Reflection

This morning, as we rode our bikes 13.5 miles along the trail and back, I thought about how I wanted to be out there, and how different that was from the old me. Younger Me would not have voluntarily exerted herself by bike-riding the day after running five miles–and would not have considered five miles a relatively short run. Not in a million years with a million dollars riding on it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have never really considered myself an athlete. Yeah, I rode my bike and roller-skated endlessly with neighborhood friends, but I was a tiny kid uninterested in the effort required to play soccer or kickball or whatever other options girls had in the 1970s. During the summers, I competed on a diving team, and I was pretty good at it–I didn’t have to be strong, didn’t need endurance, and my small size actually helped me zing myself off the diving board.

I think I was eight here.

I think I was eight here.

After sixth grade, we moved to Texas, and we almost immediately fulfilled every Texan stereotype (and every little girl’s dream) by buying a couple of horses. But our house wasn’t in a traditional neighborhood–we had two acres, and only two other kids close to my age lived nearby. Unlike in Northern Virginia, pools were limited to neighborhood residents, and my neighborhood didn’t have one. We didn’t have sidewalks either, and there was no nearby school or playground I could bike to. Once school started, I made some friends, but many of them lived miles away or across a busy highway. I spent most summers lazing around, unaccustomed to the Texas heat. My exercise was limited to riding my horse. Not a bad gig, but really, the horse did most of the work.

The summer I turned 14

Me and Rocky

I wasn’t completely sedentary though. We built a pool, and swimming and maintaining it kept me busy. I took dance classes a couple of days a week, both privately and in school P.E. classes. I worked part-time for a weekly newspaper–everything from office stuff to writing and photography. But I wasn’t athletic. And when something went wonky with my knee around ninth grade, it conveniently got me out of any kind of running at school. So I spent most of my downtime watching MTV or reading. Back then if you told me that my friend D would become an Ironman triathlete 20-some years later, I would have believed it in a heartbeat. But if you suggested I might run six (and counting) half marathons, pretty much everyone–including me–would have thought you were mad.

My first two years in college, I lived on campus, so my trek to my classes wasn’t very long. I often took the stairs in my dorm, but my degree didn’t require any P.E. classes and I didn’t really have make time to be active. My last two years, I rode the shuttle from my apartment to school, then walked to class. But I worked around 30-32 hours a week on top of going to school full-time, and I didn’t make much effort for fitness. My clothes fit ok, but I couldn’t have run very far to save my life.

I started teaching in the mid 1990s, and I considered being on my feet all day sufficient exercise. I worked nine- or ten-hour days and often brought work home on top of that. We had a brief fling with a local gym, but we were too busy and too tired. In 2000, I had knee surgery, which gave me more excuses. Not good ones, but ones I took anyway.

Then B was born. I lost weight, then gained some, then lost some over the course of several years. Most pictures from this era have B standing in front of me.

2007

2007

Finally, in 2011, I decided to focus on becoming more healthy, and I downloaded the Couch to 5K app. At first I could barely run the one-minute segments. But eventually I ran a mile, then two, then three without stopping. Between the teenage knee problem and general laziness, I don’t know that I had ever run that far. So I entered my first 5K.

Chuy's 5K, 2011

2011 Chuy’s 5K finishers

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. After three and a half years, running has finally become a habit. I feel lazy when I don’t run–or can’t run–and I find ways to fit exercise into my busy days even when I travel or am recovering from an injury. I’ve gotten up before the crack of dawn to run, I’ve run after dark. I’ve run when it’s over 100 degrees, and I’ve run when it’s below freezing. The day I dragged myself out of my warm bed to run 12 miles of hills when the wind chill was in the teens, people called me hard core. Me. The girl who knew every MTV video by heart. The girl who was always too tired or too busy or had too many excuses. The girl who started running at age 40 and has completed nine races this year–six of them 10K or longer–with at least seven more on the calendar for the fall.

