Monday, December 15, 2008

Running in the Interior

Last weekend I was itching to do a long run, I felt it was a necessity and not an option. Faced with the dilema of winters water fountainlessness, and as of yet unwillinging to break out my water holder I decided to do loops of Riverview Park. Riverview has one of the only outdoor year-round water fountains, a cold weather runners wet dream (literally).

The park's loop is 2.3 miles, so I settled in to do 4 loops. It was a cold day but there wasn't any ice on the ground, so I was able to bundle up and run just fine. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the other runners and walkers who ventured out, there is nothing like a shared experience of pain to make folks just that much friendlier.

Running a loop can be monotonous, but sometimes I find the monotony comforting -- tracing my footfalls, anticipating the hills, the curves in the road, the way the landscape changes very slightly each time around. I broke out in one lap and followed an off road trail, a diversion that was rewarded with a bright red Cardinal sighting.

Running in circles. It's an expression of frustration, futility. Sometimes, though, it's exactly what I need to connect with my interior.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dashing through the Snow

Luckily, there hasn't been much of the white stuff yet in the 'burgh, but over my birthday weekend I was treated to an unprecedented snow drop. Snow towards the end of November is not necessarily a rarity in these parts, but inches upon inches along with icy streets and sidewalks is not the norm.

I did manage to get a run in the night before the big day, running circles in the cul-de-sac on which my bed and breakfast was situated. The snow fell lightly, so I was able to maintain traction and trace patterns with my footfalls. One of the beautiful things about snow is the way it quiets the landscape, blanketing and comforting the starkness of winter, reflecting back precious sunshine.

For all of this, the practical inconveniences and dangers of snow and ice engender a great deal of anxiety for this runner. I dread it's arrival every year and am lifted when the season ends -- yet its presence is a fact of life in this region, so I try my best to welcome and consider its beauty, the quiet moments of grace.

I started this entry wanting to write about all the reflection I've been doing -- plans for the future, the neatness and not so neatness of my recent training. The Turkey Trot. And I find myself thinking and writing about snow. Snow. Maybe it's best just left at that, the metaphor for the unpredictable, dangerous beauty that is upon us, upon me. Sometimes you have no choice but to relax into the conditions around you, focus, and adapt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Heck of a Hiatus

It's been a sparse month here on the sapphic runner blog. So sparse, I haven't written (or published) a single blog in the month of November. I would love to chalk it up to some grand scheme I've been involved in, but it's more the product of the way things slip away everyday. I have also taken a bit of a break from active training which will come to end in December with the commencement of marathon training.

Trust that I have not given up running entirely, even as I do battle with my first cold of the season. Yesterday by buddy and I went out in the first sleety snow of the season for a bracing run, snaking through the encampments of many a Pittsburgh tailgater. There's an energy like no other before a game in the 'burgh, and I often like to take it as an observer rather than an active participant.

Outside of the active sphere, there's a lot to talk about, a lot going on -- but I am feeling even more introspective than usual. At the end of this week I will be turning thirty and this has churned up more than my normal amount of reflection. Hence the lack of a journal for public consumption. I hope to formulate some thoughts to mark the event, to share with the wider world but until then will most likely remain silent, contemplative.

Until then, dear readers, I invite you to do some contemplation of your own, meditation, reflection, spurred on by the darkening skies and growing chill in the air.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oh Snap, a Cold Snap

This morning I was greeted by the first flurries of the season, the type the alternate between an icy drizzle and a flake. It was barely enough snow to be noticeable, but it did provide notice that winter is on its way. As a summer loving type of gal this is the exact opposite of spotting a robin, seeing that first green bud on the tree. Soon I will need to batten down the hatches, spend more time in the warmth and artificial light of the gym.

I have not been running at all this week, mostly due to pet-sitting duties and recovery from a heavily activitied weekend. Yesterday I suited up in my warmest running clothes and headed out to the Highland Park reservoir, with the intention of doing laps. After one in the cold and dark I decided to call it quits, I could feel the tired in my spirit and the area was mostly deserted, which left me feeling fairly unsafe. I trusted my instinct and headed off to get pizza instead.

Cold weather running can be exhilarating, a triumph over the elements, acclimating and warming up despite all the bitterness mother nature doles out. It also takes more energy and fortitude, cups of coffee afterward and cozy hibernating naps. Making peace with the winter is not easy task, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stomp the Grapes

This past weekend I sojourned to Ohio for a half marathon along with three friends, all of whom were running their first race of this distance. I knew little about the area, save that the event originated at a winery and the course wound through a towpath.

We arrived in Massillon Friday night and headed out to find the all important pre-race food. We settled on an American-style place (though I suppose if it's in America, technically that is the style). I enjoyed my usual pasta and bread sticks that appeared to have spent some time in a deep fryer. The sauerkraut balls caught my eye, but I figured the night before a race is not the best time to experiment with exotic foods, especially deep fried balls of sauerkraut.

After we were sufficiently fueled for the mornings festivities we headed back to the house and relaxed. I made sure my number was pinned and my D tag affixed before retiring.

Saturday we all awoke and dressed for the morning's chill. After a quick drive over to the race start we picked up our shirts (and I dare say that that extra small was more like a large) and bounced around to keep warm until things got underway.

I like small races where there's no bobbing and weaving to reach a comfortable pace. The course started out in the vineyard and passed by several fields with animals. A group of horses started running alongside our group, almost as if they wanted to join in the fun. A less enthusiastic group of cows sat in a group and just watched us go by. I began running with Emily, but managed to separate from her after the first mile -- after the initial shot of adrenaline my body began the task of warming up in earnest. After a few miles my arch started to hurt and I worried that I would be in for a long race -- but it dissipated by the time I got to the tow path.

The course wound through the town of Navarre and into the tow path, adjacent to the Erie Canal. Running the mid part of the race was serene, at times I felt like I was the only one running, blanketed on both sides by trees holding on to half their golden leaves. My energy re surged as took in the cool air and the beauty around me.

The last part of the race re-traced the road back to the vineyard. With the aid of trusty Gu I rallied and vowed to run strong. I stripped off my long sleeve shirt for the last mile or so as I was working hard with what energy I had left. A field of sheep greeted me as I rounded the corner at the home stretch with a cacophony of tiny bells reminiscent of wind chimes. As I approached the clock I saw the time approaching 1:50 and gave it the last bit of what I had to come in just under at 1:49:54, my best half marathon time to date.

A bit dazed, I headed off to stretch and eat and wait for my fellow runners. Emily came in then Nat, both with excellent times. Cooling down fast, we put on our warm clothes and helped ourselves to some warming wine, which tasted even more delicious after two hours of running. We positioned ourselves at the finished and cheered, waiting for Rose, who bounded towards the finish singing Justin Timberlake. Re-united we shared our road stories and waited for the awards, and to my delight I place third in my age group. After all that excitement (and a few more glasses of wine), we piled in the car, headed towards a warm shower then home.



I can't wait for next year, this was one of the most enjoyable races I've ever run. Getting out of the city on a crisp fall day and running through the beauty, what could be better?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Carry Me Ohio

Stomp the Grapes is fast approaching, and I have to say that I am feeling good mentally and physically about the race. This will be my fourth half marathon and I'm looking forward to getting out of town, discovering a new place, and running through a vineyard, something I have never had the pleasure of doing.

I ran the Golden Triangle Loop this morning with my running buddy, we skirted along the glossy dark rivers of Pittsburgh. The leaves have begun to fall in earnest creating red and gold coatings on the trail and the surface of the water. Running in the morning has a different tone than the evening -- the mind wakes up instead of powering down, it warms up the body for the day ahead. Running in the morning makes me feel like I lay claim to some time otherwise lost in sleep.

I will report back on the race upon my return. I plan to shift my focus to overall strength training (though I will not stop running of course) in this upcoming interim time. I want to start marathon training as healthy and strong as possible.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Urban Adventure

Variety is the spice of life. Cliche, cliche, I know but most everything is better with a touch of seasoning. In running, there are those paths that I go to time and time again. Routes that offer predictable mileage, scenery, and a reasonable expectation of safety. Sometimes it's all I want to just go on auto pilot, to use my energy to work something out instead of working to forge ahead. As I have upped by ante and started to run more each week -- I find myself seeking out the new in an effort to keep things fresh, to challenge myself, to combat staleness.

Last night I met up with my running buddy and we headed out on just such a run -- I had to make a stop in Highland Park, which took both of us out of our normal zones. I have run around the reservoir a few times but have never done anything more significant. The darkness fell early on, as it seems to do these days which added another layer of mystery. We headed down the road next to the zoo, hoping to catch a glimpse of some exotic animals, which were not able to do but we did catch quite a few whiffs. At the bottom of the hill we decided to snake around to Washington Blvd so as not to backtrack -- the only problem was getting to Washington Blvd on a pedestrian unfriendly stretch. We managed with some strategic darting and weaving through the weeds. Relatively unscathed we continued, running through grassy fields, dodging tree branches until we made to some semblance of a sidewalk and ran back into civilization.

