Thursday, December 19, 2013

With a heavy heart...

So. This is a training blog. Through which I will share my journey from here to Copley Square.

This is week one of eighteen leading up to the Marathon. For the next 18 weeks, I will obsess over every twinge, sniffle, hill repeat and sprint. I’m currently watching a finger, both IT bands, and a hip, for those keeping score.

However, as I lay out my training plans for the next few months, this week reminded me that this marathon, like last year’s, is about something more important than how much I'll be running.

My community has suffered another loss, another teenager who, like her friend in whose honor I have been running, fought depression hard. At the funeral, her Rabbi made a point of describing her parents as good parents. Her family read poems and talked about the child’s love of all life aquatic and appetite for adventure. Her curiosity. Her ability to draw connections that most of the rest of us would never get to on our own. Her brother said goodbye. What felt like ten thousand people from our community almost immediately surrounded the family (both families) with hugs and food and memories.

And I’m thinking to myself, I’m running only a marathon. Only 26 miles. Not nearly enough to measure out my grief or the empathy I carry for families who’ve lost children, especially this way. 

I have two really important reasons to run this marathon in support of suicide prevention and grief support services, but really I have about 4500 just counting the kids in my town. I know I cannot stop every suicide, but I can do my part (with your help) to make sure that support is out there for people at their most vulnerable, and for those who have to learn to live with loss.

Hug them hard. Make sure they know that there are people out there who will reach back, without judgment, if they need to reach out. And make sure that they know they can volunteer, too, to answer calls, chats and texts from kids like them. Every one of them has more to offer than they know.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Love is strength, stay strong Boston"

I do not easily fall for groupspeak. However. This #BostonStrong of which we tweet...

No one is in this alone, perhaps, is what the bombings have given us a chance to say to each other. Because it could have been any of us, it was all of us? This sentiment resonates with the work of Samaritans and my whole point of running the marathon last year. 

Earlier in the blog I wrote about two times I went splat training last winter, I think. I've already had my first black ice wipeout - thankfully on foot, testing whether I should try to bike down the hill (no!) and I got up again. Should have been a stunt double for all the falling. Good practice for my later years, I guess. But I digress. 

Boston Marathon 2014 gives everyone touched a chance to get up again.

I mean, really. Could they have picked a more symbolic public assembly than the Boston Marathon? It's not even work here to lift the symbolism from sub- to text. Really. Dumb@sses.

Anyway, #BostonStrong. Since April, I have passed this encouragement, just off Mass Ave in Cambridge, on my way to and from my temp job: 

Mid-October, before THE RED SOX WON THE WORLD SERIES! I found this in Lexington, at Wilson Farm

And, over the summer, when I was fortunate enough to be on holiday just about as far west of Boston as you can get and still be in the USA, #BostonStrong crossed the Pacific Ocean and affected someone there, too (graffiti in HI involves dead coral white rocks on black lava rock canvas. Cool, no?)

Aloha, indeed! What's your #BostonStrong?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'm ba-ack!

I'm back...

I know the blog was called ...2013...but until I cross that finish line in some ways it's one long continuation race. 

The Boston Athletic Association graciously allowed those of us who came close but didn't finish to enter in 2014 without qualifying or committing to fundraising. Runner interest in Boston 2014 surged, and I'm guessing the Boston marathon fan base - everyone who camps out there along all 26 miles for hours for the sole purpose of cheering on strangers - will amplify the running world's desire to see this marathon through. 

I felt some of that - I still feel electric when I tell the story - the afternoon I ran my last mile a couple weeks later - when a very busy Copley Square full of strangers spontaneously (with the help of some friends who insisted on more cowbell) became the finish line cheering crowd. I took that as the city needing us to finish the race as much as we needed to for ourselves. 

My enthusiasm for running in 2014, and I'm sure the energy of the event itself, will be tempered by honoring the loss and suffering so many carried away that afternoon. By running this race, my intent is to testify resilience...another year older and still at it. I am not generally susceptible to regional sloganeering, but Boston Strong, indeed.  

And, also, despite the BAA pass, I'll be fundraising again, talking to everyone I meet about adolescent mental health and the suicide prevention and grief support services offered by Samaritans, Inc. The agency's incoming call volume went up about 40% in the aftermath and has remained high. 

I have seen how much difference a few bucks make to Samaritans, and I have seen how much difference their services make to people in need. It is an honor to support Samaritans, an honor to run in memory of the daughter of friends, Shaira Ali, who died by suicide on marathon Monday, 2012. 

I was asked whether I might have some trepidation about running Boston again, if the marathon might not again attract bad actors, might not be safe. I can't say I haven't given it a little thought - and I know the BAA and others have given that a lot of thought. 