Will run for bling, apparently

Will run for bling, apparently

I sometimes feel inadequate compared to other friends who run, and when it comes up in conversation, I always offer the caveat that yes I run, but I’m slow. Most people respond with things like “But you’re out there, and that’s what counts,” or “You’re doing way better than someone just sitting at home.” But I don’t just want to be better than the person doing nothing. I want more than that, and despite the not insignificant effort I’ve put in since joining my first half-marathon training group, I’m still not where I want to be. I work hard, and I want to see my finishing times drop into a more respectable area. So while I am in the best shape of my adult life, I’m frustrated that after almost four years I’m not thinner/faster/stronger too.

But as I rode 13.5 miles this morning, I thought about how good it felt to be riding with my family, to think of 13 miles as no big deal, to have my legs moving. I powered up the last incline toward the truck, and M said, “Way to finish strong.” I guess this is the new me. And I kind of like her.

Slow and steady

At the moment, I am sitting on my couch with an ice pack on my left IT band and a compression wrap on my right ankle, and I tossed back a couple of ibuprofen with my coffee. I feel like a football player after a game. Maybe I should ice my pitching arm too?

The good news is that it’s all pre-emptive.

Since my first successful post-injury run, I’ve taken it slowly. I have walked, biked, and busted my ass in core class. I ran 2.5 miles on Monday–it was cloudy and drizzly, and I couldn’t pass that up–then 3.2 miles on Wednesday. That second run, the first mile felt strong and awesome, but then my knee twinged a bit during the second mile so I walked on and off and didn’t push it too hard. I stuck to cycling and walking the other days, knowing that Saturday morning would be a pretty big test. I hoped to run five miles pain-free.

The humidity was about a billion and one percent 85% as I headed out. In my early-morning fog I forgot my little sweat towel, which would suck later. And I was testing out some new running clothes–a tank top and skirt. I’m not nine feet tall, though, so it looks a bit different on me than on the Athleta model. ;) I’m not a total running skirt convert yet, but I like the way this one looks on others and thought maybe I could pull it off.

I ran the first mile–slowly, but without any pain. During the second mile, the humidity was killing me and I was already super-sweaty when the skirt’s shorts with the grippy stuff started to slide around a bit, and there was some chafing. After an awkward half-mile, I managed to get it straightened out and it was okay the rest of the way. But this is definitely a short-mileage item–not something I’d wear for a half-marathon or a long run over 5-6 miles. I love the shirt though–it’s some kind of microfiber and felt really comfortable.

On the way out, it’s mostly flat with a couple of downhill sections. I turned around at 2.5 miles, and on the return’s uphills, I walked. I wanted to take it easy on the IT band, and my ankle had been a little sore the last week too, so I thought it would be wise not to push too hard. I ran the last mile back–again, I was slow but pain-free. I’ll call it a win all the way around.

Afterwards I foam-rolled, then did the ice-brace-ibuprofen thing. But I feel pretty confident that I’m on the road to recovery. Slow and steady wins the race gets me back into the game.

 

“It’s 0600 hours. What does the “0” stand for? O my God, it’s early!”

I’m not a morning person.

One of my favorite things about summer vacation is sleeping late–without an alarm, I get up about 2.5 hours later during the summer than I do during the school year. Saturday morning runs at 6:30 are tolerable because I’m able to sleep in the remaining six days of the week. But when I go back to work, those days become inverted. Thus the quote from Good Morning Vietnam is a running joke in my house–once my synapses start firing in the proper sequence and I can recall movie quotes with relative accuracy, anyway.

There’s a lot about my job I really enjoy, but getting up early is not one of them. So I am not excited about the prospect of going back to work next week. And I’m struggling with my IT band injury and gradually getting back into running. I was elated on Thursday when I ran for 20 pain-free minutes, but yesterday’s run was so sluggish and pathetic, I feel like I’m gonna have to start over from square one with my training. I tried to work on speed this summer, and it got me exactly nowhere–and now summer is just about over. I’m trying to make smart decisions and take things slowly, but I’m an instant-gratification kind of girl and I’m frustrated with my progress, or lack thereof, right now.