As adults we so rarely get or make time for play, and when we do it's usually the more structured type, a softball league, Pilate's class, a circuit at the gym. Rarely do we gather our friends for a game of 'it' tag or strap on roller skates and skate up and down the street just for the sheer joy of it. Sure, there is still joy to be found in structured activities, but the fun that comes from following a whim, heading out without a destination connects to a deeper place. Playing every once in a while keeps things fresh and in the depths of training - 'it' tag anyone?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Catching Up

I don't always get to blogging as much as I'd like to but I try to write as often as I'm able. Sometimes it's not even a matter of having the time to write but a matter of inspiration. Sometimes I write a post and can't figure out a good way to end it, so it ends up languishing until I decide to delete it. Focusing on running can be monotonous, especially when I am in training and actually running quite a bit.

I value the process of reflection and the passive sharing that happens with the blog, so I will write on!

These past few weeks have been all about training for my next half marathon which is only a week and a half away. The cool breezes of autumn make for perfect training weather and I am trying to run outside as much as possible until the early darkness guides me into the gym. Last night I decided to head to the South Side with my running buddy and mix things up a bit -- or doing what I like to term an Urban Adventure run. We headed down the trail for the first half, and then back down through the thick of East Carson street, the back allies of the South Side, and over the 10th Street bridge into downtown. There's something to be said for the distractions of the city scape, all the activity, lights, smells, and sounds, as much as I enjoy the peacefulness of the trail.

I have been able to run enough to allay my race panic, the feeling I get that I won't be able to finish a race or that if I do it will be exceedingly difficult. I feel strong and well prepared. The shift in seasons has caused me draw on my internal strength and in turn pour that into my training. As much as I loathe the cold and dark, I know that it is well within my power to make things better for myself, to use my discomfort as a motivator instead of a minimizer - and that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Running

The Great Race went well -- I pulled out a personal record and ran faster than I usually do in a 5k. Not too shabby. The weather held out, staying cool and overcast, perfect conditions for a race.

As much as I enjoy racing, and I do, the excitement of it all, the adrenaline rushing through my veins, pushing myself and communing with my fellow runners sometimes the best runs I have are solo. Friday evening I had one of those optimal runs, I set out after work with the goal of getting in 6 miles. I felt antsy. I had been feeling the effects of particularly virulent pms along with a pretty dismal state of the union. I needed a release and there is none better than lacing up and hitting the trail. So that I did, and upon hitting said trail it the sky opened up and it began to rain lightly. I kept running, wiping rain water from my face every so often, squinting through the drops and enjoying their cooling effect. There were very few other souls on the trail and a the air had that pleasant ozoney smell I associate with childhood. I ran up onto Herr's Island, where some of the trees had been cleared recently, so I had a wonderful open view of the river. Wondrous. Time was short, or likely I would have extended my run for hours, or as long as the light held out.

I love running with friends, my regular running buddy, it pushes me and motivates me to do better, to hang on when I feel like quitting. But when I need to overcome the negative in me, rough emotions, there is nothing better than a realigning solo run.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

I had every intention of getting up at the crack of dawn and going out for a run. No really, I did. Unfortunately my '5 more minutes' turned into 30, and I missed my morning window of opportunity. I plan to try again tomorrow with the knowledge that I need to wake up immediately. It's hard to change habits, especially when it comes to the precious sleep cycle -- but I've decided to try for the sake of more training flexibility. I buoyed myself with thoughts of experiencing a new part of the day, discovering what happens when I am usually asleep, watching the sunrise. If all else fails I figure waking that early will make my coffee taste even better.

Last night I went out with my running buddy for a pleasant run up Stanton. I am trying to work the more hills into my training in preparation for Stomp the Grapes, and Stanton is a good one for a slow, steady climb. As much as I am resistant to Fall's early nightfall I have to admit the temperature is optimal for running. We finished the run as the darkness was descending and headed over to Dozen Cupcakes for a $1 cupcake -- the perfect ending to any workout.

Sunday's Great Race is approaching fast, and I feel prepared if unsure if my time with improve. It's hard to predict how any race will go beyond a general sense, I am hoping to pleasantly surprise myself.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

This weekend I finished the aforementioned memoir by Haruki Murakami, a book that details his relationship with running and in turn writing. It took me a while to get into the book, largely due to his writing style which I was unfamiliar with and the fact that the book was translated from Japanese. I began the book with expectation that I would relate to it and the author whole heartedly, the reality was a bit more subtle.

Murakami weaves together his running 'history' from the point of various races, his first marathon, an ultra-marathon, the NYC marathon, the last one he ran before the memoir's publication. He talks about his practice, how he trains, and how it balances him. He talks about the solitary nature of distance running and what makes him suited for it, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

He stresses the non-competitive nature of the sport with the vast majority of runners competing only against themselves. His aversion to team sports struck a chord with me, as I have long preferred the solitary sports. Perhaps it's a natural outgrowth of my introversion that I am motivated internally rather than externally, that I prefer to draw from within myself rather than collect and coordinate with those around me. This does not preclude a camaraderie with fellow runners and racers -- something that Murakami touches on.

The further I got into the memoir, the more I got into it, mirroring the process of warming up and hitting stride. Hard to tell if he planned it this way, but the analogy still stands. I really got a sense of his quiet resolve both to run and write, and what it took in him to continue these things. He emphasized that you can't convince someone to take up either, it's either something that suits you or it doesn't -- as I feel, I would never encourage someone to run who did not have the inclination. The drive to run is one that I got in touch with relatively recently -- once I tapped into it I realized that it was something that helped me thrive, helped me even out my edges frayed by the stress of day to day existence. I don't always feel like getting out there, day after day, but after I do I always feel better. It has become an integral part of my routine, my rhythm.

To those of you who are runners out there, I highly recommend this book, once you get warmed up, it's smooth sailing. If you are not a runner, it's hard to say you'll get much from it, unless you are engaged in some sort of long distance pursuit in your life. In the end, isn't running just a metaphor for life? I suppose this blog lays testament to that, at least on some days.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Morning Glory

I am not a morning person, at least not an early morning person. I am more of a 10-10 woman peaking neither early nor late. This morning I broke from my usual routine to do an early run for my running buddy's birthday. I can think of no better way to start off a celebration of birth so I decided to join her in greeting the dawn.

I woke up around 5:45, stumbled into my running gear sleepily and headed out the door. Traffic was light at that hour and I made good time. I stopped in for a bit of pre-run coffee, even a little caffeine can make the difference between grumpy and pleasant in the early morning hours.

We drove to the post run rendezvous point and set out, the darkness was a sort of translucent inky blue. There was another pair of runners ahead of us for bit, but they turned off at a bridge and we seemed to be the only souls out at that point. I shook off my sleepy fog after about a mile and we continued on at decent clip into downtown, the sun rose almost imperceptibly. Running opposite of my normal route to work, opposite my normal time was energizing and the cool September morning air kept things fresh.

From town we headed back, up the Northshore trail and over the 40th street bridge, passing the thick commuter traffic. We ended the run at our breakfast spot -- calm and content.

I have never been a morning runner, running early only if a race start necessitated it, or when I needed to get a long training run in on a weekend. Yet, I can see the beauty of starting the day this way, so I plan on doing so again. I may never make it a part of my routine, but every so often a change of perspective is quite welcome.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Golden Delicious

Last night I got back on my bike for the first time since the accident and it felt great. I rode my old bike as my new one is still in the shop, taking a leisurely ride with my friend Heather done one side of the Allegheny and back the other. I still feel hyper vigilant and am easily startled but the act of riding feels right, delicious even.

Fall makes for getting down to business, a mood of easy diligence not yet ravaged by the cold and monotony of winter. Now that I feel physically back to normal, I've put my energies toward working on my speed for the upcoming Great Race and transitioning that into a strong half marathon. I opted to not do a long run this past weekend, running a mid distance with some tempo and easing back into things with my regular running buddy.

Things feel even and peaceful, settling down after disruption as I embrace the relaxed intensity of early Fall.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

One Half Down

I am happy to report that the Ikea half marathon went well, and I finished in a respectable 1:57:29. I've run three half marathons, and this race was in the middle time wise, which I am quite comfortable with. With my unexpected training hiatus I was nervous about how I would feel and held back a little, which enabled me to sail through the last few miles and even sprint over the finish (which is rare for me, even in a 5k). It bodes well, and I'm happy I pulled it out, now on to training for Stomp the Grapes which promises to be a much more challenging race.

