Goodbye February

I was tired before I left for D.C. with a bunch of eighth-graders, so when I got home at 2:30am (Tuesday? Wednesday?) I was exhausted. I took Wednesday off–three hours of sleep would have been wholly insufficient–and then went to work Thursday and Friday, but by Friday night I was so tired, I knew getting up at 6:15 the next morning to go out to Rogue wasn’t in the cards. Instead I planned to run from my house whenever I got up. Turns out, I slept for about 11 hours.

Overnight, temperatures fell below freezing, and since it had been raining or drizzling since the evening before, things were icy, at least in places. Cars and mailboxes had an icy coating, but the driveway and street appeared to be just wet. So I dug out my gloves and fuzzy headband and headed out. I wanted to run six miles–I’d successfully run four and five miles the last two weekends, but with a ten-mile race looming at the end of March, I wanted to bump my mileage a little.

The temperature after I got  home from 6.4 miles

The temperature after I got home from 6.4 miles

My street is asphalt with no sidewalks, and I figured even if there was ice, the rough surface would help me maintain traction. But for the 1.5 miles or so that I ran before crossing into the other neighborhood, I didn’t encounter any ice. Just wind and drizzle, plus a fire truck and an ambulance and two other runners.

For most of my run to the high school and around the block, I ran in the bike lane on the asphalt. I slipped on a small patch of ice one time, but other than that, the roads were indeed just wet.

I started to feel tired around the four-mile mark, and I took a couple of walk breaks. But I couldn’t slow for too long because I got cold pretty fast that way. My legs were numb, but fortunately my calf didn’t hurt.

Icy tree

Icy tree

Once I crossed back into my neighborhood, it was mostly downhill. Not too many people were out and about, although I did see a herd of goats wandering in the dry creekbed. Icicles dangled from house eaves and parked cars still had that icy coating. I’m not sure what the temperature was when I started, but it was 30* when I finished.

I pretty much ran a positive split (reverse negative split?) today, slower every mile, but I’m okay with that. It was my longest pain-free run in a long time, so I’m starting to feel confident that I’m back on-track.

Incidentally, my original plan had been to run in the early afternoon when M and B went to lacrosse practice. But practice was canceled so I went earlier. Turns out I made a good call there–even though it’s a few degrees warmer now, the drizzle has turned to real rain. After going out for tacos, I’m content to sit in front of the fireplace watching Netflix knowing I’ve completed my run for the day.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Even so, February has been exhausting and I’m not sad to see it go. I’m hopeful that March will bring a fresh start, injury-free. And maybe just a liiiiitle warmer too.

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Traveling with teenagers: a different kind of marathon

Every February, a co-worker and I take a group of eighth-graders to Washington D.C. for four days. This year we had 44 students, six parents, two staff members, and the two of us. We travel primarily by tour bus but often walk some distance to and from the sights. I don’t know if we covered a marathon distance during this trip, but all things considered, it felt like we had.

Day One

We met the kids and their parents at the airport at 6am. When we landed in Baltimore just before noon, it was snowing, and what should have been an hour drive into D.C. took 2.5 hours.

After a quick lunch at Union Station, we went to the Newseum. I love this place–they have a chunk of the Berlin Wall, a Pulitzer photography exhibit, and a really moving display on September 11, including the antenna from the top of the World Trade Center and a piece of the Pentagon. We also discovered an additional September 11 exhibit on a different floor–airplane engines, police car door, and people’s personal belongings–cell phones, a wallet, things like that. They also had Tim Russert’s office (complete with that whiteboard from the 2000 election) and a Civil Rights exhibit last time we were there, although I ran out of time to look for them this year.

From there we went to dinner, where I got to see J. She braved the snow to meet us! The last few years we’ve gotten together for a run one of the mornings I’m there, but since she had Achilles surgery in November she’s not back to running yet. Dinner was a worthwhile substitute.

