Friday, June 29, 2012

Early Morning at the Track

Time to go outside.

You wake up at 5:30 a.m., a half hour before your alarm is supposed to go off. The high-summer sunrise has already turned your bedroom gold. It's easier to get up when the light comes so early.

You tiptoe to the bathroom. The house is cool thanks to the dry nights here at the feet of the Rocky Mountains, and thanks also to the swamp cooler on wheels that's breathing chilly air down the hall. The cooler's white noise, air and dripping water, drowns out the birdsong and the faint train whistle coming through the open windows.

The kids' doors are closed. You know your little girl will sleep later this morning, because she woke you at 2 a.m. after a bad dream. You're glad you didn't jump like a wild animal when she touched your shoulder as you sometimes do. Instead you gave her a big hug, took her to the bathroom and tucked her back in. You fell asleep again easily yourself. The softest sheets you own were on your bed. Between those and the warmth of your unconscious husband (who stayed up until midnight or later writing code), you felt as cozy as possible at summer's height.

But now is no longer the time for cozy. In the bathroom, you unfold the green Nike Tempo shorts you'd laid out and pull them on. You drink one tepid glass of water. You put on your 2011 Bolder Boulder T-shirt, the same shirt you wore in the Top of Utah Marathon last September. You use the bathroom. It still hurts a bit from the bladder infection you came down with on Wednesday night, but the antibiotics have already cut into that, and you know you're going to be OK. Still, you down another glass of water.

You exit the bathroom, pad into the living room in socked feet and find your shoes. They're the Brooks PureFlows you bought a while back. The cheap Casio watch you bought last night and a small water bottle are in one of them, your Thera Band for stretching in the other along with your car keys. It seems silly to drive just 3/4 of a mile, but you're not supposed to run on concrete yet, and you are a rule follower.

Outside it's even cooler than in the house. The sky is the high white color indicating a hot day is on the way, and the sun's beams are already long and yellow, but the air on your skin right now is like satin. The neighbor's sprinklers run, and a grassy smell hangs in the air. You get in the car and drive to the high school.

Alone at the track, you begin by walking. The east-facing bleachers shine in the sunlight. Overhead, a hawk flies, white on his underbelly. You marvel that his wings barely tread the air, as if his mind is entirely free from thoughts of controlling his flight. You think, "May I run like he flies," and then laugh at yourself for your pretension. You walk five minutes and then begin to shuffle-jog. You get to run for 35 minutes today. The first 15 must stay slow. The left side of your lower back hurts a little. You try to imagine squeezing your sitz bones together, and it helps.

Slow and fast don't matter to you, any more than they do to the hawk. You're not counting laps or otherwise tracking distance. You're using the Casio only so you know when to start and stop. The red surface of the track gives slightly under each step. Without thinking about it, you're able to go just a tad faster. The sun is higher. Tree shadows across the track shrink.

At the 15-minute mark, you run a pick-up. One minute fast, with 90 seconds of recovery. An older woman arrives and begins to circle the track's outside lane, walking. You speak to her, but she just smiles and walks on. On the next lap she apologizes, saying she didn't put her ears in before going for her walk and didn't hear your greeting. You don't have time to tell her as you run by, but you understand. You are running with no music, and she is walking with no noise. In the cool morning, such distractions are unnecessary for both of you.

You run four more pick-ups. They feel like a trip to healing waters. You hadn't had any exercise the day before because of the bladder infection. You were tired and grumpy and wan all day yesterday. Now, you've shed all that like an itchy snakeskin. "It's a gift, it's a gift," you repeat with each few steps. Five pick-ups are enough. You finish the last one and then exult in the last slow minutes of your run. The track is the same color as the one the Olympic Trials contenders are competing on this week. You are no contender, but while you can't relate to the talent, you understand the passion.

The track is fully in the sun when you leave. You head home, where you will find your whole family is still asleep.

Tomorrow, for the first time in months, a run will be part of your Saturday. It has to be slow, and it has to be short. It has to be on the treadmill this time, because you'll need a machine at the gym when you're finished with it.

No matter.

It will be perfect, too.

It too will be a gift.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Conference, Fire...and A Little More Running

The view in Boulder now looks something like this:

A lightning strike today sparked the blaze they're calling the Flagstaff Fire. I first saw it driving down to Boulder to pick my kids up from preschool. The school is right on the side of the ridge just north of the one where the fire is. You can imagine my good driving manners went out the window a little. Please pray for the firefighters and the people whose homes are near there. My family is safe, but we know a lot of people who are probably facing evacuation.

