Tag Archives: Running

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Marathon

The tent was still dark as my eyes opened, my body wrapped up like a microwaved burrito. I had shed my socks, stocking cap and flannel pants during the night. It is one of the anomalies of having a good sleeping bag: the nuclear world within and the frozen world without.

But it wasn’t because of the climatic disparity I woke so early.

It was nerves.

There are now less than 24 hours before I board the bus that will take me to the starting line of my tenth marathon.

It is my third Jungfrau marathon, so you think I would be a little calmer, knowing what to expect.

But a marathon, as I told a friend recently, is a lot like having a baby. You spend months preparing. You know basically what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous because of the thousands of unknown things that might play out.

Your body has changed since the last one–for better or worse; and you don’t know how that will affect the labor.

You don’t feel like you’re doing anything admirable. You’re still the same person who scrubs toilets and forgets to bring her own grocery bag to Lidl. It’s nothing extraordinary. You’re just doing something that you do.

However, it is exciting. It is nerve-wracking. It gives you both self-doubt and self-confidence.

It is emotional.

The first time I ran it, I cried like a baby at the end. Yes, I was glad to finish–but it was so much more than that. A friend of mine accurately described marathon running as cathartic. It is. The weights you carry when you begin are scattered across the path like a trail of breadcrumbs. If someone could read the emotions left behind on the trail, there would be enough stories to last multiple lifetimes.

What is my story this year? What will I leave behind?

I didn’t run a marathon last year. Last year, I spent a lot of time letting my health go to shit. I didn’t take care of myself. I incarcerated myself in an emotional lockdown.

Then suddenly just before my 44th birthday, my husband, my hero-turned-nemesis, died.

At age 53.

The text messages with silly animal emojis stopped.

The skype requests stopped.

The phone calls stopped.

My nightmares stopped.

23 years of history.

Stopped.

Dead. Cremated. Interred.

All I have left are medals & patches & ribbons & photos & these 4 incredible humans who bear half his DNA.

And the memories, of course. However, foggy and (sometimes) romanticized they might be.

Michael had always scoffed at my marathons–calling them selfish or a waste of my time. But he was always the first one to brag to other people about them.

During the height of his psychological problems, I signed up for my first mountain marathon–the Jungfrau.

Michael was always worried about my marathon running: “What would happen to the kids if you got hurt?” he would ask. His years in Alaska search and rescue fed into his fears like a glacial river.

I never ran marathons to spite him. It was therapy for me. My quiet time. My escape. He could never fully understand that. When you marry at age 20 and spend your life homeschooling four children, sometimes, you need a little time alone with your own noggin. Maybe it is selfish–but it is a much-needed selfishness. The type that staves off depression in a weary mom. The selfishness that gives you some semblance of control over your own body, your own mind, when you live a life in which those two elements belong to god, your husband or both–but never to your self.

I ran the Jungfrau depsite his long-distance skepticism. I ran it again the next year, though stress had already begun to gnaw at the edges of my health.

The next year, I skipped the marathon altogether.

Then Mike died.

And I was alive.

Suddenly. Completely.

A princess startled and alert, not from a kiss but by the death of a deep love.

I was alive.

Alive!

Let that word roll around on your tongue for a bit. Let it sink into your mind. Breathe it in and out.

Life means you still have the ability to choose.

You can eat more vegetables or take the dog on longer walks. You can go to the gym and lift heavy shit; or to stay home and drink two bottles of wine. You can choose with whom you share your bed; to whom you give your heart; and you can decide if those two things are mutually exclusive.

You can do the really hard things–like mend broken relationships or walk away from unhealthy ones. You can say what’s really on your mind; to be authentic; to expose your inner thoughts and weaknesses; to forget about busting your ass to be a people-pleaser.

You can make the terrifying choice to be happy, which is like jumping off a cliff, when all you’ve chosen before is to cling to anguish.

I am allowed to be happy?!

Mike’s death is not a crossroads for me–it is a trajectory. Whichever way I point the sharp end, that’s the direction I’ll go.

