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


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:

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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Returning back to standard. I am in the thick of this process and at the moment it feels less than exhilarating. Last nights plans for laps in the pool gave way to burrowing under the covers and all things artichoke. I figured I could cut myself some slack, my shoulder still aches a bit from the goose run-in and 50-degree rainy weather makes a snuggly bed all the more inviting.

Still, I’m not sure what this evening accomplished, rather than a preface to a good nights sleep. I set a lofty goal of exercise, in some form, daily – so pushing it to the side gave me a momentary high of self indulgence and many more hours of low grade guilt. Would it have been that hard to walk the block to the gym and jump in the pool?

I can’t seem to shake the feeling of frustration, of starting from near scratch again, of my aching knee, after I spent weeks upon weeks running countless miles. I consider that without this ‘break’ it’s likely I would not have tried new activities at all thus robbing me of their potential joy and a stronger, more well rounded self.

So, I struggle and try to maintain perspective. 30-mile weeks rarely equaled a panacea. Still, just getting back to a normal schedule and a normal state of mind feels overwhelming. I’m sitting with this feeling for a while and doing my best to get out and about even when my inertia dictates the opposite. The balance I crave cannot be achieved through inactivity, I must get out there if I hope to run another day, another marathon, and re-calibrate my life.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Marathon

This just in - Pittsburgh's marathon set to resume in 2009 -- I can't wait!


Sidelined as I am with iliotibial band issues, I've taken to my bike to get out and enjoy the intermittently beautiful Pittsburgh Spring days. I am relatively new to all things biking, but I look at my injured state as an opportunity to explore more and cross train. Riding doesn't thrill me as much as running, but it still gets me out and about, and riding with friends always leads to several hours of 'bike therapy' -- helpful in these fragile weeks.

Early Saturday morning I was afraid drear would cloud my weekend -- overcast, the chilly rain threatened to stay -- but by mid-morning sun started to peek through the clouds giving way to a clear and sunny afternoon. So I called my friend, and running buddy of last season to meet me for a bike ride -- she's new to biking as well, and we've had a delightful time in our nubian forays around town.

We met up at the 31st street bridge and decided to head over to the Southside trail which runs along the Monongahela river -- heading into town, we cut over onto the Strip riverfront trail, and settled in for a leisurely ride. Leisurely, that is, until we ran smack dab into a family of Canadian Geese. I've often come across geese along the riverbanks, and never given much thought to sharing the 'road' with them as it were. Certainly they are not the most docile of creatures but I've never felt threatened by them in any real way. I continued along the path moving to the left of the geese and speeding up a bit to get past them quickly. But the momma goose had a different idea. In a split second a giant feathery mass flew up and came rushing towards me -- squawking and hissing, I struggled to keep my equilibrium. The bird flew around and I was dazed, I attempted to right my bike and make my next move when she came at me a second time throwing her weight against me, I dropped the bike and ran the other direction -- towards my stunned biking companion. After determining I was ok and breaking down into somewhat of a hysterical laughter, I notice four little puffy yellow chicks that had been out of view with two big geese beside them. Without such motherly intervention, my bike may have squashed one of these chicks. The geese retreated to the water, and I was able to retrieve my bike and sneak by until I was safely able to bike along the path again -- with a few scrapes and bit of an aching shoulder.

So, my fellow trail users of Pittsburgh, watch out for those geese! Do not take hissing lightly or you may end up with a 20 pound bird flying directly at you. I have learned a lesson in deference, and the healing power of raucous laughter in the face of absurdity.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Used Up

Welcome, dear readers, to my spanking new blog, I figure this first entry will be an introduction of sorts. I hope to use this blog as a means to reflect upon my running, motivate me to run more, and to gain a sense of perspective in this thing called life.

Last month I ran the ING Georgia Marathon, which was my first marathon and the culmination of a year of running and training. I journeyed to Atlanta with my girlfriend who had been supporting me throughout the entire training, dealing the ins and out of early nights, weary bones, and a ravenous appetite. Despite a relatively frustrating start, the race went well -- I finished the race in 4:36, which was a good showing for my first (very hilly) marathon. I was buoyed by my favorite old neighborhoods from when I lived in Atlanta, Emory, my alma mater, Decatur, and Piedmont Park. Running in the burgh' gave me a false sense of security when it came to the hills -- they posed more of a challenge than I had thought.

I expected at the end of the race to feel extremely triumphant, but what I felt was more a sense of using up all the reserves my body had built. Sure, I was happy that I'd finished, and finished well but I just didn't have the energy to enjoy my accomplishment in the way I'd had it had half and even 20 mile races. I also knew that I wanted to do it again, to see if I could improve, to push my potential even further.

It took me a few days to get over the acute soreness following the marathon, hobbling about was a badge of honor as well as a humbling experience. I shuffled from place to place, I needed more time, more patience. A week out, I got on the treadmill and managed a paltry half mile before my muscles rebelled. I gave myself time to rest, and have been able to run a bit, but am now struggling with IT pain. I've extended my rest period and am starting to focus on cycling, swimming, and the all too boring ellipticals to keep my core fitness.

So here I am, a marathoner without her next goal, used up and slightly broken. Recently single again, I feel in both running and love I have accomplishments behind me and an uncertain future in front of me. I hope to use my base, what I've learned, and the help, support, and encouragement I've received to get out again, at my own pace. In time both my broken heart and broke body will heal, and with the help of this blog I will chronicle the highs and lows of the next leg of my journey.