Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Throw your head back

Last night's run was one of those throw your head back and revel experiences. I can't explain why. No one thing was special about the run. I took my usual path from the office, ran at a hearty but ordinary pace, in the typical late summer evening breeze, darting along with the same swamp bunny audience. Heck, I didn't even have the happy swish-swish of a running skirt or my favorite sunshine-yellow top. Just ordinary running shorts. But perhaps it was the so very ordinary that made the run so very remarkable. No new scenery to distract me. Too dusky to take note of litter in the bayou. No hitches in the knee. And the skateboarding twerps must have all gone back to school.

For that time, my world was reduced to just the crunch-crunch of my feet on the grass, bayou scrubbrush tinged violet-gray by the dimming light, and a mauve sunset deepening into a dark, glittering skyline. And all was right within it.

That something so biomechanically routine, so-old-as-time, so inherent, so easy as softly kicking back one foot after another, padding lightly down, and doing it all again, over and over, can buoy the spirits always momentarily amazes me. And then that momentary amazement gives way, at the peak of that ebullience, when I feel like a kid again, darting across a field with abandon, arms flapping, stride fluid and strong and unhindered, to a little bit of melancholy, that we adults mostly let the rapture of childhood running slip away. When did running become a chore? And more importantly, why?

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The other day, while attempting squats atop an upside-down bosu at The Train Station, I got to thinking about balance. (Really, it was less thinking and more beseeching the stability gods not to let me faceplant into the weight bench, but that sounds way less inspired). Around the same time, some of the running blogs were abuzz with the Kara Goucher Wall Street Journal article advocating a "run more, think less" approach to training.

The WSJ article has shades of Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, but falls short. McDougall's work is a well woven travelogue-shoe company polemic-running history primer all knit into an inspirational running "guide" (perhaps tract is a better description, for as well documented as McDougall's work is, I finished the book feeling refreshed and restored, as if I had read some holistic meditation on the sport, rather than a technical guide). To my disappointment, the WSJ article treated Goucher's approach as a novelty, rather than highlighting aspects of the approach which could be distilled and adopted by your over-geared, over-planned everyday runner. Also, not surprisingly, the WSJ article had little to say about eschewing $200 running shoes and fancy gear, god forbid the name of Sponsors Almighty be taken in vain.)

In any event, both the WSJ article and McDougall's book (which is in a constant dog-eared state of re-reading, along with, ahem, the last two Harry Potters) highlight the paralyzing effect of being over-choiced and over-informed. Compared to many running friends (mainly road runners), I feel like a complete running Luddite, having only recently purchased a running watch and having never subscribed to Runners' World or Health and Fitness or Shape or whatever.

Part of that is by choice: I'm too cheap to buy expensive gear or sign up for the latest marathon training program. Programming gadgets annoys me. And when I do run with tunes, I'd rather my refurbished ipod shuffle have Cake, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and Austin Lounge Lizards any day over the latest top 40 hits.

Part is oddball personal traits: I don't like clunky armbands. Heart rate chest straps are itchy. Most high-tech watch faces overwhelm my wrist. The volume or ph or salt content or something about my sweat tends to induce seizures in electronics.

Part is reactionary: there is sheer joy in escaping deadlines, rules, protocol and schedules. Abiding by track Wednesdays, hill work Tuesdays, tempo run Mondays, and rest day Sundays (and fretting over missing a group run or a training day, a common side-effect of training plans) would put a damper on my fun.

Bound to a training schedule, or tethered to micro-chipped gear, or bombarded by the "ultimate ___ workout" articles that whirligig through the fitness magazines, I think I'd feel overtaxed and skip out of more workouts. But on the other hand, there are benefits to speedwork and cross training and setting and keeping goals. And while I mutter about dead lifts at The Train Station, or groan during Pilates at the Downtown Fitness Center, or whine about speedwork around the Memorial Loop, I find myself submitting to all of these, at will, signaling its the notion of discipline rather than actual discipline that's the bugaboo. And for all the free-spirited, mindless fun of my regular bayou runs, every time I read a race report, that damned running sirens' song--of conquering a longer distance, at a better pace, in thinner air, with greater elevations, surrounded by better scenery--comes calling.

I suppose some hill work is in order. Possibly some trail gaiters too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Make mine a Madras Curry Powder

Because cross-training variety is the spawn of the beelzebulb spice of life, this week I:

....was subjected to a circuit and plyo workout at The Train Station that was right out of the Army Field Manual (a mere week after the waterboarding workout)

....against all odds, did speed work! and had fun doing it! consisting of 6 sessions of 4 minute "sprints" *cough, cough* followed by two minutes of recovery. Bonus to living in a quaint (read: old) 'hood: lots of large oaks casting too many shadows and too few streetlights to keep a mournful, impatient eye on the watch (a High Gear Enduro. I can't recommend it enough.)

....took in a butt-kicking spin class at the Downtown Fitness Center

....ran through actual, palpable, pooling on the ground rain! (On the downside, this may be a sign of the Rapture--two rainstorms in one week and I awoke this morning to the usually gloomy Marketplace host chirping that the recession is ending.)

....instead of slip-sliding around an "alternatively addressed" individual, steeplechased over an unobservant, inconsiderate, twerpy little skateboarding punk

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

As if fueling isn't complicated enough

Even the whole foods are betraying us now. Let's just hope they don't go renaming Fruit Leather. Pseudo-Multiple-Carp Leather just doesn't have the same ring, especially around mile 20.

