over the last year or two i’ve surprised myself with an enjoyment of running, even continuing to run up through the final days of pregnancy. after giving birth, waiting six weeks to return to vigorous physical activity was hard. then, when i got the green light, finding time to fit it in was harder. i needed a goal to make sure i didn’t let myself neglect the movement that makes me feel alive and energized.
so last sunday i repeated a feat that was a proud first for me last year, and ran 13.1 miles without stopping. it wasn’t the fairy-tale trip around the lake that i experienced the first time, but i finished!
it seems to be my m.o. to impair my race efforts with poor preparation. last year i set myself up by training too little, working on my feet the entire day before, sleeping only a few hours, and carrying an energy-zapping fetus inside me. since that race went so well (really), i suppose my confidence was a bit inflated, and i shrugged off my lack of conditioning this year. not that i felt invincible, but my body had recently impressed me with its stamina, and i trusted it to get me across the finish line again.
so, having run a total of eight times since giving birth (only one of which was longer than half the distance of the race), and carrying a sleep deficit that had been accruing over five months, i signed up to run the Strides of March Half Marathon a second time. the race was scheduled on my mom‘s birthday again this year (saint patti’s day), and so i set out to honor her with my commitment to finish strong.
getting out the door at 6:30 am was a bit more challenging with a wee one in tow, and we arrived at the race site with only 25 minutes to race time. which is not really much leeway when you have to feed a baby and go to the bathroom before you hit the starting line. poor graham was so sleepy and bewildered that he took longer to nurse than usual, but he needed to tank up to last a couple of hours without me, and i needed to downsize to comfortably wear my sports bra. (ha!)
the line for the bathroom is always crazy-long before a race, but it’s a must. so we all stood in the queue and lee pinned the number on my shirt while my dad secured the beacon to my shoe and i hopped around squealing about how cold it was. i was wearing a jacket and leggings, but decided against the hat and gloves, assuming i would warm up once i started running, as usual. (the previous day had been shorts weather, after all.)
i finally made it to the front of the port-a-potty line with about twenty seconds to the gun. i took care of business as quickly as possible, burst out the door and ran straight across the starting line. i waved to my three boys as i joined the last stragglers at the back of the crowd of racers. (so much for warming up/stretching.)
it only took two miles of facing the icy forty-degree wind to realize that leaving the hat and gloves was a baaaaad idea. my sleeves weren’t long enough to cover my hands, and my fingers were already painfully numb. i noticed a woman in front of me take her gloves off and clip them to her hip, and lusted after them for a full mile before working up the courage (desperation) to catch up to her and ask if she would like me to carry her gloves for her. thankfully, she generously allowed me to borrow them for the remainder of the race. i’m not sure how i would’ve fared without them.
the first six and a half miles were great. my nose was frozen and my hands were still a little cold, but i felt energetic. dad and lee had driven to the turnaround to cheer me on, and i flashed a smile and thumbs-up as i passed by. i rounded the halfway point at the exact time of my split last year, and headed into the second half thinking i could kick it up a notch and possibly beat my previous finish time.
around mile 9, i lost all hope of setting a personal best. i was getting tired, and putting one foot in front of the other took more effort with each step. for the first time in my running career, it felt like my legs would fail me before my lungs. it didn’t help that everyone in this race was so fast. last year i passed at least a handful of people; this year it seemed everyone was passing me! (even though i was running around a 9:30 pace!)
by the time i hit mile 11, i reallyreally wanted to quit. my muscles were thoroughly fatigued and moving forward had become like dragging lead through molasses. i was forcing my legs onward by sheer will, praying they would not collapse under me. i tried to motivate myself with thoughts of my mother’s strength and visions of my family waiting for me at the finish line.
i had planned to sprint the last quarter-mile downhill to the end, but even as i saw the flags drawing closer and my cheering section jumping up and down, i wasn’t sure i could make it. i tried to turn on the afterburners, but the result was just me throwing myself toward the finish in the most awkward and laborious “run” that you’ve ever seen.
as soon as i cleared the finishing area, i allowed my legs to buckle and sprawled my weary body flat on the grass. through the stars spinning around my head i could see my family’s feet surround me and heard my sister squeal, “you did it!” yes, i did. and by some miracle i clocked in at 2:06–only two minutes over my previous time!
my one word for 2013 is grace, and i’ve certainly had to extend it toward myself over and over in the past few months. as the balance of my life continually shifts to accommodate the blessings and challenges that come my way, i know i’ll need an extra measure of grace to navigate the adjustments with aplomb. i hope i can continue to push toward my goals even when i want to quit, while having the grace to accept a less-than-perfect finish.
after i finished my first half marathon at 9½ weeks pregnant, i announced to lee as we left the race, “now i can just sit on my a** and get fat for 7 months!” and i kinda meant it. not having any idea what pregnancy would be like for me, i had moved my 2012 running goal up to the soonest race possible to squeeze it in before running would surely not be an option, right?
but 27 weeks later, i’m still lacing up my newtons to hit the pavement (or treadmill) once or twice a week. quite the pleasant surprise for me.
when others hear that i’m still running well into the third trimester, i usually get two questions: “why?” and “how?”
