Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marathon Training and Maintenance

The headwind came down from the north as we started out on Route 88. After the turn-around and running back to the south, there was a headwind. We turned right, heading west for a couple miles and up a "Heartbreak Hill'-type of hill, head-on into the wind. Later, moving northwesterly and up a significant hilly stretch, we again felt a bit beaten up by this unpredictable February wind.

This was the nature of my 17 mile run today.

But how does it happen that the whole darn run is into the wind? The wind insisted on staying in front of us and coming back at us, seemingly to flick our noses. There were points in this long run where this was not appreciated. In fact, I think (I know) I used some colorful language. Errr, character-building runs - I appreciate them only after the fact.

This run today represented my second longest run since my Boston-qualifying Mount Desert Island Marathon in October 2008. I ran the Martha's Vineyard 20-Miler in February 2009, and other than that, I have not gone over 14. To marathoners, I'm sure it sounds like ridiculously low mileage, my 20-30 mile weeks. But to this fifty-something runner, it seems to work out okay.

This Boston training, however, is beginning to pull me out of my comfort zone, as a marathon will, I suppose. This week was 41 miles and I am doing race pace runs on the day before my long run. The runs actually go pretty well; it's the morning stiffness and the aching hip that are bothersome. It takes what I call "body maintenance" to keep things moving fluid and strong, and to get back to a pain-free zone. Gladly, I have not been using any anti-inflammatory medications.

A few interventions I use are:
  1. The Foam Roller. This self-massage tool is very effective at loosening knots and moving things back to where they belong. It can usually be found right in my living room where there is enough floor space to roll around. It truly is a full-body massage tool.
  2. A Yoga Class. Years ago, I was a much more frequent yoga student than I am presently. I even have my favorite teacher Rebecca Stephans on tape and could do a class any time. But you know how that goes. For Christmas this year, and in the spirit of my marathon training, my husband gave me a class session. I go every Monday morning on my day off from running, and the day after my long run. What a difference I feel when I'm done.
  3. A Movement/Strength Training Class. This same husband also gave me a session in the community services program aptly titled "No Glitz, Just Sweat." I warily went to the first class, completely ready to NOT do it on account of any risky lateral movements (aerobic dance type moves,) and experienced such a fun factor that I decided to continue. The class takes place in an elementary school gym and approximately 30 people show up on any given night. The age range is mid-twenties to mid-seventies, and the fitness levels are equally disparate. The instructor has a microphone attached to her head like you see in many aerobics and spinning classes, and plays funky eighties and nineties music. She leads the group through a warm-up, aerobic portion, then strength training with weight bands or weights, and core exercises on the floor. It lasts exactly one hour - no more, no less. I go twice a week and find it is worth my time, and, injury prevention.
  4. Ice. It's a runner's friend. Running inflames everything (this is my unscientific opinion) and cold settles everything back down. If I ever have something that is nagging me more than once, I'll ice it. For lower legs and feet, I'll run them under icy cold water at the end of my shower. I am trying to warm-up to the idea of an ice bath, but I am just not there yet. Last year after the Beach to Beacon 10K, I did get into the ocean, which was pure heaven.
  5. Body Work. I have used massage, chiropractic, and Rolfing. All are good. All are necessary in my book. If you're looking for a referral, let me know.
Eight more weeks and counting. I'll run an 18-miler next Sunday and a couple 20's in March.

And maybe I will get in an ice bath before it's all said and done.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sky Art

Have you looked up lately?

The sky in southern Maine has been nothing less than beautiful art, perfection. It's been most noticeable to me while I'm driving, anywhere, but specifically along the Scarborough Marsh, or while I'm out running somewhere that is fairly open and not covered over by trees.

The weather has been clear for the past several days with intermittent clouds moving through. A couple days ago, I was driving home and out over the marsh the clouds were layered and light, and contrasted against the vivid blue sky in shades of white, gray and blue. It was a quieting, incredibly beautiful masterpiece.

Driving with my daughter yesterday at sunset we witnessed purples, blues, pinks and reds. It made me want to stop everything and just absorb the scene. Of course I should have as we have a mutual appreciation for sunsets, often calling out to each other in the house, "Come here and look at this!"

A clear blue winter sky can command my attention no matter what I am doing or where I am going. It compels me to breathe deeply and feel grateful. I think it serves to remind me that I am alive and vital; perhaps it's simply one of my connections to nature. (The ocean is right up there, too.) When the sky is clear like this, it enables me to see things that I saw today while running: the waning half moon, the red tail hawk, the small personal plane just overhead, and Mount Washington in the west.