It was a dramatic way to come home. I spent the weekend at a different kind of marathon, the American Library Association Annual Conference. This year it was in Anaheim, CA, right next to Disneyland, but alas there was no Magic Kingdom time for me. The days were packed with programs on topics like "Social Media in Libraries" and "Serving Underprivileged Library Customers," as well as discussions of ebooks and other hot topics. There was also a giant expo with publishers and other vendors who sell to us. Famous authors visit (George R.R. Martin spoke about the fantasy and science fiction genre), and other famous people who have written books turn up to sign copies (I saw Molly Ringwald of 80s movie fame; apparently she's written a book of short stories; the line was far too long for me to stand in).

Each night I retired to my cool, quiet hotel room and crashed. Other librarians partied far into the night. Yes, it's true! Librarians unleashed love to dance and cut loose.

I, of course, couldn't do that. Too much alcohol and too many late hours aren't compatible with my exercise addiction. I rose every morning of the four days I was there at 5:30 a.m. for my workouts, which included my second return-to-running session, this time on the hotel treadmill. While it wasn't as fun as running outdoors with Cynthia, it was still much more fun than the recumbent bike, and a definite confidence booster. Not such a confidence booster was the ALA-sponsored yoga class I attended on Sunday morning. My back was not pleased with all the forward folds or the quick flow of the sun salutations. No more yoga for me for a while.

This morning I went to Pilates with Patty (MUCH better than yoga) and followed it up with another treadmill run, this time increasing the running time to 35 minutes. I felt great, throwing in eight 30-second pickups and stretching well afterwards. My back is doing fine now, away from sitting in conference sessions and on airplanes and shuttle buses.

It was the first of THREE runs on my schedule for the week. I'm starting to add in a little running time on Saturdays, though it will continue to be supplemented by low-impact machines for at least a little while. Saturday will also be on the treadmill, but I will try to up the fun quotient by doing Friday's run outside (unless smoke moves into town, in which case...treadmill).

I apologize that I've been such a bad commentator on everyone's blogs. I'm going to play a little catch-up.

Stay tuned for a review of Scott Jurek's Eat & Run (amazing how much reading I get done on planes when the kids aren't around and there's no wi-fi to tempt me onto the Internet). Will Terzah go vegan? Doubtful....but Scott was more persuasive than I expected.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My First Comeback Run!

Today I ran! Outside! For a little more than three miles! Here are eight seconds of video proof:

The video, taken during the first of eight strides I did mid-run, also gives you a good idea how I was feeling. It's not much of a stretch to say that this was better than any finish line I've experienced. A big part of it was that Cynthia joined me, bringing her confidence, her camera and her good humor (also her gadgets; I was watchless, having lost the Timex on a walk last month and having loaned the Garmin to Dan). Her presence made the run feel like a real celebration.

Everything's better with friends! Cynthia and me post-run.
It also helped that the run, while not pain-free, was nothing like the rusty slog I'd forced myself to envision because I'm a hope-for-the-best-prepare-for-worst type of person.

We arrived at a park called Golden Ponds at 8:30 a.m. The day was on its way to 100 degrees, and you could tell already as we started walking to get off the concrete before our first running steps. Egrets drifted on the pond surfaces, and at one point a great blue heron wafted up from the shore and flew to the opposite bank. I didn't care that it was hot. I didn't care that my tailbone spoke to me as we started running.

Graceful egret swimming
The first few steps felt a bit labored, but once I warmed to the rhythm, I realized that my legs, the raising of each knee, felt lighter to me than I remembered from earlier this year. It could be I was just overtrained at that point, but I prefer to think that this says something about my core muscles being stronger, doing more of the work expected of them than they were able to do before.

At the beginning of the run, legs feeling good. I wore my pink "Run" shirt from Kathy and my Brooks PureFlows.
Fifteen minutes into the run, we launched into strides, as Coach Darren had spelled out in my plan for today. We were supposed to do seven, but somehow I lost count and when Cynthia checked the data later she found we had done eight. Running faster felt wonderful. A breeze had picked up, and I pictured myself slicing through it like a knife through silk. On the last stride, I repeated "BQ by 40" in my head. Really, though, for this run I didn't think much about the Boston Marathon. I enjoyed this run for itself.