So along with healing  my knee, I also have to work on changing the dialogue in my head. In many ways, that’s more difficult than physical rehab, but I already tried having a pity party and that didn’t work. So … it’s time to remind myself that I have improved so much over the last three years. Yeah, I’ve had a little setback with the knee, but it seems to be healed now. I have a plan to get back on that improvement train–it just won’t happen the way I originally intended. I have to accept that. Besides, there are bigger problems in the world than mine.

So until next time, Nanu Nanu.

Summer Safari 13.1

In Texas, anyone running more than a few miles starts before the sun comes up–waaaay before the sun comes up. Thus my alarm went off at 4:45 for the Summer Safari 13.1 put on by the Austin chapter of Moms Run This Town.

B and I signed up for this untimed race months ago, before my injury. Because I’m not 100% just yet, I decided to walk the entire distance with a friend, and I’d let B run ahead at his own pace. The day before, the race director called me and asked me to drive the course so that B could familiarize himself with the turns and the intersections, so when we stumbled out the back door of Rogue at 5:45am, he took off, confident.

But Mom of the Year here didn’t think about the fact that it was still dark, and B was wearing a grey shirt and black shorts. No lights. So I wasn’t surprised that about two miles in, we found him waiting for us under a street light because he had been worried about finding his way safely. He decided to walk with us to the turnaround, then run back.

We stopped for water at the 10K turnaround and briefly contemplated bailing for the shorter distance. But I wasn’t interested, so on we went.

Morning sunshine

Morning sunshine

Somewhere around mile four, we saw the sunrise. B began complaining that his foot hurt and he wanted to turn around–wasn’t this a race he could choose his own distance, and weren’t eight miles enough? But because he has a history of taking the easy way out, I told him I thought he was just bored and maybe a little tired, but not really injured. I reminded him that last year’s half-marathon is a huge matter of pride in his life–he put the sticker on his bike, on his school notebook, and on his closet door. And I thought he would later regret not going the whole 13.1. So he kept going. Reluctantly.

Safari animals. Terrifying, yes?

Safari animals are terrifying, yes?

He was briefly distracted by a real-life bunny near the sidewalk, horses in a barn, and what appeared to be a raccoon carcass hanging on a fence, but mostly he just scowled.

He carried my old iPhone 4–it doesn’t have phone service but the GPS still works with the Nike+ app, so he was using that to track his run. When it reached 6.55, he turned back. My Garmin was a bit behind, so Michelle and I kept going until we found the turnaround.

Foot selfie

Foot selfie

By now the sun was up–it had taken us nearly two hours to walk halfway–and my muscles were starting to feel sore. But it was exertion soreness, not knee pain. I kept telling myself that walking it was the right thing to do. And as each mile passed, my aching quads and sore ankles confirmed that decision. By the time we finished, I felt like I had run a half-marathon, not walked one! But finish we did. In four hours and thirteen minutes. B finished about 30 minutes ahead of us.

Finishers!

Finishers!

In the end, I got to say “I told you so!” because B finished strong (he said he sprinted ahead of one of the adult runners at the end) and is glad he completed the full 13.1 distance. He wore his medal most of the morning, but hung it on his medal rack when he went out to ride his bike. Me? I’m sitting on the couch the rest of the day.

The verdict is in

I ran yesterday.

And nothing hurt.

It was the hottest day so far this year in Austin, and I only ran for 20 minutes. But it was the best run I’ve had in a while. Not because of my pace or my distance or any other metric. Just because I got to do it.

IMG_1934.JPG

My goal was 20 minutes–distance didn’t matter.

But it’s not like I’m going to go do something crazy like run a half-marathon this weekend or anything.

Run being the operative word.

