My friend Linda swims nearly every day. Her devotion to swimming her mile in Lake Whatcom is as sacred as my devotion to running laps around Lake Padden. We often meet up to write together after we’ve completed our individual … Continue reading
I was hoping to have a blog on more recent events, but I just can’t put my thoughts into anything coherent. Today Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece two years ago today. So, here it is. It’s aged pretty well. … Continue reading
No Mud, No Lotus. —Thich Nhat Hanh I hadn’t gone running in a few days, so the fact that it was Monday today had slipped my mind this morning when I headed out to my favorite trail. I was more … Continue reading
Facebook reminded me of the highlights of my year yesterday. And from the photos selected, one might infer I did nothing but run all year. I know I did other things (school for one), but so far this year, I have run 1431 miles, more or less. A few months ago, I did some calculations and determined that with a little effort, I could eke out 1500 miles by year’s end. At the beginning of November, I was only 260 miles, or 130 miles per month, away from my goal. Since July, I’d been logging 130-135 miles easily, and I finished November with 134 miles, meaning I’d only have to run 126 miles in December. Piece of cake, no?
Why 1500 miles? It’s a nice, fat, juicy, round number. It represents five pairs of shoes—generally speaking each pair of running shoes lasts me about 300 miles. So far this year, I’ve gone through at least five pairs of shoes and I currently am rotating between three pairs: my Brooks Glycerin 12s for road runs, my Brooks Cascadia 10s for trail runs, and my new Brooks Ghost GTX (Gortex) for rainy days. Recently I’ve become pretty tight with the Gortex shoes—dry feet are happy feet.
Fifteen hundred miles represents about 577 laps around Lake Padden, my favorite route. Now, obviously I haven’t run all of my miles at Padden, but I’d venture to guess (oh, I don’t have to guess, my Nike app will tell me exactly) I’ve run 1105 miles around the lake so far this year or 425 laps. Damn. That’s a lot of laps! The rest of the miles have been sprinkled around a few other trails in Bellingham, in the Methow Valley, down the Oregon Coast, through Beaverton, and along the beach in Rincon Guayabitos, Mexico.
Fifteen hundred miles signifies serious commitment and translates to over 170,000 calories burned at an average pace of 9:55/mile. I’ll admit, I’m a stats whore. Honestly, as a writer, and an English major, I wouldn’t have guessed numbers would be so important to me, but these numbers have gripped my imagination, and I can’t seem to not care about them.
So, here it is, December 17th, and I’ve managed to get in 68 miles. Last month I had closer to 75 miles after 17 days. But last month did not have gale force winds and driving rain nearly every day, all day, for weeks on end. Not that the weather has kept me from running. No, mostly it’s been a scheduling problem. Only twice have I chickened out and retreated to the warmth of my bed—but those two times represent the missing miles. What I’ve discovered is that running in the rain is never nearly as bad as I think it will be. But with Christmas coming up and some traveling in my future, I’m not sure I am going to make it. I’ve been doubling down on the miles when I can manage it, and I’ve been cramming in short runs when I don’t have time for long ones. Still. I guess the question now is, can I be okay with falling a few miles short of 1500?
I had the same goal last year and I came within 40 miles of 1500. I was fine because I know that 1460 miles is still a hell of a lot of miles, far more than I ever expected I would cover in a year. In fact, in 2012 I realized in early December that if I really applied myself, I would be able to post a total of 365 miles that year, or a mile a day. Admirable, I thought then. Until I sat in a writing workshop next to a woman who introduced herself as a marathon runner. I told her about my goal, and I asked her how many miles she ran in a year. “Two thousand,” she said. “If not more.”
“Oh,” I replied. “That’s a lot.” I did the math in my head—that’s a little more than five miles a day, every single day of the year. At the outset of 2015, I toyed with committing to running 2015 miles in 2015, but then a friend reminded me that would be about six miles a day every day, and I decided, as much as I love running and enjoy a challenge, I probably did not have it in me. No sense in signing up for something I was destined to fail from the outset. In fact, even though I had amassed so many miles in 2014, I did not have the confidence that I would be able to repeat my success the following year. I have this same sinking feeling at the beginning of each month when the Nike app sets the miles run back to zero and I have to watch them slowly amass, day by day, mile by mile.