WHY i continue to run:
- it feels good – i feel better when i’m active, pregnant or not, and i wouldn’t do it if it were uncomfortable or painful. i don’t let myself get out of breath or overheated. i try to stay very in tune with my body and what i’m feeling, and so i run when it says, “run!” (and stop when it says, “stop.”)
- i run better than i walk – when i walk for longer distances (i.e. for exercise), i can feel myself settling back on my heels, jutting my hips forward, and assuming the pregnant “waddle.” when i run, i can move my center of gravity forward and keep my hips and spine aligned, which keeps my back from getting sore.
- it keeps me regular – this may be t.m.i., but my non-pregnant self is a well-oiled machine when it comes to moving the goods through the system. my pregnant self…a little less so. a quick run every now and then keeps me from getting bogged down. all other exercise is much less effective.
HOW i continue to run:
- i don’t run as far or as often – with the exception of my 13.1 mile race, before i was pregnant i was running six to eight miles a 2-3 times a week. now i only run about three miles 1-2 times a week, and that is usually with a bathroom break or two ;). the last time i felt like running five miles was at 34 weeks.
- i wear a support belt – around 30 weeks i found i could go farther without the bathroom urge if i pulled the baby off my bladder a bit with a supportive maternity belt. i also felt that he had grown big enough that wearing a belt would give him a smoother ride, no matter how improved my running form is.
- i only run when i feel like it – i thankfully have not struggled with fatigue or sickness throughout this pregnancy, but some days – or weeks – i just don’t feel like it. so i don’t run. i’m not doing this to accomplish a goal or prove something to myself. it’s simply what my body wants to do.
i’m not the first or last pregnant woman to continue running into the third trimester. in fact, those ladies are my inspiration. i did my research on necessary precautions, cleared it with my midwife, and decided i’d take it day by day. i’ll concede that i’ve had the advantage of milder late summer temps (for OK) and a flexible work schedule that allows me to run whenever i feel the most energetic, but i honestly didn’t think i’d still want to run at this point.
when so many of my familiar postures have been inevitably altered (sleep positions, pulling my knees up to my chest, bending over to tie my shoes…), it’s nice to feel like i’m carrying myself completely “normal” for half an hour. we’ll see how many more miles baby graham and i will log together…
*disclaimer: the photo above was taken 3 weeks ago. my belly is considerably bigger now.
it’s incredibly motivating and satisfying to set your eyes on the completion of any project, big or small, and reach the finish line successfully. jon acuff is encouraging a “finish year” with his online community, and so in january i set my own list of commitments for the year. my list mostly focuses on my one word for 2012, but also includes personal achievements i think will better me.
today i’d like to share and celebrate the realization of one item on my list. i want to remember the details, because even if i repeat the experience, i don’t think it will be as thrilling as my first time.
* * *
one of my goals for 2012 was to run a half-marathon sometime before the end of the year. i gave myself a long window of time, because it seemed like a monumental task to tackle. (my marathoner friends, bear with me. you amaze me.) i had never run more than ten tired miles in my life, and was only comfortable with about six when i set the goal. i figured doubling my regular distance would take some time.
but when scheduling conflicts* developed and my fall race was no longer an option, i realized that i’d have to run much sooner than planned if i wanted to achieve half-marathoner status in 2012. so when i discovered a race two weeks out on my mom‘s birthday weekend, i decided to run it in memory of her and hope she and her angel friends would whisk me forward if i pooped out.
the problem was, i was already scheduled to work an all-day event the day before the race. on my feet. for fourteen hours. until 12:30 am. oh, and the other problem was i hadn’t really been training that consistently, because, you know, i wasn’t planning to race for many months yet. but ill-prepared, worn-out legs, and inadequate sleep be darned, i was going to try.
the morning of the race was chilly but not cold, overcast but not raining yet, and incredibly windy. i felt good, but confirmed my backup plan just in case: dad and lee stationed themselves at the halfway point offering two choices: sugar calories if i needed more energy, and the car if i needed a ride home. so with the 33mph gusts defying us to move forward, the crowd started running at the horn.