After dinner we went through the Crime Museum, and by the time we came out, the snow had turned to sleet, pretty much icing everything over. D.C. is more prepared than Austin for this kind of weather, but still, sidewalks were slick and roads were not well-plowed. Each time we got on or off the bus, we had to climb over the little mountains of slush and snow that accumulated at the curb. This was easier in snow than slush, but my little Texan kids really didn’t have any idea how to navigate a snowbank.

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Day Two

It was in the 20s when we left for our wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. I took my four participants to check in, and then we walked around to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The marble staircase was roped off, completely covered in ice and snow. A salted walkway about a foot wide snaked from the soldiers’ offices to the tomb, but everything else was icy. We were told the students would not be presenting the wreath from the staircase, but from the side. As always, it was a moving ceremony and my students performed well. From there, we walked around to the other side of the Tomb and waited for the shuttle bus. It seemed to be taking forever, so I decided I’d walk down with anyone who wanted to walk. I think I had about ten kids and two adults, and it was great. Kennedy’s gravesite was closed because of ice, but it was a beautiful walk through a quiet, snow-covered cemetery.

From there we went to Ford’s Theater. They’d had some flooding and the basement exhibits were closed, but they’d opened the second floor and the Presidential box, something I’d never seen before.

After lunch we went to the National Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I also stumbled on a small exhibit about Louis Zamperini, of Unbroken, including the Purple Heart issued to his family after he’d been missing for a year.

Next up was the WWII memorial, which is beautiful by itself but also has excellent views of snow-covered Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. Then we walked across the street and up the hill. We were early for our timed entry to Washington, so I let them play in the snow. My rule is: if it’s got “memorial” in its name, it’s not appropriate. But since this was a monument, and clearly people before us had made snowmen and otherwise tromped around in the snow, I let them get it out of their systems. And then we went to the top of the Washington Monument, something I haven’t done since before the earthquake that damaged it. And the tour guide reminded us that it was, in fact, Washington’s birthday that day.

We visited the Marine Corps War Memorial (AKA the Iwo Jima statue) as the sun began to fall behind it, which makes for a fantastic photo. Then it was on to FDR and MLK (they’re together along the frozen Tidal Basin), where Marine One flew over us as we admired Dr. King. After that we visited the Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial. Lincoln’s marble steps were a bit treacherous and a large section had been cordoned off, but it was still an imposing sight with the fading sunlight in the background.

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When we got to the Einstein statue, I had to issue the warning, “Please do not put your fingers up Einstein’s nose.” That tells you everything you need to know about working with eighth-graders.

For dinner, we were supposed to go on a Potomac cruise, but since the Potomac has been frozen for the last couple of weeks, we ended up just having dinner on the boat while it was docked. I’m not sure the kids noticed much of a difference, since they mostly ate and danced and had fun with their friends.

Day Three

We started our day at the United States Capitol. It’s under significant restoration–apparently the dome was in really bad shape, so it’s covered in scaffolding inside and out, including a big inflatable donut suspended inside the dome. Our guide was excellent–we got to go into the old Supreme Court chamber and both the old Senate and Statuary Hall (which used to be the House chamber) as well. I love that Rosa Parks’ statue is sitting down.

After our tour, we spent 30 minutes taking a panoramic picture in front of the Capitol, which is slightly less photogenic than usual due to the restoration project. The water in front of us was frozen and the wind screaming down Capitol Hill had a wind chill factor in the teens. We were glad to get back on the bus for the drive over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing where we got to see how they make money.

After lunch we went to the Air and Space museum, one of my all-time favorites. The Spirit of St. Louis was sitting in the lobby; Apollo 11’s Columbia capsule and John Glenn’s Mercury capsule had been unceremoniously shoved into the corner. I wandered around with a couple of students: WWI, WWII, the Wright Flyer, the space program, all my favorites.

From there we went to the Holocaust museum. This was my sixth trip, and I’ll tell you, it doesn’t get any easier. It was not crowded so I took some time reading through the exhibits at the beginning–usually mobs of people congregate here and I don’t take the time to really read. This day, I did. Something else new I found was Martin Niemoller’s typewriter–he’s the author of the quote I used in class last week. I forgot until later that they’d said we could take pictures so while I didn’t get a picture of the typewriter, I did take one of his quote projected on the wall a bit later.

