Thursday, December 31, 2009

Endings, Beginnings, and the Year Ahead

As 2009 winds down I am taking a bit of a break from my usual running schedule. Partly due to circumstance, wind, snow, and ice and limited access to a tread mill and partly just to give myself a respite before full training begins for the 2010 Pittsburgh Marathon.

I have no complaints and quite a few successes in terms of running this past year. I made my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon. I completed a smattering of 5k races over the summer, and managed to get my time under 24 minutes. I sustained no major injuries and recovered well from all of my various races.

I took some time in the past week to ice skate, practice some pretty intense yoga -- which opened me up and also reminded me how much running shape does not correlate to every sport shape. My endurance and aerobic capacity carry me through, but the next day(s) my under used muscles scream. It reminds me both to consider my limitations and to work on my well rounded-ness, something difficult to do during marathon training but certainly possible in small ways.

2010 brings new goals and challenges, challenges that are both exciting and fear inducing. I am dedicating this year to the spirit of trust, building up trust in myself, my abilities, in those I love, and more widely in the provisions of the universe.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year, that the year ahead is filled with love and a spirit of adventure, treasuring the journey as much as the destination. Peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Warmth from Within

Last night I went out on a solo run, I was in the mood to run outside despite the frigid temperature and early darkness, I wanted to do some distance without having to face the monotony of an hour on the treadmill. I dressed carefully, layering, adding a little extra to guard against the wind the chilled me to the bone on my bike ride home. I picked up my ipod which I haven't used in a while and found the battery dead. Dead. Just great! Well, I used to run all the time solo without it, so I decided to head off with only my thoughts to distract me.

I stepped out the door and it was indeed cold, yet those first few strides activated me. There is something thrilling about running in the dark and the cold, a sense of conquering and overcoming the elements. I decided on a route around my neighborhood, sticking with major roads for light and safety. I found myself craving a jaunt through Riverview as well, so I worked out a way to incorporate the park. After my initial climb up Brighton I got into a groove, I felt my blood flowing and warming my extremities, I felt the freedom of simply being and being on the run, without music or conversation. Moving myself through the silence of the dark.

My run last night reacquainted me with what I fell in love with about running in the first place. Heart pumping, legs stretching forward, the sky open above me, relatively few souls around, I felt connected to myself and my environment. Creating warmth from within, each stride a heart opener.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


In this season of training-less-ness I have taken to practicing yoga. Now, I am not exactly a stranger to yoga, I have taken the odd class or workshop, but I have always stopped short of committing to a regular practice. I found every excuse, money, patience, time, 'I need to be active, the pace of yoga is too slow' I would say, but really it came down to fear. Would I be able to keep up with the class? I lived with the anxiety of doing it wrong and the anxiety of needing help, adjustment. Better to just avoid it, eh? After all, it was not as if I was neglecting my physical health.

I am not quite sure what gave me that final push -- but I decided to go, to a class at the local Y. It was a hot summer day. It turned out the usual teacher was away on vacation, which was fortuitous -- she did not know I was a new student and I could blend in, any awkwardness disguised by the new situation all around. I arrived at class dry mouthed and nervous -- but I left the class with a renewed sense of calm and well being. As trite as it sounds, the very thing I was so resistant too was the very thing I needed.

Now, missing yoga sets my week into an unbalanced state. I am learning, slowly, and learning to work with my bodies quirks, appreciate my certain grace-less-ness, and with that and in that the strength of my body and my spirit. Letting go, piece by piece, of that sense of perfection, of worth in perfection, letting go of my facade and feeding that energy into my body into my practice. I still run fast, work on speed but yoga allows me to open and stretch myself, little by little, sometimes imperceptibly. I am learning that I need not fear the quiet and calm.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

You know that feeling when you take a big bite out of something, either out of not paying attention or a miss calculation of sorts you begin to chew and it's so uncomfortable and you have the option of either spitting out and trying again or committing and chewing for what seems like an eternity. The literal sensation of biting off more than you can chew is fairly unpleasant, which is what makes it such a good metaphor for taking too much on in any arena.

Running wise I am in a maintenance period -- I try to run four or five times a week without any specific emphasis on distance or speed. I've been biking to work almost every day and started a semi-regular yoga practice. I want to go into marathon training season strong, well rounded, and healthy, and so far I am on track to do just that.

So where does the overwhelm come in? Why the feeling of spit or commit?

I am making and going through some pretty major changes, the kind that touch every aspect of life and dredge up the yuck at the bottom of the pond, I was quite happy with it remaining dormant! Well, yes, not quite -- I feel good about where I am but it's hard and I have to take things day by day, hour by hour. I rely heavily on running and physical activity to get me through. When things start to feel overwhelming I focus on those things I can control and sometimes it just feels altogether too much. I am working on collecting recipes and mapping out a better nutrition program for training, and I find myself getting all tangled up and lost in the process -- I am learning a lot but I put so much pressure on myself -- I want everything to be perfect.