it always takes me a while to settle into a groove, but by the third mile i was just enjoying the scenery around the lake. i didn’t carry a timepiece, instead allowing my music to set my pace. when i have a time goal, i will obsessively calculate my pace throughout a run. i wanted to enjoy the experience, and i knew if i pushed too hard i might not finish, especially under the circumstances.
previous runs indicated that i could finish in 2:15 if i maintained my average pace throughout the race. i decided i would be happy with anything under 2:30. the fastest time i thought was possible for my conditioning was 2:10.
when i hit the halfway point feeling fresh at just 63 minutes, i knew i was having a good day. i waved happily to my small cheering section, grabbed a fistful of honey packets out of lee’s outstretched hand, and turned back toward the finish line.
as i ran the second half, periodically sucking down mouthfuls of refreshing sweetness, i was grateful for the wind now at my back, the motivating tunes in my ears, and the cheerful volunteers at the water stations. i was also thankful for the little fortunes (or lack of common annoyances): earphones not straying, ponytail not drooping, clothes not chafing, knees not aching, side not stitching.
and i tried not to think about the 11th mile.
everyone told me, “if you can run ten miles, you can run thirteen.” but i couldn’t help thinking that the extra 31% seemed significant. so every step after the ten-mile mark was a milestone for me. “this is the farthest i’ve ever run. now, this is the farthest i’ve ever run.”
at twelve miles i knew i was going to make it, so i put an imaginary bulls-eye on the back of a girl in a purple shirt who’d been about 100 yards in front of me for the last five miles. i was determined to pass her by the time we reached the finish line. with the help of a downhill grade for the last half mile, i flew past her and practically sprinted to the end.
i was shocked to see 2:04:36 on the clock as i crossed the finish line. obviously i’m thrilled with my time, but i’m honestly just as happy that that i wasn’t miserable for the last several miles that and i didn’t have to quit. it feels awesome to have one of my big 2012 goals crossed off the list. thanks for letting me re-live it here.
*UPDATE: when this post was first published, it was not public knowledge that the conflicting event on the fall calendar was my first baby’s due date.
it’s figment friday around here, and i’m still enjoying writing in response to the daily themes from figment. sharing one theme each week is still scary and uncomfortable, though. posting for this weekly commitment is the first time in 3 1/2 years of blogging that i’ve published bits of fiction. i’ve always stuck to real life, and it took me awhile to get comfortable with even that. offering something that was created in my imagination feels more vulnerable, somehow. but that’s the kind of challenge that i’m determined to meet in this year of sharing more.
the topic of the week on okieOLIO has been the story of my running transformation, so i decided to keep that theme as i wrote each day this week. i’m going to put the prompt for the piece i’m sharing today at the end so that it won’t influence the way you read it. if you’ve ever taken a class on creative writing, there’s a possibility that you’ve done a similar exercise, because it’s not uncommon among writing teachers. i chose it from this week’s themes because i know that my normal writing style works in opposition to these guidelines. here it is:
my dogs lie on the floor and watch me lace up my shoes. can we come with you? their big eyes plead. “not this time,” i say out loud as i reach for my shades. i know that this will be a good run. i can feel it. i don’t want a hard tug at the leash or pee pit stops to break up my pace.
as soon as i crack the front door, i am met with the warm, damp wind of june. it seems too warm for such a wee hour. i turn to the dogs and warn them, “we have quite a hot day in store for us, guys.” oh, i can’t wait for the cool temps this fall! i think as i close and lock the door. but the heat does not mean a thing. my legs yearn to move and i have steam to blow off. both good signs that i can beat my goal for this run.
the path by the pond is all mine. i take the loop twice, then turn on the main road when three young boys show up on their bikes. the sun starts to rise, the wind picks up, and i turn it up a notch as a strong song plays in my ears. my feet move as if part of a wheel that rolls by it’s own force—i am just on a ride. i feel at ease as i breathe in time with my steps and the beat of the tune, and soon my mind is lost in thought.
i’m shocked when i see that i’ve made it back to my house, and i check the app on my phone to make sure i ran as far as i planned. cheered by what i see, i walk in the door and tell the ones who wait for me each day, “yeah, it was a good one.”
PROMPT: This is a prompt I love to use when I first meet a new class. I tell them to take out their pens and write me a piece–the theme is up to them. It need not be long. But it needs to be a real scene. And the sole rule that frames what they write is this: You may not use a word with more than one syllable. It sounds hard, but “syllable” is the lone word used here that has more than one.
