Monday, November 1, 2010

(Re) Learning Old Tricks

My 10th half-marathon was not only a dismal event but a huge cosmic butt-kick. Yet another reminder that in running, as in life, there are few short-cuts.

If my three decades of running have taught me anything it's that I am constantly re-learning the basics. The kindergarten rules that new runners need to keep in mind are not just for newbies.  They're also for seasoned runners like me who think they know it all and can just coast on that knowledge.

This was the third time in four years that I participated in the hilly Run Like Hell Half-Marathon in downtown Portland. Leading up to last year's race I used a 14-week training program that helped me achieve a solid performance of 1:46. I intended to use this same program this year.

Key word being "intended." I kept meaning to do all of the workouts but life seemed to get in the way.  Or that's what I told myself.  Instead of incorporating runs of up to seven miles at my projected half-marathon pace, I found myself cutting those down to three or four. Sometimes I just didn't have it in me.  Other times I had my mind on something besides the run.

My daughter's wedding took place three weeks before the race but not in our neck of the woods.  Carol was married in South Carolina, a daunting 3,000 miles away.  This meant travel by airplane, a grave insult to my lower back. Not to mention the stress of the event, albeit a happy one.

When I lined up with 1,100 other folks last Sunday morning it was rainy and windy.  Yet another excuse to cling to. But three miles into the race at the point where I usually begin to feel the groove, it wasn't happening.  I felt stiff and locked. Later I would tell my massage therapist that it felt as though someone had welded a metal plate the size of a mass paperback into my lower back.  My top and bottom halves were moving but my hips felt frozen.

I finished in 1:52:48, a full six and a half minutes slower than last year. A full 30 seconds per mile off last year's pace.  The next day my back and hips were killing me.  My legs? They barely registered the effort.

It would be easy to point to Mother-of-the Bride stress, nasty weather and poor training as the culprits. But when I looked back over my training log, there was one big hole in it - over a period of two months I had almost completely ignored my core work and stretching.

No push-ups in over seven weeks. Some crunches from time to time but not a plank in sight.  And stretching? Forget about it.

New runners are taught to start slowly and increase both mileage and speed with caution.  They are advised to stretch after each run and pay attention to any ache or pain that doesn't fade away.  And to place core strengthening hand in hand with a running program, thereby decreasing the chance of injury.

One week after the race I am back on the floor.  Gently prodding my stiff back and hips into pigeon pose. Making sure I stretch after every single run, even the recovery ones, and on my off days I'm focusing once again on core exercises.

Relearning what I've known for several decades as a runner but lost sight of in a matter of months.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Follow THIS Mother

Cleopatra: A LifeIf you get a chance this week-end, pop over to the Run Like a Mother blog for a familiar face. 

I feel like I'm on the running equivalent of "Oprah!"

My next post will be a one-week-after-the-race entry, detailing the good, the bad, and the very ugly of last Sunday's half-marathon.  "Ugly" is where my head's been since then so I needed to pause and refresh. 

I'll also blog on the books I've been enjoying lately.  Right now I'm enthralled with the latest by Stacy Schiff, "Cleopatra."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Brush with Greatness

As many of you know, yesterday I had a brush with greatness.

After a six-mile run I threw on a jacket, grabbed a bag of books to sell and headed down to Powell's Bookstore.  (The mecca for any book lover, this store takes up an entire city block with new and used books. They also purchase books allowing customers to sell for trade or dollars.)

It was 9:30 AM as I entered the bookstore just as a tiny woman and younger gal came out.  Said tiny woman turned out to be Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic gold medalist and renowned marathoner.

One of my personal heroes.

So. Did I greet her and try to engage her in conversation? Ask her, "What brings you to Portland?" Or, as a solid book geek, inquire about the books in her bag?

Nope. I squealed like a star-struck school girl, "Oh. My. God." and just stood there.

This seemed to unnerve her and bemuse her companion, who I assume was her daughter.  As Samuelson stared at me and then began to beat a hasty retreat I managed to stutter, "Uh, great job in, uh, Chicago."

And off she went. Probably never to be seen by these eyes again.

As my loving, yet up front husband opined, "E, you blew it."

Perhaps, but I like to think I've had other closer and more intimate brushes with greatness.  Yes, I passed a heady five seconds with a 53-year-old woman who just ran a 2:47:50 at the Chicago Marathon.