I have talked to runners who have decided to sit this one out, and to the other seven of us Samaritans runners from last year who are all-in for 2014, with all the fundraising and training our new teammates have taken on. There are good reasons to make either decision. 

For me, two things. One, my commitment to Samaritans and my desire to honor Shaira's memory remain strong, and relevant. 

Two, I do not want to live in a world constrained by what ifs and bad actors. A thin layer of possible realities separated me from harm last year, thin enough to justifiably dissuade me (and others) from heading back there again. And I do have my ancestor's genetically programmed anxiety...

But here, I'm going with the pull to live in - to make - the world in which I and many others run strong across that finish line and show the crackpots that they messed with the wrong "f*ckin' city...," that people are resilient and strong and where there is bad intent, there is so much more good waiting to reveal itself.

Oy. I'm running again, and raising money, and having some fun along the way. Please join me! Stay tuned!

Monday, April 29, 2013

It wasn't about me.

I keep thinking to myself, "This is the last thing I'm going to say about the marathon...this is the last thing I'm going to write about the marathon." And if this had been a normal marathon, I suppose that would have been true roughly two weeks ago. The marathon would rest as a complete narrative; I'd casually swap times and running resumes with other runners. I'd look forward to next year.

Five months ago, I didn't start in on this marathon to be all about myself; however, through the process of training, recovering from injury, and running the marathon I learned much about myself as a community member and athlete.

This marathon doesn't end being about Shaira and her community any more than it ends being a story about me. Couple of local guys with explosives made this marathon about so much more than any one person's story. Looking at a roomful of 100 people in this community, I see at minimum 1,000 stories of connectedness to just this year's race; everyone in Boston knows at least ten other people who ran, volunteered, cheered, waited at the finish for their heroes, either this year or some other. Many have hearts heavy with grief and pain for victims in their personal circles.

People remain hospitalized making unthinkable decisions about their bodies. Funerals, memorial services, interfaith services have been held, spring erupts, life goes back to something like normal in these parts. Since the story is now bigger than I can imagine, I will share the story of my last mile - many others will run this last mile in the coming weeks. This mile does not belong to me, this story does not really belong to me, but I think it shows something about the character of this city, and the strength of the shared social fabric we comprise.

I went downtown April 27, a gorgeous spring afternoon, to run my last mile. 

In the coming weeks, more and more runners plan to get that last mile - many of those who couldn't finish are local, running for charities. We are able to get downtown to finish without incurring another plane ticket since most of us call the Boston metro area our home. 

I didn't head into town alone. A full minivan including my running buddy and her husband and my daughter's soccer coach (and family friend) who came to run with me. Also in the van, a friend and my partner who both came to cheer (supplied with a cowbell I reluctantly agreed to let them use). We were met downtown by another pair of long-time friends, one of whom got me into endurance charity events as a bicyclist who has dedicated much of his free time over several years to raise money for AIDS research and program support. They brought chocolate.

We were also met by a reporter from WBUR to talk about recovering from the events of Marathon week.

While waiting outside Marathon Sports for everyone to park and catch up in the crowds, I met a couple of therapy dogs, including Burton, a 155lb Lionberger with paws the size of my hands. Crowds silently took in the memorial at Copley Square, boarded up windows and such damage as remains visible. There were crowds shopping, eating, walking, taking pictures. Three blocks of Boylston teemed with people.
The four of us running headed back from the finish line, jockeyed our way through throngs to take a right on Hereford and a left on Comm Ave, me looking for the place I left the course to go find safety and start putting things back together.

I found the stretch - between  Charlesgate and the Comm Ave underpass. 

We turned and headed back to take the right on Hereford and the left on Boylston that I had so looked forward to since I learned I had gotten a number last December.

As we run, I get a taste of what will meet us at the finish - we start getting smiles, nods, applause, high fives.  

My group approaches our cheering section which is ringing that cowbell and whooping it up a bit. I wanted things low-key, figuring public safety personnel have enough to worry about, but as we threaded up in traffic and our cheerers cheered, Boylston St. became the street it had been at 2:49pm on April 15. High fives. Cheering. Whooping. Clapping. From both sides of the street. From cars stuck in traffic. Hands stuck out car windows for slapping. Smartphones went up snapping photos. Not one complaint about impeding traffic. 

When I came to a stop a small crowd gathered to exchange hugs and stories. A Watertown firefighter stopped, graciously accepting our appreciation. I felt like a rock star. I felt the social fabric mend. I felt a bit of healing, a bit of closure. I felt electric. 