I know I might seem a little obsessed with my statistics. I do love looking back and seeing the numbers: the miles, the times, the distance. It’s not about competition, only about how far I’ve come. How much I’ve improved. And lately, I’ve forgone races, realizing I don’t need the additional anxiety, tuning more into my own rhythms these days, running in order to feel good, to quell whatever anxiety I have in other areas of my life.
So, yes, Facebook. I have done a lot of running this year. And if I make 1500 miles, so much the better. If not, there’s always next year.
Tomorrow morning at 8:30, I am running my first ever half marathon (my friend Cami puts on The Windhorse Half Marathon each year–read about it here). I’ve never run more than 11 miles, so this is a new adventure, one that I’ve been working up to for the past few months (though not really on purpose). Since January, I’ve logged nearly 700 running miles, and last Saturday I completed the Chuckanut Foot Race which is a little more than half of the run I’ll be doing tomorrow—the same basic route, only tomorrow I’ll have to run back.
My running buddy and friend April has a sticker on the back of her car that says Run Happy. I love this sticker because running makes me happy. Not that anyone who sees my Chuckanut Footrace race photo would know this fact. In fact, if I do a quick review of recent race photos, I don’t look happy at all. Not while I’m running. I look happy before and after, but the pictures of me actually running definitely paint a more dire picture. I look like I’m expecting the world to end. No one would have any idea that my mind has been occupying a very happy place as the miles unfurl beneath my winged feet.
A few months ago, an acquaintance saw me running at my usual morning running spot. I grunted in her general direction as I ran past, maybe managed to give her a little wave, and continued on my way, focused on the task at hand, i.e. running. When I saw her later in the week, she asked me if I’d been running under a little black cloud that morning because I seemed “dark” when she saw me. I thought about that comment for a moment. “Yeah, I guess,” I said, “some days I feel like the windshield, some days like the bug. Today, I was the bug.” I shrugged and forgot about our conversation. Until I saw her on the trail again a couple of weeks later—then I made a concerted effort to smile. I didn’t want her to think I ran under a dark cloud. I love running—it makes me happy even though it sometimes hurts.
One of the things I love about my favorite running trail is that for the most part, the regulars are a friendly bunch. Most of the folks I see regularly smile and wave. Some say good morning. I smile and wave back. I try to remember to smile and make eye contact when someone comes my way. One of the reasons I run the trail clockwise is because most people run counter clockwise—I can see more people this way, and fewer people run past me. I startle easily when other, faster, runners pass me from behind. I’ve run other trails, but have yet to encounter such a consistently cheerful bunch of morning exercisers.
Just this morning as I was walking around the lake (I couldn’t stay away—my morning routine has become, well, my morning routine. I didn’t run though—being in taper mode—I just walked one time around), one of the regulars stopped me to tell me how she had noticed how much weight I’d lost in the past few months. Wow. I was touched, amazed actually, that she would reach out like that, but that’s what running has become for me—connection: with strangers, with friendly faces, with a community.
Running makes me happy—happy enough that I’m going to lace up my shoes and run 13.1 miles tomorrow.
We are almost to the end of the alphabet, Dear Reader, and I’m Very unsure what to write about for the letter V. In my post accepting this challenge, I sketched out some ideas for each letter (excepting J and K). My thoughts at the time for V included Vaginas and Virginity. I’m not keen on either one at the moment. Not keen on writing about either, that is.
Instead, I think I will write about things that are Vexing me. The first thing? I keep getting emails from LinkedIn telling me that people want to add me to their networks even though I have 1) deleted my LinkedIn account long ago, and 2) tried (anyway) to log in with the email address to which they keep sending me notifications and get back the message that they have no record of that email address. So then . . . how? How am I getting emails from LinkedIn? If they don’t recognize my email? I don’t understand . . .
