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Born to Run

There’s something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time. – Born to Run

So, as I mentioned in the last post I just finished Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. And wow. Loved it. I don’t know why I haven’t read it sooner. Well maybe I do. I have an affliction to trendy books. I don’t know why. It’s kind of a stupid, elitist thing. So when this book came out and became the most buzzed about book in all the running circles, I decided to stay away. But obviously I didn’t stay away forever and I’m very happy I decided to give it a shot.

First impressions: I highly prefer to read non-fiction, love reading a journalist’s writing, and I like books that take on an anthropological view. Oh, and it’s about running, which is kind of my thing, so how bad could it be. Second impression once I began reading it: Man did it take on a million directions. Like I said, I love journalistic writing, but this seemed like one ADD reporter if you asked me. But I trusted him. I trusted that he was taking me on a journey and setting me up for something. And I liked that this “something” was something that I didn’t see coming. Looking back I realize that maybe it was somewhat obvious, but for me, the moment I was totally hooked was when I realized “Shaggy” was Caballo.

Before I go into anything else, let me just say that while I’m still slightly skeptical, I’m becoming more and more sold on the idea of barefoot/minimalist running. So much so that I intend to begin a slow regiment of barefoot running in Newport next month, being extremely mindful that this is something that should be done gradually. And I’m not ruling out the Vibram Five Fingers being a part of my future. Pete’s brother has them and seems to love them. But I’d like to hear from some women who wear them first. The arguments the book makes are very compelling. And as someone who has been battling injuries, much of what is said about shoes and form really speaks to me. For example, until it was pointed out to me I never noticed that I’m a little “knock-kneed”. When I run my knees brush past each other on almost every stride, and even when I’m walking I have noticed it happening as well. But without shoes? Nope, not so much.

Vibram FiveFingers

But ok, with my support and interest clearly stated, I must say that there are a few counter arguments I have. I guess the first regarding ultramarathoning: I simply don’t think just anyone can run an ultra as is implied (even though I know he’s not saying that ANY person RIGHT NOW can run one). I’m just saying that there are certain things that I believe takes super-special athletic ability and that’s one of them.

I also don’t think that barefoot running is for everyone, or that running shoes affect every person’s stride in a negative way or any way at all. Listen, I recognize in the tone of the book that he’s not arguing that does. I just felt that there was way too much generalization being made. What worked for him, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for everyone. I think the arguments are there, I think the examples and evidence are there, but I can’t help but think that it’s all that simple. But maybe it is.

One thing that I thought was interesting was a little anecdote he told about a great ultra runner who loved to run in his old sneakers. Then he went and tried to buy new shoes and it didn’t turn out well. So he went back to his old shoes that had hundreds and hundreds of miles on them, but didn’t cause him any injury. Well I guess first of all this seems to me to be an example of an individual story and not something that can necessarily translate to the general population. It’s like the line from He’s Just Not That Into You: You’re not the exception, you’re the rule. BUT, let me just point out this: I began running 4 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing really. I bought a random pair of New Balance xtraining sneakers and for almost three years I ran 3 miles on the treadmill, seven days a week. But then I decided I wanted to become more serious. So I bought a new pair of shoes, followed a training plan, and voila…I became a much better runner; and a distance runner at that. But let’s also put this in perspective: I haven’t been able to run seven days a week in who knows when. I’m constantly injured. I feel like I barely run anymore. I’ve been to a million specialists, had my feet examined, bought shoes that are supposed to help me, ect. It’s pathetic, but running 3 miles at a 10 min pace, seven days a week seems like I dream I could never reach. And so I have to wonder, what if I went back to those old beat up New Balance cross trainers…hmn.

Last point because I know this is getting a little long: A lot of people say Born to Run is a book about barefoot running. It certainly is. It craftily weaves science with storytelling. But I think there’s a whole other element of the book which, to me, was even more powerful: The joy of running, which is ultimately the greatest lesson we can learn from the Tarahumara. I love the stories about ultra runners, really good ultra runners, seeing the Tarahumara pass them at some un-godly mile, laughing and smiling. Of course they were tired. But their ability to enjoy running, their joyfulness, is what makes them the greatest runners on Earth.

I feel like I’ve left a substantial amount of information out, so I urge you all to go pick up a copy and read for yourself about the wonderful runners in the Sierra Madres.