This is a town that knows how to cheer for a marathon. Home-grown explosives did not dent that spirit. Saturday I ran two miles. I crossed a totally worn blue and yellow finish line on a busy street to the delight of strangers from all over the world. I would do it again in a heartbeat. That last mile was for me, but more so it was for my cheering section, the city of Boston, the marathon itself... Armed extremists will not shut me down, did not shut down Boylston St., and did nothing but strengthen how much this marathon symbolizes. I needed the mile, and I am guessing the crowd needed me, needs us, to get that mile, to keep going. I can't imagine how powerful the "official" last mile event will be. 

I will not close by saying this is my last word about Boston 2013. I've learned that lesson. I am always going to be someone who ran the 117th Boston Marathon, someone who lived in the Boston area for that unbelievable week when the news was hard to believe and really bizarre things were happening in places where I  go about the business of living my life. There are countless stories to be told and connections to be made from living through these events. 

Just after the marathon, I spoke with Amina Chaudary, editor of The Islamic Monthly, who did a beautiful job producing a podcast, up on That's Some American Muslim Life, about my reason for running Boston as a Samaritans fundraiser.  

The day I ran my last mile, I spoke with Asma Khalid for a WBUR story: "How Does a City Heal?," about how various people are recovering from the shock of the week's events. 

Click here to see a collection of photos from the last mile. 

What's your marathon week story?

PS: Support Samaritans! Thank you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So what happened?

A very nervous Helene got out of the car at Charles and Beacon at 6:45 Monday morning. It was cold. My legs were both purple taped. 

I met up with much of the Samaritans team. I highly recommend the Samaritans team. The runners are good, solid people, and the non-profit staff is caring, attentive, and grateful for our commitment to fundraise and run. I bounced, nervously, in the back of the bus for an hour out to Hopkinton. 

I didn't really think I'd see Copley on foot, and I was right but for the wrong reason. No one could have expected that, except now we all will every time a number of us gather in one place. 

I ran  until I ran out of course. If I had been in an earlier start wave, I would have finished and I might well have been blown to bits. So many ifs, so many in my circles have stories involving a thin veneer of "what ifs" that would have put us in imminent danger, so innocently choosing a bathroom break over acceleration, or factors out of our control like a later assigned start. 

Before I get to the end, much has been written about the first 26 miles of this course. I dreamed of being able to run Boston, then I was pretty certain I wouldn't be able to, and then I did. The whiplash from being stopped at mile 25.2 being told there were explosions at the finish after running, nay being floated through the course by angels, just like everyone said, still hurts.  

I had the running day of my life. Yeah, my quads both blew (Boston does that), and yeah, my balky IT was sore afterwards, but nothing, really, nothing impeded my progress on the course. I still got it (fist pump). No permanent damage. I was truly guarded by angels. Lifted by Shaira. Out of my mind happy to be running, finally.  My IT did not snap and roll up like a windowshade. My glutes stayed quiet, my Achilleses stayed attached. When I was able to run these past few weeks, my neck had been seizing up, tense from keeping my gait balanced on a balky knee. There was no way, realistically, I should have been able to pull off 26 of those miles. My calves had started to twitch and cramp, but only after I had gotten far enough into town (yes - into Kenmore Square!) that I knew I would finish. I am sore the day after, but so thankful for even that. 

The weather was perfect. The spectators are the greatest on the planet. The Biker Bar, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, BC screaming, and every town along the way full of really cheerful faces - probably glad they weren't running themselves, no?

 I kissed boys. Girls. High-fived kids and grownups. I saw the Hoyts. I saw soldiers. Blind and disabled runners being guided. (Hm...can I fundraise and guide next year?) I saw both Juli and John, dwarves running Boston for the first time. I saw Angry Birds. Hamburgers. Wonder Woman. I learned I need to spell my name phonetically next year. I was in tears crossing into Wellesley. Newton. Yikes- I'm going to make it!

And then I wasn't. I would have run across the finish line somewhere around a 4:35 (without proper training are you kidding me? Thank you CoonDogg Fitness!)  Instead, I walked off the course and a couple more miles to the Samaritans office, then another mile or so to the T, on my feet from 6:45am through 6:45 pm. And so thankful for that. Sore, yes, but moving. 

I was probably at mile 22 when It Happened. I don't remember hearing anything, but as I came over into Kenmore with the Citgo sign drawing closer and Fenway Park on  my right I realized I was hearing way more sirens, and helicopters, than I would have expected at a marathon. Sure, someone might go down and need an ambulance, but just one. As I drew to a stop at 25.2 told the course was closed, and as it slowly dawned on me that something significant, and sinister, had happened, I began to shake. To change speeds, to stop running, to go from one of the greatest of days to yet another Marathon Monday that I would prefer not to look in the eyes, the trauma is still sinking in. I know many people who were in the midst, who have seen worse, and were able to help, or are going through worse. 

