Sand, Roots, and Hills

Looks can be deceiving. That lovely trail is hiding many dangers.

Looks can be deceiving. That lovely trail is hiding many dangers.

Yesterday most of my family members ran some type of survival/mud run – you know the kind, with walls to climb over, ropes to swing on, and moats of mud to slosh through. They do so many of those that I can’t tell you which one this was, except their team was raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project.

I did not go. I volunteered to babysit my sister’s kids, got a mani-pedi, and ultimately didn’t get covered in mud. But I met up with the group afterwards for pool party/BBQ, and listened to war-stories. Two of my sisters-in-law got injured and didn’t finish the race. My sister and niece were hobbling around like someone had thrown stones at them. My brothers and brother-in-law worked very hard to show that the whole thing is no-big-deal. Oh, and the same group is doing this again next weekend.

I have absolutely no desire to join them. Running is challenging enough when you are on flat, even ground. I’ve never been the type to want to get dirty, and I don’t think I could climb a rope if my life depended on it. Plus, I have lots of concerns about getting hurt.  When I was in my twenties I was in a car accident that messed up my ankle badly. I can run 7, 8, or 9 miles and then struggle going down stairs. I trip easily and frequently lose my balance for no reason at all. I can only run in one specific brand of running shoes because I both pronate and supinate at the same time. (Yes, I’m that talented!)

So much pretty in one run.

So much pretty in one run.

After the BBQ I was ready to go out for my regularly scheduled, no-mud, no-obstacle run.  I asked my brother for a good trail for running by him, hoping to run somewhere new and unexpected. I should have considered the source. His idea of a good trail, as evidenced by his morning’s adventure, would not necessarily be my idea of a good trail. Hindsight is, as you know, 20/20. He directed me to a small park not too far away.  It was only a 2.25 mile trail, so I’d have to run a few times to get my 5 mile goal, but it was pretty and the paths were wide and easy to run, he assured me. His wife suggested I could extend the run by hitting the beach at the end of the trail.

And it was lovely, actually. Soft trails, right through the pine barrens along the south shore of Long Island.  I almost missed the entrance because it is partially hidden, and there was only room for about 10 cars in the lot, which meant not too many people were going to be in the park.  Perfect, I thought.

I started running and within two minutes I tripped and went sprawling. That’s when I noticed the roots. The path (not quite as wide as I had been led to believe) was covered in pine needles which hid the fact that it also housed a labyrinth of exposed tree roots.  Upon further inspection I noticed how the path thinned and widened, twisted and turned without warning. I re-calibrated my expectations, slowed down my pace and started watching my steps. The lush paths were now my first obstacle.

The next thing to slow me down were the hills.  Every time I run hills I think, “I need to do this more,” because it totally wipes me out. These were not serious hills, like when I ran Ft. Tryon Park. These were just enough to cause me to struggle, but not enough to stop running.  I might not have worried about the hills, except I was already struggling with the roots.

At what pace can you no longer call it running? The sand slows me down, but I'm still moving.

At what pace can you no longer call it running? The sand slows me down, but I’m still moving.

And next came the sand. Now, full disclosure here, I could have skipped the sand and stayed on the path, but, like hills, sand is something I think I feel I should be working on, and here it was. I think my thinking was “My pace is already shot, I might as well add another challenge,” or something along those lines. I think sand is challenging for everyone, but it is particularly challenging for me because of my weak ankles. There was a time where I couldn’t even walk in the sand, so running in sand is potential precarious as well as exhausting. I tried to stay as close to the shore, for the harder-packed sand.  It wasn’t fast, but the view was awesome.

Anyway, I ended up doing 6 miles rather than 5.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t increase my speed, but I felt good the whole way so I just kept going. I ran the whole trail two and a half times. The upshot was that I felt like I had done my own survival run by the end. Sure, my obstacles are just tiny roots, not giant walls, but for me they are about as much of an obstacle as I can handle. At least for now.

Too Sick To Run

May has been an amazing running month for me, up until about four days ago. I was running more days per week, longer runs, and (best of all) feeling better after each run. Up until Tuesday, when my so-called “easy” five-mile run nearly killed me. I pushed through the full five miles, but at the end I felt so ragged and sore.

My internal monologue was not very kind. “You’re too old to be running this much. You’re overdoing it. You’re never going to be able to make your goals.”

