Thursday, February 26, 2009

What do we run from?

Sometimes when I'm running alone in the woods, I hear footsteps behind me. Of course, this scares the hell out of me.

Usually it happens when I'm about seven miles away from the main road, totally alone and my iPod batteries are zapped. So it's just me and the trees... and the pounding of someone coming up fast on me.

My first instinct is to speed up to get away. This could last for quite awhile, but eventually I slow down because I'm pretty sure trying out-run someone for seven miles just isn't in me, no matter how scared I am. The footsteps following me seem to change pace when I do, but I try to remain calm. I don't look back. Maybe, if I don't see it, there is no monster.

But before too much longer my fears get the better of me and I glance back. At this point I'm fully prepared to use my neon yellow water bottle as a weapon. (Maybe I can blind him with Gatorade?) When I finally steal a peek over my shoulder, there's no one there. I get braver and turn all the way around to look. Nope. No one. I am still alone on the trail.

Yup, those were my footsteps echoing down the path. Ghosts? Or just me?

This recurring incident always leads me to think about why I run.

I tell people I run for fitness and that "runner's high" that feels so good. Food tastes better and coffee is even more delicious than normal. My calves look nice when I wear a skirt. My dog likes the exercise. It's healthy and relieves stress ... but am I running from something? I don't know -- maybe those ghosts of mine, and if that's the case, I doubt I'll ever out-run them entirely. At least I know that scary thing chasing me is only armed with a Gatorade-filled water bottle!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A lot of hooey?

The instructor at a spin class last night had us spend a significant amount of time thinking of our "strength phrases" and power animals.

This slipped in right after a visioning exercise, which just freaked me out because I'm not good enough on a bike (even one locked into a trainer) to close my eyes yet. Apparently, we all need to come up with a key word or phrase that will give us strength when we repeat it over and over in our heads. Whatever we come up with should be our touchstone of power for the whole triathlon season.


Our instructor, bless her, is an accomplished athlete and I don't doubt her ability to get us sweating. However, when strength phrases led into a discussion of power animals -- specifically the pros of picturing yourself as a polar bear rather than a fish while swimming -- made me think I'd crashed my trainer and hit my head.

It's true that strange thoughts come into your head (or at least mine) while exercising. I've mulled over lost loves, penned letters to my grandparents and even dreamed up short fiction stories. Sometimes little phrases get stuck on repeat and are motivational (see past post about "you can run four miles") but I don't think I've ever consciously chosen one.

Sometimes I sing Tim McGraw's "It's just the cowboy in me" when I feel like I'm running something incredibly ill-advised, like hobbling 3.5 miles down a trail after falling on my face. I picked up "Grind it out" after some guy yelled it at me as I ran down the incline in Nisene. "Kick it in" has stuck with me since high school track meets.

I can appreciate the power of positive thought and know it's important to focus. But picking one to meditate on? I don't know. Suggestions from the spin class instructor included "strength", "flow" and "I am strong." I think I'll stick with singing "Sometimes you've got to learn to walk with rocks in your shoes."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On training ...

With just over 10 weeks until the Big Sur Marathon my mind alternates between thoughts of those relaxing, long runs I get to log in the coming weeks (and all of the fun music I can listen to, trees I can count and tasty coffee I can drink after) and anxiety that the race is less than three months away. Yipes!

But I feel pretty lucky. Of the three of us who are reuniting to run, my training situation is the most ideal. Nervous energy aside, my biggest hurdles are rain - mostly because it turns the trails into slicks of mud - and work, which sometimes lasts so long my only wants are a bowl of mac'n'cheese and spot to curl up on my couch.

For Sonja, my college friend who is now a sheriff's deputy outside of Yellowstone, my weather complaints sound trite. Yesterday she ran in snow that had fallen over ice. Not so bad on the way up, she reported, but pretty sketchy on the downhill side. Then there is the wind - sometimes blasting so hard it flips loaded-down big-rigs on the highway - and the cold. When we were home for winter break during college, Sonja called to say it was so cold and dry out, her hands cracked and bled on her run. I suggested she wear gloves next time. She had worn two pairs.

So a little rain around here is no pain. And a "cold" morning like today's mid-30s, while a little miserable for those of us used to running in shorts year-round, is really not that harsh.

My sister, Audrey, also faces environmental concerns while training. She's living in rural Guatemala where, generally speaking, people don't run. Audrey has become somewhat of a spectacle because of this, which may not be the best thing. Sure, it's cute when little kids try to run with her, but it's distracting. There are also more serious safety issues at times, like rabid dogs chasing you. Here in the States, there are places and times when we know (especially women) to not go running alone, but broad daylight in a forested area seems pretty OK (at least to me). That's not true everywhere, which makes sense but it still disappointing.

Me and Audrey after a run through Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala, in December. We're trying to look "Mayan."

Her experiences remind me to not take for granted the freedom to run and roam that I have in Santa Cruz. For one, least animal attacks are usually out of the picture. But it is important to remember that bad things can happen. I've gotten lost and been injured while out running alone. Two winters ago, a woman jogging on West Cliff was attacked by a mentally ill man. So some safety precautions are important. I like to tell someone where I'm running and give a time when I will call to say I'm done. When it's dark in the early morning or evening, I run with my giant dog.

Audrey doesn't have these options, but she's coping. She has modified her training, learned some common-sense safety devices that are actually pretty good for women running alone anywhere (run a loop course instead of an out-and-back, for example) and embraced her access to a treadmill.