After dinner we visited Mr. Jefferson. I enjoy seeing him at night, but temperatures were in the teens and the wind was blowing off the frozen Tidal Basin so we didn’t stay long. We made a quick stop at the Air Force Memorial, which was mere blocks from our hotel, and then we called it a night.

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Day Four

It was ten degrees when we left the hotel. First stop was Starbucks because the adults were feeling the effects of this whirlwind schedule. When we came back out, the kids, imitating our bus driver’s musical choices, sang, “We want, we want Starbucks!” But we overruled them and headed out to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. The sun was out, so barely double-digit temperatures actually weren’t that bad. We wandered throughout the estate, visiting his gravesite, all the outbuildings and quarters, and marveled at the view of the frozen Potomac. Then we took our tour of the house. They’d finished the renovations of the New Room and it looked amazing, but there was scaffolding on the interior staircase and on the roof outside. It’s always something, I guess. All in all, we spent about two hours walking around Mt. Vernon before heading out to the National Cathedral.

Everything I know about cathedrals I learned from reading Pillars of the Earth, but I do know a few random facts: this cathedral took 83 years to complete. Woodrow Wilson is buried there, they have a moonrock from Apollo 11 (Michael Collins had attended the cathedral school) and Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan are interred there. The same earthquake that damaged the Washington Monument also sent bits of cathedral stone crashing to the ground (actually I think they fell onto the roof, but that sounds less interesting) but the gargoyle that looks like Darth Vader apparently was unharmed.

After our tour of the cathedral, we headed back to the White House. We’d seen it out the windows a few times throughout the trip, but we hadn’t been able to stop until today. Because cars are no longer allowed on Pennsylvania Avenue, our driver dropped us off a couple of blocks away. They’ve added another level of barricades, so we couldn’t get up to the wrought-iron fence (when I was a kid I used to stick my camera through the bars to get a clear picture), I guess because of the recent fence-jumpers who have made the news. Security was omnipresent to say the least.

We’d stayed at Mt. Vernon longer than usual and our Cathedral tour ran long as well, so we didn’t have time to go to the National Zoo and see the pandas. Instead, we ventured over to the Pentagon Memorial. Buses also can’t get very close to this one, so he dropped us off and we had to walk across one of the parking lots, through a tunnel (the same one J, K, and I had navigated before the Army Ten-Miler last October), and across another parking lot before reaching the memorial. It’s on a small patch of land facing the spot where the plane hit that day. The side of the Pentagon is slightly discolored from the repair–it’s easy to see where it has been rebuilt. The memorial itself has a wing-shaped bench for each person who died. They face one way if the person was a passenger on the plane, the other way if the person was killed inside the building. They’re organized by birth order and are cross-referenced with other family members to acknowledge that many families were on the plane that day. It’s a somber memorial, perhaps because the event it honors is still so new, but it’s beautiful too. Unfortunately, it was completely closed. The same kind of barricades that had blocked off icy parts of Lincoln and Jefferson blocked the entire entrance to the memorial. I spent a few minutes telling kids what I knew (they were all babies in 2001) and we returned to the bus for the drive back to Baltimore.

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Our flight was scheduled for 7:50 so our drive coincided with rush-hour traffic. We took a bit of a scenic route but made it with plenty of time–the Southwest counter and the security lines were very small. Kids fanned out to get some dinner, and then the airline made an announcement that there was some kind of maintenance issue with the plane that was supposed to arrive for us. They informed us there’d be an indefinite delay. We started having the kids call their parents to tell them to check with the airline before leaving for the airport. About an hour later Southwest announced that they were bringing in a new plane for us and that they hoped to have us in the air by about 10pm. The reactions from this exhausted group of teens ranged from indifference to tears to disappearing to get more food. At some point they moved us to a different gate, and I had to walk the length of the terminal to hunt down a group of boys who had gone to get more ice cream or something.