I borrowed a cell phone to text Em and start getting the word out that I was fine, then nearly burst into tears as Garrett and Ron from Samaritans materialized at my shoulder and walked me back to the office. To the person whose left-behind jacket I sweated up - shivery from the physical exertion and overwhelmed by the horror unfolding a few blocks to the east - sorry. If it's any consolation, I didn't really get warm. 

Back at the office, I hopped on social media (after Samaritans had already started) to let my world know I was ok - and I am still overwhelmed by the concern - and the kindness - we have been shown. 

This is not the ending I imagined - either I'd finish or I wouldn't, but I thought I wouldn't finish because my own body would betray me. Not some stranger with malicious intent. 

I am so sorry for the losses  innocent people, perhaps having the greatest running day of their lives, have had put upon them (This guy wrote the most eloquent paeon to Boston. Instead of copying, I'll just link. What he said.) 

Although I won't get a finisher's time for Boston, I will not asterisk this one. I am a Boston Finisher. Got the medal - thought it wasn't important but it has taken on quite the symbolic weight. I am a runner, a marathoner, a Boston marathoner. I have run up - and down - Heartbreak. I have not right on hereford and left on boylstoned, but in time I'll correct that. I nailed everything else. Nailed it. 

I remain grateful for the opportunity to run and do something good for Samaritans, I am  humbled by the support my community has shown. 

To continued recovery, to pray and to fight, and to run. Thank you for running with me this spring! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Plan X...

And just like that I'm a marathoner without a plan. Which is not a marathoner-like thing to be at all. 

About 6 weeks ago my IT band went useless. I have found ways to manage the pain, to walk again, to bike, to keep up the CoonDogg Boot Camp conditioning, to do everything but run much. This marathon brought to you by KT Tape and naproxen sodium. 

About two weeks ago there was a little bike mishap where I wound up on my butt and, again, a little sore. 

Can I run? Yes. Should I run? I have not yet gone medical establishment, paying money and taking time I don't have to hear things I don't want to...

I accomplished what I wanted to do for Samaritans and for Shaira and those who miss her. I have been blessed by support from all corners - more than 100 donors, and roughly $7,000 later, I am humbled. Proud to champion Samaritans, grateful for everyone who helped the non-profit and also helped me get closer to the finish line at Copley. Wishing with every step, every conversation that I wasn't doing this for the reason I am. 

Even after I became fairly certain I am not going to run across that finish line, and in fact will probably be dropping off the course well short of that goal the support kept coming.  I have the best sponsors on the planet.

As I wrote recently to a small group who asked to sponsor me, "So if me finishing this marathon is important to your donation decision, wait till next year because I'm definitely going to give it another go. If joining in support of Samaritans in memory of Shaira Ali and to help spread the word about an important resource for teens and families (both as clients and as volunteers!) Then I am happy to have your support!"

They donated. In my thank you, overwhelmed with gratitude for what members of my community will do for one another, I wrote: 

Thanks, guys! I have been blown away by the community I live in. Completely humbled by how much everyone has been not just willing but eager to support this effort.I consider the support only partially for me but mostly for our kids - Shaira, obviously, and her family, but for everyone. The town I live in really gets it that we are connected, that there is a common good and that we each can grab an oar and share responsibility for each other's well-being. Big thoughts, but I've been having these conversations for several months now and I am just so grateful!The marathon is a selfish undertaking- takes time away from my family, but I  personally get a lot out of it even without making the finish line. To combine my selfish pursuit of running long and getting away with eating like a high school football player while with having these conversations about mental health and social supports tending my little corner of our village has been, well, gratifying.

What's going to happen on Monday? I'm going to the starting line, and I'm going to start running. I will probably bawl for the first mile, adrenaline will take me for an hour or so, and I will run as long as nothing hurts. I will walk, run some more, and at some point I will either cross the finish line or stop running before I undo the recovery I've managed, setting my sights on next year. The irony of running so strong for so many years and finding myself injured before the reward that was supposed to be 26 miles of history. Feh. I will walk into the Expo tomorrow like I own it, and wear my spiffy jacket with pride - and gratitude.  

So. Thank you. Going for a little run on Monday. See you after.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

IT Scare!

Into every planned marathon enter independent variables. Weather, obviously, and this winter has been rough. Last year's Boston featured beastly hot weather, although the winter leading up to last year's marathon  was dry and not even that cold. 