The leaves are falling and a chill is creeping into the air, fall will be upon us in a few weeks. The cooler weather makes for some ideal running conditions. I enjoy autumn, and this particular season holds a milestone for me, my 30th birthday. I feel like I'm coming into a home stretch of sorts as the heat of summer burns off, the darkness falls earlier and earlier. A lot has been going on in my head in regards to this transition between my 20's and 30's -- I am looking forward to welcoming a new decade of life and all that it signifies and brings.

In the short term I'm training up for the Great Race -- which qualifies as the race of the year in Pittsburgh. I am not so much a fan of huge races, especially when it comes to the beginning shuffle, but I am looking forward to running it. As long as I remain healthy, I am hopeful that I can shave off some time and descend into Point State Park triumphant!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Back in the Swing

Forgive me for my pause from the blog-o-sphere, it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things after being unwittingly knocked off my routine. I am feeling back on top of things this week after a long, hot, Memorial Day run and some shorter more intense runs during the week. Tomorrow brings the Ikea half, I'm not aiming for any personal records, just a nice solid race.

The night before a race I always try and take it easy and eat lots of carbohydrates. Release as much nervousness as possible. My first ever race I ran with my good friend Richard, he came up from Virginia to run with me and we walked to the Italian restaurant in my neighborhood the night before. Normally wine drinkers, we had our fill of water and I feasted on some particularly tasty fish. The night before my first half marathon my friend Paki and I chowed down on some simple pasta and sauce which fueled me well the next day. Pre marathon a pizza and pretzels from the Mellow Mushroom fit the bill, along with over sized cups of sweet tea --- the Southern route to glyco-loading.

Tonight I plan on creating something from the veggies taking up residence in my refrigerator, along with some smoked cheese and pasta, perhaps some garlic bread. Quelling my nerves with carbs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On the Mend

My bike accident injuries have been healing, and every day my shoulder feels a little bit better. It will be a while before I can do a push up or a good butterfly stroke, but I'm hopeful that a bit of a running swing will be just fine. I plan on trying a mid distance run this evening and seeing how things feel.

One of the worst parts of being involved in an accident is the sensation of disappearing freedom, the mental aspect of recovery, and the intimate knowledge of what can go wrong. I pride myself on being a tough cookie, a tenacious character -- with a healthy dose of caution and respect for the dangers that are out there. Truth is though, there is always a risk when you go out into the world, and we can't control every circumstance, those around us. You can do everything right and still end up at the wrong end of someone's front hood. It's scary.

So this sapphic runner is taking it easy, and hoping with some time and distance I will regain a sense of confidence peppered with caution and get back on the bike. I was knocked down but not out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hitting the Road (Literally)

I have had a little unexpected hiatus from this blog, and some days off from my regularly scheduled training. Tuesday night I was in a bike accident, which landed me on the road and with a sprained shoulder and some bumps and bruises. Luckily my injuries were fairly minor and I'm on the mend. The bike has some bent rim issues which I need to get repaired, I'm not in any rush to get back to riding so I'm not stressing about it.

I managed to run the Run Around the Square this weekend, and performed decently despite my relatively immobilized shoulder. Last year I was recovering from a bad cold and a fever and decided to go ahead and run it -- I am hoping this curse does not continue! I was accompanied by some good friends and ran unscathed, I was more worried about being bumped into than the running itself.

So, I've been focusing on recuperation and taking it easy which has made a little stir crazy. Regular exercise centers me and after a few days off I begin to feel untethered. I am hopeful that I'll at least be able to run comfortably by the weeks end and hopefully still participate in the Ikea half.

All in all though, I am grateful for my friends / family and all the support I received post accident, and grateful that my injuries are minor. Accidents shake things up, and remind us of how fragile we really are, how much is beyond our control, how we really don't know what will happen from minute to minute, hour to hour. In the week since, I've become much more aware of my surroundings, the trauma has heightened my senses. I hope to return to riding, once I'm healed and my bike is repaired, because more than anything I do not want to be ruled by fear. It may take me a while to get my confidence back, but I hope to do it, one day at a time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Strength

Watching the Olympic women's marathon on Sunday got me pumped, there is something so amazing and awe inspiring in watching athletes compete at the top of their game. The race presents a culmination of speed, endurance, fortitude, and will. Years of training coming together in one moment, demonstrating the pinnacle of human capacity. The Olympics stirs something elemental in us, gives us a sense of pride, of country, of being human. A ritual that reminds us that we as a species have what it takes to survive, to adapt, to compete on a physical level.

A clear front runner emerged in the women's marathon, Constantina Tomescu-Ditantina of Romania, and she went on to win the event. When she took off and separated from the pack I though she would crash and burn, how could she maintain a pace so much faster than the other competitors? She took a risk. She had employed this method before and fallen out. But she held on and emerged victorious.

I am not a big risk taker when it comes to running -- I like to get to my comfort zone and maintain my pace. I worry about falling out, coming up short, or even risking injury. I am not so much concerned with 'winning' as with improving on my times and becoming a stronger runner overall. I think it would serve me well to push those limits every once in while, to expand my idea of what I'm capable of -- to remind myself of just how adaptable we humans are.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Smooth Sailing

I finally got around to taking my new wheels for a more substantial ride last night, and I was greatly pleased. There is definitely something to having a bike that fits perfectly, it may not have made tackling Pittsburgh's hills and grades any easier, but it made for a smooth and satisfying ride.

Barbara and I rode up to the reservoir in Highland park, riding once around and heading back through some uncharted territory. One of my favorite long runs during marathon training was up Stanton Ave, around the reservoir once or twice, then down to another city park and back. I enjoy biking, and its benefits to my overall fitness, but I found myself craving a run, the grounding of two feet on the pavement.

These past few weeks I've settled into a more rigorous routine and am enjoying both running more and feeling of gaining strength. I plan to focus even more when I start training for the Pittsburgh Marathon, no longer a novice I hope to shave some time off, aiming for a sub 4:00. Until then, I am enjoying the winding down days of summer and my new bike.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bike Baby

I finally took the plunge and bought a new bike, a Trek hybrid. I took my first ride yesterday morning and discovered that my front brake has a squeak problem, so after I get that tuned up I plan on breaking her in well. This bike is a lot lighter than the one I have been riding, and the shifting and quick, I can't wait to get out on the trails.

Speaking of trails, I spent quite a bit of time on them this weekend sans two wheels. Pittsburgh's weather has formed a sort of summer / fall hybrid which is ideal for running. Friday I was full of energy and decided to hit North Park for a quick five mile loop and managed around an 8 minute mile the whole way. Speed work of a sort.

Sunday I planned for a long run, originally setting my sights on the Montour Trail. One of the main highlights of said trail is it's proximity to Ikea, and a post-run cinnamon roll from the Ikea cafe (one of my favorite treats). Unfortunately, construction season in Pittsburgh made it likely that I would spend a good bit of time sitting in traffic and I decided to scale back and run local. I settled on a Lawrenceville loop, running along the North Shore trail out to the 62nd Street bridge then back into town on the city streets. I ran at a leisurely pace, stopping once to fuel up on chocolate gu left over from last year (note to self: buy more gu). The loop took me a little under two hours, and I capped it off with the remnants of a pint of Chunky Monkey and an episode of the Wire. Good times. This week I plan on some more speed work to prepare for the Run Around the Square and some shorter runs around town.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Running Olympic Style

The Olympics begin today and I'm excited at the prospect of watching weeks of the world's top athletes competing. This time around I am especially thrilled to take in the women's marathon. As a relatively new spectator to the sport I have decided to familiarize myself with the athletes, and in doing so have found out that one of the top contenders, Japan's Mizuki Noguchi, is a petite lady like myself, check her out:


She is expected to take home the gold again this year, and I'm pulling for her. Often I feel like my size is a disadvantage, that I just can't go as far with my shorter strides. Seeing Noguchi out there, top in her field, makes me realize that these 'disadvantages' are not determinative. I may never be, or strive to be an Olympic class athlete -- but it helps motivate me to see that someone with a similar build to myself excelling at that level.

The women's marathon takes place in Beijing on Sunday morning, August 17th, airing on the East Coast on Saturday night. This Sapphic Runner will be watching, perhaps accompanied by some marathon themed treats (grape leaves?)




Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Need for Speed

Speedwork is my least favorite part of training. Last summer I would drive over to the track with a sense of dread, do a few warm up laps, then do speed intervals until I was fatigued (which often was more of a mental than a physical condition). Getting in the zone and running for hours appeals to me, fast stops and starts not so much. I often joked that I needed a coach to get me through any workout involving the track.

Last night I sidled up to the treadmill for my first speed workout in a long while. Beyond my natural resistance to speeding up, I did not want to aggravate or worsen my knee issues. Feeling strong this week and with a 5k in two weeks I knew it was time.