Just like in running, building gradually and staying relaxed are key, I am trying to keep things in perspective, but it's hard sometimes. When I'm out of my comfort zone I tend to stiffen, to speed up and this carries over into my emotional life as well. Slow and steady, one training run at a time, and little bites, this is what will get me through. Faith in the process.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Expanding. Changing. Stretching.

My focus this year has been on expanding. Expanding in the sense of taking my foundation, those things that I have mastered and moving out from them as a means of growth. Unfurling and working my way forward gently. I like to picture myself in the center of a spiral, venturing out in a closely knit circular line all attached to a source, a center a purpose. Expanding cohesively, gradually and in this gently pushing myself to knew levels.

This weekend I ran the Ikea Half Marathon. I have run it once before, just a few weeks out from my bike accident last year. I took it easy then, as I wasn't sure how my sprained shoulder would react to the persistent pounding. I went out conservatively and found at the end I had plenty of juice left. I crossed the finish line with a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and the feeling that while I could have done better, getting back to racing successfully was way more than enough.

This year I ran the race with my running buddy Jess and approached it feeling differently than I have about any other major race. I didn't feel nervous. I didn't feel connected to the exiting and adrenaline producing atmosphere of race day but rather approached it as a utilitarian exercise. I have not run a distance race since the marathon, and I had not diligently prepared for this race. Sure, I have kept up my mileage, worked on speed, ate a well balanced meal the night before, I did not feel wholly unprepared yet it had not been my focus.

I wasn't sure how things would turn out out but I trusted I could complete the distance. I knew that much. Slogging through the last miles of the marathon where every step made a current of pain run through me let me know that 13 miles, no matter what, would be doable.

We started out downhill, the day was slight bit chilly but not cold, overcast but with the sun peeking through a few dusky grey clouds. Perfect for a race of some distance. As we began I felt a surge of joy, being there, being a part of a packe, doing sothing as elemental as putting one foot in front of the other as fast as we could go within reason it felt lovely, right. Racing brings with it a sense of civility married to an animal drive. We compete as well as bolseter each other, we look at the fastest runners with a sense of awe and encouragement no matter where we fall in the pack. We all come to this place to be a part of somethign as well as to run our own race.

I ran the race just a bit outside of my comfort zone and had very little left in me by the last three miles. I made it through -- finishing in a very respectable 1:50, just under a personal record.

I worry sometimes about setting high expectations for myself. Goals like qualifying for Boston seem so out of reach, I make tiny strides but the progress seems so slow. It is not easy to get faster, to endure longer, to push myself beyond my comfort zone. When I look back on where I started from I am amazed at how far and how fast I came -- it is and has been hard work but it always felt so simple, so natural, or perhaps I remember it that way only because this moment of striving and reaching further seems so hard. Still at the heart of it all, I believe I can make it further that I can get faster, that expansion happens not all at once, but slowly with hard work, dedication, and love. Patience, openess, and showing up will get me to the next level, nothing more, nothing less. I am right where I need to be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Fall returns and with it chillier nights, falling leaves, and for me, a return to distance running. This summer I completed four 5k's, and feel well on my way to my goal of minute off my time from 2008. The curse is still with me around Run Around the Square, I came down with a pretty nasty cold a few days before the race, again running it just to finish as I have in years past. I'm beginning to believe I should never plan to run RATS fast something in the universe is telling me to slow it down. Still, it was great to be out there with some many folks, and to have my own little cheering crew. Running a race by myself is not something I shy away from, but having people there running it and watching does make a difference.

One thing that the summer brought was the addition of dedicated speed work to my weekly routine -- one of my least favorite running related activities, but one of the most beneficial to improving my overall strength and performance. Each week my running buddy and I meet up at the track, and run all out for various (short) distances, jogging between each to recover. It is never easy but there is some satisfaction to be gleaned from completing each leg and not collapsing into an anaerobic heap. There's something subtly exciting about the feel of lactic acid building in the legs, pushing past the point of no return.

I feel like my life is in the midst of some pretty big transitions, even though it may not seem so on the surface. My old way of doing things is no longer working for me, what once was comfortable and easy no longer seems that way. I remind myself that what seems hard now can be the gateway to greater strength, that through challenge and struggle we can access a potential we could not begin to dream of previously.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Black Eyed Susans

August brings with it a heady humidity, the sounds of crickets of the night, and the beginning of an earlier nightfall. It's a heavy month drawing summer to a close, contrasting with the lightness of Spring, August is the culmination of growth, wildflowers, tomatoes, corn, all offered up in the fading light.

Running in August proves challenging, in terms of heat and humidity. It calls for short distance and not the long hauls of early spring, fall, and winter, yet even at a short distance I can find myself dehydrated, spent.

