Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dangers of running in bad weather go beyond the actual conditions

If throwing up wasn't going to stop me from running and keeping my holiday streak alive, then the blizzard conditions that hit Des Moines on Dec. 19-20 weren't going to, either.

My backup plan, if I couldn't manage to run a mile around the apartment complex parking lot, was to run up and down the building's halls, just like the kids upstairs do on occasion. (Though thankfully not when I'm trying to sleep. No judgment here.)

Those two laps around the lot were neither fast nor pretty, but they did happen, and as I drove to work that afternoon I observed that I wasn't the only runner braving the conditions. To counter any middle fingers or angry honks these folks probably received, I waved vigorously at them and gave a thumbs-up — even though I'm sure they couldn't see.

That hunch became less of a suspicion and more of a conviction when I went on Facebook that night. One acquaintance had posted: "I appreciate a good workout/run as much as the next person, but to the 3 people I saw out for a run this morning — relax and take a day off!"; one of his friends had chimed in: "Seriously, if you really want to get an outdoor workout in today, make yourself useful and shovel someone out!"

And I began thinking again of the people I'd passed during my two parking lot laps: scraping off cars, blowing off sidewalks ... glaring at me? I hadn't sensed malevolence, but I sure hadn't wanted to call attention to myself, either.

It reminded me, on a much smaller scale, of Mark Remy's piece in Runner's World's post-NYC Marathon cancellation analysis. I haven't found it online, but the headline sums it up: "Are We Running in a Bubble?" 

The point is that while generally people don't sit around and fume over marathoners' perceived smugness as a group, the resentment is there, simmering — then exploding in such a situation as allowing a race to go through a community demolished by a freak storm — while marathoners themselves receive constant affirmation in their "closed system."

Don't believe it? "Recipe for Resentment: Claims of Running Prowess," posted on The New York Times' Well blog, addresses that same disdain in regards to the (disputed) recent study that running too fast and too long is actually bad for your health.

I wasn't inspired to write this post in order to defend us poor, despised runners. Like Remy, like the other authors of the NYC Marathon piece, like the marathoners who'd registered for the race long before Superstorm Sandy was on the radar, I was just surprised — and yet unsurprised, as a former nonrunner — at the sneers.

Surprised, because I didn't blather on to anyone, in person or online, about how I needed to go running and how this blizzard was really cramping my style. Surprised, because plenty of other people surely did weather-inappropriate "frivolous" things (while not shoveling anyone else out). Surprised, because I waved at cars — and snowblower operators — to indicate that I was moving off to the side to accommodate them, rather than demand all the space for myself.

And a week later, as fresh snow fell lightly, surprised at the disdain because of the smiling, encouraging folks who were doing outdoor chores as I ran past, who waved and apologized for being in the sidewalk. After online hate, it was nice to see real-life nice.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Celebrating the little things at Christmas

Christmas, once I made it out of central Iowa, was a low-key affair — much-needed after the stress of a blizzard right before the holidays in a town full of transplants.

The closer I got to home, the more my spirits rose, and not just because my drive was about to conclude with three happy family members and three beloved pets. It was also the sight of my country roads ... my snow-free, ice-free country roads.

I may have been slightly loopy from getting up at 6:15 a.m. and not having stopped in almost 2.5 hours, but a big silly grin crossed my face: "I can't wait to go running!" I told the empty car.

Of course, the urge to run was the strongest when I was least able to act upon it, and it weakened as I spent more time near a woodburning stove in my PJs. What, besides my still-living holiday running streak, got me out the door?

Premonitions of the big meals that lay ahead. And a rare chance for a naked run.

In Des Moines, I bring keys and a cellphone every time I run. There's no one who can open the door for me, or who can go looking for me should I fail to return, back at my apartment. (The cat definitely cares; he just lacks opposable thumbs and necessary skills to do these things.)

I don't resent it, because it's better than the alternative — being stranded, or spending the entire run worrying. But I sure don't mind only stuffing a Kleenex, or the gloves that I no longer need, in my pocket, and having my hands free.

In fact, it wasn't just laziness that kept me from venturing out farther and on more daunting hills than the ones in my neighborhood. It was the sense of obligation to bring my phone if I left a small neighborhood with a sometimes-obeyed 25 mph speed limit.

OK, it was laziness. But of my arms, not my legs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I ran/walked 900 miles this year, no big deal

With two weeks left in the year, I reached my downwardly revised goal of 900 miles for the year.