What did you notice when you looked up?

Monday, February 8, 2010


Just about anything can serve to inspire - to unleash that upswell of creativity or performance, or establish a sense of connection to a higher source. What makes something inspirational then, is simply how one assigns meaning to that thing or experience, and how one then responds to it.

Running, like any other human act, is a vehicle to express inspiration, though it may not even be conscious. Conversely, running might occur without a drop of inspiration. It all goes back to how we think about it; how we feel it in our body or soul.

There is a lone runner I see from time to time, running the streets of Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, Maine, near the coast where the Spurwink River comes in after it passes along a part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. It is a beautiful part of the world, in spite of its finite area.

There are a few things that stand out for me about this particular runner, such that I consider him an inspiration: The first is, he appears to have some sort of physical challenges. I've never met him personally or seen him not running, so this is just my impression, not a fact. It's the way he holds his head off to the side, and how his arms and legs move in a contrary way, not linearly or fluidly in the usual 'forward and back' running form.

The second is his perseverance and consistency. I've been seeing him for twenty years and the scene is always the same: He runs alone, in all seasons, in the same area. I appreciate that predictability and steadfastness. It gives me a sense of security.

And the third reason I am intrigued, is that he wears a satisfied expression regardless of the conditions. I've seen him in snowstorms, oppressive heat, and rain. He seems to look ahead at the road before him, not bothered by my curiosity about him. It's as if he is content and comfortable doing this physical thing, that looks difficult.

I expect he doesn't realize he's an inspiration, though maybe he does by the mere act of being a long distance runner.

Here's the funny thing about inspiration: None of what I think about this man might be true. But it's what I've made up, and how I've defined it. It then, works for me.

Yesterday, I joined over 800 runners to complete the Mid-Winter Classic 10-Mile road race in Cape Elizabeth (the part of the world I just described above.) The five-mile mark is at the top of a small hill before the road goes down and through the marsh, and up again to Route 77. I was running along the flat part through the Rachel Carson preserve, when my friend Tom came up alongside of me. We checked in with each other and I told him I was okay but needed to screw my head on a bit to stay tough through the second half of the race.

It was just then that the lone runner came toward us on the other side of the street. I pointed him out to Tom saying that there was my inspiration. Tom said he could use some of that just about then, but I'm sure it didn't work for him as it did for me. It's how we look at it, understand it, and allow it to move us.

What inspires you?

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Have you ever thought of your running as "slogging," such as, "I just slogged out 13 miles and it was hell."? Well, I've decided that this blog is rather like a slog. A Running Conversation at It's my slogspot.

Recently, I read something about the importance of blogs being posted daily, and for the life of me, I can't make that happen here. And I'm not exactly sure why since god knows I'm constantly in my head, hashing things out ad nauseum. But is that really noteworthy? I suppose I risk losing readership with such infrequency but I'm just not really that extroverted.

Speaking of my busy mind, my husband is a bit concerned about my 'thinking' during some of my recent marathon training runs. The thoughts I've shared with him go something like this: "My finishing time in Boston really doesn't matter. I mean it, really. What is important, is that I enjoy the ride and have fun. It's Boston after all."

Isn't it classic runner's self-talk? And just as classic is the futility of trying to debate the issue with me. I have every counter-argument there is in defense of my "stinking thinking:"
  1. It's the Boston Marathon for crying out loud. It's more like a party than a race, anyway.
  2. I'm in the second half of life, meaning, I'm old.
  3. I'll do fine no matter what the clock says.
  4. I just want to enjoy myself and not get hurt.
  5. I have nothing to prove to anybody.
  6. I don't HAVE TO do anything. I do it because I want to.
  7. I want to take in the crowds and the fanfare.
  8. I race 5Ks; marathons are for slogging.
  9. blah, blah, blah
The truth is, I am training with a time goal in mind. Surprised, right?

What happens during these training runs is realizing the simple hard work of it, and, my own incomprehension and inexperience of running 26.2 miles at a seven minute pace. I actually have some latitude with that time, I could PR in a 7:30 pace; I'm just capitalizing on my current fitness level to project sevens. Make sense?

Ten weeks to go and the mileage is ramping up. The key for me is to think of the pace runs as a piece of cake, especially since the longest one is 10 miles, and to enjoy the longer runs as one hell of a slogfest. Then of course, trust the training on the big day.

It's all good.