(Consolation prize: "dirty dirty fruit reproductive action")

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why I run: River Oaks menagerie, Tiny Boxwood's, sprinkles

This weekends' runs were not great.

Not wanting to re-anger the knee, I opted for slow, hour-long runs through the Ho Chi Minh trails. There was no thrill of bounding up and down the pitches in the trail. No sense of accomplishment at having put in several hours of running before the first cup of coffee. No meaningful distance. No adrenaline after-glow.

Sometimes runs like these are the best reminder of why I run. Nothing so focuses the mind as having to make it, one of my profs would bellow at hesitating students (with t-rex arms gesticulating madly; if you weren't the object of torture that day, it was comical. Almost.). Crisp weather, a fresh route, or a new running skirt make for an effervescent start to almost any run (the finish? that's inversely proportional to the heat index). But it's in starting the tired, cautiously paced, uninspired run that I remember best why I run.

When I'm willing myself to get out the door, these are my tonic:

1. Coltrane on the ipod at the peak of the run

2. Padding through the roots on Ho Chi Minh

3. A little cloudburst of sprinkles during a sultry lunch run

4. Cutting through the front yard in FiveFingers

5. The last 30 seconds of Under Pressure

6. Running the bridges over 59 in Montrose during morning rush hour

7. Chuckling at Assito the burrow and his llama amigo on the tony R.O. side of the Bayou

8. Sunlight, dappled and dancing among the skinny pine trees (one of the few joys of the dreadful Memorial loop)

9. Sunlight, searing my bare shoulders after escaping the office AC

10. Sunlight, finally! After starting a run in the dark

11. Sunlight beaming through the windows of Tiny Boxwood's (bonus: motivation to tack on a little extra distance so I can enjoy their fresh bread and goat cheese; double bonus: a little extra extra effort and I can partake of the sangria)

12. That surprise moment of contentedness, when consumed in thought, you hit the perfect groove, and suddenly realize your limbs and lungs are in synchronicity, propelling you seemingly involuntarily

13. Remembering what it was to run the first mile, then the first three, then six....nine....twelve.....twenty.....thirty-one.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Turkeys or Groundhogs?

August is out for races (probably a good thing, I swear this heat could turn the cow atop Amy's into leather). October I've reserved for Palo Duro. But what to do in September?

I've come across two options so far: the Turkey n TATURS 50K (organized by the Tulsa Area Trail Runners) or the Ground Hog 50K (Puxahawatawny, PA). I'm intrigued by both. Turkey n TATURS begins at a YMCA in Tulsa and purports proceed up and around Turkey mountain. Yes, a mountain. I confirmed the existence of the alleged "mountain" with an Oakie friend, but I'm still dubious. Yes, I'm a native flatlander, but I still know when a fast one is being pulled on me. I'm unconvinced there is anything that remotely resembles a mountain in Tulsa. Heck, I'm not convinced there's anything steeper than a speed bump in Tulsa. Isn't this the land where the wind goes sweeping down the plain?

But even more intriguing than the mirage mountain, is the potato start. Apparently, the race begins with all sorts of ritual potato sacrifice -- exploding potatoes, potato cannons, a bacon-wrapped potato pyre topped with a pool of molten cheese (okay, so the last is fantasy, but wouldn't it make for a great aid station?).

The Ground Hog 50 K is also intriguing. Supposedly, PA also has mountains. The RD seems cordial and well organized. An appearance by Phil himself has been promised. (If he sees his shadow does that mean 6 extra miles?). But I'd have to fly into Pitt, rent a car, and then drive another 80 miles. All this for 50K and a woodland varmit? Hmmm.

Alas, I think Tulsa will win out. Potato pyrotechnics aside, the race location--a natural area quasi hidden in a city--appeals to the urban runner in me. There's just something special about running along a trail that appears from its immediate surroundings to be wild and isolated, but then you look up and there's the city skyline, as shining and gleaming and structured as the trail is not, and you know that too soon, you'll be passing under the freeway colonade, or running up to a bayou overpass, or passing by the apartment complex, and heading back to your little corner of that gleaming skyline, back to structured tasks lists, and climate control, and sterile air, and manicured but cold planters of generic, perfectly color coordinated annuals and greenery, but for this moment at least, its just you and the swamp rabbits, tucked away from it all, playing in the bushes like a kid.

Homeless Bum + Mondo grass = ouch!

As I cut through Tranquility Park last Friday for a lunch run down one of my favorite trails, I encountered a homeless bum in my path. Not wanting to break pace, I changed course onto some stepping stones, and promptly lost my footing on a plug of mondo grass. My knee and ankle were none too pleased, but the euphoria of the lunchtime run took over. (Even in the extreme heat and humidity, the lunchtime run never loses its thrill. Perhaps it is the sense of playing hookey to run. More likely, its the comfort knowing that the whole run will be confined to an hour or less).

By Friday evening, the knee was still protesting, so I've been going easy this week - nothing longer than 6 miles, with a fair amount of spinning/bike riding to make up the cardio. After another disappointing run yesterday, I broke down and bought one of those jumper's knee bands you see all the roadies wearing. I tried it out today for a light 5 miler. It seemed to offer some relief (as in, I could run slowly without the knee locking up) but I'm not convinced.... Perhaps I should try a large brace, but the thought of adding one more insulating layer in this heat is abominable. For now, I'll stick with the jumper's knee band and googling quad/kneecap exercises.