Winter Running

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.


Always Wait, or Exhale. Maybe Both.

Just try not to wax nostalgic this time of year, I’ve already given up.  Holidays are everywhere, and perhaps I should be occupied with gifts and tinsel and all.  And I am, partly.  But I’m also always aware that this time of year marks another anniversary of returning from one of the great adventures in my life: an ill-conceived, if well-intentioned, jaunt to life in Lima, Peru.

Many very long stories short, I accompanied a friend on quest for aboriginal healing and transformation of partial parapledgia through traditional medicine.  Yes, it was a gamble, and yes it only partly worked, if we’re measuring physical results.  True to form, and because I’ve never been one to not write things down, I recorded a good chunk of our journey here, if you’re feeling like a glutton for prosaic punishment.

So what does all this have to do with Christmas?  I think its not uncommon for us to take stock sometimes, reflect over the past years of our lives and those of our loved ones. And so, as I’m taking stock, thinking back, to the sticky way the air felt on my morning runs through Miraflores many years ago now, I am grateful.  And damn if that doesn’t feel more like the holidays than anything I’ve yet come across.  Being grateful for the folks who made our trip possible, the ones who wrote us letters of encouragement, the ones we met along the way, the ones who were on the other end of frenzied phone calls and Skype sessions, the ones who took pity on us, and the ones who saved us.

We were fortunate enough to come by a trustworthy cabbie early on in our time there, which now in the scheme of things doesn’t begin to cover what Diego was for us.  So much more than a reliable means of conveyance through a strange and sometimes scary city, he taught us about Lima, Spanish, patience, gratitude, the value of mirth in the face of trial, and -very important- how to actually get and retain a cab in the city.  “Siempre, espirar.” He would tell me, so that I would be able to tell other cabbies not to drive off without one of us, or the wheelchair (as happened on more than one occasion).

In my head at the time, I translated it to “Always wait,” meaning always tell the driver to wait until you’re ready.  It stuck, cemented to the folds of my cerebellum somehow, “Siempre, espirar.” I come to understand now, although my Spanish was, and remains, barely conversational, it can also mean, “always exhale.” Maybe I misheard him, a lot was lost in translation.  Good advice I think, either way.

More than waiting, more than resonant lessons in exhaling and letting go, maybe most of all, Diego taught me about faith.  Fe. I can still hear him say it. Not a kind of faith attributable to one particular deity or other per se (though there was no shortage of that, Lima being Lima and all), but faith in the deep-down decency of other folks, and faith in our abilities to do things, and believe in things, we’re not really sure we can.  And if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Now, here to say Happy Holidays from me is a shot from a run:

run happy

Terrible Ideas & Other Things I Tried This Week

I just wrote a race review for RunOregon and thought it was time to start thinking about the rest of my plans for racing, and running, and all sorts of other things. All at once. This is what happens when I try to not think about things so much, the rubber band always snaps back and I end up like this:

running meme

Brought to you by the awesome Allie Brosh and her brilliant blog:

Things are stirring.  Fall must bring out a sort of claustrophobia, because I’m weirdly, acutely aware of a slow suffocation from the struggle to be something better. Between the daylight slipping away so suddenly, and the closeness of rounding out another year, things are stirring. Moving deep beneath the surface.  You can almost feel it in the air and the strands of bottled up rain wrung clean from clouds.

Plans are in motion.  Big, intimidating, amazing plans.  Portland marathon plans, NaNoWriMo book writing plans, and triathlon plans.  Blame it on re-reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or the renewed sense of purpose that comes from setting goals and signing up for things i’m not sure yet whether I can do, but its what November seems to need from me so far- creating an plan of attack for making 2014 a year of writing and running, and swimming and biking, and then more running. And maybe some more, lots more, writing.

Best Laid Plans

So, there will be a handful of half-marathons in the spring, overlapped by a summer of pool (and hopefully lake) laps and bike training, leading up to a Tri (sprint, of course) toward the end of August, and then – deep breath- stacking up the miles and miles of training runs leading to the Oct. 5th Portland Marathon.

Part of me feels pretty nuts just to be thinking about it.  The other part can’t wait to get started training. RUN SWIM EVERYTHING FOREVER!! Then I remember I couldn’t make it through 12 weeks of marathon training without injury the last time, and land right back at being sure I’m crazy to be considering both my first triathalon and a marathon in the same year.

I can’t help it. Things are moving.

Should I maybe, possibly, to quote Ron Swanson, be whole-assing just one thing?


Caution: gratuitous meme-ing.

Am I actually crazy?