Last weekend on the morning of my long run I found a track free of snow and went for it. About 8 x 800, aggressive but reasonable pace. But with each successive circuit, my knee was trying to tell me something. And I, like a lost child in a store, wasn't listening. We joke that the kid doesn't want to admit to being lost, because that would be admitting to a problem and the kid doesn't want to admit there's a problem. 

Well, neither did I. A marathon is an investment of time, money, planning, calories, weather, hundreds of training miles, sometimes travel and lodging, and ultimately an entire day between getting to, running, and the long tail of recovering from those last 26 miles on the plan. And, as a charity runner, I have sought (and received!!) the support of my community on behalf of suicide prevention services. 

Anything can hop in and derail those plans - weather is a big one, injury another. Sometimes weather moves small things, like a track workout to the hills, or a long run to the next morning, and sometimes it shifts the entire marathon - and the front-loaded preparation - to the following year in hopes of less life-threatening weather. Each situation that comes up presents a complex calculus resulting in a go/no-go decision with far-reaching ramifications. 

Like whether to continue running on a sore knee, or how many days to take off; if the knee goes early in the training cycle perhaps it will come back in time to complete training to enable finishing a strong marathon (if nothing else gets in the way). Add in the extensive sponsorship I have received as a runner, and the commitment I made to Samaritans and the John Hancock program. That's a lot of forces at work. 

In fact, one of our runners had a knee blow up her marathon, too late in the training cycle to recover, but only mid-way through her fundraising cycle that still must go on. In talking with other Samaritans runners, just about all of us have had the same knee issue; one posits that the snow has altered our gaits and encouraged a tendinitis outbreak.

So last weekend I limped home, got busy with ice, ibuprofen, stretching, foam-rolling, I even got in another damned ice bath (and I have a low tolerance for cold). I took a couple days off, scrubbed the second of the three 20 milers planned, and was able to run a strong 6 and a 10 this weekend, adding back in my bike commuting and continuing with the ice and everything. 

I plan to ramp up next weekend for another 20 miler in two weeks, then I taper until 4/15. Phew. It is nice to be able to run strong, even if I have idiot lights on my dashboard flashing. I've been lucky to run without anything to worry about for a long time, and I believe - especially after being able to run strong this weekend - that my confidence in being able to run in a month is not misplaced. 

Why did my knee go off? I suspect a combination of running hard in dead sneakers, partially on snow, and missing the overall even conditioning of boot camp for a couple weeks. I got new sneakers and a good stretching plan...and ice baths in winter. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How I train (for marathons)

For most of my life, running marathons had no relation to me. Other people ran marathons. Fit people. People with six-pack abs and legs of steel, people with steely resolve, sharp jaws, no body fat, way more discipline than me. The guy down the street, when I was growing up,  must've been the only runner in town. Now I think I live in East Boulder, the hordes of people sweating and grunting up and down the streets of my town before dawn all year round.

That guy down the street used running to shed a bunch of weight, and of course he died young of an early heart attack...Crazy people. Pheidippides died after, or didn't he

In middle school, I knew one high school kid who ran Boston bandit and came back to show off his blisters. 

Blisters? I was surprised he hadn't died from the exertion. 

So years ago, I ran my first 5k, then 10k. Then half. Then I bicycled from Boston to New York. Then I ran a marathon - a slow marathon, then another and eventually a third. 

So I've been asked how I train, both in general and in preparation for the marathon.

  • Bike commuting about 17 miles a day: cardio, low-impact cardio. Getting into town is easy. Getting home is up damn hill and almost always into a headwind.
  • Once a week I play pickup soccer with a bunch of tolerant, talented soccer players.
  • In summer, once a week I swim a mile out and back at Walden with another group of hard cases. 
  • Once a week CoonDogg Fitness. "Quality over Quantity." See below. Sign up at Arlington Community Education. I swear I dropped 20 minutes from my marathon PR and ten from my half just by going to boot camp. I've never been the group fitness sort, but Matt ( has a ton of energy, and the hour flies. Planks. Burpees. Squats. Cardio. 
  • And finally, the running. For a few years, I was running 40 mile weeks rain, snow, shine. In marathon season, I'm following Hal Higdon's Intermediate 2/Advanced 1 in some combination. Out of season, I'm running north of 25 miles a week, with a 10 mile long every couple weeks, and running 4-5 days a week unless I am biking too much. 

And that's how it's done...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Seven degree wind chill

In the aftermath of another winter storm, this one featuring a few badly-timed inches of snow, fierce winds up to 50mph, and bone- chilling cold, I put in my 19 training miles.

I can think of weather I'd rather run in, but there it is. Maybe last year's marathon day weather was so bad because the winter was so mild and I'll get good weather for my Boston?