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A Summer’s Day in VA Wine Country

It’s been very busy lately, but I’m hoping that the next two weeks will be slightly calmer. After that, well then it’s crunch time because we’re moving really really soon.

I’ve been running *a lot* lately. A lot for me at least. Considering I haven’t been able to run consistently in the past year, it’s been wonderful to get out there and run 3-4 miles a couple times a week. There’s no pressure on these runs, which makes it nice. And I love how it’s been so light out lately, because it means I can do my 9pm runs outside. I learned this past winter that for some reason I really enjoy running at night. Not just the time – I already know my body is better in the evenings – but in the dark. Of course where I live it is never exactly dark and that’s cool with me. I live on a very well lit street, run on the sidewalk, and there are always people out biking or walking their dogs at that hour. Still, it’s the allusion of night running that I really enjoy.

This weekend I picked up “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal. I don’t know why I haven’t read this sooner. I’m almost done (I hate reading a good book so quickly) and have a lot to muse about. I know many people see the book as an ode to barefoot/minimalist running. And I do too. But I think it’s so much more than that. Not only is it an anthropological study, but above all it’s a testament to the virtuousness of running. More to come later.

For Pete’s birthday yesterday (summer solstice) we had a rare day together. I’m lucky if I see him for 15 minutes right before I fall asleep at night. We live and work on completely different schedules, and we have for a couple of years now. It’s been hard, but I think/hope we’re tougher for it. But yesterday we both took off from work and headed into western Loudon County, Purcellville to be exact, to visit some wineries. A few weeks ago we were talking about things we want to do in DC before we leave. The funny thing was that we couldn’t really think of much. Except for golf. Pete wanted to play on more courses. But after a few days it came to me: we’ve never been to Virginia wine country. Part of Pete’s job is to learn about wine. I know he’s taken a couple of courses and really enjoyed it. He loves that stuff. And considering I only drink wine, but am embarrassed my lack of knowledge in the area, this seemed like a perfect idea. Pete agreed.

Me and the Birthday Boy


It took about an hour to get there. Which really wasn’t that bad, especially since it was the same route I used to take to go ride Charlie. Not only is it wine country out there, it’s horse country. I of course have to point out every horse I see along the way, as if I’ve never seen a horse before. The first place we went to was called Breaux Vineyards. It got great reviews, but I’ll be honest: the New England girl in me was drawn to their logo of a lobster. Except that it wasn’t a lobster, I learned, but a crayfish. The winemaker was originally from Baton Rouge, so that made more sense. Because it was a Monday we were the only ones there, which was great because I could ask a million questions. This was by far my favorite winery, and I even bought a bottle for myself. Pete’s favorite was the 2008 Nebbiolo Ice …After the tasting we walked around and took in the gorgeous views.

Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville, Va

Our second stop was Hillsborough Vineyards. Another spectacular view. Only Pete partook in the wine tasting here (I was the one driving afterall), but he enjoyed it. Our pourer wasn’t as engaging as the first one we had though. So we sat outside for a little while and then decided to move on.

Our third and final stop was Sunset Hills. I felt like I was driving up to the stables going up their winding driveway. And sure enough, there were two barns! The one on the left for horses, and on the right was the winery. I of course said I’d go see the horse and meet up with Pete later, but he convinced me to come in with him. Out of the three this was the most bustling of places. There were several couples there for tastings, and the wine was delicious. I’m partial to Chardonneys, which seemed to be their specialty. The building/barn was incredible too. Totally added to the atmosphere. I expected someone to walk a horse down the aisle at any minute. As much as we enjoyed it here as well, I think what I really enjoyed about the first place was the variety of wines that they make and offer.

Oh, and I learned something about myself: Apparently I prefer wine that is from a stainless steel barrel. I don’t know if I’m phrasing that correctly though. Maybe, “I like steel barreled wine instead of oak barreled?” I guess if you know anything about wine you’ll know what I’m trying to say. All in all this was a wonderful day and I’m so glad we were able to get out and try something new.

2007 Jolie Blend Virginia Seyval Blanc

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Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

Well, this was quite a race. It was a run that I didn’t prepare for. Not in the sense that I didn’t train enough. It was a mental race. I’m not quite sure if I won or lost it actually. And it was more physically demanding than I ever imagined. I finished the half marathon at 1:54:11. More than 14 minutes FASTER than my previous time a year before. But I collapsed seconds after crossing the finish line and was taken to the medical tents…but don’t worry, I still got a Smiley cookie.