I am choosing a life that makes me happy, healthy and strong. I can see the person I want to be from here. I can’t lose sight of her–not now, not after going through so much.

The marathon is symbolic for me–this year especially. My whole world has changed. I am happy. On the road to health. Discovering myself along this rocky new trail.

I carry a lot with me this year. The sadness, the anger, the depression and self-loathing. Regrets.

I plan to leave it all behind; and at the end, come out with something beautiful and healthy. A rosy-cheeked bundle of joy.

Kicking.

Crying.

Cooing.

Alive.

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Motivation for the Unmotivated

No matter how many inspirational memes I read, they don’t quite motivate me to get up at 04:30 to run in the pouring rain. Even my dog, with his tail wagging so fast it knocks everything off my nightstand, cannot quell the grumbling (and sometimes mild cursing) that spews from my psyche when my alarm goes off.

The word motivation has two nuanced variations. When you pull your hair into a ponytail and say to yourself in the mirror: “If I don’t go to the gym, I will murder my kids today; and I want to avoid jail:” that is motivation (noun).

When you put on an awesome headband that matches your sport shoes and think “Yay, me!” as you skip away to the gym: that is motivated (adjective).

Often, I am not enthusiastic; I just show up.

For example, I do not wake up thinking, Hooray! It is dark and cold and raining; and I get to go running!

Sometimes I even complain about going to Crossfit. Maybe I dreamt I was drowning all night; or I ate too many tacos the day before; or my knees ache from wearing high-heeled boots; or I still have sore muscles from Friday’s WOD; or maybe it’s just a rainy Monday after school break, and I don’t want to drag my carcass out in public. None of that matters–I shove it aside and go.

I have loved ones who would do anything to simply walk across the room without pain. Sometimes, I carry that with me, and it does inspire (motivate) me to get up and get moving–simply because I can. I am blessed with good health. I don’t take it for granted.

Still, there are days I want to take that job as a test subject for NASA my mom told me about: staying in bed three months while scientists study me.

So, what keeps me going when I do not feel motivated?

I contemplated this while the cold spring rain blasted into my face on my run this morning, which is a fancy way of saying I wondered why the hell I was out there.

Marathon Training

Last year, aside from chasing my dog as he attacked ducks in the park, I stopped running. With divorce issues, visa issues, work issues, and basic life-falling-apart issues; I didn’t make the time for training. I was burnt out. Despite continuing Crossfit training 4-5 days a week, I was stressed a LOT, more aggressive; my creativity plummeted into an abyss of self-doubt; and I slowly came to realize I was missing a part of myself.

Except for last year, I have run at least one marathon (sometimes two) every year since 2010.

Thus, when I saw the ads for the Jungfrau Marathon (which I’ve run twice and said ‘never again’ both times), of course, I had to sign up. I knew it would give me the motivation to get my ass out of bed and go running, whether I felt like it or not.

Which brings me to my second point:

Feeling Motivated is Irrelevant

When I have a goal, my level of enthusiasm doesn’t matter–I just train, rain or shine, or snow or wind or whatever the universe throws at me. It doesn’t matter, because the miles I log absolutely count when I’m running five or more hours up the side of a mountain. I know this. I’ve felt this in my quads and in my soul. 

So even if I only had four hours of sleep, or my calves hurt, or my labrador looks a little sleepy–it doesn’t matter. There are no excuses. I might grumble while I pull on my compression socks, but NOT training is not an option.

I just tell myselfokay, just put on your tights and socks and shoes and gloves and hat and raincoat and grab the dog and get the hell out there. If the wind blows you backwards, try to at least make it to the big barn. If you are not hit in the head by a tree branch, continue to the next town.

As long as there are no tornadoes, swarms of wasps, or sheets of black ice, I should be able to make it as far as the park. Sometimes I think about how wonderful running feels. Other times I bitch the first few miles. But I have never come back from a run saying, “I wish I would’ve stayed in bed.”

It’s the same with Crossfit–on certain days, showing up is my only goal, my only expectation. 