I ran an easy mile before jumping in and started my first interval at about a 8 minute pace. After getting more comfortable, I lowered my pace gradually and managed to maintain a 7 minute pace towards the end. It was challenging but it felt good to run hard and expend all my extra nervous energy. Sweating in the AC felt wonderful in this instance.

Sprinting may never be my first love but I do love the feeling of growing stronger and faster. With each success, the coach in my head gets me to go further and faster and embrace that need for speed. After all, it's fast and steady that wins the race.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back in the Shoes

I laced up my old New Balance and hit the trail and the road this weekend, getting on with my training in earnest. My knee gave me no trouble at all, through some pretty intense conditions so I am feeling more and more confident (and ready to kick it up a notch!).

Thursday night I went out with my running buddy on what I deem the, 'Golden Triangle Loop', starting in the Northside, into downtown at the Point, along the Allegheny to the Strip and back along the North Shore trail. We set off on a path I travel often and over the Fort Duquesne bridge sun glinting off the rivers, the Point's fountain on the horizon. Turning towards the Strip, we ran along the river, as close as you can get to the bank on the city trails and continued on passing the site of the now quasi-famous goose attack of 2008. Luckily, the geese were no where near this spot and we ran by unscathed. We turned up across one of the vast Strip parking lots and headed over the 16th Street bridge at which point the humidity caught up with us and we both were wishing for water. The lack of water fountains on the trail always gets me, especially in the thick of the summer heat. We soldiered on and made it back sweaty and pseudo triumphant.

Saturday I went for a long run, completing 10 miles at the North Park loop, 8 of which with my best friend who is heading across the pond for a few weeks. Sunday I did a recovery run, four easy miles with my pal Leslie, which we actually did at a pretty fast pace. Despite a bit of after burn in my quad muscles, all the running this weekend felt great, and I was even able to enjoy a bike ride out towards Hartwood acres. I find myself wishing I could bottle this part of summer, long, sunny, warm days, sans oppressive heat and humidity and filled with activity. Barring the stoppage of time I plan on getting the most out of this August and training up for some Fall racing. This Sapphic runner is back and ready for what's next.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Competitive Instinct

I have dug into my training this past week and am already feeling stronger. So far I have committed to running 4 days a week, with no particular mileage goals - I figure that once I get back in a regular rhythm I can ramp up my distance and intensity.

Last night I went out on one of my favorite routes -- around Herr's Island, it was a pleasant enough evening if a little hot. I started out feeling great but faded quickly once I got to the trail and it turned into a benchmarking run. Half way through I was calculating how long it would take me to get back to relax and shower and get on with my even.

I much prefer runs where I can phase out, fade into my surrounds, and let my mind wander. Yet I do not always have control over how I'm feeling, as with everything in life sometimes you just have to hunker down and do what you have to do. Towards the end of the run, when the heat and effort had turned my face an interesting shade of purple and my energy was seriously flagging, I caught site of another runner, dressed in all in white. He was running at a faster pace, so I decided that I would 'chase' him and kept him in my sights. I never did catch up to him, but the thrill of the chase kept me engaged enough to complete my run. Reminding me that sometimes the competitive drive can help you win the mental war despite who is faster in the end.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Corn of Summer

I know it may be hard to believe but running is not my only passion, in fact it's a relatively new one (though I have embraced it whole heartedly). Sometimes turning all my attention to the physical makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land, a nerd at heart that wants to roll with the jocks but finds herself dramatically out of place. Of course, that is not to say that people fit so neatly into boxes of one or the other but more so that there are certain cultures associated with different pursuits and sometimes I feel as though I am learning a new language.

But I digress.

Summer's land of plenty produce has ignited one of my other passions. Food. Preparation, consumption, hunting and gathering (at the market), all of it. The briny fresh dirt smell of a perfectly ripened tomato, the pop of fresh sweet corn kernel, pesto rendered from the tender leaves of a basil plant, the foods of summer are a sort of consumable sunshine. Ehrrin introduced me to one of my new favorites, which I have deemed 'goopy' corn, perhaps more aptly known as Mexican street corn. It is corn, slathered with some sort of goo (crema, mayo, sour cream), rolled in cheese, sprinkled with spicy powder of some sort and served with a wedge of lime. Simply delicious. And a new obsession of mine, so much so that the corn supply around casa deSapphic runner have dried up. A situation that must be remedied post haste.

And, what could be a better post run snack than a hot, gooey, ear of corn. Perhaps not so much, better to stick with the tried and true and quintessentially summer Italian ice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chilling Out

Transitioning from the lazy days of summer to training has left this sapphic runner a bit tired. I biked last night, and while enjoyable, I realized that hitting the physical activity every night can leave me cranky and worn out. I think I can balance this by spending more time floating in the pool and sipping a frosty beverage.

Someone who is not lazing around right now is my good friend Nat, who is off in Long Beach competing in the National Dragon Boat races with Philadelphia's Schuykill Dragons. I am proud of her and hope they are reeling in the wins. Go Nat!

I plan on a good 5-miler this evening to jump start the weekend, and lots of relaxing after that. It's all about balance after all, eh?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Putting the Run in Sapphic Runner

It has been a while since I've done any sort of serious training or running -- I have been enjoying biking, the pool, and the generally laziness of summer. I told myself I would begin my training for the half marathon this weekend which did not happen and Monday I started to panic a bit about it.

To quell the anxiety, I decided to do a long run, heading out from my place over to the South Side, to the South Side Works, across the Hot Metal Bridge and back to town via the Eliza Furnace trail -- here is a link to the the route on Google pedometer, for those who are curious.

Thanks to a passing thunderstorm earlier in the day, the air was cool and the sun was not incredibly brutal. I armed myself with a bottle of water and some funds in case I deemed some sort of sports beverage necessary. I started out strong, feeling well, coasting across the Allegheny and then the Monongahela rivers with relative ease. Heading out along the South Side trail I began to feel fatigue set in, I worried that my route was too ambitious and decided on a shorter alternative and to keep going for a bit. When I reached the point to turn around, I decided to stick with original plan, not wanting to give up on my first longer run of my training.

At the South Side works I popped into REI for a water bottle top off and a shot of air conditioning then continued down the trail towards town. Luckily the sun had disappeared in an overcast haze so the relatively shade free surface was bearable, almost pleasant. When I got into town I decided to head over the Fort Duquesne bridge back to the North Side and end my run with a dip in the water steps. Nothing feels quite as wonderful after a long, sweaty run as wading into cool running water. I relaxed for a minute and walked the rest of the way home, content that I was on my way to a successful half marathon. 8 miles down, hundreds more to go!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Smile Power

This Sunday I headed over to the North Shore to watch the triathletes and adventure racers on the very last leg of their journeys. Originally I intended to get up early so that I could watch the swimmers, but after a late night of dancing I was not able to rally myself until about 9:30. After starting over on foot, coffee in hand, I decided it was taking too long and I hopped on the bike sacrificing caffeine consumption for speed.

I parked my bike at PNC park, not wanting to interfere with the runners and continued on foot. As I walked I passed several athletes on the last leg of their journey. Some looked strong, and others had the look of determination mingled with fatigue that I know quite well. I smiled at one women and she waved, and I remembered how much something as simple as a smile and an encouraging word can help. I always appreciate the fans at a race, but until my marathon I did not know how vital they can be to getting you through and keeping spirits up. People on the sidelines remind us, as we much ourselves to the max that they are there to support and hold us up -- celebrating the beauty in human endurance, strength and spirit.

I plopped myself on the hill and watched folks come in to the finish. I talked to a man who completed the triathlon, his third, and he inspired me to take one on. I am not so sure that I will conquer Pittsburgh, as swimming in the Allegheny river leaves a bit to be desired -- but in the next year or two I want to take on this challenge. Fortified with a good deal of training and a touch of smile power to get me through.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bikes, Bikes, Everywhere

The brain works in some interesting ways, like when you learn a new word and suddenly notice it everywhere, people using something you previously were not aware of seemingly all the time. You wonder to yourself, how did I not know this before? Our world shoots so much information our way we can only deal with a slice of it -- we feel fully aware but we could never truly take all aspects of a situation in. I appreciate this filter, because it allows us to constantly discover things, things that may have 'been there' all the time.

I am noticing, suddenly, all the bikes in town, in the neighborhood, my neighbors bikes in the hallway. I have been observing the size, shape, make of the bikes that rush past me, the bikes that are haphazardly chained to parking meters. I size up riders and situations. Gathering information.