Nothing else is Vexing me . . . at least nothing that I can write about. Okay, well, one thing is and I probably shouldn’t write about this, but I must. I’m suffering from a bad case of “runner’s butt.” There, I’ve said it. The butt is out of the bag. What happens when you run five miles a day for three months in a row? Things get, uhm, problematic. Apparently.
Here’s the deal. When I started going to the gym a few years ago, I went in a cotton t-shirt and cotton shorts. Old School. I soon realized these fabrics were not going to work long term, but I did not want to invest in expensive athletic wear, so I suffered through and did well enough working out for an hour in my cotton clothes. Sure they got heavy and didn’t wick away anything, but I could go home in short order and put it all in the laundry.
But then I got a free lightweight, wick-away workout t-shirt from work and wore that one night to the gym. What a difference. I was hooked. I got some wick-away workout pants and some wick-away socks. I got a new pair of workout shoes. Talk about the right tools for the job. What had taken me so long?
The only part of my wardrobe I didn’t change was my underwear. I mean, yes, I changed my underwear. Of course I did. But I didn’t switch to quick dry or wick-away undies. I didn’t need to. Nothing bad was happening down there. I worked out. I came home. I showered. I laundered. Issue-free.
Same thing when I started running. I loaded up on the quick dry, wick-away shirts, shorts, socks, tights, jackets. Still, I clung to my Jockey cotton underpants. And why not? I didn’t have any issues, still, with down there. I ramped up my runs: 3 miles, 5 miles, 7 miles. Nine miles. Still good. My Jockeys served their purpose—I did not chafe. I did not suffer.
Then I ran 11 miles. Oh. My. What a difference two miles can make. I grabbed the baby powder and applied liberally. I added some Neosporin. But things only got worse. I mistakenly figured that since I wasn’t going to run 11 miles on a regular basis that things would return to normal, but it’s been a week now and things are most definitely not normal. I’m afraid Dear Reader, that they may never be.
So, I bought some new underpants, some that aren’t cotton, and I went for a run, a test drive if you will. My tights fell down! I ran around the lake holding my pants up. Twice. I never in my life thought I would say that my Lycra tights fell down. I mean, seriously—I didn’t even know that Lycra tights could fall off. But they did—slid right down over those non-cotton panties. I suppose the logical step would be to go out and get a smaller pair of tights, but honestly, my tights aren’t loose, they are just slippery.
The Little Woman thinks I should run commando, but I can’t quite wrap my head around that notion. Seems I’d have issues with seams and such. And I’d feel, uhm, Vulnerable. There’s something safe about underwear, about having that extra layer between my altogethers and the world out there. Seems like it might be a tad, er, breezy.
I have a problem that I need to solve. So, I’ve been interviewing my runner friends about their underwear habits. I’ve been checking out the options. But have you seen the women’s underpants options in the athletic section of, say, Fred Meyers, for example? First of all, there’s only one option. One. Option. The Under Armour “cheeky underwear”? Who are these made for, exactly? Puhlease. These will not suffice. Why is it women get virtually no fabric and men get yards of it? I mean look at the difference! It’s not right, I tell you.
I’m afraid I am going to have to change my ways and that it’s going to take some trial and error, some investment on my part, some purchases. Some experimentation. So, if you see me running around the lake holding up my pants, don’t laugh. Send baby powder. Stat.
About four years ago, I joined some work colleagues and started hitting the gym three to four mornings a week. I didn’t change my eating habits right away, and in fact, one of my mantras about working out was that I was working out so I could eat and drink beer, so that I wouldn’t have to change much.
I did not ever think I would be one to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be at the gym by 5:30 so I could be to work by 7:30, but there I was, generally, Tuesday through Friday, in my shorts, sweating before the sun came up. I loved that each morning was a different workout—Fridays we did yoga, Thursdays was spin class, Wednesdays power (weights), and Tuesdays cardio—lots of stepping and moving.