Last week I started to increase my overall mileage with my sights set on the Ikea Half Marathon a few weeks into September. I have been working on my speed pretty consistently but have been missing the distance, so I decided to work some more miles into my routine. This hasn't come easy, especially with the demands of speed work and steps. I continue though, because I know I will adapt, I know sooner rather than later I will be gliding along 13.1 miles and be glad for the work of it now. Sometimes when I push myself beyond my limits of tolerance, beyond what's comfortable the world comes into a brighter focus. The pop of a black eyed susan along the path, the brilliant yellow against a see of faded out greens and browns reminds me for all the pain, fatigue, struggle there is and will always be beauty and strength within and without.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Small Steps

The process of change, of strengthening and quickening is an interesting animal. Perhaps animal is the wrong word -- what I mean is that it's rarely a linear progression from point a to point b. You get out there, log the miles, tough out a hard speed workout and some days you still seem to be going backwards, and some days it feels completely effortless.

This past weekend I ran the Run for Roch, which was a challenging, hilly 5k in scenic Mt. Washington. I haven't been up to Mt. Washington in ages -- the view really is spectacular, and it was wonderful to start and end things overlooking the city. I pushed through all the hills, despite the feeling that I was going to puke after mile one, and almost stopping to walk on the daunting McArdle ascent and made it through ok. I came in at a respectable 24:04 -- which for me is a personal record.

Still, the progress I am making feels like it's moving at snails pace. Even though speed isn't strong suit I struggle with my internal brat who throws a fit that increasing my speed isn't easier -- even though it hasn't been long since I began this shift in focus. It helps to put thing in perspective, it helps to realize that we don't always have big, long gains, that their is no perfect end result, that sometimes frustration is as vital a part of the training process as success. If this was easy, it would be easy and not as worthwhile of a pursuit. So I will stay here, and continue my work even when it feels futile, even when there are a million things I'd rather be doing, when I feel like I'm moving backwards instead of forwards. I do it because the choice is between staying static or growing, and I choose growth, no matter how messy the process.

Monday, July 20, 2009


A couple of months ago, in an attempt to train up for the Rachel Carson challenge I started climbing the stairs in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. Apparently this is a popular activity for athletes of all strips, particularly in the winter months when Pittsburgh's weather ravages even the most hardy.

For those who aren't familiar the Cathedral of Learning is a gothic cathedral on Pitt's campus that houses classrooms, labs, and the like, 42 stories of fun:

Now, suffice to say the summer is not the most popular month for stair climbers, the building offers little ventilation and the conditions outside beg even the most sedentary to come out and play. Still, there is something that calls to be about the steps, the challenge of 36 flights, the sense of accomplishment when I get to the top, the sweat proliferation, perhaps a bit of pure insanity. Needless to say I, along with several like minded partners in crime, have made it a Wednesday night standing plan. While it's tough, and not the most convenient, I can feel myself getting stronger week after week.

Besides the physical, this workout has had an effect on my psyche as well, with elevators and stairs making almost nightly appearances in my dreams. I believe it's one of those situations where the act of ascending stairs connects me to a more ethereal form of ascension or growth. The practice of going up, step by step, until I reach the top and returning to the bottom just to ascend again serves as a moving meditation. Bringing myself to the Cathedral, week after week forges a connection between my body and spirit, the literal manifestation of bringing myself to a place of ascension.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer of Speed

Though I seldom sit still I am far from speedy. Constant motion is a part of my nature, blame it on being high strung, high metabolism, an unnatural zest for life --- whatever and no matter what I can attribute it to to it is there. It's one of the reasons running comes so naturally, as a way to channel this energy and exhaust myself to a comfortable resting point. I run relatively quickly for someone of my stature but I am by no means a sprinter. Not only am I not built for it in a physical sense, my mind and will have followed suit. I just don't like to run fast.

After a successful marathon and months upon months of training I took some time off. I still run and am running, but am far from logging 30+ mile weeks. Rest is a vital part of any training program and a necessary part of the cycle. Summer being the season of the 5k, I gravitated towards running these shorter races, not out of any propensity for running them but rather out of the desire to be among my 'people'. I love the excitement of race day or evening, the nerves, the first steps into the groove, the volunteers enthusiastically handing out paper cups of water, the last push at the end, the kitschy door prizes - it all makes it worth the torment of running short and fast.

For some reason pushing myself to my limit endurance wise is an entirely different animal then pushing myself to my limit speed wise, and I'm not sure why that is, it just is. Yet, I know that as in most pursuits, the practice you most avoid is often the one that you most need, that will push you to the next level. So this summer, I have decided to focus on my speed, with the goal of shaving a minute off of my 5k PR. It's been slow going (hah!) , or slow on the uptake, one of the reasons I am writing here in an attempt to keep myself honest. Here's to a speedy rest of the summer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I have been away from this blog for a bit, due in part to an increased workload and in part to a break from all things running. Sometimes it's good to just take a break, rest, and regroup, and that's what I've been doing for the past month.

Coming off this marathon free of injury, it took me a lot less time to get back on the trail (or the road as the case may be). I have been logging runs of an hour or less, getting back in touch with what makes me want to run in the first place -- drops of dew resting on my eyelashes during an early morning run, the feeling of strength after a fast burst, and simply the time alone with my thoughts.