During a stride. Cynthia was nice to pause and take pictures.
After the strides we had about four minutes to cool down running slowly, and then we finished up the lap around the pond by walking. All told, it was a bit over three miles in 30 minutes. I'm not a demonstrative person, but I was elated with how this run went. My cardiovascular fitness is about as good as it could be given the lay-off from running and the tedium of the recumbent bike, and my legs didn't let me down at all. At the end, I felt hungry for more (my next run is on Friday).

Cynthia and I hugged and said goodbye at the cars. I wish we had had time to go out for a celebratory iced tea or coffee, but she had a work meeting to call into and I had a Pilates appointment. There wasn't a lot of time between arriving home and needing to leave again for that appointment, but my back and my left flank had started talking to me again on the walk to the cars. It wasn't much worse than I've felt on occasion post-Alter-G, but I wanted to nip it in the bud so I took some of my shower time to take a mini-ice bath and then drove down to Boulder with a package of peas stuck down my pants.

I think I am headed toward having a shot to finish off the inflammation, but I'm going to see how the month of bringing back running goes. At Pilates, Patty and I discovered that my IT bands and hamstrings are REALLY tight, much worse than I would have guessed. She gave me a new exercise called leg circles (mine are just like the "intermediate" ones in the link, where the model is using the band to help). This felt wonderful. And I'm going to attend Patty's class next week, so there's more Pilates in my future.

Today, though, was about one perfect run. It was about being outdoors, an understanding friend by my side, wind in the trees and on the water and the mountains above us like the beautiful but indifferent sentinels they are. It's a feeling I haven't had in too long.

Apologies to Maya Angelou, but this caged bird got to sing today.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Scott Jurek and the Food Question

Cynthia and I had a great time at the Scott Jurek book-signing event last Thursday. She's so much fun to chat with, and once we arrived at the party we both knew other people and were each able to meet someone new. Meeting other runners, especially local ones, always helps me feel more connected. You can see pictures and get a good summary of the event at her post.

After Scott's talk was finished, I attempted to win a pair of shoes from his sponsor, Brooks. They invited volunteers up onto the stage, where we were put through a series of what Scott called proprioception tests. The first test? Merely lifting one of your legs and balancing on the other foot. I don't know if it's that my confidence has been shaken by this back thing, or if it was because I was wearing clogs, or if it was because I was up on stage with a pair of running shoes at stake and lots of eyes out in the audience--but whatever it was I failed immediately, put my leg down and was the first player disqualified. Oh well. Reminders to continue doggedly with my core work are always welcome (and if I'm ever on Jeopardy someday, I hope I do better than that)!

The book itself will be my next read. I'm really curious how I will feel about it, because there is a lot about food in it. Scott is well-known for his vegan eating style. He thinks it's what made him the runner and the man he is today.

As a former vegetarian myself, and as someone who struggles to eat healthily for the sake of my running and my girlish figure (ha!), I have no problem with those who choose to eat vegan, or those who emphasize protein or carbs, or any other style of eating. There are vegetarians in my family, others who are committed meat eaters, and there are others who have to watch carefully what they ingest because of blood pressure and other issues. To me, it's all good--and none of my business really.

The only time other people's eating styles bug me is when it's implied that I need to eat their way too, or there's going to be some dire consequence for my body and, sometimes, for my soul. When that happens, discussions of food can drive me up a wall. There are very few things in this world that I think are black-and-white--and food choice isn't on that select list. I think you can be a good and healthful person who chooses for whatever reason not to eat animal products....and I also think you can be a good and healthful person who DOES eat animal products.

I'm really curious how Scott will come across on this topic. From his presentation and our brief meeting with him when he signed our books, he seems like an open and nice person who thinks of others and contributes his time to charitable causes. But I'm still a little wary, because there are a lot of over-the-top eating-style zealots in Boulder, and there's far too much obsession with food choices. If there was as much attention paid here to, say, homelessness and solving our issues with that as there is to food choices, we would have much less of a problem with homelessness.

I put myself in this category, too. I think about food and body issues far too much. Really, in the great scheme of things, my eating is fine. I have enough money for food, I'm not overweight, underweight, or a frequent patron of fast-food joints, and I try to keep animal welfare in mind when I buy poultry and dairy products. I, too, should refocus the unnecessary attention I pay to food and drink on those with real troubles.