Sunny With a Chance of Awesome

Portland has looked a bit like an ice planet recently, and Saturday brought a brilliant sunrise as a result. My intent is always to sleep in, but my internal clock usually has a mind of its own, and roused me to see it. Bleary-eyed and a bit resentful at the notion of being awake before 7 on the weekend, it all disappeared with a glance out the window. What followed this epic winter dawn was a sunny, if frigid, morning. Shoes were thrown on, and I was out the door. I went out with no plans, no route in mind, just my warmest gear and my dog.

Savoring my Saturday run- no time limits, no boundaries, just exploring. And when the sun happens to shine, it usually ends up being cause for a whole lot of exploring. It was one of those spectacular transition times when you can see the warmth coming- watch as the sun sets the tickled-white tree branches steaming in its rays. Between the foggy patches of our breath and the frosted patterns on the sidewalks, we are kids (and puppies) again, and nothing matters but the next 60 seconds. Hopping hesitantly over slick trails of dew and sprinting out of cold patches of shade and back out into the light, its joy like nothing else. Sweaty, beaming freedom and breathless joy.

I sprinted down into, and up out of, a frost-covered creek valley leaving the first footprints through the trail. On these occasions, I think its proper to look back and scrutinize your handiwork. I may have also thrown a rock at a frozen pond, kicked around some icy pinecones, had my tower buzzed by some very rambunctious geese, and remembered what its like to love the winter.

With a squint and not too much practicality, the park looks a little bit like Hoth, and when your dog already sounds like a Tauntaun a lot of the time, its easy to imagine you’re far, far away.

It doesn’t matter what the question is, running (and just a little bit of Star Wars) is usually at least part of the answer.

True story.


wrunningwrun, wrunning, wran, v.   to go swiftly outdoors in rainy climes; as in, any running during the months of October through July in the Pacific Northwest.

Sorting through my winter running gear,  my running side kick, our dog, only moves his eyes from their place resting on the floor, as I fold and re-fold fleece and long sleeves, as if to say it’s already been too long since we’ve been running.  He gets up, saunters to the window and, nose to nose with the glass, sighs discontentedly at the rain and probably, definitely, our latency indoors.

There are leaves to slosh through! There are puddles to dodge, and ebony stained afternoons that need a touch of fluorescence, by way of my windbreaker. There are trails to break through in a tunnel of misty wattage beneath the shrouded stars! He reminds me through his disgruntled ‘harumph‘ as he lays down again.

After 10 years calling this place my home, I still find it hard to accept that always, behind that infinite grey above, behind that, there is somehow blue sky.  I try to think of this as we prep for our cold, soggy run and I search the skies for any hint of that elusive color.  I don layer upon layer, ear warmers, gloves and on and on, as the dog paces, willing me I’m sure to hurry up already.  He knows.  At the first sight of athletic wear, his tail begins flailing uncontrollably. He stalks me as I put in my contacts and panting, pursues me to the furthest reaches of the closet in search of the hats hidden at the back.  Determined, expectant, he will not leave my side until his leash is on and we head out the door.

running with dogss

Our breath hangs in ethereal clouds and melts into the fog swirling up from the damp sidewalk.  My lungs, reminded of the cold, make breathing ragged at first, in slight protest to this temperature. Stiff-limbed and sniffly seem to be the order of our runs, but in them still there is promise that is almost tangible.  Promise of victorious treks through the patterns of the rain, watching sheets of it pour of the brim of my hat.     Promise of snowy slopes in the mountains, ready again for heart-stopping descents and adrenaline filled turns. Promise of soaked shoes but soaring spirits, despite the dark.  Promise of a hot shower and tea with honey.  Promise to remain unbroken through the nuance of the elements.

Not surprisingly, I’m once again I’m considering a gym membership.   I’m optimistic now that I can stick it out, but there may come long dark February weeks when my will will be tested. Where just once, I’ll wish I could jog without soggy shoes, or the constant vigilance of comically deep puddles, upheaved sidewalks (especially treacherous for yours truly, who manages to trip while standing still), and all the other obstacles that appear out of the dark.   Will I use it? Will it make me weak? What if I just can bear the thought of a treadmill?

What I do know is that I won’t ever abandon my al fresco winter runs entirely for anything.  Not even this.

That promise, despite some elements of the miserable, its uniquely ours. And there is something precious in it, shared with those out there on the roads, defiant in the face of nature. It’s a promise and a misery that helps us be mindful of the little, beautiful things,  and all the tiny delicacies of life in the elements, if only for a moment.

Those doggy rain jackets aren’t looking like too bad an idea at this point, either.