Outdoor Running

Training < Letting Go & Loving the Run

Trail running at Dog Mountain

Cornered by the first bits of daylight, Mt. Hood is a golden ghost on the horizon. The eastward pull of these roads, roomy in the vacancy of early morning, is reflex. Deep breaths try to soothe out pre-race jitters creeping into my stomach between bites of what has to pass for last-minute race morning breakfast (zucchini bread toast with peanut butter).  I can feel air catch  – like there’s something siphoning it off before it can reach the ends of the awkward triangle beneath my ribs.

On its best day, marathon training (for me at least) can be an exhausting, blistering endeavor. On a bad day, it results in fundamentally reconsidering my decisions. Initially I planned out every training run, intent on adhering to a schedule, convinced it was the only key to success. After injuries, and the resulting mockery they made of plans for marathon number 1, maybe the compulsion to exert my will on attempt number 2 rebounded.

One, two, three, four. Counting repetitively almost quells tremors in tired legs, almost frees me to fixate on the sun tracks through the trees and the quiet morning trail. Cool mountain air skims into my veins in winded intervals with the steepening trail. My feet periodically stagger to a walk while my eyes wander off the edge and down the misty fingers of the Columbia. (more…)


On the Fly

I dream about running. Does anyone else do this?

On the plane to a business meeting, I close my eyes and in minutes, the thing I hear is the thing I’m craving most: gravel under foot. Just imagining that steady crunching sound, I start to feel my shallow, frenzied breath even out.

In the cramped, recycled-air cabin that smells like human- I could not be farther away. In a place that smells instead like dirt, pine needles, and cold. My head is running me down one of my favorite trails, a lonely dirt road through forest and farmland and fresh, freezing air.

The hum of the engine rumbles, fading away underneath the new sounds of morning, quick, deep drinks of mountain air, the birds on the breeze. I am waking up somewhere else, but it’s not the place my plane is headed. By the time we land, I’m grinning, calm. I’ve been out of the game for a little over a week, benched by another cold that wouldn’t let go.

But I’m coming for that run.

Maybe it knows I’ll be back, and it’s working into waking dreams now too, to keep me sane, to keep me ready. I like to think so. Blink anymore these days and I’m there, sweat on my temples and thundering heart in my chest. It feels good to feel better, but feeling tired after a good, long run is probably the best medicine I could give myself. Until then, I’ll be self-medicating in shut eye.


Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Running down the busy street, its a bustling Friday afternoon that doggy and I have set out into.  The hum of traffic is muffled by my earbuds, our cadence cools down, and we are both glad to be out of the house despite the quickly gathering dark.

Closing on the intersection, it’s as if the world cracks on its axis by the sound that shatters out from a car nearby.  In that instant, everything is on its side. Was that a gunshot? My chest so tight I can barely manage breath, I vaguely register that the lower portion of my legs are burning and doggy is loosing his highest-register yowl.  Shaking at the end of his leash it’s not a bark, just a stifled, heart-breaking whimper. My feet have stopped moving, slowly figuring out there’ve been no bullets, but probably a blown tire.

I reach down to comfort and inspect Bo, now understanding that my burning shins are the result of projectile road debris from the tire explosion. I spot the car, struggling to move down the road.  As more of my brain pieces this together, I’m immediately terrified for my dog, who is eye-level where my legs are scratched and bleeding. Still in total disbelief that a tire blowing can produce this level of heart-stopping noise, let alone send gravel straight into my skin, I watch the car lurch through the intersection, rubber flap-flap-flapping in tow.

Headlights streak past, bursts of light to brush off the gravel and dirt by. There’s a persistent wondering over what in the holy hell has just happened, standing blankly on the sidewalk, and feeling rather shell shocked over a strangely eventful split second.  Thankfully, Bo seems unharmed, but I can tell the skittishness will linger as he groans and leans into my legs, rubbing his head against my thigh over and over.  Me too, buddy. Me too. 

I pet him and pet him, shushing sounds wheezing out of my mouth. It’s Okay. It’s Okay.  