What do you think about the food thing? Do you think we rich types (and yes we are rich compared to the person holding a sign on the corner and/or using the local soup kitchen) obsess too much about food? Do you share my opinion that any eating style can be healthful and ethical?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

7 Randoms, 5 Things I'm Loving and 5 Days Until Tuesday

Countdown to my return to running: T minus five days, and tick tick tick.....

Beth over at Shut Up + Run recently posted five things she's loving and invited others to do the same. I'm not good with product reviews (my motto with gear is, if it's cheap and serviceable, I'll use it, and I have no brand loyalty), but there actually are a few items I want to mention this time.

I'll start with something decidedly non-commercial.

1. Girlfriend time!

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that my weekly hikes up Boulder's Mt. Sanitas with my friend Christine were a fixture for a long time. We never ran, but we'd try to get a little higher each week, until a sick kid, or a sick one of us, or a trip, or the busyness of life set us back. But we'd just start trying again, having lots of laughs on the way up and down for one fun hour at dawn every week.

Well, she moved south of Boulder and I moved north of Boulder, and it's gotten more difficult to meet up. But I'm happy to say we managed it this morning. It was beautiful, despite the smoke that blew in toward the end from the horrific High Park Fire (now over 50,000 acres and counting--please pray for those affected).

Christine and me at sunrise!
That's Green Mountain to the south, where Dan and I hiked on our anniversary. The sky was lovely and blue until the smoke came in.
That's not all the girlfriend time on tap for today, however. Tonight Cynthia and I are going to see this guy:

Scott Jurek; thanks to for the photo
He's doing a Q&A and signing copies of his new book Eat and Run in Boulder tonight. Cynthia's bringing her camera, so there may even be photos to prove we were there, next to his fat-free endurance god goodness. Maybe some of it will rub off (I have to say, though I was vegetarian for a few years, I don't think I'll ever be talked into being vegan--I just like dairy too much).

2. My new trail shoes:

Mizuno Wave Ascend 6
As a "pioneer" member of Mizuno Running USA's Mezamashii Project, I got to choose a pair of any Mizuno shoes I wanted for free. A huge lucky break!!

After my trip up Green Mountain with Dan on our anniversary, which featured a couple of falls on the loose gravel of the descent, I decided I needed some real trail shoes. Since I'm not running yet, I haven't been able to take them for a real test drive. But I did wear them on one of my Alter-G runs and I wore them up Sanitas this morning. The Sanitas trail is just as steep in spots as Green Mountain--and I did not slip once (notice the tire-like tread on these babies?). My back and I were both exultant about this.

I haven't decided if I'll be wearing these or my Brooks Pure Flows for Tuesday's return to running. It's on a gravel path, but it's so flat that it hardly qualifies as a trail. We'll see.

3. The American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim. The big library love-fest is next week, and I get to go. For five days it will be me and thousands of other librarians and guy-brarians (the affectionate name for that rare beast, the male librarian), mingling in all our geeky glory. These conferences are intense, but I'm hoping to get some early morning runs in while I'm there.

4. Green smoothies. The Green Smoothie Challenge is going great for me. Almost halfway through the month, I haven't missed a day, and I'm all stocked up on packets of Vega One for the conference trip next week.

A couple of things I've learned about making smoothies: having crushed ice really helps the consistency and pleasure factor of the smoothie; you really don't taste the spinach at all; and to blend best, put your greens powder, ice, almond milk and banana in first, then put the spinach on top of them (at least, that works best for my clunky old blender).

5. This book:

I'm not normally much of a mystery reader, nor have I ever read Jane Austen fan fiction (because, let's be honest here, 99.8% of all fan fiction sucks), but I'm enjoying this one.

Moving on to another list......

Earlier this month Michelle at average girl doing average things tagged me with the One Lovely Blogger award. Since I think I was at the end of the line on this, I won't post the rules or the logo or tag anyone else (though you should consider yourself tagged if you haven't been!).

What I will do is tell you seven random things that have nothing to do with physical therapy!

1. I wanted to be an astronaut for a little while when I was a kid. Then I found out that it would probably be really hard to be an astronaut with motion sickness issues. Since I start feeling sick in the back seat of a car in about, oh, 20 seconds, I changed my mind about my career path.

2. My maiden name is Ewing. I love the name, but I suffered through multiple references to the 80s show Dallas as a kid. Now that they are bringing the show back, I'm not regretting my decision to take Dan's last name (not that I regretted it anyway, but you know what I mean).