Today’s theme comes from Nathan Englander, whose new collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, came out this week to raves.
after tuesday’s post about the three things that have helped me to finally enjoy running, i had a request to divulge the music i listen to while running. i was initially hesitant, because (1) there is no shortage of running song lists on the internet, and (2) several of the songs on my playlist are not good music, in my opinion, outside of running.
but i also know how long it took me to carefully curate this list (after scouring my massive music library and online suggestions for songs in the right tempo range, each has been on quite a few runs with me and have survived the never-skipped-this-track test). it seems a shame not to share it. so, in the spirit of my top 20 songs, i give you my top running tunes.
these are listed in order of tempo, meaning that they start out at 165 beats per minute and gradually move up to 180 bpm. if i feel plenty warmed up i’ll skip the few at the beginning, especially when i know i’ll be on a shorter run.
the whole playlist is 1.5 hours, which gets me through about ten miles on the (rare) days i’m really feelin’ it. but there are a few songs on here that i routinely either fast forward the first half (see #13) or skip the last half (see #28), plus a few songs need a quick FF to get through a dull intro, so a play-through usually lasts me around 75 minutes (about eight miles). that gives me some wiggle room to skip a song or two if i’m bored or tired and still get in a good six or seven miles. UPDATE: i’ve added a few essential songs, so the total time is now 108 minutes)
so, without further yapping, here are the songs that motivate me. maybe you’ll find something that works for you, too.
*fair warning: i try to keep this blog family-friendly, but a couple of these songs contain one or two potentially offensive words. if you’re not comfortable ignoring an expletive, avoid #9 and #21… oh, and #28 if you don’t skip the end like me.
1. “home” by marc broussard (165 bpm) – i just like this song, so the fact that it was close to the desired bpm secured it a place on my list. sometimes i’ll listen to it as i lace up my shoes and find my sunglasses, just to get in the mood.
2. “the march” by josh garrels (166 bpm) – i adore every song on love & war & the sea in between, but never thought i’d find a song to run to on it. this really is the perfect song to get your run started—a steady instrumental track with little variance.
3. “you’ll find a way” by santigold (167 bpm) – a good transition into the more uptempo tracks, and definitely fun for running.
4. “riot rhythm” by sleigh bells (170 bpm) - fun song. great for running or dancing in your bedroom.
5. “give it up” by lcd soundsystem (170 bpm) – i discovered this one on someone else’s list, and found i really like it when running, but not so much otherwise.
6. “helicopter” by bloc party (170 bpm) – i really like the part at the end of this song when (and this is where i show my lack of instrumental knowledge) the electric guitar hits the melody of high notes with each beat.
7. “hide u” by kosheen (171 bpm) - this song was popular in europe when i was studying there, and so i already like it for the personal nostalgia. but electronic music in general has a way of being repetitive and beat-driven…perfect for running.
8. “pink” by aerosmith (172 bpm) – truthfully, as much as i love this song, sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. but i figured you probably have it in your music files, so you should give it a try.
9. “lose yourself” by eminem (172 bpm) – i think this song is on every running playlist out there, and i agree—it works. the undercurrent is steady the entire song, and his words really accentuate the rhythm. (just fast forward the first 30 seconds.)
10. “paper planes” by m.i.a. (173 bpm) - my husband is amused that i have this song on my playlist, because i always thought it was a dumb song while he (and tons of other people) loved it. well, now i am eating my words, because it is perfect for running. when those repeated gunshots sound on the beat, i may or may not imagine that my 007 shoes are firing as my feet hit the ground.
11. “only want you” by eagles of death metal (174 bpm) – this is another song i found on a online forum that i probably wouldn’t tolerate aside from running. i actually really like the multiple extended rests they take at around 1:55-2:15…each time it kicks back in i feel a little extra oomph.
12. “footloose” by kenny loggins (174 bpm) – how can i not recognize this as one of the ultimate get-off-your-tail-and-move songs?! i don’t care how anti-cheese you are…this is a good’un.
13. “monkey wrench” by foo fighters (174 bpm) – this song kinda gets on my nerves, honestly, but after the first two and a half minutes of the song there’s about 30 seconds of pure energy for me. i don’t care how tired i am, when dave starts yelling a syllable per beat, i feel like someone turned on my booster engines. so i usually end up fast forwarding through most of the song and reaping the benefits of the last 1:20
14.“umbrella” by rihanna (174 bpm) – it fits the tempo, and i don’t hate it. this song signals the beginning of my “coast out of the last acceleration” phase, with two mellow-ish songs following.