At the new gate, our kids monopolized one corner of the gate area. I was too tired to deal with getting 44 eighth-graders to get out of the main walkway so I declared “this floor is lava–you stay over there” and that pretty much contained them. Which was good, because while I’ve never run a marathon, I’m guessing it feels a lot like I felt after four days with eighth-graders.

I got home at 2:30am and immediately fell asleep. I woke up about six hours later–not nearly long enough–and worked on unpacking. Later in the morning I figured it was time to start the detox-after-four-days-of-restaurant-food process, so I went for a four-mile run. It was slow, but not as bad as I had feared. And even after all the marathoning walking (in winter clogs, not running shoes!) over the last four days, my feet and calves were sore but not painful. A day wearing compression socks took care of that.

Okay so maybe I didn’t complete the equivalent of a marathon, mileage-wise. But I’ll bet the percentage of people who are successful at 26.2 isn’t terribly different from the percentage of those who take large groups of teenagers halfway across the country. Both events are grueling and exhausting, and I’ll guarantee you’ll never forget either one.

“Texas is a state of mind” –John Steinbeck

Yesterday’s Austin Marathon made national news after the woman who led the race for 26 miles collapsed 50 meters before the finish and crawled the rest of the way. She finished third.

I wasn’t there–we were cheering people up the Enfield hill around the time she finished, but when I saw the story yesterday afternoon, I immediately flashed back to last year’s race.

The weather was much like yesterday–humid overcast, and about 60*–and I had run slower than my month-old half-marathon PR but was on pace to meet my goal time. This year’s course was a bit different, but last year the half and the full marathons met at 15th and San Jacinto, ran up the San Jacinto hill (again), then finished together on Congress Avenue in front of the Capitol. Here’s what I wrote last year:

At this point, the course is divided–marathoners on the left and half-marathoners on the right. I looked over and saw a marathoner struggling. He had a brace on his knee and clutched his shirt in his hand. He was leaning forward, almost sagging, but still running. I thought he might collapse. Another marathoner ran alongside him and offered encouragement, and I moved over toward the divider and did the same. The sign said “800 meters to go.” Bystanders began to notice this man and started cheering louder. I don’t know if he noticed any of it. But I did, and I told myself that if he could do this, I could suck it up and run this damn hill.

As we reached the top, a medic ran out to join him. I was afraid she’d stop him–with 400 meters to go. But as I watched, she looked over at the crowd lined up on the curb and gestured for them to cheer. And cheer they did. It was like a wave of sound following them. I saw that he was in good hands, and as I made the penultimate turn onto 11th Street, I took off. The Capitol on my right, the marathoners–who’d gone twice as far as I had in the same time, let’s remember–on my left, hundreds of people lining the barricades, and nothing but downhill in front of me. I rode the wave down the hill, then turned left onto Congress Avenue, the finish line only a block away. I think I passed a bunch of people, but I can’t be certain. All I know is that as I stopped my Garmin and walked through the finishers’ area, I heard the announcer recognize that marathoner, running in with a medic. I could tell when he crossed the finish line because the crowd cheered like football fans celebrating the winning touchdown. Tears streamed down my face.

Yes, I achieved my goal, and I’m proud of that. But I witnessed something bigger today. Not only this man’s determination and iron will, but the response from hundreds of total strangers at the finish line of a grueling, humid, hilly race profoundly moved me. This is why I do this, y’all, and this is my city.

Yesterday it was a different runner in a different situation, but I have no doubt many others staggered or limped those last yards to the finish line, buoyed by the crowds lining the barricades along Congress Avenue. And that Texas state of mind? Grit, tenacity, and fierce determination.

2014 finish line via youraustinmarathon.com

More cowbell!

This morning, a bunch of running friends lined up at the start of the Austin Marathon/Half Marathon. As the race began, I was just leaving my house with my Rogue friend G–one of the many awesome people who helped me get through the 3M half a month ago. Seeing friendly faces on the course has always made a HUGE difference for me, and I decided that since I wasn’t running Austin, I’d join G’s cheering section.