Some friends plan to walk the 13.1 miles, and I will probably walk with them. I don’t want to get too cocky and injure myself again, but I really want to get back out there.

As for B, even after we found out the route is different from last summer’s event, he decided that he wants to run the course alone, at his own pace. I’ve always encouraged him to be independent, so I’m not really surprised by his choice. We reviewed the map and course markings, and we talked about how to identify people he can ask for help. Then, because I’ve seen news stories recently about parents who got arrested for leaving kids unattended in public, I even asked him what he would do if someone asked where his parents are. He immediately said, “I’d point out that my mom is a few minutes behind me.” I offered to drive the course in advance, but he just rolled his eyes and said, “No, I’m perfectly capable of following the map.” All righty then.

It’s not the same as running it together, but I don’t want to hold him back if he’s capable of more, you know? Guess I’m not the only overachiever in this family. ;)

Now if you’ll excuse me , I have some celebrating foam rolling to do.

Juuuuust a bit outside

My last run was ten days ago, and I’m starting to get a little twitchy. But after several visits to my sports doctor and a sports massage therapist, I am cautiously optimistic that my knee has improved. So Tuesday night, I really really wanted to go meet my training group even though I knew I should give the knee another day or two of rest.

I texted K, my virtual training partner, and floated the idea. Her responses were so insistent that I’m pretty sure I saw actual smoke coming through my phone. She even brought out the big guns: a video from her three-year old telling me “No!” and a picture of Bobblehead Jobu ordering me to sit down.

IMG_8934[1]

The Jobu reference sparked an exchange of (completely inappropriate) Major League quotes that didn’t solve my problem, but I could make them apply to my knee situation and it made me laugh.

I mean, really:

“Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

“You may run like Hayes, but you hit like shit.”

“I’m pissed off now Jobu. Look, I go to you, I stick up for you. You don’t help me now. I say, ‘Fuck you’ Jobu. I do it myself.”

All that’s left is for me to triumphantly hit the game-winning home run anxiously cross my fingers and try a 20-minute run around my neighborhood tomorrow. Then I’ll either bring home the World Series be able to run-walk 13.1 on Saturday, or get sent back to the minors doctor.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Click on the Bloglovin button on the sidebar to follow me over there!

 

 

 

Dilemma

In a desperate serious effort to rehab my knee, I took the last six days off from running. Instead, I rode my bike a total of 40 miles (over three days) and walked three miles. Today was my third appointment with my sports doctor, and before he went after my knee and IT band with the medieval torture Graston tool, I asked for advice about running this week.

I’m allowed to try again as long as I have a bailout plan. I’m not sure whether I will try to run with my training group, or if I will go the baby-steps route and just run-walk an easy loop around my ‘hood. I could also stick to walking and biking for another week or more–I am willing to dial it all back if it helps my knee heal. I have a relay, two ten-milers, and a half-marathon on the calendar between September and December, and if resting it now allows me to make those races at close to 100%, I’m all for it.

But here’s the real dilemma: a couple of months ago, B and I signed up for an untimed half marathon like the one we ran last summer. It’s pretty informal–some people are even running it as a virtual race. Our only goal was to run-walk it and have fun–and earn that medal. Well, that race is coming up Saturday.

Image via MRTT Austin

Running (or even run-walking) it is out of the question. I have accepted that. So I’m left with three options:

  1. B and I can walk the whole thing. It will likely take us 4.5 hours, but it would meet the goal of completing it together. And we would both earn our medals.
  2. B can run it and try to improve his (Garmin) time from last year, and I can walk it at my own pace. Some other friends are probably going to walk it as well, so I doubt I would be completely on my own. B and I wouldn’t be together, but we’d both finish.
  3. B can run it and I can be his cheerleader, riding my bike to various checkpoints to meet him along the way. I’d let him wear my Garmin and give it all he had. But that leaves me with a medal I didn’t earn.