15. “yellow” by coldplay (174 bpm) – you’d be surprised how great this song is on a run. usually i’m running in cadence with drum beats, but the intro and transitions of this song offer some strong strumming to accompany each footfall.
16. “come undone” by duran duran (175 bpm) – when this song comes on i can just zen out for a few minutes before i hit my next turn-it-up song.
17. “miracle drug” by a.c. newman (174 bpm) – this has been a fave of mine for a few years, and i almost missed it when calculating beats per minute. good song, good artist.
18. “go!” by tones on tail (175 bpm) – this might be my favorite song to run to. i didn’t gain to many winners from my online searches, but this one made all the clicking worth it. more cowbell!
19. “a-punk” by vampire weekend (176 bpm) – usually, i am energetic enough after the last song that i hardly notice two minutes of a so-so song.
20. “jerusalem” by matisyahu (176 bpm) – another song that lee teases me for adding to the list, because he has always liked it while i made fun of it. what can i say? it keeps me moving when i run. and i’ve always appreciated the nice little moment at around 2:23.
21. “jesus walks” by kanye west (176 bpm) – if this song doesn’t make you want to push forward in time with the marching beat, i don’t know what will.
22. “can i get a…” by jay-z (176 bpm) – a nice consistent downbeat. (this is the “clean” version, but the lyrics are still…jayz-z.)
23. “dancing with myself” by billy idol (177 bpm) – too perfect not to include. the driving rhythm, the theme, billy idol… c’mon.
24. “no one like you” by david crowder band (177 bpm) – i was worshiping in my car and realized that this joyful song would be amazing for running…i was right. (“here we go!”)
25. “woke up this morning (chosen one mix)” by a3 (178 bpm) – once i started looking for songs with the right cadence for running, i realized that i was able to (fairly accurately) judge the approximate tempo of a song just by tapping it out on my leg as i listened. i found myself doing this any time i heard a song i liked that sounded close. yes, even while watching old episodes of the sopranos. (you’ll probably want to fast forward through the first 20-30 seconds of this one.)
26. “everlasting light” by the black keys (179 bpm) – i was thrilled when i discovered that one of my favorite songs from this album fell into the target bpm range. but be warned: although i haven’t tested it all the way through, i have the suspicion that the tempo fluctuates slightly throughout the song.
27. “kickstart my heart” by mötley crüe (179 bpm) – i was recently reminded of this band and just had to add this song to the list. how could i not? it’s energetic and nostaligic all-in-one. this brings back memories of my ten-year-old self listening to dr. feelgood all summer with my cousin and being surprised i liked metal.
28. “i’m not okay (i promise)” by my chemical romance (180 bpm) – another song i kinda hate when not running. but when i‘m going the distance it’s good for the first 2 minutes… then i usually skip to the next song, because the end gets all screamy.
29. “bang bang” by knaan (feat. adam levine) (181 bpm) – okay, i take it back about #18. this is my favorite song on the list. it’s SO perfect for the end of a run, because i never feel tired while running to it. i don’t get how that’s possible, but i’m not going to question the gift of a strong finish.
i hope some of the tracks on my playlist can bring power and stamina to your runs. if you have suggestions for adding to this list, please share in the comments. right now i’m not tired of these songs, but i know that can’t last forever.
BONUS (click to listen to a sample):
fyi: i determined the bpm of a song using this handy tool, which is surprisingly fun and strangely addictive.
image via ooohcool.blogspot.com
as i was writing yesterday’s post about how this book had a significant impact on my approach toward running, i had to exercise some real restraint not to gush about how great it really is, beyond running inspiration. today’s bookworm review is of a book that i believe has a very broad appeal: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (4.5 of 5 stars).
if you enjoy epic stories, you’ll like this book. if you are awed by incredible physical feats, you’ll like this book. if you are delighted by interesting characters, you’ll like this book. if you are fascinated by anatomy and physiology, you’ll like this book. if you are intrigued by different cultures, interested in science or history, or excited by adventure, you will like this book.
mcdougall’s writing style seamlessly transitions back and forth between research and information and the compelling narrative. it is his own story—his search for an answer to the nagging question of why running caused him nothing but pain.
much of the book is spent uncovering the secrets of the reclusive tarahumara indians, who for centuries have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest over the savage terrain of mexico’s copper canyon and enjoy every mile of it. but mcdougall also takes you from the high-tech science labs at harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across north america, meeting fascinating people all along the way.
i loved marveling over the ultra-athletes, learning awesome scientific and cultural facts, and feeling encouraged about my own potential. i would recommend this book to anyone. it is entertaining and informative, no matter what your interests.