Saturday, April 25, 2009

Crushing It

For the past couple of years, my 5K race running goal has been to finish under 19 minutes. I made it in 2007, and then failed to get there last year, in 2008. (Well...if only all courses were measured accurately. In one race I know I had it [a 5:30 first mile, and then some,] but it wasn't meant to be. My teammate said she had 3.22 miles on her GPS. Enough said.)

Still, it's a terrific challenge. I wonder what is it about the sub-19 minute mark? I mean, it's not a race winning time. Women are running the 5K in sub-15. American Deena Drossin won the women's division of the Carlsbad 5000 this year in a world road race record time of 14 minutes, 54 seconds. Okay, so she's 29 years old and I'm 50. But still...I'd have to say, it's the six-minute mile that I aspire to maintain. I can easily run a sub-six mile. But three of those? That's a whole different ball game.

Today I crushed it. Yup, it's true. This, my third 5K of the season, and up against one of my strongest co-conspirators. I was tenuous going in given my state of exhaustion, the hilly course, and the unexpected appearance of my challenger, and I did it. Yee-ha!

I let her go at the start. We faced an uphill first mile, and I had planned on keeping something in reserve. It's an out and back, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill course, if you get what I'm saying:) I passed her with conviction on the first downhill, in the second mile.

It was a 'funny' course with a cone turn-around at the half-way mark, and then back up this same long hill. I was running second overall, and the lead runner was kind enough to wish me well after he went around the cone on his way back up. I saw my co-conspirator and knew she was on my heels. I dug in and worked the uphill the best I could. "I love hills. Hills are my friends." Ya baby.

Then back on the straight-away for a bit before the final descent to the finish area. Turn-over, turn-over, turn-over. I had to keep reminding myself what it takes to run fast and efficiently. And the beautiful thing is I never really knew how close the next woman was behind me. Basically, I ran scared. It worked for me.

I finished in 18:41, a three-season PR (so far) and felt just fine. In another blog I'll talk about HOW that PR was possible today. For now, I'll keep it simple. That too, works for me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Yesterday saw the 113th running of the Boston Marathon, and what a great running it was!

The alarm went off at 5:00 and I waited while my runner went about his race day preparations. We left our friend's home in Somerville at 5:45 and drove into Boston over what I fondly call the "Salt and Pepper" bridge. As we headed toward Government Center, we saw empty yellow buses lined up for nearly a mile to the Boston Common. It was an amazing sight, another indication of the impressive race management machine that is Dave McGillivray, rather, DMSE Sports, Inc. (By the way, I've had occasion to e-mail Dave over the past couple of years, and each time I receive a response within 24 hours. I love that.)

Runners, carrying their bright yellow plastic marathon bags, were coming from every direction and slowly making their way to the bus-loading area on Tremont Street. They were early and appeared relaxed, as buses were running to the Hopkinton start until 6:45 a.m.

I wished Paul well as he set about on his virgin voyage of the grand-daddy of marathons. Of course his journey began months ago in October, when he comfortably qualified at the Mount Desert Island marathon. Today was about enjoying the ride! (I wish the ride I had to my viewing spot was enjoyable, but more on that later.)

Before he could get going, however, Paul had nearly three hours to wait at the start area. He ate some, walked around some, got some cold, and then tried to warm up some in the sun. Finally, time to get into the stalls. I can't tell his story, but I do know he made it to his stall in the nick of time on account of a porta pottie waiting line. He left in the first wave at 10:00, and took several minutes to cross the starting line.

My story gets good only after I arrived with friends and family at the 24-mile mark in Brookline's Coolidge Corner neighborhood. Getting there, madly, was no fun. We took the 'T' from Cambridge to Park Street in Boston where we had to change lines, and were unable to board at least ten trains because they were too full. Aaaargh! Of course, the Red Sox game was scheduled to begin at 11:00 and throngs of excited spectators of both sports were vying to get to their start on time.

We arrived in time to see the wheelchair athletes in progress, the women's lead pack, the male leaders, and all the fabulous runners thereafter. Mile 24 is on a downhill, which was fairly evident in how the runners took it; some were inspired while others grimaced with the continuous pressure of the descent. Mile 24 is a tough place to spectate because runners are often more done than not.

The women's race was amazing. Kara Goucher was in the front seat of a pack of six women! They virtually flashed by us, but I went on to imagine what the next two miles were going to look like and feel like. Holy cow! What a fantastic race, and the finish, as we know, was thoroughly dramatic. THIS is what I love about the marathon. So much transpires from mile to mile.

The men's race was less exciting but no less amazing. Deriba Merga was all alone, looking absolutely unscathed and with an established lead that was going to be impossible to take away. He had it. Then came Daniel Rono and Ryan Hall, shoulder to shoulder. I noticed that Hall's arms were down, appearing tired, and I worried about his chances to take charge. It panned out as it did. What a great effort.

