The Best Way to Travel: 16 Years of Running Adventures

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16 years of running adventures

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Cross Country Spikes and Sore Calves: An Indoor 5k

Quite often, I see Eleanor Roosevelt quoted for advising us to do one thing each day that scares us. I think this is good advice, and I try to challenge myself to leave my comfort zone, maybe not each day, but regularly. Sometimes this means doing a long run alone, and sometimes this means addressing a tough situation at work. Most often my “one thing” is related to running or racing: the sport is a sanctioned, socially acceptable, and for me, much-needed competitive, and adrenaline outlet. A few weeks back, I’d really botched up the entries to a high school meet, and was feeling (what I assume is a rather universal runner impulse, but may not be as universal as I tell myself) the need to make peace with, or atone for that. I signed up for the USATF-New England Championships. The entry time for the 5k was 19:15. I’ve run under 19 before, but only once since college (and I’m not sure that course was accurate… or, more honestly, I don’t think that course was accurate), and for several years in college, while racing regularly, hammering a long run, doing tempo miles and Jack Daniels “rep pace” and “V02 workouts” (talk about one thing that scared me…), I couldn’t break 19:19. Since there was no date limit for the seed times, I put in my college PR (fairly certain that since I can’t squeak under :42 in an all-out 200 anymore, I wasn’t going to be sailing through the mile in 5:48 these days…). This race, on a track, with the very real possibility that I’d not only be lapped, but would also come in last (very publicly) was definitely something that scared me. I think that’s actually part of why it appealed to my atonement urge.

In the weeks after signing up for the race, I kept checking the USATF-NE website hoping that I’d see my time had been rejected for being too old. I thought about how I could do a long run with my friend, maybe sleep in a little to celebrate the beginning of February break from school, focus more on some of the marathon workouts I’ve been getting excited about reading on fellow Oiselle teammates’ tweets…. In the end, though, I saw my name and my 8 year old seed time on the “entrants” list, and my boyfriend and I headed to Boston for Harvard’s banked track, dinners with old friends, and some sight-seeing. On our Sunday drive up to Cambridge, I was cranky, I drove faster than I needed to, obsessed about my tight SI joint and half-hoped I’d gotten the date wrong and we could just skip the meet and go right to lunch at my friend’s brand new Back Bay apartment.

There were 11 women in the race, no start list, and a 25 on the lap counter. I was seeded 7th, but I had no idea if the women behind me had run 18:42 three weeks ago or had taken advantage of the lack of expiration date like I had. I kept telling my boyfriend I thought I’d come in last. I changed my shorts back and forth a few times. I did strides in my 12-year-old cross country spikes (sorry, Harvard!), I thought about racing in my trainers, and then I tried to convince myself that 25 laps was “nothing.”

I didn’t come in last. I didn’t even get splits for myself. I started in last and moved up. I got lapped, more than once, by the woman who won, I lapped someone, and I outkicked a college girl. This made me excited, not because I want to demoralize 19 year olds, but because I have no leg speed and I did exactly what I tell my high school kids to do: I sat on her until 75 meters to go, swung around her on the banked curve, and ran like a maniac until I crossed the line. (I actually saw her crying after the race, so this took away from my excitement a little bit. It was the first time I’d raced against anyone other than recreational runners in years, and I’d forgotten how in college, it’s not easy to shrug off an off day or congratulate a greying weirdo in cross country spikes.) After the race, I shuffled a cool down, ran into a former athlete who was there to run the mile, and couldn’t stop smiling. I slowed down massively the last mile (I ran through 2 miles in 12:14 and finished in 19:38!), my calves were already screaming at me, my weekly mileage was shot (because, let’s be honset, my college coach still refers to the “AP cooldown,” or, the shortest distance from Chicago’s outdoor track to the locker room, and all my Type-A tendencies aside, I’ve never really been of the “five mile cooldown” disposition), and I had a pounding headache, but… I ran a race on a banked track, in spikes, at almost 30 years old and no speedwork, in the middle of marathon training and I actually think it was an indoor PR!