I am planning to do the Rachel Carson challenge next weekend, which is 34 miles of the Rachel Carson trail in one day. It sold out this year before I registered, so I am planning to try for stand by and hope I get in. I feel somewhat unprepared for this endeavor, I know I have the endurance but worry about my overall strength, especially when it comes to extreme uphill and downhill climbs. I started climbing the stairs at the Cathedral of Learning in preparation, which is quite the workout. I also have been trying to get out on my bike more often, in addition to the actual training hikes.

So I am planning to take the challenge as it comes, and use it as a springboard for my next endeavor. The warmth of summer brings so many possibilities, long days, sunshine, and hours to melt by the side of the pool. I plan to squeeze as much as I can from these heady, fleeting months, and come out stronger than ever.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bouncing Back

A week and a few days out from running the marathon, I'm feeling pretty much like my old self (sans heavy training that is). I was careful this time around to take it extremely easy in the hours following the marathon, as well as the days following. I did not rock an ice bath after running, a spray of cold in the shower was all I could take.

The pain has faded gradually, and I have managed a few easy runs in the past week. My body feels relatively good, I detect no signs of injury though my body is definitely in a weakened state. The biggest side effect running the marathon seems to be a sudden spike in my nervous energy. I am so used to running regularly that the sudden lack of activity has left a void. I am starting to fill it with biking, swimming, and on the home front baking and organizing. Using this recovery time to round things out.

Mentally I am evening out as well. The day after I hit a tremendous low, which also happened to me after the Atlanta marathon. I thought, the first time it happened, that it was due to the stress of traveling, not getting proper rest, but it happened the same way at home, in bed, with a significant difference in stress level. It leads me to believe that it comes from a chemical / hormonal place, which makes sense considering what builds up in the course of a marathon. I felt tremendously broken down and weepy, a sharp emotional weakness. The worst passed in a few hours but it took me, and is taking me a while to get my equilibrium back, as much as I feel good and successful, I have lost the routine and endorphins of training. I remind myself that this is as much a part of the process as all those miles I logged, and sometimes slowing down and takings easy can be as hard as putting forth my full physical effort.

I am using this time to rest, review, round out, and plan for what's next, taking the time to savor my accomplishment.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pittsburgh Marathon '09

It has been a little less than a week since I ran the Pittsburgh marathon, and I've spent it resting and recovering. I can proudly say that I accomplished my goal of a sub-four hour marathon, coming in at 3:58:02, with a smile on my face and extreme fatigue in my legs. I did it!

Marathon weekend began with a visit from one of my oldest, nearest and dearest friends Paki, who flew in for the occasion from Chicago. We went to high school together and have remained in touch since then, which includes a summer he couch surfed at my place in Atlanta which managed to strengthen our bond immeasurably. Needless to say, he's the type of guy you want around when you are pushing yourself to the limit and not quite sure what's going to happen, not only is he an excellent support system, he's also great at taking photos (coming soon to this blog).

I met up with my running buddy and her sister, who came in from LA, on Saturday morning to collect our packets and check out the expo. There's something about an expo combined with previous pre race jitters that just makes me want to shop, shop, shop. I came away with a new pair of Race Ready shorts, more GU than a reasonable person needs, and a sweet Pittsburgh marathon t-shirt. We reconveined later for a shared night before dinner -- full of tasty foraged morels, pasta, veggies, and some fancy Klondikes for dessert.

I headed to bed early that night, though my nerves did not ease me into a gentle sleep. I woke up before my alarm at 5:06 am, ready to fuel up and prepare for the day. I made Paki and I a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and toasted pecans, along with coffee and a banana to charge up my potassium stores. My best friend who ran the half met us at my place and together we made our way around the road closures to the start.

There's nothing like the prerace atmosphere -- folks collective nerves gathered together on the City streets. I felt a mixture of disbelief, excitement, and terror, was I really about to do this?

We were able to meet up with everyone we planned to - saying goodbye 10 minutes before the race start to find a place in the sea of runners. We settled into the 8:30 pace group, right in front of two women who were sponsored by Dunkin Donuts, I'm not sure how they got that gig, but it sounds like a good one to me. I contained my nervousness and tried to remain calm and focused, and before I knew it, we were off.

The race started on Smallman, in the Strip District, which is probably one of the widest streets in Pittsburgh. This made for a very smooth start as we didn't have to bob and weave through a bunch of folks to reach a comfortable pace. The group we were in seemed about right and we road the adrenaline until we got into a groove, passing through the familiar streets of Lower Lawrenceville.

After Lawrenceville and bit more of the Strip we turned into the Northside, where I live and do a good bit of training. I was thrilled to run through my 'hood, that is until I tripped over someone's errant hydration bottle and hit the pavement. Everyone around me let out a gasp (including me, I believe). Luckily it left me with a road rash and little else, I brushed myself off and continued, a little brush burn was not going to slow me down. We headed out into Manchester, which turned out to be the most desolate stretch. It was early and not an incredibly populous residential area to begin with. I turned inward and used some energy for the first major grade onto the West End Bridge.