This time, being sick means I shared bacteria with someone along the way - eww!

This time, being sick means I shared bacteria with someone along the way – eww!

Tuesday night I had a very bad night. Everything ached and ached. I took a bunch of ibuprofen and debated with myself about my planned interval run on Wednesday run. Should I cancel completely? Should I try just an easy short run?

By late afternoon it wasn’t really a debate. I felt sick; my head pounded, my throat felt sore, and my body ached. I decided to skip the run and not even do any walking. It started to occur to me that it might be more than over-tired. I might be fighting off sickness and the best thing I could do for my body would be to rest. I took my temperature, but it was normal.

By the next morning I felt worse… much worse. Went to the doctor who confirmed it. Definitely sick. It was eventually confirmed to be strep (don’t worry, you can’t catch it from reading my blog). So now I’m on antibiotics, but not the good kind, because I’m highly allergic to penicillin and cephalosporins.  And I still feel really sick.

This pic is from my last beach run, Columbus Day weekend last year!

This pic is from my last beach run, Columbus Day weekend last year!

This is a terrible time to get sick. I was supposed to spend the long weekend on Fire Island (my happy place). Sun, beach, sand; everything regenerative for me. It was going to bolster me with Vitamin C and fresh air. I do my best runs on the boardwalk and even though the farthest I can run before hitting sand is about 2 miles, it is the best two miles anywhere. I was even going to see if I could run in sand, something I couldn’t do a year ago.

And I’m frustrated about my training schedule. I have it all planned out in my head, how much I’m going to run each week and… Even typing this out, I feel foolish. Obviously if I’m sick I have to readjust my training schedule.

I need time to heal. Once I feel better (which right now seems waaaay off) I’ll have to build up slowly again, I’m sure. The last time I took this much time off (when I was sick in February) it took me several weeks to get back to where I was. And I have to give myself permission to do this. Which might be easier if I felt better.

Thoughts During a Long Run

runnersToday is Sunday, which in the world of marathons (half and otherwise) means long runs. Which feels redundant because every run feels long lately, especially  the 7.25 mile I ran Wednesday. But what used to be my long runs 4, 5, or 6 miles, are now called (according to my training scheduled) “easy” runs.

On the one hand I’m ahead of the game. This morning I completed 9 miles. With my 13.1 race still 4 months away, I don’t have to be hitting it so hard. On the other hand I’m fighting against 40-something years of not running. I feel like I have a lot to overcome. I’m trying to get to the point where I feel that 13 miles isn’t that big of a deal.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, 5k seemed far — a long way. Now a 3 mile run seems like a fun distance. I’m working towards getting to think of 8, 10, and 12 mile runs as a fun distance, but I’m not there yet.

For your amusement, here are some of my nagging, inner thoughts while trying to reach this goal:

  • Mile 1: I feel terrible. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make 2 miles, let alone 9.
  • Mile 2: Feeling better. What was I thinking about? I could do this all day.
  • Mile 3 and 4: You’re running too fast. Slow down or you will burn out too soon. You’re running too slow. at this pace you’ll never finish. You’re running too fast. Too slow. Too fast. 
  • hate runningMile 5: Only 5k left. You can totally do…. Oh wait! I’m doing 9 today. Damn!!
  • Mile 5.5: Wait?? That’s it. It feels like I’ve gone 7 miles already. Is this GPS broken?
  • Mile ??: How far did she (GPS) say? That stupid driver almost hit me and I missed what she said…
  • Mile 6.5: (on learning that one of my water bottles was unexpectedly empty) aaaaaaaaaagh! Oh wait, there’s a deli ahead.  SAVED!
  • Mile 6.99: Now my GPS is just effing with me. She can’t just say 7 miles?
  • Mile 8: Just finish this mile and you are done. No, really, you can do it.
  • Mile 8.5: I can’t feel my legs.  Am I still moving?
  • Mile 8.96, 97, 98, 99 DONE. 

I feel totally done in. It is hard to imagine that I will be able to run 13 when 9 feels this bad, but that is what I said about 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Race Day

race bibsThis morning I got up early, drove out to the beach with my niece, and ran along the boardwalk as fast as I could for 3.1 miles. Coincidentally, so did about 350 other people at the same time. It was a 5K race, my second so far this year and my fourth race ever.