I was at 894.74 through Sunday, so Monday — my day off — seemed to be a good time to cross that line. So after much trial-and-error in planning a long-enough route, I got myself out the door, onto the trail and across the 900-mile marker.

It was just like any other unremarkable milestone (turning 20, turning 25, reaching 100,000 on your car's odometer, etc.), in that it happened without fanfare. Heading in, I'd felt like maybe a sparkler should go off.

It didn't. I knew I'd achieved the goal, but I didn't spend much time congratulating myself on it — one text, only because someone else had texted me good news before; one brag on Daily Mile. Mostly I wondered: What's next? That is, how much closer can I get to 1,000 before 2013?

Poor 900. First it was a consolation prize, now it's a stepping stone. My gaze has moved on to 925 ...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The run streak and the runner are still alive

On Thursday — the beginning of week four of the Holiday Run Streak — I was bursting with confidence. My streak and, more importantly, my motivation hadn't faltered.

There'd been days, of course, where I sat on my couch and listened to my legs muscles grumble, and I thought: "I can't WAIT for this to be over." (If the muscles were shrieking, I'd quit, but they're just occasionally a little bit whiny.)

But there were also days where I'd squeeze in a short run before work and find myself beaming at the end. Without the streak to push me, I wouldn't have gone into the cold any earlier than I had to, and without the streak, I wouldn't have appreciated that early-winter crispness.

All that said, though, it had been a long time since I put my streak in any real peril — Thanksgiving weekend, with all the visitors, was the last threat. And week four marked the slightly-more-than-halfway point: New Year's Day falls on a Tuesday, meaning that week (number six) isn't a full one.

I got this, I thought on Friday. What should I run this weekend? Maybe an easy threeish-miler on Saturday and four-plus on Sunday?

Then Saturday hit with a vengeance. My stomach was in such turmoil that I was turned back from work upon arrival.

There'd been no way I could run before work, because most movement accelerated the nausea, and as I hunkered down for my first of two multihour naps that afternoon, I accepted that a run was just not likely to happen, and that it was OK. I could start a new streak Sunday, once my insides calmed down.

After the three-hour nap ended, I gingerly sat up for a while, watched "The Big Bang Theory," read a little bit, tossed my cookies once more ... and noticed how calm my stomach seemed once it had emptied itself yet again.

Dare I even think ... ? Daylight was beginning to fade, and as my nausea seemed to be cyclical, that moment was probably the most auspicious one I was going to have for the rest of the evening.

Plus, what was I out? I'd thrown up enough over the course of the day that one more didn't matter — it wasn't like I was possibly going to break a no-vomit streak.

So I did it. I laced up and headed out. I didn't push myself, yet finished in less than 10 minutes. The stomach situation didn't worsen. No one from work drove past and honked and yelled: "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SICK!" And my streak lived to see another day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snide radio guest: Even running is good for your brain!

I was listening to Iowa Public Radio on the way to work recently, fully enjoying the discussion about the positive effects of exercise on the brain.

Until guest Adele Diamond uttered the following phrase, that is: " ... even something as mindless as running."

I've complained about running-bashers before while always admitting that I used to be one, but most of the haters (pre-2009 Sadye included) focus on how much it must suck/does suck for them.

What's worse, being told your hobby sucks or being told that it's boring? People who ascribe to the theory that indifference is more hurtful than hatred — which I think holds true — probably would go for the latter.

Absolutely I daydream and zone out while running, unlike those who've told me or written about solving personal problems, talking with God, etc., when they're out; absolutely I take a more simplistic approach to running compared with those who focus hard on speed, heart rate, form, etc., as they go.

But that's just it: There can be and is plenty mindful about running. There's strategy and macrolevel story lines in it, just like in any sport. Runners aren't just slimmed-down oxen, plodding along with drool dripping down their faces. (Though spittle is a common sight at races or running routes.)

I promise that my feelings weren't actually hurt by Adele Diamond's offhand remark, and that I still applaud her research and its findings. But still — I rolled my eyes at her hard.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The experience of running just a mile

When I first told my friend Marco that I was embarking on the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak and explained the rules, his reaction was: "Yeah, but if you're a runner, you won't be able to run just a mile."

Marco underestimates my ability to dawdle before work, apparently, but he was right — sort of — that running a single mile would feel weird.

First of all, as Doug pointed out, it seems like it takes you longer to change into running clothes and get out the door than it does to actually run that mile. And with the exception of my PR-setting mile, these ultra-short runs don't make me break a sweat ... more like a gentle glow.