The Southside was burgeoning with people, bands and lots of loud cheerers. The sudden flurry of activity caused me to become disoriented, and perhaps speed up, and I hit my first real low point of the race. I hung in, sucking down a Gu and just focusing on getting through. It was rough, but by the time I got to Oakland I felt better, and ready to tackle the only major hill on the course. A light rain began to fall, which I saw as a gift, cooling my way up the hill. I made it up and got a push from the accomplishment which stayed with me until Shadyside.

I met up with my friends Heather and Nat around mile 15 and picked up some more Gu, which I really needed at that point, Jess' sister met us about a quarter mile from there with more, and I happily stored it away for the tough miles ahead. Things began to get a little hazy at this point, as we both dug in and dug deep. We ran down Penn, rounding the corner in Regent Square to lots of cheers and some fab homemade signs.

We continued on, through Homewood and lot of folks cheering us on from their doorways -- I really enjoyed spectators who pumped up the jam from there cars, homespun entertainment on the fly is always appreciated. Coming up through East Liberty and into Highland Park I really began to feel the burn on my quads. I could still run, but every footfall caused me pain. I focused on just keeping going, the pain I felt was nothing to sideline me, just the natural result of the 20 miles I ran at a decent pace.

One of my favorite moments of the race was right after the Taza D'Oro party in Highland Park. There was a jazz band playing, and as I rounded the corner I heard 'It's Ellen Maddock, give it up for Ellen Maddock' which made me smile from ear to ear. I went to church growing up with one of the performers, and he not only recognized me, but called me out, hearing my name and all the applause at that point was second to none.

I kept on trucking, finally making it to Bloomfield and the downhill -- which is the promised land for many runners. I struggled, as it was downhill and I could feel the impact with every stride. I took the hill slow and steady trying to just hang on until the flats of the Strip and the finish.

I made it with the cheering on of good friends (complete with pom-poms) in Bloomfield and again at mile 25. I focused and tried to ignore the pain and before I knew it I was rounding the corner to the finish and tearing up. The crowd was simply amazing, and a huge smile broke out on my face when I saw that I was going to make it in under four hours. Amazing.

I hobbled through the exit chute, gathering sustenance and waited for Jess -- she came through not too soon after -- we got our photo taken and then went off to find our people. I was met by a group of friends and my brother, and was somewhat overwhelmed with flowers and a beautiful 26.2 necklace which was a gift from some of my nearest and dearest. After lots of hugs, changing into dry clothes and bandaging of a pretty nasty blister, I parted ways with Jess and her crew onto home, a shower, and food.

There's not much I would do to change this race experience. It was wonderful. I pushed myself pretty hard, and used everything I had, which is exactly what I set out to do. I plan on savoring the feeling of accomplishment for a good while, taking it easy, and then setting my sights on what's next. I am ready.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


A week and a few days until the big event and I'm starting to feel the tell tale signs of jangly nerves. Last time around I remember feeling incredibly fragile. I worried that at any point something random would happen and I wouldn't be able to run. I became hyper aware of the little potential dangers lurking in my everyday existence, the kind of things that if you think about too much on a regular basis can drive one batty. I traveled to Atlanta for my first race and the anxiety of forgetting something vital crept in. I was tired and keyed up at the same time, scared and excited. I spent the days prior visiting all old favorite Atlanta hangouts, the Biscuit, Piedmont Park soaking in the city and trying to stay mellow.

This time I feel less fragile and better prepared for the race before me. My senses are heightened. I find myself slipping into nervous talk and laughter often. I try and take in bits of advice and wisdom while not letting them overwhelming. I approach uneven pavement gingerly, fully aware that any misstep or fall could cause an injury to keep me out of the race.

Pre race jitters are a fact of racing -- and channeling this energy, this sense of importance, this adrenaline is a vital part of success. I am thankful to have a partner in crime this time around, someone who is feeling similarly, we are able to commiserate and sooth.

So you locals may see me bouncing off the walls (figuratively!) over the next week, and perhaps talking a mile a minute, ideating. Trust that this is all apart of the process, and will pass with the running of the marathon. I know I am ready for what's to come, just need to jangle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April Showers

The rainy Spring season is upon us, and despite some unseasonably cool temperatures I haven't had to dodge too many raindrops. It has been almost a month since I've blogged last which attribute to a generalized feeling of demoralization (injury wise) and simple fatigue. The injury that sidelined me has persisted, and though I'm on the mend I was unable to train at full capacity for the past month. I cut down on my weekly runs and eliminated speed work, continuing with shorter runs as well as my weekly long run. I feel strong, but no longer sure I can attain my goal of a sub 4-hour marathon. I plan on giving it my all, the rest is up to the gods.