Last week, when my sacrificing this race became a distinct possibility, he said, “It’s okay Mom. I can run the whole thing and earn medals for both of us.” I think no matter what we decide to do, he will make me proud.

————————————-

If you were in my shoes, what option would you choose?

I’m really over being injured. How do you deal with a setback?

 

My left knee: thwarting fitness since 1984

I don’t know exactly when I injured it–there wasn’t an RGIII moment (Google that at your own peril), I felt no pop or twist or crack, there wasn’t a before and an after. But sometime in eighth or ninth grade, I noticed pain under my left kneecap when I ran the dreaded mile-and-a-half in P.E. class. The unexplained injury and an orthopedist’s note exempting me from running gave me an excuse to half-ass any further attempts at real exercise.

In 2000, I had arthroscopic surgery to clean up some cracked cartilage, which gave me more excuses to maintain comfortable inactivity. But now, with my knee again giving me problems, I am not repeating these old patterns.

After my failed run on Tuesday, my sports doctor recommended I take the rest of the week off from running. The old me might have used that as an excuse to sit around watching Netflix. But this time I found other ways to work on fitness and endurance. Wednesday night M and I biked 12 miles, Thursday I went to core class, and this morning the whole family went back to the trail for a 13.5-mile bike ride.

It was another unseasonably cool morning–75* when we left the house at 10am–and I was disappointed to miss a nicer-than-usual-for-this-time-of-year running morning due to this frustrating knee problem. But a bike ride with the family turned out to be a pleasant substitute.

We started at mile marker 0.0. The first three miles follow a wide concrete path I’ve run a hundred times. Today it was crowded with cyclists, runners, and walkers, so we had to be careful. I taught B to announce “On your left!” before he passed someone, and for the most part people stayed out of each other’s way. A couple of times, dog-walkers allowed their leashes to extend far enough for the dog to become an obstacle, and occasionally families walked three abreast, leaving no room to pass. And once, on a bridge just around a blind corner, a toddler wandered from one side of the bridge to the other, right in front of me. I was scared I’d take him out, but I managed to stop in time.

IMG_8909[1]

B was a bit disadvantaged on his one-speed BMX bike. The trail has quite a few up- and downhills where I changed gears, but he was stuck either windmilling his legs or struggling up a hill. But he powered through with only a few complaints.

The other day, we turned around just short of the six-mile marker. Today we decided to see what the next mile or so of the trail looked like, thinking we’d turn around at seven miles. Turns out, it ends just past the 6.75 marker. So that’s where we turned back, giving us 13.5 for the day. A half-marathon!

I’m still frustrated by my knee, but I’m holding out (perhaps irrational) hope that I will see improvement after another week of treatment, and that it’s not a recurrence of that 30-year old problem. And if I’m lucky, I can run next week.

If I’m lucky. That’s a far cry from the way the old me would have handled an injury. I suppose with age comes enlightenment. But with age also comes the realization that 1984 was thirty years ago.

I’m kinda shocked too, guys. 

 

The Zombie Apocalypse

Next weekend I’m supposed to run an informal, untimed half marathon with B. He’s 11, and we ran this race last summer too. He’s extremely proud of this accomplishment–and rightly so. He’s also earned age-group awards in several 5Ks, and he completed his first triathlon earlier this summer. But I started running in 2011, so he was eight when we entered our first race. We never did the running stroller thing, so take the rest of this post with a grain of salt.

This summer, I’ve run (or biked–which I did last night, thanks to the knee situation) on a trail popular with families, and many times I encountered parents pushing kids in running strollers. I am impressed by this–in the summer heat, or uphill, it’s hard enough to drag myself along at a respectable pace, let alone doing so while pushing another human or two. I think it’s great that parents bring their kids out to the trails–they’re setting a positive example of health and fitness, and they’re sharing time outdoors. Win-win, right?