The changes were not dramatic—I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but the small shifts motivated me to continue, and, ironically, I began to want to eat differently. When I went out with friends after work—and I went out often—I became more conscious about my choices, drank fewer beers, ate less fried food, more salads. I started eating breakfast.
My clothes fit better, and for me, there’s nothing more reinforcing than clothes that fit. I dropped a pants size.
And then I moved back home—I changed jobs and took one closer to home, one that wouldn’t require me to live in another city during the week. I stopped going to the gym because I was now leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. and not getting home until after 5:30 p.m. For six months I just went to work and came home. And the pounds started piling back on.
I was miserable, and when a friend on Facebook offered to pay half of a membership to anyone who wanted to join her gym, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t care if I had to go straight from work to working out—something had to change. Again. My friend’s gym turned out to be a sort of cross-fit, extreme fitness kind of place, a far cry from the kinder, gentler yoga/spin/cardio gym I’d left behind. But I was desperate, and I gave it all I had.
I crawled across the floor using only my arms, dragging a weight with my feet. I perfected my 24” vertical jump. I tried and tried to do a pull up. I even tried to climb a rope. I ran and did burpees, lifted weights, threw tires, swung kettlebells, played tug of war, lunged, squatted, pushed up, crunched, kicked, ran hills, did stairs. And again, the pounds came off.
While I was at the gym, The Little Woman started running class, and pretty soon, I—who had sworn off running—started running with her. Eventually, we were running 5 Ks together. We went from being the people who laughed at the runners at running events on Saturday mornings, to being the runners at running events on Saturday mornings. I dropped the gym membership.
In the past two years, I seem to have reached an equilibrium between exercise and eating. And while many friends have opted for diets (paleo, skinny bitch, cabbage soup, grapefruit, blood type, hormone, Weight Watchers), I’ve just kept running. Running works for me—the more I run, the better I want to eat. I’m still not pulling up to a plate of vegetables at dinnertime, but neither am I eating unconsciously anymore.
I wouldn’t say I’m exactly ambivalent about food, and I certainly do enjoy eating whatever TLW whips up when she’s home to cook (she’s now working away from home during the week). The trick seems to be in Gaining awareness, Getting perspective, and Going the distance. G is not so much for Gym anymore for me, at least, as it is for Go. As in Ready. Set.
I’ve been thinking all week about external validation, beyond the likes and blog comments and more into (what I used to believe was) my non-digital life. Most days I struggle to walk away from my keyboard. After all, that’s where my livelihood (such as it currently is) resides—writing, school, job applications. To counteract all of this screen time, I’ve been trying to push away and spend at least an hour each day running. I was on the massage table the other day, telling my massage therapist about my last blog, recounting for her how I thought that running so much these past two months had significantly calmed my annoying physical symptoms of the past year. I told her how good it was for me to spend that hour each day away from the computer screen and out of my head. Then I mentioned in that offhanded manner that so often carries the weight of truth that I run with my iPhone because my phone is where my Nike app lives along with my running music and my Fitbit app.
“So, you’re not really getting away from the external validation,” she noted.
“I don’t answer the phone and I don’t check my blog stats when I run,” I said, a little miffed, before adding, “Usually.” Slowly I began to see her point.
As I run through the miles, my iPhone via the Nike app, tells me how far I’ve run and at what pace. My Fitbit vibrates when I hit 10,000 steps for the day (generally by the time I’m done with my daily run). I listen to a playlist of music and when Florence and the Machine comes on with Dog Days, I know that I’m nearing the two mile mark and that about 20 minutes—give or take half a minute—have gone by. I know then I have about 30 minutes left. I know the first of the Lady Gaga songs come on around mile four, and I know that if I’m still running when The Band starts playing that I’m closing in on mile five. I know if I’m running better than I did the day before. Hell, I even know if I’m running better (or worse) than the average of my last seven runs. On good days when I’ve finished running and before I stretch, I’ll even post my run results to Facebook with a comment along the lines of “nailed it bitches!”
“What would happen if you ran without your phone?” the massage therapist asked me and then answered her own question. “You’d be able to hear the birds.”