In the past few weeks my running buddy and I have run our furthest distances, getting out of town to hit the 20 and 20+ milers. We ran our longest out on the Panhandle Trail, a bucolic 29 mile trail that connects to the more extensive Montour Trail. It starts in Carnegie and winds its way through small suburban towns into Weirton, WV. The terrain is relatively flat and the trail wide, perfect for running, and on the day we went we had the trail mostly to ourselves. It was a cool and sunny day, loaded up with GU and water we made our way out and back, taking in the emerging beauty of early Spring.

Training has its share of ups and downs, sometimes dizzingly so, and the long run brings all of it, calling up every bit of reserve and strength both natural and cultivated. I treasure these runs most of all, for the way the hours blend into each other, the way the landscape pulls me through, the way that a single moment means less then the sum of the whole. It reminds me why I do this, and why I love endurance. It reminds me that it's not just the marathon but these miles upon miles of road and trail that make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The ambition of my runs last week have given way to pain and given me a wake up call. Sometimes during training I get an invincible feeling, the more I am able to accomplish the more I want to do -- but there's a fine line between pushing your limits and exceeding them. I managed to exceed them and am now left with a troublesome left calf.

It's hard for me to take rest days. Once I'm in a regular groove I get used to the way running makes me feel, the chemicals, the fresh air, a sense of freedom. It's hard to stay in and just relax even though I know it's a part of the process. Too much time away and I start to spiral and lose perspective. Two days off and I feel like there is no possible way I can successfully run the marathon.

Yet, I know I am human, and there is no way for my training to always be 100% perfect -- I strive to hit my most important runs and stay healthy but things happen. Conventional wisdom dictates that it is better to be under trained than injured before a big race. I know I want to be ready to run another day so I am letting faith and patience take over.

So this evening is dedicated to ice, ibuprofen, and the joy that is 30 Rock.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the Beaten Path

Sunday morning I awoke to overcast skies and a generalized sense of dread. I knew I had to get out and run nearly three hours solo, my first long run of this particular training alone. After hiding out amongst the pillows and blankets for a while, I dragged myself to the kitchen to make coffee and grab some sustenance.

I headed back to bed to read and gather my strength. I decided it might be a good time to read an entire book -- or in lieu of that phase out for hours on end. I thought about sending out a cry for help, moments later I received a text from my running buddy which jolted me to action.

Preparing for the long run is second nature at this point, the minute I start to get dressed things come together quickly and my mind starts to get on board. Earlier in the week I decided that the Montour trail would be a good choice for this run as it's relatively flat and stretches for miles. I also figured as an out and back scenario I was much less likely to cut things short.

I drove out to the trail with a lazy resolve. I have been feeling so fatigued, I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I figured I had to make the attempt. I strapped on my ipod, checked to make sure I was loaded down with GU and started out. The first miles were difficult -- I felt every ache and pain vividly, but after about an hour or so I got into the groove.

I managed to do 18.5 miles in just over the goal time of 2:55 -- despite feeling totally wiped out I was happy that I was able to do it on my own. I feel strong. I feel like I am pulling myself out of the hole I fell in over the past weeks. I am realizing that though life might be tedious and boring at times, it's much more rewarding when I stick to the path.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fresh Kicks

After hitting my mid-week run pretty hard core on Wednesday I decided I needed a full rest day. The fact that I was looking forward to it indicates to me that it was vitally necessary. When I got home from work I watched part of the NewsHour, which I rarely get a chance to watch these days. The national news used to make me cringe but now that Obama is President it often has the opposite effect, recession aside.

Following that I hopped in the Fit and headed to the running store. With the week I've been having I decided a little retail therapy was in order, and what better way to indulge then buying my shoes for the marathon. It was nice clear night and I zipped out to the store in record time. I travel to the 'burbs to visit this particular store because I like to support the local guy, and in Pittsburgh there aren't so many local guys.

The store was relatively unbusy and I was helped right away. It also didn't take too long because I knew exactly what I wanted -- the new model of the shoe I run in now, check em out:

Exciting, I know. These shoes have worked well for me, so I'm hoping this model doesn't let me down. After plunking down the cash for them (and a handful of Gu) I headed back home, to a warm bath, a calf massage, and a good nights sleep. Gently pulling myself up out of the hole to run another day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Down in the Hole

I've been pushing my limits. This part of training is the most physically and mentally taxing. Despite feeling strong and capable, I feel as though my spirit is taxed. I'm just tired. Yet now more than ever I need to keep going and surmount this obstacle which can be just as difficult as a physical one.

So far I've been able to stay engaged by rallying my friends and family to come out for the big event. I reviewed the course. I looked at pictures from my last marathon. I thought about what it would feel like to celebrate afterwards. This has all helped to a point, but it's really just a salve on a bigger wound.