Our first stop first stop after Starbucks was the five-mile mark at Mary Street and South First. The race was about 45 minutes old and the crowd of runners was enormous! I’m usually a bit further back in the pack so I don’t get this perspective, and it was awesome. I saw two people from work, a current student, and quite a few Rogue friends.

It's fuzzy because everyone was so fast!

It’s fuzzy because everyone was so fast!

From here we drove up to a tough spot on the half-marathon course (sorry full marathoners) right at the Mile 12 marker. It’s a beastly hill on a good day; at Mile 12 it sucks really really badly. Last year G cheered at the bottom of the hill and ran up with a few friends, but somehow I missed her. I fully admit to walking about half of the damn thing last year. This year, I knew I could run it because I hadn’t just run 12 other miles.

When we got there, we immediately found two other friends. G had made a Touch Here for Power! sign and I had a cowbell, so we were nice and obnoxious.

"That damn hill" is a nice way of putting it.

“That damn hill” is a nice way of putting it.

The people next to us had a sign about beer at the finish, and frequently runners would yell, “How about beer NOW?!” as they passed. Lots of runners observed that a giant hill at Mile 12 was cruel, and we agreed. I resisted the urge to shout “You’re almost there” but it was difficult. A mile to go sounds totally doable when you’ve driven from Mile 5 to Mile 12, but I’ve been at the bottom of this hill with a mile to go, and it’s anything but “almost there.”

After a while, I noticed my cowbell had caused a blister on my finger. Clearly, that’s on par with the pain the runners were feeling at Mile 12.

More cowbell!

More cowbell!

Every so often we’d see someone we knew and one of us would run up the hill. G was wearing these fantastic Day of the Dead tights, and once she saw another runner wearing the same ones. She jumped in and ran her up the hill. Turns out, it was her first half marathon and she was alone, tired, and tearful with no friends on the course cheering for her. Until G ran with her and got her to the top. See why I love these people??

Awesome tights!

This picture does not do the hill–or her awesome tights–justice!

After a while, two more friends arrived. They’d run the Paramount 5K and walked up to meet us after they finished. S had a cowbell and really got into it. “Go random stranger!” and “You are amazing!” She declared she was never running again, just cheering.

We got especially loud whenever the Marathon High kids in their orange shirts ran by. These are middle- and high school kids from economically disadvantaged areas who work with Rogue coaches to train for the the Austin half or full marathon. They are amazing! We also saw tutus (mostly on women, but one guy was rocking a Mardi Gras theme), a couple of military guys running with boots and backpacks, and a guy who shaved his chest hair to look like a bikini top. And I didn’t see it at the time, but this one won the sign contest:

When our friend P came into view, we saw that she was running with a friend who was struggling. I ran with P up the hill and A ran with her friend. Man, P had run twelve miles and she beat me to the top! Her friend had been sick, so she waited for her to make sure they finished together. My leg didn’t like the standing-standing-standing-WHOA RUN UP THE HILL! but it held up okay.

We waited for one more friend, walked with her a while, and sent her up the hill and to the finish. Our friends who had run the 5K headed off to the finish line to wait for P. I know a lot of my training group members (the ones who didn’t run the race) were out along the course supporting those who did. I don’t have any desire to run this race again, but I will definitely be out there cheering for those who do.

Happy

It’s no secret that my running has been kind of suck-tastic since mid-November. I ran completed two half-marathons on half-assed training, and it showed. But the last couple of weeks, things were starting to look up, although like I said yesterday, it has been a two steps forward, one step back situation.

This morning I expected no different as I headed out, hoping to run about four miles on a beautiful morning, sunny and in the low 60s. I ran the same route as last weekend, and when I got to the traffic light at the entrance to my neighborhood, I had to wait a minute or so but I remembered to walk across the intersection. So far, so good.

I took a water break at the park around about 1.25 miles, and everything still felt fine, dare I say normal. I ran up to the half-mile trail along the little reservoir, out the other side, and back down the street. This section was mildly hilly (the kind of hills you don’t notice when you’re driving but find all too real on foot) and still, my leg felt fine. Not a twinge, not an ache, nothing. And I wasn’t feeling tired or sluggish either. No “maybe I should walk up that hill” or “how much further??” I just felt … good.