Despite a grim forecast and higher temps than we all would’ve wanted, I was pumped Sunday morning. I was singing in the car and totally high and excited about the race. So much so that I couldn’t sit still in the car when we were stuck in traffic so I got out and walked the rest of the way to the convention center, leaving Pete to find parking. I was torn about what to do about pace groups. I wanted to run under 1:55 but I knew that was a pretty lofty goal. The only half marathon pace groups I saw online were 1:50 and 2:00 so I couldn’t figure out which to join. I know you’re supposed to start out slow, but I couldn’t resist the faster group. Afterall, I like to be pushed. In the end the starting line was so crowded that I had a hard time finding the right group. I settled next to the 8:35 min/mi marathon pace team.

Pre-Race at Dawn

The sky was overcast, and the air heavy, but when the starting gun went off I didn’t seem to pay much attention to the dark clouds above. I ran with the 8:35 group for a few miles, but I kept hearing people telling their leader that they were going too slow. But it was so crowded that it was difficult to meander in and out of people while keeping the group together. By mile 2 it began to pour. Shortly after that I left the group behind me. I had my Garmin on but I try really hard not to look at it too much. I don’t want to become obsessive about my pace. But maybe this time I should have. I think I was running too fast.

A few things that went wrong, physically: 1. I think I started too strong. I don’t think it was the downfall of me, but I definitly think it made an impact on my overall performance. 2. I didn’t expect the hills. Last years course wasn’t very hilly. At all. But I guess they changed the course and it is my own fault for not having looked at it closely enough. When I train on hills with my group we push hard up and recover down. It’s pretty standard. So I’m used to that. But here’s the thing, we do two maybe three hills over the course of six miles. All the sudden I’m pushing up a hill, recovering for a minute and then pushing up another, then recovering as I go around a turn and then going up another. One hill after the other. It began to wear down my legs. By the end of the course I would tell myself “Last hill…this is the last one.” I would put all my thoughts and hopes on that “last” hill. And then another came along. 3. Pete pointed this last one out to me today and I think he’s right. It was pouring out there and I ran through a bunch of puddles. That’s just what happens. My shoes became really heavy and carrying around and extra 2lbs in your feet did not help my legs recover from the bridges.

I began to encounter some problems around mile 7, but everything would change at mile 9. At that point I was beginning to shuffle. People started to pass me. When I saw the number “9” I saw “omg i still have 4 more miles” instead of, “one more, and then three more”. My mind began it’s slow battle.

Post-race...I made it

I’ve heard people talk about mind games and exhaustion and cramping before. Hell, I’ve had some really tough runs over the years. But now I get what people are talking about. It was brutal. I couldn’t get control and I couldn’t focus. I’m well aware that these races are like 70% mental. And I tried to keep telling myself that but it didn’t work. I couldn’t grab hold of a mantra. I couldn’t really grab hold of any thoughts. All time goals went out the window. I just wanted to finish. And I didn’t want to walk. That was the only thing that seemed to stick. Don’t walk. I would pick up the pace a bit and then slow back down. I was already huffing and puffing. Now I began grunting. And talking aloud. “Don’t walk” I kept saying aloud. I knew that if I didn’t walk, and I finished, that I would be proud of myself. But if I walked I would have nothing to show for myself. So I kept shuffling. Barely. The 8:35 pace team that I had left in the dust an hour earlier came up and passed me. I was moving so slowly that they were out of my sight line real quickly. My eyes were now closed quite a bit. The rain stung and I couldn’t bare to look ahead at how many miles I had left. I was begining to feel defeated. How did I go from being on top of the world a few hours earlier to this.

If I could have produced tears I probably would have. At mile 11 a guy ran up beside me. “Are you ok?” he asked. “No, I’m really tired,” I mustered. “Do you need help?” he said, referring to medics. “No, I’m tired.” I didn’t want intervention. Or I did, but not yet. “Are you a runner?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, nodding my head. “Ok. Runners run through pain. You can do this. Good luck.” And with that he kept running. So did I. His words helped a bit, but I found myself slowing back down. I had started to recognize the course from last year but then it changed. And there was no one along the streets cheering. I know now that was because there was a bomb scare at the finish line, and the course was moved and the finished line moved as well. Which meant less people cheering at the spot I needed them the most.