I had been taking great care of myself. Sleeping lots, cooking and eating nutritiously, taking lots of time to relax, but something seemed to snap a week or two ago and I just felt too exhausted to keep it up. So I let things lax. I indulged in a not-caringness about a lot of things that ultimately made me feel worse. Why do we do things like this? I guess it's easy enough to retreat to an easy, comfortable, familiar place when we are under stress. I began to feel bored and resentful towards my own choice to train. Yet, when I gave in to my impulses I was left feeling worse off than when I was taking care. I suppose this is the nature of change, transformation. My decision to train and to live better doesn't remove me from my old ways of being, yet I realize that my old ways of being are no longer enough for me, they don't satisfy me. So I'm here, in between, and though things went awry for a minute I know I'll get back on track. Perhaps after a few days of healthy, care taking relaxation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Spring Forward

An extra hour of daylight is quite the blessing for someone who does the bulk of her runs in the evening hours. While I have become more accustomed to running in the darkness, I much prefer the light of day, the beauty of the sunset. I also welcome the warmth of Spring which lightens everything -- maintaining just enough chill in the air to keep things comfortable.

I still feel a tug at my motivation but the external atmosphere softens it a bit. I feel calm and resolved even through the fatigue and little aches and pains that have become more prevalent. Mysteriously I have lost my ravenous appetite even though I am still making myself eat quit a bit. I accept this as part of the process, but I'm hoping it will be brief.

This weekend I'm taking Saturday to rest, relax, and recharge before Sunday's long run. Restoring my joie de vivre so that I can remain dedicated to my training.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Motivational Drift

Last Saturday my running buddy and I tackled the Spring Thaw, a 15 mile race circling the lake at North Park. Runner's have their choice of a 10, 15, or 20 mile distance which consists of 5 mile loops. Last year I ran the 20 as I was about a month closer to my marathon. The race went well, we stepped up our effort and finished in a respectable 2:08. I pushed myself the whole way through, which is something I do not usually do in a long race, but something I need to do to achieve my goal of a sub 4-hour marathon. I don't know why the effort and fatigue are surprising to me, but in this case it definitely caught me by surprise. All in all it was an excellent dry run for marathon day.

I recovered fairly quickly from the Spring Thaw, coming away with a bit of fatigue but little other pain. This indicates to me that my conditioning is on target. Mentally, though, I have begun to feel my motivation dissipating. It hasn't left entirely, but seems to be leaking from me at a slow drip. Ebb and flow. It's normal for this to happen after putting out a great effort yet I don't have the luxury of time off, this is the time of the heaviest training. So I push through. Motivation or no motivation I tell myself that I still have to get out there. I find other ways to keep going, pep talks, rewards. I remind myself that this is as vital a part of my training as the miles I put in, the drive to keep going when I feel my energy draining away.

I fantasize about a time after the marathon when I can get away and just relax, free from the demands of training. Thinking about that time helps pull me through, and reminds me that there is an end. Until then I have to give it my all and remain dedicated, using my core strength to pull myself back to the process.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Imperceptible Improvements

I am in the thick, or the dirty middle, of marathon training. I am over the initial mental and physical hurdles and find most days that my commitment and energy levels are strong. I've had to make some adjustments, increasing the amount of time I sleep and the amounts that I eat in order to keep things on an even keel. I feel markedly stronger than I did the first time around, owing in part to experience and in part to the support of a dedicated running partner.

Still, even with the increase in mileage, the addition of challenging speed work, it's hard to see my progress from day to day. I feel stronger but at the same time in a sort of progressive stasis. The changes to my body, to my endurance, to my speed happen slowly and inhabiting this body it's hard to see the total effect. I pick up on little things; a slightly more pronounced calf muscle, less fatigue after a fast interval.

I am reminded that change in all aspects of life follows a similar pattern. Sometimes when you start doing something to grow, something positive, it's effects aren't immediately apparent. From one day to the next you might not feel the impact, but still you wake up every day and you do the work. In the end it comes down to faith, faith that despite how you may feel, despite the setbacks, the interference of the everyday that you are building something. The faith that one day, all of the small incremental changes will add up to something substantial. It won't be an act of luck or fate when this happens but rather the result of faith, determination, and love.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buena Vista x 4

The past few days have offered a brief reprieve from the onslaught of snow and ice of winter. I have been taking full advantage of the warmer temperatures and clear sidewalks to get in some outdoor runs. Last night I planned a trip to the gym for speed work, the only part of my training that I prefer to do on the treadmill. Walking home, however, it became apparent that not taking advantage of 60+ degree in February would be a crime, so I decided on some hill repeats close to home.

I pulled on my shorts and t-shirt soon after I got in the door, with daylight at a premium I wanted to soak in every possible minute. I strapped on my watch and my ipod and headed over a few blocks, up to one of the most daunting local hills, Buena Vista. It's an old cobblestone road connecting the flats of the Mexican War Streets with Perrysville Ave -- and also the most direct route to my best friend's house. For all the times I have travelled this road, I have only run (more aptly run / walked) up it once.

I approached the first ascent with energy and optimism. After climbing the first half of the hill at a fairly decent pace it became apparent that would not prove easy. I struggled to reach the top, and on my way down a woman stopped me, who had been walking up the hill. She commented that my running had made her feel old and out of shape, to which I replied that I was training for a marathon. She said, 'you go girl' which warmed my heart. Little encouragements certainly matter, especially when you are tackling such a large hill!