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Instead of taking the direct route back to the park with the water fountain, I headed up a side street and approached the park from the other end, then ran past the playground and picnic area to the water fountain. By this time I’d gone about three miles, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but for weeks I’ve not made it anywhere near this far without some kind of reminder of my injury. And still, nothing hurt.

I had to wait forever at the traffic light, and when it turned, I remembered to start off walking, then gently picked it up halfway through the intersection. More success! The last mile home, I began to think that just maybe, I was going to finish strong, a completely pain-free run.

And I did. 

I ran 4.17 miles. I didn’t hurt. I never felt like I wanted to walk or wondered if I should walk because of discomfort. I was slow because I’m essentially starting over, but I wasn’t sluggish. My steps were light and easy, not heavy and clunky. I don’t remember the last time everything came together the way it did today, even for a relatively short run like this.

And now, coffee. Because I’m happy!

I think this kid sums it up for me:

Maybe, just maybe, I’m okay too.

Red light, green light

I really need to pay more attention.

Not long after my calf started bothering me, back in December, I was running with my friend on a Thursday night. Everything was fine, more or less–a little soreness, but nothing severe. But then we reached a busy intersection and had to wait for traffic to clear one way. We got halfway across and waited at the median. As soon as I pushed off to run across the second half of the road, my calf got that stabbing pain again. I slowed for a bit, and after a half-mile or so it settled down to a dull ache. I never had to walk, but it hurt.

It got worse before it got better, and now I can say that it’s definitely improved overall. But not completely. This past Saturday I had gone about three miles and was on the last stretch home when I had to wait for a traffic light, although I didn’t push the pedestrian button. When the light changed, I took off, but halfway across realized it had already turned yellow, I guess because the sensor thing only saw one car there and was moving things along. As I tried to speed up, there it was again. Not the stabbing ice pick from December, but enough for me to walk a bit. After a quarter-mile or so it felt okay to finish at a run.

Then Tuesday, my last night with this training group, guess what? I had gone about 1.25 miles and got stuck at a traffic light. It was ridiculously long, and when I finally got the Walk sign, I didn’t think. I just took off. And there it was again. Not as sharp and not as painful, but it definitely alerted me to its presence. You think I would have figured it out by now and would pay more attention at traffic lights, huh? It was a little funky the next half-mile or so, but it loosened up and I ended up running four miles.

I asked my sports doctor about it, and he just thought the still-recovering muscle was cooling down at these lights, and the sudden running aggravated it. I’m now supposed to walk before I run when I start moving again after a pause.

Did I remember that yesterday? Of course not.

I had a terrible day at work–too many middle school kids are making some really awful choices right now–and I decided to fire up the headphones and try to pound out some of my frustration and disappointment. Nearly a mile into my run, I didn’t have to wait for a traffic light but I did have to slow to wait for a break in traffic. As I picked up the pace again, that little tweak reminded me, oops I moved too quickly there. It wasn’t sharp and it didn’t make me slow down–I even managed to run (not walk) a small hill on the next street. But really? It’s not like this is an old injury I forgot about. I’m still getting weekly treatment for it, wearing compression sleeves on every run and compression socks for recovery afterward. I have not forgotten that it’s jacked up. Except at intersections, apparently.

Texas winter

My last post, I was excited to run again, even in sucky cold weather. And it was quite sucky five days ago. But as they say, if you don’t like the weather around here, wait a minute and it will change. Which means by the end of the week, my laundry covers at least three seasons.

Tuesday evening was cold and rainy, so I wore long sleeves and long tights. I almost added a water-resistant windbreaker-type jacket but the rain stopped just in time. Thursday it got colder and the wind picked up, which meant a heavier long-sleeved quarter-zip top, long tights, and the jacket and gloves. Saturday morning was grey but not as cold–I went with light long sleeves and capris. This morning? Sunny and almost 70, so I dug out the short sleeves and shorts.

Welcome to winter in Texas.

Thursday. Saturday, Sunday

Thursday –> Saturday –>  Sunday