I’ve been running only a few years now, but I’m from a running family.  Everyone runs, everyone races. I resisted the races for a while – I’m not competitive, I said. I’d rather run alone, I said. But last year my job offered an incentive: complete 3 “health related” activities during the year and save on your annual health insurance contributions.

So last year I did the MS walk, with my sister-in-law and her family (I’m not going to get to walk this year, because I have a wedding, but you can still donate). And I donated blood to the NY Blood Center (Got to do that again). And, I ran my first race with my mom. And surprise, surprise, I loved it. I was nervous, but it really pushed me in a way that running on my own just can’t match.

So a few months later I did a second run in November, just for fun. It was freezing, but a short 4K and also fun. A few weeks ago I did a 5K at the Bronx Zoo. This was more fund-raiser than competitive run (I raise $375 to protect gorillas), but it was so cool running around the zoo.  And today I ran with my niece (a super track star, no less) to raise money for the Postpartum Resource Center of New York.clothes shoppingI pushed myself pretty hard and felt like it was a great run. I’m pleased to say that I ran with an excellent (for me) time – 30:09.

Shorter races are great for working on pace, so I’m going to run a few more over the next months. I’m also looking for a good 10K because while I’m training for the half, 5K is just not far enough. Plus, I love that they give you a t-shirt.

It’s Official – 134 days 23 hours 15 minutes to go

The Inaugural Suffolk County Marathon and Half MarathonThis morning I took the plunge and officially signed up for my half marathon. I’m excited! And scared. (Well, excited and scared!) I’m thrilled that the proceeds for marathon is going to benefit the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, which is dedicated to providing local military veterans with services and programs. Not only is this an important issue, but the benefits are for veterans who live right here in my area.

Before I registered, I did all the things you probably do before signing up for your first half:

  • I checked out the route on the map. (I’m familiar with the area so I’m comfortable that it is mostly flat and pretty scenic)
  • I downloaded advice from Runner’s World for first time marathoners. (Some things I knew, but there was really good info here.
  • I put in for time off for the day before and the day after. (I think I’m going to need a buffer!)
  • I checked the Frequently Asked Questions and was pleased to see I could change from half- to full-marathon if I change my mind later. (Hey, you never know?)

Then I signed up. Only there was a funny thing on the registration. It asked me for my “weight class”. I had never heard of this before in running. Sure, there are weight classes in boxing and wrestling, but running? Apparently for men, they call the heftier runners “Clydesdale” (OMG, really?) and the more zaftig women “Athena.” I had to check this out. Is this  really a thing?

Her time might improve with proper footwear.

Her time might improve with proper footwear.

Yes, apparently it is a thing, (although much more prevalent in triathlons) and I guess it makes sense biologically. All things being equal, a person carrying around an extra 50 or 100 lbs of weight is expending more energy. From my research, it isn’t about fitness or fatness. You can be heavy and short and not make the “Athena” cutoff weight. You can be very thin, fit, and tall and still qualify.

Generally speaking, having a larger build means you must expend a greater effort to get the same result.  Take running – if all other fitness factors are held constant, a 6’4”, 230-pound guy will struggle to run as fast as a 5’10”, 180-pound competitor, simply because he’s hauling more weight. [link]

I was shocked by the weights they consider “heavy”. It seems like there are variations from race to race as to what constitutes an “Athena.”

weightclassFor my race, they have two divisions; I am, of course, in the higher division – I guess you could call it Athena-plus! Even if I lose 15 lbs between now and race day, I’ll still be in the highest category. Here’s the thing: at my absolute thinnest (in my 30s) I was about 145 lbs and a size 6. I can’t imagine ever as an adult being under 140 unless I had a serious disease. I’m tall, but not very tall, but I do carry more weight. I’m one of those body types that defy BMI (and proves BMI is junk-science).  Mostly, I am concerned about what this might say to people who are much heavier. I would hate to think that someone would be discouraged by this and not want to run.

Anyway, the weight division is optional; you can choose to participate or not. After looking at a lot of websites that discussed pros and cons [here and here, for example] I decided to do it. The only person I’m interested in competing against or comparing myself to is me. I have my own personal goal (I’d like to finish in 2 hrs. 40 min) but even just finishing would be great. Still, I always like to see how other women my age do in races, and it might be interesting to have another point of comparison (i.e. weight).

I’m just really, really glad I don’t have to be a Clydesdale. That is the worst name ever.