I learned a duct tape trick to cover the toes of my trainers against the slush, which sort of worked for awhile. I looked for roads that were both plowed and low-traffic. 19 miles of them. Three hours and ten minutes worth.

Running up hills into the west wind brought me nearly to a standstill. I keep going, into what is kind of like resistance training -imagine how fast I'll be able to go on bare, warm pavement if I put my time in on the icy, slushy, windy days.

This run today was complicated by landing square on my unpadded sit bone playing Futsal this morning, getting knocked on my tush. Aggravating a two year old glute injury, but it's just a bruise, not a twist or a break...the upside of running in this kind of cold, and because I never really figured out how to keep my backside warm, I really couldn't feel much at all...I think all I can't do is sit.

Boston is a phenomenal town in which to run a marathon. Here, people cheer for everyone, not just the name on their signs.

Here, on a blowy Sunday afternoon when folks are digging out, I slog past a couple guys who encourage me, say they are jealous, and when I say "let's do this," one says, referring to Boston, 9 weeks to go! I suppose the only freaks out running on a day like this would be marathoners. Boston marathoners, this year, thank you, no caveat necessary!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What does a recreational marathoner eat?

What does a recreational marathoner eat? Anything she wants ;-)

It is a good day when Lose It! tells me I can eat 3500 more calories after a twenty mile training run. 

Breakfast is oatmeal, peanut butter, blueberries and cinnamon. Lunch? sandwich. Cookies. Dark chocolate. 

Snacktime is where things get interesting. 

I joined Pinterest, spent about half hour on it, and high-tailed it out of there after I'd gotten the single most useful thing I'd ever seen in my life: a recipe for cookie dough truffles. I find the chocolate coating a bit fussy - with things the wrong temperature, the insides leak out. But that's not the only problem. The coating process simply takes too long.

Four of my other collected favorite words in English are "sheet cake and forks," so it should not surprise anyone to hear me rant about "cookie dough and spoon." I found another recipe that works just as well with half the butter, but I tend to add baking soda and salt to get the taste right. Also, don't use dark brown sugar. Trust me.

 Another really useful piece of advice I saw a while back is that chocolate milk, or hot chocolate, makes a really good recovery drink. 

When I'm running, I don't do many of the fancy running substances (I'm recreational, after all, and though they won't be testing me after the race, I don't need to go all performance-enhancement on anyone!) Probably because it is dessert-like, I use Gu Energy packets. Peanut Butter! Chocolate!! Jet Blackberry! Caffeine!! And, despite a life-long aversion to jelled candy, my new sister-in-law turned me on to Clif ShotBloks, also sweet, sometimes caffeinated, and much less messy than the Gus.

But back to the hot chocolate. When I buy out, I am partial to L.A. Burdick. They know their chocolate beverages, hot and cold. Big time.

However, I am lucky enough to live within biking distance of the Taza factory, and was lucky enough to score a Cocomotion hot chocolate maker off Freecycle awhile back. Want to make sure I keep my strength up? I'm partial to Cacao Puro!
Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano
So what does an old, slow, sweet-toothed recreational marathoner eat? Whatever looks good!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Anxiety Meds

Play Soundtrack in new window: These Days, Jackson Browne...

I learned years ago that extensive endurance training rattles loose long-forgotten, emotional memories. Riding north of 100 miles on a bike I would grind home with swirls of high school nights flashing like planetarium laser shows. I'd conjure people, scenes and emotions I hadn't visited in years, hadn't thought I would ever resurface through the accretion of life and maturity in the years since.

While emotional, surprising, and totally not under my control, I came to savor the richness of the snowglobe effect distance training has on my brain. 

This past week I ran an early morning 9 in single digit degrees then went to work and came down with a touch of flu. Feverish for a day, I slept two days and kept still a third. 

I don't care what happens but I absolutely cannot keep still another. 

I don't know if the parade of nightly horribles keeping me from sleep the last two nights comes from the virus's last stand or the longest stretch of endorphin-less time I have spent in years.

You whom I have wronged, failed, inadvertently insulted or let down, who through inexperience and short-sightedness I have committed transgression against, all the jobs I haven't gotten or even applied for, the work not done well, the achievements I have through sloth or ineptitude, left for someone else, the daughter, partner, sister, parent, niece, aunt, cousin, friend, superhero I could - should have been...has all this and more haunted my recovery from this light brush with flu-like symptoms. 

The money I haven't saved, the money I spent, the cookies and candy I ate when I shouldn't have, the food I didn't eat when I should have, the donations I didn't make when asked, the non-sustainably sourced food I have consumed, the fuel burned on my account for reasons substantial and trivial, the food I have microwaved instead of prepared slowly, ... yeah, far enough overboard that even I eventually figured out that some rheostat up there went miscalibrated. 