So, for my fellow unmotivated friends: never feel that in order to go to the gym or go for a run that you have to be Sunny Sally Zumba (who is, if you think about it, paid to motivate people).

Romantic ideas of being “motivated” are what hinder people the most. Motivational posters won’t tie your shoes for you.

So don’t wait to feel motivated. Instead, schedule your training on the family calendar. Set an alarm or two and show up.

You won’t regret it.

I promise.


Maintenance

A mealy bug fell from my running shoe, as I clapped the pair together. It made me wonder if my writer’s brain was also starting to decompose, due to inactivity.

With my integration course over, I’ve found myself with a 3 month backlog of housework.

When we rented this house, it was perfect for us: a big yard, nice countryside, enough compartments to stick each kid and canine into.

But I live in a place where you could play golf on the hay fields, and with my schedule, I’m lucky to get to the grocery store before they close.

So, we’re moving to the city where most things are within walking distance and our yard includes miles of trails, maintained by other people. I will have a small balcony where I can kill helpless plants, and each kid can escape to his or her own room, or with the threat of a new Paleo Lifestyle, downtown to the ice cream cafe.

I’m pretty sure it’s written in a book somewhere that matter decays over time.

Houses, running shoes, gardens, friendship, love. If you let something go unattended, nature will do its damnedest to turn it back to dust again.

Maintenance doesn’t always require a ball gown and makeup. Sometimes you have to wear rubber gloves and fight the urge to vomit.

You walk through messes made by other people, so you clean it up and open the window and breathe in the air and admire how fresh things look again.

Maintenance requires sweat and heart and soul.

Disrepair requires nothing.

But when you tend something truly well, it gives you an intimate look at the thing; and if you’re attentive, you can enjoy it in a way that fills the soul.

It’s time to experience the beauty of maintenance.

 


It’s Called Camping, Buttercup

The tent smells like wet shoes and last night’s onions. It is so damp that the calluses on my hands have taken to peeling off by themselves, as if they have decided to go home early. I wake up, certain that my hip bone has dug a grave for me beneath my sleeping bag during the night.

This is camping, Buttercup.

And yet…

..as I wrap my cold hands around a hot cup of coffee and listen to the ever-present rush of the waterfall, I feel a little warmer about this adventure.

The sun will rise over the canyon around 10:30, and a rainbow will appear at the tip of the waterfall. The tent will heat into a sauna, and we’ll unzip the doors.

I find I am still inspired–jotting down scraps of notes at every turn: fragments that will turn themselves into stories.

Reading and writing and running and the setting so spectacular, I can’t fully capture it–not on film, not on paper–only in my memory.

Yesterday we visited the Trummelbach Falle: ten waterfalls, running from the glaciers through the mountains.

We climbed the stairs, which were carved from rock and gleaming with spray from the falls.

There is nothing jagged or harsh in the cave, only rock that is smooth with the ceaseless caress of water.

But for all the gentleness there is also power. The rush of water so loud, you have to cover your ears. Looking over the railing to the broiling brew below, your stomach gets a knot when you realize one false slip would mean an instant end to your life.

Rob told me during training, ‘The mountain will not be kind to you!’

I know it won’t.

Nature is beautiful.

And powerful.

It is a privilege to be so close to it.

To be immersed in it.

To be inspired by it.

I want to take its beauty and strength

and run with it.

 

 

 


Being a Super Woman

I’m not always brave or strong.

Sometimes I put on my gray sweats and curl up under my quilt and wonder what the hell I’m going to do.

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but watch life play out in front of you. Things beyond your control come crashing in, and you can’t stop it. You can only observe.

Once you observe, then you have a choice to make.

Curl up in your bed. In your cozy gray sweats. Under your tattered quilt.

And hide.

Or you can get up.

You can get your ass in gear. Run far. Lift heavy. Stop thinking so much and get things done. Pursue opportunities. Live passionately.

Stop standing in the ruins, staring at the smoking piles of rubble of your old life.