There are so many details I could share, but I'll spare you. I do want to comment on a couple Maine runners before closing: Sheri Piers for starters. Sheri, from Falmouth, is so inspiring and such a treat to watch in action. She was alone, moving right along in complete control, and smiling as if she was thoroughly enjoying the ride. What joy! She finished in the 11th spot.

Matt Dunlap, also living in Falmouth though originally from Farmington, works at Peak Performance. Last October, he finished his first-ever marathon in the number two spot, at the Peak Performance Maine Marathon in 2:37, but, he hurt his ITB. Matt was forced to take time off and I know struggled to regain his health. Yesterday, when he passed at 24, he gave me that 'pained, panicked look' that I know quite well. It says to me, "I'm doing it, but I'm not really quite sure how." He ran his first Boston in 2:38. Matt rocks.

And saving my best for last, Paul Toohey ran his first (and he said, maybe his last) Boston Marathon in 3:27. He did not see us in spite of our cow bells and cat calls, so I quickly jumped in to let him know we were all there rooting for him. He seemed pleased to hear this and said he felt some sore.

I thought I was late getting to the family meeting area at the finish, again, a terribly crowded train, but in fact, we met right on time. The poor guy had to walk several blocks back to the 'T' at Park Street, but it could have been worse as we walked through Boston's Public Garden and the Common.

Runners ruled the day yesterday in Boston. They were everywhere after the race - sharing their stories, hobbling along, leaning on loved ones, resting on the grass, and I dare say, still enjoying the ride.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Spite of Confidence

If you've been following this stream for the past couple days, you know that when push comes to shove, it's about fate.

To wit, the following, which I heard it on NPR yesterday.

'The Drunken Driver Has the Right Of Way'
by Ethan Coen

The loudest have the final say,
The wanton win, the rash hold sway,
The realist's rules of order say
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The Kubla Khan can butt in line;
The biggest brute can take what's mine;
When heavyweights break wind, that's fine;
No matter what a judge might say,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The guiltiest feel free of guilt;
Who care not, bloom; who worry, wilt;
Plans better laid are rarely built
For forethought seldom wins the day;
The drunken driver has the right of way.

The most attentive and unfailing
Carefulness is unavailing
Wheresoever fools are flailing;
Wisdom there is held at bay;,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

De jure is de facto's slave;
The most foolhardy beat the brave;
Brass routs restraint; low lies high's grave;
When conscience leads you, it's astray;
The drunken driver has the right of way.

It's only the naivest who'll
Deny this, that the reckless rule;
When facing an oncoming fool
The practiced and sagacious say
Watch out — one side — look sharp — gang way.

However much you plan and pray,
Alas, alack, tant pis, oy vey,
Now — heretofore — til Judgment Day,
The drunken driver has the right of way.

Excerpted from 'The Drunken Driver Has The Right Of Way' by Ethan Coen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Run Safe

Last night I had a wild and crazy dream; the kind that was extremely vivid, woke me up, and that I should have written down. But I am never so prepared in the middle of the night, even though I believe that kind of journaling could make a good practice.

In the dream, there was a new order in town. It was actually a kind of lawlessness: Men, dressed in traditional western cowboy garb were patrolling the community in pairs. Some were on foot, others in vehicles, and they were fully armed with guns in holsters, even lassos! They were selectively stalking people and taking them hostage!

Are you still with me? I know it's bizarre but it was too vivid to ignore. There was a pair of dudes that at first blush caused me to raise my antennae, if you will. There was immediately something dangerous about them, and indeed, I became a target. It was during the second interaction that I outran them, even while dragging my daughter along. It really ticked one of them off because he was running as hard as he could, and I knew then I was in trouble.

I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when he came by again, saw me, flashed a light in my face and said "You're coming with me." I resisted, and of course woke up. No need to go any further down that scary path!

The reason I am sharing this with you on the heels of a blog about confidence, is because it's important to remember that no matter how confident we are, some situations are just not safe.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a runner and she thought I might want to write about safety. She ran all winter in the peace and quiet of the woods on packed snowmobile trails. Now that the snow is mostly gone and mud season is making it's way back to our world, she has hit the streets again. Here's some of what she said:

Now that I am back on the roads I feel like I am playing "Russian roulette." I have had more close calls with cars and trucks this Spring than my entire 25 years of running. People are on their phones! I saw a woman with a cigarette and a cup of Dunkin' in one hand, and a phone in the other....who was driving? I always run early, facing traffic, well off the road and try to stay away from busy trafficked roads. I wear BRIGHT clothing, a reflective vest in limited lighting, but it is down right dangerous out there. I yell, I jump out of the way, I wave my arms, "Hey, here I am!" Some drivers are completely oblivious.

So we can be confident and we can be capable, but we have got to stay alert and trust our instinct when it informs us that something is not right. Runners have a responsibility to run safely and wisely, practice good judgment and follow the rules of the road. And if an internal alarm goes off, pay attention.

Most of us are drivers too, and it'd be swell if we could remember the Golden Rule. I hope to see you out there!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I want to talk a little about the organic and impressionable character-trait called confidence.