I know, I am catastrophizing with all the shoulds, and all the slights I debit on your behalf against myself (I have really thick skin, so please don't worry  that I spend all my time tallying imagined, unintended hurts). And all the underachievement. If I were well I would consider the leadings a compass. My point is that the data coming through in the teeny hours was overwhelmingly absurd.

I have got to get moving again stat. Running does that for me, calms the anxiety, calibrates the rheostat controlling these racing, anxious, self-flagellating, wild insomniac thoughts. 

It finally dawned on me sometime after midnight the connection between the last few days of no moving around and this toxic, only partially honest, sludge causing insomnia and a racing heartbeat and composed mea maxima apologia at all random hours.  I so appreciate being well enough to move and am totally fine with facing the consequences if I false start and relapse for not sitting still long enough. I gotta get going.

Samaritans, for whom I am running, answer calls from brains like mine operating under a severe happy-hormone deficit. I am honored to support them. And getting my soccer shoes on for some cross-training. Join me!

"Don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them." 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Metaphorical Monkey Bars or How I Get Through New England Winters

It's already getting lighter. By now we're getting about half an hour more sunlight than we did at winter solstice. 

Sunrise inches back towards 7am - this I know because the sky lightens before I've finished my morning run. Sunset inches back towards 5pm, this I know from the lingering colors up there when I get to leave work on the early side. 

What do I mean by monkey bars? Winter is so dark, and so cold, that I find myself holding my breath through certain milestones, I think of swinging from monkey bars to avoid the alligator pit underneath the playground structure. 

January 23: the first day our daylight increases by two minutes or more per day. 
Feb 2:  the date the average daily temperature in Massachusetts starts going back up, degree by degree. 
Truck Day (Feb 5, 2013)
Pitchers and Catchers (Feb 10)
Full Squad 2/15
TBD when I hear the first Grapefruit radio broadcast
March 20, first day of Spring. 

By then it might still be snowy and cold. Or rainy and cold. But it'll be light, and any cold that lingers is really expensive for someone. The sun by then totally has the advantage. And I'll stand down my guard against those alligators. 

How do you survive the winter?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cold. Windy. Hilly. Late. Do I have to?

For the first time in a long time today's run took effort to get started. Off schedule, step back week, icy cold wind. Why bother. Only 10 miles. Other things to do. 

All the advice says go out for 10 minutes. Even if it's only 10 minutes.

I've read running described as an "undifferentiated" activity - it allows one's thoughts to go wherever they want while your body does its fairly repetitive activity requiring a minimal amount of mindfulness. I consider it like Tuvan throat singing (find info here), where the singers somehow emit two notes at at same time. My body does one thing, my brain (other than making sure I don't run into traffic) another. I cannot throat sing. 

Here's the rough trajectory my brain took as I ran all ten miles the doctor ordered: 

I head out into the 24 degree wind, uphill. Remind myself why I'm doing this Marathon for Shaira and everyone else in need of an ear in a time of crisis. How fortunate I am to be able to run like I do - some people would commit crimes to be able to run like this. Ok, it's not so cold out. 

None of the miles Team Samaritans run will bring anyone back, I get that, but at least two good things result: the money we raise will make sure that Samaritans will be there for the next person who needs. That's one good thing. This hill isn't so imposing. The other good thing? Keeping the memories of those we run in honor of front and center. 

I take it back about the two things. I wasn't expecting the third set of good things happening after I committed to run this race. I get to experience an enormous amount of support from everyone who sponsors me, asks me how training is going, asks me how to donate, offers to run with me, tells me where they plan to cheer us on. 

I am so blessed. And grateful. And humbled. 

And old, which brings on the other half of my thought process this morning's solo run, the other reason I am doing this thing, this marathon, this running. 

I recently had a short conversation with a very young grandmother whose granddaughter turned 15. "When I reached 15," she said, it was the first time I was aware of growing old. It is half of 30!" Which echoes what my next birthday has me thinking (it is not a round number), that it is half of an absurdly big number. It's time to take all that public health aging stuff seriously. I'm pretty healthy, but not perfect. I'm hoping really hard that the physical challenges I put my body into will help me live healthier for longer.... 

Thinking of 15 put this song in  my head. Hmm. How old was Al Stewart when he recorded that song? Probably half the age I am now. Oh, I bet the internet will know - and because the internet will know, and because I am going to figure it out, it is what I will leave you with. 

Also, I will leave you with the suggestion that I might be convinced to do a stand up comedy set at a fundraising party I'm planning for the middle of March. Bring your phones and set them to record!