With my relatively small budget, I know that I won't get a top of the line super fast machine, it is mind boggling how expensive really good bikes can be, and I'm sure they are worth it for the money. Thankfully there are some bikes in my range that will suit my needs just fine, and I hope to get out and compare this weekend. I am looking forward to hitting the open road with a dash more speed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Poolside Living Easy

The past few evenings I have made it up to the local pool for some much needed relaxation time. Monday night I swam a few leisurely laps and then sprawled out in the waning evening sun with my Runner's World. Last night I went with my best friend's son, quite possibly the most energetic four year old out there (or close to). We had a good time racing and swimming across the pool while his mother got a little solo run time in. Playing with him reminded me of how much fun it can be to just let go and have a good time, something I can easily lose sight of when I spend so much time in my head.

July provides a good backdrop for relaxation and I'm determined to relax to the fullest. Training for the marathon increased my awareness of what my body needs to perform at its best, and part of that involves recovery and restoration. Sleeping longer, eating more, quieting down and listening to my inner voice.

Next week I plan on picking up my training in earnest for the half marathon, though I plan on taking things easy as the summer dictates, taking in the vibrancy around me. This weekend brings the Pittsburgh Triathlon and Adventure Race, which I plan to watch and gather inspiration. Spending some time on the other end of the race, coffee in hand, watching other athletes give it their all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sapphic Bridge Bikers

This weekend was full of cycling, which seems to be a mid-summer theme. The more confident I get on the bike the more I want to be out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather and neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

Last Friday I biked to work for the first time, taking an easy round about route home and back. It made me realize how nasty exhaust coupled with heat beating off the asphalt can be. Saturday I met up with pal Barbara for a 'bridge tour' of Pittsburgh. We started out just shy of the 31st street bridge, which I had crossed to meet her, so we began the tour with the 16th and kept on going. We crossed the familiar 9th, 7th, and 6th street bridges, which I traverse often walking back and forth to work -- then headed across the newly re-opened Fort Duquesne bridge. At this point it was off to uncharted territory with a trip across the West End Bridge which seemed incredibly daunting. Gathering up my gumption I made it across, using my twinges of fear to propel myself forward. From this point we headed down Carson Street gathering a good deal of road grit along the way and headed over the Smithfield Street bridge, to the bike rental station and a cool drink.

Hydrated, we headed up 2nd Ave to the 10th street bridge, coasting down the South Side trail over to Hot Metal. We decided to skip the Birmingham Bridge which involved a back track through town. From the South Side we continued down 2nd Ave, through Hazelwood and over to the Glenwood Bridge -- Barbara paused to snap a picture of Dyke street along the way. From the Glenwood we headed out into Homestead and across the Homestead High Level Bridge. When we reached the end we stopped again to re-group, sticky, hot and dirty and prepared ourselves for the climb towards Squirrel Hill. I dug in and used what energy reserves I had left to get myself up the hill -- we made it, and refreshed ourselves with an iced coffee and an air conditioned sit down before heading home.

It was quite a ride. Beat but satisfied, I've decided to take a day or two off of riding and relax by the pool, soak up the sun in a less active way. Nothing sounds better than an evening at the pool with a good book and nice cool drink.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Foglifter

When I was in college in Atlanta I used to go to coffee shops to study. They afforded me just the right balance of quiet and activity to focus, and the access to caffeine certainly kept me going. One particular shop, in the Virginia Highlands, had a beverage called the fog lifter, that I remember vividly -- it consisted of coffee, espresso, steamed milk, and caramel syrup showcased in a clear Irish coffee style mug. I went to this particular shop when I was going through a very solitary period in my life, and getting out 'in public' kept me plodding along. I can still taste the way the sweetness of the caramel mingled with the bitter espresso on the back of my tongue, the astringent after taste, pages upon pages of notes on English Lit before 1660 sprawled out in front of me. Sunlight, a constant in Atlanta, streamed through the windows calming me to the extent possible in those days.

This memory came back to me so vividly because I feel I am at a fog lifting juncture. My solitary pursuit has changed from literature study to running -- but the rough feelings are the same. Last night, running a 5-mile loop, solo, in the sun, amongst people but not with them I realized how fortifying this can be, time in my own head doing something I love. In all the sweetness and bitterness of the past months, I feel the fog beginning to lift, a new optimism taking hold.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Recommendations

After all the riding I did over the weekend I'm feeling the twinge to get a new bike. I've put my preliminary feelers out onto the internets and am overwhelmed by the choices. Now, the fact that I don't have an exorbitant amount of money to spend on said bike should narrow things down a bit, but I'm still not sure of the best options for me. A road bike? Hybrid? Tri? Eeek.

Ideally I'd like something designed for my small frame, a woman's bike that I can ride on the trail and the road. A bike that could work for a triathlon, but need not be a state-of-the art type competitive number. I see a lot of long rides in my future so I'd also like a bike that will be comfortable going the distance.

So, if any of you dear readers have any suggestions for me I would be much obliged (or happen to have nice used bike you want to sell me that will fit the bill!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bike of July Weekend

The Fourth of July weekend I got back on to two wheels, taking advantage of some clear days or at least clear patches. The humidity of mid-summer often gives way to afternoon showers, pleasant in their own right but not always conducive to a leisurely bike ride.

Saturday morning I rode over to the Firehouse Farmer's market in the strip, to meet up with Ehrrin for the first time in weeks and round out my selection of produce. After getting our fill of the market we headed over to 21st Street for our weekly cup, catching up with Liz and Emily who always keep me laughing.

Saturday afternoon I met up with some pals for one of my favorite trail rides to the Southside, complete with a rest stop at Rita's Italian Ice --- fueling ourselves with fruit ice and frozen custard for the riverside journey.

Barbara and I headed out Sunday morning for a longer trail ride along the Montour Trail. I ran on this trail several times last year while training for my first half marathon, so I was somewhat familiar with the terrain. We started out with a quasi-ambitious goal of 30 miles, and quickly felt what the tired-ness of previous days of cycling. Cutting it short to 20, we realized on the way back that some of the fatigue we were feeling was the result of the trails incline, which made the ride back all the more pleasant. The surroundings were lush, but the traffic on the trail made it a bit less desirable than the Boston trail. It is still a good bet for a long ride closer into town (and when you want to work in a trip to Ikea...).

Sunday afternoon I was eagerly anticipating the Underground Railroad bike tour, and event held in conjunction with Bike Fest. Unfortunately, it looked as though the weather was not going to cooperate, as I prepared to leave rain drops seemed to be pounding sideways, not the best conditions for a ride. The rain cleared, close to the start time, and I stewed a bit until I heard that folks were still gathered, at which point I hopped on my bike and road over to join them. The rain started up again and things looked a little grim, but we huddled around and learned a good bit about the connection of Allegheny County to the Underground Railroad. The sky cleared and we all set out on the tour, through the North Side and into Downtown, stopping at sites along the way for history lessons. This event was put on by the Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club, who offer several rides throughout the week, and anticipate organizing a ride along the Underground Railroad bike route next year. Riding and learning appeals to me, as I move my body I feel more open and connected to the world around me -- so combining of the two makes for a satisfying experience.

So there was my weekend of diverse rides and getting back into the bike. Tonight I plan on dusting off my running shoes and hitting the rain cooled trail. As much as I enjoy bicycling, I crave the feeling of my soles hitting the gravel.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Western Penn and the Joys of Summer

Last night my running buddy and I took of on the riverfront trail 'detour' to the scenic Western Penitentiary. Due to casino construction, the path the connected the riverfront trails has been cut in two making a detour necessary. We headed out from my place and along the official detour route, enjoying some of the Manchester streets and homes that I don't often venture towards. Seeing the neighborhood through a new pair of eyes is refreshing, so often we become accustomed to our surroundings -- turning off to new discoveries so as not to overload our senses.

Catching up with the Ohio River, we continued on through swarms and swarms of gnats, assorted tiny birds, and clumps of purple wildflowers. Approaching the prison, we heard what sounded like tennis balls bouncing against walls and realized the inmates were out in the yard (heavily guarded by barbed wire mind you) for their evening recreation. Western Penitentiary is a desolate place, most of the old prison has fallen into disrepair, though there are some signs of life, a place to fish and folks out on bikes, the oddly comforting sounds of prisoners enjoying time in the fresh air.

We ran back and over past the Aviary, visiting with several of the outdoor birds on the way. Though I'm still feeling the fatigue from a few weeks of travel, I felt strong on the run. Looking forward I'm considering the Ikea Half Marathon in September to get me motivated, it's in early September which gives me plenty of time to rest up before the Stomp the Grapes Half.

I topped off my summer evening by slicing into my first tomato of the season, red and ripe from my farm share, I topped it simply with a drizzle of olive oil, fine sea salt, and a pinch of basil from my window plant. Summer on a plate. And a reminder that sometimes the most simple and basic things are the most satisfying.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fireflies

Back in the 'burgh and I'm glad to be home, sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home to the familiar after inserting oneself into another landscape, another context. Visiting the big city can have have a jarring effect on me, building after building, concrete and glass, people as far as the eye can see. I find myself searching out the natural, the respite from it all that make cities function more healthily. Paki and I took a long walk along Lake Michigan, out onto a pier which held only one other human soul and lot of birds. So close to the power of the lake and so close to the pulse of the city it was rejuvenating.