3. I'm hoping someday to do some fell running in the U.K. I dream about this kind of terrain and weather when it's especially hot and dry here. (Speaking of motion sickness, the video made me a little dizzy.....)

4. My daughter currently wants to be a boy (specifically, she wants to be Luke Skywalker) and my son has been known to play with Barbies. It cracks me up. I guess if they switched, I'd still have a boy and a girl, right?

5. My favorite breed of dog is the greyhound. Does anyone know if people with allergies can live with them? My husband and son are both allergic to dogs. Not can't-breathe-hives allergic, but red-eyed-sneezy allergic.

6. My spate of not taking crap from rude library patrons continued the other night. A particularly officious female patron with whom we've been dealing for a long time needed to go down to the circulation desk for an issue she was having with a hold on a book. She sniffed, "I am NOT going back down those stairs." To which I replied, "Well, you'll have to if you want to leave." (People are so lazy about the stairs there. I'm not talking about the disabled or moms with strollers or people who really need the elevator. I'm talking about the majority of the able-bodied, who should use the stairs because they're better for you.)

7. Dan and I are trying to decide if our kids, at 5 1/2, are old enough to fly on their own to see their grandma. It's a one hour flight. We can take them all the way to the gate, and my mom can meet them at the gate on the other end. Will wants to do it. Ruthie's not sure. My mom is game, and my sister is there if she needs help.

Do you think a pair of 5.5-year-old twins can handle a one-hour flight on their own (one of their classmates recently flew alone to see her aunt in Washington D.C.)? Could you ever be vegan? Any other Mezamashii/Mizuno free-shoe recipients out there?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Physical Therapy Ch. 9

Next week, I get to run. Outside. At my full body weight (obviously).

I met with my physical therapist, Cathy, for the first time in more than a month today. My sacro-iliac joint was stable and responded as a healthy joint should to all of her tests. I told her that I am still not pain-free, particularly in the mornings, so she wants me to do a week of heavy ibuprofen and icing. She believes the ligaments and muscles around the joint are still inflamed, despite the stability of the joint itself. She thinks the requirement by my new coach, Darren, that I wait another week to do this first longed-for run outdoors is a good idea. She dry-needled some of the more tender lower back muscles on the left (and yes they do feel much better--I can honestly say I am an advocate of dry needling after these experiences).

Physical therapy isn't over. I have another appointment with her in a month to check in with my pain. I'm going to be religious about the icing and the ibuprofen because it sounds like I may be in for a steroid shot or something equally unpleasant if I'm still in pain by then. If that's what it takes to be pain-free, I'll do the shot.

For now, though, I'm not worried.

On Tuesday, I'll be here:

This is a park in my town that Darren recommended because it's flat and all-gravel but has lots of room--the kind of place where I'll be doing those first few runs. Cathy said to first add slow and easy on flat gravel, then add ups and downs, and then and only then can I add speed. I think this fits in well with Darren's plan for my comeback.

I'm feeling nervous but excited. I can't wait for Tuesday!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A New Chapter

When my husband, Dan, decided late last year that he wanted to re-learn the violin, he knew almost immediately that he wanted to hire a teacher. He had started playing when he was in third grade and he played through high school, dipping into it again in college, before dropping it entirely as his working life got underway. But everywhere he moved, his violin went with him.

When he started again, some things came back to him quickly. But he knew that to fine-tune his technique, to keep him accountable and to get him going at the right pace (not too hard, not too easy), he wanted professional guidance. He found a teacher and has been working with her since late winter. His first recital is planned for this fall. His ultimate goal: to play in a community orchestra.

For similar reasons, today I hired a coach.

I'm on the cusp of recovering from this back thing. I'm to the point now where I....just know I'm better. I still have bad moments, but now they're almost always limited to the mornings, when I'm stiff from being still all night. Some gentle yoga moves and a sweaty cardio workout usually are enough to deal with it. On really bad days, I might also need an hour or two in my sacro-iliac belt. And that's it. My next appointment with Cathy, my physical therapist, is Tuesday. I've been faithfully doing my PT and Pilates exercises. I'm feeling very optimistic.

But I'm truly clueless about how to ease myself back into running in a way that's not too hard (so that I re-injure my back, or injure something else) but not too easy either. I still have goals for this year.