“I’d just hear myself huffing and wheezing,” I countered. “And I’d lose miles. My averages would plummet.” As soon as I uttered those words I knew I had a problem, or, in the parlance of the mindful and aware, I knew I had something I might want to pay attention to, something to look at.
She laughed when I said I’d lose miles. Absurd, right? Of course I wouldn’t be losing the miles—my body, my health would still benefit, clearly. But would I be able to tolerate not documenting my progress? Would I be able to derive the same pleasure from running if I couldn’t compare today’s run with yesterday’s? And how would it be to run without music? Would I be faster or slower? Could I stand to listen to just my own heavy breathing? I’m not sure I can. I’m not even sure if I want to, but I’m interested in taking a closer look at the whys of the situation. I’m interested in noticing.
I’m interested in noticing because when I pay attention, I can begin to make more conscious choices about this one life I’ve been allotted. On the surface these choices seem trivial: whether I run with or without music, with or without digital feedback on my performance, with or without compiling and parsing each mile. But are they really insignificant or are they indicative of a larger problem? Even as I type this piece I can’t refrain from flipping back to the Internet, to Facebook, to my email. I cannot focus just on this bit of writing for any sustained period. I don’t know if my monkey mind is getting worse or I’m just noticing it more, but I’m beginning to worry that I’m not paying close enough attention in other areas of my life, that being easily distracted could be taking a toll on my relationship and my career (or lack thereof), on my desire to be a writer. Is this inability to focus on just one thing at a time without soliciting feedback and validation getting in my way?
For one of the psychology classes I’m taking this quarter, I had to read about and then write a page and a half paper on BF Skinner—I had to pick out my favorite theory of his, write a paragraph on said theory and then find a related online source to write about that had to do with my favorite Skinner theory. I started this exercise thinking I wasn’t a big fan of Skinner—I think (or used to think) that behaviorism was reductionist and limiting. After all, behavior modification techniques did not work at all when I tried to use them on my kids. My kids could give a flying fuck if they got a gold star on a refrigerator chart. I came out of my active parenting years with the firm belief that nature will always triumph over nurture. But, a funny thing happened on the way to writing my Skinner paper—I started connecting the dots. Duh. I remembered a book I had purchased but only partially read a few years ago, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I looked Mr. Carr up on youtube and listened to him read from and discuss his book at the Harvard University bookstore.
If Carr is correct (and I do believe he is), the Internet really is changing the way our brains work. My brain has been changed to actually need to push the levers at Twitter and Facebook, to peck away at my email icon. All of this screen time is rewiring my grey matter, new neural pathways are being formed based on Skinner’s Operant Conditioning theory. I have been trained to push the levers just like the lab rats. Nike and Fitbit, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google are delivering enough random little doses of oxytocin to keep me coming back for more.
Now that I have this awareness, what am I to do? Initially, I’ve decided to just be aware, to simply notice (is it obvious yet that I’m taking a mindfulness class?). When do I press the levers? What distracts me? Do I feel better or worse if I stop writing and check an empty inbox? What do those Facebook likes and new Twitter followers mean to me? Does my self worth rise and fall with my stats? Why? And maybe most importantly, am I engaged in meaningful and purposeful relationships outside of these places? Am I moving forward, toward my goals for the next year, the next five years?
This afternoon I thought briefly about leaving my phone and earbuds behind when I headed out for my run. After all, I knew the run from my front door to Boulevard Park and back again is just over five miles. I don’t need iTunes to mark my distance. But, I do know that I seem to be in a running groove right now that works for me. I am aware enough to know I don’t want to fix something that’s not broken. I’m getting fit. My pants are getting looser. My body feels great. I LIKE having Macklemore, JayZ, and Rhianna in my head. Screw the birds–S & M motivates me. Today I chose to run with the technology in place. Tomorrow I may decide differently. Tonight I will decide if I want to read a book or spend my time before sleep anxiously checking online stats. I’m leaning toward the book. I’ll let you know what actually happens.