I also watched my good friend, Sarah, of Run Like a Mother fame, BQ for the first time in a steady rain with a time of 3:59:54 at this year's Portland Marathon.  And from afar I cheered the new that Shelly, a California runner and blogger, tore through the Long Beach Marathon with a sizzling 3:46:29 at age 49.

Those feats are great moments in themselves.  And ones that can be savored and enjoyed not only by the women who experienced them but by others who care about them.  And are inspired by them.

Last but certainly not least is the moment of greatness you see in the picture that accompanies this post: The wedding of my daughter, Carol, that took place two weeks ago in South Carolina.

I look at this young woman and I am amazed by her character and her beauty.

There is no greater brush with greatness than that of a proud mother standing next to the child she adores and admires.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pacing the Racer

For the first time in a while I won't be running a fall marathon.

My lovely daughter, Carol, is getting married in early October so most of my attention is focused on that exciting event.  Later on I'll be running my 10th half-marathon, the aptly named Run-Like-Hell Half Marathon.

And for the fourth time in my life I'll be pacing someone for part of a marathon.  Which got me to thinking about what makes a good pacer.

Some runners thrive on pace groups, where you start and (hopefully) finish the race with other runners all striving for a certain time goal.  Others like me prefer either running by their lonesome or meeting new people along the way.

A solid number of my marathoning friends enjoy having someone jump in with them towards the end of the race.  When a buddy joins you it can be invigorating, especially if you are feeling rough.  And, let's face it - around the 20-mile mark most marathoners are struggling both physically and mentally.

The question is - what works best for runners at that stage of the game? Obviously it differs from one person to another but are there some solid winning moves that assure the pacer helps the racer?

My first experience pacing a marathoner came five years before I tackled the event myself.  After meeting up with the runner at the 21-mile mark I began doing what she asked me to do.  I jabbered.

The thought was that my mindless chatter would distract her from the pain and discomfort of those final five miles.  Only several days after the fact she revealed: "Ellison, you could have told me you were flying to Sweden the next day for a sex change and it wouldn't have registered..."

Good to know. Flash-forward six years when I offered to help my best friend, Monica, navigate the final miles of the Newport, Oregon marathon.  The goal was to secure her BQ (Boston Qualifying Time) on a fairly dull out and back course.

I wound up jumping in with her at mile 19 after realizing she was looking rough.  At that point she was on track to BQ but was slipping in part due to having blasted through the first two miles of the race in less than 16 minutes.  We really hadn't discussed what methods I should employ so I confess to winging it.

First I tried the Drill Sergeant method: "Come on! You can do this! Pick those feet up and move it!!!"

This earned me nothing. Next came the wheedling and pleading. "Just do it for me.  Think about Boston! I know you can do this, honey!"

Lastly I confess I resorted to shame tactics.  "You're not going to let so-and-so get to Boston before you, are you?"

Fortunately Monica had enough energy left at this point to send me a silent middle-finger message.  Which I processed and used to shut off my mouth.

From there we limped into the finish.  I cried because I felt I had let Monica down.  She wisely chalked it up to a lesson learned and began looking ahead.  (And, yes, she qualified a year later in Eugene, OR with a solid 3:38!)

My latest pacing adventure came at the 2009 Portland Marathon when I offered myself up to Jill Parker who was in town from Colorado.  We had dinner the night before so Jill could give me some pointers on pacing her to yet another BQ.

I immediately failed to meet one requirement which was to provide Jill with a small peanut butter and honey sandwich at some point.  The problem was I was doing a 10-mile training run before pacing Jill with seven of those miles at my half-marathon pace.  I told Jill cramming even half a sandwich in my fanny hydration pack probably wasn't ideal.

Jill and I met up shortly before the 21-mile mark.  This time I took my cues from her and my knowledge of the course.  This meant trying to restrain her on a downhill stretch, knowing that a hill was on the other side of it.  It meant telling her a couple of funny stories but all the while offering phrases such as "Good and steady....You're doing it...Great job, Jill!"

Just before mile 25 I turned Jill over to Sarah of Run Like A Mother fame. Who, as life would have it, has asked me to run her in the last 10k or so of this year's Portland Marathon.

Sarah and I have known each other for over six years so I'm hopeful that I will be able to pick up the correct signals and propel her towards Beantown.  This will entail calling her "Champy" several times and, if necessary, humming songs from an obscure British rock group that only she and my husband are familiar with.

What works best for you, as the racer striving for a great marathon? And/or do you have any winning moves as a pacer that make you the go-to person for all your racing pals?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In the Belly of the (Sweaty) Beast

Early Tuesday morning I woke up in a panic.  I could have sworn something was crawling down my face and neck.