I have two races already booked, the Detroit Marathon on October 21 and the California International Marathon on December 2. I thought about buying another custom plan from McMillan Running. I'm a huge fan of these plans as a cost-effective way to get some personalization in your training. Greg McMillan (he of the calculator) is a fantastic coach.

But with my back an unknown, with all the usual unknowns like illness, plus the fact that I'd really like one of those two races to be the One where I reach my Boston Marathon qualifier goal, a static plan, even a really good custom one, just wasn't going to offer me enough guidance. Many other bloggers have had great experiences with coaching. So I talked to Dan about the cost issue, did some research into what the going rate is....and made up my mind that now is the time.

I'm really happy with the coach I've found. His name is Darren De Reuck. He's the husband and long-time coach of Colleen De Reuck, who has been in the Olympics four times and still wins races at age 48. He's also coached my friend Cynthia, who came to running recently as cross-training for mountain biking, fell in love with it and, with Darren's workouts, has achieved all of her running goals up to this point.

My new coach, Darren, and his awesome wife, Colleen. I've run well behind them in many a local race. It's nice to say I have Darren on my team now!
Darren's also local, and I really wanted someone local because the other thing that's been lacking in my training has been group workouts. I'm working with him through Boulder Coaching (which also coaches runners and triathletes remotely), but the $90/month package I went with will allow me to join his elite group, the Boulder Striders, in their weekly track workouts when he thinks I'm ready (he assured me they have pace groups--a big relief given that I know how fast those Striders are!). After years of being intimidated by the Boulder running scene, I'm excited that I'm now going to put it to work for my own running.

I sat down this morning with Darren and mapped out a plan for the summer and fall. Here are the highlights:

1) Even if Cathy OKs me on Tuesday to run outside, Darren wants me to stick with the recumbent bike and the Alter-G next week. If I get the OK, the following week he'll incorporate some easy 20 minute runs outside. He wants me to keep outside runs on relatively level gravel tracks indefinitely.

2) I will be running the Detroit Half-Marathon instead of the marathon. The California International Marathon will be my goal race.

3) Local races will be sprinkled throughout my training, but we're waiting to see how my return to running goes before I actually sign up for any of them.

4) Once I've got a good four weeks of recovery runs under my belt and have proven that my back is truly stable, Darren's going to have me do a lactate threshold test (in the form of an all-out 3,200 meter run). This will determine my heart rate ranges for the workouts he'll be prescribing.

Cynthia was right about Darren. He's very nice, and un-intimidating despite his amazing resume. I really appreciate that that he asked about my kids and told me about his kids (he has two daughters) and that he said helping mid-packers is just as satisfying to him as a coach as helping Olympians. I joked with him that if I actually get to run the Boston Marathon, I plan to wear a tiara. To which he said--and he was serious--"No, you won't. You'll be racing Boston, too!"

My kind of coach!

I know hiring a coach is no guarantee that I will meet my goals. In the end, I'll still be alone out there in Sacramento with a marathon in front of me. But I feel like I have an ally now, someone else who will see my success as his own success.

Running, like the violin, requires the right touch. Since I'm still learning, and probably always will be, I'm so happy to have the guidance of a good teacher. I am one lucky girl. Big thanks to Dan for letting me hire Darren.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Challenges (Good Ones)

Last month, I had hoped to improve my sleep habits and even set up a little challenge to get myself there. Well, I outright failed that challenge, not only not improving my own sleep habits but also failing to help out the others who signed on to this with me (some of them did just fine without me--good for them!--and I apologize for being so little help).

This month will be different. I've set up some new challenges...and I hope not to fail at them.

1. The first challenge: to run again....for real....outside....before midnight on July 1. I believe I'm close. My back has been feeling (dare I say it?) good. I haven't had a pain-free day yet, but the pain I have has been much less. The Pilates exercises that I learned last week are the first that consistently make my back feel better immediately after I do them, and this effect seems to linger. I'm still VERY stiff when I wake up in the morning, but I'm trying to mitigate that with some yoga poses (child's pose and cat/cow) before I even climb out of bed. I've also eliminated the glute exercise that seemed to make things worse (the standing side leg swing) and am trying to hit only the ones that do no harm.

So fingers crossed!

2. The second challenge I signed up for is a formal one. Amanda at Run to the Finish has been leading a healthy challenge every month this year. I haven't been able to do the exercise-specific ones, but June's Green Smoothie Challenge is right up my alley.