Something has shifted in me, or perhaps more aptly a part of myself has been uncovered and developed. I have always leaned towards the internal and I find that in dedicating so much time to running I have gotten in touch in a deeper way with my natural rhythms and and the rhythm of the world around me, which leads me to crave the quiet contemplativeness of nature rather than the pulse of the crowd, artificial light, human creation.

Yet, I do enjoy the opportunities a city affords, more and more I split the difference and fine ways to get into the natural world close to home. Of course the conflict between the two can lead to some dicey situations (when the geese attack) but for the most part I find contentment in my urban escapism. Last week, returning from a satisfying and long overdo bike ride, I saw a little blink of golden. The sun was retreating, the sky a hazy inky blue, the grass a dark husky green and suddenly bursts of gold were everywhere. Fireflies. And it felt like I was seeing them again for the first time, a reminder of the wonders of summer. All around me people were taking them in with delight, and as I peddled my way back home it reminded me that sometimes it takes a nightfall to let the natural light shine through.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lakefront Jog

I have been in quasi-overcast Chicago for a few days and decided to venture out this morning for a run on the lake front. I am visiting one of my oldest friends, and while he does the work thing I have set about filling my days. Now, Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago is not the most exciting of neighborhoods, though it does afford access to the lakefront and some of the most quality book shops around.

So, upon waking this morning, I donned my running gear, stuffed some cash and keys in my shorts and set out. It is warm here, but not stifling, and there was a nice breeze off of the lake. I walked over to an underpass and headed out when I got to the trail, and in a mile or so I was feeling my groove. Looking out over the expanse of Lake Michigan I felt a surge, a surge of expanding possibilities.

It has been a while since I have dedicated myself to running on my own. When I was training I would run for hours solo, and I enjoyed it, but I find now my motivation has been running dry. I fear facing my alone-ness out on the open road. But here, in Chicago, I ran, by myself, knowing no one around me, not even the terrain. And I'd like to say it was triumphant, inspiring, but in the end it was just a run, one I decided to cut short because of pesky knee pain (in the right knee this time).

I am glad I went though, even if it was short, even if it didn't make me feel like I could conquer the world, or just my little part of it. It reminded me that sometimes I need to just be. Just be and keep moving.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Resting in Reston

My foray into VA did not include any running, despite my best intentions and preparation. I find it hard to prioritize running when I'm not in active training, especially when it takes time away from a visit with a friend who will be M.I.A. for two years. The trip was fruitful despite the stress and anxiety that comes from leaving for such a chunk of time. I was grateful to spend a few days just being there.

Of course, after a delay on the interstate on my drive home, I was more than ready to get out and get running after 5+ hours in the car. I met my best friend for a late evening park run on Sunday, nothing too strenuous, we did one and a half loops at Riverview, followed by a set of lunges just as a the evening's showers fell upon us.

I am looking forward to a bike ride this evening and a run with my new running buddy tomorrow, with the possibility of a long hill tackle. This month has been full of fits, starts, and stops in all sorts of ways. I am looking forward to a more steady and calm July. Sometimes, though, I find I just need to rest and be -- giving myself time to come back physically and mentally. I have faith that I will regain my strength and find a new rhythm.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Runs on the Road

For the next two weekends I will be traveling to visit some of my favorite people and favorite cities. This weekend I'm headed to the DC area to bid farewell to one on my nearest and dearest, as he embarks on a two year stint in Africa. I am sad to lose his proximity, but excited for him and the opportunity.

So, I will attempt to keep an update on the road runs -- which reminds me that one of my very first running attempts was in Virginia, with Richard. Perhaps I will revisit that funny little suburban trail and see what a difference a year and half makes!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rainstorms

Last week I got caught in a rainstorm. Not a few piddly little drops but a deluge, the kind of pouring rain that hits you sideways. I enjoy the rain, especially on warm days, but this storm hit on my lunch hour when I was on the opposite side of town from the office attempting to reach the Indian buffet. I was not quite at the restaurant when the rain hit, so I ducked into a nearby office building determining to wait it out. In my experience such strong storms peter out fairly quickly and I would be able to snake over to pile on my lunch in no time. Mother nature had a different plan. After watching the rain pound the plate glass for twenty minutes I surrendered and headed to the buildings dreary food court for sustenance.

Luckily by the time I had to walk back across town the showers had abated a bit. I sprinted between awnings and managed to not get entirely stoked. I promised myself that next time, even if it wasn't raining when I left I would take my umbrella.

Getting stuck in the rain does not happen very often, usually we are prepared, watching the news or the sky for guidance. Pittsburgh's weather this week has been a precarious mixture of sun and rain, changing from one to the other at the drop of a dime. An external manifestation of the storms and sun within me. Oftentimes my feelings follow no predictable pattern, and in this time of letting go I tend to sit with the storm until the sun peeks through. The rain, no matter how strong and persistent does not last forever.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Forging Ahead

I have not been paying as much attention to the blog this week as I've been adjusting the heat and the accompanying malaise. Physical activity has largely gone by the wayside with a few exceptions.

Last night was one of those exceptions as I joined my new running buddy for a five mile jaunt in Frick Park. I am the least familiar with Frick out of all of the city parks despite having lived close by for a number of years -- something about the terrain baffles me. There's no clear cut 'loop' but rather a network of trails that snake up and down hillsides and traverse grassy fields.

Setting off last evening, I was glad to have a guide and a partner in forging through despite temperatures hovering in the early 90's. Don't get me wrong, I'm a heat loving type of gal but my body has yet to fully adjust which messes with the function of all sorts of internal regulatory systems. We started out at a part of the park I was not familiar with, by the Frick museum and enjoyed a copious amount of tree shade along the trail - making things a good deal more manageable. I have done most of running up to this point on flat river trails, city streets, and paved park loops, the change of terrain was refreshing. Despite the heat and one seemingly endless hill it was a pleasant run. I was pleased with how it felt considering my little hiatus.

With my upcoming weekend trips, I worry about maintaining any sort of momentum -- running in Reston, VA can be a challenge when you are unfamiliar with suburban streets and paths. Chicago provides a much more hospitable experience, and I am considering throwing a 5 or 10k into my weekend. San Francisco's Pride 10k, which I ran last year, was a nice kick off to the weekend. I am still deciding and wondering if a trek across town at the wee hours of the morning would be worth the post-race high.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Energy Reserves

In training quality rest serves an important purpose, without it muscles cannot rebuild properly and the risk for over use injuries increases. Sometimes I find it difficult to take a rest, in the thick of habit, used to my daily flow of endorphins.

In the past few months I have taken a rest from active training and explored and got reacquainted with some new activities. I feel the better for doing so, but I miss running and all the little victories I celebrated on the way to the marathon. These changes and the emotional heavy lifting of the past month have left me with less than my usual stock of energy. I find myself worn out frequently. Tired.

So, instead of fighting past this fatigue, I've decided to sit with it and to rest and re-build my energy reserve. I am planning several weekends away in the coming weeks and hoping to use that time to recharge my battery that sometimes feels close to dead.

Monday, June 9, 2008

hades 5k

Friday nights return to racing began on a hot note, to the tune or 90 degrees and high humidity. The runners were relatively undeterred, perhaps scaling back expectations a bit but preparing to race none-the-less.

I met up with my new running buddy on the way into the park, we collected out packets and a race shirt worthy of the Steel City in bright gold with a black print of the Observatory. Gold has never been my color -- but it is always nice to have something to wear on the ubiquitous black and gold spirit days.

We shot the breeze for a while before the race, I was thankful to have company this year, as last year I spent a soggy hour waiting for the race to start solo. I was a little worried about my performance, I felt sluggish and all around hot and unmotivated, not necessarily good omens for the race to come. Still, I managed some excitement, and was off and running in the heat following seemingly endless announcements and the singing of the national anthem. The first flat bit and hill around the Observatory went well -- though as I descended into the park proper I began to feel the effects of the heat and my less then trained status. I trudged along, trying to not speed up too much on the downhill and risk falling out on the long snaking uphill. My fellow runners seemed taxed as well, as we headed up the hill several of my compatriots started to walk. Despite a twinge in my knee I decided to continue running -- chasing my running buddy up the hill -- I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and attempted to relax.

I made it into the finishing gate with a respectable time, and also with a good deal of nausea from the heat and pounding the asphalt. After sitting down and regaining my equilibrium I felt better and proceeded to fill myself with cup after cup of cool water and some well timed Italian ice. We stuck around for the awards -- and delightfully we both came in first in our respective age groups (which also meant we had to brave accepting our medals from a large fuzzy green frog mascot, but we persevered).