I have been having so much fun wearing the Oiselle uniform. I feel like I’m accountable to someone, I’m inspired by the other women on the team, and, I didn’t feel quite as shabby next to the GBTC and New Balance Boston women as I might have in whatever outfit I’d have pulled together on my own.

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing (the only running I did was very easy and included stops for photos along the Charles) and kicking off school break. Now, sitting in front of a fire, sipping wine, with dinner in the oven, I’m feeling particularly thankful for a weekend that managed to include something that terrified me, old friends, good food, and extremely sore calves.

Tempo by Necessity

Yesterday was a warm version of a typical February day in Connecticut. We’ve had mild weather all winter, so I have been spoiled (part of the reason I decided I had to do Providence this spring–who knows when I’ll get this little snow and ice in a New England winter again?), and yesterday’s 37 degree rain did not make me quick to get out the door. Usually I run right after school, either at practice with the kids I coach, or after they’re done, but before I ever step foot in my house and start thinking about all the organizing I could be doing or snacks I should be eating. Yesterday, though, I went to the grocery store, cleaned up my room a little, engaged in some of my typically paralyzing attempts to make a decision (the treadmill or outside? music or no music? a fartlek or a tempo run? strides or 200s on the track?). By the time I got out the door, I had 64 minutes before my friend planned to arrive for a dinner that I had yet to start cooking.

Thirteen minutes into my run, headed in the direction of the local high school track, I decided I’d just pick up the pace, maybe do, like, a tempo mile, recover a bit, do an actual measured mile, a few 200s and head home fresh and rested for my terrifying indoor 5k this Saturday and with plenty of time to get the veggies roasting and the dishwasher emptied.

I felt fantastic. I ran 5:00 hard hard, and even ran the recovery hard. I decided to change plans and do something like 4 x 1200 (this used to be my absolute least favorite workout in college, and every time it was on our schedule, I’d start getting nervous for Wednesday practice on Monday morning). By the end of the 2nd 5:00 segment, I felt really strong.

Somewhere in the oxygen depletion or the Rhianna or something, though, I got turned around. King Street became Williams Street which then hit Kings Highway which, in the near-dark and through Rhianna’s voice, and a minute or two into my 3rd fake 1200, looked like the same thing as King Street… and all of a sudden I was in another town. I asked some texting-while-driving teenage girls for help, but when the directions I was asking for were in another town, they looked genuinely alarmed, and just kept telling me how far I was from where I was trying to go. The minutes we stood there in the rain, my watch still running (dammnit! I had such a good run and I wanted to measure the route and feel all justified in my soreness today) were cutting into my brussel sprout roasting time, and then into my shower time. By the time I took off toward home, in what I knew was not the most direct route, but the only one we’d been able to communicate with one another, I had about 25 minutes to run what I thought was probably about 23 minutes worth of running, and, if I was lucky shower, or at least get rid of my two-day-old coffee cup in the sink.

The way home was magical. I ran fast, I felt good. It was getting dark, and I was worried about the headphones and the traffic and the rain, but I was also really excited to be in good enough shape to decide, “well, instead of 2 more fake 1200s, I’m going to do a 23 minute tempo run right now.” At various points along the way, I checked my watch, and as I saw I was building enough of a cushion to at least take off my wet shoes before my friend pulled up, I started thinking about the more primal aspect of running.

I am not one of those runners who signs up for Warrior Dashes, or even really likes to run on grass in cross country. I will admit to using the treadmill when it’s much under 30 degrees out, but in the runners-high-I’m-going-to-make-it/Rhianna euphoria, I thought “this is why I run! So I can survive! And get to people quickly!” (I pushed the realization that in addition to obviously having absolutely no sense of direction, I can not do a pull-up, or even a push-up, really, from my mind, under the pretense that I’d never need those kind of survival skills).

I made it home in time to take off my shoes, empty the dishwasher, put the dirty coffee  mug in, and throw on yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Dinner tasted running-hungry-amazing, and my legs were so tired that they woke me up all night long. I’m happy.