Turns out it was a couple of things.  Sweat droplets to be exact.  Big fat ones.

My first reaction was quick and without censor, the way most thoughts at 2 AM are: thank God I'm not running today.

Running during menopause poses its own set of challenges.  For me, the main one is trying to get a full night's sleep in preparation for a hard morning workout.  Lately, it's been like chasing the impossible dream.

I've had night sweats on and off for about two and a half years.  And their daylight companion, the ever-popular hot flash.  But up until four months ago neither was much of a problem.  Then in early May, some one or some thing flipped the heat switch to the "on" position.

These days I'm apt to be seen strolling around the house with my t-shirt up around my neck, a look I won't be taking on the road thanks to another new development: the meno-pot.

For decades my stomach was either flat or concave.  Now no matter what I weigh or how many crunches and planks I spit out, there's some extra junk in the front.  In menopause circles it's referred to as the meno-pot.  I like to call it the Boomer Belly.

So now my days are spent yanking my shirt up and down like a defiant toddler.  What's especially tricky is handling a hot flash while running.  The first time this occurred I thought I was coming down with the flu.  I felt dizzy and flushed, the way you do before the thermometer under your tongue flashes an over-100 degree reading.

But what has really interfered with my training is saying farewell to a good night's sleep.  I've always been someone who relished her eight-nine hours of solid shut-eye.  These days I'm lucky to get by with three hours of straight sleep before the sweat cycle begins.  From that point on I wake up on average every 90 minutes, often literally dripping.

If my morning workout is a particularly demanding one - say a tempo run or hill repeats - it's tough to pull off after a night of tossing and sloshing.  What I find works is to convince myself I actually slept well and just pray that saying so makes it true.  That and a good afternoon nap.

Which brings me to wonder how I would have coped if I still worked outside the home.  Back in the day when I was a sales rep for a major soft drink company, how could I have made it through a nine-hour workday after a lousy night's sleep? Especially given that I always scheduled my runs before arriving at the office.

It's doubtful I would have been able to cut it without a nap.  And that's near impossible to do when you're working full-time. 

How do so many of my fellow Old Gal runners do it? I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, I take my hat - and my shirt - off to you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guerrilla Angels

Ever had one of those days? When it would be so easy to convince yourself to swap the running togs draped over the bedroom chair for jeans and a t-shirt? When the whole idea of running just does not appeal?

I had one of those today and, man, was it tough to get out the door.  Last night the Old Guy and I had a wonderful dinner with friends.  Wine and brownies were consumed; two delectables that tend to bite this Old Gal in the rear when it comes to a good night's sleep.  They combined with the Demon of Night Sweats to turn seven hours of shut-eye into an all night tousle with the sheets.

Today's training plan called for nine miles including hill repeats.  And, naturally, it was drizzling outside.  By the time I got to the bottom of the first hill, my mind and body were dead set against me.  The legs felt like sacks of cement and that little inner voice was mumbling phrases such as, "You're not getting paid to do this, you know...." and "Wouldn't it be nice to quit at five miles and call it a day?"

The good news is I completed all seven of the hill repeats.  The bad news is after the last one I promptly headed for home.  Maybe eight miles was enough.  Heck, maybe even seven was sufficient.

And then she appeared.  I like to think of her and her kind as Guerrilla Angels.  They emerge out of no where when we least expect them and when we need them the most.  Typically, they are total strangers.

Today's GA had wild dreadlocks and two gold front teeth.  I've seen her from time to time along my route and we've always exchanged greetings.  But today this middle-aged woman planted herself in my path and bellowed, "Baby! Do you run every day?"

To which I replied, "No, only five days a week. I'm an Old Gal."

This earned me a fist in the air and, "Well, honey, you go, girl!"

It's amazing what words can accomplish.  I'm fairly certain this Angel has never trained for a race.  Or agonized over splits and speed work.

But, boy, her words lit a fire under this runner.  I kept moving until all nine miles were behind me.  By the time I got back to the house my sense of accomplishment was through the roof.

So I hope that somewhere in Northeast Portland, my Guerrilla Angel is having an excellent and blessed day. She certainly gave me one.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

H2C versus BOC

Hood to Coast versus Butt on Couch?   

First, a big shout-out to all my buddies who are running the annual Hood to Coast Relay! You know who you are and you know that Old Gal will never join you.