It was not a personal record for me, but considering the heat and my status I was pleased with the result. It gives me a base from which to improve, and proved that I have not lost my running mojo after all.

Friday, June 6, 2008

sweat box

In the past day Pittsburgh's mercurial weather has shifted from dreary semi-cool rain to 90 degrees in a hot Southern style. Feels more like Alabama than Pennsylvania. I welcome the heat, but the suddeness of the change has set me off kilter. This week has been a bit of struggle for me in general -- I did get myself to the gym last night for a short run on the treadmill, my first workout of the week. Next week will be better.

The heat makes an interesting bedfellow for my return to racing, thankfully the trees in the park should provide some respite. Last year there was a downpour, the start was delayed due to threats of lightening. I persevered and ran without the friends I was expecting, who had, perhaps smartly, stayed home and dry. Despite the soggy conditions and loneliness I pulled out a personal record -- coming in first in my age group and category. After the race I saw one of my old high school friends and his wife, a welcome surprise, I ate cupfuls of Rita's Italian ice in the parklet I used to play in as a child, the rain gone and the early June heat steaming mist out onto the asphalt.

This year I don't plan on setting any records. I just want to run and accept my limitations in this first race after the marathon. Proving to myself the healing power of showing up and carrying on.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

using pain

Not much to report on the physical activity side with my two days off, but I'm looking to jump back on the treadmill tonight and do a bit of speed work in preparation for Friday's 5k. My days of rest have not been as restful as I imagined, heavy with socialization. I enjoy time with friends and meeting new people but it does tax my introverted energy reserves.

I subscribe to Runner's World's inspirational quote of the day, and often it leaves me perplexed -- usually because I cannot figure out how they relate to the running, such as the recent quote from Dostoevsky, "Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness". Does this refer to the physical pain? The suffering induced by mile upon grueling mile? Despite some serious hurt after the fact, I have never experienced a run as suffering, and if I did I'm not sure I would turn to it as my exercise of choice.

This quote stayed with me, however, beyond the implied context. I'm not sure I agree with Dostoevsky -- but I can attest that emotional (and physical) pain tap into a different level of consciousness. Facing pain instead of fleeing from it can lead to greater awareness, a deeper understanding of the self. Suffering, while not a desirable state can awaken us to new possibilities, can alert us to what we need to ultimately thrive, move forward, run faster, longer, find love within ourselves. Pushing limits, whether from within or without connects us to the essence of our humanity, our animal bodies, the elasticity of our spirits.

Pain has been my constant companion in this past month, and it is not something I enjoy, not something I knowingly invited. Yet it is here and I strive to use it as best I can, to expand my consciousness and my compassion. Go deeper.

Dostoevsky

Monday, June 2, 2008

beat

Pittsburgh pulled out another gorgeous weekend keeping the rain quarantined to an early part of Saturday morning. I planned to take full advantage with bike rides Saturday and Sunday.

Friday night I decided to run after work, exploring the newly re-opened connection between the North shore trail and Point State Park. This week I was able to run twice without knee pain and I decided to take a nice long run to start my weekend off right. I made a loop from the trail, across to the Point, down through town onto the Strip trail and back to the North side. I can tell that I've lost stamina in the past two months of infrequent running, but managed to push through some of the fatigue. Back home, I headed over to the Greek food festival, indulging in all manner of foods encased in phyllo.

Saturday and Sunday I went on two separate bike rides, both incorporating the South side trail and stops for tasty gelati and iced coffee. Saturday's trip involved a near run in with a gaggle of geese, which after my last encounter was something I wanted to avoid. With a little backtracking we were able to avoid the situation all together.

Tiredness hit big time on Sunday. I realized that I had worked out in some manner every day this past week, and I was spent. I suppose, as with every thing else, there can be too much of a good thing. Physical activity makes me feel almost normal -- gives me a break from my whirling emotions. It is hard when I get this respite to acknowledge and permit myself rest as well. My tenacity works against me, pushing me past my comfortable limit, an outward manifestation of my desire to get past the pain. So I'm taking a break for the next few days and resting, giving my body time to restore and facing whatever emotions come.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Respect the Flow

Last night I decided to do some laps in the pool and give my legs (and knees) a break from the impact of running and biking. Despite a fabulous day weather-wise, I figured it would be a good day to swim, soon the outdoor pools will be open and I can enjoy both the weather and the water. Until then it's the window-less pool at the Y.

I love the water. Perhaps you can chalk this up to my zodiac sign (Scorpio) or just growing up in Pittsburgh surrounded my rivers. Under water I feel a sense of peace that I don't feel on the surface. After a few warm up laps I go into a zone, in which I feel completely connected to my internal world. The pool is a safe haven for my introversion, and the repetitive motion of my strokes lulls me into a meditative state. I feel a sense of flow and letting go when I'm doing laps, more so than with other activities.

Perhaps if I swam more frequently I would not derive the same sense of peace from the activity. The tedium of preparing for and de-chlorinating after make it more difficult to incorporate into a daily routine. I also fear that the solitary nature of swimming could overwhelm me. Even when running or biking alone there's an opportunity to connect with others on the trail. Sometimes though, I just have to fall back on the things that give me the most satisfaction and make peace with the solitude. Respect the flow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hill Work

Following my 50 mile ride, I was worried I had strained my right knee. After spending weeks getting my left knee back into operation the prospect of the same with my right was disheartening to say the least.

Thankfully it only needed a little rest. I ran 4 miles on the treadmill Tuesday, sans incline and 4.5 miles on the Riverview loop last evening. It has been almost two months since the marathon and I finally feel ready to begin a new base and run regularly. Looking forward, I signed up for the Stomp the Grapes Half Marathon in October, which gives me plenty of time to prepare. I have decided to hold off on a second full marathon until Pittsburgh and use this time to build my strength and stamina. Risking injury or significant recovery time does not seem like a wise idea.

Yesterday's run in Riverview was my first successful hill run since the marathon. The Atlanta Marathon was chock full of hills, which even to this Pittsburgher were not to be taken lightly. It occurred to me, as I trudged up the grade, that this is the work that builds strength. It is difficult and at times I find myself slowing down, gasping for air or just wondering if there will ever be a downhill. During races, I have walked hills even when I promised myself I would not walk. Sometimes you just have to surrender. Difficulties or hard times are similar -- sometimes you have to give in to how hard things are, lay down for a while, give yourself permission to take things slowly. Hill have their value, even if they are not something to tackle everyday, and each time around makes things a little bit easier.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Sidelined as I have been from long distance running, I have not been able to reap the mental and physical benefits of hours of exercise. Often when I'm out I wish I could go further, but my IT band and loss of conditioning dictate otherwise. Every meandering bike ride around the city leaves me with a thirst for more, and one day out on the Eliza Furnace trail with Barbara we hatched a plan to get out and do a long ride. So plans were made. I decided that we should head out to the Youghiogheny river trail, close to Pittsburgh, picturesque and flat, it stretches for many miles, perfect for a long meandering ride.

We headed out on Saturday, the first day of the long weekend -- which would give us plenty of time to recover by Tuesday if 50 miles left us in less than stellar shape. We started out at the Boston Waterfront loaded down with plenty of water, snacks, and a modge podge of bike repair accouterments.

The day could not have been more beautiful, sunny with a smattering of clouds across the sky. We unloaded our bikes from the car and got moving. Here's a shot of our starting point:





Cycling along we passed several baseball fields alive with Saturday little league games. The trail goes through bits of neighborhoods as well as more natural settings. Our first stop was at a small cemetery / campground -- the farthest point I'd biked too the last time I visited the trail. We walked around the headstones pondering what life must have been like in the little mill towns along the trail. Continuing onward, we entered a forested area lush with spring growth and little purple wildflowers. Several small waterfalls cascaded down the hillsides.




We continued to ride buoyed by the flat trail and beautiful surroundings. At West Newton we decided to stop to fuel up, relaxing on a bench overlooking the river. After our repast, we headed back to the trail with a little over ten miles to go until we turned back around.


We continued on feeling our oats, at 25 miles it seemed like we could go on forever. But instead we turned around and headed back, a decision we were thankful for at mile 40. The last ten miles seemed more difficult than the first thirty, my knee began to ache and it felt as though the bike seat had suddenly lost all padding. Thanks to some ibuprofen and a snack stop on some bleachers we were able to make it back to the car, tired but triumphant.