I descended the hill as night was falling in earnest taking care to not go too fast and strain my quads. I repeated this pattern three more times, each successive time making it a little less far before I had to stop and walk. The promise of a beautiful city scape on the way down kept me going towards the top even when I felt all the energy in my legs give, the oxygen deplete.

Running Buena Vista was the most challenging workout I have done thus far, and I know that the challenging workouts can be the most rewarding in the end.

Friday, February 6, 2009

House of Cards

Training has begun in earnest for the Pittsburgh Marathon -- several weeks in I am starting to feel the beginnings of a routine. This time around I have a much more ambitious training plan as well as a partner to keep me honest and on task, as well as the knowledge of what it really takes to complete 26.2. Still I worry that what I'm doing is not going to be enough, that raw emotion works well to motivate me but I believe it can also be detrimental at times.

I feel like I'm building a house of cards, building layer upon layer with my training runs that can be easily collapsed with an injury, sickness. I worry if I don't run every time I possibly can that something will come up and I won't make my weekly goal. Anxiety. It's part of the building of a new routine, trusting that I will be able to accommodate the unexpected, that I can handle cogs in the works, that missing a run here or there will not mean failing to meet my goal.

So, I sit (or rather run) with this anxiety and work on building my faith in myself, fragile as I am, I have to believe this house of cards is more stable than I imagine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Running to Read Redux

The forecasted 4-8 inches of snow did not materialize this weekend, so I was able to make the drive to Fairmont with minimal stress. I arrived fairly early this year, so I was able to select from the full range of knit cap colors. I went with a nice, bright, lime green with black lettering, though it was hard to pass up the preppier blue and white striped versions. There's always next year!

Snow may have missed Fairmont but in it's place was a steady cold rain, not the kind that drenches you instantly, but rather the kind that falls almost imperceptibly until you realize you are soaked to the core. Not ideal for a 2 hour race, but at least it was warm enough to bear and there was very little ice to speak of. Due to to the conditions outside the majority of the runners stayed in the cozy warmth of the park visitor's center, creating a convivial atmosphere and an adrenaline charged humidity.

The race began at noon after a few words from the organizer. The size of the field was small enough that I was able to reach my ideal pace with a minimum of weaving, and I settled in quickly. In a half marathon I like to start slowly, taking my time and saving my energy for the second half of the race. It's nice to have gas in the tank for a strong finish.

Around mile 2 I developed a cramp, which was worrisome, but I managed to hang on and it dissipated by the 4th mile. I felt good for the rest of the race, especially around the 9th mile when my runner's high kicked into full gear. I finished with a respectable time of 1:50:49, improving on last year's time of 1:52:18 and coming in 4th in my age / gender category.

After grabbing a banana and what may be the best tasting pumpkin roll I've ever had, I headed back to my car to change into warm, dry clothes. I decided to get back on the road and back to the burgh while I was still feeling energetic (and I was craving a Dormont Dog, something not available in the hills of West Virginia).

It was a satisfying race, and a satisfying kick-off to my marathon training. There's a lot of work and a lot of miles ahead of me, but I feel ready and up for the challenge.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Run to Read - Take 2

This weekend (weather permitting), I am venturing down to West Virginia for a half marathon. The half marathon is my favorite distance, enough to get into a groove but not enough to sideline training for a month.

I ran this race last year and discovered the true pleasures of a rural race. I am not one for crowds and loathe the stampede at the beginning of a well attended urban event. I prefer to run where I can keep a few people in my sights for an encouraging smile or nod but can easily set and settle into my own pace.

I remember feeling not quite prepared last year and I feel similarly this year. I think this happens as a result of not focusing on a particular race, not feeling mentally prepared. Physically I am not concerned about completing the distance though race anxiety always seeps into the mix. I will go and do my best, enjoy the long run and the time inside my head. Approach it in the spirit of preparation and cultivation, a soft jump into the full swing of marathon training.

Friday, January 2, 2009


I am not much for New Year's resolutions, though I do believe January is a good month for self cultivation and renewing one's focus. 2008 was a year of deep internal change for me. I started the year with a completely different perspective than I ended it with. I struggled this past year and while that's never something I strive for, I believe through the struggle I have learned some valuable lessons, I've become more intimate and real with myself. For this I am thankful.

Expansion. Making bigger. Growing my universe. That's what I've decided to focus on this year, a dedication to a concept that's larger than any one particular goal. I visualize a path starting from a firm grounded centered and spiraling outwards, tightly connected to my core but allowing for a wider reach, a wider scope.

Ethereal, yes, in the sense that guiding principles often are, but focused nonetheless. I have cultivated a base, of miles, of support, of knowledge and I want to go further with it, run further open myself and my heart further. Unfurl myself without becoming untethered.

The practical will come. For now I'm keeping my head in the clouds and my feet firmly on the ground.