So come April 26, Audrey will be here to run the 10.6-mile race at Big Sur, where she won't need to carry a stick to beat off a pack of dogs. Sonja, should she survive the snowstorms, will run the marathon as well. Let's hope she doesn't get heat exhaustion. And me? I will have no excuses. I get to train in paradise.

Friday, February 6, 2009

When it's not in your head

Routinely, I'm reminded that even though I run alone quite a bit, I'm usually not alone.

I got out of work around 5:30 yesterday -- which constitutes early at my job -- so I jetted home to leash up Callie the dog and go for a nice dusk run through the neighborhood. Callie, of course, was stoked. Just the sight of her leash in my hands makes her jump in circles (I'm not lying about this). We loped through the neighborhood, cruising down some different streets to make the run longer because the evening, after a day of rain, had cleared nicely and the air smelled great. There was even still a little pink left in the corner of the sky, illuminating those receding rain clouds like cotton candy.

Along the way I chatted Callie about my day and, admittedly, was rather oblivious to the people around us. This happens a lot when I run. I forget that I'm talking aloud to myself or Callie, forget that other people are around ...

Last night, I got a couple of funny looks and one woman, who snuck up on us because of the darkness, declared "Oh, how cute!" I'd like to think me telling Callie about a guy I have a crush on was the cute part, but it might have just been Callie's furry 90 pounds thundering down the pavement.

It could have been worse, I suppose. Once, running out of Nisene Marks after tumbling down a hill, twisting my ankle and getting road (trail?) rash down one lower leg, I sang the chorus of Tim McGraw's "It's Just the Cowboy in Me" and cried to get through the pain of running 3.5 miles on two bum, bleeding legs. In the fall, when Rich and I ran that 50K in mountains here, I gave myself a four-miles-to-go pep talk that went something like this:

"You can run four miles Squires. You've run four miles before. You've run four miles backwards. You've run four miles in your sleep. You've run four miles drunk. You've run four miles naked. You've run four miles drunk, naked, backwards and in your sleep. It's just four miles"

There were young families walking baby strollers nearby. I think I scared them.

... At least Callie understands me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

25 Things

This has been floating around Facebook for a few days, but instead of telling you oddities from my childhood, I thought I'd make it 25 things about running. Actually, that will still include a lot of childhood moments, but with a theme!

1. I once got a free pair of 1993 Nike Air Max shoes for being filmed in a Nike commercial with champion decathlete Dan O'Brien. I ended up on the editing room floor and they used footage of my little sister instead. She got a couple hundred bucks for it, but I still had sweet shoes with the clear air bubbles in the soles.

2. My parents were so proud first time I was awarded a trophy for running (the Track City Track Club "Coach's Award" in 1989) that they got me a cake.

3. I nearly gave up running for racewalking...

4. ... because as a teenager I racewalked at nationals and placed in my age group.

5. I frequently get lost while trail running alone.

6. I never thought I'd be one of those people who need an iPod to get through a run, but I've come to rely on mine (broken screen and all) while on really long runs.

7. My first "run" was two laps around a cinder track with my black rubber boots on the wrong feet. As a high schooler - and much to my chagrin - my dad (and coach) told this story at every cross country and track awards night to show how far I'd come. Now I think it's kind of cute.

8. I think running shorts might be my best look.

9. I've never been fast, but I can run forever.

10. For about five years, I insisted on wearing my hair in braided pigtails for races. The fad ended for me partway through college.

11. I've never dropped out of a race. Ever.

12. My favorite place to run in Santa Cruz is Nisene Marks. Back home, it's Dorris Ranch, an old filbert orchard-turned-city park.

13. I've been accused of caring about running more than relationships with people, and I'm OK with that.

14. When I won the 1,500 meters at the 6th grade track meet, I saved my T-shirt and shorts (and the ribbon I won) in a clothing box and retired it to the attic for posterity. I'm pretty sure they're still up there.

15. I learned how to drive by making slow loops around the high school track in our 1976 extended cab two-tone Ford pickup. Then I crashed into a fence.

16. I didn't think I would ever run a marathon, but I got tricked into training for one when I moved to Santa Cruz. Now I've finished four and one ultra.

17. I hate track workouts. Running laps makes me dizzy.

18. My favorite post-run treat is a soy mocha with whipped cream and chocolate shavings from Aptos Coffee Roasters, sometimes accompanied by a toasted bagel with cream cheese.

19. Save one spring of kiddie soccer and a couple summers on the company softball team, I've never been on a team that wasn't running-oriented.

20. I love running with dogs, but don't have great luck with it. Once, a dog ran me through a yellow jacket hive and the family dog we got when I was in high school - Miles, so he could run miles and miles with me - was a herding dog. You might say that endeavor fell flat. My dog now, Callie, pulled so hard when I first got her, I strained my Achilles.

21. I ran in college for a few years. I find many people don't know this about me.

22. Even though I know better - and my mother always urges me to - I never carry pepper spray.

23. As a first grader, I told my classmates I'd win an Olympic gold medal in the 800m someday. Later, I made a list of accomplishments I'd need to achieve on my way to that golden goal, then tore it to pieces a few years later when I realized I was already off-track.

24. I have an amazing ability to run a finish line crew. It's a gift, really.

25. After a lot of thought, I decided running was up there on the list of things that are most important to me, so last weekend I covered up a bad tattoo from college with the winged track shoe icon. I haven't told Mom yet ...

What are you searching for?

"So be prepared to quit. Do it willingly and with honest resolve. You'll be back. The marvelous thing about running is that you will never become jaded by it. Boredom, injury or anguish may overtake you from time to time, but the reward that first drew you to begin logging the miles remain untarnished and available -- always. Just put on your shoes and head out the door."