I like sleeping in my bed. At night and every night. Even as a Young Gal it's doubtful I would have willingly snuggled into the corner of a van for 30 winks in the name of teamwork.  These days, thanks to the joys of menopause (night sweats in particular), I crave any and all the sleep I can get.  Still, I salute my running friends who do this relay each and every year, giving it their all.

My less than perky behind will be on the couch.  And, as usual, there will be books nearby.  With that in mind, here is a list of my favorites this month.

Best in Show:  This has to go to Gail Caldwell's lovely memoir, "Let's Take the Long Way Home." Yes, it's about the death of her dear friend, the writer Carolyn Knapp, but it's not all a downer.  The writing along, elegiac and precise, is worth the price of admission.  Warning: if you're a dog lover, double your Kleenex ration.

Best Small Book:  Only have a limited amount of time as fall approaches? Pick up "The Typist" by Michael Knight.  At only 185 pages, it's what's known in some circles as a "quiet" book.  Lovely and simple, it's the story of one man's seemingly placid army service in Japan during the last days of World War II.  This is the first novel of Knight's that I have read but it won't be the last.

Best Writing:  Forgive me, Colm Toibin.  It took me over a year to read your latest amazing novel, "Brooklyn." Yes, I was saving it for who knows what special occasion having savored "The Master" several years ago.  Colm, your ability to describe an era and place - in this case mid-20th century Ireland and Brooklyn, NY - is breath-taking.  Every time I looked up from the pages I felt a moment of disorientation.  And finishing it was like leaving a beloved village.

Best Easy Reading:  If you're in the mood for some escape of the Deep South variety, turn to Beth Hoffman's "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt."  I have to thank my good friend, Ed, for nudging me into reading what I thought would be a light and frothy novel.  True, the story of 12-year-old CeeCee and her rescue by several Southern characters is entertaining and easy on the brain but Hoffman, who has a beautiful website, spins a delightful yarn. 

It's just right for a lazy day off from running, spent reading in the sun.

And if you're a reader who craves thoughtful musings on running, reading and writing on a regular basis please be sure to check out my new friend Shelly's amazing blog.  Like me, be sure to sign up for all of her posts!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Late to the Dance

In keeping with the "dance" theme I've been thinking about how I came late in life to the marathon.  For the first 25 years of my running life I thought marathoners were crazy.

Why would anyone want to put their body through that torture? What was the point? Twenty-six miles struck me as too arduous; too much work and too much pain.

So when the 1992 Olympic Marathon Trials for women came to town, I jumped at the chance to watch and shake my head.  That year the setting was Columbia, S.C. and as luck would have it the route wound right past my then sister-in-law's house.

Watching those women climb a slight incline around mile 18 didn't grant me any great epiphany.  I do remember watching the looks on all of their faces and thinking, "They don't look bad...just determined."

Several years later my daughter and I moved to Portland, OR, where one of the best marathons in the country takes place in early October.  The Portland Marathon lands on nearly every "Top 10" list when it comes to marathons, especially for first-timers.

Still, my interest remained that of a spectator.  While many people including my husband tend to equate viewing a marathon to "watching paint dry" I disagree.  There is something magical about watching all of those people push themselves towards a goal. Whether it's just finishing; get a personal record or an age-group award; or checking it off their list, each person has a reason for being out there.  To me, it's breath-taking and inspiring.

But I still thought participating wasn't for me.  I was too old, too undisciplined. So I continued running and after a lifetime of 10ks, advanced to the half-marathon.  It struck me as an almost perfect distance: long enough to require training and just a dollop of discipline, short enough not to kill me.

Then in the late winter of 2005, a fresh-faced 31-year-old popped into my life.  Monica offered to start running with me after my running buddy, Sarah, known to many of you as co-author of the book " Run Like a Mother" and the website by the same name) went on the DL thanks to her pregnancy with twins.

Somewhere along the line Monica convinced me to run the Portland Marathon.  If I didn't know her better I'd suspect witchcraft because I have no memory of signing up for it.  Or for the weekly long runs which the Portland Marathon Clinic offers each year beginning in early April.

All I know is that on Sunday, October 9, 2005, I ran my first marathon at the ripe old age of 48.  And finished in under four hours thereby qualifying for Boston.

So, yes, this is a better-late-than-never kind of story.  I like to think it will prompt you to follow-up on every little nagging interest, even the ones that scare you.  Even the ones that seem to belong to younger gals. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dance Party?