Right before mile 12 a girl in a black tank top came up to me. I think she first asked how much longer. I had the watch so I told her we were almost at 12. I owe everything to this girl. She was the one who got me to the finish line. I wish I could repay her somehow. She talked to me. I told her I was going to stick next to her if she didn’t mind. And that I didn’t want to walk. She said that’s ok. I grunted…a lot. I started saying “just a few more minutes. Just a few more minutes,” aloud. At one point I almost stopped, and fell back a few feet behind her. When I looked up I saw her hand motioning for me to rejoin her. So I did. When the finish line came in sight I said “go” and she sped up a bit in front of me. I wanted to so badly to walk, but I didn’t.

I ran right over the finish line, stopped, and then got really dizzy. I reached out in front of me and grabbed the girl-in-the-black-tank-top’s shoulder and then fell to my knees. Thank you to all the volunteers that morning. Really, they were just wonderful. A woman caught me and grabbed me up and told me to keep moving; I wasn’t allowed to stop. She was taking me to the medical tent. An officer quickly came and grabbed my right arm as she grabbed my left, and they led me through the crowds. When I got to the tent they asked me if I knew where I was. I said, yes. I finished! They put a cold towel around my shoulders and took care of me. I was dizzy and crampy, but within a few minutes my heart rate came down to 85 and I started to feel much better. They stretched me out, and were so helpful and kind and really, I couldn’t have been placed into better hands.

I’m still reflecting and I think there’s a lot to learn from this race. I don’t want to be fearful of running. I don’t want to be afraid of doing another race and having an experience like this again. Just like in riding, I need to get back on the horse. So I will. I’m thrilled about my time. I still have no idea how that happend. But I’m more happy that I didn’t walk. Simply that I finished…And got my smiley cookie of course.

Smiley Cookies!

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Tapering and Cheescake

It’s taper week! which means less exercise and a huge appetite. ugh. This is supposed to be the week of recovery for you body. A chance for your body to catch it’s breath before the race. Tapering is always frustrating for runners, especially when you’ve just spent all this effort training and building up. Well it’s been a little extra frustrating for me because for some reason, this week of ease has somehow resulted in the pain returning to my shins. The worst was Wednesday night. It’s gone down a bit, but it’s still bothersome. I just have to suck it up.

I’ve also been eating like crazy. Which is fine when you’re burning a gazillion calories a day. But this week I haven’t been working out as much so it doesn’t quite feel like anything is cancelling each other out. Even a coworker commented on my eating habits as I was piling chicken onto my plate at a baby shower the other night. When I told her I had a race Sunday she looked relieved. Only one pregnant woman was in the room, and it wasn’t me.

Pete is so supportive, which is why he brought me home this lovely dessert last night from his restaurant. I’ve never been a big cheesecake fan until I tried theirs. Mmmmnn. And he brought fresh fruit. AND he added some sour patch kids on the side. My favorite :-)

We’re heading to Pittsburgh for the marathon first thing in the morning. Stopping at his parents first to drop the Fox off and then heading to the expo where I plan to get my shins taped up (KTTape Booth). Pete’s family is so wonderful and supportive of me as well. I was thrilled to get an email from his mom this morning asking if I thought chicken tetrazzini, pasta, salad and my choice of dessert would be an ok dinner Saturday. Sounds perfect to me. As for marathon morning, well they’re calling for rain, possible T-storms, and higher temps. I’m trying not to worry or think about it too much. Wish me luck!

Wine, cheesecake, fresh fruit, and sour patch

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Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Part II

Continued…

I was so shocked to see my friend that I just sort of stood there dumbfounded for a moment.  Out of thousands of runners the two of us ended up right next to each other.  I usually like to keep my intense focus, but chatting with her and catching up was fantastic and probably loosened me up.  She and I go back very far – her parents were my parents’ first friends when we moved from Brooklyn.  We’ve known each other for over 20 years and been through many of life’s twists and turns but as does happen when people move away, we fell out of touch.  After sharing the good news of our mutual friend’s very recent engagement the line of runners began to move and the race was on.

My friend had told me she had never run 10 miles before and was shooting at an average 9:30 min/mi pace, and we figured we would lose each other pretty quickly in the race, but that girl impressed me; staying at my side until a little after mile 8 and finishing a strong 1:25:00.  For her first race, I hope she’s proud of herself because I sure am.