Put on your big girl spandex and explore the new landscape.

Look up.

Walk on.

They say when one door closes, there might be an open window.

And if you put on your cape, you can fly right through it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Run Less and Still PR: CrossFit for Distance Runners

3 hours of running and hamming it up for the photographer

When a CrossFitter calls me crazy, I take it as a compliment.

And I have to chuckle.

These are the same people who will finish a WOD with bloody hands and broken bones. They hate burpees but still do hundreds of them–even if they’ve just had major surgery.

To be called crazy by this group is high praise–so I just smile and agree.

I am crazy: crazy for challenges, for living and feeling, for new experiences, for new milestones, for never quitting when the world goes to shit.

Three weeks ago I decided to sign up for a marathon for fun.

This was my 7th marathon, and in the past, I would run 5 days a week, building to a weekly total of 45-50 miles before the taper. My short runs were anywhere from 4-6 miles, medium runs of 8-14 miles, and long runs of 15-20.

This year was different, however. With only 3 weeks to prepare, I managed one decent long run (18 miles) and one medium run (12 miles). I did one short run of 6 miles and one medium run of 8. That’s it.

Except for CrossFit, 5 days a week.

Last year, I did CrossFit 2-3 times a week and ran a LOT. This year, I rarely miss a WOD, and run very little outside of class.

The result is that this year, I had a PR of 4:05:51, which is 15 minutes faster than the year prior.

You read that right: 15 minutes faster.

Wait, you might say…what ELSE have you been doing?

I changed my diet this year: 1) I didn’t eat cheese before the race. Cheese causes inflammation in my joints, so if I eat it (or a lot of dairy) I’ll have knee problems while running. 2) No nuts! Nuts make my body hurt. I can’t explain it other than that. 3) I adhered to a strict diet, particularly the week before the race, eating only lean meats, veggies and no sugar whatsoever. However, I DID eat toasted marshmallows the night before the race, but my kids assured me it was considered carbo-loading, and was thus ok.

Carbo loading with Noah

Carbo loading with Noah

The only mistake I made during this race was to wear socks that I’d not tested in training. The compression socks were great for my calves (which had been tweaky during my long run) but they were too slippery, and on the downhills, my toes slid into the front of my shoes. When I pulled off my shoes at the finish line, my toenails were blue. (The race doctor said they’ll probably fall off, but that I’m tough, so I can handle it–this from an Austrian is definitely high praise, even if he wasn’t a CrossFitter).Imst2

Aside from my nightmarishly blue toenails, I did a lot of things right.

  • I left my watch at home. With no numbers to scold me, I could stop and do air squats whenever I felt like it. Best of all, I was relaxed!
  • I didn’t crumple at kilometer 30. In the past, around mile 18 or between kilometers 28-32, I start to get weary. This time, I changed my mindset: Instead of thinking “Oh, hell, this is where I bonk, I thought, “Wow! I’m almost done!” Before I knew it, I was crossing the bridge to Imst.
  • I wore a hat. It was an unassuming green sun hat sitting on a shelf, and I bought it on a whim. When the sun came out blazing, my eyes were shaded and my head was cool. I tend to WHITHER in the sun, so this hat saved the day.
  • I visualized kettlebell swings. During the uphill portions, I found myself breathing the same way I do during kettle bell swings. I thought about the WOD where we went heavy and did 100 of those suckers; and so, I kept visualizing myself doing KBS 100 at a time. The breathing was the same and even the muscle groups I used were the same: my core, my hamstrings and my ass. It all worked together on the uphills so that instead of fading, I ended up passing people. I could literally hear my coach’s voice saying, “Do NOT set those kettle bells down! Do NOT stop!” So I kept going when other people were walking. They might’ve been faster on the straightaways, but I was certainly better conditioned because of CrossFit.
  • I had fun. When the race is over, the bling doesn’t matter, it’s the experience that gets ingrained in your soul. What I remember is the empty village with one old lady on her balcony clapping for ME–and how she LIT UP when I waved back and smiled. I was running for her, along with the many others who’ve nestled into the cozy part of my soul.

Overall, it was an excellent day, an excellent race and an excellent run. I finished, smiling and laughing with my kids, and afterwards I soaked my feet in the Freibad. Later, I had three gluten-free beers, two steaks and a bag of peanut m&ms. My reward.

The kids took some silly pictures that I will cherish forever.

Imst3

 

Imst4

Our first camping trip.

My best race ever.

A new way of marathon training.

A new way of life.

As Rob says: It’s all good. 

 

At the finish line!

At the finish line!

*Official results: I placed second in my age group and in the top half for women overall.

Next stop: Switzerland!!

 

 

 

 


First Times and Thoughts While Running

 

Pitztal Gletscher Marathon 2013

Pitztal Gletscher Marathon 2013

I am sitting in my tent, watching the beads of rain roll off the plastic windows, and drinking a gluten-free beer–my first in two years.

Another first happened for me last night–I slept in a tent in the backyard with the kids.

It’s funny, the things you do when you’ve suddenly become a single parent.

I also signed up for another marathon.

This is not the Jungfrau (in September) but the Pitztal Gletscher marathon–the same one I did last year. Many factors went into this decision. 1) I wanted to take the kids camping. 2) There is a campground by the finish line. 3) It’s Tirol–one of my favorite places in the world. 4) It’s a marathon ‘from the glacier to the city,’ which means both mountains and descent.

The marathon is about 3 weeks away, and I’ve been doing nothing but CrossFit training. Thus, this weekend I thought it might be good to actually go for a long run.

“Twelve miles?” my coach asked.

“I was thinking 18,” I replied.

He looked skeptical but simply said, “See how you feel.”

Right, I thought. I’ll do 18. 

I’m stubborn that way.

Some people say running is boring, and I can see how they might think that. It’s just you–alone with your thoughts.

Scary.

So what do I think about when I run?

  • I love running
  • I hate running
  • I wish these bicycles would get out of the way
  • I wish I had a bicycle
  • I’m hungry
  • I feel sick
  • Three miles already?
  • Five miles–that’s it??!!
  • Ahh…alone time!
  • I’m lonely
  • Why am I doing this?
  • I feel great!
  • When I’m done, I’m going to get ice cream
  • I feel sick again
  • Do all German couples color coordinate?
  • ________.
  • Where the hell am I?
  • I see the ice cream stand!
  • What IS the meaning of life?
  • I hope they have coconut.

The list could go on.

In fact, the list DOES go on.

Usually, my 3 hour runs are a non-stop, stream-of-consciousness narrative containing everything from deep philosophical issues to utter randomness. On this particular run, I literally zoned out for about forty-five minutes. When I ‘woke up,’ I couldn’t remember which part of the trail I was on.

It was great.

I was curious how this run would go, since I haven’t actually been running consistently in months, though I have been CrossFit training five days a week. Overall,  I felt really strong during the run. My endurance was great, and I felt like I wasn’t even breaking a sweat. The only problem was that my calves started cramping at mile 15, so I stopped, sat on the lakeshore and watched the sailboats, while I stretched and ate the last of my apple slices.

After that, I walked for about a kilometer. It felt like ages.

In the end, I finished strong, and clocked in at just over three hours, which was pretty good for me, considering the stops.

I did not get ice cream. I wasn’t hungry anymore. But I did feel good. Good that I had made it. Good that I had stopped to enjoy the setting. Good that I could purge a few issues from my over-worked brain.

Running isn’t a hobby. Like CrossFit, it’s part of the landscape that defines my life. It makes me feel more like the real me. My kids understand this, which is why they push me out the door when I get those guilty feelings.

I’m not a great runner. And you won’t see me in a CrossFit Throwdown any time soon. But these are part of my life, as much as writing or reading or parenting or breathing.

This is my real life.

And it feels good.

Now, it’s dark. The birds stopped singing. My glass of beer is empty, and it’s time to zip up the sleeping bag and rest.

I’ve got to run in the morning.