It is. In this brief moment we are reminded, unapologetically, of the important things, and though shaken we are, in fact, okay.

Sometimes you don’t get the run you planned on, you get the run you need.

It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

– JRR Tolkien

Words of Wisdom From the Waterfront Trail

I like to think I’ve gotten pretty slick at fixing issues with my contacts while running over the years. But, just as this presumptive thought was crossing my brain, I started having a helluva time with it. I stabbed my eye – imagine that- trying to relieve the burning and stinging without success. Just the one eye. Righty and I were doing just fine, but this left one, this left one had to go.

I finally rubbed it so much it tore, and I lost the damn thing somewhere on the trail trying to assess the damage. While this is by no means my first encounter with a variety of outdoor running hazards, this was the first ever time I’ve been reduced to monocular vision.

Blind to a point that my eyes are pretty much ornamental, I figured tossing the other one to even out would not end especially well for me, or the integrity of my skeleton.

I had my cell phone with me but didn’t consider this an option, because in my head at the time that was defeat, and I can be stubborn like that. Instead, I finished the last few miles periodically squinting, closing the left eye, or just looking real hard out the good one when my eyelids got tired. A little worse for the wear of vertigo, and headachy from the off-kilter sensation of it all, I arrived back home with very tired eyes and, of course, a profound new sympathy for pirates.

This was the first time I half-saw this graffiti.

graffiti on a run, "the truth is inside you"

I’ve run past it frequently since, in a less squinty condition, and it never fails to make me think about what prompted someone to leave this message.

Besides the annoying truth that I would have to finish my run half blind, it reminded me that most of the time I spend running is time spent trying to hear my own voice.

Maybe the truth is that this is time well spent. Maybe its some cosmic, coincidental confirmation that listening is always worth it. So I keep showing up to listen- sometimes I even like what I hear.

Going off to put my ear, and my feet, to the ground.

Bonus points if you can tell me where this graffiti is…. 🙂

This Gentle Thievery

I ran this morning thinking of her.

How I inherited her hands straight down to the knobby knuckles and veiny fingers that swing into view as I set off through the streets.

It kills me sometimes, how people die.

-Markus Zusak; The Book Thief 

In my head I know she had been a fiery force of strong Wagner woman, but in my heart she is always tenderness. I hear her voice in mine sometimes, and every time I do, I wish I could always sound like her. So that every word I spoke could be a channel, deep and steady, to hold all that tenderness. So much of it, she couldn’t ever use it all in one lifetime, so now it’s seeping out of me in the cracks she left behind. slowly. lovely. like the easy ripples in a spring swollen river.

Like the way I talk with her whenever I eat Kraft swiss cheese slices.  Always from the plastic wrapper, standing in front of the open fridge -the way she and I had always done.

It was her birthday a few days ago, September 1st. And like the heaviness of autumn, it always seems to sneak up on me, the way her death did too.  She went away on September 9th.

These September runs of mine are all for her. For these hands I have that aren’t mine. And these stolen syllables, left to speak her tender truth.

She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.

-again, -Markus Zusak; The Book Thief 

But she did.

Fartlek Frame of Mind

I really enjoy saying the word “fartlek,” so I thought it was high time I tried them. I also probably should have considered this a lot earlier in my running career, like say, during my marathon training a year ago. Since I’m so late to this party, I thought I might help other runners avoid a similar fate.

Initial Results

Its been a silver bullet for busting all kinds of running-ruts, and is exactly the change-up my running routine needed. Even though I’m hard pressed to be aware of things like time and intensity during runs, making the effort is proving absolutely worth it.

Go Forth and Fartlek

I’m usually a relaxed runner. Its my hour every day. For those precious 60 minutes, I give my brain license to vacate the premises. Timing myself, as you can imagine, does not come very easily, and it might explain why I’ve arrived late to the idea. But, I’ve been getting bored, so figured experimenting with interval work could hardly hurt things.

Fighting the urge to zone out, I focused myself- fully ready to fartlek the fun right out of my run.