Why does this surprise me? Well, it doesn't exactly shock me, but it does stand in stark contrast to my memories of the mile run in middle school — which was probably the last time before fall 2008 that I ran a full mile.

God, did the mile feel long then. I was completely unathletic and as self-conscious as all of us were during adolescence, so not only did I turn beet red and sweat up a storm, but I also nearly died of embarrassment from doing so.

You had to go around the playground four times. Four whole times. So not only was I miserable — breathless, crampy, hot, sweaty — but I was also bored out of my mind, and I didn't have the lung capacity to chat with anyone to break up the monotony, either.

Basically, it felt like some of the rougher stretches of the half marathons I've done, only with the perceived judgment/mockery of an entire school full of adolescents. (Give me the blistery, limpy, gut-achey miles I've trudged in my first and third half marathons any day over that.)

I compare this now with my out-and-back miles, during which the first half-mile is often over before I even notice. How dry everything but probably my pits and the roots of my hair are. How my breathing is normal by the time I walk from the stoplight where I always begin/end to my door.

How I can let my mind wander far, far away from the act of running, yet spend too little time to have a full range of daydreams (only one or two topics, far fewer than the dozens that float through my head on a longer run).

Running just a mile is weird. I don't feel any more deprived than I do any other time I'm out in beautiful weather or on fresh legs — I just don't feel like I've exerted much effort.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My 11th check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

The last month of the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge should be the easiest, thanks to the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak — I'll have double the guilt trip to put the running shoes on and get going.

Where I stood as the calendar page flipped: about 855 miles. I'd hoped to finish November at a point where a single mile per day would get me to 900; instead, it'll take 1.5 miles a day to get there.

I'm not worried, though. I'll still break 900. And the challenge's full name on Daily Mile starts with "everyone wins." So being a member of the generation that proudly displays its participation awards, I'm perfectly happy with just having joined a challenge.

On a less sarcastic note, my old running buddy and supporter Doug finished November by truly winning the 1000 Mile Challenge: 1,002 miles achieved on Friday. There were injuries and training readjustments along the way, if I recall correctly, which makes it even more awesome. Way to go, Doug!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Attempting a 2012 goal for the first time since February

Throughout the Holiday Run Streak – now at 11, assuming (safely) that I run today — I've thought to myself: "At least one of the single-mile runs I do should be fast." While I have no qualms about using one slow mile as a stand-in for a rest day, I don't want to baby myself, either.

Yesterday was my first such attempt. Having been out late the night before, my hopes were not high. I knew that, with moderate effort, I could most likely finish in less than nine minutes, though.

Off I went. The first quarter-mile, I succeeded in keeping the pace I do on my faster intervals. The wind and the yogurt I'd eaten pre-run were mostly vague irritants more than hindrances.

As I've mentioned before, in my four years of running, I still haven't nailed "don't go out too fast and totally wipe yourself out." During the second quarter-mile, I felt cautiously optimistic that this was a good pacing day; I wasn't going to sustain this pace for 5K, but it was comfortably hard rather than excruciating.

I turned around at the half-mile mark. No surprise, then, that my legs felt the heaviest during the third quarter-mile. My lungs weren't exactly happy with me, either. However, my ego was doing just fine, having seen that I'd done a little over a half-mile in 4:10. The very likely positive split wouldn't keep me from finishing under 9:00.

The desire to get this over with powered me through the final quarter-mile. I've found "you can do anything for two minutes" to be a pretty powerful positive self-talk, so I went to that well almost nonstop during the final 0.25. I was sucking air fairly hard, but even worse was how the morning's yogurt and the previous night's alcohol were sloshing around in my stomach.

Finally I hit 1.00. My time? 7:57.

Let me repeat: 7:57.

Back in February, I'd set three running goals for myself: finish the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge, run a mile in 8:00 and average a 9:00 pace for a 5K (which I'd forgotten about, until re-reading my blog post).

At the time, I'm sure I expected to succeed in the first and fail at the second two. But as it stands right now, I've missed the first and nailed the second two. (Remember the Remembrance Run 5K?)

Plus, I've done more than survive the two speed challenges. I've finished maybe not with a smile, but with a great rush of endorphins and that ridiculous feeling that I can do anything once I get into some dry clothes and chug a big glass of water.

I'm still pinching myself: 7:57. I hope my gym teachers are reading this.