Time Passages album released 1978 (; Al Stewart born 1945 (wikipedia). 1978-1945 = ok, not half my age now but pretty damn young. And I am older than I look, people. Besides. What would a 33 year old singer songwriter have to be nostalgic about?? 

I wonder whether I would look older if I stopped running or younger. Which finishes my blog post, and my ten mile run. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

...and then I got up and ran again.

One of my favorite aphorisms goes something like "Fall down N times get up N+1 times." Well, not that nerdy, but along those lines.

I didn't get out to run until lunchtime, and I was kinda nervous about how things would feel after the crash landing yesterday, but I was fine. I set out on a route that I could easily limp home from and then kept going. And going. Approximately 2:20 (two hours and twenty minutes) and approximately 14 miles, touching into three towns and then back home, with my Heartbreak Hill proxy coming into play at around mile 12.

Thought about posting a picture of my scrambled knee but thought the better of it.

Have had a tetanus shot within recent memory, but wondering if I need to worry about that (I worry about everything) after the near puncture wound of unspecified origin that I got when I fell.

Now where are those cookies, I'm hungry!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Before you got up this morning I went splat...

While running, not biking, thankfully. I suppose the upside to a klutzy childhood is knowing how to fall.

Before 6, I was running and chatting away. Then I was falling, unable to right myself, then I was sliding about a foot on my stomach before coming to a stop.

If it is icy, I run slower. If I know there's a hazard or I'm in the woods, I run slower. Today there was nothing to worry about. Except the uneven sidewalk obscured in the streetlamp shadow. Wham. I was not running slower, as evidenced by the long skid on my belly.

Banged and scraped knee, gouged elbow. I have plenty of vitamin I with me and will be fine. Finished the run and gently rode my bike into work.

I missed my calling. Shoulda been a stunt woman.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Six Saturday, 14 Today...

Following a reasonably aggressive training schedule, I plan to run three 20 milers before Boston. Last year, I ran down to the aquarium, to the beach, and to Walden for my three long runs. This year, without a steady running buddy, I think I will set up a water stop on her porch and do big loops around town. It's not the sightseeing, it's the running. Which I would probably even be happy doing on a treadmill. No complaints. 

So this is my first 20 mile weekend. One of my jobs is to pay attention to what hurts. I need to be intelligent about training, and committing to the marathon. I have to be able to tell injury from annoyance in order to train smarter. Last year, I bested my marathon of ten years prior by 20 minutes, how's that for smarter? Not running Boston for time, necessarily, but I do want to run the thing. Pain is temporary. One's finish time on the Internet: forever. 

Got a new, really ugly pair of running shoes from Marathon Sports (Hi Brian). With my orthotics, they think I can run in neutral rather than stability shoes. The neutral shoes are lighter, and screaming loud enough not to get lost in the snow. 

Assessment: so far, my left heel occasionally feels dimly like plantar fasciitis coming back, but even after runs north of 12 miles the fascia seems to be holding. So it may be a symptom of new running shoes, or wearing stiffer winter shoes/boots. For now I'm not concerned enough to check my training.

My right hip - dunno which part - is back making noise, but several times over the last several years I have been able to stretch it into submission. (adds stretching back into the mix). 

Left glute, which still echoes the major hamstring pull of a couple years ago. I feel it, but I have felt it and still run well. I hear it. (adds stretching back to the mix)

Rule of thumb: while running if it hurts for more than a minute it is an injury and stop. If it requires, pay attention but you do not have to stop. For now, nothing hurts while running. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The end of bike season

When one path is blocked, I use another...As I plan my training routes, one morning I get to run by the lake, the next morning I can't. Like some big mechanical board game, my running life changes with the snowfall. As did my commuting life, temporarily. 

I started this post just after we'd gotten about 8 inches of snow. I so love my bike commute - the two-a-day workout, but also the timelessness of flying down the road on a bike, the self-sufficiency of not having to wait for a bus or pay to park. I once heard someone talk about the euphoric state that set in after surviving a near-fatal attack. I wonder if the high I get from biking comes from the biking or the surviving?

Anyway, it was time to put the bike away, just after a thorough tune up from UrbanAdventours. And then it wasn't. One single-digit morning that froze up public transit where I am stuck standing in front of a misanthrope no better than any of the rest of us but not as far as he could tell, and I'm back on the bike. 

I don't have snow tires, so the next snow will put me off, but not completely. This coming week brings promise of 40 degree + days. I rode in yesterday in 20 degrees, with wind, so I'll  be fine, and not annoyed by my fellow man. Plus I have to figure out how to  work in running mileage with my biking mileage and not overdo things.

As for running, where there is plowed road there's a way. I will look forward to running the unplowed paths again later in the spring.