Friday Trails

One of the hardest things about coaching is the emotional investment in, not just individual performances, but the team’s performance. To be honest, I’d always been part of teams that were pretty good. The huge disclaimers here are that I went to high school in a small state where the level of competition was only okay, and I went to a Division III college (and, while I will praise DIII athletics ’till I’m blue in the face, I don’t want to pretend I ran for Villanova!). But, being part of teams that were good, I took a few things for granted: 1) never having to double. I ran the 3200 and then the 10k. I got my job done and scored a few points and went home. 2) a disappointing meet still being respectable and 3) having the luxury to obsess over my own race rather than the team score. Even on my high school team, I don’t think I was ever the top finisher, and the times when my place ended up being integral, it was only after the fact (winning the state meet by one point!) that I realized it.

Coaching is different. I coach a small team at a high school in the largest state class. I write workouts for the boy and girl distance runners, but I’m the head coach of the girls indoor track team, so even though I never watched a field event (just being honest) in all those years of competitive running, I also need to at least have an idea as to whether someone can reasonably run the 4×2, the 55 Hurdles and High Jump in the same day. (If that someone is mortal, and both the 4×2 and the girls HJ fall at the beginning of the meet rather than the end, probably not).

Anyway, last week, we had our league meet on a Thursday night. We didn’t score as many points as I’d thought we might, and we didn’t get back to school until after 11. I’d had trouble sleeping the night before, worrying about the lineup, the logistics of the bus ride (I hate logistics. All logistics.), the jewelry rule, people false starting, and then, some of these fears actually came true… and I spent the whole night after the meet dreaming about being called to the clerking table and explaining my decisions to hypothetical angry athletes and parents, and I woke up on Friday morning feeling not at all like I wanted to go teach all day.

I had more caffeine than is healthy (I worry recently that the guy who works at my local Dunkin’ Donuts is judging me from my recent move from medium to large coffee, and with it, the move from one sugar to two), and somehow trudged through the day, but as the periods crawled past, the track workout I’d stolen from Oiselle teammate Amanda Lee’s twitter account was looking less and less likely. When my friend asked if I’d like to go for a trail run and end at a quaint Olde Newe Englande Inne, I said yes.

We ran trails I’d explored a few years ago. The weather was warm. My headahce disappeared as we ran. We ended in, yes, an old inn, in front of a fire, and caught up over beer. The trails felt like all of the trail running stereotypes I’ve ever heard: freeing, grounding, humbling, etc. No watch, no pace to keep, no cars…. But, I noticed something: I have a lot of trouble running down hills. I don’t actually run down hills on trails. I gingerly pick my way past rocks. At one point, about ten minutes into the run, I turned my ankle and stopped, making a big production of rolling it around and limping a few steps before saying “Okay, I think we can go on.”

Redding Road HouseKristin didn’t say anything, and we ran for about an hour after that. Over beers, though, she told her husband, who’d met us there, the story. She started off with, “the funniest part of the run was,” and trying to remember what might have been funny on our run, I turned to listen. “When Amanda rolled her ankle about ten minutes into the run.” She paused, looking at me, laughing, “and, you know, I know Amanda. She’s a tough runner. And she says, ‘okay, I think we can go on.’ I didn’t say anything, like, ‘uh, of course we’re going to go on?’ but, a few minutes later, she’s blowing her nose in her shirt, and I’m like ‘there’s the Amanda I know!'” I am a tough runner. But, I’m also really afraid of wiping out.

The next time I ran on (flatter) trails, I was again filled with the freedom cliches (it was again the Friday after a LONG track meet). There is something not so freeing, though, about being unable to run down a hill. Kristin kept advising me to relax, to be floppy, to just let myself fly, to stop stopping myself. There’s another cliche here, of course: that running trails is a metaphor for life.

Kristin wants to run trails every other Friday between now and Leatherman’s Loop.

Flight

My high school was laid out so that the foreign language and English classrooms overlooked the athletic fields. The French rooms provided the best view of the track. Because my family lived in Switzerland for two years when I was … Continue reading