As for myself, I probably went out too strong.  I know it’s a “rookie” mistake, but I’ve actually never gone out too strong before.  There’s a first time for everything.  The day was absolutely gorgeous, the course runs through one of my favorite areas of the city – East Potomac Park (where I would end up spending the rest of my afternoon and evening hanging out with friends at the Haines Point golf course while Pete played 9 holes.)

I didn’t have much of a strategy going in – which bothered me a bit – but it worked out because I ended up playing some competitive games that got me through to the end.  I “raced” my friend, and even though it really didn’t matter who crossed the finish line first, in the moment it helps me to create a goal and fixate on it.

I hit a hard patch around 7 miles.  Both of my legs were taped up but they started to get tired.  It didn’t help much that this was the part of the course where the road narrows and the crowds around you get much tighter and instead of being able to relax your body you instead have to navigate around people.  But by the last mile I was ready to push it, and that’s exactly what I did.  My last 200 meters I had kicked it up to a little more than a 6:00 min/mi pace and I’m sure that the photo taken of me at the finish line will be anything but flattering.  Red faced, out of breath and sweaty.  That’s what makes an attractive girl (rolling eyes).

My one complaint – and this is really the only one because I really enjoyed the race – was that there was no water set up directly when you crossed the line and that you instead had to make quite the hike to find some.  Volunteers would yell “water! Gatorade!” and point ambiguously, but it took way too long to figure out where we were supposed to be going.

Other than that, the race was fantastic.  I’m sort of freaking out that I have to do another one now in 2 weeks and run even further.  But I’m sure I’ll be fine.  My Garmin clocked me at 10.09 miles with a time of 1:23:32, but my “unofficial” time from the Cherry Blossom website puts me at 1:24:18.  I’m happy either way, and this is definitely a race I would like to run again.

At home after the race

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‘Twas the Night Before Cherry Blossom 10 miler

The Cherry Blossom 10 miler is tomorrow morning and I’m getting really excited. Despite driving from Pittsburgh to DC this morning, then having to get on the metro immediately to pick up my bib at the expo downtown, I am not tired and it looks as if my goal of being in bed by 10:30pm is going down the drain. This always tends to happen on the eve of a race. And as I try to remind myself, I can always sleep tomorrow afternoon.

Wish me luck! Lucky bib# 11206

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Learning the Ropes of Taping

So it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of KT Tape.  My PT taped me many times, and I was taped up before the Marine Corps Marathon at the KT Tape booth (the guy there taped me 100 times better than my PT ever did).  Well ever since then I’ve been wanting to learn how to do it myself, but the truth is that I really have no faith in myself to do this properly.  It’s my sandwich theory (or Pete’s salad theory): a sandwich tastes so much better when someone makes it for you.  And that’s not just a cop-out to get someone else to make me a sandwich.  But no matter how hard I try nothing I make will be better than what Pete makes.  The same goes for taping my shin splints, I feared.  I needed a professional.  Well I’ve got two races coming up, and I know that KT Tape will be at the Pittsburgh Marathon (I hope this is still true).  I’m not sure if they’ll be at the Cherry Blossom 10 miler, but it doesn’t really matter because we’re not even sure we’ll be able to get to the expo on time. So…

I went ahead and bought some tape last week.  I’m looking at it as training tape.  And so Friday night, after I got the package in the mail, I sat down and watched the video online about how to tape your shins.  And then I tried it myself.

My first attempt

Not bad.  But not great.  It didn’t seem to really do anything.  So I decided that Pete needed to learn, and that in addition to being my boyfriend/nurse/doctor/math tutor/running coach ect., we can now add “Personal Taper” to the list.  We had a really fun time last night.  I made him watch the video, then after he said he got it I kept correcting him and telling him he was doing it wrong but I couldn’t explain how to do it right. I’m lucky he’s so patient with me. There were definitely a few strips of tape that were wasted.  It’s frustrating because I’m the one who knows where my pain is and knows how the pressure of the tape feels, but I have to trust his hands because they’re a whole lot more steady than mine and he’s in a good position to apply it.  So in the end we made some progress.  It’s not completely right, but we’ve got two weeks to figure it out.  In the meantime we’ll practice some more (anybody know of any other videos online?) and I think I’ll go ahead and buy another roll of tape (this time I’ll get the real KT Tape.  I bought the knock-off kind by accident, which is fine since half of it is already in the trash). 

Pete's attempt - better than mine

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