So the good news is my knee seems to be fine.  A bit "achy" in a way that reminds me of those leg aches many of us had as pre-teens.  Annoying but not painful.

I was able to do a very easy five miles on Friday.  Sunday I was planning on doing a nine-10 mile run with two-three mile repeats at a 10k pace.  Instead I exercised prudence and went with just a nine-mile run with no frills.  Today was a six-mile recovery run although I did run the last mile in 8:45, my pie-in-the-sky marathon pace.

The half-marathon plan I'm following (which was featured in an article by Guy Avery in the November/December 2005 issue of Marathon & Beyond) calls for twelve (12) 40-second strides, followed by a 2:20 recovery jog, embedded in a nine-10 miles for Wednesday's run.  I'm going to play it by ear and see how I feel after a couple of those.

Plus I get to run with a friend from out of town - Mary Wojnowski.  (That's a picture of the two of us after this year's Boston Marathon.  Mary's on the left.) She's in town to run the annual Hood to Coast Relay with her sister, Amanda Darlak.  You'll be hearing more about each of them in future postings.

Tomorrow is a day off.  I always take Tuesdays and Saturdays off.  I know some rugged Old Gals can still handle a six or even seven-day-a-week schedule but for me, that's ancient history.

My time on the DL did get me thinking about cross-training. (Yes, Monica, I have been listening to you!) But there aren't a lot of other activities I like to do except...I do like to dance! Usually in the privacy of my home where no one but the dogs can see me.

So I was interested to see another gem in Friday's New York Times' "Urban Athlete:" a story of two women in the City who loved to dance but hated the club scene.  So they started a women's only dance hour which has spread to about 10 other cities.  Including Portland!

Check it out at and maybe I'll see you there!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Protestant Work Ethic

Last Friday, before my knee went hinky on me, I was halfway through an eight-mile run when I came upon another Woman of a Certain Age.  She had obviously been running but was now walking.  As we passed she looked at me, a total stranger, and said apologetically, "This heat is just too much for me...."

I'm willing to wager she's a Methodist or Presbyterian.

In college my Catholic friends moaned about the guilt that came with their beliefs.  Classmates on the other side of the religious aisle complained of the Jewish Guilt Complex.

These days I think they have nothing on the dreaded Protestant Work Ethic.

Yesterday's schedule (I'm training for a half-marathon in late October) called for 10 miles with twelve (12) 40-second strides each followed by a 2:20 recovery.  Tuesday night I dutifully laid out my running clothes, popped two Advil PM and prayed for the best.

It was not to be so I decided to wait another day.  Early this morning the left knee began to throb again but not as painfully as before.  Should I skip another day's workout? Or push through and hope for the best.

And so began the duel between my Benevolent Old Gal and the generations of tough Scots-Irish who came before me.  The battle between being kind to myself and following in the footsteps of my ancestors.

Like my paternal grandfather who in his early 80s single-handedly spent five hours digging a massive pine tree stump out of the ground.  While on vacation.

Or my mother who minutes after hearing her cancer had progressed to the terminal stage steered me out of her doctor's office with the words, "We need to go to WalMart and Kroger's and then I have a hair appointment.  Give me the keys - I'm driving."

Who am I to let a little knee pain stand in the way of a run? When the blood of these hardy Scots-Irish Protestants flows through my healthy veins? When the last thing I dug out was a pint of coffee ice cream?

This is when I try to channel my Benevolent Old Gal.  I like to think of her as a wise maternal figure, very loving but also capable of running a sub 3:40 marathon.  She knows just the right words to say to an antsy Boomer who was raised on phrases such as "Grin and bear it!" or the ever popular 1960s refrain, "Don't be a crybaby!"

She's the one who cautions me about winning a battle just to lose the war.  Benevolent Old Gal reminds me of times when best-laid plans were scotched yet the ultimate outcome wasn't.

Like the weekend late last March, three weeks before my second Boston Marathon.  I had my last 20-mile run scheduled for the next day.  Fourteen of those miles were to be done at MP, marathon pace.  Only when I went to bed I felt a bit...queasy.

After my third round with the porcelain god around 2 AM I thought, Protestant Work Ethic be damned! My heroine, Joan Benoit Samuelson, could have popped in and offered to pace me and I would have waved her off.

The next day I slept, sipped Gatorade and watched a "Law & Order" marathon.

Three weeks later I took two minutes off my previous Boston time and requalified for Beantown.

