I forgot my iPod.” Really? – I grimaced to myself. We are here to run together and you were planning to listen to music? Sheesh.

A half-mile into our run, where the two of us ran side by side sharing the bike lane, I noticed that he was weaving as he ran. And whenever he veered in my direction, I ended up running on the dirt off the road. “Please stop,” I told him. “You’re running me off the road.”

“Oh really? I just don’t want to get too close to the white line. I don’t want to get hit. Here, I’ll switch with you. I don’t mind running on the dirt. I like the softer surface.”

We switched. But soon enough, I noticed he was still weaving. And this time I was edging the white line. I piped up, “Can you try to stay straight?”

“Oh sorry. I just don’t want to step in the puddles,” he said, pointing to the muddy puddles in our path, remnants of last week’s snow.

“Can’t you go ahead of me then?” I sighed. We were like a pair of ballroom dancers who had gone too long without practice, literally getting in each other’s way. It occurred to me that much artful synchronization goes into being someone’s running buddy. What are the characteristics of a perfect running pal? I came up with this:

1. Cheerfully takes turns driving the carpool to races and runs.
2. Takes turns mapping out a route.
3. Tells great stories.
4. Shares your level of runnerdiness, or lack thereof.
5. Offers you water or gel when you’re stuck without it.
6. Knows when to run alongside, pull ahead or fall behind, but never runs you off the road or trail, or into harm’s way.
7. Motivates you without being competitive with you.
8. Will run the run you need to be doing even though it’s not the one he or she needs to be doing, knowing you’re the one who needs the support that day.
9. Celebrates your victories as if they were his or her own.
10. Knows exactly what to say in your moments of defeat.

Sizing up my husband, I would say he possesses many of those characteristics but could stand to improve in a few areas. In fairness, he rates quite highly for someone who doesn’t run regularly. So he doesn’t speak runnerdese, doesn’t carry gel, and doesn’t pore over all the possible running routes. But he cared enough keep me company on my birthday eve run. At one point during our easy 5, he said this would be the longest he will have run in months. Still he came. And he kept up. And that counts for a lot.

To my other running pals – you know who you are – a huge thank you for your big hearts, strong running legs, and endless supply of gel and belief in me. We go together like strawberries and shortcake, and I adore that.