Giddy from the ride, I got a bit turned around but still managed to make it back to Pittsburgh in a reasonable amount of time. The ride helped to clear my head, at least for the 6 hours on the trail. Peddling away from the burdens of sadness and processing and just day to day carrying on. Riding helps me appreciate the beauty that is around me as well as my potential. Each day it gets a little bit easier and I grow a little bit stronger.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mission Aborted

Last night I decided to finally check out Frontrunners, a glbt running group with chapters throughout the country (and perhaps world). Going to a group run is a bit outside of my comfort zone, I fall on the introverted side of the scale and generally enjoy running alone or with one good pal. Still, I figured that it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out the group, if only for some camaraderie and perhaps an occasional outlet. I enlisted my running / biking buddy extraordinaire into this little adventure, figuring if things were strange having her there would soften the blow a bit.

We arrived at the meeting place around 7 and found it deserted. As the minutes ticked by I wondered if the group was defunct or just poorly attended on some nights. We waited. A few minutes later a lone runner ambled up and stood a few feet away from us. A few minutes later a serious looking fellow came by, he looked like he could easily run a Boston qualifying marathon, perhaps several, perhaps he could run one that very evening. Feeling a bit overwhelmed and intimidated I signaled to my companion that I wanted to bail and we headed back towards my car. As we drove up to the oval for a few laps I noticed a small group had gathered, all men at the statute. I felt tremendous relief that we had averted a potentially awkward situation.

I am sure this group serves a good purpose, and I would even be open to trying again when I knew more folks would be running. I am also not sure running with them would have been the worst thing in the world but sometimes you just have to follow your gut. Several rounds of the oval path felt just right, and I realized that I need to be gentle with myself. I can expand my horizons slowly and organically. I trust that I will be back, and better than ever, in my own time.

Looking forward, I registered for the Riverview 5k on June 6th. Running in Riverview is always a pleasure and I love the feel of a small-ish race. I plan on incorporating some speed work in my routine next week and hopefully kicking off my return to running season with a good time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heart on My Cortado

I am a bit of a coffee addict. Not just for the caffeine, but for the rich, bitter, nuanced flavor. I love coffee. Recently I decided to branch out and try some local shops that I hadn't visited previously and soon became acquainted with 21st Street Coffee in the strip. It was love at first sip. I had never been enticed into the shop previously, with it's relatively nondescript awning, I usually stopped by La Prima for my coffee fix while on Penn Ave. I decided to visit because I learned they are the only shop in the area with a Clover machine, which equates to a freshly brewed cup of drip coffee from a tasty little menu. Not only is their coffee stellar, the shop has a quaint appeal -- done up in dark brown and aqua with a 2nd floor loft. It has quickly become one of my regular Saturday haunts.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to visit 21st streets other 'store' (more like a kiosk) in downtown Pgh, a five minute walk from my office. I ordered a cortado, my new favorite espresso drink, which is a shot or two of espresso topped with a small amount of steamed milk. The milk cuts the bitterness of the espresso but does not overwhelm it like a full size latte. Perfect. I ordered mine to go, went to stir in a sugar in the raw and saw the cutest little heart on top of the foam. It made me smile, my first genuinely felt smile in the past few weeks. It was so simple yet unexpected. And even though I stirred the heart right out of that foam, it managed to buoy my spirits. Little things matter, in and of themselves, and as markers for a greater sense of well being, a more optimistic view of the universe.

Running wise, I took my friend Barbara out for her first real 'run' of two miles with another veteran runner. She did awesomely and I enjoyed imparting my knowledge and reconnecting with the thrill of beginning something new. She promises to school me in the ways of the bike in return. Soon I will be on my way to a triathalon, perhaps sooner than I think!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Muscle Fatigue

Sunday's 5-mile triumph has left me with a renewed sense of hope and in turn an overflow of enthusiasm. Not wanting to do too much too soon, I decided a trip out on the bike would be a good balance for Monday night activity, and I needed to pop into the grocery, so why not combine the two?

I started out on the North shore trail, my own little cross town highway. It was cool but sunny and I moved along at a pretty nice clip. I headed across the 31st street bridge, pleased with my time, feeling relatively good. Then, I hit Liberty Ave. Liberty Ave has a dedicated bike lane and a slighly less sharp grade then Penn -- which makes it a good choice for a bicyclist descending into the East End. I started up the hill, a little tired, but determined. It only took a few minutes for me to lose steam. I stopped and considered my plan tentatively deciding to proceed at a slower pace. About a minute later I decided my ambition did not match my steam, turning around and enjoying the fruits of my labor with a smooth ride the opposite direction.

Turns out I failed to take my muscle fatigue from Sunday into account, as well as my overall lack of bike conditioning. Mentally I feel as though I can do most anything, but my physical limitations serve as reminders to not go too far. Marathon training played around with my concepts of real versus perceived limits. It stretched me further than I ever thought I could go. A good and healthy stretch based on months of effort and attention. Now as I pick back up I must respect my limits, pushing too far or too hard too fast could leave me burnt out, injured and even further away from my goals. One pedal at a time. I have no doubt that in my own time I will be able to scale Pittsburgh's hills.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Peaks and Valleys

Another unpredictable weather weekend in Pittsburgh, and I did my best to take advantage of sun breaks to enjoy the outdoors. Saturday during the day my activity buddy extraordinaire and I partook in the Venture Outdoors festival. Despite a little rain, the bike over to Herr's Island was lovely. I enjoyed walking around and soaking in the activity around me. We took some kayaks out and I managed fairly well though it always look much less laborious then it turns out to be. My first experience with kayaking, which occurred in the bio luminescent bay in Puerto Rico was an exercise in frustration, which ended in a very turned around Ellen having to hook on to my friend Jen's boat and be pulled along, after trailing 10 minutes behind the group. After that humbling experience, the thought of kayaking invoked a kind of fear of humiliation. I am glad to report that I am on my way to overcoming this, even though my novice status still applies.

I also purchased a sweet backpack that I plan on taking with me when I bike around town -- it promises to increase my visibility, check her out:

Wild. All and all I thoroughly enjoyed the festival and am looking forward to next year.

Sunday afternoon I headed out to North Park for a run. I decided it was time to try the 5 mile loop, one I used to train on frequently pre-marathon. The sun came out and I strapped my IT band brace on and headed out, ipod on shuffle and hopeful. I kept a consistent pace, slower than my usual and was able to complete the full 5 miles! I feel strong and on my way to overcoming this injury. I plan on taking it easy and slowly increasing mileage for a few weeks until I try to get my speed back, but I'm back to running and it feels terrific.

Healing. It's an interesting process, and one that we as humans do time and time again. Pain happens, sometimes at our own invitation, sometimes by accident, sometimes through the will of another. We bandage up, rest, apply ice, cry, and accept hugs and the nervous laughter of those around us. With adequate coaxing and care, the body heals itself, cells regenerate muscles regain their former strength. It takes time but eventually we get better. Emotional healing follows a similar pattern though it is not so easy to see the scabs. Sometimes the hurt gets aggravated and sometimes it feels as though it has disappeared completely, only to come back stronger the next day. But bit by bit I am regenerating and feeling the connection between my body and mind -- enduring and embracing both the peaks and the valleys.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

3.1

Last night I ran a 5k on the treadmill, pain free, and distracted by none other than Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. His visit to Charleston, SC kept me focused, and I was able to sweat through a half and hour without stopping. After some dutiful stretching, I headed back into the overcast haze of the evening, psyched about regaining my running mojo. My mind was awash with possibilities, more and more mileage, a half marathon, but I rewound. If I'm to overcome this injury I can't get ahead of myself -- an overextension in this weakened state could set me back even further.

If I'm able to slowly build more mileage and remain pain free, I'm looking forward to doing the Run for Alex again this year. I ran the 5 mile race last year and it was a challenge. It was a hot day in Bentleyville, and the asphalt was not forgiving (nor was the giant 'suprise' hill in the course). This race was also my first experience with helpful comments from other runners and energy sharing. The last mile of the race I was close behind a runner who waved to every spectator, his encouraging words and the smiles and waves from the towns folk went a long way to my sailing into the finish line. Unfortunately once I crossed the finish line I also had my first experience with post race nausea, but was able to recover in time, and make a visit to the largest post run buffet I have ever seen complete with chocolate fountain!

So hopefully I can run it again this year but I'm taking things one step at a time. One tentative and careful foot in front of the other until my strength returns.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creature of New Habits

I came across an interesting article in the NY Times -- which relates well to my current state of affairs re: developing new habits. Check it out for yourself here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/business/04unbox.html?ei=5124&en=e1243d427937195c&ex=1367553600&adxnnl=1&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&adxnnlx=1210777438-PW2mX+ZXJONPdtaCmv1R6w

Change as a precursor to expanding creativity and innovation. I like that. I am on my way to developing a new biking habit, and so far I'm enjoying the process (if not the swarms of gnats along the riverfront trail). Protein aside, a gnat in the mouth is not a pleasant experience.

This evening I'm planning a bit of a return to old habits with some time on the trusty treadmill. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a relatively pain free run.