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.