Imagine my surprise when, not only did it not suck, it was pretty dang entertaining. Breaking straight out of a running slump is really, really good fun, turns out. And feeling strong and, well, pretty freaking awesome is always my idea of a good time.

I managed to out run our dog at one point, which has never happened, and I challenged myself up some pretty gnarly hills (which has needed to happen for a very long time).

What I’m discovering while playing with fartlekking is that it can take just the right amount of concentration, and reconnect some of the greatest things about running. I’m sore again after relatively short runs, and that’s such an unexpectedly satisfying sensation, and maybe another sign that I’m just terribly overdue for some speed training.

3 Things I didn’t know about Fartlek

1) It’s Swedish for “speed play” which you’ll know if you’ve ever “googled” it. (I often picture Swedish Chef from the Muppets while running now though- this motivates me to go faster knowing I will get to where the food is sooner.)

2) Done with a little intention, they are punishingly fun.

3) Science!

Because who doesn’t like some juicy facts to back up their new habits?

The idea behind the fartlek, and most variations of high intensity interval training, is pushing your cardiac threshold, thereby building strength and endurance- jackpot!

The flip side-The cruel, and totally unfair, reality of our bodies is that the longer we do something- the more efficient we become at it over time. So the same 3 mile run that used to kick your butt not only doesn’t kick your butt anymore, it also doesn’t burn up fuel in the same way it did when you started. Lame, yes. BUT it’s also a cool opportunity to challenge yourself and have a different kind of fun.

And maybe scream “FARTLEK!”at the top of your lungs as you’re tearing up a steep hill. (Note: I have not actually tried this yet, but I imagine it would yield pretty amazing results.)

Added Bonus-

Its pretty easy to approach fartlekking at your own pace. There are lots of fartlek running recommendations out there for split times and increases in percentage effort, etc. so it’s totally up to you as a runner, and that’s something I can jibe with. I also like giving myself the option to set my own goals, time myself meticulously and rigorously go all out, or you know, not.

What’s your favorite way to fartlek?

Confessions of a Compulsive Consumer

I pull –hard- on the leash of life.  More and more, the thing that drives me crazy about my dog, I do on a daily basis, and to the people closest to me.  I might even be the human equivalent of that obnoxious dog its owners eventually give up and just stop taking on walks altogether. It’s an uncomfortable thing to recognize, and yet I still feel, mostly, unrepentant about it.  I shouldn’t- If I had my way, I’d pull so hard I’d exhaust myself to injury, break the leash, and myself, and be left alone in the cold.

Still, sitting still has never sat well with me, this should be obvious to me since running is the thing that relaxes me.  But the appetite for everything, its crippling me, slowly.  Collapsing infrastructures that hold me in tact and bankrupting the caches of calm I’ve saved up for when I catch up with all these things I’m chasing.

What’s next? -Consume everything, fast, move on.

Find out. Look, see, do. Push forward, usually, running-sprinting- always to the next thing. and the thing after that.

Eyes fixed on the horizon-forever-on a leash that never slackens enough to take a real, deep breath or reckon myself to the resentment about the leash itself.

The last week’s photo challenge was “Curves.” I couldn’t stop thinking of the way the road bends just so- seductive and simple into the next stretch of road.  It’s as addictive to me as the thing that waits around it.

What if I could learn to love the curve? Crave it and nothing more?


photo (1)

Because in a split second – its gone.

– Ayrton Senna

Folk Music & Other Things I Used to Avoid

I have a tear trigger- its clean, simple, and mercilessly instantaneous. It’s John Denver’s version of “Leaving, On a Jet Plane.” Normally an easy enough song to avoid, it just happens to be in my iTunes library -masochist that I am.

I can only imagine what passers-by might have thought of me – running down the road, tears streaming down my face despite my best efforts to keep the waterworks in check. As soon as I hear the first 5 words,

All my bags are packed…

I choke out a sob and skip feverishly to the next song, but- and I can’t tell you why- I skip back to it. This is the risk you take with musically assisted runs- you sometimes end up in a head space you hadn’t planned on. Anywhere nearly.