Not quite. More often than not, the kid(s) in the stroller are glued to Mom or Dad’s phone. The device shrieks game sounds or kids’ movies as they ride along. The kid is in one world, the parent in another.

Running with B isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but it’s time we spend together. He loves to chat about his Minecraft worlds, Iron Man suit designs, and books he’s reading. Sometimes he grumbles and complains, and he runs ahead to be by himself for a while. But good run or bad, it’s a shared experience–two people not just in the same place at the same time, but slogging along together. Maybe it’s easier for me because he’s older, maybe it’s because he’s an only child and has always been good at entertaining  himself with limited access to digital devices. But I think handing the kid a screen (“sit here and watch this passively”) negates the message parents are trying to send by taking the kid along in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m no technophobe. I got an email account back when AOL (on dialup) charged by the minute. My first cell phone came with something like 50 minutes of talk time a month, and all it did was make phone calls. I’ve had an iPhone since its first generation, and I pink-puffy-heart love unlimited texting. I wrote part of this post on my iPad. In elementary school, B started with a basic Kindle and recently upgraded to the Kindle Fire. He also has his own laptop. He’s allowed unlimited reading time on his Kindle, but one hour a day of game/computer/Wii time. I am competent with all kinds of technology available in my classroom, and I’m often the one asked to troubleshoot tech problems around my corner of campus. So I understand that these devices are completely integrated into our society these days, and in many ways I embrace it. There’s nothing like taking a digital tour around the setting of a book my students are reading, or having answers at my fingertips.

But as a teacher, I also see negative effects of constant digital access. Many of my middle school students can’t focus on reading a short story or an article for  more than 20 or 30 seconds (yes, I’ve timed it). Twenty minutes of independent reading is beyond some of them. They announce, “I don’t read, unless it’s the cheat codes to a video game.” They complain that they’re not allowed to text in class, and they beg administrators to allow them to use their phones at lunch “so that we will be quiet.” Students texting in class became such a problem at a local high school that the principal banned phone use during class time (still allowing them access between classes) and there was an uproar so mighty that it warranted an article in the newspaper. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t see a huge leap between regularly handing a small child a phone to keep him occupied in a stroller and a later inability to pay attention to the analog world of school and life.

So yeah, I’m troubled by this.

When I run alone, I listen to podcasts or music. I’ve learned obscure trivia from Stuff You Should Know, and I’ve laughed out loud to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I enjoy both of those podcasts–when I’m by myself. But any time I run with someone else–my kid, my spouse, my running buddies–I leave it all behind. We definitely don’t talk 100% of the time, but I think the shared experience is important. Not just parallel experience where we’re doing the same activity within our own bubbles, but actually sharing the experience. I mean, I’ve got some fantastic memories–G’s stories during the Army Ten-Miler. K’s dancing through mile five of the Cleveland half. Getting J across the finish line of our self-proclaimed Achilles Heel 10K. Listening to B describe every Iron Man suit ever designed. Laughing while S and P invent some kind of runners’ diaper. Trying to figure out if A used “fuck” as all eight parts of speech. And the list goes on. For me, running with others isn’t just about completing the distance. It’s about friendship. Is that too touchy-feely, new-age, idealistic of me?

Some of you might think I just don’t understand, that parents want an hour to run in peace, and giving a kid an iPhone in the stroller makes that happen. And some might justify it by saying the kids are playing educational games. Others might say that since I’ve never run with a kid in a stroller, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Yet others dismiss me as a fuddy-duddy English teacher stuck in the last century, staring over her half-glasses while grumbling about “kids today!” Fair enough. But instead of focusing on reasons I’m wrong, try looking at your next run with your child(ren) not as something they have to endure, but as something you can do together. That hour-long run is an hour you and your kids have to observe the world around you, to chat about anything, or about nothing. No educational game can do that. An hour of silent, glassy-eyed staring at a screen can’t do that.

 

We have seen the Zombie Apocalypse, and it is us.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 247 other followers

%d bloggers like this: