Nowhere to Run

One of the reasons I love to run is that for one hour, I escape from the craziness of everyday life. During my run, my life is my own. No interruptions. Whether I think or daydream, zone out or absorb the details normally missed driving from one commitment to another, unwelcome distractions are left behind. In one hour, I reset the balance in my life. But in early June, I developed a stress fracture in center of my strike zone- third digit, third knuckle, deep in the ball of my foot (thank you “barefoot style running shoes”).

A stress fracture is not a break. It is a weakness in the bone from repeated pounding, but like a break, the cure is to stay off it. Easier said that done when talking about feet. Since summer was just kicking off, I didn’t want to wear a boot, so everywhere I went-even dressy parties, I donned old running shoes with extra padding in order to protect the foot and help it heal. Desperate to stay in shape while sidelined from running, I Googled: “no impact ways to burn 500 calories”.There are some interesting options on those lists. I chose biking and swimming as my primary cardio work outs. I bought a hula hoop to increase my abdominal workout, and I’ve even borrowed a kayak some Saturday mornings. The problem with these other forms of exercise is that I don’t get the private “me” time I crave. When biking, I have to concentrate lest a car, dog walker, moped, other biker, pedestrian, or a child on a scooter or a skateboard (and most days it is all of the above) stray into my path. When I’m swimming, I have to dodge other swimmers mostly children and teenagers cannon balling into my lane their nerve fraying squeals and personal space invading splashing adding to my stress. Even if I try to walk, people seem to ignore that I’m exercising and stop to chat or ask directions.

After four weeks, I suffered from mild depression and high anxiety, but finally the pain in my foot disappeared. I opened a box of new shoes (with extra forefront cushioning) and walked half a mile until I reached a dirt trail. For two miles, I ran, and happily sweated until I reached my favorite swim spot, but by then the pain was back. It was too much, too soon. This is one of those times in life when I have to be patient and find new ways to achieve my goals and handle accumulating stress. To help relax, I’ve downloaded a hypnotism app for my phone that helps me get to sleep and stay sleeping longer. I also take a few minutes at the end of my swim to focus on just floating and breathing. I use my bike to run errands whenever possible increasing exercise time and lending a hand to the environment. One perk of all this alternative exercise is that I’ve developed uber toned arms.

There will always be setback in life and things that throw me off course and out of my normal routine. The key is to not let them stop me all together. I cope. I adjust. I survive….until I run again.

Have a Little Fun Along the Way

Running an official race always reminds me of the joys of long distance running. Before the race, I admire fellow runners who (like me) are crazy enough show up in the dark on an unusually cold 40 degree morning in SW Florida covered in multiple layers to wait in long lines outside of porta-potties taking care of last minute details before our 13.1 mile run. Right before the announcer yells “GO!” (seriously, no gun?), many long sleeved outer layers are stripped off and tossed aside. Others are peeled off after mile 2, 3, or 4 as the sun begins to poke its warming rays above the horizon. Shirts, gloves, hats, and scarves can been seen flying to each side of the race course, sometimes dropped on the side of the road and other times thrown into the waiting arms of a friend or volunteer.

I take note of the shirts people wear in a race because I recognize for each runner the choice of what to wear is deliberate, conscious, planned, and it can be revealing. Some wear the shirt for the current race, many others (including me) wear shirts from past races. Some display motivational messages, others have shirts honoring a loved one. In this half marathon, one guy had a Superman top on (no tights). He was fit, and he was fast, and he knew it.

Today, I happen to be wearing my favorite full zip high neck red wicking overlayer which I’m unwilling to sacrifice. So, shortly before mile 3, I sneak to the sidelines and tie it around my waist revealing my Vermont Marathon t-shirt underneath. An older man followed my lead. After he secured the shirt around his waist, I noticed two things: 1) his short sleeved shirt said “13.1 Fueled by Fine Wine” across the back, and 2) he was a run/walker like me (Galloway method of running where you take short walk breaks in regular intervals during the race). Though we never spoke a word, he and I instantly bonded, and he became one of my “race buddies”.

No matter the distance, I mentally latch onto certain runners around me. It’s similar to a long distance drive when I end up in a pack of cars traveling at the same speed (in my case, above the speed limit). We drive together until someone has to exit. The same is true in running. My pack for this race ended up being Fine Wine guy, a younger guy wearing a “Play 60” shirt designed like a football jersey, a pair of young women wearing brightly colored sequined skirts and hot pink tank tops that said “Warrior Princess” across the back, and a very petite woman with a pile of curly black hair flying behind her in a massive pony tail. It was these strangers with whom I kept pace for the first 10 miles. When one of us slowed down to walk or take some water, that person always reappeared near by, a few strides behind the guy carrying the 2:00 pace flag.

Though my pack stayed close, other runners weaved in and out both passing and being passed. Most runners maintain a fairly even stride with a straight back kick, but today I spotted three separate runners who kicked out to the side. How does that not hurt? Their feet looked like little wings trying to flap hard enough to lift the rest of the body off the ground. Others runners bounced excessively up and down or shuffled along with rapid half strides. I want to tap these people on the shoulder and offer free advice to improve their form, but I let them be because the beauty of the long distance runner is that none of us is afraid to do his/her own thing. Whether that thing involves donning a sparkly skirt, or wearing a special t-shirt, or bouncing as if on a pogo stick. Through running, each of us is expressing our uniqueness without fear because at the end of the race each of us will be a sweaty, smelly, hot mess. So, why not have a little fun along the way?

For me the fun begins when the runners in my pack begin to flag. In an official race, people push hard early on and end up running out of juice. Shortly after mile 7 everyone in my pack had passed the 2:00 pace runner, but by mile 10, Fine Wine and Play 60 dropped back. I passed the Warrior Princesses less than half a mile later, and finally caught up to pony tail girl in the last mile finishing ahead of them all and never looking back. It was a race after all, and someone had to win 🙂

Vermont Marathon

  Last spring, to help raise money for a non-profit, I ran two legs of a relay in the Vermont marathon. I love to run, and a big race gets me really charged up. Though I was only slotted to run the third and fourth leg (not the entire 26.2 mile race), I have completed three other full marathons, so I went to bed with images of breezing through my miles, handing off the baton, and accompanying our final runner to the finish.

The shuffling of other runners woke me at 5:30am. I hadn’t slept much, and seeing snow on the ground out the window almost sent me right back to bed, but by 6:30am we were driving the 45 minutes across slick winding roads up to Burlington. We gathered near the start 20 minutes before the gun. One of the great things about the Vermont marathon is that the course is designed to loop back through a central area. As a result, spectators can stay put and watch the runners pass through downtown again and again. Only one section loops way out and doesn’t double back through downtown. That was the leg where I would finish. As a result, I needed a shuttle bus to bring me back into downtown after I’d completed my miles. It was a miserable day. Hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm, I watched the initial runners set off in a light rain. Someone discarded a plastic garbage bag that had been keeping them dry, and as the rain came down harder, I put it on. The temperature was 38 degrees.

I cheered from the sidelines along a street filled with shops and restaurants. The crowd was enormous. People stood crammed together on the sidewalk and also packed into every business establishment. I wedged myself right up against the metal police barricade in order to have a front row view, but I quickly became cold, and returned to my car early to prepare. I peeled off my soaking wet (formerly waterproof?) jacket and considered my layers: sports bra, wicking long sleeve shirt, wicking short sleeved shirt, and heavy duty wicking full zip jacket. I would need them all. I could have used a hat and gloves too, but it was too late to find any. Adding my plastic garbage bag as weather repellent, I stretched out and headed to the checkpoint to await the start of my 12.5 mile journey.

Runner after runner passed, but I didn’t see a familiar face or a familiar race bib. The cold and wet seeped back in as the crowd of runners awaiting their teammates increased. I had little room to move and more than once someone pushed me into the street as they moved through the crowd behind me. After waiting for nearly 30 minutes, the hand off finally took place, but my legs felt heavy, awkward, stiff. My back and arms ached. It was a bad start. Today tennis or shuffleboard seemed a more sensible way to spend my time, but after three miles I settled into the river of runnersflowing down the main boulevard through the cheering crowd. My contentment didn’t last.

We turned off the wide open road and weaved through a narrow trail right alongside the lake. The wind kicked up and seared through my soaked layers. I began again to consider the benefits of ping pong and badminton as other runners elbowed and nudged me into puddles or jumped in front of me breaking my stride and forcing me into the brush. When a girl slightly ahead of me turned and spat on my leg, I was sure my trash bag some how doubled as a cloak of invisibility. After cresting a hill and viewing the swarm of bobbing heads both beyond and behind me, an odd feeling overcame me. I was caught in a tide of 8,000 runners, but in no way did I stand out. In no way was I unique, important, or notable. I felt incredibly small, insignificant, and alone.

In any sport (as in life), negativity is your worst enemy. Once I stared feeling sorry for myself, things went from bad to worse. My whole body hurt, I was nauseated, and my mind began reading mileage markers wrong causing me to think I was in my last mile at least three times. I have run races when all I wanted was food or water, but today nothing was more precious to me than when I handed off the baton with a mere 5 miles to go until the finish line. All I wanted in that moment was to stop running.

I hobbled to the shuttle that would take me back to the center of the race, and collapsed into the first available seat. Now that I had finally stopped running, other needs pressed on me: I needed dry clothes, I needed to lie down, I needed water, I needed to pee. When I looked up, I was stunned to see the man sharing my seat looked nearly identical to another friend of mine who was hard at work nearly 1,000 miles away. I was cold, miserable, lonely, in pain, and the one person I would most like to see wasn’t there, but a doppelganger appeared in his place (probably my mind playing tricks on me again, but at least this time my hallucination was more helpful).

Jerry and I chatted during the bus ride & walked together to the finish area to find his family and my team. He told me that he used to compete in triathlons, but then he got married, had kids, and after doing a single 6.5 mile leg of the race today, he felt more beat up than ever before in his life. Nostalgia for the good old days reflected in his eyes as if it occurred to him for the first time that he would never be a triathlete again. He had a different life now, better in some ways and worse in others, but he was enjoying tackling the new challenges brought on by all the changes.

Talking with Jerry reminded me that no one had forced me to show up and run in the freezing rain. I had been invited to participate, and I ran on behalf of others who could not run, My friends were waiting for me and once we were warm, dry, hydrated, and relaxed, the bad weather and negative experiences would be forgotten. Only our personal victories would remain. I stopped noticing the cold wind and my sore knee (except while navigating stairs), but I did notice the rain had stopped. I also realized that each of the 8,000 runners on the course had her own struggles and challenges in life, each had a reason for lacing up his shoes each day, and each would take something different away at the finish, but not one of us was alone. On this day, especially, we were in it together. Like the snow that covered the hills that morning, we looked identical bunched up in a group, but as individuals, each of us was unique.