A beautiful spring day, birds singing, sun streaming through the trees, maybe that’s what made it so despicably poignant –me bawling my eyes out all over it.

Every listen I’m brought back- in miserable clarity- to the first time I heard it. My overactive amygdala reminds me that as a very young child, near hysterics, I begged my Dad to turn it off, it hurt so bad to hear it. It was on a mix tape my parents were fond of playing, and I trained myself to anticipate its arrival so I could fast forward through it every time.

It’s probably been 20 years since I can first remember this song and the effect it has on me, and on this run, it smacked me in the gut that I’ve been running away, from a song, for almost 2 decades.

It also happened to be my birthday- so maybe I thought it was finally time to stop running away from our friend John. Somewhere in the sorrow that overwhelms me as soon as I hear the first few notes, it’s comforting to know that I still can’t not cry hearing it.

The hurt is good, and deep. Cathartic and sharply physical, it resonates in unreasonable cadence with my footfalls on the trail–It knows– I don’t stop at one listen– I can’t. I go from avoiding this song like the plague to looping it through my head for almost a half hour, all in the space of one run.

Disastrously dehydrated, hyperventilating, and such a snotty, teary mess I can hardly keep running- I finally have to turn everything off and call this run at 3 miles. It’s not the run I’ve planned- confronting my separation anxiety and mortality to the soundtrack of my parent’s hippy days, on my birthday- but maybe it was good for me in a whole different kind of way.

Listen at your own risk:

What’s your trigger song? Is it on your running mix?

The Wonder in the Wait

Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.

-Haruki Murakami
This week, I am waiting for my words . They are not ready yet.
In the mean time, enjoy this:

running lord of the rings

So much truth, Gollum. Or should I say Smeagol?

Lesson Learned… I SWEAR

I committed one of the most mortal sins in running.  It’s why I’ve been away from my writing, and my running.

I can’t believe I did it.  I know better.  I especially, with a laundry list of running-related injuries and PT sessions in my past, should know better.

I…wait for it…doubled my mileage in one run.

If I could undo it, I would, in a heartbeat. Everything felt great the entire run. It was just too easy to do.  A  gorgeous spring day, I met up with an old friend and we were off.  And before I knew it, I had more than doubled my average run mileage. I didn’t think much of it, I felt fine.  Until the next morning, when my left foot let me know what I had done was most definitely not.ok.

This is one of the things I love about running even still- despite the drag of being grounded for recovery – it teaches  (and re-teaches) me about intention.  In everything I do.  Shocking, but normally you can’t just go run 13 miles without preparation.  The work to get there is as crucial as getting there.  It’s an important, and painful, takeaway: pay attention! Be mindful, be present (even if the present is too beautiful to pay much attention to things like your legs and feet).

So, distance runners, promise me this one thing: run with intention.  Do it. Right now. Promise me in your head. So you spare yourselves the momentum-killing, soul-sucking, start over… again.   Running modestly ALWAYS trumps not running at all.

The plan had been to redeem my running self (after a dismal half marathon performance in my last attempt) in mid-May.  So I benched myself for 2 weeks, loaded up on arnica and Advil, wrapped my foot periodically, and waited.  I kept feeling better, day by day. Maybe I hadn’t done anything major!? I waited a few more days.  By the time the 3rd run-free weekend came around, I was out of the ace bandage, walking normally and weight bearing with no pain.

You know what comes next.  I put my shoes on last night, and headed out.  To my credit, I knew I wasn’t going long, or far.  I made it about a quarter mile when I realized I had no business attempting a run, no matter how small.

I’m not sure where I go from here.  With race day is in 5 weeks, I’ve got a  pretty short window to go from nada to 13.1. More like less than nada since walking this morning is a challenge. If the pain gets any worse, I’ll be off to an actual doctor to tell me the sad truth I already know: no running for a while.

Meantime, more arnica and Advil, and desperate pleas to all runners to be smarter than  yours truly.

Now go run.  Run smart and make it count, because you can. And because there are people like me who’d give a whole lot to be in your shoes, especially when they see you tearing up the sidewalks.