Take the role confidence plays in where and how and when we run: My friend admits there is a road in our neighborhood which she will avoid on a run, at any time of day. There is a fairly "remote" stretch on this road, if you will - woodsy, funky auto body shop, marshy land - and apparently, there's "just something about it" that keeps her away. How sad. This road is a direct connector to another road, making for a nice long running loop. In addition to the auto body shop, it passes by an elk farm, crosses a section of marsh, and is usually not very trafficked. I rather like it. I had never thought of not running on that road until she mentioned it (except of course until I was charged by an angry mutt) and I have run over it, many, many times.

Or what about running in a new area when traveling. Certainly there are cautionary tales about running in foreign places, though honestly, I've never felt compelled to stay back from a run out of fear for my safety. I've run in Hell's Kitchen in NYC, downtown Cancun, Mexico, and frankly got the strangest looks on a run in Kilbrittain, Ireland. They weren't threatening looks, just "What the hell are you doing?" kinds of looks.

I believe that through running, we gain a sense of personal and physical confidence that pervades our other activities. I mean think about the courage it takes to toe the line at a race or lead a department at work, or ask for a raise, or get married and raise a family! Yet we do those things all the time.

So when I lack confidence, like I did this past week leading up to a presentation I made yesterday, it feels very inconsistent and I wonder about that. I actually get cranky about it.

The presentation was at a Women Standing Together quarterly luncheon to talk about my business A Running Conversation. I was invited to present a challenge that I have experienced in the start-up process, and to get feedback from a roomful of professional women. Wow! What an amazing business development opportunity. Why would I even hesitate?

I hesitated because I was concerned about how I would present myself and my business, and perhaps I wouldn't be effective and productive. Or worse, I'm afraid my business isn't viable! I didn't want to waste anyone's time, and I wanted to get the most out of an amazing opportunity. It's significant that going into this meeting, other professionals I admire and respect placed their confidence in me - the event coordinator, my friend who sits on the board and introduced me, past colleagues and friends who knew I was making this presentation, my family. They knew I would do fine, and, they believe in my business.

It's times like these when I doubt myself or feel fear and get entirely different feedback from others, that I must trust their input and believe what they are saying is true, because god knows, I can kid myself right out of performing up to my capabilities.

I wonder if this has ever happened in my running and racing? Ha, ha, you can bet on it. Like I said at the beginning, confidence is impressionable. The challenge is to mold it in a way that nurtures a healthy approach to life, and keeps us moving forward. And it's okay to have help along the way. In fact, I think it's imperative.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Yesterday my family and I enjoyed an Easter tradition that I had practiced years ago when I was single and living in Portland. On Easter Sunday, I would drive myself to Scarborough Beach at daybreak, and pick up the "Cliff Walk" around Prout's Neck. I found this to be an extremely spiritual experience, with incredible views of the ocean and islands, and many places to perch on rocks for meditative and prayerful breaks along the way. The beautiful properties lining the trail were an added delight to admire. I found it to be a fitting exercise during this period of hope and new beginnings.

It had been years since I had taken this walk, and yesterday, the three of us made our way around, though not at sunrise!

I was surprised to hear my daughter exclaim how beautiful the sights were and how fascinated she was by the qualities of the rocks. I thought she'd have started complaining much sooner than she actually did. And I know my husband appreciated the outing as he had grown up in these parts, surfing and fishing this very area.

At one point a runner came by with her dog, followed by a couple of gentlemen enjoying the morning. We lamented for only a brief moment that we were not out doing a long run. In many ways, the Sunday long run has become my spiritual practice - sometimes alone, sometimes with others. But today we let another tradition rule the day, and it was good.

I hope you had a nice weekend.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Run for a Good Cause

I was looking for a 5k to race in advance of the Portland Sea Dogs Mother's Day 5K, and of course, found a handful to choose from for this past weekend. There was one in Gorham, Kennebunk, Indian Island, and Waterville, and possibly others. I know this might not sound very bright, but I chose one that was an hour and a half drive from home.

Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW), in collaboration with the Colby Volunteer Center of Colby College, organized a 5K Fun Run and Walk to benefit the Hardy Girls organization. I've known about this Waterville-based organization for a few years and have done an educational workshop with them. I like what they do and that's where I wanted to put my money, effort and time.

HGHW has a vision that "all girls and women experience equality, independence, and safety in their everyday lives." They've developed a notion that in order to achieve the above, there need to be hardiness zones - environments, attitudes, actions - that promote healthy growth. Their work includes outreach and direct service, education, training, research and writing, and in general, leadership of a movement to challenge the status quo that tells girls and women that they need to look and act a certain way to have power. If you've looked at a magazine ad or television show or girls' clothing department lately, you know what I'm talking about, and it's all a lie!

As a mother of a daughter and a coach of adolescents, I want to do all I can to empower these young people without continuing the myth. It's hard work; we're up against a massive machine. But as runners we know all about perseverance and determination, and, how to put our money where our mouth is.

So next time you're looking for a race, think about the cause or the beneficiary or the organization behind it, and decide if it's something you support.