So take that, Protestant Work Ethic! Two, even three days off will not ruin me.  This is just a small bump in the road on the way to a solid P.R.  I'm tough - I just need another day of ice and Aleve.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baby Boomer Knee

Yesterday morning just before a six-mile recovery run, I felt a twinge in my left knee. Okay, it was more than a twinge but it felt like something that would eventually work itself out.

The run went well. But later in the day it became apparent that going up and down stairs or bending down was not going well at all. By mid-afternoon I was employing the ice/Aleve remedy and propping my knee up. When my husband came home he asked, "Why did you run on it?" And I answered truthfully, "It never hurt as long as I was moving forward."

What is it about athletic Baby Boomers and our reluctance to throw in the towel? Even for a few days or, God forbid, a week or two. This morning I woke up to see Gina Kolata's "Personal Best" column in the New York Times discussing this very issue. A Boomer runner gets injured and often we feel as if our world has collapsed.

Ten years ago I was in my early 40s and running about 30-35 miles a week. A month before tackling the infamous Bloomsday 15k race in Spokane I came down with shin splints. I'd had those before and, hey, they usually worked themselves out.

Reader, I ran the race with shin splints. Flash forward to a week later when I could barely walk but managed to get myself to a doctor. Who promptly asked why I saw fit to race with my lower left leg on fire. I grumbled, "Well, I used to get shin splints in college and they always went away on their own...."

At which point my doctor pointed out, very kindly, that college had been a loooong time ago. As he watched my face drop he added, "But cheer up! It's Baby Boomers like you who are paying for my wife's new car!"

Lesson learned. I cross-trained for four months before I could run even one single mile without pain. It was another three months before I was able to run more than 25 miles a week.

In today's New York Times article, 62-year-old Kolata maintains that even after suffering her second stress fracture in two years she will continue exercising. In her case, her focus will shift from running to cycling. The thrust of her column is that many athletes, and it sounds like the majority of them are Boomers, find it near impossible to give up running or cycling despite painful injuries.

Why? What's the harm in taking some down time? Why do Boomer Athletes insist on pushing the pain envelope?

I'm asking, not judging. Because even as my knee throbs and I contemplate popping the second Aleve of the day I'm already looking ahead to tomorrow's run.

After all, my training schedule calls for stride repeats and I'm taking today off.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Look at that Old Gal!

One day not too long ago I was five miles into a local half-marathon. My speedy best friend had gone on ahead and I was enjoying that feeling of knowing it was going to be a good race.

The field was beginning to spread out. It felt like I was running alone when I heard a man's voice behind me: "Look at that old gal running!" I turned my head to get a look at who he was talking about and realized it

The speaker, a slightly chunky fellow in his early 30s and his wispy female companion smiled smugly at each other as they passed me. Apparently not only was I "old" but deaf as well.

I wish I could tell you I gathered momentum in my indignation and immediately charged past them. Instead, I startled. Old? Me? When had that happened?

As another mile marker approached I began to do the math. True, I had been running on a fairly consistent basis for over 30 years going back to the summer before my senior year in college. I started jogging the four miles home from my job as a waitress on days when I only worked the lunch shift. Back at school I kept running with a girlfriend who wanted to lose weight.

In the years to follow it seemed running was always there. Through my first job and my first marriage. After the birth of my daughter and the move to a new job that ate up over 50 hours a week. Running kept me sane after my divorce. It gave me a private time to cry when being a single working mother threatened to overwhelm me.

In those days I ran with the only watch I had, usually a cheap Timex. If a run was more than eight miles or so I'd drop off a plastic jug of water somewhere along the course. A pair of running shoes lasted until the first hole appeared.

Injuries were the occasional blackened toenails and shin splints. Naps were something I took after a late night, not a hard workout.

As the decades passed I graduated to a spiffy Garmin watch and electrolytes. I toss my shoes after 400 miles and wear orthodics. These days I fuss over a bunion and my arthritic big toe.

Don't get me started on what it's like to have a hot flash in the middle of a tempo run. Although I will wax eloquently about the power of a daily nap, even the 15-minute ones on the couch.

Contemplating age may not be the best way to past the bulk of a 13.1 mile race. But in this case, it did the trick. I finished third in my age group, the ancient 50-54 category.

There were good friends to chat with at the finish line. Plus an added bonus: Just as I turned to follow my buddies back to the car I watched yet another group of runners stagger through the finish chute. There amongst them, looking less perky than at our first meeting, was the 30ish couple who had branded me geriatric.

Somewhere along the route, while musing about my age, I had passed them.