Five days into June, I've found this surprisingly painless given how disorganized with eating I usually am. I acquired some greens-enhanced protein powder, a bag of pre-washed spinach, some bananas, some almond milk.....and that's all I've needed. The protein powder I'm using is called Vega One, and it's working for me because it tastes good and has all the needed nutrients but contains no artificial sweeteners. I tried a different brand on the first day and felt terrible; I discovered later that it contained both maltitol and xylitol, which work like laxatives. Sugar alcohols are the reason I can't drink Nuun before or during runs (it has another sugar alcohol, sorbitol).

This is a helpful challenge to me because I start off the day ahead of the game on getting enough vegetables into my diet. Throw in a glass of low-sodium V8 and/or a salad for lunch, and I'm truly good to go. For an indifferent cook (sometimes you could say I'm even hostile to cooking!), it's a lifesaver.

Tomorrow is National Running Day and I'm planning to celebrate with 30 minutes on the Alter-G, hopefully at 90% body weight. I'm glad to be able to celebrate at all! What are your plans for National Running Day?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Running With the Kenyans

Being a librarian has its privileges. One of them is my fairly frequent trips to the 796.424 section of our New Non-Fiction shelves (for those who find the Dewey Decimal System worrying, 796.424 is where the running books live).

Last Sunday, my library was closed due to a big festival that takes over our parking lot every Memorial Day weekend. I went in and did some work anyway, because they make those who don't show up take precious vacation time. Without any library members to serve, alone in the giant building, I had some spare time for things like re-shelving...and just wandering while dipping into one book and another. It was on one of my wanders that I saw a copy of Adharanand Finn's Running With the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth.

It's the most tantalizing title since Born to Run, and along the same lines: a Westerner, intent on learning the secrets of a culture truly "born to run," goes and lives among this foreign people temporarily, partly to see if some of their secret sauce can help his own running, but partly just to see, well, what it's like, and what that secret is. Along the way, he meets some true characters, subjects himself (and his family--in Finn's case, family includes three small children) to culture shock...and brings the whole thing to a satisfying climax in the form of a big race (this one with lions).

Since this is a review, I'll cut to the chase: those of you who think there's one key element to explain the Kenyans' dominance of distance running will be disappointed. But Finn does a fantastic job identifying the combination of factors that have made them so unbeatable for so many years. He touches on all of these factors in detail throughout the narrative, and near the end of the book, he summarizes:

"For six months, I've been piecing together the puzzle of why Kenyans are such good runners. In the end there was no elixir, no running gene, no training secret that you could neatly package up and present with flashing lights and fireworks. Nothing that Nike could replicate and market as the latest running fad. No, it was too complex, yet too simple, for that. It was everything, and nothing. I list the secrets in my head: the tough, active childhood, the barefoot running, the altitude, the diet, the role models, the simple approach to training, the running camps, the focus and dedication, the desire to succeed, to change their lives, the expectation that they can win, the mental toughness, the lack of alternatives, the abundance of trails to train on, the time spent resting, the running to school, the all-pervasive running culture, the reverence for running."

A few paragraphs later he writes:

"I've immersed myself in the world of Kenyan runners, living and training with them, sharing their commitment, and following their almost monastic lifestyles, in the hope that some of their magic would rub off on me. Hopefully it has, but in truth, at thirty-seven, after years of living an easy, Western lifestyle, and without anything driving me other than the joy of running and the desire to use my talent, I never stood a chance."

It's a humbling message.

As always, though, actions speak louder than words. There's a lot of hope here, too, for those willing to adopt some Kenyan style in their training. In the wake of his experience, Finn finishes as the first Westerner in the hot and dusty Lewa Marathon, his first, in three hours and 20 minutes. After his return to the West, he takes three minutes off his pre-Kenya half-marathon personal best. And four months after that Kenyan marathon debut, he runs the New York Marathon in two hours 55 minutes exactly.

The book wasn't as funny or smoothly written as Born to Run (a book I loved and recommend to everyone). But it felt more true to me in its "shades of grey" characterization of these extraordinary runners and the reasons for their success. I liked his unpretentious descriptions of what it was really like to run behind a group of Kenyans, and I was particularly impressed with his blunt critique of his own commitment to his beloved sport after a disappointing half-marathon part-way through his African sojourn.

Since finishing this book tonight, I've found myself Googling "ugali"...and I think I might take a walk up my street. Barefoot.